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The Phoenix Bike

May 9, 2008

Early March, 2005 was a really good time for me (J.). I just returned from over a year abroad, and my bank account was chock-a-block full of funds for the first time ever. I was set for a little decompression, and an American adventure of my own choosing.

I purchased a new mountain bike, and headed south from Washington state. Meandering through Idaho and Nevada, I chose a route that was far off the beaten path. In Nevada, I opted to not head through Reno, Tahoe or Las Vegas. I stopped when I felt like it, stretched the cables on my new ride when the spirit moved me, and listened to several books on tape. The largest town I passed through was Winnemuca.

If you’ll all remember, those were the days after GPS technology was widely available, and before “navigation systems” were as popular as they have become. After a year of pushing my luck in many regards, I was inclined to see how far my Volkswagen Jetta could go between fuel-ups, and had to trust my judgement on which towns looked like they might have gas stations on the map.

In a Bodega-like gas station in a town built on a hill in the middle of no-where, I saw a newspaper from a week earlier with a headline about the desert flowers of Death Valley. These flowers were in bloom in numbers not seen for something like a hundred years. Sounded good to me. I’d see something I probably wouldn’t see again in my lifetime, and ride in a desert environment that I’d wanted to ride in for the entire previous year.


Death Valley FLowers, originally uploaded by ~Thái~.

The flowers: they were cool. I’m not trying to play them down, but I think I was more distracted by the fact that Death Valley is a National Park that allows you to ride pretty much where ever you like. I liked that.

I rode through the ghost town of Rhyolite (on the Nevada side, not actually in the park), in and around some interesting mines, and past a place called the Devil’s Cornfield. I went out to a place called the Dunes, and decided that I had seen enough sand in the previous year. I headed to the mountains.

During the fourth day, I was on a single track outside the park in the mountains of the Nevada side. I’d been going good for about an hour and a half, was about to turn back but decided to push on higher. Then the ground gave way a little, but I recovered. Then, still climbing, I over-corrected around a left switchback. My front tire slipped on a mix of slick basalt and mud from the rain earlier that morning. My left foot unclipped from the pedal and I was on my right side instantly. We (the bike and I) fell and slid for about 20 feet. My right foot then unclipped. I stopped, but the bike kept going. It fell for what I can only imagine was about 100 feet.

I was in surprisingly good shape. No broken bones and nothing bleeding so badly that I would need to stop it immediately. Cool. 45 minutes later, I found my bike. It did not fair so well.

What was busted:

Front wheel taco’d
front disc had a good bite taken out where the entire weight of the bike presumably landed on it
handle bar good and bent
front shifter sanded almost completely off
both grips had the ends torn off
left pedal sheared off, right pedal rubbed raw
derailleur hanger snapped off
arm of the derailleur was hanging by the return spring, which was about 10 inches long
rear wheel was definitely un-true
the saddle was comically turned 180 degrees and ripped open

I sat for a few minutes on a rock. Then I laughed. It really was a pretty funny site. Surveying the damage I noticed that the fork looked alright. As did the frame. As well as the chainrings and the freewheel. I scooped up the remnants and headed back to the car.

Strangely enough, I started (sub-consciously or deliberately – take your pick) humming that old America song. Bikes, even light ones, suck to carry for a long time. If you’ve done this, you know.

Some time later, I was sufficiently pitty-partied out and back at the car. I lashed the carcass of my ride to my roof rack, and then went about applying Neosporin and bandages.

Several days later in west Texas, east of El Paso, as if to add insult in injury, the lashings on the roof rack failed, and the wounded warrior planed off and skidded for quite away on the side of the road at about 70 mph.

I did the walk of shame again, picked up the frame again, and was, again, surprised that it didn’t seem too bad off.

The rest of the way back to Fayetteville, NC was uneventful. My new job left me with little or no chance to do much but work. A few months later I was back on a plane, and headed back to another year of no fun. The bike was in a storage unit, and would remain in one or another garages like it for nearly three years.

About six weeks ago, it emerged and I took it to Old Town Bike Shop in Colorado Springs (see our earlier posts). The techs there completely repaired it. Obviously, everything that was wrecked had to be replaced, and it was. $400 later, the bike was good as new. Pretty much. Both pedals, which I recovered from the scene, were actually (mostly), and I’ve been riding them. That was good, they weren’t cheap. The rear disc was good as well. Both brake levers and the rear shifter were also good, too.

I could have settled for purchasing a new bike, but a comparable ride would have been in the $1000 range. This was definitely the lesser of two evils. I could have chosen to not ride at all, however that would have been silly. I’m glad and fortunate that I was able to salvage that which could be saved. Besides, you can’t leave a fallen comrade like that:)

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