Saturday, November 03, 2007

Good faith effort

Date: Nov. 2
Mileage: 54.2
November mileage: 67.4
Temperature upon departure: 39
Rainfall: .64"

I got a flat tire about six miles from home today. No huge surprise there - Juneau roads are after all approximately 19.76 percent glass. I've had so many flats, in fact, that I started carrying this huge but supposedly efficient bike pump that I never bother to carry, because it weighs approximately 19.76 pounds. Problem is, I never actually tested this pump, nor had I tried to use it. Today was the test run, and I failed miserably.

After about 20 minutes of fidgeting and taking the thing apart, when my fingers became sufficiently numb, I decided that even if this was a working pump, I was not going to figure out how to use it. Across the street were a gas station and the Western Auto Marine store. But I had no Schrader conversion piece for my Presta valves. And no money. Not a cent. I had somehow managed to leave the house with 19.76 articles of spare clothing and no cash.

I clopped in my bikes shoes over to the store, a treacherous journey with those silly LOOK bindings sliding all over the wet pavement, on the off chance that a store called Western Auto Marine sold bike pumps, and that some sympathetic employee might agree to barter my MP3 player for a $15 floor pump. They did sell pumps. Well .. the did sell "a" pump. It looked like it had been sitting there since 1976, seemed to be made of cast iron, and only fit Schrader valves. I felt so lost. There I was, standing in the middle of a store in the middle of town, completely stranded.

I didn't have the courage to ask anyone for so much as a quarter to make a phone call, because I found my situation to be sufficiently humiliating. I could hardly walk even a few steps in my bike shoes, so I grabbed a couple of real estate guides and stuffed them in the bottom of my neoprene booties. Then I put on my extra pair of socks, wedged my feet in, and resigned myself to a six-mile walk home in my sock feet.

Luckily, I live in a small city in Alaska. I hadn't even walked a full block when a crab fisherman named James stopped his truck and asked me if I needed a ride. He took me all the way home. Even though I had wasted more than an hour in the ordeal, I still had enough daylight to (mostly) salvage the ride.

Sufficiently humbled, I grabbed my old pump, an extra spare tube for good measure, and stuffed my pockets full of cash and a credit card (even though I had already decided to ride on North Douglas Island, which has no stores.)

The one blessing of that whole disaster is that it pushed my ride all the way back to sunset. I rode past the glacier beneath the heavily filtered waning light of the afternoon, cast in electric blue hues and framed in gray. I made a U-turn at the dead end and rode up to Eaglecrest, which was absolutely inundated by a downpour of sleet and snow that hadn't quite reached the point of accumulation yet. I felt like I had landed in the midst of an Arctic blast, with sleet so heavy that it actually stung my skin through my coat and stabbed my eyes. I turned around, descended through the rush of Arctic wind and rain that can only be described as cold shock, and returned to the relative calm of sea level. A yawn of blue sky had opened up over the channel, and streams of light from setting sun peeked through just long enough to cast a small rainbow beside the glacier. A fitting end to a strange afternoon.


  1. Good morning. BOOO for flat tires. Yeah for fisherman!! I've been reading for a bit and b/c of your blog I totally want to head to Alaska at some point!!!

  2. Great story. I bet you $19.76 you'll be carrying at least $19.76 with you ar all times now!

  3. Ever heard of CO2 ?

  4. They're bad for the environment man!

  5. I can't say that I've ever had a flat that far from home, but it's definitely a bewildering experience. I flatted during a race in a town I'd never ridden in before and was luckily picked up a few yards after I'd begun walking by some folks who'd already finished the race and were driving to the after party. I'm glad your story turned out well in the end!

  6. I recycle my CO2 canisters, agreed re: the environment if you are not able to do the same.

  7. Good thing for nice people who will still offer stranded strangers a ride. But I'm sorry, riding with a pump that you don't know how to operate, not to mention one that doesn't even fit your valves stems, is just dumb.

  8. I didn't say it was bright. That's what makes the story funny.

    Incidentally, that pump actually does work. It has this strange feature that requires you to twist the head all the way around, releasing a short hose that allows you to use it as a ground pump. It won't release air and won't lock into place until you do so. It doesn't come apart easily, especially the first time, but if I had spent a few more minutes playing with it, I might have discovered that and have been able to save myself.

    I usually carry a Schrader valve conversion for gas station air too, and money. It was just one of those trifectas where everything went perfectly wrong.

    I'm very grateful to the kind stranger, but I would have been fine without him. The six-mile hike probably would have been appropriate punishment for my dumbness.

  9. "Good thing for nice people who will still offer stranded strangers a ride. But I'm sorry, riding with a pump that you don't know how to operate, not to mention one that doesn't even fit your valves stems, is just dumb."

    Careless, yes, but dumb seems a bit harsh don't you think?

  10. Who's never forgotten to take a pump out on a ride before? Or taken a repair kit from the seat pack to find no patches? Get real anonymous, and try not to sound so rude.

  11. I really like your style. Lots of stores and no money. The fix... get money and go someplace with no stores. Kind of the story of my life.

    That's why nice people drive around. To protect people like us. 8>)

  12. Anytime your story includes the words "Glacier", "Eaglecrest", and "Bike" you know your doing something right!

  13. I may never, and probably don't want to, figure out how your stories about rain and flats and snow and cold always make me wish I was there for the fun...


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