Adventure, Bicycling, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

The Missing 10 Miles

Photo by goddamnanalog

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.

Un-Hospitality

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.

Well.

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.

Thanks Texas!

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?”

“27-inch.”

“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.

The Run

Someone honked.

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.

L Days cover_front only_half size

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. 

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11 thoughts on “The Missing 10 Miles

  1. Melvin Taylor says:

    Hi Dwight….You told me some of this story, but I sure enjoyed reading it…I am still in Fulton Harbor, but Kusi Catamaran and I are so ready to start traveling. I must get going again…So many places to see, only so much allotted time…!!

    Melvin

  2. Jim Peterson says:

    Hey Drew,
    I suspect you have the same cheeseball rear axle/bearing assembly that I have. I’ve broken three or four axles thus far so I FEEL your pain! It’s NOT the brand or a quality issue; it’s the location of the bearing on the right/gear cluster side. On the cheeseball axle, the bearing is at the right end of the hub itself, so all that axle between the cheesey bearing location is *leverage* which flexes the axle EVERY time you hit a bump until it breaks. Like you, I’m always able to ride for a while but the clicking keeps getting worse and worse until you can’t stand it! A much. better. design. locates the right rear bearing at the outer end (small end) of the gear cluster — right next to the rear dropout = no flexing; no breako. I’m hoping to upgrade my ride to cable-operated disc brakes so I also have to find the better design WITH provision to bolt up the rotor. Dunno’ if you have disc brakes or not, but I would *definitely* be on the lookout for one of those much. better. rear wheels. If nothing else, snag a mounted wheel — take it with you for when your existing axle pukes again. (And if it’s the style I think it is, it
    WILL puke again — ANY weight on the back axle (and I know you have some!) makes all these variables much more critical.)
    ==========
    sail4free
    ==========

    • Whooooo GREAT information Jim, thank you. I’m not sure I’m picturing everything you describe but I think I get it. I suspect I should pick up a spare axle to carry with me.

      I don’t have disc brakes, fyi. Calipers baby!!

      When you say snag a “mounted” wheel to take with me, what do you mean?

      • Jim Peterson says:

        ==========
        How to replace a broken cheeseball axle with a not-yet-broken cheeseball axle . . . but you’ve done that already, right?

        ==========
        In the above video — about 3:00 — he talks about that spacer which ends up inside the rear gear cluster. This spacer is what moves the bearing location in too far; allowing the axle to flex with each bump until the metal fatigues and breaks. It always breaks in that same place = just inside the inner race. There’s no sense getting into the different styles of gear clusters and the various tools needed to remove them. What you WANT is the wheel and axle style where BOTH bearings are near the ends of the axle . . . you may need to temporarily remove the axle on a ‘new’ wheel (or have your bike shop guy do it for you) to confirm this. This will require you to purchase a whole wheel with different-style gear cluster, axle, etc. in place and ready to roll. Then it’s just a matter of moving your tire/tube over to the new wheel when you’re ready. These shouldn’t cost a whole lot more than any other used wheel as they are the style used on pretty much everything since the mid-80s . . . and a MUST when you’re carrying extra weight. They might even give you credit to trade-in your ‘old’ cheeseball wheel/axle?
        ==========
        The cassette style you’re looking for may offer more rear gears = 8 or 9 or 10 but — more importantly — it MOVES that right rear bearing OUT where it’s just inside the frame and thus eliminates the flexing which causes premature and problematic rear axle failure. Your existing rear derailer may not permit you to use some of those extra gears on your ‘new’ wheel, but it’s likely you wouldn’t use ALL of them anyway.
        ==========
        With your bike loaded, you’ve probably learned by now to never use your kickstand; always lean the bike against something or gently lay it down. I’ve actually thought about removing my kickstand so I’m not tempted to use it. I don’t like the dumb feeling I get when it falls over with a slight bump or gust of wind (smiles).
        ==========

  3. Pingback: “It Was an Excellent Day” |   Rogue Priest

  4. Pingback: 10 Miles, 9 Pictures |   Rogue Priest

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