Sep 18: On Losing One's Bearings

Submitted by Ben on Thu, 09/18/2014 - 14:24

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 18, 2004]

Hi, folks. I'm writing from Whitewater Memorial State Park, near Liberty, Indiana. I had planned to reach Indiana yesterday, but I'm starting to think that best-laid plans are best laid aside! Get ready for a long and rambling story...

Thursday I called the contact I had for the nascent Cincinnati Ecovillage group, and I soon learned that I should have called a day earlier. A longstanding intentional community / CSA farm called Grailville, outside Loveland (which I passed through unawares on Wednesday) has offered to sell part of its land to ecovillagers, so those members of the Cincinnati group who had rural inclinations have split to close that deal, and the remaining urban types have decided to try to green their existing neighborhoods. Had I known about Grailville on Wednesday, I might have visited it, but by Thursday I was too far away.

I left Bill's place Friday morning in a steady rain that was forecast to last all day long. I headed for the Ohio River, where a city Web site had told me there was a bike trail that would take me right into downtown. On the way I slammed into a large pothole that was concealed by a puddle. Immediately after that, I noticed a popping sound coming from my front wheel. I assumed it was the spokes, knocked out of their delicate balance by the impact. (One drawback of small wheels is that they have fewer spokes, so my front wheel has this trouble a lot.)

I stopped at a convenience store and got a cup of coffee to sip while I fixed the spokes, but when I got the bike upside down I found that the spokes were fine. Hmm. I got directions to the bike trail and was back on my way.

As soon as I was on the trail, away from traffic noise, I could tell that it was not a musical pinging spoke sound after all, but a sickening crunching sound that could only be the bearings. I had visions of fragments of broken bearing rolling around inside the hub... I stopped at a park shelter to investigate.

When I got the hub open, I found that the bearings were intact, just a little rusty on one side where I hadn't adequately greased the hub when I worked on it in July. The noise was probably caused by a little piece of grit that worked its way in there. I took a leisurely hour to clean, pack, and grease the hub. (The task was complicated by the rain and gusty wind; I was lucky not to lose any of the frisky little balls in the drafty, flooded picnic shelter.)

The newly rebuilt hub was so smooth and quiet, such a satisfying piece of work, that I wasn't at all upset to learn that I had lost my bearings after all: I was on the wrong bike trail, headed out of downtown instead of into it! (It helped that the rain had also stopped, as it always seems to do when forecast to continue all day.)

As it turned out, the trail along the river doesn't actually exist yet. No matter, I found a good route into downtown and arrived at the main library only about 3 hours later than I'd intended!

Now, the main Cincinnati library is an awe-inspiring place, nearly two city blocks in area and six stories tall (including basements). Wow! By the time I'd photocopied the Indiana maps I needed, it was 2:30, and I was sorely tempted to stop at the library cafe (!!) for a meal.

Instead I made a beeline to the stash of snacks on my bike, where the first of several people informed me that according to a recent news story, Kryptonite brand locks such as mine can be picked with an ordinary ballpoint pen. Good to know, I guess, though I have to question the motivation of the guy who broke the story.

Before leaving the library I tried to retrieve my voicemail, thinking Bill might have heard back from a friend who wanted to put me up for the night, and I found that my AT&T number had been disconnected -- by Verizon! After half an hour on the phone with Verizon, we had the matter straightened out, and my old number is now transferred at last to my new phone. (Bureaucracy watchers will be pleased to hear that my other corporate snafu is resolved as well: I finally have health insurance! Hooray!)

So it was probably 3:30 by the time I left downtown: rush hour. The route I had chosen after studying maps of the city was a very revealing cross-section of the town, which is to say it took me through a severely blighted neighborhood. I later learned there had been race riots there a few years ago. I also had to go through this neighborhood very slowly, thanks to a hill that stretched for well over a mile. On the far side of the hill I hit some more potholes at high speed, and I broke another hose clamp on my trailer hitch! (Although I installed new clamps in Ann Arbor, I wasn't satisfied with the way they were holding in place, so I realigned them that morning and may have weakened them in the process.)

I stopped in a slightly better-looking neighborhood, and as I was installing a new clamp, a cyclist stopped to talk with me. He's hoping to do some long-distance touring of his own, but so far he only goes short distances in town; in fact he was thinking of riding the bus home. But since I was heading his way, he offered to show me a route that would be less hilly and less trafficked. By the time we had covered a few miles, he had offered to feed me dinner and let me camp in his back yard!

Mike and his mother Fran are both very interesting and generous people. Fran has mixed feelings about Mike's dreams of touring and took me in because "You're someone's son, and I know I'd want someone to take my son in." I tried to make their hospitality worth their while by showing them travel photos and playing the autoharp, but really my only option is to "pay it forward," as they say.

After reflection, I decided to leave Mike my Ohio maps, since I wouldn't be needing them much longer. So now he has my bearings! I only got lost twice this morning without them...

Also, I've begun to realize that I'm enriching a lot of people's lives just by passing them on the street... a bunch of kids in inner-city Cincinnati saw their first recumbent bike yesterday, for example. Even if people think I'm a freak or a clown, at least I've shown them another way of travel is possible.

On my way out of town this morning (Saturday) I visited the park I'd been headed for when I met Mike. Called Winton Woods, it's a county park located inside Cincinnati, and it has a campground as nice as any I've seen. But I bet they don't serve homemade cheeseburgers or blueberry-coconut-pecan muffins, so I definitely got the better deal!

The ride into Indiana was uneventful. I'm finally out of the hills that surround Cincinnati, so it should be smooth sailing all the way into Indianapolis! --Ben