miles zero to 20

It’s been an interesting couple of days.

Thursday night (a day after we originally planned to leave!) we finally had the apartment packed up, and loaded it all up into a U-Haul and drove it all to Oaks Grove, where it’s being stored in the garage of our friends Kris and Angie, along with Matt’s things. Our worldly belongings take up less space than I expected when carefully stacked, even though I definitely have too many things. At one point near the end of packing, stuff was getting stuck into boxes labeled “random stuff.”

Friday morning was spent cleaning up the apartment. So much scrubbing and sweeping and vacuuming and mopping! And Shawn wrapped my handlebars and we found out that the cycle computer (a little cheapie, tells you speed and distance) I was hoping to use was missing the battery. Oh well.

We ran some errands, including dropping off all the keys to our apartment, and got on the MAX just as the skies opened up and it really began to pour. And just as we got off the train at Expo Center, it had stopped. Hallelujah!

Just before crossing the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River. Goodbye Oregon!

Our plan last night was to ride to a park called Paradise Point, near the town of La Center. However…

However. (There’s always a however.)

I had not ridden the bike fully loaded yet. Yeah, I know. As I remarked when we left the old apartment, “This is something they always tell you not to do. Too late now.” At first the load was totally uneven in front, so I moved things around a little, which helped. But the bike still felt really odd. I know I need to shuffle things around some, because I think I made the front bags the heavier ones! And just in general, the bike is heavier than anything I’ve ridden before, so it’s harder than I’m used to. And then there’s getting used to having a front load. It just feels odd. I was in the drops every second for the first, I dunno, ten miles? It just felt wobbly otherwise. Two things really did not help:

1. The front rack is slightly off-kilter. I was told this isn’t really that big a deal, but you look down and it’s crooked.

2. The stem extender that Janice in Georgia sent me? Turns out it’s not meant for riding with a front load.

We were at a light in Vancouver (Washington) and I noticed that the handlebars weren’t lined up with the wheel, and it wasn’t just the off-kilter rack. I braced the wheel, and was able to move it back…but that’s not good. Over the next bunch of miles, I had to pull it back more and more often, which was getting rather worrisome. And then, a whopping two miles short of our goal, I was going uphill in my granny, and I wobbled on the bike, and then suddenly the handlebars went several inches off kilter.

Handlebars: facing forward. Wheel: Not so much. This shot makes the rack even look straight, it’s so far off.

At that point I decided the bike was unrideable, ’cause the last thing I need is to be going ten or fifteen miles per hour and then have my wheel just decide to turn without asking me. I’ve gone over my handlebars spectacularly once in my life, and would like to never do it again, y’know?

We’d been in communication with our Vancouver friend Todd, who was planning to drive up to Paradise Point to hang out and make popcorn for a bit and help us celebrate our first night. Instead he had to come out and rescue us. At first we just tried tightening the extender (which involves removing the “real” stem), but it seemed like no matter how tight it was, there was still some play. It was dark by then, so Shawn and I gratefully accepted an invitation for a ride back to Vancouver and a floor to sleep on. We also went to Niche and Leah gave us each a glass of wine, which was very appreciated.

This morning the bike was taken to a shop in Vancouver, where they offered to gorilla-glue the stem in place. It’s a temporary fix, and they can’t guarantee how long it will last. (It should be okay as long as I keep the bike from falling over, as the way to dislodge it is to apply a bunch of torque separate from the wheel.) But we also bought a new (used) stem, and worst case scenario, we could replace the stem ourselves, I just wouldn’t have handlebar tape on one side. Our goal at this point is for it to last until we get to Vancouver B.C., since we’ll be there a few days and can make an appointment with a bike shop. Keep your fingers crossed (pray, think good thoughts, do a spell, whatever) for me and my stem, (and the rest of our bikes). I also think I’ll rearrange the weight, as I think there should just be less weight on the front until the stem is replaced. And it’ll give me more time to get used to how the bike handles differently with a front load.

