The Push

Start of RideEphrata, Pa. – It was a cold, gray Saturday morning in early February, and we were about 25 miles into a very hilly 45-mile ride from Ephrata up to Texter Mountain.

I’d begun lagging behind my buddies because of some annoying shifting problems. It seemed like the usual nonsense you get when the chain or sprockets are worn, or the derailleur is badly out of adjustment– skipping just when you’re applying the heaviest force to the pedals. At one point as I was standing and cranking hard, it skipped so violently I almost crashed. “Nice save,” said a guy behind me.

A similar incident years ago at the Tour de France sent Tyler Hamilton over the handlebars, a nasty crash in which he cracked his collarbone due to failure of the freewheel. I was not keen on replicating that, so I slowed down further.

Before long the skipping became regular, and I fell behind even more as I stopped to examine my chain. Sure enough, it was coming apart at one of the links, where a pin was hanging on for dear life to just one of the plates instead of both, and that plate was bent. It was a wonder the thing still worked at all.

Pretzeled derailleur

Grotesquely deformed derailleur

Kneeling in grass by the side of the road, I tried to bend it a little straighter by hand. Kyle showed up and asked what I was doing. “You’ll probably just make it worse,” he said. Less than a mile Half a mile (Kyle tells me) down the road,  catastrophic failure ensued. The chain snagged my derailleur and triggered instant, violent destruction. I hadn’t been going fast, so I didn’t crash when the rear wheel locked up.

But enough energy went in to stopping my rear wheel to pretzel the poor derailleur, which now jutted at a grotesque angle from the right side of the bike, and was tangled in the spokes as well.

“You forgot the bike toss,” says Kyle. OK, I guess I do remember picking  up the bike and throwing it to the side of the road in disgust. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t as emphatic as the famous Bjarne Riis bike toss in the ’97 Tour.

Kyle  returned to help me by standing on the frame while I tugged the derailleur hard enough to free it from the spokes.

With the rear wheel free, I now had the equivalent of an Amishman’s scooter. However, we were 15 miles from my car in very hilly terrain… too far to walk the uphill portions in bike shoes. Pretty soon Bill Brown, Dave Stauffer and the others started to appear, having detected the absence of several in the group. Bill said he had a smart phone, so we could figure out where the heck we were, so that I could call my wife for a ride. (She’s a cyclist too, and over the years we have gladly performed such rescues for each other.)

A little help from my friendsBut then Bill said, “Get on,”  put his hand on my back and started pushing me.

And that’s the rest of the story. Pretty soon Dave Stauffer came up on the other side, reached out his hand, and I felt a new surge of power in my spine. Then the other guys, including Ken Lessans, David (I still don’t have your last name memorized, David), Tom Lausch (who is coming back from surgery and shouldn’t even have been riding as hard as he did solo, never mind pushing me), Marlin Hess, and Jay Brubaker were lending a hand.

On the steepest hills I got off and ran (in my mountain bike shoes, which I was glad to be wearing) and at some points I was able to do the scooter push with my left foot, making like half a Fred Flintstone. Yeah, you guys, I heard the Amish scooter cracks…

But on the level, on the downhills, and on a surprising number of climbs, I was magically propelled at high rates of speed. The backbone of the effort was Bill, who is blessed with an engine not unlike that of a Kawasaki or Yamaha. Or a Harley– that might be more appropriate, given the steady, endless stream of torque. A diesel Harley. Yeah.

The next biggest contributor was Dave Stauffer, who would just redline himself at high cadence to get me up over the next rise, drop back, then come up again. This is not to minimize the efforts of the other guys– everybody gave what they could. If the shoe had been on the other foot, my bird-like 135 pounds wouldn’t have generated much surplus energy for anyone else.

At some points we were doing over 20 mph, and of course I bombed the downhills, staying off the brakes as best I could. Once, there were three guys at work… Dave on my right, Bill on my left, and someone (not sure who) pushing Bill. This continued for the entire 15-mile trip back to the parking lot.

The Push Group

Hey, sorry if this post got wordy, but so be it. Unless you’ve had eight or nine of your good friends come to your rescue and push you home, you just don’t know what a cool feeling it is.

Speaking of which, it was a cold feeling too. With the temperature hovering around 40 degrees F, I was not dressed for sedentary cycling. My motorcycling days are mostly past, but I remember some VERY cold rides.

As a final inconvenience, my buddies (minus Tom, Kyle and Barry Free, whose routes home diverged from the group’s) tolerated my setting them up for a group photo despite our being late getting back.

Then they threatened to leave me stranded next time if I don’t put on a brand new derailleur hanger, chain, and whatever else it needs.

That seems fair. They know me better than I thought.

Update 3/7/12:  Repairs consisted of pounding the derailleur hanger straight, replacing one part in the derailleur, and installing a new chain. Subsequently I realized that the rear cassette was shot, which is what precipitated the entire chain of mechanical failures in the first place by causing the chain to skip over the sprocket teeth, eventually tearing it apart. So now the bike has a new cassette too.


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One Response to The Push

  1. Dave Stauffer says:

    Very cool, It was a fun diversion from the normal ride and great to see everyone come together as a team.

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