Sunday, October 04, 2015

The life of my tire for the life of a snake

South Effingham has some beautiful, rugged terrain. I used to ride it on my mountain bike, but I got out of the habit. Every time some business takes me through there in my car I make a note to go back on a bike.

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.

I looked forward to taking the trusty Cross Check on a little more dirt than usual.

These 700X32 Panaracer T-Serv tires have handled a lot of unpaved surfaces. I tried running some 38s early on, but they felt really bulky.

My phone is earnest, but not smart. The signal can be pretty sketchy in the boonies as well. So I carry a paper map to refresh my memory at intersections that often turn out to be unmarked.

After a couple of miles on pavement I got onto Wilkinson Swamp Road. Nice afternoon. Dry, cool air. Sunshine.

They call these glacial erratics, but I've always found them to be steady as a rock.

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.

Beyond the bullet-riddled mailbox the road descends a series of gentle grades, eventually reaching Wilkinson Brook. Wilkinson Brook follows an almost circular route from its origin on the slopes of the Green Mountain massif down to its confluence with the Pine River. The wetland around most of its length was described as "primordial" by the wetland scientist who traversed it as part of a research project several years ago. The road is rustic, but hardly primordial.

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.
All that remains are discarded Tiki torches. They did not help me fashion a backwoods work stand. None of the trees had projecting branches at a good working height, either.

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.

There's something bitterly appropriate about stuffing actual money into a nearly-new tire you know has been ruined.

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.

It was hard to photograph, because it wiggled so adamantly. I warmed it in my hands for a couple of minutes before carrying it to a sunny rock away from the road, in the yard of an unoccupied camp.
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 gash crossed enough sidewall cords to ruin the casing. The slice is three times as long as the part that actually cut all the way through. It cut through the tread almost to the crown of the tire. I don't want to be ripping down some steep descent or drafting a truck on that. I see trucks I want to draft a lot less often than I used to, but what if? I tested it with more air pressure after I got home and saw the slice spread wider, showing the folded bill. The tube would stay in, but the tire itself can't be counted on to be stable when I need it the most.

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.

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