As I approached a gate toward the end of the snowmobile trails, something exciting happened – I squeezed my brakes, and my bike did not brake.
This surprised me since if I didn’t stop, I was sure to close-line myself against a steel barrier at fifteen miles an hour.
In a panic, I did what any 90s kid would do – I Fred Flinstoned, dragging my foot over the ground until I arrested enough speed not to challenge the steel gate.
After I cleared it, I gave the brakes another tentative squeeze. Nothing, nada, no purchase. They may as well not have existed.
Whelp, shit just got more exciting.
Mario Cippolini, a famous Italian bike racer, once said, “If you brake, you lose,” but one thing Mario Cippolini never had to do was descend 32nd avenue after the Billy Goat Hills into a 90-degree turn. How did I know that? Because I once led my friend through a blizzard in a car through the Billy Goat Hills, lost control, and he smashed into me with his Audi from behind and got so mad he punched a stop sign.
Dread grew in me. While I was trying to get through the remains of the snowmobile trail, another part of me kept running the math in my head, trying to calculate whether I could really get through the last fifty miles of the course, only dragging my feet on the ground when I needed to brake.
At the end of the equation, I figured I could. On the other hand, I flunked Calculus in college. Somehow, I needed to get some brakes back.
So I set the bike down and started cranking on Juin’s useless experiment in mechanically actuated disc brakes. As I sat alone, I cursed to no one and got nowhere. After several minutes the futility was obvious. Dive bombing corners blind? Sure, why not!
Eventually, I got to the top of the course and saw my parents, who immediately shut down any remaining enthusiasm I had remaining in their greeting, “Nathan is five minutes behind you.”
Five minutes? That’s it? Jesus.
I reported the bad news fast and without tact. “I have a major problem – I can’t brake. I need pliers. Where is the mechanical bag?”
My parents reported there was NO mechanical bag because Andy had it. Forest had flatted six times and pulled out. All I had was the tools I took with me and food bags filled with pop tarts.
“Dad, you don’t have pliers on you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Are you F***ing kidding me?” I said.
During my entire childhood, my father insisted on traveling everywhere with a full tool belt in the back of the car. Why? Because “You never know.”
Well, I knew NOW that having pliers would be freaking helpful. The ONE TIME we actually needed his tool bag, he didn’t have his tools.
We turned the bike over, blew water through the brakes, and tried cranking on the useless screw Juri provided to micro-adjust in this situation.
After 5 minutes of this, I grabbed a water bottle my mother handed to me, raised a giant middle finger to the heavens, and yelled ‘Goddamn it!”, slamming my water bottle down on the ground. It shattered.
“I’m going,” I said.
“Andy is picking up Forest and 15 minutes away. He’ll find you,” my mother said.
Fifteen minutes? Great. I may as well pull out.
The aid station at the top of the course was a mile further along. I rolled up, dragged my foot, and saw a table with volunteers and a few hunters.
“Does anyone have pliers?”
Without missing a beat, a hunter whipped pliers out of their hunting vest, grabbed my bike, and helped me cinch down the brakes so tight that the wheel barely turned. I squeezed the brake.
It was shit, but it was something.
I gave him back the pliers.
“Thanks,” I said.
“I never go anywhere without it,” the hunter said. “You should think about that.”
We stared at each other for a second, and then I took off into the final off-road ATV section of Red Granite Grinder.
After nine minutes of messing with the brakes, I was finally away.