Friday, June 18, 2010

I'm back... And yes, a little too soon.

My 7 day trek turned into a 3½ day trek.

My bike broke down – out in the middle of literally nowhere. Miles from the nearest paved road. Two hours from the nearest town (by car). And over 200 miles from the nearest city.

Actually, my bike had already broken down a number of times. It just finally broke in a way I couldn't continue to ride it.

On the second day, my chain broke. But I had a spare link. And then it broke again. At that point I pretty much realized I wasn't going to go as far as I had planned. ...Or maybe it was at the point when the chain braking somehow messed up the front derailleur. I thought the derailleur was bent, so I pried on it – until my front derailleur broke too.

At that point I had to admit to myself I would just ride it until it, or I, couldn't go any more.

The Details:

I figured if the chain broke again (and from the noise, it sounded like it would), I would just take out another link until the chain was too short to use. And I also figured that I would just leave the front shifter in the middle chainring. That meant 8 speeds instead of 24, and I wouldn't be able to use my lowest gears; but at least I was moving forward.

Until, on the third afternoon, a spoke broke. Just a spoke.

But not just any spoke. I was prepared for that. No – this spoke broke on the drive train side of the rear wheel. I wasn't prepared for that. Because in order to replace a spoke on the rear wheel on the chainring side, you have to remove the (freewheel) cassette. That would mean special tools – which I didn't have. Oh Oh....

I was able to deal with the first breakdowns. But this one was different. It's a matter of simple physics. The stresses that broke that one spoke are now added to the forces on the remaining spokes. And like some kind of a vicious chain reaction, more spokes were going to break. It was inevitable. And from my previous experience with broken spokes, it was going to happen soon.

Just before that point, I was feeling pretty strong after a few hours of rest and relaxation at an oasis-like stream in the Fortification Range. My energy was back, and I was really starting to appreciate being out there.

Of course, I still have a lot to learn. But for a moment; I was starting to feel positive about making it to at least Sunnyside (3 valleys away). I was beginning to realize, believe even, that this trip was really do-able. Actually, I was starting to really enjoy myself.

I have only broken spokes on my mountain bike once before – in 25 years of riding. (And even then I took it into the shop to fix it for me.) I was not prepared. I simply had never really looked that closely at my spokes. This is embarrassing. I had plenty of spare spokes, but I hadn't really thought about how to put them on – at least not on the side of the wheel that's most likely to break.

By riding in my middle ring, I didn't break my chain again. However, I was still strong enough to break my spoke. There was a short, steep (considering I was pulling a trailer) hill I blasted up right after my rest stop. And there was a sandy section I fought to get through up a little further. Somewhere between those two spots; my rear wheel must have been unable to hold up to the huge forces inflicted upon it by my awesome leg strength...

Hey, that's my story.

So, with my bike barely able to ride, I stayed put right there near water with four days worth of food left (in the Fortification Range) – and pressed the “help” button on my SPOT. (The SPOT is a satellite connected GPS that monitors your position, can call 911, tell your loved ones you're OK, or send one programmable message. My programmable message is “help, my bike is broken.”)

...I have to face the fact that I had to be “rescued” by my parents – in a vehicle. How embarrassing. But I'm glad they were there.

On the other hand; I also made it for over three days out in the Nevada high desert – and covered 70 miles. While I was on dirt, I saw only four cars in three days, and two of those were on a well traveled road into the Great Basin National Park. I never saw another mountain bike rider. And of course, I had no expectations of seeing another mountain bike rider. The vast majority of the time; I was out there all by myself, surrounded by the world – with nothing to see but the natural world – as far as I could see – in every direction. Though I was headed somewhere, I was where I wanted to be. Experience's like that are mildly transformative.

I set out to have an experience that might help me relate to my ancestors, who once roamed the Great Basin on foot. And in one respect, I achieved the most important of my goals. I achieved some “perspective.”

The world seems so much bigger and more alive when you travel about it human powered.

Occasionally, a jet airliner would fly over – high in the sky, like a moving dot with a white trail behind it. Those people flying overhead had no idea I was there. The Great Basin, to them, looked empty. But the Great Basin is far from empty. To them; there were no lights in the valleys at night. To them, it was like flying over a huge black hole. But to me; there were millions of brush and trees, with life everywhere, scurrying amongst them – singing, chattering, or just soaking up the sun.

For a moment, I wasn't overlooking the obvious. And it was beautiful.

I have learned once again that I am still a mediocre bicycle mechanic. That may not seem so important to you. But it should. For I believe that my attitude is, in a way, a reflection of our society. I feel this is true for all of us.

We want things. And we want things to turn out well. But like mediocre mechanics, we have great hopes for our future, while we haven't thought through well enough how we'll actually get what we want. We, in our haste for success, have ignored all the possible pitfalls – and haven't really thought about how we are going to literally get where we want to be.

I relied on technology to carry me. But technology is just a tool. However, and this is my point; technology is a tool that can be improved upon.

We, as a society, have been so focused on “success” (as we presently perceive it) that we have ignored the fact that the seeds of our failure lie within our methods to get that success.

We need to improve our tools so as to do the right job. And one of those tools we need to improve is our attitude.

Success makes you stronger...

Failure makes you wiser...


I failed at my goal (of making it to Railroad Valley). But I had a wonderful time failing. I got through some scary predicaments with my life and my health intact. I would honestly say that I actually had a genuine adventure. For a few days, I felt truly alive. In fact, I might even be wiser now. And stronger too.

But most importantly, I saw the world in a different way. It was bigger, tougher, and more beautiful than I had ever perceived before.

This was so much more than a vacation. This was a learning experience. This was a life experience. This was an opportunity to feel human in a way that we, as a society, have tried to pretend we are above.

We have not tamed nature. part because we are not tame.

And that's the way we like it.

And that's good.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

A disappointing curtailment of the great trek, I guess, but more importantly, your words are well chosen. We've been letting our own tools kill us simply because we don't care enough about improving them.