Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tennessee has been interesting.

I pulled into the Chattanooga National Forest early on Friday.  I had in my mind a rough idea of where I wanted to camp, and found a pretty good spot pretty quickly.  I didn't think it was a spot I wanted to stay in long term but it would do for a day.  Since it wasn’t noon yet, I unloaded a motorcycle for a quick trip to the nearest town for some supplies.

Back at camp, I parked the motorcycle and got some tools out, then began to do some bicycle maintenance.  Shortly, a car with a bad exhaust pulled into my camp site.  “Mark” said he was just checking out the fishing opportunities.  He left but was back within an hour.  “I brought you some firewood,” he said.  In the trunk of his little car was two whole pieces of a tree.  Huge, no way I’d be able to split them with my little hatchet.  No problem, he had an axe.  He handed it to me and I looked if over.  The head of it could have been left over from the civil war.  It was all pitted, the back side was mushroomed from being hit with a maul, the edge on it was worse than just blunt.  Only its mass would be useful.  

Before I could start splitting the wood, he began telling me how important it would be for me to have a fire that night, that the spot I had picked was the favorite of the local hood-rats and meth-heads.  I wasn’t sure how having a fire would keep them away.  Were they like zombies?  Still, I’m reluctant to dismiss the warnings of a local and he seemed to be harmless and pretty local.  Or loco.  Eventually, I let him convince me to move, and he quickly added that the spot he was at was a better choice, closer to the nearby national forest campground full of RVers and such.  Plenty of room there for two.  Putting the tree pieces back in his car, I told him I’d pack my stuff and head down there.

Back into the van went the bicycle, the tools, and the motorcycle.  Down the road I had no trouble finding his spot, and joining him I saw that the two pieces of tree trunk were already split.  I joined him at the picnic table as he finished off a Monster energy drink, made himself a cup of coffee, and began the long and repetitious story of how God would not let him leave me in that horrible spot.  Did he mention he was born again?  Several times.  Everything he said was delivered in a Tennessee accent so thick I had to ask him to repeat some things.

He told me at length how a woman he was living with, daughter of a Baptist minister, convinced him to go to church with her one Sunday.  Two Sundays later Jesus entered his heart and he moved out, unable to continue living in sin.  That was 9 years ago and he hadn’t dated anyone since.  “These days,” he said, “women just want you to jump their bones.”  

“You could just say ‘no’” I suggested to the air, apparently.

As the night wore on, he told me much more.  And more.  I began to suspect he wanted someone to talk to as much as he was looking out for my safety.  Oh well, my sister says I need to socialize more….

I slept in my rooftop tent, pepper spray next to my pillow (for the bears, which he pronounced “bars”).  Mark slept in his tiny car.  In the morning I brewed my coffee, declining the instant coffee he preferred.  I said I might check out the campground a few miles away (not the one full of RVs), thanked him for looking out for me but I would not attend church with him, and departed.  I passed the spot I had originally set up in.  As I suspected, it had remained empty all night.

Later, at the Thunder Rock campground, I picked a spot and paid a small fee.  Shortly, Roxie, the campground host, came by in her golf cart to welcome me. “You must be Will. Mark told me all about you…”


I haven’t had a flat tire on a bicycle ride for a long time.  Not so long that I’ve stopped carrying a spare tube with me, and not so long that I’ve stopped carrying a pump, although I switched from my heavier but very effective Zephal pump to a barely adequate mini pump.  

Flying down a one-lane dirt and gravel road in the mountains of southern Tennessee, I felt the rear tire go flat.  Not slowly, but suddenly, with an audible pop.  

Being a pretty good mechanic, I pulled the tube and inflated it, looking for the hole.  There it was, pretty large, and there was a matching hole in my tire.  Something had punched through both.  I felt around inside the tire but couldn’t find the offender, so a new tube (my only spare) went in and was soon inflated.  I had planned a long day exploring the mountains and decided to press on.  It had been a long time since I’d had 2 flats in the same day…   Soon enough, about a half mile later, the rear was flat again.  Maybe I had just under-inflated it?  No, it would not hold air.

Pulling the tube, I found two small holes.  Looking in the tire, I found the small piece of glass that had caused the original puncture.  It was loose in the tire, that was why I didn’t find it the first time.  Now I was stuck, two flat tubes and (only) 5 miles from camp.  But still with a flat tire.

I brainstormed a bit: running out of tubes is not a problem that hadn’t been faced and solved before, but I didn’t have high hopes of stuffing the tire with leaves as others have done.  

I was near an old campsite, long since deserted, and began to search around for some discarded item that would help me out.  I picked up a piece of broken pottery (for my sister) but found nothing useful.  

Then the idea hit me.  If I had something sticky to attach a temporary patch with...  Pine sap!  I looked at the trees around the camp, found a good candidate and  found a spot on it where sap had bubbled up.  First I rubbed the tube (the spot with the two small holes) in the sap.  Then I picked out an energy bar with a thin, foil-like wrapper.  The bar went to good use (I was going to eat it anyway) and the wrapper was positioned over the hole.  It took a couple tries to get the tube in the tire without the wrapper moving, but the tire held air (“held R,” as Mark would have said).  
Rear tire held air till I got tired of waiting.

Not for long, but I was at least able to ride for a half mile or so.  My plan was to re-inflate the tire at the top of every hill.  Riding up on a soft tire is easier than riding down.  By the time I was 3 miles from camp, the tire was pretty soft but riding on it seemed to have helped: inflated one more time and the tire held all the way back.  


I'm riding my KTM Duke in the William B. Bankhead National Forest in Alabama.  The Duke gets great mileage, around 50 mpg.  I noticed the trip-odometer was racking up the miles, then again, the reserve light wasn’t on so I kept going.  

Heading back to my van/campsite: sputter, cough, done.  Out of gas.  Helmet off, gloves off, jacket off, start pushing.  The road was a little hilly, so I’d sit on the seat for the descents, push on the climbs.  Only 5 miles to go.  After about 30 minutes of that, a guy in a pickup truck stopped (he was actually camped near me) and asked for directions to the nearest gas station.  Are you kidding me?  Oddly, I knew the answer.  Thirteen miles away, north on highway 33.  He indicated the back of the truck and asked if I thought if we could load the bike.  “No,” I said, noting the truck was pretty full of firewood and he didn’t even have a ramp.  

Off he went and I resumed pushing.  I debated parking the bike, walking back without it, come back with the van and pick it up proper.  But the Duke is light and takes little energy to push.  Gave me something to do with my hands.

After about 45 minutes I came to a spot where some guys were building a barn or a shed.  Using nail-guns, powered by a generator.  A generator that ran on gas!  Could I borrow or buy a splash?  I only needed to go about 3 miles to camp.  Of course I could, they wouldn’t even let me pay.  I added only as much as I thought I’d need, figuring it would be free (and I didn’t want to be greedy) and it would be cheap gas (the Duke has refined taste for refined liquids).

Back at camp, I rinsed and dried two beer bottles, filled them from the tank on the 640 Adventure, and poured that into the Duke’s tank.  Later, riding the 13 miles to the  gas station, I tried to do the math in my head:  Two beer bottles and a splash from the construction site was probably close to a quart, or 1/4 of a gallon.  The Duke gets about 50 miles per gallon, a forth of that is… 12.5 miles.  Did I mention the gas station was 13 miles away?  Don’t worry, I made it.

Stream crossing on a mountain bike trail.

This tree has it's own potted pet.  Or horrible parasite.  Depends on your point of view.

Gathering firewood when the campground is pretty picked over.  

1 comment:

  1. I give you so much credit, Will. The glass in the tire would have tired my soul.