We were significantly behind schedule but hopeful for a long day in the saddle. The ride had other plans for us. A Harsh Mistress: The Story of Trans-PA
What Went Before: https://goo.gl/NA0zt1
Beer, Bourbon and a Basement Bed: https://goo.gl/BriObp
Blowed Up: https://goo.gl/762ejI
Yard Sale: https://goo.gl/9Xaj6k
Dave’s’ Repair Shop: https://goo.gl/zemfUb
Town Park: https://goo.gl/7Xr9iw
Goat Paths: https://goo.gl/OANVGh
River Water: https://goo.gl/t04Asg
The Jersey Shore: https://goo.gl/XH709V
The Princess and the Ghost Pepper: https://goo.gl/txH3tW
Dry Town: https://goo.gl/ApTjN6
Penn Roosevelt: https://goo.gl/2Yw2Ji
End of the Road: https://goo.gl/pIhOKj
=====Wednesday 15 July 2015
I did not sleep particularly well that fifth night, it rained most of the night and I awoke every so often, acknowledged the rain and my discomfort, and went back to fitful sleep. When I finally got up for good, +Jeff Lesperance
was already up (as was the case all tour), tidying up his gear and preparing coffee. In a move borne of convenience, Jeff decided to grind up the rest of his coffee beans, so he would not have to take that step for the rest of the ride (Foreshadowing Alert Golf
). I had another astronaut meal, runny reconstituted eggs and ham (it was not particularly good, and talk about SODIUM BOMB). Jeff supplied all the coffee I could drink. I drank one of the two remaining Busch tallboys from the night before, keeping one for later, judging that a warm beer later might be better than no beer at all and therefore worth the weight.
Despite our best efforts, we did not depart the campsite before 10am. We were already behind schedule on a day scheduled for 80 miles to Dickinson, Pa. From there, Hagerstown, Md., the planned end to the ride, would be but a 60-mile jaunt. Everybody declares victory and goes home.
There was light rain to start, the climb out over chipped gravel was rough but in short order we were over the hump and heading downhill back to US Route 322. We saw some people on horseback. Three and a half miles into a six-mile gravel ride back to pavement, the first of the day’s many tragedies struck: Puncture in my front tire. We were already behind schedule and getting wet, so definitely not the best time to get a flat tire. But you don’t yell at clouds, so I dismounted and went to work. It took about 20 minutes, as the stone that had created the puncture was sharp enough to breach the tire casing and I thought I had better boot the tire (yes, I did happen to have a tire boot in my carry). In went the spare tube and off we went.
Route 322 was still fast and busy, luckily right at the spot where we merged back on to it out of the park, it turned from a hellish two-lane, undivided, no-shoulder, steep ascent nightmare into a four lanes, divided, wide-shoulder, gentle climb to the top of the mountain. At the top was a sign warning us of a three-mile, 8% decline. Hoo boy.
If you have ever tackled one of these big descents, they are quite harrowing. On the one hand, you can let gravity do the work and enjoy some time heading down to make up for all that time going up. On the other hand, you can look down at your computer and watch yourself cresting 40 miles an hour, any seam in the road, unexpected draft from a big truck or debris could easily send you crashing to the deck. Factor in the (possibly) irrational fear that your bike may simply… explode and you want to lean heavily on the brakes. Never am I in more serious confrontation with my own skills at building bikes than when I am in freefall.
We actually overshot our route on the descent, Jeff was navigating and had selected a route that kept us off the main road, but hopefully was not going to put us back into fists-of-rage goat path climbs as we had seen on the second day. We climbed back up to the turnoff and regained the route...
… and immediately found another gravel road and a fists-of-rage climb. It was a pretty epic struggle of a mile, featuring a stretch of 11% at the top. Once we crested, the sun came out and we were treated to five miles of gravel downhill, mostly at a manageable -2 to -4% (but also including a white-knuckle stretch of -11%).
It was during this sector that the ride began to unravel.
Shortly into this gravel descent, Jeff got his first flat, in the rear wheel. Ok, no problem, we stopped and he put in the spare tube. Off we went, we were both concerned about the time of day and whether we could make the 80 to Dickinson, but we were where we were and still had hours before contemplating a stop, so keep going.
