Thursday, July 8, 2010

Um... Well. So, there it is.

I'm back. I actually got back Wednesday...

Let me preface.

Kick Enemy Men (KEM) and I have been doing outdoor stuff together for years. In 2004, we attempted, for the second time, to climb Mount Kearsarge in New Hampshire. It's not a large mountain, but it seemed to have it in for us. The first time, we were turned back by ice and snow falls on the main ascent and spent the night near a pond at the base. This time it was raining as we left our vehicles and headed in. As we reached the pond, the summit was socked in and the rain was steady. We decided to set up camp; in 40°F and rain in April. Our shells wetted out, our gloves wetted out, our rain pants wetted out. So, we crawled into the tent to spend the next fourteen hours playing chess, reading and sleeping.

It was not fun.

On the way out, we both discovered that, at the trailhead, each of us had wanted to pack it in and head back to KEM's place. However, neither of us wanted to be the "wuss". From that day on we decided that, when we were camping, either of us could call an end and the other could not complain or question or mock. So far, we haven't had to use the Kearsarge Protocol.

Until now, that is. This trip as a Kearsarge Moment. There is a short version, but it doesn't illustrate the comedy of errors and good luck/bad luck that was this trip.

KEM picked me up on Sunday and we drove back to his place in ME. The next morning we packed up, checked our gear and set out about 9 AM. Look how damned hopeful we were! I'm on the right and that's my bike and trailer behind us (man, it looks hot already, doesn't it?)

The first ten miles were warm, but not too bad as that leg was on a winding road among the trees. Then we hit Rt. 26 proper and there were no trees within meters of the road. It began to get uncomfortable. At about thirteen miles, we stopped for ice cream and not just because the place was called Smedberg's (fantastic ice cream by the way. Worth stopping for at any time).

Then, we began chugging along as the heat rose to 93°F. At about twenty-six miles, KEM blew a front right tube on his trike and we pulled over to repair it. Luckily, the blowout had happened at a section of tree-shaded grass on the side of the road (the only one for a bout a mile in either direction). Then, the fun began.

I pulled his tube and found that the problem was an old patch that had given way. He'd run this patch for hundreds of miles and now it gives out. Not on his training runs this year, now. KEM's got a spare tube so we decide to swap tubes and patch the bad one at our leisure that night. Good plan, except for the fact that the new tube is a Schrader valve and the rim is, for some reason, drilled for the narrower Presta valve. (For a commuter bike, it's better to be drilled for Schraeder. You can put a Presta valve through a Schraeder-sized hole, but not the other way 'round). So, we decide to patch the bad tube. I grab my patch kit, which I checked before I left. Here's the thing though. I checked the glue by squeezing the tube. It gave. The thing is, vulcanizing cement doesn't harden, it contracts. So, when I went to squeeze out the glue a puff of air was all I got. Embarrassing for a guy who's been riding for over twenty years and has worked at two bike shops.

No problem. KEM has a kit. I prep the tube, slather the cement on, grab my largest patch and slather the glue on. I press the patch to the tube, but it doesn't seem to be vulcanizing. The patch won't stick to the tube and the patch won't even come away from the cellophane backing.

We're both getting a little testy. It's stranger to see KEM testy, usually nothing phases him, but the heat has never been his friend. So, I try a small patch. It goes on perfectly, then fails as I test fill the tube. I put another patch over the failed area and IT fails on the test pump. I put a third patch over the failed area and install the tube. The reasoning is, the pressure of the air pushing the patch against the rim might help keep it from failing. Also, this is the last try, if it fails, we're done. I pump the tire up to about 3/4 normal pressure and it holds! Only to fail the moment I start putting the valve cap back on.

KEM was less than happy. He pulled out his phone and, of course, no signal. So, as it was his tube, he was elected to ask the nearest house for help. The resident was a crusty old Mainer with a pickup who said he was heading to Wal-Mart and would give KEM a ride. I gave KEM $10 to slide to the guy and lay down for a good nap in the (strangely bug-free) grass in the shade. KEM scoured Wal-Mart for 20" Presta valved tubes, but there were none. Such is the fact that most Wal-Mart shoppers don't know there are more than one type of bike valve that KEM had to pull apart the un-labeled packages to check. After four, he gave up and called his wife, H.

H arrived in the not-reliable Volvo wagon and we loaded up KEM's trike. We still hadn't reached a Kearsarge moment, so I suggested that they head to the next town, Bethel, where we knew there was a bike store, while I would ride on. KEM would buy a proper tube and then either wait for me, or have H drive back to meet me. Then we would make the decision to go or stop.

