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Bike box pox

The luggage seems bundled with an annual curse

by James “Cranky” Ramsay

Illustration: Russ Tudor

There’s nothing quite like a cycling trip. I’ve made several cycling pilgrimages throughout the years. All have been memorable experiences. Whether riding through the Dolomites and meeting Eddy Merckx, hauling my fat carcass up the Mur de Huy in Belgium or being chased by angry dogs through the backwoods of upstate New York, each of these adventures has enriched my soul and fortified my spirit.

Part of the thrill lies in the anticipation, and hence in getting ready for the trip. As exciting as these preparations are, they are fraught with peril. On one past trip, I had someone at the bike shop pack my bike for me. He forgot the saddle. As I was going to Cuba, I might well have ended up riding atop half a hollowed-out coconut tied to a bamboo stick. Another time, on my way to Italy, I discovered late the night before I was to leave that my pedals were seized in the crankarms. I had to resort to travelling with my spare bike, a vintage Schwinn with a banana seat and streamers. I was ridiculed by my fellow cyclists, but little kids in town thought I was the coolest cyclo-tourist they’d ever seen. At the end of my stay, I gave them the playing cards from my spokes.

To keep from forgetting something essential for a bike trip, I have developed routine. I now stand in the middle of the living room, surrounded by all my cycling gear. I then say out loud, “I’m naked, and I want to ride my bike. What do I need?” This forces me to find and pack all necessities: from chamois cream to shoe covers. It also ensures I have the living room all to myself for as long as it takes me to pack.

But forgotten items (a saddle for Cuba aside) are relatively minor annoyances compared with the one thing that can truly scuttle a bike trip: sickness. It’s happened to me twice in exactly the same way, almost a year apart. I’m prepared to call this a coincidence, though I suspect that there are supernatural forces at work. Let me tell you the tale.

About a year ago, I planned to fly to Vancouver for the GranFondo Whistler. This time, I was well-trained (longtime readers will recall my prior experience riding this event in an untrained state) and looking forward to knocking about an hour off my previous time. I sourced a rental bike box. A couple of days before my scheduled departure, I went to pick it up. During the drive, I noticed a tickle in my throat. I thought little of it, though I did mention it to the bike-box rental guy. “You’d better stay healthy for this,” he said, no doubt sure that I would.

Boy was he wrong. In the next two days, I developed a serious chest infection. In a feverish state, I drove back to the rental place to return the unused box. The guy was amazed to see me. “I shouldn’t have said anything out loud about staying healthy,” he said. “I jinxed it!”

Recently, I was bound for Arizona. Four friends and I were going to climb Mount Lemmon and enjoy what I’m told is a delightful dry heat. As I prepared for the trip, having done my nakedrider-in-the-living-room routine and having successfully detached my pedals, I placed a call to the bike-box rental company. On the drive over, I again noticed a tickle in my throat.

When I got there, the guy remembered me. “Tell me you’re feeling healthy,” he said.

“Here’s the crazy thing,” I replied. “You’re not going to believe this, but I do feel a bit like I’m getting a sore throat.” Then, to be safe, I added, “It’s probably nothing. Maybe it’s psychosomatic.”

I wheeled the box to my car, lifted it into the hatchback, and drove off.

The next morning, I woke up weak with an extremely sore throat and with what’s known in the cough business as a productive cough. The following day I got worse. So much worse, in fact, that my doctor sent me for a chest X-ray. Thankfully that came back clear. (At least clear of pneumonia – they did find the keys to my 1988 Ford Taurus and a spare button from my overcoat.)

So once again, I drove in a feverish state back to the box-rental company. The guy was stunned to see me. “What are the odds of this?” he asked. I’m not an actuary, so I told him I’d get back to him on that. I handed the box back and ruefully walked back to my car, feeling depressed and defeated.

It turns out of my friends got food poisoning on the trip. Another found the climbs a bit too challenging, and a third chose to sleep in rather than go riding two of the five days. In the end, only one of them made it to the top of Mount Lemmon. This, of course, means we’ll need to book another trip to make things right. And I’m sure this one will be fine. But just to be safe, I’ll send Mrs. Cranky to pick up the box this time.