I bought my first road bike last October, just as the cycling bug was taking hold of me and, while it is an only entry-level model, I have been extremely protective of it. Naturally, I use it, but I have a tendency to take my trusty decades-old Trek hybrid out whenever I am a bit wary of the road conditions. If there's the slightest hint of rain in the air, for instance, I leave the road bike at home. If I suspect I may encounter gravel, I leave the road bike at home. If it has been windy and I suspect the rail trails will be littered with tree branches and other debris, I leave the road bike at home.
In other words, I treat my road bike like an overprotective parent would treat his or her child.
Since a good deal of this week's riding has consisted of gravel grinding on my slow, steel-framed hybrid on the rural roads linking my small Iowan town to even smaller, more Iowan communities, I'd begun craving the faster ride of my road bike. Although I hemmed and hawed a bit, I decided to forego the comparatively short group ride organized by my local cycling club so that I could take a longer solo ride and explore some county roads I'd not yet ridden. Being the careful fellow that I am, I fired up my computer and scoured the satellite images of the roads I'd be riding on Google Maps to ensure that I'd be riding a well-paved route with sparse automobile traffic. I double-checked everything, reassured myself that it would be a good ride, and set out for a nice forty mile tour of the county that would take me through a few small towns, including one I hadn't yet visited. I was excited.
While I didn't exactly zip along, I enjoyed the smooth, speedy feel of the road bike and the miles passed quickly. I inhaled the cool early evening air, thanked the Fates for keeping the winds from whipping across the plains, and tried to notice the subtle changes in the landscape. I churned up a few hills, coasted down a few more, and marveled at how green everything was getting. It was a lovely evening and I knew that the ride would be satisfying once I got home, where I intended to revel in the post-ride calm and treat myself to a nice dinner.
I was getting a little hungry, though, so my thoughts turned to picking up a bite to eat at the Kwik Star convenience store in Readlyn, which I reasoned would be a good place to stop since it is located at the other end of the the rail trail I would be taking back to Waverly. The sun was setting as I pulled off Route 3 into Readlyn, the sky streaked with oranges and purples. Initially, I'd planned on turning onto Reed Avenue, a road on which I'd ridden previously. Instead, I turned one road before Reed, onto Quarter Avenue.
Quarter Avenue, it turns out, is an aptly-named road. There are so many potholes and fissures splitting the pavement that it seems to be just that: a quarter of a road. Actually, scratch that. Quarter Avenue is less a road than the absence of a road. Seriously: the surface of the moon has fewer craters. This, for example, is probably the most smoothly-paved section of the road:
So, just as I turned onto Quarter Avenue, a little over one mile from the familiar territory of the Kwik Star, I found myself heading straight for what can only be described as the Grand Canyon of Iowa or perhaps the Marianas Trench of the Heartland. This gaping crevasse--several inches deep, four or five feet long, and more than a foot across--was, for me, much like the Sirenum Scopuli of mythic antiquity. Like the mariners lulled to sleep by the unearthly singing of those birdlike Sirens, I was too becalmed by the beauty of the moment to recognize my peril before it was two late. In a futile effort to avoid my fate, I pulled on the handlebars, launching the front wheel of my bike into the air, but my rear wheel crashed, like a shipwreck, into the rock wall and, with the telltale hiss of a wounded inner tube, my tire went flat.
This was it: my first flat tire. Somehow, it's not nearly as exciting as it might sound.
I hadn't brought a patch kit with me, so I called a friend to ask for a ride and walked the mile to the Kwik Star, carrying my once-proud, now-maimed steed. I passed several people who, with typical Midwestern politeness, greeted me and, with that same typical Midwestern politeness, pretended not to notice the fact that I was carrying a bike on my back as I lurched towards the gas station in the gathering dusk.
It all turned out okay, of course. Although it was a bit chilly as I waited for my ride, I was metaphorically warmed by my beloved Canadiens' Game 7 win over the Bruins, the ESPN mobile gamecast of which helped pass the time. My friend got me home and I changed my first-ever flat. Removing the tire wasn't as difficult as I'd feared, but it was more difficult than I'd hoped. As I'd predicted, I got myself a pretty nice pinch flat. I decided to replace the inner tube with a new one and I am keeping the as-yet-unpatched damaged tube as a spare. Getting the tire back on after I'd replaced the tube was a royal pain in the ass, but I did it. As I pumped up the tire, however, it seemed I couldn't quite reach the PSI I'd expected and I was a bit concerned. I heard a couple of strange pops and, at one point, thought I'd caused a small explosion.
But nothing happened.
The tire seems all right, for the most part, though my rear wheel appears to be a bit out of true and there seems to be something off in the shifting. What had once been an occasional slipping or skipping as I pedaled in a lower gear seemed to be more of an issue during my brief test ride. Still, I was able to ride around the block a few times and I seem to have succeeded in my attempt at completing a very basic, yet crucial task for any cyclist.
I'll take that as a positive. I mean, anytime you learn something, that's a good thing, right? I now know I can change a bike tube, that carrying a patch kit is essential, and that Bremer County, Iowa really, really, really needs to fix Quarter Avenue unless they plan on using it to test the durability of the Mars Rover. If that's the case, though, I feel really bad for that poor robot.