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May 20, 2014
Mokelumne Hill: Walk and Roll

Our route today!

She says…

Day One. 5:30 am. We wake to fog. Deep. Wet. Thick fog. We can’t see the edge of the hill we sit on, and that is just 20 feet from our window. And it’s only 52 degrees. And I have a headache. Really?

This is not looking promising at all.

The morning fog

My first thought was, “How in the heck are we going to ride safely in this weather?” We need to get downhill on a narrow, winding road on a bike as yet untried at speed, and riders as yet untried on any real incline. If the weather does break, will I even feel well enough to ride? (This will be a concern for this whole trip.) We had set our goal for an 11:00 am departure. Would the fog burn off in time? We have no real backup plan, so we hope for the best and putter around waiting.

My headache finally goes away, and I decide to go out to pull weeds that have sprung up all around the house. This keeps me busy, but wet and cold. At 10:00 I come in and take a short rest. At 10:30 the fog breaks.

Now the real fun starts. We have to pack all of what we need for the next two days in our panniers. The panniers are not huge, so we can’t allow ourselves much. During the packing, I realize I can’t find my car keys. It’s 11:00.

This does not look promising.

The panniers. The left one is for Russell; the right one is for Gail.

I unpack everything. Nothing. I pack it all up again. I look everywhere I might have put them, and places I would never put them. I unpack again. Nothing. I repack everything. It’s 11:20. Russell decides he is going to unpack all my stuff and – TA DA – there are my car keys (I personally think he palmed them). I repack everything again and we move the bike outside.

We stand outside the house and look around. The sky is dark grey with big clouds. And it’s cold. But we take the required “Here we go off on our adventure” photos and WALK the bike a quarter-mile downhill from the house to our gate. Yep, we walked. Our road is gravel and dirt. Not safe for braking or riding a bike. But listening to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” made it a fun task. (Thanks Cameron!)

The “Here we go off on our adventure" photo

We get to the end of our driveway. We are going out on to Highway 26. I know this road. This road is scary in a car. We go 35 mph in our car on this road. Other people go much, much faster on this road. Big trucks go very fast on this road. As we got up on to the bike and pedaled about 10 feet it, started to rain. Neither of us is dressed for rain.

This does not look promising.

That is not a happy sky!

To tell the truth, I am getting a bit scared. Just getting on to the pavement requires a leap of faith – in Russell and in this bike. You see, the rider in the back (me) has no control. Not over steering or speed or braking. No control at all. It takes communication and coordination and… and we are off.

And then – OMG. Zoom.

Next thing I know, we are barreling along at 20-25 mph downhill. Russell is braking to slow when I ask him to (it might be the panic in my voice). Then I realize that I can trust Russell, and “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” As matter of fact, this could be considered fun. I am saying “Hi” to cows, and looking at flowers, and the rain has stopped. The bike isn’t making funny noises. My saddle is comfortable. We aren’t even pedaling; it’s all downhill. Our top speed is 28 mph!

This is looking promising.

For 4.5 miles, that is. Then we hit the nearly three-mile uphill walk-the-bike slog. Finally, I gave up pushing and took pictures of flowers and Russell up ahead on the road. And then, suddenly I realize that we are on the road where there is NO shoulder, and cars and trucks are going by really fast. I must not dwell on that, but I did slide down the embankment to avoid a car. (Well, really, I was taking a picture of a flower and slid down, but a car did go by just about then.)

Russell walks the bike up a hill. Note the car. Note the lack of a shoulder.

I’m happy to say I caught up with Russell about a mile outside of Moke Hill, and we pedaled the rest of the way into town. We had a very nice lunch at Frank’s Café and checked into the Hotel Leger at about 2:15.

On a side note: Yesterday, on the drive up to the house, we stopped in at the hotel and left our dinner for tonight. We found out when making our room reservation that the hotel restaurant is closed Tuesday’s and Frank’s (where we had lunch) closes at 3:00. The next closest place to eat would be Jackson, about 7 miles away – and that is just not happening. In addition to storing our dinner, owners Doralee and David allowed us to put our bike in the closed dining room, safe and sound. We will enjoy our dinner in the beautifully remodeled lobby (Hotel Impossible was here about a year ago).

