Monday, May 4, 2009

My Bike Gets Swine Flu

Budget: ~$100

I left Worcester pretty early in the morning yesterday, intending to beat as much of the rain as possible. The morning was cool and sunny and breezy. I was liking it.

I headed west through hilly Leicester, up and down, up and down. I've been noticing that while all the big cities seem to be nestled in valleys, usually on rivers or lakes, the small towns are always at the tops of hills. My guess is that back when water bodies were the primary arteries for travel, whether or not a settlement was on the water played a large role in determining whether it will grow or not. But perhaps there are other things at play here that I didn't think of.

Soon enough, all the signs were posted for Spencer.

Spencer has three associations in my mind:

  1. There was once so much sodium hydroxide in their tap water that showering would give people burns
  2. During the bird flu epidemic, most of the discussion on the news centered around Spencer
  3. There were a couple of unconfirmed swine flu infections in Spencer just recently

My bike clearly felt this. As I came up the last hill before the one Spencer is on, the riding suddenly got much rougher. I pulled over. Flat rear tire. I walked the bike to a parking lot with a pair of picnic tables, ate some breakfast, and patched the tube.

I shot through Spencer and a few miles past it, when the riding got rough again. The rear tire was flat again.

I walked over to a grassy area and started taking the bike apart. Another biker pulled up.

"Walk back to Spencer. It's only a few miles. There's a bike shop there. Good service, very reasonable. There's nothing farther west. I wouldn't risk it."

I'd expected that I hadn't properly patched the puncture, but when I inspected the tube, I found that the culprit now was a totally different puncture in a different spot. I patched that.

As I pumped air back in, the tire started slipping out. I deflated, readjusted it, inflated again. And suddenly it stopped inflating. It went completely flat and wouldn't inflate even a bit. I was going to have to take out the tube again. I'd probably tried to inflate it to too high a pressure for the hand pump, and broken the valve. Two hours. Three flats. I wanted to cry.

Screw it. I put the wheel back on the bike and walked back to Spencer. I found the bike shop and shelled out the money for some armor—a kevlar tire for the back wheel. I also made lots of swine flu jokes that weren't appreciated. We also talked about Oregon and flat tires.

I zipped out of Spencer. The kevlar tire had a slight bit more rolling friction than the rubber one I'd used before, but I figured if it helped me avoid flats, it was worth it. And I got no more flats.

I passed Brookfield. It started to rain. I passed Warren. These tiny towns were so much less nice in the rain. I got into the foothills of the Berkshires, the section of the Applachian range that's in western Massachusetts.

I took small, extremely steep roads. I would ride up inclines as far as I could, then get off and walk. Cars would pass me. I'd shoot down the incline on the other side. If the road turned, I'd slow down, but if I could see for a large fraction of a mile—which was often the case—I would pass the cars that passed me.

Eventually I got to Springfield, though hardly beating the rain. The roads in this city are more pothole than pavement, and when those potholes are filled with water, they are indistinguishable from puddles.

---- recently published an article on the most dangerous cities in the US. The statistic they use is the number of violent crimes per 100,000 people. Their dangerous cities start in the low 700s, moving up to Miami with 988, and then, way above and beyond all the others, Memphis and Detroit, with 1,218 and 1,220, respectively. Had Springfield been big enough to get on the list, it would have outstripped everyone easily, at 1,920.

I'm debating whether to risk being out at night trying to get work. But it's going to be raining for quite a long time, and I don't want to travel in the rain, so work certainly wouldn't hurt. I'll spend at least a couple of days checking it out in the daytime first.


  1. Springfield beat Boston and Lynn (#2 and #3 respectively) as the most dangerous city in Massachusetts.

    Get the hell out of there and keep going man.

  2. Yes. This was a study done in November or December and published on WHDH. Lynn beat Lawrence and Lowell.

    Springfield is still the worst though.