Suddenly my big stupid grin is a mask of horror. On the plus side it solves a particular problem I’ve been trying to deal with, namely how to describe having a good time in a way that is interesting. It solves it because now I am having a very very very bad time. The loud bang could be any number of things but my first impulse is to check if something is shearing off the bike. I stop so I don’t get too far away from anything that has fallen off, but my heart sinks when I hear the loud hissing noise. I know that noise and soon my rear tire sinks as well.

I have a flat tire. I haven’t mentioned this but I live in fear of flat tires, in particular pinch flats as they happen to me quite commonly. A pinch flat generally occurs when you slam into a curb or rock with your rear tire and it pinches the tube causing a small leak. Anyone familiar with flat tires should be able to recognize that this isn’t a pinch flat, but thats what I’m thinking and I’m blaming myself for it. I have done my utmost to baby my rear tire because pinch flats more often occur when you seat the tube into the tire shittily and the tube is compressed between the wheel rim and the edge of the tire. This is a brand new bike and I haven’t replaced the tube so avoiding flats has been my number one priority because the odds of a pinch flat occurring after the first go up quite a bit once I’m involved. I’m really choked.

Up until this point, its been a great ride. The weather was beautiful, the beach was pretty. Hell, I went for a soak at the last beach and have spent the last 30 minutes riding in my swim trunks drying off. The road turned into a trail that followed one of the many picturesque canals and my stupid grin was part realizing that I had really gotten into this bike-packing vibe and part amusement at the boatload of people singing some song in French about bicycles as I ride past and wave. I was comfortable as the crazy guy on a bike and it felt good.

Until now. Now I have a flat. I’m kicking myself “You should have paid more attention, obviously there was a rock that you slammed into, all this work babying your rear tire and you get comfortable for one second and pay more attention to the boat than to the trail and now you have fucked yourself. You’re fucked you know that right? That scary storm cloud that loomed over the beach? The one that turned the playful soak into a ‘maybe I should get going now’ race against the weather? That thing is going to dump a load of rain on you and good luck getting your tube fixed then!”

So. Optimistic thoughts all round as I start taking off my panniers. The boat chugs past and they’re still singing my song and I have to put on a grin and wave because if they realize how choked I am they’ll ask me whats wrong except I won’t understand. Easier to put on a happy face until they’re gone. I unmount the rear wheel and am about to remove the tire when I realize I should check for external damage… and I find a twig sticking out of the tire. Removing it I discover it is almost as long as my index finger and almost all of that was deep inside the tire. I contemplate it and how bad luck strikes at weird times and then snap it. Well. I try to snap it… it won’t even bend! It takes me a good long time to even bend it and I’m afraid of stomping of it because I think it’ll do to my foot what it just did to my tire! Finally it snaps and it turns out it is in fact a rusted piece of metal. Oof. Not good.

Once you get the tube out you can normally hear where the pinch is by pumping in some air. I don’t hear jack shit, but fortunately the canal is right there so option 2 is soak it in water and look for bubbles (I love the bubbles). I look at where the hole should be and discover not one, not two, but THREE punctures in my tube. I’m in shock. This is the most damage I’ve ever seen happen to a tube. No wonder the bang was so loud. I’m not even convinced this is repairable and I certainly don’t have time to find out so I get my spare out. In the end I get the spare tire in, switch my pump to the new valve type, and carefully seat it and then after some pumps confirm that it is seated properly (it wasn’t). An hour after the first panicky moments, I’m ready for the road again.

And now I think that this was again one of those moments of becoming comfortable on my bike trek. I started out ultra-professional, helmet, etc. Sorry mom, but I’ve been biking without a helmet since Barcelona. I just can’t be bothered anymore (for the kids at home: helmets are required for mountain biking because you will definitely slam your head into something in that sport). Earlier I finally was able to shed the jersey for swim trunks. Lance Armstrong would probably slap me for that. None of that matters because now I am a true bike hobo. I can do what I want, and when the flat comes I am no longer frightened. Hell, I think I may have finally seated it properly so I should be good until the next mysterious metal twig.