Running on Empty on the Jackson River Scenic Trail

Crunchy on the Jackson River Scenic Trail
The leaf-covered Jackson River Scenic Trail in Covington, VA.

Can you outrace a flat? I found out on the Jackson River Scenic Trail.

It was a lovely, warm October day. I was on my way to western North Carolina when I made a little detour up I-64. I wanted to check out the Jackson River Trail outside Covington, VA.

The terrain looks more like West Virginia than the Old Dominion – it’s tree-covered mountains broken up by narrow, winding streams. Covington is an old factory town, with a towering paper mill surrounded by closely-packed houses.

A couple miles outside of town, I parked at Intervale, where the trail begins. On this Friday afternoon, my car was the only vehicle in the lot.

I took the foldy out of the trunk – it’s a Breezer Zig7, basically the same thing as a Dahon. I bought it off Craigslist seven years ago. Other than changing the occasional flat (foreshadowing), it’s needed little maintenance.
Breezer Zig7 in fall leaves

The trail follows the Jackson River up into the hills. The day was warm, the leaves were at peak color, and I hardly saw another soul on the trail. The surface is crushed gravel and is very soft and smooth. I meandered and took photos with my iPhone.

Jackson River #latergram #fall
The Jackson River in fall.

Along the trail, I passed rocky cliffs, gurgling rapids, a crossroad called Petticoat Junction, a gaggle of little barky dogs (behind a fence) and even some miniature ponies.

Seven miles in, the trail turns from gravel to dirt. I decided to turn around.  It seemed like I had been going uphill for the last couple of miles. Then I noticed my rear tire – it had gotten dangerously deflated. Pressing my thumb into the tire, it had lost half its pressure over the course of the ride.

Did I have a pump and a spare tube? Of course not. I am the unprepared cyclist, one that relies on serendipity to guide me.

I didn’t want to walk seven miles back to my car so I decided to outrace the slow leak. I would pedal as hard as I could to get back to Intervale before my tire went completely flat.

Is this logical? Can you really outrun a flat? Is a flat a function of time, distance or weight? Wouldn’t riding the bike make the tire go flat even quicker?

These were academic concerns. I hopped on my bike and took off, racing past the miniature ponies, crumbly cliffs and colorful leaves of the trail.

With relief, I made it back to the car. The tire still had some air in it. By the next morning, it would be totally flat.

Did I learn my lesson? Maybe. Maybe not. The joy of having a bike is the ability to just go. If I had to plan things, it wouldn’t be as much fun. The downside, of course, is the possibility of a long walk home. But I can live with that.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington, DC. He is the author of the mystery novel The Swamp, as well as articles, short stories and screenplays. In his spare time, he likes wandering about the city with a camera.

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