Saturday, October 15, 2011

Caprock Canyon Rail Trail - The Trail of Flats

My tires rubbed and squeaked against the frame of the bike and every turn of the pedals required effort.  That's usually the case when both tires are flat and the bike is gussied up with panniers, hauling a trailer, and loaded with around 50 pounds of camping gear.  The wet sand was soft beneath the tires, offering only resistance, and as the incline of the road grew steeper I had to get off the bike and push it up the remainder of the hill.  It doesn't matter how you get there so long as you keep going.

Dirt road and trail head.  That little speck is Dan after he rode right past the trail entrance.

At a certain point, you just give up on changing flats.  The trip had started well with Dad, Jason, Dan, and Jon all on mountain bikes loaded up with panniers filled with camping gear.  Caprock Canyons is a good haul from Dallas and we got in to the area around lunch time, registered at the state park headquarters (which is very nice, by the way), and then parked at the cabin that would be our lodging after we got off the trail.  It all went down hill from there.

Jon's rig, with Neandertrailer ready to roll.

Dan got stuck at the trail head when he got sucked in to a critical issue at work via cell phone.  I said "See ya when ya catch up to my slow ass", slightly confused as to why anyone would even have their phone turned on,  and lumbered on as Neandertrailer bounced and rattled behind me.

Neandertrailer was born in the eternal fire of my garage, an abomination and combination of old bike parts and square steel tubes hacked apart mercilessly and then welded back together in to a gear hauling monster.  It is so named because it is primitive, blocky and unrefined compared to modern commercial trailers but it is also strong, formidable, functional, and able to take lots of abuse.  Betting squares were drawn up to see who could predict how many miles would roll by before there was Neandertrailer failure and in what manner the surely spectacular demise would occur.  Little did we know that Neandertrailer would out last us all.

Dad checking the trail map

Jason passing through one of the vehicle barriers at a road crossing.  A few of these were a little too narrow for the trailer!

We stopped for a brief rest at a road crossing and trail sign.  Dan got back on the horn with his job and while we were waiting I noticed that my tire was slowly deflating.  No problem, we had time to spare, spare tubes and patches, and the tools for the job.  We changed that flat, then realized the trailer tire was going flat as well. One more easy patching and a mini-pump took care of that as well.  Irritating, but manageable, and we rolled on.

Trail surface.  It varied from gravel, dirt, mud, overgrown thorn plants, to a few brief miles of nice hardpack pea gravel and one paved bridge.
We had been ignorant of a fact that I'll summarize for you here and maybe save you some pain: The terrain of West Texas hates bicycles.  Every plant that can eek out an existence in that harsh high desert land of little water and howling wind and cold nights and blistering summer days has developed some sort of strategy and defense which usually takes the shape of a tire piercing thorn.  Multiple designs of cacti, thorn bushes, spikey vines, mesquite trees, goat heads, sand burrs, and all their evil cousins all conspire to punch holes through knobby tires and inner tubes.  Some plants will simply punch a hole, and others will leave an insidious little spike embedded in the tire just waiting to repuncture a freshly patched inner tube.  Every stop to fix a flat is a time consuming ordeal of removing the wheel and the tire and the tube, finding the hole, patching it, and then thoroughly inspecting the tire inside and out for any remaining thorns.  Then, with everything installed again, the tire deflates in defeat due to an additional microscopic puncture that was overlooked or just a new thorn that launched an attack within a few minutes of the last.

A flat on the trailer wheel requires removing the cargo box before leaning the bike over and fixing the flat.  A flat on the rear wheel of the bike requires detaching the trailer as well!

Even the flowers have thorns.
Some cyclists just carry a spare tube and a CO2 inflater and say to hell with the tedium of patching tubes and the 100 or so strokes of a minipump to inflate a tire.  They would have been royally screwed on the Caprock Canyon trailway.  We ran out of CO2 cartridges before we were halfway to camp.  We had each put in one or more fresh-from-the-box inner tubes only to have them go flat again within a few miles and then had to apply patch after patch to the tubes.  Each repair stop cost us valuable time as the minutes ticked by and the sun sunk lower in the sky.  Riding in the dark is asking for trouble, and trouble was approaching us faster than we were approaching camp.

Big sky and bright sun behind a cloud, but that sun is going down too fast for our liking.

Continue on to Part 2 - wherein we fix more flat tires and endure howling thunderstorms

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