Saturday, October 20, 2012

Happy in a crowd

Wild fennel, Pacific Ocean in background.
Three miles north of Lucia, Kim reaches into her seat bag and hands me a tube with a long stem. Her hands are covered with grease from helping out. She reminds me to check the tire extra carefully. It's a good reminder, one I don't actually need. I'm down two spare tubes already.

There's nothing telling in the tire.

The only choice is to put in her tube and hope for the best. When you need root cause more than anything, shut up and ride.

This is one of the world's most drop-dead gorgeous stretches of road. A guy from Haifa Israel, recently retired, keeps riding by and offering help. It was his dream to ride Highway 1 from Monterey to San Diego. He is living his dream.

For him today, the Big Sur coastline is shrouded in fog. For me, it's a flat and then another one. And the third tube proves unreliable. You're not sure how long it's going to be before you're pushing too hard, you look down, and there's the bulge in the rear tire again. You've been expecting it. It's taken over your thoughts.

At this point everyone is miles ahead because they're not changing tubes or pushing a pudgy tire. After a robust lunch (I'm starving), they're climbing the big hill. Talking with friends. Enjoying the day. Their back muscles aren't on the verge of spasm. They take leisurely stops, not a couple of Advil.

This morning when I pulled the Seven from her luxury bike locker, the rear tire was flat. Root cause was a mystery (faulty rim strip?). The tire wouldn't go back on the rim. The wheel wouldn't seat in the dropouts.

Panic. Supposed to meet everyone 6 miles down the road. Very, very late. I climbed the hill to Carmel, then descended gingerly on half the normal pressure. 50 psi makes you a little wiggly. By some miracle a van and a couple of people remained in the parking lot. The van had a floor pump. I was all over that.

The second flat came around mile 30 (something sharp in the tire). The third around mile 53 (root cause unknown). I tell Kim, don't wait. If you don't see me I stuck out my thumb and got in a truck heading for King City. At Lucia she hands me a brand-new tube out of the van. Just in case.

Then I'm climbing that epic road, Nacimiento Fergusson, alone. Today it's quiet. Foggy, not hot. Things are starting to turn good. The tube holds. No lunch but leftover pancakes from the hostel. Pockets full of bars.

Usually I track mileage markers on the climb. Today whether it's the Seven or my own panic at being left, it's just one all out push.

Made it. And I have the descent all to myself; not even one car heading the other direction. Gorgeous, the way the shaded road snakes around the rocky hillside. Yellow leaves on both flanks. Occasional glimpses of the Valley of the Oaks below. The way it all still looks like 1740.

Flashes of last year on the tandem with Jim, carefully threading this section. Hot dogs, the ones that sit on those metal rollers, from the PX at Fort Hunter Liggett. Hot dogs taste good against any backdrop: a quonset hut, or a 300-year-old California mission.

Later, in the hot tub there will be root cause analysis. A delicious ice bag for my QL muscle. A combo plate at El Taco Bravo. Everyone howling about the headwind into King City, like every year.

In a happy crowd, I might be the happiest one.


  1. Flats can be so demoralizing - and so many in one day! Glad you made it.

    1. Yes, and Kim (the organizer of the ride) saved me a couple of times. It was because of her particular pump and also her spare tube that I was able to finish. What's hard is not just riding alone, it's the way the day suddenly becomes more about the problems than about the ride. Good lesson, though.