Friday, May 25, 2012


So let's see here...the Canadian Pacific is on strike so there's no trains for me to run (they're the ones who bring it to me from Montreal)...I'm using vacation days so I don't have to bump someone just yet...sounds like a riding opportunity.  Here we go again...

I intended to saddle up real early and get going.  I even prepped the bike the night before and sorta packed up my bar-bag so I could leave with time enough to get in a hundred.  I've been eyeballing a Century for weeks and it seemed as though I might have a window.  So much for good intentions, I didn't hit the road until about 10 am but still, figured I didn't have to worry about a midnight phone call so I'll just keep going till dark or 100, whichever comes first.

All's well for the first 30 miles or so.  It's warm and muggy but the worn-out cogs on the back aren't skipping and the shifts are only hanging a little between 9 and 10.  I'll take that until I can scrape up enough loot to finally get a new cassette.  I guess with five grand on them, the old ones really don't owe me much anymore but they'll have to soldier on a while longer anyway.

I took a little detour to my old buddy Donnie's place to check in on my ex-conductor and catch up on the news.  I always enjoy spending time with Cardie and Sandy and this time was no different.  He's retired now but it's still a lot like the old days on the "Lakeshore Express" when we worked together.  He can always make me laugh.  We sat around the kitchen shooting the breeze over a bottle of water and everything was fine in the world for a minute.  He was set to go mow grass somewhere though and I needed to head out too so off we went our separate ways.  I backtracked out of his driveway and slid down into the drops to buck the wind picking up from the south.

As usual, I don't really know where I'm headed in anything but the vaguest way.  My ultimate goal for the trip was to make Watkins Glen and do some scouting for the Tour but how I got there was subject to modification as the day progressed.  This always leads to interesting travels and normally I get to see some great country that I've never seen before travelling that way.  Usually.  My first mistake this time was to ignore my own advice and cross the border into Pennsylvania.  PA as you may have heard, is in the midst of a gas-drilling boom and there's places where it's like the wild, wild west during the gold rush.  Such was the road I picked.

I've been on it in a vehicle before and it intrigued me because of it's smooth surface and long climb with an equally long zoom back down to reward the determined.  That part is good but the bad news soon became apparent as I started up the hogback...there is a complete lack of shoulder and the drillers are out in full force.  It turned into a nightmare of close-calls and dives for driveways to get out of the way of dump truck after dump truck grinding up the hill in the same creeper-low as me only filling the whole lane to do it.  The parade ran in both directions so over the crest of every pitch, I had to try to ride on a two inch slice of blacktop between screaming, loaded triple-axles and a ditch lined with gooney-rocks to let the trucks meet without colliding.  Most places, the road dropped off a minimum of 6 inches into loose dirt and fist-sized stones so to slide off the edge was to go down instantly with no hope of recovery.  I got pushed off once but lucked out that I was near enough to a driveway to hang on and unclip before disaster.  Why do I do this to myself?

Eventually, the hill broke over into the downgrade and I at least had the fun of out-running the last big rig as he geared down for the descent and I geared up, put my chin on the stem and left him Jake-Braking his way through the curves.  Somewhere near the bottom, it started raining.  I'm sorry if I offend anyone but to put it bluntly, Pennsylvania just plain sucks for bikers.

Onward to the northwest.  The wind turned around to port astern and I got a little boost in the sails but the rain got heavier and I began to think this whole thing was getting just a little out of hand.  Think good thoughts.
After a few more wet miles, the showers rattled off to the north and left the road black and steamy.  The sun came back out and the humidity zoomed.  By now, it's about 50 miles into this and I'm thinking hard about that next 50 to make that one-zero-zero.  I realized about then too that unlike my normal self...I'm not thirsty, haven't been thirsty and I'm kinda feeling...well...not so pretty good.  I decided to put in for a few minutes on the stoop of a little country church to wring out my gloves, make sure I drank some liquid and get down a Clif to refuel.  It was probably too late by then already.

