PING: The Sound of One Spoke Breaking… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

Stormy skies give credence to a tornado warning near Greenville, Texas.

The adventure part about a journey like mine is dealing with the unexpected, whether it is a broken spoke or a tornado warning. Peggy and I took this photo near Greenville, Texas. We had called ahead to reserve a campsite a few miles away and caught the manager in her storm shelter. “The clouds are circling,” she told us. It was scary enough in our van. Imagine what it is like on a bicycle.

The bike trek was going well. I was actually making progress across Texas and had rediscovered trees on my way into Jacksboro. Here’s the one-line journal entry for my day of bicycling from Throckmorton to Jacksboro:

“TREES, real TREES!”

Fort Richardson, a Texas State Park just outside of Jacksboro, was so pleasant that I declared a layover day. I’d gone for walks, read a book of poetry (Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island), and biked into town for a steak dinner. April 26th had dawned clear and slightly cool, which made it a perfect day for cycling. I was feeling so good I sang “Oh what a beautiful morning” to a cottontail that had come nibbling its way into my camp. The rabbit had looked up, startled, and scampered off into the mesquite, hippity-hop. Apparently it had no appreciation for music. Certainly it couldn’t have been my singing.

“It’s going to be a great day!” I yelled after my furry friend. I shouldn’t have done that. It jinxed the week; I am pretty sure.  Maybe if I had only quietly said, “It should be a good day…”

Fort Richardson had some of the best campsites I found on my journey, but the mesquite could be a little thorny...

Fort Richardson had some of the best campsites I found on my journey, but the mesquite could be a little thorny…

Fort Richardson was established just outside of Jacksboro, Texas in the late 1860s to counter the Native Americans who had gone on the warpath because their land was being taken away and the buffalo herds wiped out. This was the officer's quarters.

Fort Richardson was established just outside of Jacksboro, Texas in the late 1860s to counter the Native Americans who had gone on the warpath because their land was being taken away and the buffalo herds wiped out. This was the officers’ quarters.

I really liked this bridge at the fort. Originally it had crossed a stream just behind the fort. Today it rests on what would have been parade grounds.

I really liked this bridge at the fort. Originally it had crossed a stream just behind the fort. Today it rests on what would have been parade grounds, preserved for visitors to admire.

Peggy demonstrates the thickness of the ammunition magazine at the fort.

Peggy demonstrates the thickness of the ammunition magazine at the fort.

A modern hospital, for its time has also been preserved at Fort Richardson. A ranger provided a tour. Bath anyone?

A modern hospital, for its time, has also been preserved at Fort Richardson. A ranger provided a tour. Bath anyone?

Pickled snake. The park ranger told us that the Smithsonian had requested that the fort gather up snakes and ship them back to Washing ton to study. This one was still hanging around.

Pickled snake. The park ranger told us that the Smithsonian had requested that the fort gather up snakes and ship them back to Washington to study. This one was still hanging around.

I can pretty well guarantee no one will guess what this is all about. The ranger told us these were hairs from a horse's tail. The hospital had used them as sutures,

I can pretty well guarantee no one will guess what this is all about. The ranger told us these were hairs from a horse’s tail. The hospital had used them as sutures. Apparently, they were less likely to cause infection than thread.

Shocking! It was believed that electrical shock was the best treatment for nervous disorders. This device provided the shock.

Shocking! It was believed that electrical shock was the best treatment for nervous disorders. This device provided the shock. My brother and I had a similar device when we were children. It was an old phone that you cranked up to generate electricity to send a phone message. We’d invite our little friends over to experience the shock.

I was about five miles outside of Decatur when I heard “Ping!” Unlike the sound of one hand clapping, which is underwhelming, the sound of one spoke breaking is quite distinctive. My response was very un-Zen like, even more so when I found the broken spoke on my back wheel. I’d need a bike shop.

A small cement plant was across the road. The receptionist offered me her phone, good luck, and the yellow pages. A Mel’s Bike shop was listed in Decatur. I called and got Mel. “Wait there,” he said. “I’ll be right out to pick you up.” And he was. Twenty minutes later, a smiling, older man showed up to collect me. He was another one of those people who reminded me of just how good folks can be. His shop, it turned out, was behind his home. He quickly fixed my spoke and started looking for other things to work on. My derailleur cable was too short; he replaced it. I was on my way to a complete tune up. When he was finally finished, I asked what I owed him.

