Sunday, October 27, 2013

Post #11: Bikeography Part VIII -- The Explosion That Changed Everything

Great week in the saddle for everybody's favorite Bikeist -- got my birthday Century ride in, simultaneously knocking out another key chunk of the Pacific Coast (Santa Barbara to L.A.) in my quest to bike every single mile of it, from the Canadian border to Mexico.  Much, much, more on that when I, finally, finish the never-ending, serialized, Bikeography (someday coming to a bookstore or e-reader near you).  Before reverting to the Bikeography, though (don't panic, I promise we'll get there), there is one image from my trip that I simply must share.  I took Amtrak up to Santa Barbara Monday afternoon, before biking the coast south on Tuesday.  After 5 hours on the train, and with a few hours of sunlight left, I decided to get the kinks out by biking up into the hills adjacent to Santa Barbara, where I encountered THIS on Mountain Drive:

YES!  It's a mailbox!  One of the best pieces of bike art I've ever come across -- just hope their mail-carrier has a good sense of humor . . .

See, all you impatient readers out there -- look what you would have missed out on if I had simply launched into this all-important, crucial, life-altering, mind-blowing installment of the Bikeography.  Ok, ok, I'll get on with it already --

You see, loyal readers, when it comes to my Bike-ism, there are two distinct eras:  B.E. and A.E. -- before the explosion and after.  B.E., I was simply a guy who really liked bikes and riding them.  After I crossed that bright line, though, I was still all that, but beyond that, I was someone who organized his entire existence around bikes.  I was a little over two years into my three year tour at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, CT, living 12 miles north of the base in Norwich.  I had been dabbling with bike-commuting (once or twice a week, when the weather was favorable) but, in our two-car household, it was always easy to generate excuses to opt out of getting up early to bike out into the cold, dark Connecticut mornings.   That all changed, though, as I drove to work in our '83 Celebrity one early Spring morning -- the very same Celebrity that I had bragged about at work a few days earlier when it had somehow managed to cross the 200,000 mile mark.  

Chevrolet celebrity

I called out my cohorts for wasting money on their fancy German and Japanese cars, when good old, reliable, American engineering had produced my indestructible Celebrity -- "Still going strong!"  

So, the irony of my hubris, was not lost on me as white fumes began emerging from under the hood.  "Damn!" I thought, must be overheating.  When I pulled over and immediately popped the  hood, though, it wasn't steam that I discovered -- there were flames dancing on my air filter!  I ran to the trunk to grab the fire extinguisher, but couldn't find one.  When I looked back at the engine, the flames seemed to be growing fast.  There were a few houses along this stretch of Rte 12, so I ran up to the doorstep of the closest one.  I rang the doorbell about a hundred times, but got no answer until I spotted an older lady peering out at me from behind the drapes of the living room window.  I tried to direct her attention to the road and the visible flames emanating from my engine, but she kept her gaze fixed on me and mouthed "Go away!"  "Another friendly New Englander --" I thought to myself as I retreated from her front stoop.  Guessing that her neighbors were likely to be just as helpful, I decided to run down to the road and see if I could flag someone down.  The flames were now reaching the top of the propped hood.  A steady stream of cars was passing by -- giving the Celebrity a wide berth as they gawked at the flames (and ignored me).  After about a minute, a guy in a Mercedes pulled over who actually had a "car phone" -- complete with the classic curled, springy, phone cord and long antenna.  He, excitedly, used it to call the fire department and then encouraged me to get the hell away from the car until they showed up.  I took his advice and climbed up the hill across the street from the Celebrity, where I watched the flames grow and grow some more until they actually worked their way into the passengers' compartment where they soon melted the molding around the windshield which then receded into the same compartment.  That was right before the fireball.  As I recall, it looked something like this:

It was at this very moment that my mind turned to the issue of how I would be getting to work now that we had only one car, and my long-suffering wife needed the non-blown-up one to get to New Haven each day for Grad School.   It was at the very next moment that I had my epiphany -- I'll ride my bike, of course -- and, in the very next moment after that (when the part of my brain that favored endless bike-rides, forever seeking what was beyond that next curve kicked in) when I vowed I would keep on riding my bike to work every day after that until I either got sick of it, or it became impossible.  That day, of course, never came.  Eighteen years later, we still have only one car, and I have used my bike and/or public transportation to get to work every day since that fateful one in Connecticut.

As for the Celebrity, it was a blackened, charred, hulk by the time the fire department showed up 45 minutes after the call (from exactly 3/4 of a mile down the road).  The Inspector started shaking his head as soon as he saw it was a Celebrity, and brought me over to what was left of it to demonstrate the little quirk it had where the fuel hose would slip off and spray gasoline on the hot engine.  Nice.  It was hauled off to the junk-yard, and a friendly Trooper was kind enough to drive me to the base where I had a spectacular story to tell my friends in the trial shop . . .

Next up:  Of Spain and another Cannondale --

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