Thursday, July 5, 2012

4th of July Tale of Woe

With Independence Day falling on a Wednesday I found myself with a rare day off during the work week.  Of course the decision for a bike ride was a no-brainer.  I racked my Motobecane road bike and headed off to the trail head of the Richland County B & O Trail.  While I was unloading my bike I noticed the blank screen on my cycle-computer indicating the battery had given up the ghost.  This was slightly irritating but I like to think I'm not a slave to little electronic devices so I popped the unit off it's mount and left it in the car.  Besides maybe it would be fun for a change not to be constantly reminded of how slow I am.  My familiarity with the trail and posted mile markers really makes a computer far from a necessity. 

I struck off southward and enjoyed an almost vacant rail trail.  Evidently the oppressive heat, now edging into the 90's keeps most people home in air-conditioned comfort.  I like the heat and I have no trouble being out in it.  I seemed to make good time based on the high gears I was spinning and reached the bottom end of the trail where I hit up a convenience store for something cold to drink.  At this point I had 16 miles down and the return trip north would yield  a total of 32 miles. 

After a short break I sent a quick text to my wife and got back on the trail.  I settled back into a steady rhythm and was cruising along nicely until mile 22.  Suddenly and violently the back end of my bike bucked up and I heard the dreadful sound of 100 psi of air removing it's self from my tire.  The area through which I had been traveling was hemmed in by trees on both sides and the right-of-way was long ago cut long ago cut through a small series of hills exposing walls of crumbling shale on each side of the path.  These features create a dark, moist and deep forest like environment and along with the recent storms the trail surface was littered with debris.  Retracing my path I soon found the walnut-sized rock right in the middle of the lane among countless twigs and leaves.  Now that I had come to a halt and lost what little cooling effect biking through 95 degree air has the sweat began to pour.  In short order biting black flies had honed in my position and kept up with their own special kind of torment.

At this point I started to feel a bit uneasy.  I rarely flat on the bike.  The last time I got a flat tire was on the Lemond road bike about five years ago.  Luckily I was only a block away from home so I just walked it home and switched bikes.  I can't remember the time it happened before that.  Surely it was ten years ago or longer and I think it might have involved some nasty thorns picked up on a mountain bike trail. 

I returned to my bike to appraise the situation with the rear wheel.  I removed the inner tube and found two 1/8" long parallel slits one on each side of tube clearly indicative of a direct hit against the rock compressing the tire up and pinch flatting against the two rim walls.  The nature of the puncture had me worried to say the least.  In my seat bag I carry a patch kit and an inflator with a single CO2 cartridge which I know is the bare minimum but as I mentioned being a sprightly 155 pound rider I hardly ever flat.  A couple years ago I started to get into the habit of carrying a spare 700c tube along with the patch kit while on the road bike.  The problem is that my seat bag is only so big and just not enough room is left for the spare.  (I know, that's why jersey's have pockets.) Eventually I quit carrying the spare but I know right where it's sitting on my work bench.  I sent a text message to my wife and asked her to stand by her phone in case I needed more help.  To add insult to injury I noticed that my cell phone battery was critically low.  I sent another text indicating I was shutting the phone down to conserve what little power was left and would turn it back on later to let her know what was going on.

Working in the stifling humid air was no fun but I managed to get a rectangular patch wrapped two-thirds of the way around the narrow tube hopefully covering the two slits.  I gave the glue extra time to set up but it didn't seem like it was drying very well.  I reassembled the wheel and gave it quick shot of CO.  The tire expanded and held for a second and then with a psssst! the patch let go.  I still had some air in the cartridge but I had used all the glue in the tiny tube from the patch kit.  I stowed my gear and thought maybe I could try again with the remainder of the compressed air in the cart later after giving the glue some time to reset. 

I knew I was a mile or two from a point where the rail trail passes under a major interstate highway and by a nearby exit was a line of gas stations, restaurants and a hotel or two.  I tried my phone again but by this time the battery was shot and the phone had automatically shut off it's transmitter.  So cut off from the outside world I resolved to hike-a-bike it to the freeway exit where I could at least find a cool drink and a telephone.  Eventually I made it to a Speedway where a clerk was kind enough to let me borrow her cell phone.  I dialed my wife's number and waited, ring... ring... ring... she didn't pick up.  Annoyingly the voice mail system kicked in and I left a message describing where I was and that I needed her to come get me.  I waited around for a half hour unsure even if she had got my message.  Rather than walk back to the bike trail I decided to strike northward along the state route that shares the valley with the B & O Trail and would lead me to the next town a few miles away.  The state route is the way she would be coming so I figured she would see me along the way.  

I walked and walked and walked.  At some point the deflated tube and tire developed a squeak each time the reinforced bulge near the valve hit the lowest point in it's rotation.  Squeak... Squeak... Squeak it mocked me relentlessly as the miles slowly ticked by.  I hate walking.  By early evening I reached the Village of Lexington and past the local bike shop which of course was closed with it being a Federal Holiday.   By this point I had covered about five miles on foot and was about five miles from my car.  I had not spotted my wife's car in the last hour and had resigned to helping myself alone out of this jam so I got back on the bike trail and walked some more.

Dusk fell around me but the temperature did not. I plodded along into the twilight knowing I was closer to the car with each step.  The last few miles I started to notice white-tailed deer along a section of the trail where I know they are thickly populated.  The deer were a welcome diversion from the flies and the dull ache that had slowly crept into my legs.  One in particular instead of slipping into the underbrush along the trail as the deer usually do kept walking forward turning about every so often to peer back at though the gloom.  

Eventually no worse for wear I made it back to my car and returned home only three or four later than I had planned.  Although it may seem so I did not write this lengthy missive for the entertainment of you my readers but as a reminder to myself of how easily the whole misadventure could have been avoided.  Ironically in the large seat bag of my recumbent I have two spare tubes; one 20 inch for the small front wheel and a larger 26" for the back along with a mini-pump and a patch kit.  Never had a use for any of it in 2300 miles and of course I wasn't riding that bike.        
Old Mill at Butler, Ohio

So to make a long story short:  Pack the spare tube!


  1. Sorry to hear about the Flat Fourth Fiasco. Have you thought about Armadillo tires?

  2. Entertaining reading, well written. I have never ever been able to patch a tube. I have ridden home up to 3 miles on a flattened rear tire and rim, can even make decent time. it didn't even tear up the tire. My classic Fuji's steel rims are indestructible.

    I could relate to the biking post, made it easy to read.

  3. Hello Mike,

    Those long splits are just next to impossible to repair on the roadside. Especially bad on the rear tire and even worse in this heat. Glad you were able to keep your sanity. My language gets sort of vulgar at times like this. I just have to get it out of my system. hihi

    My Kevlar tires are worth every penny I paid for them but I always keep a spare tube with me. I learned the same lesson when I bought my new bike. Hope you don't have to go through this again. Tomorrow is supposed to be 102 degrees here in the valley.

  4. Five years since your last flat?! As unlucky as this post sounds; you can still consider yourself lucky! What doesn't kill us...!