We lingered a while at the house of our hosts Mary-Lou and Ian in Bath, reluctant to leave the sanctuary of the golfing green and quiet neighbourhood- but aware, as ever, that the time was ticking away and we needed to get back on the bikes once more. It was around 11am when we finally scooped together our scattered belongings and loaded on the panniers, prying Theo away from the baskets of toys and begun to say our goodbyes. We had been spoilt with clean washing, hot showers, we had sandwiches and snacks in our pockets, and were happily full after some delicious meals- the perfect cycling pit stop!
After some picture-taking and goodbyes, we finally set on our way- a short ride to Bloomfield, crossing on the ferry half way through the day, and then staying for the night with Warmshowers/Couchsurfing hosts Katy and Rick, behind their bike shop along the waterfront trail we would be following.
The weather was incredible- absolutely flawlessly blue skies and an incredible sun that reflected off the water as we cycled along. The road was recently paved and flat, making for a smooth ride- and Matt had just pumped up all our tyres that morning, which only added to that effect. I was enjoying the ride immensely- the fresh, crisp air, the hundreds of butterflies flittering across in front of us, watching the boats sailing past. We stopped briefly at the historical landmark of the ‘Escape of the Royal George 1812’ and looked out across the water, taking in the islands, the amazing blue water. I was admittedly completely lost in daydreams about future cycling ventures and planning for when we got back to the UK when, 10miles into the ride, I felt a weird ‘tugging’, almost grinding sensation on my back wheel- just for about 10seconds- before a loud ‘BANG!’ and sharp skid saw me grinding to a heart-pounding stop.
“MATT! My rear wheel. It just BLEW!”
It was completely flat.
While Matt somewhere to place his bike, I gingerly prised the tyre from the wheel to survey the damage. And this is what I found.
The side wall of the tyre was completely shredded, strands of rubber hanging from the wheel, exposing the beading that had completely torn through. It was all-too-clear that the innertube, probably pushed by the extra pumping Matt had given it that morning, had been ‘pinched’ against the exposed beading- et voila! BOOM and bust. A ragged tear in the innertube confirmed the diagnosis.
“What do we do?” I asked Matt, as we surveyed the damaged tyre. “We need a new tyre, right? Can we patch it up until we get to the bike shop?”
“Yea… I’m sure we can. Let’s give it ago.”
New innertube in hand, we pieced the wheel back together and began to pump. So far, so good… a little more…ah. Nope. Around the damaged area, the tyre began to swell out- not the innertube escaping, funnily enough, but the torn up beading- expanding and puffing out like a tumor. Not good. If I were to try riding on that? It would blow again, instantly. It wasn’t worth the effort of even trying.
We were still at least 15miles (and a ferry ride) away from the bike shop and in the middle of nowhere- an agricultural area, with just two houses within view- at the side of a reasonably busy road with a modest shoulder. For the first time, this was a situation from which we couldn’t save ourselves- and would need to be rescued.
It actually took a while to get hold of our hosts from the previous night- we didn’t actually have their number, and had to dig through some old emails in order to find their son’s number, call him, take the number, and then call Mary-Lou and Ian. And for perhaps the first time in, well, perhaps for the entire trip, we had been staying with a couple with a small, modest car and no bike rack- so the rescue could be somewhat problematic. Thankfully, we had been well-stocked with food and plenty of cool water, and decided to tuck in and refresh ourselves as we basked in the sun at the roadside- with me begging the hospitality of an elderly couple living opposite the site of our ‘incident’ when I knocked, helmet in hand, and begged to use their washroom. It could be far worse, I thought, it could be raining, or it could have been after a night at a campsite with no-one on hand to rescue us, or we could have no food or water, or any manner of things. This is actually fairly tame.
Various people pulled up alongside to check if we were OK and fellow cyclists offered their assistance, but in reality, there was little more we, or anyone else, could do- except wait.
At then they arrived- our knights in shining armor!- Mary-Lou and Ian in their white Nissan, pulling up alongside and coming to our aid. I’ve never been so relieved to see anyone- and with a spacious, empty boot, just ready to load me and my sorry-looking bike into and whisk us off to the next bike shop for some TLC. Offloading the panniers, frame and wheels was no small feat- funnily enough, cars of this size aren’t designed to carry awkward-sized loads of this nature!- but finally we succeeded, and Matt decided to follow behind by bike while we drove on ahead. Amazingly enough, Ian and Mary-Lou actually offered to drive me the whole way to the bike shop in Bloomfield- taking me across the ferry and all!
