The last glacial period left its indelible mark on the terrain. The route I planned starts on the valley floor, undulating glacial till covered by mixed pine and hardwood forest, and wetlands. It then climbs through wild ravines covered with dark conifers.
Things usually get a little rougher when you pass a sign that says this
Things apparently got rough here at some point in a different way. Larger caliber bullets than usual were used on this mailbox.
Coming down the last little grade before the brook, I heard the sharp hiss of a large and drastic sliced tire. I pulled off at what turned out to be the scene of someone's luau.
I had known by the sound that the news would not be good. The tire had a slice up the sidewall as fine as a knife cut. I wondered what I could have hit. This would need a reinforcing boot to keep the tube from bulging through the slash. I knew I had brought my wallet for some better reason than mere identification.
My plans to spend a couple of hours riding the less-traveled roads bled into the sand as I fit the tire, laboriously inflated it, saw that I needed to re-position the the folded dollar bill inside it, deflated it, worked one bead off, corrected the problem with the boot and laboriously re-inflated the tire. Even if I could have gotten it to full pressure before nightfall, the deformation of the casing showed that this would not be a good idea. The idea of riding even farther from home and having another flat seemed like an even worse idea.
Feeling silly and defeated, I trudged up the little grade where the puncture had occurred, hoping to see a jagged fragment of broken bottle, or twisted sheet metal. Instead, all I found were some pieces of blue stone with sharp edges that still did not seem capable of the blade-thin slice in the tire.
In all the times I've banzaied down a gravel road, using exactly the same type of tires, I have never had tire damage like this. But maybe Effingham bought singularly vicious gravel. Stone age people fashioned cutting blades from rocks of the right composition. Seems like a stupid choice for a road surface, even for car tires. Must have been a good price.
I needed to get home so I could fix the tire properly. I hopped on the bike and pedaled slowly, savoring the forest. I had reached the section where houses and cabins appear again, when I spotted a garter snake stretched out straight in the dirt and gravel. It was so sluggish when I poked it the first couple of times, I thought I might be too late. I almost always am. But it came abruptly to life when I picked it up.
The rare Northeastern Pretzel Snake
If I had not turned back because of my tire, I would not have happened upon that snake. Since I usually arrive too late to save any of the small creatures whose bodies I see along the road, I felt slightly compensated for my loss and inconvenience. I'm still pissed about the waste of a good tire, but it's not the first time and probably not the last. And the stupid snake might crawl back onto the road today, or tomorrow, or next week. I'm not going to argue with the momentary happiness of saving a creature who probably found the whole encounter very disturbing and feels no gratitude. For some reason I like animals.
Hands black with tire grime and smelling of snake urine, I wended my way back out to the paved road, and onward to home base. After washing up and having a bit of food, I pulled out a new new tire I had not expected to need until some time next year. I always try to have one around.
The damaged tire had a version of the classic Titanic Puncture. The true Titanic Puncture is a sidewall gash you get in a brand new tire on its first ride. This tire wasn't on its maiden voyage, but it hadn't been on the bike for more than a few weeks at most.
First step: asset recovery
The Titanic Punctures I've gotten in the past were all on the road and came from pieces of metal I was able to find, even though I had not spotted them soon enough to avoid them. The somewhat mysterious origin of this one makes it more disturbing. I've ridden that bike through that road a number of times.
If it had just been a snakebite I would not have had to turn back. So I'd get the bite and the snake would die.
Life is weird.