Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Triumph in Failure--Wrong-Haul Truckin'

Several months back, I was invited to vend and do a bike demonstration at the Coventry Farmers' Market's "Green Up, Connecticut" day, which took place on the Sunday before Labor day. I happily accepted.

As the date approached, I scrambled to get my vending stuff together and a plan of action. I don't have a truck, so I was going to have to borrow or rent one. On the other hand, I thought, what if I rode my bike there? I realized that this would require the towing of my utility trailer, which would slow me down a bit. I checked a few online mapping sources and determined it was just shy of 22 miles from my house to the market site in the Nathan Hale State Forest. I hemmed and hawed about it for a while and finally decided, hey, it's Green Up Day, dagnabbit, what better way to represent than to be all uber-sustainable and make the trip under my own power, right?

I realize in retrospect this was wildly ambitious on my part, but it seemed entirely doable. I had towed the trailer with a load of DJ and audio equipment for a 10 mile loop last June during the Real Ride, so doubling the mileage while reducing the weight would allow for a steady trip. I loaded a new cargo bike and a folding bike swaddled in blankets. Over, under and around these I tucked a repair stand and some tools (for a bike maintenance demo) plus four tote bins full of helmets and accessories. Maybe I wasn't reducing the weight by all that much...

In the morning, I loaded up and headed east over the Charter Oak Bridge (the only bike trailer-friendly Connecticut River crossing) into East Hartford. Moving into Manchester, I saw that their stretch of the East Coast Greenway has been freshly paved, a nice improvement over my last ride there in July. I was running a bit later than I would have liked, so I called ahead to give some friends a heads-up. Once the Greenway made it through most of Manchester, I was past any area of familiarity. I began to rely on my printed directions, a set of maps and cue sheets sourced from the Google and the ECG websites. This was where things began to go especially wrong. Maps lacked details, cue sheets had wrong turns, I ended up riding through the "Crossroads of Hell" where I-384 ends and routes 44 and 6 split from one another. That interchange is fairly awful in a car, let alone the unwieldy contraption I was pedaling about.

My online sources had estimated that the trip would take about 2 1/4 hours to complete, to which I added a bonus hour to account for the added weight. What I didn't adequately account for was the hills. There were an awful lot of them. Hill climbing plus trailer equals very, very, veeery slow. It became more and more apparent that I would not be making it to the Farmers' Market in time to vend, but I pressed on. I pressed on for two main reasons:
-I was hoping my friends from Four Fields Farm would still be there so I could off-load some of my cargo into their Hartford-bound truck.
-Making it to the market site was the only attainable goal remaining for the day. I needed some sort of success to show for so many hours' work.

I finally arrived hours later than intended, having missed the market entirely. I was disappointed, exhausted, embarrassed and annoyed. I made a few calls. None of my truck or wagon-owning friends were around, unsurprisingly on the holiday weekend. I called Schleppi, who agreed to drive out and relieve me of a carload of weight. I spread a blanket on the ground in the now-empty vending field and took a very satisfying nap. Schleppi arrived with nourishing snacks and a smattering of reminders of what a dumb idea this was. I was able to fit everything but the cargo bike in her car, which made for a much lighter tow. Hooray Schleppi!

I rode home a different way. The return directions (from the same sources) were flawless, save for one issue. The gates at the entrances to the Hop River Trail were purposely narrow to allow bicycles through while preventing motor vehicle access. Unfortunately, that also meant that the trailer was too wide to pass through as well. I managed to hand-pull it around one gate, but had to unload and carry it through the second. The trail is really nice, by the way-- probably my favorite rail-trail thus far. I definitely want to return- on a much nimbler machine.

I finally made it home, well after dark. The waning glow of my headlight helped me resolve to bite the bullet and splurge on a dynamo hub, so look for a wheel-building post in the near future. I slept very well that night. It was a day of toil and disappointment, but I learned a few things along the way:

-It's mighty hilly east of the river.
-I can do this, just not over that distance or terrain (more on this point in a forthcoming post)
-Next time I transport anything to Coventry, I need to use a truck.


Anonymous said...

That was awesome, even if you missed thee event. The dedication alone is impressive.

Brendan said...

I like that you wrote about how bicycles are not perfect in every situation. I'm sick of the streets blog things about people moving sheet rock by bike, etc.

We're not too smug.

Sam Goater said...

Unlucky! Doable with an electric motor maybe? cool trailer tho, where can I get one?

Interstatement said...

This ride was the first time I ever wished for both an electric assist and a GPS unit.

The trailer is from Bikes At Work. I've been happy with both the trailer and the manufacturer.

They sell direct to customers in kit form; pretty straightforward to put together, but if you'd prefer to have someone local (in Hartford) assemble it for you, this place has experience: