Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Right Down The Line

Hmmm.  Another true story about my driving came to mind.
On a summer vacation trip to Sunriver, we loaded the kids’ bikes in the back of the car and the grown-up bikes on the roof rack. The rear wheels were strapped down tight, and the front forks of the bikes were locked into their quick-release devices. The front wheels of the bikes were removed from the bikes and mounted separately on their own forks.  Get that mental picture, it’s important.
Okay, so we’re traveling over the Santiam Pass on Highway 22 which is a gorgeously scenic drive through the Cascades.  You leave the Willamette Valley and immediately find yourself surrounded by these tall foothills that resemble a postcard from Austria. When you drive this beautiful, winding, two-lane highway along the Santiam River, with occasional views of Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Washington, you understand why it’s so popular.  On that day, there was a lot of traffic.  Just at the top of the pass, I had to hit the brakes abruptly for some reason.  When I did, a story was set into motion.  Actually, it was a lesson on how kinetic energy works.
If you suddenly change your speed from 55 mph to, say, 15, stuff in your car wants to lurch forward. So does the stuff on top of your car. That’s why we have shoulder straps and lids on our coffee cups.  It’s why we lock our wheels down on the overhead bike rack.  Or at least, it’s why we should lock...our...wheels...
We heard this noise above our heads, and suddenly we watched as Mrs. C’s front wheel rolled right down the middle of our windshield, bounced off the hood, and hit the pavement in front of us.  Clearly I didn’t lock it down well enough, and the sudden braking was all it needed for a successful launch.  The wheel took a vertical hop, and began its own forward momentum down the center line of the highway.
It took up speed while we slowed down. My first response was to strain against my seat belt as if I could reach out and grab the wheel, but it was long gone.  We watched in horror as it was about to encounter a long string of oncoming cars. 
This could be bad.
It kept rolling, directly down the center line.  With two-way traffic moving in both lanes, it was kind of surreal to see this unmanned bicycle wheel maintain such a perfect, unlikely path straight down the middle of the road. It was like a remote-controlled drone, but it was definitely on auto-pilot. I’m sure the other motorists saw it, but there would have been very little time to react.  Oddly, there was no need for them to do anything but drive on by.
So they did.  The oncoming traffic passed, a little gap emerged, and the wheel--right on cue--made a polite and sudden left turn.  It crossed the lane, then the shoulder, and stopped in the foot-high grass as if it had found a parking space. At that moment the wheel took on its own personality, smugly smiling at me. I have to say, I felt a little admiration. I took a deep breath, got out of the car, and retrieved the little wheel that could.  It rode inside the car for the rest of the trip.
All I could think of at that moment was a song by Kenny Rogers.

“You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel...”


Jessica said...

You have impecable timing! We leave for a 10 day road trip (with bikes) on Friday morning. I will make extra sure everything on top of the van is tied down nice and tight. ; )

The Hillbilly Banjo Queen: said...

Haha! We haven't had that exciting experience. We almost had that experience. Thankfully I happened to look up through the moonroof and see Brad's wheel hanging halfway out of the holder. We took the wheel out and now we know that if our wheels aren't in the wheel-carrying forks, at 55-60 mph they act as a tuning fork. I'm fairly confident they "ring" a middle C.