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The Herald, Friday September 16, 1988
Even the worst days can turn out good
Long-distance bicycling is a fickle mistress.
A downhill run on a pretty day is just as much
a part of the sport as a sliding crash on wet pavement. Fortunately, the good
stuff far outweighs the bad.
Such is the nature of any worthwhile
adventure. You can't enjoy the game if you don't get out and play. Even with
all this in mind, I was totally surprised when a catastrophic equipment failure
turned out to be a delightful experience. But the story actually begins months
My bicycle was not designed with touring in
mind. It did not come with a luggage rack, and it didn't have the eyelets
commonly installed on other bikes to accept one. My good friend at the local
bike store helped out. He devised a way to install a rear rack, hanging it on
the seat stays like a monkey on a pole. It was a neat job, and the thing
worked. I loaded the rack down and rode to the mountains, and my bags rode
along without so much as a squeak on a bumpy road. I never gave it another
When I decided to ride to the Gulf of Mexico
and back, I figured on doing a bit of camping on the way. That would enhance
the adventure, and cut costs from the price of a motel room every night. SO, I
added a tent and sleeping bag to the already heavy load I was taking. I would
estimate the weight on the rear of the bicycle was 50 pounds or more when I rode
out of Rock Hill. I mean it was a real load. I used the tent only four times
in 18 days, but there it was, along for the ride.
Plans go awry
I had made it past South Carolina, coastal Georgia, across north Florida to Panama City, through the southeast corner of Alabama, and back across central Georgia, when one morning I had a terrible experience that lasted about two seconds. Three miles out of Forsyth, GA., I stood up out of the saddle to run from a big collie that had the angle on me and was closing fast. I shook the bike from side to side trying to sprint, and that's when it happened. Bang Screech ... pop ... skid. The bike stopped so unexpectedly, I almost fell over.
Through an overloaded 1,100 miles, that makeshift rack installation had performed miraculously, but it had finally absorbed enough abuse. The steel support on the left side tore like paper and the left leg of the rack fell into the wheel under the weight of the load. Two spokes were cut clean, and five or six more got spaghettied as the wheel swallowed the left half of the rack. The collie retreated, leaving me in the highway to stare at the mess in utter disbelief. This was it. I was down. If I was to make it home at all, it would be on a bus.
After calmly accepting the fact that my bike
vacation had ended on a sour note, I pushed, pulled and dragged my crippled
machine and all my baggage back to Forsyth. The 3-mile struggle took the better
part of two hours.
I asked the lady behind the desk at the Red
Roof Inn if there was a bicycle shop anywhere in town. I knew there wouldn't
be. Forsyth is not very big. She said no, that the only person in town working
on bicycles was Harold Reeves over at the Western Auto store. She said he had
been repairing bicycles for quite a while.
Enter Harold Reeves
I had no hope that anybody at the Western Auto store could help. My rack was ruined, and my rear wheel was seriously damaged. I stowed my cargo behind the motel desk, and keeping one eye open for the bus station, I followed the lady's directions to the store. There I was greeted by an elderly gentleman, tall and strong-looking, despite his obvious age. I asked for the bike mechanic, and he said he was it. Harold Reeves at your service.
We went outside, where Mr. Reeves surveyed the
damage. He looked at my bike from this angle and that. He had already taken a
lot longer that I thought he would but he wasn't scowling. He was thinking
I was taken aback when he abruptly said, "Well,
don't just stand there. Bring it inside." He said it as though he had been
waiting for me all day. The performance that followed was a bicycling hall of
fame spectacle. During the next two hours, the bicycle I had known was revived
right in front of my eyes. Mr. Reeves carried on the whole time asking about
my trip and talking constantly about bicycles.
"Yessir, I've been working on bicycles longer
than you could ever imagine," he said as he replaced my wheel. The way he said
"you" made me feel like I was still wearing diapers, but I certainly didn't
mind. This man already had every last ounce of my respect welded down.
"Yessir, when I was just a chap, I waited and
waited, and I finally got me a bicycle," he said. "I hadn't had that thing an
hour when this other kid wanted to show me how he could ride backward. Right
away, he stuck his foot through the front wheel. I just knew I couldn't take
that bike home like that. My daddy would kick my butt. I was so mad, I made
that kid give me 50 cents for the damage. I went and bought three spokes and a
wrench, and I've been fixin' bicycles ever since!"
He had my bike on an antique repair stand. "Betcha
never seen a stand like this one, huh?" He was right. That thing was so weird,
I couldn't even begin to draw a picture of it now. I have no idea how it
worked, but I'm sure Wilbur Wright had one just like it. His wheel truing stand
was the same way. He said the little side locks on it were spare parts off a
Day becomes stranger
Mrs. Reeves ran the store while her husband concentrated on my bicycle. She would chat with us. I was astounded to learn she was a 1938 graduate of Winthrop College. This day was becoming unreal.
Mr. Reeves finished my bike with a gleam of
satisfaction in his eyes. My rack was semi-straightened and firmly reattached
to the frame. My rear wheel sported a full dose of spokes, and was straight as
an arrow. I whipped out my wallet and laid my fingers on a couple of big
bills. "How much do I owe you?"
"Not a thing," Mr. Reeves snorted, trying to
hustle me out the door. I stood fast and started to protest but he cut me
short. He raised his powerful voice and said, "Go on, now! Get on outta here
... and enjoy yourself."
I rode, not walked, back to the motel. Most of
the day was gone, so I stayed right there one more night. All things
considered, I've never had a better disaster in all my life. Some things are
just meant to happen.
Since then, I have occasionally pondered what
my life might be like if I live as long as Mr. Reeves has. I think it must take
decades of practice to be that special.
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