The road away from the church is pretty familiar territory so I knew it was mostly flat and with the wind now firmly behind me, I expected an easy leg to the next turn.  So why am I in the small ring on my triple going up these little rollers wonders me to myself?  Why does my neck hurt like it's on fire when I usually do this stuff all day and don't even feel it?  And why do I suddenly have an overwhelming desire to get off this thing and just lay down?  What the hell is this now?  Whatever it is, it can't be good.  Surrendering for the moment, I pulled into a little park and stretched out on a picnic table bench.  Maybe I just need a rest stop.  Uh-huh.

I think I actually fell asleep for a bit which should say something to a normal person about their condition but did I listen?  Nope.  I've still got that magic Century in mind so I figure I'll just keep going and things'll get better.  They always do right?  I've been giddy and nauseous on the Trek before.  It just goes with the territory sometimes, especially when it's hot and sticky.  I always make it even when the going gets tough.  About then I noticed my hands had started shaking.

I finally came to the conclusion about 10 miles later that enough was probably enough and I'd better start thinking about sending up a flare for rescue.  I was still at least 25 miles from home and no matter which way I went, there was climbing to do.  Every vehicle that passed stank of exhaust or cigarette smoke, the air felt like it was a solid mass of pollen and every single smell, good or bad made me sicker.  Some idiot on a crotch-rocket went by with open headers shrieking and I wished he'd die right in front of me.  My hands kept trying to vibrate off the hoods.

It really didn't look good for the home team so I swallowed my pride and called Chris to come haul me in.  I seriously doubt I could have gotten home anyway, even if I tried.  I was going slower and slower on flat ground and wondered vaguely if somebody would have me posted on YouTube or FailBlog for falling off the bike and throwing up on the sidewalk.  I was pretty close to my LBS so I told Chris to meet me there and staggered along the last couple of miles, pausing one more time on a park bench to scrounge up enough energy to get over the river bridge and down the street to the shop.  Things are a little fuzzy, likely from dehydration but I wallowed my way into Kingsbury's front door walking my bike and announced that I'd come there for the sole purpose of collapse.  I made it as far as the chair at the end of the counter and somehow got my helmet, gloves and sunglasses off.  The guys had the decency to laugh at me, which helped immensely.

Paul offered a couple of shot-blocks to try to get some electrolyte back in me but by now, things internally were in outright revolt.  The room kept trying to spin and the damn lights were too bright.  I managed to get down a couple sips of water before there was an absolutely, irresistible imperative to make one last desperate sprint...for the rest room.  I found out why I was dehydrated...I hadn't absorbed anything.  I got Clif bar and Gatorade out my nose and wondered if I'd ever get out of that bathroom alive.  I thought my cleats were coming up.  This my friends, is the spades.

I've only done this once before and like the first time, there's absolutely, positively nothing to recommend it.  I managed to douse myself with enough cool water to keep my knees from buckling and staggered back out into the showroom to await rescue.   I probably scared off the customers.  I'm pretty sure I was delirious and I'll have to apologize to the shop guys when I get my wits collected.  I only hope it was good for a chuckle.

In due time, my chariot arrived and I loaded up the bike before dropping into the seat like a bag of cement.  Just moving was horrible and I was fighting not to be car-sick on top of everything else.  I actually made it most of the way home before losing that little battle.  Chris managed to panic-stop in time and rolled her eyes at her idiot husband as he fell back in the van even more dehydrated than before.  How much fun can one guy have in a single day?

The driveway was salvation and I sort of remember stripping off my kit and falling on the bedspread gasping like a fresh-caught salmon.  At some point later on, I got through the shower and passed out for well and all with the A/C blasting.  The world finally stopped spinning and the flashing lights went out behind my eyelids but I didn't get my hands to stop shaking until this morning.

So once again, riding the Trek was an adventure.  I guess I never saw this one coming but it's all part of the game and I'll know better next time.  Or not...

