Message in a Bottle

Two Hawaiian Ironmans ago one of my crew found an abandoned bottle on the Queen K Highway the day after the race. Only a water bottle but, still, we found it next to the seashore on an island in the South Pacific. (We chose to prise the romance from the moment.) As luck would have it, this bottle contained a message.

The note scribbled on a piece of paper wasn’t written to whomever would find it (us); the note was for the note’s author. It’s a single piece of paper, filled with cursive on both sides, hastily written on hotel stationary, with detailed instructions on how to change a flat tire. This bottle and its contents have become something like a totem for us. We bring it to the Island annually now.

Once in a great while I see something that in one glance tells me what this race is about, and why so many find it so special. This note was one of those cases.

The owner spells it “tyre”, so, likely from the UK. “Remove tyre, back tyre in easiest gear.” I’d have said “wheel” and I consider this dubious advice. (I’ve have put the cog in the hardest gear.) Otherwise, a very sound, if painstaking, list of steps.

“Engage tyre lever anywhere on rim but not at the valve.” And on. And on. Engagement of the second tire lever. Inspection of the tyre and rim. “Unfold the new tube & put in just enough air for it to hold its shape.” This was going to be a long pit stop.

My crew and I have spent some considerable time speculating about the owner, who obviously had little-to-no experience changing a flat. Either the owner had remarkably good luck in training, or trained only indoor, or had a training partner who changed flats.

But the training partner didn’t make the trip. The contestant was on his or her own. And that’s just so how it is in this race. Regardless how many spectators, how many in your retinue, how many registrants, aid stations, support, once the gun sounds you’re on your own. You may as well be on the moon.

After this athlete finished the training, sorted the nutrition, the bike rides, the runs, the travel, registration, it’s all done, all ready to go except… this. So, from the Sheraton, on Kona, the phone call to... home? A fellow contestant on the island? There was this remaining duty. This last-minute piece of prep. How to change a flat tire. Then… just the race.

As this bottle was unused, found as it was packed by its owner, and sitting on the roadside, the likeliest scenario is that it was lost during the bike leg, perhaps jettisoned like a depth charge out the back of a rear-mount hydration cage. (Which would be another clue that the owner was relatively naïve to the undertaking contemplated.) One hopes the contestant flew through the bike ride without a hitch, dismounted, and ran to glory.

If this bottle is yours my crew and I would love to know who you are, and how your race went that day.