It doesn’t matter if it’s a two hour trip or a trip across the country, I love being on the road. Sure, air travel is quick and convenient, but the view you get of the world is far away and sometimes obscured by clouds. Traveling by car allows you a better view of the landscape, though it still restricts you to what you can glimpse at speeds often topping seventy miles per hour. My preferred mode of travel is by bicycle.
Last week, I hopped on my bicycle for what was to be a ride of about twenty-two miles stretching from the shores of beautiful Black Lake to Cheboygan in northern Michigan. I was meeting my family at The Big Dipper, an ice cream parlor straight out of the 1950s, where I would eat an ice cream sundae that would likely nullify the calories I had just burned on the ride.
Just a tick over seven miles into the ride, I crossed a small bridge and felt my rear tire go flat. I pulled off the road onto the gravel shoulder reached for my phone to call my wife to come and pick me up, then thought better of it. I decided to do a roadside tube change, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I could make the repair in less than optimal conditions, which for me is putting my bike up on the rack and raising it to eye level.
Twelve minutes later, with a little chain grease on my hands, I had installed my spare tube, and was back on the road. Eleven minutes after that, my tire went flat again. I pulled onto the shoulder and grabbed my pump, though I knew in my gut that I was not going to be riding anymore that day. I put a few pumps of air into the tire, waited, and confirmed that I was again dealing with a flat tire. Again, I reached for my phone and was dialing my wife when I spotted our minivan coming toward me. They pulled over, picked me up, and we went for ice cream. As much as I enjoyed the sundae, made with salty caramel vanilla ice cream topped with hot fudge, I felt out of sorts, and was a little pouty. My youngest daughter Riley, fourteen, noticed my poutiness and asked what was wrong. “Bummed that I couldn’t finish my ride,” I replied. In a gesture that belied her young age, she put a hand on my arm and said, “It’s okay Dad. You’ll get ‘em tomorrow.”
I woke up early this morning, eager to “get ‘em,” to get that one last ride in before we ended our vacation and returned home to Indiana. I wheeled my bicycle out by the lake. I figured if I had to wrench, I should enjoy the view while I was doing it. I started by patching the least-damaged of the two failed tubes from the previous day’s ride. I put some air in it to make sure that it held, and satisfied that it did, I put it and the tire back on the rim. I checked it ten minutes later and found that it was flat. Go figure.
I decided to use my last new tube. Perhaps in a rush to get to the breakfast table (biscuits and gravy are one of my food vices), I tore a hole in the tube with the tire lever while getting the tire back on the rim. After breakfast I found the tire flat again, and decided to take the rim and tire into Cheboygan to the relatively new City Bike Shop. As it turned out, I got his last road bike tube. He told me that he had gone through a lot of tubes in the past week or so.
Forty-five minutes later I was doing what I had set out to do since I had gotten out of bed that morning: taking one last ride around Black Lake before our vacation came to an end.
All of the difficulties with inner tubes had me feeling pretty deflated and frustrated. Why go through all that trouble just to take a bike ride? The answer is quite simple: for me, riding is the key to having a happy and healthy life. While riding keeps me (somewhat) physically fit, it also keeps me emotionally fit.
Plus, cycling is a great way to explore new areas. Much of the riding I do is on the same roads where I live, so a chance to ride roads I have only ridden a few times, or never at all, is always an exciting prospect for me. Riding a bicycle allows for an intimacy with the road, the landscape, and the people you encounter that you just can’t get any other way. You become part your ever-changing surroundings in a way that riding in a steel box doesn’t allow. Bicycling allows you to interact with people that you encounter – the guy watering his flowers, the woman teaching her daughter to ride a bicycle in their driveway, the elderly woman walking her dog – in a manner that may brighten their day just a bit – something as simple as a nod, a wave, or a friendly smile. And they may return your gesture – a payment made with the currency of human interaction.
It was a bad couple of days for inner tubes. But all the trouble I had to go through for this one last vacation ride was a small price to pay for the calories I burned, the emotional high I got, the beautiful Michigan scenery I saw, and, best of all, the fact that I got to intimately interact with my surroundings.