But it'll make a great story and Paul will laugh at me over it for weeks.  Chalk up another one for the old guy.  I'll make that first 100 of the year sometime...I'm just not sure if I'll ever be able to eat that flavor of Clif Bar again.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bikes in the Garage

I admit it.  Things have been a little dark around the Home these last couple of weeks.  There's times old Chance throws the dice and they don't come down in your favor.  Sometimes more, sometimes less but I've been on a real crummy roll lately.  That's the way of things and I know sooner or later, I'll have new cogs on the Trek, the rain will quit, the lawn will miraculously mow itself (well...maybe not), I'll finally get a Century this spring and all will be well once again.  It may not be today but it will.

In the meantime, here's a tale or two to cheer you and me both I hope.  Stories of bikes long trashed and kids long grown.  I spend a lot of time with bicycles these days and it all had to start somewhere.  Well...

Sometime that seems like about a century ago, I got on a bike by myself for the first time.  There's some really dim recollections of being pushed around the yard until I got the balance but actually being on one is the first bike-related thing I remember clearly.  I think it might have been my sister's blue step-through but I can't be sure.  It's likely it was though because since it didn't have a top tube, my sawed off legs could reach the pedals.

This was the same bike on which I'd skinned my left foot with the chain-stay and rear wheel.  Sis and I were headed up the road with me on the fender as we had a zillion times before.  I might have been five and unlike more recent times, riding the fender was a long accepted way to get around when you didn't want to hoof it.  The pinging of my sneaker toe on the spokes was fascinating until one reached out, grabbed my Red Ball Jet and sucked it right in the wheel all the way to my ankle.  The sock and skin peeled off until it jammed the wheel solid and we slid to a crash by the road.  Screaming ensued and after big sister managed to pry my leg out of the frame, my long-suffering mother hauled me off to the dreaded pediatrician for mending.

I should mention that this wasn't an easy task for her.  I'd long before noticed that the doctor's office was situated in a low, cold looking building directly in front of a cemetery.  At some point during an annual visit, I'd convinced myself that this was where he buried his mistakes.  Every checkup and booster shot was traumatic.  Not only because of the locale but because the old guy wasn't really of the best disposition to be a children's physician.  I could be wrong but I remember him as really, really old, lacking in patience, unfriendly and about as far from Mr. Green Jeans as you could get.  His hypos all looked like they were four feet long and he kept them in plain sight like he was getting ready for the inquisition.  He probably was a wonderful doctor but when you're five, he might as well have been something I'd seen on 'Monster Movie Matinee' last Saturday.  He's probably laughing somewhere right now but back then, he terrified me.

This was the man who would patch my skinless ankle.  I wondered if he'd just take it off at the shin to make it easier.  I remember that he shook his head when he saw the damage and brought in reinforcement nurses to control the flailing youngster on his table.  I saw tweezers and gauze but not much else.  After an interval of shrieking, I emerged intact...limping pathetically but whole.  After the performance in the office, my Mom said I wasn't going to ride a bike again until I was 20.  Little did she know.  In short order, the bandages gave way to a scar I still have and as it would so many times, the road called again.

We always had a collection of used and used-up bikes in the garage back then.  Cast-offs from my older sibs who had pretty much beaten them to within an inch of their mechanical lives.  Flat tires and very un-true wheels were the norm.  Brakes were coasters if they worked at all.  I vaguely remember a red one with a fake gas tank on it.  Somehow, we figured out how to get a wheel off with a 12 inch crescent wrench and fix perforated tubes with the dollar patch kits from the store down the road.  The wheels just had to wobble though because the thought of truing them up never occurred to any of us.  Over time, assorted bikes came and went.  Some got parted out, some got fixed, all got destroyed.  We tinkered endlessly in that old, cold garage among the lawn mowers and stray hubcaps.  Nothing was ever put together the way it was supposed to be but we rode our creations to oblivion because it was all we had.

