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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Trailer Goes Swimming, Enjoys The Bath

I had thought the Tuesday of the previous blog post was bad, but today was much worse: I had to fish my trailer out of the canal. :( In the dark. :(

That was due in small part to my untested new hitch design, and not having a lock-nut on the bolt that held the pitch-swivel joint together. Easily fixed, and I even happened to have the parts necessary *with me* on the road, by chance. But I didn't notice the single nut holding the bolt in place was working loose, as I had many things on my mind from other prior adventures during the trip, and didn't think to check it on the return trip (loaded with stuff), though I *had* checked it on the outbound trip (empty trailer).

But the larger part of the problem was due to a jerk that PUSHED MY TRAILER INTO THE CANAL after it came off while I was riding on the gravel canal bike path. I'm not sure if it was just one or two of them, as it was already completely dark, with only my helmet light to see by.

The path alongside the canal in the area goes up and down a bit, so there are some decent grades for short lengths of path. I had just come up a "hill" and started to go down when it came off, but because I was going down I didn't really notice, and thought it was the mass in the trailer pushing me downhill, rather than a lack of mass OF the trailer keeping me from pedalling faster (it felt the same as it had on earlier hills). Only when I started up the next hill and didn't feel any drag did I realize something was wrong and looked back to see...nothing. :(

I immediately turned around and rode back, but the couple of people I'd passed after unknowingly losing the trailer had already passed where the trailer had gone missing, and were laughing really loudly, and sounded like they were running. I couldn't see them except vaguely, even with my headlight and helmet light, and nothing else was on the path at all, but then I saw my trailer floating in the canal.

I'm not sure if you can imagine how I felt at that moment--relief that it was floating, horror that it was in the canal, fear that I was going to be there in the dark all alone trying to fish it out, probably unsuccessfully, anger that someone would be so mean as to push it in to the canal, and a whole range of other things, all in just that moment.

I know the trailer did not go off into the canal on it's own, because in looking for a way down to the water, I quickly found the spot in the gravel where it had nosedived into the gravel and stopped, with the shape of the front of the trailer dug into a small pit of gravel right in the center of the very wide path where I'd been riding, obliterating my tire tracks, then sideways drag marks from there to the canal edge, which is a steep dropoff one cannot just walk down to water's edge from. At this area, it was somewhere around 4 vertical feet from water level to path level, on average.

The miracle was that it was floating, and that was ONLY because I had as usual strapped a big styrofoam cooler to it to hold the main cargo (the car battery), and any small loose stuff I couldn't just strap down to it. If it were not for that, I would never have seen it again, as even with just the trailer's weight, it would have sunk quickly, and with the large car battery I'd picked up (the whole purpose of the trip) it'd've just gone straight down. The cooler, being strapped down, had held most of the air inside it, too, which helped even more. The battery inside the cooler helped keep the whole thing not only upright, but with the back end hanging a bit lower in the water, which eventually helped me get it back up onto the path.

Now here I have to acknowledge that not all people are evil, unthinking, stupid jerks. I was near the Biltmore Hotel and golf course (located along either side of the canal), and had seen security/etc driving around in electric golf carts on my way down there earlier, and I was lucky enough to quickly find someone still doing this, on his rounds, I suppose. I flagged him down, and he was VERY helpful, much more than I would have expected.

I had already failed to lasso the trailer with my makeshift hook-and-cable (a metal-hooked bungee cord tied in the middle to a roll of nice tough ex-military parachute cord I carry with me to tie cargo down with), and with him there I did manage to snag it, and he tried to pull it out with his golf cart, but the bungee hook bent and came off the wheel spoke it had snagged, because trying to drag it sideways up the steep rough concrete was too much pull in the wrong direction--if we could have snagged the hitch end it'd be easy to roll up the slope. He bravely scrambled down the slope to some steps a few hundred feet downstream (the trailer was moving at a brisk walking pace in the water's current, fortunatley very close to "shore"), and grabbed hold of the trailer's railing, somehow managing to not fall in the cold water. I had not risked trying that myself because I was certain I'd end up in there with it, and be unable to get back out. However, it kept stubbornly refusing to pull straight up, with the current rotating it every time I got it almost right.

After a few minutes of this, I realized he really should be getting back to whatever job he had to do, and that he had already done so very much for me that he didn't have to do at all, so I thanked him profusely and let him go on. I kept trying, and eventually after another 15 or maybe 20 minutes, at a guess, I lined it up correctly and got it to the position I could pull it up the slope. But I was too tired to actually pull hard enough to lift it at all, and even at the best I'm not sure I could have--the trailer weighs by itself perhaps 30 pounds or so, maybe a bit less, and the car battery weighs a lot more than I like to think about, being mostly lead and watery acid. Then there is the water that had pooled inside the cooler, which while not a lot compared to the cooler's volume was still at least a couple of gallons, which is another 16 pounds. Add another 20 pounds for the rest of the junk I had on the trailer at that point. Ugh.

I was REALLY tempted to just let it go, go home, and build another trailer someday when I felt less depressed about it. But my bike's rear light module was on the trailer, because I always mount it on there so people can see the turn signals and such on the road no matter what cargo I might have that would block their view of them if the signals were on the bike's rear rack as usual. Not only would I need to buy more red LEDs I don't have the money for, but I would have a lot more work wiring them up and building them into a case, compared to just building a new trailer out of random junk like this one was.

So I stood there for a while holding the trailer in position and thinking, coming up all nothing, when two women come jogging down the path, and ask me jokingly how big the fish is. I was too tired to feel much of anything, but I just replied that it was my bike trailer someone had pushed into the canal, and I couldn't lift it out, and they quickly jogged over and grabbed the line with me and we all pulled, which got it out pretty fast. I thanked them even more profusely (if that's possible) than the first person, they started back on their way, and I was left with a wet trailer and having to fix a hitch that I didn't even know I had the parts to fix, yet.

I just got lucky on that, that I had several nuts the right size for the bolt, and that I paint my bike stuff dayglo colors, including the boltheads, which let me quickly happen upon the bolt itself near where the trailer had come loose, back before I had tried lassoing it. (My 8-white-LED helmet light is pretty bright flashlight at 120,000mcd and puts out some UV, so dayglo objects also fluoresce under it's illumination, which let me spot the bolthead easily against the random gravel colors and shapes, even though I didn't see the metal-colored parts of the bolt at all).

I decided not to trust the bolt alone, and tied both the bent-up bungee cord and some parachute cord between the bike's end of the hitch (fixed to the bike frame stiffly) and the trailer's front stem (which is welded to the trailer), so that even if the bolt broke or the nuts somehow came off again, I'd not lose the trailer. I really don't want to go thru that again. Nor do I want it to come loose in traffic, which would probably be even worse. I'm sure I couldn't afford to fix whatever vehicle damage would be caused by someone hitting it with their car. :(

With very little incident, I made it back home just fine after that, though I'm completely exhausted, and only sitting here typing this because despite being so tired that I can barely move my fingers, I can't get my mind to shut down and let me sleep. I can't even hold my head up--I'm using a stack of pillows to do that. :(

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