Bike Adventure, June 2015

June 5th: An Adventure on Skaggs Springs Road

“Sometimes luck is what doesn’t happen to you.” - Author Unknown (to me)

I went on a bike ride yesterday out to the west county as a training ride for an upcoming hilly cycling event near Mt. Shasta on June 20th.

The roads in Sonoma County are generally lumpy if you ride east or west. Heading out Skaggs Springs Road to Camp Liahona was a good choice; the first part of Skaggs was built by the Army Corp of Engineers in the early 80’s and the grades on it are steep and frequent. The climb to Las Lomas is on the original Skaggs Springs Road; the grades are less fierce, and the drop to Camp Liahona is kinder as well.

Out and back

On the first part of the ride, on the Army Corp grades, I noticed a sort of rubbing sound, a sort of wheel-on-brake-pad noise. I had adjusted the brakes recently to have a narrower gap between the pad and the wheel rim, so decided to open the rear brakes for additional clearance. This is a trick Vince uses; we both ride steel frame bikes and steel tends to flex a bit when you get up out of the saddle on a steep climb. If the gap between the brake pad and the rim is small it can result in the rim being pushed against the pad — exactly what you don’t want when you are grinding uphill!

Even so, I swear there was a slight rubbing sound. At the top of each of the several climbs I stopped to close down the gap on the rear brake, and then bombs away until the next climb. One of the grades is on the order of 15% (thank you, Army Corp).

Once on the original Skaggs Springs Road life was less strenuous. The climb to Las Lomas (the second big lump of the ride) was a grind, but not so fierce. The next leg to Camp Liahona was a long but milder drop followed by a relatively flattish run of 8 miles. Camp Liahona is run by the LDS and they’ve put up a bike-friendly rest-stop across the road from the main entrance. It has a port-a-potty, a drinking fountain (that is key!) and picnic table. I’d carried 3 water bottles with me and arrived with one untouched; next time I head out this way I’ll carry the 3 water bottles, but leave one of them empty and fill it for the ride back, which is guaranteed to be warmer. I tried getting cell reception there, but no luck. A woman who was part of the camp staff said some people managed to get reception by wandering around the area, but I figured it wasn’t a big deal; I sent a text to Joanna that I was at Liahona and knew that at some point it would get delivered.

Heading back, I was getting close to the Las Lomas summit when the chain on the climbing gear began to chatter. Great! If the lowest gear was on the fritz, I’d have a heck of a time getting back over the Army Corp segment of Skaggs. I stopped to see if perhaps the rear wheel hadn’t shifted because of a not-tight-enough skewer. No, the wheel looked pretty straight. I got on again and the chatter resumed. I got off and looked more closely at the rear wheel . . . and then the frame.

Broken Frame

The left chain stay was severed a few inches behind the bottom bracket: the bike frame was busticated! And not by just a little bit — it is an end-of-life fracture — it is equivalent to a horse with a broken leg. It was a wonder that it held together at all while I was on it. I bought the bike in the early 80’s at the REI in Carson, and I’d ridden it to death.

I sent Joanna a text and left messages, and pushed the bike towards Las Lomas; the place has shade, a big turnaround, great cell reception (if you have Verizon): a good place to await rescue. A few cars passed by, and then somebody going my way stopped. He was driving a vehicle that frequently strikes fear in the hearts of the lycra/spandex two-wheeled crowd: the big, black, badass diesel pickup truck. He asked what was up and when I showed him the bike frame he offered to give me a ride out. Heck, yeah! Even though he looked like a Vietnam vet, covered in camouflage from cap to boots and sported a Hulk Hogan/Fu Manchu hybrid of a moustache, I wasn’t going to be picky.

He’d just come from coyote hunting on a friend’s ranch in the west and apologized about the state of his cab as he shifted weapons and ammo from the passenger seat to the back of the truck. Apparently he is quite the hunter, having recently returned from Montana after having bagged an elk and was working through the hundreds of pounds of meat he had brought back. What did elk taste like, I asked. Like a leaner kind of beef. Now, antelope is another worthwhile meat, he went on, but you have to be sure to skin it first before doing anything else to the carcass, because the hollow hairs of the hide carry ‘taint’ that, if it comes in contact with the meat, will spoil the flavor.

He went on about the proper sort of ammo to take out wild pigs (a real nuisance in these parts), proper handling of game meat immediately after the “harvest” of it, the importance of dispatching the animal on the first shot, and so on. It was rip-roaring stuff. He had a way of speech that reminded me of Jesse Ventura — a deliberate delivery with ‘r’s drawn out a bit. He dropped me off at the dam visitor center whether the Element was parked and went on his way.

I changed out of my bike togs, drove down to the Dry Creek Country Store and had a roast beef sandwich. Roast beef: it tastes like a fattier kind of elk.


1) The image is exaggerated in that I pulled the stay to the side to show the damage. On the road, where I first noticed the problem, the ends of the stay were butted up against each other and the damage wasn’t as easy to see.

2) The bike is dead. Long live the bike. I could get a new frame/fork and migrate the parts from the old bike to the new one, but there are always gotchas: my down-tube shifters might not fit on different diameter tubing, my handlebars might not work with the new fork/stem, etc. It is time for a new bike. The components on the old bike will go to the ‘rain bike’, a lumbering tour machine that will have new life injected into it, and will become the standard commuter bike rather than for use on just rainy days.

3) My bike computer showed a maximum speed of 35.4 mph for this ride (slow by bike club standards, but fast enough for mischief). Why the frame failed on a slow grind uphill and not on a fast curving descent, well, luck is what doesn’t happen to you. The bike, like a good horse, slowed down before toppling over.