Ready to fail.
During the July 4th weekend, my brother and I discovered that my rear tire had a leak where the rim and the tire meet. For some reason, it wasn’t sealing. So, we put a tube in it and I kept riding. That had a slow leak of its own, but I kept it aired up between rides and it was fine. I didn’t have time between that trip and our New Mexico adventure to address my rear tire problem.
My first ride, at La Tierra, had gone fine. My rear tire held up with the tube, so I didn’t worry about it.
My wife drove me to the top of Winsor Trail, where I topped off my rear tire to ward off pinch flats. Like a giddy school boy, I embarked down the steep opening section of the trail. My hands were hurting within a few minutes from gripping too tightly and braking. The roots and rocks kept it interesting and fun as I navigated the tight switchbacks and short gravity cavities. I stopped after a couple minutes, at a trail junction, to read the sign. I checked my tires and they felt fine. I loosened up my grip a bit and got started again.
About a minute later, I heard and felt that something was not right.
Flat. My rear tire was flat. I stopped, took off the back wheel, and pulled out the tube. I checked the best I could among the Stan’s seal mess for anything poking through the tire, and put in a new tube. I pumped it very firm with my hand pump and got back underway.
As I rounded a slight curve to the left, my bike washed out and I went down–luckily, in soft dirt. I pulled up my bike, checked the front tire (fine), and then checked the rear tire (not fine). The rear tire was already almost completely flat.
Although I didn’t have another spare tube, I flipped the bike over as if that motion would suddenly save me. I checked my phone signal. None. At that point I was 2.3 miles into the trail, so turning back would not be the worst thing that could have happened. That didn’t matter, because I had no way to let my wife know what I was going to do.
In a couple minutes, two teens came around the bend where I had crashed and stopped to ask if things were okay.
“Well, not really,” I said. “I already used my spare tube and I’m flat again. You happen to have a 27.5 tube?”
“Yeah. Or, I think my dad does,” said one of the teens.
A boy and a man arrived on their bikes.
“Dad, you have a 27.5 tube, right?” the lead teen said.
“Yeah. Is the one you have patched?” the dad said.
“I think so.”
“Mine’s new. Here.”
I pumped it up nice and firm again, which takes a long time with my pump. I got back on the trail and enjoyed some great flow now that I was past the steepest, tightest parts of the trail. Winsor was a great time on a bike. The air was fresh and cool. Perfect.
I stopped at an intersection with no signs. I checked the rear tire–and it was low. Dammit. Not again!
OruxMaps, my GPS-only tracking app, showed that I had made it 3.1 miles into the trail. I had no signal to use MTBProject and find myself like I had on La Tierra. I had no map. I remembered that many of the trails that intersected this one were not loops, but offshoots that were just out-and-back.
It was decision time. Do I hike back out 3 miles to the top and hope to find help? Do I hike down the remaining 6 miles to a wife who by then would no doubt have panicked and called the search and rescue teams?
Or do I ride on a flat, as I have seen professional racers do on RedBull TV? It seemed like a bad idea, but I had a rear rim that was only DIY-tubeless and didn’t hold a seal. I would not miss the tire I had if I ruined it.
Recalling a tip someone gave about backcountry emergencies, I looked for what I could use to stuff the tire. The only possibility was pine needles.
After tapping “send” on a text that I didn’t think my wife would get, I gathered pine needles and started stuffing them into my rear tire. I rotated, stuffed, rotated, stuffed, until I was losing more than I was putting in.
I got a text reply from my wife. She knew I was delayed but okay. I let her know I might have figured out a solution, but that I still would be later than expected. She could go back to the house and wait for me to call. No need for her to be the one waiting.
I rode a pine-needle-stuffed tire for, just guessing, about 100 feet before it unseated and pine needles cascaded down onto my cassette and my chain. I stopped.
Time for my next decision. I didn’t want to waste more of a vacation day, and possibly all of it. I didn’t want to be unable to walk from the soreness of hiking downhill for six miles. My legs still were recovering from the punishingly steep downhill I had hiked a couple days earlier in our trip.
I cleared out all the pine needles from my tire, made sure it wasn’t folded anywhere, got on the saddle, and cautiously started riding down the trail. As I gained confidence, I let the brakes rest occasionally. It still seemed like a bad idea.
The rim stayed inside the tire except when I went off any small drop or across a particularly rough rock garden line. That stopped me a few times for re-positioning, as did emptying out water after stream crossings. Finally, I started walking my bike across the stream to avoid the time involved in trying to dump water from a tire–a task that sounds easier than it is.
Unbelievably, I got some flow on a couple of sections and enjoyed the rest of the trail. There were a few sections pedaling up out of the streams where I completely lost traction and had to hike-a-bike. Through all of that I could tell Winsor Trail downhill would be an absolute blast with two good tires.
The smell of burning rubber wafted up a few times from my rear tire. Its tread was hitting my frame’s rear triangle, causing noise and generating heat. The whole thing, with the floppy tire slapping the trail and the almost bare rim smacking hard off rocks and roots, was quite loud.
I passed a few riders and several walkers, all headed the opposite direction. I was surprised nobody passed me coming down. All gave a friendly “hello.” Only the last one, less than a half mile from the end, mentioned that I had a problem with my rear tire.
“Yep, it’s messed up. Thanks for letting me know,” I said.
My wife got the few additional messages I sent when I stopped to take photos or to put the tire back under the rim. She drove over to where I was–a sidstreet off Bishop’s Lodge Road. There was no anger. There was only understanding. I got a little short with her when a car stopped behind us waiting to turn onto the road. She was walking over to the passenger’s side while I finished racking my bike, and told me someone was waiting.
I’m not normally one who takes out his moods on other people, but after all of that, I didn’t want to be told to hurry. “I know!” I sort of shouted. “I know there’s a car back there waiting on me. Just get in and stop telling me.”
So, the ride was over, and our quest for a bike shop with a 27.5″ rear wheel with quick-release was on. That’s a story for another day.
(Continue to Part 3)