Broken

In a recent interview with Sarah Bellum, she shared her loneliest moment on tour: puking her guts out in an empty hippie hostel as she suffered from food poisoning as well as a gnarly case of poison oak.  She was in the middle of her solo bike adventure up the West Coast, and she was totally alone.  Even the guy at the front desk had abandoned her to go cruising up to to a hotspring with his wife. The schmuck.

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I didn't suffer from poison oak, but I did get this heat rash in Montana...

It's moments like these that make solo travel truly difficult.  You're in pain, overwhelmed, and even incapacitated.  It's hard to recover physically, but the real trick is overcoming the mental scare of being alone and in need of help.

I remember when falling off my bike on my third day of touring.  I had just embarked on the journey of a lifetime, a self-supported solo bicycle tour that would take me from Oregon to Florida. I was still getting used to the clip-in bike shoes I borrowed from my mother, which held my feet firmly against the surface of the pedal. A simple twist of the foot would un-clip them, but it takes newbies some practice to learn how to un-clip before you start falling over. 

It was August 4th and I was pedaling along until I hit a patch of loose gravel and began to wobble. My top-heavy, fully-loaded touring bicycle fell sideways, away from traffic, and as I watched the ground come racing up to meet me I shrieked and failed to disengage from my bike.

We landed in a heap, with the bike frame smacking my thigh hard enough to break the skin. Frustrated and in pain, I writhed around and managed to unclip from my pedals and stand up.  It wasn't until I was back on the road, straddling my bicycle, that I looked down at the handlebars and saw that they were crooked.

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It may not look like much, but you can't ride like this.

Trust me. I tried.

Having no knowledge of bicycle repair, and feeling completely overwhelmed and scared, I did the first thing that came to me:  I cried my eyes out. Right there, on some backroad between Corvallis and Eugene, with a bloody gash in my leg and a crooked handlebar, I wept like a toddler. I had no idea how I would ever, ever, fix this.

Of course, once my tears slowed down I realized that I could fix this.  Gingerly, I put my shaking hands on the handlebars and gave them an exploratory yank.  Sure enough, they moved back into position.  I was so proud of myself, I raised my fists to the sky and cheered. 

I like to think that I had the sense to grab an allen key and tighten up the handlebar stem, to keep it from moving again in the future, but I don't remember.  It's more likely that I simply rode the rest of the way to Eugene with loose handlebars, and had my Warmshowers host help me tighten them that night.

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Which is why Warmshowers.org is an invaluable resource for touring cyclists: you can be hosted by people who know more than you do. 

Remember, we all feel broken sometimes, whether it's at home or on the road. And it's okay to cry.  You're stronger than you realize, and once you've got the panic under control, a fix will present itself to you.

It's also a great idea to take a basic bike mechanics course before you go on a bike tour, like Sarah Bellum did. Call your local bike shop and see what they offer. No matter how mechanically lame you may be, knowing somethin' is better than knowing nothin'.