“Nothing,” he said. And stuck to it.

“At least, Mel,” I argued, “you have to let me take you to lunch.” Two hours later we were still talking over dessert. I was chatting about snowstorms, rattlesnakes, mountains, deserts, dinosaurs and Texas. Mel was talking about his life, and how he had always dreamed of doing what I was doing. Finally, the time came when I had to bicycle on. He was still watching as I disappeared around the block. I waved one final time.

Peggy and I stopped off at Mel's home in Decatur in April. I would have loved to have seen him but the house was shuttered and empty. A woman at the local Post Office told us it had been quite some time since she had see the bike shop sign.

Peggy and I stopped off at Mel’s home in Decatur in April. I would have loved to have seen him but no one was there. A woman at the local Post Office told us it had been quite some time since she had seen the bike shop sign. Possibly Mel had moved or passed on.

Memories came flooding back as I entered Denton. In the spring of 1978, I had recruited for Peace Corps at the University of North Texas along with my first wife and an African-American woman who had also served as a Volunteer. We had gone out for breakfast one morning and you could have heard a pin drop when we entered the restaurant. The Civil Right’s act was young and the South was still adjusting. Black and white people did not eat together. We had just sat down when this young head popped up from the adjoining booth, wide-eyed, and announced to the whole room, “Momma, there’s a Nigger sitting with those people.” From the mouth of an innocent child, the insane prejudice of generations was repeated. As I write these words today, I am saddened by the fact that this prejudice continues to repeat itself in a seemingly endless and violent cycle. Such senseless waste. When will we ever learn…

The roads around Denton have become clogged with traffic and the usual fast food joints. The Dallas/Fort Worth area has become one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. Even on my bike trip, I was faced with traffic I hadn't experienced in a thousand miles.

The roads around Denton have become clogged with traffic and the usual fast food joints. The Dallas/Fort Worth area has become one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. Even on my bike trip, I was faced with traffic I hadn’t experienced in a thousand miles.

Peggy and I found suburb after suburb where there had been farms in 1989.

Peggy and I found suburb after suburb where there had been farms in 1989.

And the country roads I had ridden over, have now become multi-lane freeways providing ample room for even guys like this.

And the country roads I had ridden over have now become multi-lane roads providing ample room for even guys like this. I would not have liked to have met up with him on my bike!

But such thoughts were rare on my bike trip. And I soon had another thought to occupy my mind. A ping announced that another spoke had given up the ghost, gone to the great spoke factory in the sky. This isn’t unusual; when one spoke breaks, others may follow. Mine were simply reacting to all of the weight I was carrying. They’d had enough. I was faced with the fact that I needed a new wheel, preferably one with more spokes made out of a heavier gauged steel. I did what I could to true my wheel and limped for another 15 miles into McKinney.

Dark skies over McKinney. My wheel challenges plus the weather added a week's time to my stay in Texas.

Dark skies over McKinney. My wheel challenges plus the weather added a week’s time to my stay in Texas.

Calling around the next morning, I quickly realized I couldn’t find what I needed in McKinney, nor, apparently, in Dallas. Finally, a mechanic at a bike shop near Southern Methodist University told me she could build what I needed but it would take a day. And, I might add, cost $100. Early the next morning I climbed on the Dog, the Greyhound bus, and zipped into Dallas on I-75. A bit of futzing and I found my way out to SMU on a municipal bus. My wheel wasn’t ready but there was a bookstore next to SMU, so what did I care. Two hours later found me on my way back to McKinney with my shiny new wheel and a book, The Quickening Universe by Eugene Mallove.

I’d like to report that the new wheel solved my problem, that my next 8000 miles were worry free. Sigh. I was half way between McKinney and Greenville the next day, having ridden all of 15 miles, when the wheel pretzeled on me.  Instead of Ping, it was more like SPRONG! I couldn’t even turn the wheel. I’m not sure whether it was my innovative language or the truing but I finally persuaded the wheel to make wobbly turns and crawled my way into Greenville. I found a motel next to I-30 with the thought that I would soon be returning to Dallas. Which is what happened.