With quite a queue for the ferry, which left in 15minute intervals, we were able to park up and stretch our legs, and wait for Matt to catch us up and eventually cross over with us. The water was lovely and calm; and the crossing actually all-too-short, just a 10minute glide from one side to the next- and being a continuation of the 33 highway, the ferry itself was actually free, passing from Adolphustown to Glenora where we would rejoin the Loyalist Parkway and weave our way south-west towards Prince Edward.
In no time at all, Ian, Mary-Lou and I pulled up alongside Bloomfield Bicycles and begun to unload my gear and sorry-looking patchwork bike with it’s torn-up tyre. The bicycle shop itself was a hive of activity- and perched on the sidelines, attempting to muster the courage to approach, I watched with interest as a young teenage girl was fitted out with her new clipped shoes and carefully instructed as to the correct positioning for racing- eavesdropping on the advice given with regards to clothing, drop bars, the technical and anatomical process of riding. It’s a whole other world, I reflected, compared to our ‘shove it all on and pedal any-old-how’ approach. There’s so much about this other world, this other dimension to cycling that I simply don’t know or understand.
I soon identified ‘KT’- shop owner and our host!- and apologetically explained why I was there a.) without Matt b.) in a car and c.) with a fragmented excuse for a bike. The buzz and disarray of the shop environment left me slightly bewildered; people were rushing around everywhere, weaving their way through the debris of bicycle paraphernalia that covered every available service, conversations and instructions flew through the air in a criss-crossed, intersecting manner, and my mind and eyes simply couldn’t come to rest on the array of signs that adorned the windows, the counter, the walls. It was a similar feeling to when, after the sanctuary and calm of the country, you suddenly step off the train into the midst of city bustle and noise: everyone around you has a place, a focus, a destination- flowing smoothly and rapidly either side of you with confidence and determination- while you, on the other hand, are wobbling uneasily in the midst of the flow, threatening to be swept downstream into the chaos at any given moment, with no clear idea of where you are or how to adjust your pace to match those around.
In no time at all, I found my bike being whisked off and once again, placed in the hold of a bike stand. This is becoming far too regular an occurrence for my liking.
It was agreed- not to my surprise- that a new tyre was a must and as the search began for a new one, I felt a tad gutted. I love those Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres. They’e seen me over 3,200miles with just one puncture- admittedly, they’re heavy, but they’re extremely durable and reliable. I’ve never had any problems with them thus far- and neither has the trailer, which has the same. So why now? And why – Murphys Law- just 3 days before the end of our tour!?
As we surveyed the damaged old tyre, I ventured to ask. Was it something I did? Didn’t do? A fault with the wheel? Why now?
It was concluded that the replacement wheel we had been forced to purchase in Montreal hadn’t been pieced back together properly- with the tyre not quite sitting right inside the rim, and since then, the rubber has been gradually wearing down until the beading was exposed. Just looking at the damage, you can tell this is something that has been building up for a while, and not simply because Matt had chanced to pump up the innertubes this morning. I feel a tinge of anger at the cowboys who did this patch job in Montreal- for cheating me out of an additional $30 I don’t have to spare, and costing me my Schwalbe Marathon+ tyre which still had a fair few miles of tread left on it yet. Frustration.
Matt soon arrived and after I begged one final favor from our incredible hosts, Ian and Mary-Lou, who drove me to the nearest store for supplies, we begun the process of exploring our surroundings and finding our bearings for the night. The barn behind the bike shop was the craziest, wackiest set up I think we’ve come across yet- and it makes me laugh when I consider the sheer spectrum of accommodation we’ve found ourselves in during the past 5months! It was quirky and eccentric, fully fitted out with kitchen and bathroom, but filled with all manner of odds and ends, a graveyard for those destitute, sorry-looking objects that no longer had a home or place, redundant with age or lack of use. The contents of that barn had me wandering around in wonder for the best part of an hour. A trampoline, suspended from the ceiling, housed various boxes, old tyres and discarded bike parts; rusting, unloved trikes and broken bicycles were suspended from the ceiling and at the windows. One side of the barn was devoted to stock of the shop, with rows of bikes hanging patiently in wait- for attention? Owners? I couldn’t quite gauge, for all were a spectrum of ages, shapes and sizes. There were woven plaits of onions and piles of books; old road signs and tools, ladders and discarded pieces of furniture. There was a foozeball table and an old sink; an old monitor and miles of reeled rope. The kitchen was equally quirky; a mish-mash of all different plates, bowls, glasses and mugs piled high to the point of toppling over, jars and packets of dried goods threatening to topple from the crammed shelves, hanging baskets of various fruits and veg, and 3 stoves of varying ages and degrees of functionality. The bathroom is a corner of the barn separated by a curtain and lit by fairy lights above; philosophical or even just plain random notes and ramblings are scribbled on the walls, pinned up to the windows or even just floating bits of paper. (My favorite puzzler was on the back of a receipt, left abandoned amongst various other nondescript items on top of the huge scrubbed kitchen table- “I took the lighter, not the doodey. Well that’s peculiar.” Had me scratching my head for a while, that one…) It makes me want to laugh when I spot the shiny new Apple Mac PC hidden towards the back of the barn- an unbelievable contrast to the rest of our surroundings.
