and then lightness.
The previous night I found a huge welt on my ass. Some skin must have been getting pinched between my seat and my leg the other day all day. I was used to saddle sores by that point and hadn’t give the discomfort much thought. It wasn’t until checking into my motel room and going to take a shower that I discovered it, painful to the touch. The touch! How I was supposed to sit on my bike the next day…
I left anyway, after a decent breakfast at the motel. They even had a waffle maker, and toast, and cereal, and scrambled eggs, and bacon, and sausage gravy; a whole variety of things. Juice. And bad coffee, to be sure. So I left, sitting side-saddle, my right butt cheek hanging off the side. How long was I going to be able to pedal like this? My thought was to struggle into Charleston and formulate some ideas from there. It would be two fifty mile days. I supposed I could manage.
I got my first flat of the trip in one of the ugliest suburban development areas I’d ever seen, in Cayce, a small city bordering Columbia to the west, on the opposite side of the Congaree River. Multi-colored houses all exactly the same on a flat, sandy lot. It brought to mind that scene in Edward Scissorhands of everyone in the neighborhood backing their cars out of their driveways to leave for work. All the houses identical but for their colors. Lawns all neatly manicured. Paradise. A Tupper-ware paradise. The flat was fixed in a matter of minutes, and I was on my way.
Google Maps routed me onto Old State Road which delighted me once I laid eyes on it. It appeared to have not been used as a proper road in years, but mainly as a trail for the occasional cyclist or ATV. It was an old gravel and dirt road that ran through a forested wetland, spanish moss dangling majestically from the trees like garland. Pretty lichens and mosses, and other damp-loving plant life in abundance. It was very jungle-like, and I would not have been surprised in the slightest to observe monkeys swinging from tree to tree, their chirps and howls punctuating the silence of my rolling tires. It was all quite beautiful, if a wee bit soggy after all the rain that was had.
I had only cycled a half a mile along the road when I came to an impasse; a lake of water submerging the road stretched for about eighty yards ahead of me. I had no way of telling how deep it was, but it was quite obvious that if I were to cycle through my panniers and some of my trailer bag would be getting soaked, and too, I had no idea what the surface of the road looked like underneath; the first half mile that I had just cycled wasn’t in the best of shape, with depressions, ruts, and various obstacles abounding. To my right it was more of the same through the trees, but sans road. To my left there was a low ridge, or mound of earth, waist high with vegetation, but nothing impenetrable or impassable, that ran parallel to the road for the length of the lake in front of me. It seemed the only obvious, immediate solution the problem of getting around the road.
The temperature was in the 70’s, it was extremely humid, my jersey was already nearly soaked through with sweat, and now I was to discover that the vegetation that ran along the ridge was nearly all brambles (and a spot of poison ivy). And because it had been raining so much the earthen ridge these brambles were growing in was slippery mud. Despite all this I still thought that I could push through. My only other option was to turn back the way I had come and search for an alternate route, which was something I didn’t want to do as I thought it would be too time consuming.
After wading over and through these brambles, which weren’t so much bushes as they were long, thick, flexible ropes protruding from the earth, peppered with thorns, sort of arched over at varying degrees, and criss-crossing each other, catching on my clothing and skin, I eventually came to anther impasse. This one a channel about six feet across, of maybe a foot or two of water, connecting the submerged road on my right to a parallel channel of water to my left. There was no way across this gap; not with my bike, panniers, bar bag, and trailer with twenty or thirty pounds of gear in it. However, from where I was standing the ground on the side of the channel to the left of me appeared to be in navigable shape. There was plenty of plant life still, but the ground was flat at least, and there looked to be more space between plants so that maybe it would prove easier to maneuver myself, my bicycle, etc. through. The only issue then was negotiating the channel. I backtracked a bit, through the thorns all over again, to find a narrow enough spot where I thought I could make the leap while carrying my trailer, as it was the heaviest piece of equipment I had. I would of course have to remove all the various pieces of baggage from the bike in order to make the crossing.
Having managed this delightful task, I reassembled everything and began pushing once again, until for the third, and final time I came to another dead end, this being the not-so-surprising one of a wall of vegetation. I finally admitted defeat, but not without having spent at least an hour pushing my bicycle, and negotiating my trailer through an obstacle course of brambles and mud. Of course, everything that I had just gone through I had to go through again, only in reverse this time in order to get back on the road.
And so, once again on the road I turned around and began pedaling back the way I had come. It was then that disaster, yet also my salvation, struck. Pedaling through one of the cratered portions of road shallowly filled with water, that was also entirely comprised of fist-sized stones, my pannier hook slipped loose from the rack and slingshotted upwards catching in the spokes of the turning wheel. The bungee cord it was attached to then began to rapidly wrap itself tightly around the hub axle. The pannier, with my computer and electronics, immediately flipped upside-down and began dragging through the water. I think the words, “fuck” and “shit” slipped out of my mouth at this point. As I was slowing down and also nearing the end of the puddle I heard a loud “crack!” This happened to be the sound of a breaking spoke. Once clear of the water and having come to a halt I leapt off the bike to take a look at things. At first, for the life of me I could not figure out what had happened. It wasn’t until examining a bit more closely and noticing the bungee cord wrapped around the axle of the hub, and the pannier hook bent at a ninety-degree angle, latched onto a spoke that I understood exactly what had taken place.
After several minutes of struggle I managed to get everything unraveled. The pannier was unusable because the metal hook had bent, and I would need a vice and pliers to bend it back, so I had to stash that in my trailer along with everything else that was in there. My wheel I noticed was well out of true as well from the pressures the pannier had exerted on it, so much so that I had to let out a fair amount of cable in order to prevent the brake pads from rubbing on the rim. Not at all rideable for any length of time, particularly as I was carrying extra weight.
I was shocked. I was furious. But only for a moment before a pristine calm washed over me, and that sort of amusement that arises when after so much struggle one realizes that there is absolutely nothing to be helped, that there was no way to prevent what happened, and that there is nothing to do about it but continue going on in whatever capacity is possible. I had a good laugh all alone there covered in sweat, mud, blood and scratches, my feet soaked from the whole ordeal. I had been struggling with the choice of continuing on despite all the aches, pains, and mechanical issues, or simply stopping and going home because, really, what was to stop me, and what did I have to prove? The correct answer to that question is nothing, and nothing. This event resolved the issue for me entirely, in one fell swoop. The mental struggle was over, and it was an enormous relief. So I began to walk, and the rain began to fall.
Once I got back to some pavement I hopped gingerly onto my bike and gently cycled back to the motel I stayed at the previous night. I called my mom. The shower was bliss. I began to formulate a plan.