Monday, October 17, 2016

Spinning Wheels (From DC to PGH - Day 8)

            It was the last day of our DC to Pittsburgh cycling adventure and Vince and I had eaten breakfast, packed up, and were cycling again by 9:30 AM.  I was expecting to meet my ride around near Point State Park around noon so we needed to maintain a pace of about 10 ½ miles an hour if we were going to make it on time. It was doable.

Vince breaking camp for the last time          
            Our first stop was Mon/Yough Trail Council  Visitors Center in Boston. I had started at least one GAP day trip in Boston but the Visitors Center was closed that day.  This day, it was open. Vince and I parked our bikes out front and walked in. We were greeted by the friendly volunteer who asked us to sign the guestbook. The fact that this was the smallest of the three visitor’s centers we stopped at along the GAP did not diminish our appreciation for the opportunity to browse the merchandise and enjoy conversation with the attendant.

            Back on our bikes, after about seven or eight miles out of Dravo, I was in the lead as we crossed the bridge from the south bank of the Youghiogheny to the north bank heading into McKeesport.  As soon as we crossed the bridge Vince tells me my rear tire is wobbling. I didn’t feel the wobble but when I looked down at my rear wheel I could see it.

            I stop, dismount, and look to see what the problem might be. I soon discover that a section of the sidewall is pulling away from the bead! I realized that I might be facing a catastrophic failure that I had no way of quickly fixing since I had not brought an extra tire with me. I had visions of having to call my ride and asking them to pick me up somewhere between McKeesport and Pittsburgh.

Emergency Repairs
            So close to the finish, we kept cycling, but as I peddled I was thinking about what I could do if the situation grew worse, and what I could do to prevent it from getting worse. After a couple more miles I latched on to an idea.

            Vince and I stopped at the top of a concrete approach ramp to a bridge over a section of train tracks. I climbed off my bike and took a small roll of duct tape out of my saddle bag. Threading the tape between spokes, I tightly wrapped it three times around the tire and rim around the middle of the bulge. I did the same on both sides of the first wrap. Then I took a couple cable ties out of my saddlebag and tightly cinched them around the center wrap.  I thought, and hoped, that this temporary fix would at least reinforce the sidewalls enough to get me to Point State Park.

            I haven’t always carried duct tape and cable ties in my saddlebag. While reading what several others had blogged about cycling the C and O Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage I had noticed that someone carried a small roll of duct tape and some cable ties because they had so many uses. I imagined using duct tape to repair a torn tent, and using a cable tie to reattach a loose cable or water bottle cage, but I never imagined I would use them in combination to reinforce a tire pulling away from the bead. I will carry duct tape and cable ties with me wherever and whenever I ride.

            Hoping that my temporary fix would hold for about another eighteen or nineteen miles, Vince and I rode on as we cycled ever farther into the industrial heartland of Pittsburgh, rolling past old vacant mills and vacant commercial lots. The closer we got to Point State Park the more cyclists, joggers, and trail walkers we saw. The experience was far removed from the near isolation we sometimes experienced for miles on end while cycling the western end of the Towpath and eastern end of the GAP.

REI Southside Pittsburgh
            Our last stop for the day and the trip was the Recreational Equipment Incorporated store on the South Side of Pittsburgh. I have been a member of REI for over forty years and rarely pass up an opportunity to stop in when I pass a store. We parked and locked up our bikes out front and went in to use the restroom and make a few purchases. I actually had a shopping list that included some tent stakes to replace the few I had broken on the trip, and some Nite Ize CamJam Small Cord Tighteners for a friend who had loaned me his for the trip. If we were not so close to finishing, and if I did not have confidence in my temporary rear wheel fix, I might have purchased a new tire and installed it right then and there and then.

            Since Vince had never before cycled all the way into the point, I lead the way, cycling down Fort Pitt Boulevard,  cutting through a parking lot, and threading through some pedestrian underpasses that led us to the park. We cycled on the upper level of the park past the fountain and then turned around and descended to the lower level, dodging pedestrians, including several loose children, on our way to the fountain and the iconic “Forks of the Ohio River – Point State Park” inland marker.  It was about fifteen minutes after noon when we finally arrived.

Vince and I at Point State Park (The End)
            Dark clouds seemed to be massing and we could hear distant thunder and felt a few rain drops, a fitting ending, I thought. We started this trip in rain and we were ending it in rain.  I called my ride to let them know where I was and to find out where they were. Vince and I high fived each other, took some photos, and then I said goodbye as I rode off to be picked up on a nearby street.

            I saw my ride pulling up as I approached the street. I quickly dismounted, took the panniers of my bike and threw them into the back of the car, and loaded my bike onto the rear rack. On the way home, we stopped at the Trek store where my bike was purchased. There I buy two new tires. I also buy new pads for the disk brakes.  I planned to install it later at home.

            Once home, I wash and dry my bike. Then I replace the brake pads, degrease and lube the chain, and oil all the pivot points. While changing the rear tire I notice that another section of the side wall was starting to separate from the bead. I feel fortunate that the tire did not fail before finishing the trip.

            After changing the tire I researched the average life span of a bicycle tire. I learned that a lot of factors, like how you ride and where you ride, can affect the life of a tire, but the general consensus was that 1,500 miles is the average length of a bicycle tire. Looking through my riding journal I determined that my rear tire was probably about three years old and had 1,550 miles on it! Had I known that, I would have put new tires on my bike before embarking on the Towpath and GAP.

The iconic inlaid marker!
            I used almost every piece of gear that I took on the trip accept a pair of Marmot PreCip pants and a small solar/crank powered AM/FM radio. I would not have wanted to do without anything else I took. I also cannot think of anything I wish I had taken that I did not other than a small amount of degreaser and wet chain lube.

            As I was reorienting myself to life off my bike and off the Towpath and GAP, I thought to myself “After having acquired a bike a little over two years ago and starting to cycle again after not riding for nearly thirty-five years, I am a cyclist.  I am more of a cyclist than I ever was. I can weather nasty conditions. I am in half decent shape. I have what it takes to undertake and complete a major multi-day ride.” I also realized that many of my camping and backing skills and experiences, and gear, were easily transferable to bike camping. I also began to think about and plan for how and when I would complete the section of the ride we had shuttled over, the section from Hancock to Frostburg.

Here are the link to previous installments in the "Spinning Wheels" series:

From DC to PGH - Day 7 (24th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 6 (23rd Installment)
My First Tour the Montour (22nd Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 5 (21st Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 4 (20th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 3 (19th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 2 (18th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 1 (17th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 0 (16th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Prologue (15th Installment)
Transitioning (14th Installment)
Flats (13 Installment)
Beware Dehydration (12 Installment)
Creams & Powders for your Butt (11th Installment)
Group vs. Solo Rides (10th Installment)
Competitiveness (9th Installment)
Stats (8th Installment)
Accidents Happen (7th Installment)
Pedals for Cleats (6th Installment)
Riding Shoes with Cleats (5th Installment)
Be Kind to Your Behind (4th Installment)
Combating Hand and Arm Numbness (3rd Installment)
Reading and Riding (2nd Installment)

Starting Over (1st Installment)

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