Brake failure

Day 69, Stage 53, 114km

Start, Game Post 1

Finish, Game Post 2

Purgatory became hell. The rain made the roads into a muddy slue. About 10km in we hit a patch that was under repair. It had had new dirt dumped and partially graded but it had not been rolled. For about 5 km we had to make our way through foot deep muck. Over that distance more than half a dozen big trucks and busses had lost it and slid into the ditches or onto their sides. One almost completely straddled the road. Not only did we need to get through this morass on our bikes but our trucks had to get through to the next camp 114km away. The smaller truck got through with some Herculean stable clearing. The big truck didn’t. It got stuck.

Trying to power a push bike through this muck was incredibly difficult. Even the strongest of us, on purpose built off road bikes, had to walk sections. The muck was also clay muck that sets like cement. It got stuck in forks, in brakes and drive chains and did damage. Four people pulled so hard in the ungiving clay that they broke their rear derailleurs. John Faulkner was one of the unlucky ones. At the beginning of the day he stood third overall in general classification and was still EFI. With a broken rear derailleur he risked losing both. Dan, another strong Kiwi rider passed John walking his crippled bike. He had already lost EFI due to an earlier illness so very kindly gave his bike to John and waited for the next truck. It was the end of Dan’s day but John went on to finish and retain his status. The same thing happened to Phil Howard, also EFI and second overall. He was able to borrow Chris Walker’s bike and finish as well.

I got through the much without breaking anything but the road continued to be tough and the rain unrelenting. Wet and grit were everywhere. About thirty kilometres in I started down a hill with a big truck coming up it at me. The road is only wide enough for one vehicle so we pull off to the side and let them pass. So I pulled my brake levers to pull off with the truck still about 80 metres away. No brakes. Nothing, Nada. Shit. The truck was getting closer and dog tracking.  I had to bale. There was a ditch about three feet deep on my side of the road. I took the bike down into the ditch and rolled it up the far bank and came off into the bush. Dirty, but nothing broken. I still had over thirty kilometres to go to the lunch stop with no brakes. I snugged up the disk pads as much as I could, hoping an adjustment would help. It did a little but not much. And I could hear my rotors screeching. I slowed down and cautiously cycled into lunch.

My spare brake pads were in my locker in the bog truck. The big truck was stuck in the mud at kilometre 15. But Catalan, one of the mechanics, was at the lunch stop. I had lunch and got some fluids in me and then went to talk to the Tour Director and the mechanic about my options. I had three: I could abandon and get in the truck; I could try to get brake pads off somebody else’s bike and put them on mine – but none of the free bikes had the same brakes; I could borrow a bike from somebody not riding (Stig had come off his bike not too far from where my brakes failed and had broken his collar bone, so his bike was free – but Stig is about 4 inches taller than me, and did I really want to get on a bike that had just thrown its rider and broken bones (not that I’m superstitious); there was also a woman’s bike free, but it was very small.

Then, just as we were about to start repeating our discussion of the options for lack of anything better to do and as a way of forestalling what seemed the inevitable, the big truck came over the horizon. The cavalry had arrived. The truck stopped. I jumped in and found the spare pads in my locker. Catalin changed them within 15 minutes and I was back on the road. Back from hell into purgatory (if such a thing is possible).

By the time I got to camp I was an exhausted mess. But the rain had stopped. Cold coke. Bucket bath. Clean the bike. Cold coke. Set up a wet tent. Eat. Sleep. Three more off road days.

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