I’m writing this post as we wait for the glue to dry, and then Todd is driving Shawn and I up to Longview, where Shawn and I will get back on our bikes with the goal of Lewis and Clark State Park near Chehalis. Yeah, it’s cheating. But Vancouver B.C. is the only place we’re going where we have a deadline, as Shawn is leading a workshop on bike touring for Velopalooza. In addition, we have Warmshowers hosts lined up in several places on the way up, and we’ve already changed our dates on them at least once.

Part of us worries that our delays and mechanical issues are some kind of omen. But at the same time, maybe we’re just getting all this stuff over with at the beginning, and it will be (relatively) smooth sailing after this. I’m trying pretty hard to be optimistic.

And in any case, if we’re going to have mechanical issues, it happened when we could easily be rescued, and that’s lucky.

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20 Responses to miles zero to 20

  1. Janice in GA says:

    Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear the stem extender isn’t functioning with your load! I hadn’t heard that that was a problem. 😦 But I almost never ride with a load on front, so I have no experience with that anyway.

    Be safe! Throw it away if you have to! But mostly, BE SAFE!!!

  2. Janice in GA says:

    Of course, a shake-down ride ahead of time might have saved you some worry and concern, and uncovered the problem ahead of time. But that’s water under the bridge now.

    If you need to replace the stem (which I would probably do anyway), you MIGHT be able to save the handlebar tape and re-use it.

  3. MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

    I’m definitely sending positive thoughts and good energy your way. You guys be safe out there!!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Don’t worry ‘pril! It’s probably just growing pains! You’ll do fine! I’m very glad you were able to get help when you needed it! And if I haven’t said it before, I’m excited for you following your dreams! I hope it will be as grand an adventure as you hoped for and that you will see many wonderful things along the way!

    Are you going through Wisconsin? If you’re there in the summer, really really pass through Lake Geneva – it’s truly gorgeous there – the lake is amazing to swim in. You can camp at Big Foot State Park really cheaply too and swim in the lake there for free, but if you’re in LG during the week you can also just walk on the lake path and dive off random rich people’s piers generally. 🙂

    I realize you might already have everything planned and you may not go through Wisconsin, but really Lake Geneva in the summer was so good that I missed it while living in Portland.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Oh and if you’re relying on home stays during your journey, I might be able to hook you up with my friend Rita, who’s a vegan.

  6. Jennifer P-W says:

    Bon voyage! And stay safe. I’m going to follow your travels from the comfort of home.

  7. Westwind says:

    Your posting this just to scare all those who love you back in Oregon, right?
    Much as I would like to keep Shawn’s truck forever, I don’t want you two pulling careening off a cliff due to mechanical failures!
    Heres hoping the rest of the trip goes better!

  8. Todd says:

    Hi April and Shawn,

    Hope all is better. Where are you now?

    And for the blog readers to clarify, the bike shop did not glue the stem. I did it. 🙂

    Good luck .., and do get that bike overhauled before you travel through the ‘big distance not bike friendly mid america’.

  9. Todd says:

    And how is that rear wheel I had to tighten up the cones on before you left?

  10. OMG I cannot believe that you rode your bike in that state of stem-slippage and describe it so casually! Please just buy a new stem and have a bike shop install it if it can’t easily be done on the road. Many bike shops will have used stems in great condition in the extra parts stash for like $20 or less, which is how I get most of mine. Could be an option? The gluing thing does not sound right to me.

    I am following your trip with interest! Have fun and keep us updated. Hope to see you on the East Coast!

  11. Janice in GA says:

    Glad to hear you’re ok so far! I’ve been a little worried since we hadn’t heard from you.

    ::feeling a little responsible::

  12. Todd says:

    Actually the shop had a used parts bin. I looked for a stem there and at home (my bin) but nothing tall enough (~250mm) for your desires. 🙂

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