I was greeted by silence when I called the bike shop the next morning. Make that consternation. After apologizing, the mechanic told me if I would bring the wheel back in the next day, she would have another one ready that she would guarantee would get me through the trip. Fortunately, the Dog also had a route along I-30. So the next morning, there I was, me, my pretzel wheel and The Quickening Universe, just in case my new wheel wasn’t ready.

It was. The mechanic greeted me at the door and handed me my second new wheel in three days. 26 years later, it still resides on the back of my bike.

I was up at 5:30 the next morning, eager to hit the road. My wheel problems had cost me four days. I turned the TV on for company while I packed my panniers. “Expect severe weather in the Dallas area and eastward the next few days,” a stern-faced weatherman was warning. Thunderstorms, heavy rain, hail and tornadoes were forecast. Flash floods were expected. People were advised to stay home unless they had to travel. As if I needed more bad news, the room was suddenly lit up by a flash of intense light followed instantly by a loud boom that bounced around the motel. The intense storm had already started. Curt wasn’t going anywhere.

When this happened on my bike trip, I would get off the road and seek shelter. If nothing man-made was around, I had a small tarp that just covered me. This storm pictured here, became so intense that even Peggy and I were forced to pull off the road in our van.

When this happened on my bike trip, I would get off the road and seek shelter. If nothing man-made was around, I had a small tarp that just covered me. This storm near Greenville, became so intense that even Peggy and I were forced to pull off the road in our van.

But nature is going to do what nature is going to do. I had a book to read and the motel had a private club. Private clubs were how Texans got around the drinking laws. Staying at the motel gave me an instant membership, which I took advantage of the next three evenings while the storm continued to rage. And rage it did. One time I looked outside and saw hailstones the size of golf balls falling. I imagined being on my bike. The third day, the storm headed out, prepared to do its nastiness somewhere else.

I stopped by the club for a final beer that evening and was cornered by a window-washer who wanted to talk. When he learned I had lived in Alaska, he got really excited. “I am going to move there,” he told me. And then he told me why. He had been having an affaire and the woman’s husband had found out. “He’s hunting for me,” he confided. “I am carrying a 357 Magnum for protection.” Oh great, I thought to myself. The way my luck has been running this week, the husband is going to show up.

I’d carried a 357 once in Alaska. A doctor friend had insisted on it for my health. I was going backpacking in grizzly bear country. I had put the pistol in one section of my backpack and the bullets in another, convinced that there was a lot more danger of me shooting myself than being attacked by a grizzly.

“Hey,” my best new window-washer friend asked with light bulbs going off, “would you like to see my gun?”

“Um, no thanks,” had been my response. It was definitely time I was hitting the road.

NEXT BLOG: Out of Texas and into Louisiana with an offer of hooch and…

28 comments on “PING: The Sound of One Spoke Breaking… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

  1. Long, long overdue to let you know how much I love your posts, Curt! Originally discovered your blog by way of surfing for Pleasureway B-class motorhomes. That has turned into much enjoyment I get from journeying within your stories. Thank you so much ! – Rahjta

    • And thank you, Rahjta. Words like yours make my efforts at sharing my travels and thought worthwhile. I checked out your website and found our thoughts travel down similar paths, although you have traveled much farther than I have. I am pleased to have you along on my journey. –Curt

  2. We don’t get storms like that in UK but last year I was in Sardinia and there was a rare Mediterranean Cyclone. That thorn looks dangerous. I had a nasty Berberis in my garden but I cut it down because of the danger of injury!

    • I think those were the most serious thorns I’ve ever seen, Andrew. Peg and I were quite careful when we walking through them. Fortunately, our weather here in Southern Oregon is also moderate, except for forest fire season. 🙂 –Curt

  3. You will be pleased to know I bought a second hand (brand new) bike from the Salvation Army shop just up the road. It cost a very reasonable $ A 70.- The wheels strong with sturdy tyres. I had to retighten the wheels and both gear levers. It seemed it had been put together but ended up never been used.
    A great bike to get around on.
    I think the tree with spikes is a favourite of alpacas. They used to love eating the leaves and did not seem to worry about the spikes.

