Missing a Pedal

Biking from Montreal to Buffalo

 

The first day of my 600 mile bike trip, I looked down and realized my pedal had just fallen off.

“Fuck!”

I slammed on the brakes as my loose foot hit the pavement.

Just moments earlier, I thought to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen, a flat tire?”

We were stuck outside Montreal, where nothing was open at 6 AM. This was a lifeless suburbia, where every home looks identical. It was too early to walk around knocking on stranger’s doors, knowing the chance of someone speaking English was slim to none.

I immediately tried to retrace the steps from the night before, to when I was putting the pieces of my bike together. What happened?

Maybe I had rushed the process. After all, we did get our bikes from customs a day late, and had to deal with the anxiety of never having shipped my bike in a box before.

I walked back 20 feet in disbelief, as the pedal just sat in the empty street.

After inspecting the pedal and crank, half of the threads were stripped.

In that moment, I realized that the night before I must have tightened the pedal slightly off-center. Each down stroke of the pedal, I was slowly stripping away the threads.

“We need to find an adjustable wrench,” Eric said.

Holding the fallen pedal in one hand, pedaling the bike with one foot, and trying to balance a bike loaded with gear for a 12-day trip, looked as silly as you can imagine.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

3 miles of one-legged pedaling, we arrive at a small convenience store where the clerk only speaks French. After struggling to explain our situation, he doesn’t have a single tool that might help us.

We left slightly discouraged, headed to the closest grocery store with Google’s big red arrow leading the way. The pedal in my hand was clenched a lot tighter now.

Inside, after unsuccessfully speaking with a couple workers, I was pointed to a warehouse manager who happened to speak a little English.

All he had were needle-nose pliers, which left me a little worried that we might be delaying our trip a day or two. Newport, Vermont was still over 10 hours away, so we couldn’t waste any more time.

Not about to turn down his offer, I walked outside to give it a try, and carefully held the pedal as it wobbled into place. While slowly tightening the nut with a tool meant for jewelry designers, the four remaining threads barely held together the pedal to the crank.

Testing the bike out around the parking lot gave me a sense of hope for the day, but wondering if the pedal might fall off at any given moment was a source of anxiety for the rest of the trip.

Despite the headwinds of Vermont, the climbs into the Adirondack Mountains, and along the tips of the Finger Lakes, my busted pedal never failed on me. And whenever I find myself hanging on by a thread, my mind drifts back to that ride.