This story is true. Before I say anything else, you must understand this very important fact. Which is to say, everything I will describe in today’s post actually happened. In fact, it actually happened last weekend.
The second thing you must accept as a crucial part of the premise of this story is this: I am a complete idiot. If you don’t take this second statement as given, you’ll never believe the first part.
Are we clear on both of these facts? Can we continue? Excellent.
Saturday was the day we had been waiting for. A weekend day. Not snowy or rainy. Little wind. Mild temperature.
A good day, in short, for The Hammer and me to — for the first time in what felt like forever — go on a ride.
So, with me on my Tarmac and The Hammer on her Orbea, we rode the 23 miles to the Cedar Fort gas station, bought and shared a coke, and then started riding back.
On the return trip, we always take mile-long pulls, trading off at the mile-marker signposts. It’s a little tradition, one we both like.
“It’s so nice to be able to do this ride without the wind,” The Hammer shouted back during one of her pulls. And she was right.
As The Hammer came around for her third or fourth pull, I felt the way my rear wheel rolls change. You know the feeling: it becomes sloppy in the way it tracks, and you start feeling the road vibration much more strongly.
I had a flat rear tire.
“Oh well,” I said, not really terribly disappointed. Flats are easy to fix on road bikes. Meanwhile, it was a nice day out, and I didn’t mind taking a break from riding for five minutes or so.
So I unzipped my Banjo Brothers seat back and pulled out the spare tube I keep, wrapped up in an old cycling sock (to keep the tube from getting a hole rubbed into it). Then the CO2 threaded canister. And then the CO2 valve.
Except there was no CO2 valve.
Why wasn’t there a CO2 valve?
I sent my mind back — when was the last time I had gotten a flat, and why would I have replaced the tube and CO2 canister, but not put the CO2 valve back in the pack?
I couldn’t even remember. It didn’t matter anyway, not for the moment.
Luckily, The Hammer had a Banjo Brothers seat pack on her bike. “Can you get me the valve out of your seat pack?” I asked The Hammer. “I don’t have one in mine, though I don’t know why not.
“Sure,” The Hammer said, and unzipped her seat pack. Which contained a tube, a CO2 canister, and…nothing else.
So, for whatever forgotten reason, at some point in the past I apparently had raided both our seat packs at some point, taking the valves. Then, I had evidently forgotten to ever replace them.
Past-self, know this: I am pretty darn upset with your forgetfulness and irresponsibility.
So there we were, me with a flat and no way for us to fix it. The solution — a lousy solution, but there you are — was obvious.
“You go ahead and ride home (about fifteen miles from where we were),” I said. “I’ll walk my bike to the nearest gas station and buy myself an ice cream cone while I wait for you.”
“But what if I flat between here and there?” The Hammer asked. A good question, but with no good answer.
“Did you bring a phone?” I asked.
“No,” she answered.
“So take mine,” I said. “If you flat, you’ll need to call one of the kids to come pick you up.
“I’ll hurry back as fast as I can,” The Hammer said.
“That’s fine,” I said, not really unhappy. Walking’s not as fun as riding, but at least the day was nice. Things could have been a lot worse.
I walked for about ten minutes, and then saw a guy riding toward me on the opposite side of the road. Riding a Canondale, wearing an Adobe kit.
Right then, I knew I wasn’t going to have to walk much farther.
As soon as the cyclist saw me, he veered off his line, cut across the four lanes of the road, and hollered the standard greeting cyclists on bikes yell to cyclists who are walking: “You need anything?”
“Do you have a CO2 valve?” I yelled back.
“Threaded,” he said, because by then he was stopped and swinging his leg over his bike.
“Perfect,” I said, and we talked for a few minutes while I changed my tube. As I worked, a couple more riders came by, each yelling the standard offer of assistance, and I thought to myself how great it is that this is somehow part of standard cyclist etiquette.
Before too long I was all set and Ryan and I each resumed our rides, heading in opposite directions.
The Problem With Plan C
As I rode back, I tried to picture how far ahead of me The Hammer might be. How long had I walked before Ryan rescued me? And how long had it taken me to get a new tube in once Ryan had shown up? A total of fifteen minutes, maybe? Possibly more?
I didn’t really know, but wasn’t worried. I figured I’d just ride the route The Hammer and I always ride, keeping an eye out for my truck.
But then I remembered.
The Hammer had said, “I’ll hurry back as fast as I can.”
And The Hammer is usually very literal. Which might mean, it now occurred to me, that when she came to get me, instead of retracing the less-trafficked route we take when we ride, she might drive the shortest route.
Because, of course, she wouldn’t be expecting me to be back on my bike.
Or would she?
Like me, The Hammer was bound to have noticed how many cyclists were there on the road that day, and she knows as well as I do that they often offer to help.
So she might guess that I might be back on my bike.
But that would be just a guess.
And she wouldn’t want to leave me sitting bored at a gas station for any longer than necessary.
And I didn’t have a phone to let her know what was going on.
“I’ll just have to hope she retraces the route we ride,” I thought, and kept going.
When I was about half an hour from home, I started watching carefully for the truck, preparing to wave wildly when I saw it.
I did not see it. And as I got closer to home, I was more and more certain that I would not see it. That I would get home just about the time The Hammer got to the gas station where she expected me.
I got home and opened the garage door, hoping against hope that for some reason she had been delayed at home and was still there, thus bringing a ridiculously easy conclusion to this little farce.
Of course, the truck was gone.
So I went to call The Hammer. Except when she had left to pick me up, she had taken both her phone and mine with her.
So I tried the landline. Which failed to work. (Yes, really.)
And then one of the several teenagers living at our house wandered by, his phone in his hand (natch). “Give me your phone,” I said, curtly.
“Why?” He replied, suspiciously.
“Just give me the phone,” I said, the explanation for why I needed it almost ridiculously too complicated in my mind.
I called The Hammer.
“Hi Nigel,” The Hammer said, answering the phone.
“Nope, it’s me,” I replied.
“Elden? Did Nigel come and get you, then?”
“No, a rider stopped for me and I was able to get my bike fixed, and I rode home. I guess you must have gone a different way than we ride?”
“So,” I asked. “Where are you?”
“I’m just getting to the gas station now.”
And that’s when I realized what you probably realized about twenty paragraphs ago: I could have stopped at a gas station along the way. Or any of the multitude of fast-food restaurants. Or just about anywhere, really. And I could have made a phone call, letting The Hammer know where I was and what I was doing.
But I didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me. I had given my phone to The Hammer and — magically — at that instant all other phones (including the one I probably could have borrowed from Ryan if I’d thought of it) had stopped existing.
And — in spite of the fact that we had seen probably 25 or 30 bikes on the road that day — it never occurred to me to say to The Hammer before she took off on her own, “Hey, on your way back, retrace the regular riding route…just in case someone stops and can loan me a CO2 adapter.”
And…finally…maybe it’s time I realize that owning a small pump that fits in a jersey pocket — not just relying on CO2 to fix flats — might not be a half-bad idea.
But I figure I’ll probably just wait ’til I’ve found myself stranded on the side of the road a few more times ’til I learn that lesson.
Yeah, that’s almost certainly what I’ll do.