Even though the rain is once again coming down, we are tucked away comfortably inside the hotel. The forecast is for clearing tomorrow, and I am looking forward to the 13.5 mile ride.

This is looking very promising.

Tucked away comfortably inside the hotel

He says…

Our adventure is off to a good start… considering that this adventure almost didn’t happen.

Gail has reminded me that right before our one-year trip around the world a decade ago, we had the dishwasher flood the kitchen, the garage door fail, and discovered rats in the backyard. (Gail spent a day stripping all of the fruit trees.)

This time around, we had both the washer and dryer independently fail during the week before departure. With the dryer, the vent clogged somewhere along its 20-foot length (buried in the ceiling), and the machine started to emanate a burning smell. Gail had to rig a new vent hose out the garage door. With the washer, the machine simply stopped working. Gail had to run out and buy a new one so our sons could do laundry during our absence.

But the big almost-non-starter was the tandem bicycle itself. What we have is a “Caddy-Up,” a low-end bike that we purchased used. During the past week or so of training, we discovered that it was getting harder and harder to pedal. Our average speed dropped from above 10 mph to below 10 mph. It happened so gradually, we just thought that we were getting more tired. Then, on Saturday (two days before departure), the bike started making constant squeaking and thumping noises.

I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but Gail insisted that I check the bike out. I’m glad she did. I discovered two things. First, the front left plastic chain guard (that keeps your pant leg from getting caught in the chain) was starting to crack. Second, the rear tire was wobbling from side to side.

The front left plastic chain guard was starting to crack

It was 5:00 pm on Saturday. I called Chain Reaction in Los Altos. They said they don’t do tune-ups on the weekend, but they weren’t busy right now. If I brought it down, they might be able to make a simple adjustment. I drove down and waited for someone to be available. They finally said they were too busy to check it today, they don’t do tune-ups on weekends, and they are closed on Monday. We were due to leave on Monday. I drove back home, having wasted half an hour.

I called Evolution in Cupertino.
“What’s your lead time for a tune-up?”
“We’re currently scheduling Wednesday.”

I called Off Ramp in San Jose.
“What’s your lead time for a tune-up?”
“We’re currently scheduling Tuesday.”

I called Off Ramp in Mountain View. “What’s your lead time for a tune-up?”
“What’s that? How much is a tune-up?”
“No, what’s your lead-time?”
“Lead time? Same day.”
“You mean if I bring my bike down tomorrow, you can fix it tomorrow?”
“Sure. It would be even better if you bring it down today. We close at 6:00 pm.”
It was now 5:40. I jumped back in the van (fortunately the tandem was still in there) and raced up to Mountain View. I got there just as they were locking up.

The good news is the staff was knowledgeable and wonderful. The bad news is they suspected the rear axle was broken. Low-end tandems are made with very cheap parts, including a steel rear axle. It’s not meant to support two people, but they use it anyway. Off Ramp keeps chromoly axles in stock, and they thought it would be a straightforward repair. I left the bike there.

Needless to say, Sunday was a day filled with pacing. We continued to pack, not knowing if we would have a tandem bike or not. Gail was feeling strong enough that she was willing to try solo bikes as a backup. At 2:00 pm, I called Off Ramp to check in. The bike was ready.

It turns out that the axle was not broken, but bent. In addition, the bearings and cones were all shot. We brought the tandem home and gave it a test run. It was like riding a new bike. Previously, it had felt more like we were constantly riding in the highest gear. Gail and I kept asking each other if we were actually both pedaling. Now, it was literally “like butter.” It was like sand had been removed from the gears and a ton of friction had disappeared.

The axle was slightly bent (on the right side of the left thread).
The cones (which the ball bearings roll against) had worn grooves into them.

As far as the cracked chain guard, we tackled that with some Krazy Glue.

We have decided to bring both the tandem and the two solo bikes in the van, just in case. But we are starting our two-week trip with a new burst of energy and excitement!

Tonight’s dinner: sushi!

Total distance: 8.76 miles
Distance traveled today: 8.76 miles
Time spent riding: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Average speed: 8.0 mph (includes walking the bike up hills)
Maximum speed: 28.2 mph

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