I watched them drive away, hopped on the bike and headed out. It was hot and difficult. I had to stop once at a gas station for two quarts of PowerAde; one of which I chugged immediately. I logged another sixteen miles for a daily total of 42.5. KEM and H showed up and KEM called a Kearsarge, ending the trip. It turns out that 20" Presta tubes are very rare. So, the bike store guy drilled KEM's rims for him and now he's ready for any style tube.

I was not unhappy about the Kearsarge. I could have continued, I still had the stamina, but it would have been a Trial rather than Fun. This trip was not the masochism of a race, it was to be a leisurely bop around Northern New England. I was disappointed, but not unhappy, if that makes any sense.

We loaded up my bike and trailer in the back on the passenger side and H had to lie down on the deck next to KEM's trike on the driver's side. It was awesome of her, btw. Sure, she's under five feet, but that's still awesome. I lent her my camping pillow to mitigate her discomfort. With my 50lb dry bag on my lap, we headed back to KEM's house.

That night was for stretching, shower, water, dinner, Tour de France coverage and sleeping. The next morning, H took KEM's car to work and we thought it'd be okay to ride ten miles to play some disc golf (a sport at which KEM excells). This was a mistake. It was a hot ride, and a hot round of disc golf. Neither of us was too happy to get back on our rides, but there could be no Kearsarge Moment when they were the only way back. We bought extra GatorAde at the clubhouse and hit the road. The ride home was brutal. We had to stop numerous times and KEM had to walk his bike up a major hill.

Back home by 2 PM for more stretching, shower, water, dinner, Tour de France coverage and sleeping. If the day did one thing, it showed us that stopping the trip was the right choice.

The next day, we headed back to my house along the same route we tried to ride. We stopped at some interesting places. Including one thing that KEM missed driving by twice on Sunday and I missed once. I'd noticed (and stopped at) when riding to the bike store, but that was because I was going 11 MPH. Strange we missed it, as it is rather singular:

I wanted to send KEM back home with a maple/pecan pie from the local piemaker down the street (the plan was to have such a pie waiting for us at the end of our trip, courtesy of Sweet Enemy). However, when we got there, they were OUT OF PIE! Gahh!

So, I sent KEM off with my thank for the delivery and the promise of a check to pay for the rental car (long , uninteresting story).

What makes this interesting, is that the tube failed at the perfect place. At the only shade for miles. In front of the house of a helpful guy. Within easy range for our "sag wagon". If it'd happened near the bike store, we'd have likely continued and been miserable. We might not have thought to call a Kearsarge if not for the impetus of the blowout.

We think we may have been a bit ambitious and rushed it. We're planning a three-day two-night 40 mi/day trek just in VT in Sept. For practice. Then, in the spring, we're trying again.

Listening to while posting. Nothing.


Don Snabulus said...

As I read in a Neil Peart book (yep, the Rush guy), "They are not adventures while you are having them."

Big time props to H for doing something few would do and being a general hero (which also starts with H).

I am glad to hear that you are going to work back up to it. Hopefully, you will get that beautiful crisp dry September weather before the maples do that wonderful thing they do.

Hopefully my knee allows me to complete my 36 trip in August. If not, the route stays near the local mass transit system, so I can call a Kearsarge if needed. (It might get called off if my new orthopedic doc puts the kibosh on it and schedules surgery sooner on foot or knee).

Pandabonium said...

Interesting story. Kearsarge is a good rule.
The pie shop reminds of the Monty Python bit with the empty cheese shop.
In Japan we have Woods valves (aka Dunlop) which is an antiquated design and royal pain in the arse to deal with. Hard to get the tire up to pressure and impossible to use a gauge.

Arkonbey said...

@snab: I'd meant to read that Peart book, any good? I'll bet your knee will survive if you remember one important thing: it's not a race, so you don't have to hammer if it's not an emergency.

@panda: oh, man, I forgot about the Woods valves. It seems like such a strange thing for Japan to hold on to. Are they a different diameter than either Presta or Schraeder?

verification word is 'dringl': a small bell used by Christian/Jewish families to celebrate both x-mas and hannukah.

Arjan said...

Ha! A face to the blogger.

Arkonbey said...

Oh nooooooooo! I'm no longer anonymous!


Pandabonium said...

Woods are the diameter of Presta I think. We have the British to thank for them, as they dominated the Asian market for so long. They're found throughout southeast Asia and Japan.

ladybug said...

Ditto what Panda said. "Kearsarge" is a good idea. We've had to do the same thing when it's evident it ain't goin'! Sometimes we discover something better too!