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Rider Spotlight

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Dan Grandel



I rode cross-country in 1976 with Bikecentennial. What an experience! As it turned out, I was able to ride across the United States six more times. Three trips on the Trans-Am trail and four Oregon-to-Pennsylvania trips the way the crow flies. These seven trips have delivered many experiences, some of them life-changing. But none of the others can come close to this one.
During my second crossing, on May 22, 1981, we were 37 days into a 54-day east-to-west ride on the TransAm trail. When we left Rawlings, Wyoming, that morning riding north, it was raining off and on, and there was a very stiff westerly side wind. We had our winter gloves, leg warmers, and GoreTex jackets on. The rain was pelting our left sides and was stinging our faces. Not much conversation was going on. The three of us were shooting for Lamont, a very small dot on the map about 35 miles down the road, for lunch.
By mid-morning, the rain had stopped, but the wind hadn’t; it was howling at about 30 mph. Suddenly, Mark slowed down and stopped. Owen and I also pulled over. Mark had broken a spoke—naturally, on the freewheel side of the rear wheel. His wheel was badly out of true; the spoke had to be replaced in order not to totally destroy the wheel.
We were all three experienced cyclists and had a very complete tool kit. Mark had a few extra spokes and the appropriate freewheel puller tool. However, we weren’t carrying a 12-inch adjustable wrench, which was also needed to remove the freewheel. On a cross-country camping trip, this wrench simply weighs too much to carry along.
The sky was very gray. Nothing in sight except wild Wyoming prairie and the occasional tumbleweed bouncing across the landscape. Tempers began to flare. Owen and I thought Mark should try to ride his bicycle with the broken spoke; the two of us were willing to bungee-cord his rear panniers to our bicycles to relieve some of the dead weight over his rear wheel. But Mark would have none of it.
What were we to do?
About five feet from where I was standing, there was a big tumbleweed caught in the weeds next to the side of the road. Every time the wind gusted, the tumbleweed almost went airborne but didn’t quite break loose. Everyone was frustrated. I took out my anger on that tumbleweed and launched it skyward with a powerful kick. I watched it sail high and far to the east across the windy gray prairie. My gaze then returned to where the tumbleweed had been lodged seconds earlier. What I saw still mystifies me to this day. Right under where the tumbleweed had been sat a 12-inch adjustable wrench. Five feet from where we were standing was the solution to our problem. Problem solved, right? Wrong. When I picked up the wrench, overjoyed with this unbelievable stroke of luck, I found the adjustment barrel was frozen in place. What sort of cruel joke was this? What was a sure thing seconds ago had turned into a lottery. Would the now non-adjustable wrench by some miracle fit the freewheel tool?
Well it wasn’t a perfect fit, but it was close enough that within about 20 minutes we had the problem fixed and were heading down the road toward Lamont. The wind was still blowing and the sky was still gray, but all three of us were wearing ear-to-ear grins.
I still think about this incident often. What if Mark had broken that spoke 100 feet before or after that tumbleweed? What if I hadn’t kicked the tumbleweed? What if the wrench had been a hammer or a screwdriver, or just hadn’t been there at all? Why was it frozen at almost a perfect fit for the freewheel tool? Divine intervention? The coincidence of all coincidences? Dumb luck? Take your pick.
This experience, plus a few others from my cross-country days, has transformed me into an eternal optimist. Things generally seem to work out somehow, some way, for some reason. So, the next time the black clouds start to roll in, just remember, sooner or later the sun will shine again. You can count on it.


           Seven times across