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By The Skin of My Teeth:
Fred's Latest Misadventure on a Bike
Permanent #41, January 2, 2013
by Fred Rockwell

I should have known this wasn’t going to be a routine ride when, while loading my bike the night before, I found the back wheel jammed. It was a simple fix – lubricate the brake cable – but a bad omen none the less.

Left home dark and early. Dry roads, starry skies and +2C. By dawn the temperature had dipped to -2C and my Gatorade had become a slurpee. At first I thought the nozzle on my water bottle was stuck in the closed position. It was merely clogged with ice crystals and I found I could still get a drink by first blowing through the nozzle.

Somewhere along Allenby Road, I got caught in a high gear on a hill. Standing on the pedals, I turned sharply to the left to go down the hill so I could change gears. Right then the chain jumped to another gear on its own, the pedal lurched forward and down I went dumping the chain in the process. After a few more delays I made it to Timmy’s, the Mill Bay control at 83 km, with only 20 minutes to spare. There was a line up, but I appreciated the break because I was already getting tired.

Back on the road I began to worry. Not only was I spending more time off the bike than usual, but also my riding speed was lower. When I reached the halfway point, I had used up slightly more than half the allowed time for the entire ride. I figured I could still finish within the 13:30 time limit if I limited my break at the one remaining intermediate control and focused on maintaining my speed. Thus began the mental game of calculating and recalculating whether I was on track for a qualifying finish. The conclusion was always the same – it would be very close.

At dawn I had turned out my main lights and rode most of the day with front and rear blinkies only. Near dusk, I switched my tail light and helmet lamp back on. I would save the main front light until it was darker. My tail light seemed dim. I would put new batteries in at the Chemainus control, which was only an hour away.

The temperature had briefly reached +3C. Now it was getting cold again and there was mist in the air. I’d never had trouble with the train tracks that cross Westholme Road – until today. Wham! I hit the road hard and was checking my left collar bone to see it if it was the source of the crack I’d heard. No, it was fine. Guess I just had a free chiropractic adjustment. The chain had dumped again and it looked like I might have to get my hands dirty this time, but eventually I was able to get it back on a chainring by pedalling and moving the chain with the derailleur.

To my relief I arrived at Chemainus Subway, the last intermidiate control, with 10 minutes to spare. Ordered a sandwich, drink and cookies, planning to eat them on the road. As I organized my gear for the final leg, I managed to eat half the sandwich, so I wolfed down the remainder rather than have to deal with it while wearing three layers of gloves and mitts. I put the cookies in my handlebar bag and the remainder of the Barq’s root beer in my water bottle. I really enjoyed that root beer as I rode along!

As for my tail light, good thing I had some sort of back up. Even after I went through the process of changing the batteries, it still wouldn’t work. Perhaps it broke when I fell while crossing the tracks. Actually, when I got home, I found out that the light worked just fine – I had put the old batteries back in instead of the new ones! [Note to self: When changing the batteries, be sure to CHANGE the batteries.]

Back on the bike I calculate that I have just enough time to finish if I maintain my average riding speed for the day, but I know my speed is decreasing. So, even though my legs are tired and my knees sore, I get out of the saddle while climbing to avoid losing more time. At various intermediate points I mentally check my progress. Yes, I can still make it, if my legs and knees hold out. At the top of Brechin Road, I have just one more short rolling section on Montrose. There it is. Downshift – click, click, SNAP! Four kilometres from the end and I have a broken rear derailleur cable. Now my “lowest” gear is the third highest. So little time left. Up on the pedals and push. At least the hills are behind me. At each turn, I check my watch and heart rate. I’m above my lactate threshold, but there is no time to rest for a few revolutions. Last corner. Lean the bike against the window of the store – no time to lock it. Grab the control card and run inside. Final time – 13:29. So tired!

After that there was no way I had the energy to ride home from the finish, especially with limited gearing. As I thought of who I might call to come and get me, I saw a pick up truck at the gas pump and its owner inside buying lottery tickets. This young man, named Adrian, agreed to transport me and my ailing bike home. I hope one of his tickets is a winner!

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January 3, 2013