Sea story: Riding on rims (1975)

When USS WH Standley (CG-32) moored at Naval Base Charleston, South Carolina, in the summer of 1975, there was a different thread of excitement running through the crew, in addition to the usual thrill of being back in homeport. We had received a challenge from the other Belknap-class cruiser in town to a “cruiser Olympics.” It was rare enough for both ships to be home at the same time, so some sort of celebration was in order.

It would take a week to run the events, and we would be all over the Charleston area at various venues. My part was, logically, the bicycle race. It was a totally fun, amateur event, rolling on whatever bikes we could bring to the event. I brought the red Velosolex, which I had purchased in Toulon on the deployment. Definitely not a racing bike: made of steel, with steel fenders and a bike rack on the back. There were heavier and lighter bikes there.

The day was hot and sunny. We gathered at the end of a long, little-used road on base (I think it ran to the ammunition magazines, a restricted area, so it was effectively a dead end). There were about a dozen of us, all sizes and shapes. There was one guy there from the other ship with a serious road bike and wearing spandex shorts and a colorful wool jersey. Most of us had t-shirts and baggy shorts on. A couple of the sailors were wearing jeans, or maybe their dungaree trousers. They were sweating before we even got organized.

The starter had a gun, and we massed for the event. When the gun went off, the guy on the road bike was gone like a flash, but I was not far behind him. I am not sure that he was able to maintain his form, because the road was not that well-maintained, and his skinny tires and stiff frame were not intended for rough riding. My Velosolex city bike, on the other hand, handled the potholes, railroad tracks and debris as easily in Charleston as it had in France. Soon, I was on his tail.

He looked like he was taking it easy, but maneuvering around the obstacles was slowing him down. We made the turn at the five-mile point and began the sprint back to the starting line. It was like another start, so I fell behind. I think I counted about eight racers still going the other way as we poured on the steam.

I was overtaking the leader about 500 m from the line, when I heard a pop and realized that my rear wheel had gone flat. Almost immediately, the front wheel went flat when I hit the last set of railroad tracks. Stopping this close was not an option, so I pushed as hard as I could. The tires were shredding, but the steel bead kept them on the rims. I was riding the steel rims most of the time as I crossed the line about 10 m behind the guy with the fancy road bike.

I felt good about myself. Second place against a real racing bike was a victory itself, and my shipmates were all over me with congratulations for the show. It was fun.

Trip update.

Rives Park, Charlottesville

Rives Park, Charlottesville

This was a week for final things. In particular, I rode through parts of town that I had not seen before, thanks to the Bicycle Scavenger Hunt organized by Annie Gunks as a benefit for Charlottesville Community Bikes.

I took a century ride out to Gordonsville to enjoy lunch at Restaurant Pomme one last time.

Porc Marsala

Porc Marsala

And I said goodbye to my friends at the Oratorio Society of Virginia, the Shenandoah Recorder Society, the Riunione reading group, Saint Paul’s Memorial Church and its Chancel Choir. I picked up prescriptions for the Italian pharmacies, and got my annual dental and cardiology exams.

After days of collecting bids from freight companies, I finally chose a local shipper (Blue Ridge Pack and Ship). IMG_20150524_175812The big companies really did not want my business, even though I was willing to wait three months for a container to consolidate. Everyone gave me bids for air shipment, so my household goods will go out Monday, but still be in my new flat three months before I move in.

Eastern Albemarle County

Eastern Albemarle County

On Wednesday, I finished packing for the road, just to be sure that I had what I needed, and that it would all fit. Some items went in the footlocker; others were donated to local charities. On Thursday, Blue Ridge Pack and Ship picked up the footlocker. Daniel and I ran errands, ordered a new provider for Internet and TV, and set up a schedule to turn over the rest of the home operating costs. By January, Daniel will be on his own, and I will only have the renovation loan to pay off.

Ready to board.

Ready to board.

Yesterday, I rehearsed bagging my bicycle, so that the exercise would go smoothly at the airport. I am using a bag from U-Haul, sized for a twin mattress. It’s 2.0 mil thick, which is sturdy enough for a few trips. I roll the bag up like a big stocking and slip it over the bicycle while holding the bicycle reared up on its after wheel (the forward one is restrained by a bungee cord). It takes longer to remove the pedals and twist the handlebars than to bag the bicycle. IMG_20150605_174021Then I unbagged the bicycle for the trip to the airport, and parked it back in its usual spot.

Today, Daniel is driving me to Dulles International Airport. Tonight, I will be winging my way across the Atlantic. Europe 2015 has started!

Copenhagen-Airport-from-airNext week, some resources about bicycle touring, which is the physical travel part of what I am doing. Europe 2015 will take us around Italy and Dalmatia over the next three months, but I will continue to post on Saturdays when possible. The posting time may vary. Europe 2015 also takes us into a new phase in the life of this blog, as I make my way around Europe instead of North America. Europe has changed in many ways, but not in others, I will be adding those impressions to the blog.

This is a good time to think about what you like about the blog and what you wish it had. Your comments are welcome, whether posted here or sent to

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


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