I’m sitting in McDonald’s again. There’s a family of about, oh, I don’t know, 47?, who’re bitching about how long it’s taking for the kitchen to prepare their food. I have to admit, it does appear the clown running the place (pun intended) has been taking his time about preparing a McPancake. All 47 of them are women, so the Bitch Fest is in full swing. The manager has already refunded all their money, apologized profusely, but the Bitch Fest will be Eternal: “The bastards who let our children starve to death.”

Maybe I’m tempting Fate by sitting in another McD’s. The one I was seeking refuge from the rain yesterday in Shelby didn’t give me a Happy Ending Meal experience. When I walked out, the back tire was flat again. Yes. The one I’d already changed twice.

I could not believe it. I was down to the 2 spare tubes I’d bought at Wal Mart and the 2 CO2 cartridges left. I parked the bike, unloaded all the gear AGAIN and once again flipped the bike over to fix the tire. THIS time I took the tire off the rim completely. I turned that sucker inside and out and examined it looking for ANYTHING that might be poking through destroying inner tubes.

Got the tire back on. Twisted one of the CO2 cartridges on it . . . and the cartridge spent all its air as soon as it was pierced. “All right,” I thought, “obviously I need to thread it quickly.” Down to one CO2 now. Put this one in the holder and threaded it quickly past the escaping air stage. Got it on the tire. Crossed my fingers.

Success! Holy Mother of God! Something finally worked!

Oh. Wait. There’s a bulge in the tire. Oh. My. God.

Well, maybe if I let out just a little bit of the air I can push the tire back on the rim and then reinflate from that point with my hand pump.

Good theory. But the books are full of examples of Theory Not Making It Past Reality. I had to let out all of the air. Then spent the next 30 minutes with the hand pump getting it to a stage where I could go seek a gas station and finish pumping it up.

I’m also now keeping an eye on the clock. It’s approaching 6:00PM and I’m still 40 miles away from Sandusky. I have a handy dandy application on my phone that computes sunrise and sunset. Sunset yesterday was 8:43 and twilight ended at 9:30. It takes me 3 hours to ride 40 miles. I’ve got less than 30 minutes to ride 5 miles back into town, find a gas station, and then start back towards Sandusky. At 12 miles an hour, each mile takes 5 minutes. It’s official. I’m going to have to ride in the dark tonight.

The first two gas stations have air pumps that . . . don’t fit right. Paid 75 cents to find that out. Now I have to go find a station that has an air pump that does fit right. It’s now 6:30. There’s no bike shops in Shelby Ohio nor are there any motels / hotels, either.

I call Camp Sandusky and ask them how late will there be someone to check me in as I’m still 3+ hours away. Someone will be there until midnight. Ok, one bright spot. I tell the guy I’m riding a bicycle. He’s impressed. “I’m a bicyclist and that’s really impressive, sir,” he said. Told him when I got there I’d buy him a beer and tell him about my really long ass day. He said, “Ummmm, sir, I’m only 18 and I’m not old enough to drink.”

I consider “giving up.” I actually called one of the very kind people who offered to rescue me if necessary. I was going to ask if the offer was serious to come rescue me. But there was no answer. “All right, Ray, NOW what are you going to do?”

Found a gas station that did have the right connection. Got the tire pumped up. It felt good. (But, so had the previous two tires, too.) If I go on, there’s really nothing beyond this point until I get to Sandusky. Cell phone coverage is spotty at best and downright non-existent for the most part. If I get up the road and lose another tire . . . well, I don’t know.

But staying in Shelby isn’t going to do any good either. A true conundrum.

Well, nothing ventured, nothing to have your survivors say at your eulogy . . .

(Side note. One of Car Talk’s opening bits had to do with Famous Last Words. One of them was, “I wonder where the mama bear is?” Now we can probably add, “What’s the worst that can happen on a bicycle?”)

Every three miles I stopped the bike and reached back to feel the tire. It was good. It was solid. All was riding fine. But, Lordy Lordy was it getting dark.

And it wasn’t just because the sun was going down. There were some major thunderstorms building and heading my way.

I already had my tail light blinking away. Finally, about 8:30 it was dark enough I had to turn on my headlight. That’s when the rain started. Not that misty shit that Ohio is known for, but torrents of rain. Thank God for the LED ball cap. Makes for a great rain shield for my eyes.

Being on back roads the signage wasn’t the greatest in the world. County Road numbers were non-existent or they’d put up what the county road was known as in that part of the county. Something like, “Shit Kicker John’s Road” and “Will Work For Government Subsidies Avenue.”

I’m starting to get close, based on the mileage I’d ridden. (With all the back and forthing I was doing getting flats fixed, plus all the times I just missed a turn, that 100 mile ride really should have been closer to 75.) I start to see these signs about a closed road. “Whew,” I thought, “Good thing I don’t have to go down that road.” I zipped on past and made it about 3 miles further out. The rain started coming down even harder. I pulled off the road and parked under an (awning? Do you call ’em awnings when they’re solid parts of the building? an overhang? I don’t know.) at a church. Stayed there for a while hoping to let the rain ease up.

My earphones are dying. I wonder how much, if any, the rain has affected them? I take them off and set them on my handlebars. I break out the phone and find out where the hell I’m at.

Where I’m at is 3 miles past the turn off. You’ve. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me. It’s now 10:00PM. I should have been there 30 minutes ago.

The rain finally lets up. I memorize the way back. It’s only 5 miles from where I’m at. Start riding. Get about a mile down the road and think, “Dammit, what did I do with the earphones?” Gotta turn around. (They’re $55 earphones. I’m not losing them.) Figure they fell off at the church. About a quarter mile into the return trip I hit a bad spot of road. Something falls off the bike. Dammit! What was it? Now I have to backtrack — against traffic — with a dying headlight to find whatever it was that fell off the bike.

Turns out what fell off was the earphones. 🙂 Oh, good. Now I don’t have to go all the way back to the church.

Back down the road. Knowing in my gut that the road I’m going to have to travel is that one that was closed for construction. Sure enough, that’s it. By this time my headlight, having been in operation for 3 solid hours is giving up the ghost. I’m afraid the construction might be something like having a huge trench cut across the road. I’m terrified that in the complete darkness (the rain having re-intensified again) I’m going to miss it and that will be the end of me.

The headlight dies.

“Hey! I have a ball cap with LEDs!” I turn that sucker on. It works! It’s not near as bright as my headlight, but it’s serviceable.

I’m making 5 to 7 miles an hour on this road. The road is covered with water. I’m thinking, I don’t want to go through any puddles, not knowing if those are holes in the road that have filled with water. I have to take it slow and easy and work my way around the puddles or determine they’re really very shallow when I get close enough to determine that.

I recall from the camp’s website that they’re directly across the street from a McDonald’s. I see a huge McD’s highway sign. I know that’s where I’m going. I finally make it to the end of the closed road, hang a right onto the main road where the camp is going to be, and head for the McD’s.

I finally pulled in to the camp and walked into the office. “You the guy who I talked to while ago? I’m the guy who was riding the bicycle here.”

“Dude,” he said, “I was watching the weather. Holy cow you had it rough!”

“Well, you could upgrade me to an air conditioned cabin to make up for my troubles and to show your complete awe.”

He looked really worried. “Uhhh, I’m sorry, we’re all sold out . . . “

“Dude,” I said gently, “I’m yanking your chain.”

The rain had subsided, but I still got to put the tent up while the water was coming down. A hard ground with a saddlebag as a pillow never felt so good.