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A Ferry Sails Through 600
I had high hopes going into this ride. It started at 4:00 a.m. at the Brentwood Bay ferry terminal. My wife, Kathy, got up early to drive me to the start line. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is!
As we started the ride, the full moon gave wisps of low-lying fog a ghostly appearance. The early start meant that we were on the Malahat just after sunrise, before the traffic got busy. I had to stop at the lookout for a photo—and to answer the call of nature. The course had a bit of everything. There were quiet forests and crowded parks; oceans, rivers and lakes; deserted roads and busy highways. Towards the end of the day, I was focused on what was hurting and how uncomfortable I was, when it slowly sank in that I was riding through spectacular beauty, which was only intensified by the setting sun. Finding that enjoyment pushed the negative thoughts aside.
Chapter 2—Flat Tire
As the last glimmers of light were fading from the sky, I got a flat. A fingernail sized shard of glass was deeply embedded in my tire. I run tubeless tires which will self-seal most small holes but this was too much. My first attempt at repair was to simply plug the hole. It seemed easy enough but it was difficult to push the insertion tool through the thick rubber of the deflated tire. I was afraid that if I pushed too hard I would tear the rim tape. It took time but I was eventually successful.
It should have been that simple but the tire wouldn’t hold air. Next step was to put a tube in. I did that but had a really, really hard time getting the tire bead over the rim. I have a set of three tire levers. At one point one of them popped out and went sailing off into the darkness. It was now pitch dark. I wasted some time looking for it but couldn’t find it. No problem, I still have two tire levers, which is all I have ever needed.
In my many attempts to get the tire back onto the rim, I must have nicked the tube because the tire would not inflate. I’m prepared for that. Take the tube out, find the hole, patch the hole and put the tire back on. Except the tube won’t hold enough air for me to find the hole. Tubeless tires have liquid inside, the sticky remains now on the tube, my hands and everything I touch. The tube is quickly coated in the sand and fine gravel that lives on the shoulders of highways. It’s like sprinkles sticking to icing.
So here I am, on the side of the road, all my possessions neatly stacked on the concrete barrier, halfway between Courtenay and Campbell River. If anywhere qualifies as the middle of nowhere, this is it. If you have read this far, you are probably 60 seconds into my story. I’m more than an hour into the ordeal. My riding companion for this event, Buddy, has ridden ahead. I expect he will find me on the return from Campbell River. He is bound to have a spare tube. But I still have 70 km to ride to complete today’s segment of the course.
I did the math and realized that I was running out of time. Even if the tire could be fixed quickly, I wouldn’t have time for sleep if I was to stay within the time limit. It’s almost midnight, if I turnaround, it’s 30-40 km to my hotel with an unrideable bike. I packed up my possessions and pushed my bike aimlessly down the road towards a streetlight in the distance. I sat near the streetlight and ate a snack while waiting for Buddy and weighing my options. I’m exhausted, frustrated and hungry. The only viable option was to abandon the brevet and find a ride back to Courtenay. A delightful couple, Tim and Natalie, offered to drive me to Courtenay. If you ever need fine custom cabinets check out Tim at https://rhodesislandcabinetry.com. Their kindness and willingness to help a stranger, lifted my spirits immensely.
We had just finished loading my bike into their truck when Buddy arrived. It was good to see him but it didn’t change anything, it was too dark, I was too tired and the clock was still running out.
Chapter 3—The (still) Flat Tire
Buddy set off at 5:20 a.m. and left me one of his spare tubes. I can’t complete the brevet but I still need to get home or at least close enough for Kathy to come and get me. It’s time to fix this. It’s just a flat tire! There is no way this should have been a ride ending mechanical failure!
I Google bike stores but nothing is open on a Sunday. Most don’t open until Tuesday. Kathy is busy so the earliest I could hope for a rescue would be 7:00 in the evening. I don’t want to say that there isn’t a lot to do in Courtenay, on a Sunday, within walking distance—ok, everything in Courtenay is within walking distance. But I have only my cycling clothes and cycling shoes. A MAMIL with a bike in downtown Courtenay is a normal sight. But a MAMIL without a bike? That’s disturbing. I have to check out of my hotel by 11:00 a.m. and I only have a little lunch lock to secure my bike for the day. I have no option but to fix this. Canadian Tire opens soon so I will go there and hope that they have tubes and tire levers. Rather than sit and wait, I decide to give it one more try.
I have been fixing my own flats since I was 12 years old, I have been running this brand of tire for a several years, so I know it is not a difficult tire to get on a rim. But my rims are new and when I stop to look, there is a deep centre groove. When I fit the tire bead into that groove it is easy to the tire back on the rim—even with my one remaining tire lever. This is tire changing 101. Why couldn’t I have figured that out last night? The tire is on and holding air. Time to go home.
Chapter 4—The ride home
Even if I’m no longer in the event, today is a good opportunity to see what day 2 of a brevet is like—I have never done back-to-back days. For the first couple of hours, it feels good and I’m making great time. If this keeps up, I could catch the last ferry at Mill Bay. I start thinking about riding on the highway to shave off a few kilometres. It takes some effort to turn off my competitiveness and allow myself just to settle in for a pleasant ride on quieter roads. At the end, I will meet up with Kathy for a nice dinner and a pleasant drive home together. Which is exactly what happened.
August 6, 2021