walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Like A Spa Treatment for Your Bicycle...

...if not for you.
Last Week's Goals
Total Distance: 77 Miles
Long Ride: 33 Miles

Last Week's Stats
Total Distance: 86 miles
Long Ride: Scuttled at 17.9 miles!

Um ... What Happened?!
Saturday, I decided to find the rest of the Riverwalk. It was not a portentious start: I realized as I was preparing to depart that I'd left my favorite sneakers at work (for those playing along at home: I don't use cycling shoes because I don't ride clipless, though I'm planning to swap out Swift's current pedals for a set of Shimano's clipless/platform combos).

My remaining options where my monster truck-sized waterproof boots and my crepe-soled waterproof oxfords. Conditions were a bit drizzly, and the oxfords aren't worth diddly on damp pedals, so I went with the boots. It would turn out to be a good call.

After donning the most ridiculous outfit I've ever worn (dark blue longjohns, khaki cargo shorts, blue t-shirt, orange/white/blue rugby, topped off with my super-stylin' helmet; if you're one of the Real Cyclists (tm) who saw me, yeah, that dorky-looking guy was me) I headed downstairs. Swift's drive train got a good scrubbing and lube job, then considered transferring my seatpost bag from Traveller to Swift: it didn't clear the back tire reliably, so I hedged my bets (by which I mean, opted not to carry a spare tube, patch kit, or pump) and left it off. I was eager to be on my way.

From home, I rode quiet streets down to the Riverwalk and out to the spot in Portland where the path descends from the Levee. There, I sailed down the road one one block and followed the Riverwalk into Portland Park. My efforts were rewarded with a quick, winding descent that led to a field at flood-plain level.

The path led away into the trees. I rolled forward gamely, inadvertently scaring the bejeezus out of a fellow on a mountain bike (note to self: shout "Good afternoon!" loudly from about twenty paces, not softly from about three), little suspecting what lay ahead:


And not just any mud. It was the Swamps of Sadness: sticks, straw, and ankle-deep river silt. But it took me a while to figure that out.

At first, I encountered just a little mud -- the kind you ride through, thinking, "Ah, no big deal. I'll just trim back the speed a little..." I haven't the slightest objection to off-roading on just about any bike (perhaps I should consider trying cyclocross?), and Swift seemed to be doing all right, so I forged ahead.

...Or should I say 'forded?'

Before long, the mud began to get deeper -- and then deeper still. I dropped to lower and lower gears (whilst being somewhat horrified at the sheer volume of schmutz collecting around my brake levers). A little voice in my head kept saying, This is insane, you're going to blow a tire and get stuck in this stuff. Did I listen to it?

No. Of course not: I am, by nature, an optimist. I was absolutely certain that the mud couldn't possibly get any deeper, and that it would begin to thin out at any moment.

I was absolutely wrong.

At last, having traveled maybe a quarter of a mile down the path, my rear wheel lost purchase and spun out. I stopped and set my foot down in ankle-deep mud: good thing I decided to wear the boots!

I paused to assess the situation. Swift's drive train was clogged with mud; his brakes were unrecognizable mud sculptures. His tires looked like fat 29ers, not 700 x 40s. My Gatorade was ... unsightly. Moreover, the rear wheel had no grip at all.

It was time to turn back.

As I dismounted, a Real Cyclist (tm) on a road bike with skinny tires pulled up. We traded a few comments about the unsuitability of the bikes and the unexpected depth of the mud as we turned around. I felt sorry for him — he was riding clipless with cycling shoes that couldn't have been meant even for walking, let alone mudbogging. He sailed off (I assume he picked a better path than I did up to that point; his bike was not as swamped as mine); I stopped to scrape as much schmutz from Swift as I could. After a good twenty minutes or so, I could make out most of my cogs.

I walked Swift out to the end of the worst mud, then slowly rode back to the place where the path cleared again.

The sight of clean pavement must've gone to my head. I sprinted up the climb onto the levee, sailed back down, and turned towards Shawnee Park.

My route, this time, took me through Shawnee Park (and some clean puddles), past Chickasaw Park, and all the way down to Cane Run road. There, I stopped in at a gas station to get a drink, since my Gatorade now smelled suspiciously like Ohio River silt. There was a $3 minimum for card purchases, so I withdrew $20 from the ATM — I figured I'd need the cash for laundry on Sunday anyway. That done, I killed about a quarter of my drink and headed back the way I had come.

I made it back to Shawnee Park without a hitch. I was humming along, making good time, when I noticed a strange sound: an intermittent "sss - sss - sss" coming from my back wheel. I was passing a field full of lacrosse trainees when I realized what had happened: I'd blown a tire. Great.

I glanced down: it was flat. Pancake flat. Great plains in winter flat.

Fortunately, I was in the park where all west-bound buses seem to terminate: and because I had taken cash out to buy my drink, I had bus fare.

For the second time, I felt profoundly grateful that I had been steered towards a decision I might not otherwise have made. I could get home under my own power (though I would have to walk my bike four or five blocks).

I will not bore you with the details of my bus-hunting trek around the park. Suffice it to say that I found a Highlands-bound 21 waiting for me, not far from where I'd stopped in the first place. I paid my fare and boarded, grateful for the omnipresence of TARC in the west end, if somewhat annoyed at myself for failing to bring the few, small components that would have allowed me to finish my ride.

The bus took me faithfully most of the way home. I noticed a preponderance of people and dogs dressed in green: was I missing something? I did the math and realized it must be St. Patrick's Day (or close enough).

At the closest point to home on the 21's route, I disembarked. I half-carried, half-pushed Swift to Bardstown Road Bicycle Company. They were trying to close for the parade, but were nice enough to stay open for me. They didn't have any tubes in the size I needed (fortunately, I had one left at home; however, it's a good idea to buy more spares whenever you use your last one), but I did buy some lube. I was going to need it.

At last, I wheeled my way home. There, I undertook the monumental task of scrubbing the mud and grit from my bike. That alone took most of an hour (though it left my drivetrain cleaner than it was when I bought Swift, so no complaints there) -- changing the tube took another twenty minutes or so (I kept having to run back upstairs to retrieve forgotten implements: a chopstick served in place of a tire lever, since I couldn't find mine). I didn't find whatever it was that punctured my tire, but I did find the hole that it left. I'll be buying new tires soon, but not quite yet. I booted it with a $1 bill.

By about 5:00, Swift was good as new. I rode to the store, picked up a couple things for dinner, and rode home: the boot did its job. I didn't even give it a second thought on my ride in this morning.

The lessons learned from this weekend? First, a 30-mile ride without a patch kit, spare, and some way to inflate a tire is hubris. Just because you made it one weekend doesn't mean you'll make it the next. Second, premonitions have a funny way of proving accurate. Third, God must approve of my cycling activities, because providence certainly smiled upon me on Saturday :) Fourth, bikes don't really groove on mud masks.

In the end, though my long ride was cut short, I exceeded my mileage goal for the week by nearly ten miles. I also enjoyed the outing (and the subsequent opportunity to tinker with my bike), though I'm still a little concerned about the possibility of remaining silt-dust damaging Swift's moving parts.

Also, I don't plan to ride that path again until summer, at least. Right now, the Ohio is in flood, so the Portland segment of the Riverwalk is most likely underwater anyway. I'm debating whether I want to continue the same route next weekend or start a new one.

This week's goals:
Total mileage: 85.00 miles.
Long Ride: 37 miles.
...And hills. Lots of hills.

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