    • Good for you on the bike, Gerard. If Peggy and I ever move back to a town where it makes sense, instead of living 30 miles out in the woods, we will likely get bikes for commuting. As for the Alpacas, good for them. I’d have to be awfully hungry. 🙂 –Curt

  4. So glad I can do this bike ride with you … from my dry, safe desktop! I lived in Texas for 3 years and I would be very frightened to be caught in one of their storms on a bike. The spoke part doesn’t sound like it was much fun either!

    • Glad to have you along Lex. By the end of the many miles across Texas, the wheel problems and the weather, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get out of the state. 🙂 But such is the stuff that memories are made out of… —Curt

  5. What a wonderful array of people you’re meeting. I can just imagine Mel’s wistful glance as you continued the trip he always dreamt of. See the spokes were telling you something – to stay put! Safe out of harms way. And you had stocked up on books. Yeah! Great post as always, Curt.

    • Thanks, Annika. Sometimes I thought it was a solo journey, almost hermit like. A few times I remember stopping at a motel just to hear human voices. The cattle always mooed back at me when I mooed at them, but it just wasn’t the same.:) Other times, I met people like Mel with incredibly generous natures, or the window washer who was a true character. And I always had books, even though they added considerable weight to my already heavy packs. Truth be told, I can’t live without books. 🙂 –Curt

      • Me neither – I can’t imagine a life without books. A few years ago I was diagnosed with an eye disease which would lead to eventual blindness. Frightening. I can however have a transplant of the cornea, but first it has to get worse – so kindle a lifeline!

      • Very scary, Annika. And the ability of Kindle to increase font size, valuable to all of us who don’t see smaller print as well as we once did. And then, there are books on tape. –Curt

  6. Curt I think I may have been ready to take one of those broken spokes and pole my eye out with it. I love the fact that the eventual sturdy wheel still is on your bike today. How great is that?
    Now that image of the pickled snake will stay with me forever. Ugh.

  7. Oh what a beautiful morning . . . . . . .
    Oh what a lot of shenanigans befell you: spokes, thorns, storms, wobbly wheels, weather! Adventuresome indeed.
    I’m with you on the guns. When I lived in the far north (right next to Alaska), the guys taught me how to shoot a gun, but I decided I was more scared of guns than I was of bears.
    Alison

    • Mel was a good man, Hilary, right down to his longing to climb on his bike and travel with me. I met many good folks along the way. It was an important part of the trip. –Curt

  8. McKinney! One of my favorite Texas groups (the E-Flat Porch Band) is from McKinney. They got their name from the porch where they started practicing — it resonates in the key of E-flat. Their most recent performance was at the Shankleville Purple Hull Pea Festival. Ah, these Texas summers and their festivals.

    And can I stop laughing at all your broken spokes? Not really, since the most famous and longest-lived dance hall in Austin is called The Broken Spoke. That’s where I first learned to Texas two-step, and where I first saw Asleep at the Wheel. I had a mighty fine time doing it all, too.

    I’d say that Texas is more Mel than the window washer, but that wouldn’t be true. We’ve got both ends of every spectrum you can imagine in this state — that’s what makes it such a neat place to live.

    • I am sure that broken spokes on pioneer wagons were much more of a challenge that the one I faced, Linda. But they are definitely similar in nature.
      I, too, laughed when I went to your link on The Broken Spoke in Austin. I noticed in the photo on top that all of the women taking the lesson were stepping out as instructed, and the men were still wondering what was happening. That would have been me while Peggy gracefully did what was shown. 🙂 BTW, I really like Austin. Peggy’s brother and his wife live in Georgetown, just a few miles north.
      Texas politics makes my head swirl any time I look too closely at it. But having lived in California and Alaska, I have some insight. I understand “strange.” –Curt

  9. Pictures of pickled snake and horse hair sutures are pretty yukky, but a nice bicycle repairman can be good to find. Fascinating that you’ve had that same wheel for 26 years. It may be ready for another 10,000 mile trip!!!

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