Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Have bike, will shuttle

The author’s 30-year-old Raleigh mountain bike, complete with a custom camo paint job, has been his primary shuttle “vehicle” on most of his Virginia river floats.

By Mark Taylor


That was the sound of air escaping from the rear tire of my mountain bike, a sound followed by the “whu, whu, whu, whu, whu…” of a bike riding on a flat tire.

I pulled to the side of the road and pulled out my phone.

“Flat tire 2 miles out. Going to fix now. I’ll be a little delayed getting back there.”

The text was to my fishing buddy, Alfie Hammerstrom. Forty minutes earlier I’d dropped him, a canoe and a day’s worth of fishing gear at a put-in on Virginia’s Smith River. I’d driven my truck to the take-out, parked, and hopped on my well-worn, 20-year-old Santa Cruz mountain bike to ride the 6 miles back to the put-in.

I love shuttling by bike. At a minimum, it means you only have to take one vehicle on a trip, which is great when only two people are fishing and the river is an hour or more away.

In some cases, especially where rail trails run along rivers, bike shuttles are often faster than vehicle shuttles.

But when you run shuttles with a bike, stuff happens.

In my case, stuff seems to happen a lot.

At least in the most recent case I had stuff to fix a flat. I was back on the road in a few minutes. It could have been worse. Much worse.

Several years ago Alfie and I had finished a long float when I hopped on the Santa Cruz for the ride back to the put-in, where we’d left the truck. I made it 40 feet before the rear wheel fell off.

Literally, fell off.

It wasn’t the bike’s fault. At that point I remembered having cannibalized the rear wheel skewer (axle, in layman’s terms) for another bike. It was pouring rain and getting dark. I caught a ride in the back of a truck for a few miles but the guy pulled into a convenience store lot and said, “This is where I’m stopping.” So I had to run the final 3 miles.

On a narrow highway.

In the dark.

The 40 feet I made it on that bike shuttle was better than on another trip, also with Alfie. (Yes, there is a pattern here.)

We were fishing for smallmouth bass and walleyes on the upper New River, which is perfect for bike shuttling because a rail-trail runs along the entire river.

But when we finished the float I could not actually ride the bike because it was locked to a tree at the take-out, and my lock key was on my main key chain, which was stashed back at the truck.

At the time I was not in shape to run the 8 miles, so I had to call an actual shuttle service for a ride back to my truck. In hindsight I think running might have been less painful than the hit to my pride.

I have since switched to combo locks when I lock my shuttle bike up, which isn’t often. Usually I just hide the bike in the brush by the take-out. For added security I actually painted one of my shuttle bikes, a 30-year-old Raleigh, camo.

But even if someone spots it I feel they won’t steal it because, a) my shuttle bikes are so old they are essentially worthless and b) I have freakishly long legs so few normally proportioned humans could actually safely ride any of my bikes.

The hairiest shuttle was on a trip with another regular floating buddy, Sam Dean.

We had finished a trip on the Jackson River and my plan was to ride up the Jackson River Scenic Trail to the truck. The trail was relatively new at that point and I’d never ridden that section. The unknown made a me a bit nervous, but how tough can it be to ride on a rail trail, right?

It was getting dark by the time I took off. Of course it was getting dark, right?

Two miles up the trail my headlamp died just as I reached a neighborhood where the trail merged with a road for a bit. In the dark I couldn’t find where the trail re-started so I had no choice but to gingerly backtrack to the put-in and then do the much longer shuttle on the route I knew.

On a narrow highway.

In the dark.

So a mere flat tire at noon on a sunny day?


I’m already raring for my next trip.

Mark Taylor is Trout Unlimited’s eastern communications director. He likes cycling almost as much as he likes fishing. Almost.

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.