Last winter my friend Sue gave me a T-shirt that says, “I love the smell of a bike shop.” The smell of my bike shop—a.k.a. my garage—is the aroma of citronella.
Some people think citronella stinks. They don’t work on mountain bikes in an Anchorage garage during summer.
Citronella smells like a flower. A big, beautiful, mosquito-free flower. I like to light a big candle and let it smoke up the garage before I start working.
I finally recognized the beauty of this stuff a few years ago during a trip with Sue. We pedaled round-trip between Chitina and McCarthy, and the mosquitoes were relentless. They’d suck blood right through the backs of our gloves while we were riding.
And they know how to draft. When I hear somebody describe a bad experience as “a bite in the ass,” I sometimes think that the phrase must have originated with someone who experienced a swarm of mosquitoes in a holding pattern right behind his butt while the little bastards took turns tapping his cheeks through the Lycra.
The day we rode back to Chitina was 61 miles of dusty, washboard gravel road, and we were loaded with gear in Sue’s panniers and my BOB trailer.
We stopped at a little lakeside place where travelers who drive the road can buy a cold drink and get their flat tires repaired. A couple of guys with rubber-stained hands sat outside in the shade and read a newspaper while we walked into their tiny shop to grab some chocolate bars and frosty Cokes. They had a bunch of mosquito coils burning in the place, and it reeked of the smoke.
It was heavenly.
I started burning citronella in my garage after that trip. From May until September, those candles are as important as anything in my toolbox.
I've found that it’s much easier to repack bearings when I'm comfortable and relaxed instead of half-insane and slapping my forehead with greasy fingers.