We’re sharing the barn with a few others; a WWOOFer from Germany who has the ‘loft apartment’ – a small curtained off alcove reached by a wooden ladder that preoccupies Theo’s every thought for the first hour- and two fellow cyclists who I gather are friends or acquaintances of KT&Rick. There’s mellow reggae music playing continuously in the background and fresh, organic veg from the garden and (wheatfree!) organic goods line the shelves and the fridge. It’s odd, because the sheer volume of stuff in here makes my mind feel busy, distracted, unable to focus- and yet there’s a very relaxed, chilled out and ‘natural’ feel to the whole atmosphere here that doesn’t place high expectations, doesn’t demand order or put me on my toes. As everyone chats and goes about their individual business with ease, moving about each other and together as naturally as though they had lived here their whole lives, I feel relaxed, and yet simultaneously stressed, almost agitated, at the same time. It’s an oxymoron I can’t seem to shake. As I think on this, it seems even our trip hasn’t quite erased the slightly OCD nature of mine to tidy, organize and clean- the almost materialistic appreciation I continue to hold for the ‘nicer’ things in life that I had quite hoped to leave behind. Part of the reason I’ve embraced the nature of this trip is to have the chance and opportunity to live simply- to appreciate life from an entirely different mindset to that I left the UK with. And now, I’m experiencing an internal conflict as the ‘old’ habits of me fight against the more open-minded and relaxed ‘new’ experiences this trip has offered me. It awakens some uncomfortable realizations: and the thought continues to distract me all night.
The bike shop itself is alluring and tempting; especially given the current state of most of our gear, but I stubbornly remind myself that we have just three days left and there is, therefore, absolutely no point. I do amuse myself wandering around reading the numerous signs, though, all of which embody the quirky, slightly eccentric and sarcastic nature of our hosts, many boldly and bluntly pointing out- I feel- that which many others are secretly thinking and yet haven’t the courage to say. The bike shop isn’t a stereotypical example by any means: it has its own personality, its own approach. But it must be said that they do a great job of not only fixing up my bike (even cleaning the chain- one of Matt’s least-favourite jobs) but also fix my front pannier racks, look at Matt’s gears and pass on a wealth of advice and support for the remaining three days. It’s the kind of place we could have done with visiting in the early days- or during our stretch in Maine when morale was low! Because underneath it all, it embodies the true ‘soul’ of what we, and perhaps the majority of people who pass through this way, are looking for: a simple and pure love and enjoyment for not only cycling, but life in general. It’s the kind of place that is unconventional, different, maybe even uncomfortable in some ways- but it makes you think. And appreciate.
We enjoy dinner with our hosts and fellow guests; permitted to help ourselves to all and anything in the kitchen and, best of all, the garden. It’s my first taste of rhubarb chard and the fresh basil atop of our wheatfree pasta is delicious. I find myself more determined than ever to one day grow my own vegetable patch and herb garden- you simply can’t beat fresh goods like that!- and then, as if by mutual agreement, everyone slowly retires to their selected areas of the barn and winds down for the night.
I can’t seem to fall asleep for a long while that night- thoughts race through my mind and the numerous unidentifiable shapes in the darkness of the barn plague me. It’s been a long day. But worst of all, at the back of my mind, one single thought continues to mockingly tease and torment me with unwavering insistence- 3 days of cycling left. Three days. Three days.
Miles today: 10.50
Total Miles to date: 3,346