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.