I promised you a story about a side quest. Now it’s come due.
I was excited. I was fresh from a night at a motel (the Bay City campground refused me to pitch my hammock). Tonight I had a place lined up to stay—on a boat!—and tomorrow I would reach my new home in Corpus Christi. The beginning and end of a long bicycle trip are the most fun, this was the home stretch.
But there was a clicking noise coming from the Giant, and pedaling seemed hard.
I stopped twice when the pedaling got worse. The first time was behind a shuttered firework stand (this was October), where removing the rear wheel and oiling everything seemed to help a little bit.
The second time was the corner of Farik Road. There the Giant laid down and he wouldn’t get back up.
I removed the back wheel again, this time with a clink-clink. The axle fell out… in two pieces.
An axle is, you may be aware, a single piece.
It had sheared right through.
I hauled my bleeding friend off the road and began surgery. I had no particularly clever plan here, I just figured I’d shove the broken axle back in and use it. I mean, strange noise and hard pedaling sure, but it had made it this far, right?
I should put this in context. There had been some minor clicking noises for a couple days (a mystery every time I looked things over). It was likely I’d gone 150 miles on that broken axle already. And tonight—”sleep on a boat night”—was the town of Fulton, TX. Just 40 miles away, Fulton might have a bike shop and it was a short drive to Corpus if I needed to abandon the Giant, get supplies and get back.
But here was a different story. Endless prairie in every direction, with only the occasional ranch home or speeding pickup truck to break it up. (Seriously, try out street view here and count how many times you have to move forward before you see anything.) I needed to push on.
So, grumbling apologies to my friend, I positioned the axle-halves exactly as they’d been. Tenderly I reinstalled the back wheel and got on the bike.
“Come on, Giant, let’s do this. Forty miles, okay?”
Crrr-crnk. Crrrrnk. Crk.
The rear wheel seized up entirely, refusing to go further. The bike teetered.
Without a new axle the Giant was done.
Plotting a Course
In that minute I changed my plan. I instantaneously accepted that today would suck: that I would not complete this leg on time, that after some hitchhiking and driving I’d have to return to this bloody spot, to bloody Farik road, and do this whole section over with a working bike.
A miserable feeling.
Not because of the stretch of road. It was pretty enough. But because I was weary, and wanted to get to Corpus on time and rest up after three weeks of hard pedaling. I didn’t want to add days of backtracking.
At least I was in Texas, and everyone from Beaumont to Rockport had told me how friendly Texans are. I figured getting a ride to Tivoli, if not all the way to Fulton, would be easy.
More than an hour later no one had stopped to offer a ride, though some slowed to give me an odd look. Feeling betrayed, I set out walking. I’d walk a bit, put out the thumb a bit, walk a little more.
Eventually I did get a ride. They could only take me as far as the tiny village of Tivoli. There I drank a Gatorade, cleaned up, and positioned myself smiling at the gas station door, ready to chat anyone with a pickup truck as they got out. My plan was: get a ride to Fulton, have dinner on the sailboat, sleep up, and seek bike repair in the morning.
Over another hour I must have talked to 30+ people. Half of them took off in the direction I was going, but not a single one offered a ride. But here is something remakable: almost every single one of them assured me how easy it would be to find a ride, and that the next person would offer it for sure.
Several also suggested I try going to the town Dairy Queen instead of the gas station, that “more people will stop there.” I expected it would be just as many no’s as the gas station, but I had nothing to lose. I got ready to head over.
“What’s wrong with the bike?” one man asked me right about then.
I explained about the axle.
“Hmm…. what are those, 26-inch wheels?”
“I have an old road bike that’s got 26-inchers. Probably the same size axle though.”
I could see what he was suggesting, but it wouldn’t work: first off, major bike repairs always take four times longer than old men believe they will, and secondly even if my bike was repaired instantly I doubted I could make Fulton by sunset. And the last obstacle before Fulton is a mile-long bridge I did not want to bike in the nighttime.
“I really appreciate it, but I couldn’t make Fulton by dark,” I said. “I think I better hold out for a ride.”
“Won’t take long. Fulton’s only, what, 20 miles? You’ll get there by dark.” It was 30 miles. But I couldn’t argue with him. He told me he’d go to his barn, get his old bike, and come back for me.
I thanked him. I like to believe in the basic good of people, especially on the road. But I also once spent an entire afternoon waiting for a woman who promised to serve me buffalo burgers with her roommate and put me up for the night. They never materialized, and I slept against a tree by a river. Watching his pickup speed off, I shrugged and went toward Dairy Queen.
I pushed the bike farther off the road.
They honked again.
I turned, irritated. There was that familiar pickup, and the smiling guy with the ancient bike from his barn.
We wasted no time. On the driveway of (I think) a funeral home, we dissected the two rear wheels, lubricated the aged axle of the donor, and brought it back to life. Aside from some differences in the washers and spacing it was identical. The Giant rose again, and my friend proved me wrong about old men and repairs. It was record time.
I don’t remember my friend’s name, but I remember he had a son named André like me. It might have been Mickey or Ernest. He used the English variant of his name, not the Spanish one, which surprised me because he was Latino. But that’s common around here.
After about a hundred thanks, with the old washers in a plastic bag, one fomhorian Giant and one fatigued Adventurer rolled out of Tivoli with Fulton on the horizon.
This was a frothing, exhausting race against the sunset. It was one of the only times on this leg of the Adventure that I spoke to the sun as she set. With a final kiss she dropped below the horizon leaving me a head-down sprint for that ominous bridge.
It was a glorious few hours, every muscle doing its job (and the new axle, too). In the end the bridge was nothing to fear—light traffic, and wide—and I coasted down its far slope in the final gray glow of the gloaming.
I made it that night to Fulton, where I ate with my new friend Melvin aboard his catamaran and he told me stories of adventures much farther from home than my own. I’ll never give up this life.
But I did miss ten miles. I had hitchhiked from Farik Road where I broke down, to Tivoli where I got the new axle, and hitchhiking is not powered by your own body. There is a little ten-mile hole in my 2,000 mile story.
This week I have a chance to get a ride out in that direction, and I’m taking my bike.
I’m doing those ten miles.
My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.
Thank you for your help last week. I’m still considering your advice, and planning the next leg.