Addiction, NA, Narcotics Anonymous, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Forgiveness on Chip and Seal Roads

My cycling days began in earnest back in 2001 when I first rode in the MS 150 bike ride. The ride, as the name implies, is a two day ride covering a total of 150 miles. (The event has subsequently been renamed “Bike MS” and now allows various distance options so that a wider range of riders can participate.)

My experience with the MS 150 would span the next decade or so. I eventually became part of the planning committee for the event. It was while serving on that committee that I discovered just how much work goes into planning the route for the ride.

The route is selected following several criteria. One of the most important factors in selecting the route is that all 150 miles must be paved. The reason for this condition is very simple. Road bikes, with their skinny treadless tires cannot be ridden on gravel. Even just a few feet of gravel along the route can result in punctured tires.

Each year the committee would fret over the route because of something called “chip and seal” roads. In the chip and seal process, a thick, tar-like oil is applied to the paved surface, immediately followed by chat, or very finely ground gravel.

The committee members even went so far as to inquire with county highway officials about the status of any planned chip and seal activity along the proposed route. Officials would assure the committee that the route would be free of any fresh chip and seal, and the route could then be finalized.

Seems easy enough, yet each year, a day or two before the ride, a fresh mile of chip and seal road would appear somewhere along the route. Those stretches of the route would be littered with cyclists changing flat tires. One year, a section of chip and seal was so fresh that not only were there flat tires to contend with, but also the tar/chat mixture was making a mess of both bikes and their riders.

I managed to navigate that year’s course without getting any flat tires. Most of my fellow riders were not so fortunate. Those little pieces of chat, left unchecked, could stay embedded in the tire and result in a puncture even miles later.

A friend was responsible for my flat free ride that year. As soon as we had cleared the fresh chip and seal, he pulled off to the side of the road and suggested that we all check our tires. So, after pulling off, I slowly turned my tires, first looking for any chat embedded in the rubber, then feeling for it. Any that was on or in the tire was gently removed.

Once we had finished our inspection, and removed all those tiny pieces, we were back on our way. That section of fresh chip and seal had been a royal pain for many, but for us, it had become a minor inconvenience.

That experience taught me a lesson that stays with me to this day. Even though I don’t ride on any chip and seal surfaces these days, it is still possible to pick up tiny bits from the surface of a cycling path that can work their way from the surface of my tires down to the inner tube. So, I check my tires regularly for any such debris. I will never know how many flat tires I’ve avoided by regularly checking for debris in my tires.

Practicing forgiveness is much like checking my tires for debris. Learning to avoid big rocks or fallen branches while on my bike is easy. Those things are obvious obstacles and hazards. Likewise, major conflicts in life present opportunities to practice forgiveness that are obvious.

It’s those little things that can be the most hazardous to a relationship. A careless word here, or a missed opportunity for kindness there, can lead to hurt feelings and damaged spirits.

In practicing the principle of forgiveness, I not only am learning to offer forgiveness, but also am learning to seek it. The tenth step in the Narcotics Anonymous program emphasizes a daily reflection to determine any possible wrongs done, followed by timely amends to set the matter right.

On the flip side, I am learning to express my feelings to others, so that if their words or actions offend me, I can seek clarification and understanding. In the vast majority of such cases, I have found that no harm was intended. Rather, it was my interpretation that was at fault. By seeking clarification, I can avoid allowing a small perceived slight to become a wedge in a relationship.

When I check regularly for tiny “pieces of chat” in my life, I am able to avoid having situations escalate out of control. By swiftly dealing with them, I am able to enjoy relationships that are like a good bike ride. Relationships that are without flat tires.

Have a remarkable day!


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