Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Sea Story on Bicycles

Any story I could about those West-Pac deployments is suspect. Doubly so since it's been 35 years since it all took place. Here's a story of one bicycle trip, one day, as I remember it.

As any good sea story starts, this is no shit, I was there.

Tim, Frank, and I took off from Iwakuni, riding south along the coast. Our goal was to reach O-Shima, ride the road that encircled the volcano, and ride back. It was 17 miles to the island, the loop road just around the main volcano cone is 22 miles, and 17 miles back. An easy day trip.

The ride down was uneventful. It was a clear sunny day. Turning on the island there is a beautiful bridge, high above the water. We got onto the loop road and started around. Frank was riding an older bike, functional but not great. Tim had a new bike, a European style road bike he had bought in Japan. I had an Italian road bike that I had managed to mail to myself in pieces before we deployed.

I had done some touring in the States. Beaufort S.C. to St. Augustine, Florida. A week long loop ride in the mountains of North Carolina. Lots of weekend trips and day rides. Which, as foreshadowing, had lead me to replace some things. Better wheels and tires. Better brakes, with brake pads designed to dissipate heat. A nicer saddle. Cycling gloves.

Part way along the loop, we saw a small road that turned in and went up. Up we went. Soon we weren't riding. We were pushing. It was steep, a series of switchbacks that looked out on fruit orchards, with no railings. Each turn was a 40 to 50 foot drop to the field below. Call that some more foreshadowing.

It eventually came out in a small parking lot. There were some signs in English. In a small cave was a Buddhist shrine that the sign said was one of the earliest known Buddhist shrines in Japan. Some stone lanterns. And a dirt trail that continued up. We left the bikes and hiked. We had gained some altitude from the sea but spent most of the afternoon to do it.

We climbed out of the woods into the late afternoon sunshine about 2300 feet up from the water. The view was spectacular.


We watched the sun set into the islands and the sea, then hiked back down to the bikes. It was still light when we got to the bikes and I said, "See you at the bottom!" and launched. It was fast, a long straight run, then a switchback. Speed up, hit the brakes, turn, and do it again. I slowed when the road leveled out and then stopped and looked back. No Frank. No Tim. I waited a minute or two, then put the bike against a telephone pole and started walking back up.

I met them walking down. Tim had crashed. His brakes, equipped with soft rubber brake shoes, had overheated and melted within a couple of switchbacks. Left with no brakes, his speed unchecked, he had made one switchback but knew that he was going to sail off the road on the next one. So he laid the bike down. His front wheel caught a groove in the road and flipped it over.

His brake pads were gone, his seat bent, his handlebars bent with one broken brake lever, his front wheel badly out of true, and his fork was bent.

More importantly, his hands and fingers were raw and shredded into the meat, he had bruises forming, and road rash here and there like a motorcycle accident. He was in some level of shock.
It was all somewhere beyond adventure. This isn't funny even 35 years later. There was a restaurant on the road near the bridge and we stopped, bought tea, and considered options. Tim calmed some and he thought he could ride.

I gave him my gloves. Put my front brake pads on his rear brake, and set the cable from the unbroken lever to control it. Frank sat on the bike while I yanked the forks back toward centerline and did what I could to the front wheel. It was rideable.

Frank went first. Tim in the middle. I took the rear because I had lights and the coast road always had some traffic. It probably took us two hours or more to make it back to the base.

We bought parts and I put Tim's bike back together. He healed up. We were back out the gate with our cameras in a couple of weeks.

The next time someone got hurt it was me.


Old NFO said...

Yep, road riding is one thing, 'mountain' riding is something ENTIRELY different... But in those days we were bulletproof... :-)

Will said...

Had a girlfriend years ago who briefly mentioned her bicycle crash on a San Francisco street. One of those steep hills. Lost her spleen and gallbladder. I think the scars contributed to her declining various modeling offers.
After years of riding and racing motorcycles, I feel like I'm naked when on a bicycle, without all that protective gear.

Unknown said...

I can't begin to tell you the number of stories about West Pac, since I was stationed there for 6 years :D

bobbyvee said...

Benjo Bomber Baby!!! Good times had by all. semper fi