A mile later, still in the gravel, Jeff got his second flat. Same wheel, rear. This time, he took time to scan the tire, tube and rim for a possible reason he might have two flats within a mile. It was here that he discovered this second flat was on the inside
surface of the tube, the part that touches the rim tape, not the tire. He put in his second tube and off we went.
Just over a mile later, still in the gravel, his rear flatted again.
This was now a situation. Again, the puncture was on the inside surface of the tube. No obvious debris or sharp edges on the rim or tape. I gave him my second spare, he replaced it and off we went. It was during this stop that a rad mountain biker dude passed by and stopped to ask if we had what we needed. He was all like, yah dude, bad things come in threeeeees, and off he went.
We did not even get another three miles before Jeff flatted in back for the fourth time in the day. This one could have ended badly, as we were heading fast down a false flat along a busy road. We pulled into the Mini-Mart on Old Route 322 in Milroy, Pa. and had a patching party. It was almost 2pm and we had gone less than 20 miles. We were scheduled for 80 today.
Jeff was beginning to get frustrated the same way he did during the derailer incident on the first day, as I sat patching tubes he once again checked every centimeter of his rear rim, finding nothing obvious. It was here that the rental car first came into the conversation. Looking for anything to stop the epidemic of flats, he took the knobby tire off the rear wheel and replaced it with the Pasela slick that Scott had left us two nights earlier (Foreshadowing Payoff Echo Part Two
). There being no rental car closer than Lewistown, eight miles away, we remounted and hoped for the best. It was 2:15 pm.
The highlight of the final stretch to Lewistown was riding down Electric Avenue in Highland Park, Pa. It goes without saying but bears repeating that we rocked down, and then we took it higher. We were looking for anything to keep our minds off what we knew was an impending flat on the back of Jeff’s bike.
We finally arrived in Lewistown, a down-at-the-heels rustbelt town clearly infected by meth and unemployment. In a memorable moment crossing town to the Enterprise Rent-a-Car, we were forced to detour off Main Street and up a hill into a neighborhood of old row houses. On the porch of one of these row houses was a big family. When they saw us coming by, the grownups started cheering, Yeah! You go get it!, while the kids ran down from the porch to follow us, cheering, for half the block. It was pretty cool.
We found the Enterprise Rent-a-Car, the plan that had coalesced since the Mini Mart patching party was this: We would rent a one-way car in Lewistown, make a ‘catch up’ drive 60 miles to Dickinson, where we would arrive in time to find a bike shop to figure out what was up with Jeff’s rear wheel. We would get a steak dinner, sleep in a hotel and then commence the final 60 mile ride to Hagerstown, Md. Compromise in completing the ride was a thing we had accepted three days ago.
Enterprise gave us no succor. There were no one-way rentals available until at least Friday, two days hence. We probed every way we could to see if they had a one-way rental or two stashed for walk-ins or extreme cases and were politely put off. They were kind enough to let us charge up our phones while we figured out what next so there was that.
Jeff and I sat out front and laid it out: 60 miles to Dickinson, and it was 3 pm. At our predominant net touring speed of 10 mph, that was a 9 pm arrival in Dickinson. We could still get a hotel and a meal, but not a bike shop, meaning Thursday could not start until the bike shops opened at 10 am, then we had to deal with his rear wheel, THEN ride 60 miles to Hagerstown.
And that did not even account for the likelihood of a fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth flat in that 60 mile stretch.
The previous evening, while Jeff and I were out of cell range in Penn Roosevelt State Park, +Scott Loveless
had sent us a text message that read, and I quote, “If you guys need anything at all, including bike parts or a bail out, let me know.” I cannot tell you when my phone received this message, but the first time I acknowledged it as a thing was that moment, standing in front of the Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Jeff responded that we may need some help, Scott replied immediately: When and where. He also said he could drive us to Hagerstown. He was an hour away in Camp Hill.
Jeff and I looked at each other, both trying to find a way to keep the ride alive, neither finding it. What do I do?, Jeff asked. Call it in, I said, grinding teeth.
The ride was over. 29.0 miles for the day / 226.5 miles for the trip.
=====A Harsh Mistress: The Story of Trans-PA
concludes tomorrow with part fifteen, End of the Road.