Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lucky and good


We gather at The Valley Cafe in Rockville, Bonnie, Jim, Ann, and me. Never been here before. Along the main drag are signs for US 40, or the Lincoln Highway. Rockville must have been one of the towns connecting the dots. Now it is tiny, off the beaten track of I-80, and still healthy. The cafe opens at 7 (not 6). Bonnie is cracking the whip because it's November and there's no daylight to waste.

Omelet, coffee, ready to ride. Heading out to Lake Berryessa we enjoy Gordon Valley, Wooden Valley, Capell Valley. A morning spent riding some of the most scenic, rural roads in California. Virtually unchanged in my lifetime. Today, 100 miles with only 7 turns. You could print the cue sheet on a business card.

In the first 80 miles only one place has snacks and water, the store at Turtle Rock. They left a homemade pumpkin muffin in the fridge for me. The bar is festooned with dollar bills like that place in Oatman, AZ.
At Turtle Rock, steel and carbon fiber steeds.

Turtle Rock is positioned at the beginning of Knoxville Berryessa Road, stretching for 39 uninterrupted miles to Lower Lake. So far, so good. Really good...

Coming out of a rough stream crossing, the rear tire goes soft. All at once, unmistakeable.

Rural roads use stream crossings to channel the seasonal rains. A low tech alternative to letting the road flood and wash out in that spot, or building an expensive bridge or culvert. A stream crossing is usually just a wide shallow ditch with sketchy pavement. On the bike it's a slight dip and pretty bumpy. Extra attention required.

Now, this.

My first mistake was last night at home, removing that folding tire from the toolkit. Who needs a spare tire on a 2-day trip? But the tire in my hands is soft and smooth like skin, and the rubber has some cuts. It's history. Under the cuts I can see twisted nylon cords.

We are somewhere near the Napa county line. It's not entirely clear where we are.

Turns out it isn't a pinch flat from the stream crossing. It's a puncture from a tiny sharp thorn, the goathead. Well-known among cyclists and a frequent guest star in Arizona on Route 66. Goathead thorns rarely come in sets of one. Ann says "It's a goathead, everyone check your tires".

Time is a concern. All morning Bonnie was saying we should be able to reach Middletown before dark, barring serious mechanical issues. Goatheads could be that issue. They have the potential to ruin every tube we have and strand us out here. No dinner!

It's a miracle, but no one else has a thorn. Furthermore, the air goes into the new tube quickly and painlessly. No problem. Good thing I brought 2 tubes. Next time I'll bring a patch kit too.

I ask Jim to check the air pressure. He grabs the rim and squeezes with his palm, gauging the resistance. My biceps and lower back are tired and I want the tube to have enough air. I want it too badly to be objective. "Pretty good!" he says.

Things do seem to work out for Jim most of the time. He's habitually lucky, as well as good and experienced. Come to think of it, this group has almost 60 years of cycling between us. That's a pretty decent bag of tricks, Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Eat something while the problem is getting fixed, ask about root cause, help out in the rough spots, give moral support. Experience can bring a kind of luck. My hands change a flat without thinking.

Being in the right company can be lucky too. With impeccable timing Jim lifts up the loaded bike so I can replace the wheel. Of course there's a little jibe about accepting help too. That joke is literally 10 years old. I'm laughing too hard to do anything.

We climb on against a clear light blue sky. The air is a perfect 70 degrees. No turns and no traffic and even the road is in good shape. It takes all afternoon; that's all right. Not even one stray dog crosses our path.


Not until Big Canyon, that is. Today they're not nasty dogs, just inclined to chase.




My worn tire holds, even over 6 miles of dirt at the end of Big Canyon. In daylight we pull up in front of the brewery in Middletown, for Happy Hour ($3 pints). Pizza tastes like heaven and fuels that last 3 mile climb, in the dark.

To the hot springs for a soak. And then bed.

1 comment :

  1. "business card" made me laugh! But the iron steed photo is perfect.
    Oh, man, dogs - I did the Delta century one year, and some household had a chihuahua puppy that came out to chase us away from his property. He could have slept inside my shoe. Fierce, though.

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