Not being a cyclist, I hadn’t experienced a broken spoke
until that fateful day south of Fort Bragg when a metallic ping rang out
halfway up a killer series of switchbacks. That innocuous ‘twang’ resulted in
me becoming semi-resident at the KOA campsite near Manchester beach, which –
thankfully – was no great hardship.
Three days, a couple of bus rides, a new spoke and $50 later,
I was back on the road. Having had the broken spoke replaced, and all the
spokes re-tensioned, my bike was almost pleasant to ride. We still crawled up
hills, of course (that’s my fault), but we could cruise downhill without the
bike threatening to wobble itself into oblivion. The pleasantness didn’t last
long, about 50 miles. Then there was another snap followed by my thoughts on
spokes and their lack of commitment to this trip. This latest casualty didn’t
buckle the back wheel too much and, as I was far from anywhere, I pushed on.
Seventy miles later, a San Francisco bike shop suggested a
new rear wheel. My solid tyres were a problem though, they didn’t have the
correct tool to work with them and two of their mechanics has previously broken
their thumbs trying to wrestle the tyres. Two mechanics. Broken thumbs. What
can you say to that? Plan B was to change all the spokes but not the rim. Cycling
out of San Francisco I was $98 poorer but a set of spokes richer and relieved
to have resolved the annoying spoke issue. The bike shop had suggested getting
the new spokes re-tensioned in about 100 miles time, which would be in Monterey
Bay or thereabouts. I’d barely covered half that distance when one of the new
spokes called it a day. Sorry if this is getting boring, it was for me too. I
limped into Santa Cruz on what felt like one of those wonky fairground bikes
and consoled myself with a burrito the size of my head.
The bike shop fun continued the next morning. Why explore Santa Cruz and go looking for sea otters when you can do a tour of the bike shops instead, right? One shop could work with solid tyres but didn’t have a suitable wheel while another couldn’t work with solid tyres (thumbs!) but had a wheel. All in, that came to another $170. The financial damage of this issue (we’re at $318 now) was greater than I had expected, the time cost was considerable and, as bad as either, this cemented my conclusion that my bike is not up to the job. My main concern when shopping for a touring bike had been that it would be tough enough to survive the journey and I don’t feel that it has been. We’ve managed another 76 trouble-free miles on the new wheel but, for sure, this will be the one and only big cycling trip we do together.
The sharp crack as I crawled up a series of stupidly steep
switchbacks in granny gear sounded serious but it was the wobbly back wheel and
the rubbing brakes that confirmed a glitch. I was racing the sun set at the
time and pushed on. The sun won and it wasn’t until this morning that I could
see my first broken spoke. Shucks.
The nearest bike shop is a hilly 29 miles back the way I
came. Not too bad, you might think, I can hop on the bus and be on the road
again in the blink of an eye. Except today’s a holiday and the once-a-day bus
service wasn’t running. Tomorrow then! Except the mechanic in that bike shop is
away for a week. The next closest bike shop is 39 miles back the way I came.
They can only help if the spoke can be replaced without the tubeless tyre needing
to come off, which I’m very much hoping it can.
I knew this journey would be tough and it is. It’s even harder than I expected. I thought the cycling might get a little easier as I built up the miles but, if anything, the miles are getting harder. And I didn’t expect these kinds of logistics – part and parcel of the journey though they are – to be so time consuming and utterly frustrating.
There are lots of exciting gray whale opportunities coming up as I head south and that’s keeping me going. I’m getting short of time to make the most of those opportunities though, and unexpected delays such as these aren’t helping. Striking a balance between cycling their migration route, meeting the people with links to these whales, and having the time to record and share the journey, is becoming increasingly difficult. Any wise words gratefully accepted.
The whistling call of curlews mixed with the shrill peeps of oystercatchers and acrobatic lapwings entertained with me their erratic flight as I cycled between wind-ruffled fields. Most impressive were two curly-haired Hungarian sheep pigs who trotted over to see me, hairy ears flapping enthusiastically (theirs, not mine). Wanting to dust off my panniers and stretch my legs, I had cycled off the ferry in Stromness that afternoon and was on my way to visit my excellent friend, Moni. The weather moves quickly in Orkney and by the time I arrived, 28 miles later, I had experienced brilliant sunshine, buffeting winds and stinging rain.
Saturday was a wildlife frenzy as Moni showed me the sights. Starting early, we quietly crept up on the local harbour seals: basking adults snoozed, pups swam in the shallows and a defensive mother saw off a grey seal with a short but convincing charge. Terns nesting on a nearby beach shrieked at our approach as their chicks scurried around in the dunes, then we were off to the Brough of Birsay in time to cross the causeway in search of more seabirds. Puffins, guillemots and razorbills lined the ledges, fulmars cruised over the cliff tops and shags stretched out their drying wings on the rocks below. A seal surfacing in the wash below us was our only marine mammal sighting of the afternoon, no killer whales for us.
Despite an excellent forecast, light rain pattered against the window as I repacked my panniers on Sunday morning. I was taking the scenic route back to Stromness via the north coast to complete my lap of mainland Orkney. The slow slog to Kirkwall gave me time to reflect on the rumour of Orkney being flat.
Brighter weather and easier miles followed after that, along with a welcome lunch stop near Tingwall and an excellent cake break in Birsay. One more hour of cycling and I was rattling over the narrow cobbled streets of Stromness to a busy campsite beyond the harbour. I celebrated my 55-mile day with a warm rum and coke in the evening sun as I rehydrated some spicy noodles and listened to the hum of fishing boats heading home. With clouds approaching and the wind picking up, I retreated to my sleeping bag and was asleep by 9pm after a brilliant mini-adventure in Orkney.