We built, rebuilt and then built again.  I know I put a banana seat and ape hanger handlebars from a Spyder bike on a 26" steel dinosaur and thought I'd reached Nirvana.  A four foot sissy-bar and some black house paint made that baby one mean looking ride to a 6th grader.

Then there was another little green 20" Stingray with 5 speeds and chrome fenders.  I scrounged up two hunks of electrical conduit, sawed them to length, beat the ends flat with a hammer, pounded them over the forks of that 'ray and had myself a chopper.  It was as long as my Dad's Country Squire but man was it cool.  I rode that thing until it disintegrated.  As long as you didn't lean back too much, you could almost actually steer it.  Shift your weight a little too far astern and the front wheel would just lift off the road all by itself and you were suddenly piloting a funny looking unicycle.  Treacherous just doesn't describe it.  I think I was riding that one when I over-achieved going downhill, failed to make a turn at the bottom and slid across a gravel-studded intersection on my shirtless chest after the bike and I parted company.   That little mishap removed most of my ventral hide and both nipples.  My kid brother who was with me never even tried the turn and battering-rammed across a ditch and through a barbed-wire fence before knocking himself cold in a cow pasture.  Our long-suffering mother picked the stones out of my lacerated torso, patched up my brother, doused me with peroxide and cut up an old bed sheet to make a bandage big enough for my whole front.  You'd think I'd learn...

We kept putting the stray pieces together long after they should have been scrap and had a ball with it.  The garage was always full of tinkering kids and broken parts.  We fixed and fiddled, found out about stripped threads and rounded-off clamp nuts and tried every day to make something out of not much.  Somewhere along the line, we learned that if you loosened the nuts on the front axle of a certain bike; the one belonging to the big kid down the road who loved to  terrorize us, vengeance for all his transgressions was ours to be had.  He was bigger than we were but still an easy mark.  A couple of dare-ya's was all it took to con him into doing a wheelie to impress the little kids.  Running for our lives was worth the fun of watching his front wheel come off in mid-air and seeing the look on his face as his forks stabbed into the blacktop and launched him over the bars.  The best part was that he fell for it twice.  He was almost too easy though...I was able to talk him into letting me shoot him in the butt-cheek with a BB pistol once because I told him it wasn't a pump-up gun and so couldn't really hurt a tough-guy like him that much.  I lied.

As we got older, the bikes got more and more worn and weary.  We discovered that jumping over ramps in the lawn at high speeds was not conducive to long bike-life.  Nor was bailing off and allowing the bikes to ram each other head-on.  Entertaining but not very good for the equipment.  The wrecks got harder and harder to reconstruct but the pack of kids roaming the neighborhood usually managed to wire enough together to get to the next ball game or swimming expedition.  I don't ever remember anyone having an actual new bike but maybe they did.  It never mattered much anyway.

Eventually, along came motorcycles and with them, another saga of injury, expense, property damage and great times.  I put what remained of the bicycles up on the garage wall and forgot about them.  There's a world of stories from the motorcycle years but those will have to wait for another day.  Let's just say that my big brother inspired me to burn fossil fuel and from there on out, leg bikes were a thing of the least until the present.

Times have come back around and now my big Harley sits quite often while the pedal bike hits the road.  I wonder if they argue about who's going out next when I'm not listening.

At least now I don't have to put parts together out of bushel baskets to ride a bike but sometimes I'll still get a flash from that old garage on the corner.  I smile when I remember the kid next door getting clothes-lined on the dog-run cable in my back yard.  It wasn't then but it's funny now thinking about pedaling like an egg-beater to get home before a summer thunder shower.  I know how excited I was when Mom first let me ride out of her sight up the back road and over the hill.  I still get that same feeling of 'something new' when I venture further from home than I ever have and wonder how I'll make it back.  I've been here before.

So I'm waiting for the clouds to lift and the rain to stop so I can go out and do it all again.  I think I'll pass on the crashes and battle-scars though.  I'm a little older and the abrasions take longer to knit these days.  I might take another shot at that turn at the bottom of the hill though...I won't let it get me again.