– ODO- 14763 – 14882km
– Location- Dimapur, Nagaland, India
– Weather- 28-35 Hot
The day began with a clear four lanes of smooth highway 37 winding through pristine rainforest. I felt a strong as I had all trip. With two cool days under low hung cloud I felt happy and confident and dreamed of entering the transcontinental race in a couple of years, fresh and fit off the back of my travels. The map took me from the highway for the first time in the week onto a deceavingly smooth side road. I spoke to some locals as I filled my water bottles and they told me to ride slow and watch out for elephants.
The smooth road surface didn’t last for long. As I reached the rougher road my rear wheel started making new noises. On a recent Cloudbase Mayhem (a paragliding podcast) they talked about TEM. Threat and error management. Something airline pilots used to catch issues before they become serious. When my first spoke broke back in Nepal and I found the tools I’d ditched along the way were now vital to replacing it, I tightened some surrounding spokes and rolled cautiously along. No more worrying sounds came from the wheel so I considered that I could carry for the full month to Lao where I could get spare parts. I ignored the threat. For the next 4 days riding I didn’t think much about my back wheel. The roads were smooth and fast and flat and I powered on with my headphones in.
Back to today and the smooth highway broke abruptly into rough graded stones with regular potholes and ramps. As I reached the bottom of each small valley the ground became muddy and broken from the rain that had been so cooling for the last couple of days. As I drive up and creeped down the hills I heard a sharp click from the wheel. Not the tell tale ping of a broken spoke but a sharp shifting of metal against metal. As I swung the bike side to side to build momentum for the climb the wheel began to rub on my rack on each leftward lean. The sounds got worse and worse until they were nearly constant with every turn.
As the heat of the day built I was distracted. My gut swam with stress. My head with plan A B C… how can I get all the way to Lao if I can’t fix this wheel. With no internet connection or SIM card for this short stint in India I had no way to find a bike shop except the old fashioned way. First I had 20km of rough backroad to navigate. I wished for a Dhaba to appear so I could at least stop for lunch but my path only took me through village after village. I finally stopped about 2pm having eaten and dunk almost nothing all morning. I felt aweful. The stress mixed with the dehydration. I felt heat stroke coming on and all I could do was sit on the step outside the first shop I came to. I drank a cool litre of water and a Fanta from the fridge as my mind began to clear. I asked the owner of the shop for directions to the nearest cycle repair store.
As I got closer and closer to the centre of town the traffic built around me. Cars beeped and rickshaws edged me into the rough curb. Ever speed bump caused my back wheel to shoat and complain some more. The first cycle shop I found had only single speed bikes. The second didn’t do repairs. The son of the owner let me know and pointed me down the road. The final seemed more promising. Inside there were several bikes with Shimano branded components. I sat in the air conditioning and waited my turn.
The older mechanic came down to look at my wheel. His wife translated my issue as I removed the bags and took out the spare spokes I had. He pulled off the wheel and lead me upstairs. Sitting on low stools he dropped the sprocket tool into the lock ring and careful laid the chain whip around teeth to stop it spinning as he turned. With one pull on an adjustable wrench he had it removed. Then we threaded my spare into the hole. It was much too short. My spares were for a previous wheel. With 24 not 36 spokes. In the rush to leave I’d eyed them uk by never checked if they would fit.
Luckily in a loose pile of parts he found one that would fit. I sighed and he carefully trued the wheel on and rusty truing stand. Spinning it back and forward slowely, feeling for the resistance. After five minutes he was done and began re inflating the tube. I thanked him and donated my useless spare spokes to him. Refitting the wheel and adding my bags I thanked him profusely. He didn’t even charge me for his time however much I insisted. As I rolled towards the train station in search of the hotels I’d spotted on my way in I felt fully drained. The dehydration, worry and near heat stroke sapped all my energy.
Tomorrow I have to climb 1700m on a highway that’s reportedly as rough as the back roads that damaged my wheel in the first place. The issues not gone away, I think that the rim itself is cracked enough that the whole wheel warps under the twisting strain I put it under. There’s not much more I can do though. I’ll have to nurse it to Laos by my own steam or by bus if it collapses into a shower of spokes.