Trouble in da jungle (Part 2)


‘Look at that boys, it’s a 29er. He’ll never find spares round here, mind.’

(continued from our decision to head off the beaten trail…)

So there we all were, full of the beans of life, marvelling over the beauty of the landscape, our memorable night in the stilt house, the mounds of sticky rice we’d eaten and those rather magnificent, bare breasted hill tribe women who’d visited that morning.

And then, just as we forded a river and I rode through a muddy puddle, it happened: Boooooooom.

No, thankfully not exploding ordnance from the war. It was my rear inner tube shredded to bits, and the tyre popping clean off the rim. And on closer inspection, things didn’t look good at all. The whole rim had all but split in two – a tectonic-like crack had spread around it, warping the wheel into an S, making even pushing the bike impossible…


Above: not a happy wheel…

It was the day I’d dreaded; here we were, in the jungle, 40km away by rutted, rollercoaster trail from the main road. No vehicles. Hardly any money. And the bike was all but immovable. Looking at our inaccurate map, we calculated it to be around 30km forwards to the nearest main road on the other side. A long way to carry a laden bike, especially over this topography. But do-able, albeit slowly. I’d realised that bringing a 700c/29er bike could an issue in this part of the world – more about that here – but hadn’t envisaged being so far from any trucks or buses in the event of a mechanical failure as dramatic as this.


Hm. Where’s that Duct tape?

Out of the shock and disappointment of the situation, a plan began to materialise. Running the Extrawheel trailer meant we were not only carrying a spare 700c rim – specifically for this kind of emergency – but that we also had the option of attaching it to Cara’s bike instead. In this way, we split up the load. I slung my frame and a rucksack over my back, and pint-sized powerhouse Cara rode with her panniers, the trailer and the damaged wheel cinched on too. Christof was laden enough as it was, so as there was little he could do to help, we bid a fond farewell and began the long trudge alone.


To the rescue: a laden Cara, a broken wheel, and the Extrawheel.

Up and down, up and down. Sweating our way ever onwards in the dust and sun. Past tribal villages run yet more bare chested ladies, where kids watched us emerge over the horizon and followed us in crowds. Across rivers and yonder, always one more hill in the distance.

Typically, I’d set off with a healthy stride in the morning, but by late afternoon was beginning to flake, and my phlemy cough was returning with a vengeance. To our joy, the track finally enlarged back into an unpaved road, and in the distance we spied a truck. Hallelujiah! Jubilation was short lived though, as the driver demanded 500 000 kip to take us just to the junction – about 50US. Even if we’d wanted to, we were down to our last few dollars worth of Laotian or Chinese currency. Having just crossed the border, we were relying on changing money or using the ATM as soon as we arrived in Phongsali, our original destination for the day. A basic traveller’s error. Always carry some spare greenbacks.

Onwards it would have to be, not that our pride would have allowed us be taken advantage of like this. By now, it was getting dark and I was shuffling forward like a zombie, as my legs began to cramp up, and shake and wobble with a mind of their own. Cara sensibly turned down my requests to take a nap on the road due to profusion of the bugs and critters that inhabited these tropical parts. Plodding on, it was pitch black by the time we hit the next village, where we hoped the locals might take pity on us and invite us in for a warm, filling meal and a soft, comfy bed to sleep on. One did, in his own way, by offering a space on his dirt floor for a ridiculous 100 000 kip – or 10US – a small fortune by Laotian standards. Again, our limited funds (and indignation) drove us on, as we knew we’d need all our change to secure us a lift to Oudomxai, where a bank was to be found.


Critter example: luckily, this snake was squashed. Not by us, I hasten to add.

By now, the track had also become unfeasibly steep and loose, so we were both having to push Cara’s bike and the trailer at times, then return for my frame. I was completely fried, so was thankful that Cara motivated us to move on with promises of sticky rice pit stops – pretty much the only food we had to our name. A few sugary sweets were carefully rationed out with her typical organisational acumen.

Towards midnight, we chanced upon an abandoned hut raised above snake level and crashed out for the night, rising at dawn to finish the walk off with renewed spirits and hope – Cara’s forgotten emergency Snickers bar did wonders for moral too. Emerging finally, triumphantly, at the junction of dusty Bun Tai, we exchanged all our last, crumpled and forgotten Chinese Yuan, adding them to literally every last Kip we could lay our hands on. And with some persuading, were able to negotiate a ride in the back of a flatbed truck to Oudomxai, some six hours away. The relief!

The fact that it was a Sunday when we arrived, exhausted and dirt encrusted, or that there was an electricity cut so the ATM was closed, seemed mere piffling details. We found ourselves a guesthouse with a shower, and washed away all the dust and concerns of the last couple of days, nursing sore backs, necks and legs to life again.

One small, but worrying important piece in the jigsaw remained. Rebuilding the wheel. I’ve only built a couple of sets before, in the comfort of Dewi’s Wheelbuilding Course workshop in North Wales. Here, I just had a frame, some zip ties and some tape to guide me, and a tired head for memory. But I wanted to get it done, so as soon as we’d checked in, I set about the task, hunching over the wheel and plucking spokes like a harp. I even surprised myself with my determination and efficiency, sweating away as the sun beat down in the courtyard of our guesthouse. Somehow, it all came together without any issues at all, and within a couple of hours of graft. Proudly, I awoke Cara from her slumber to show off my handywork. One surprisingly true wheel. Job done. A big sigh of contentment.

The following morning, with the electricity back on and a wad of cash in our pocket, we visited the market to buy a replacement wheel for the trailer. At 5GBP for the wheel, tyre and inner tube, it was no surprise that the bearings needed repacking immediately and it weighed half a tonne. But it rolled, and that was the important thing. Our Plan B had worked and Extrawheel had come to the rescue.

We were back on the road. And it felt good (-:


One new wheel, complete with Woods valve inner tube and dodgy Chinese tyre: £5.


A few days later found out from Christof that we’d walked, ridden, pushed and sworn our way across 40km of some of the steepest terrain he’d ridden on his whole trip – and that he’d camped barely a few kilometres up the road from where we’d collapsed for the night. No wonder my legs were shot!


11 Responses to “Trouble in da jungle (Part 2)”

  1. 1 Dave Hill December 14, 2007 at 9:35 am

    Hi Cass and Cara,

    Sounds like one of those epics with all the elements conspiring to make life very difficult indeed. Glad you made it through!

    Enjoying reading all your recent posts – your writing really brings it to life.


  2. 2 Ron & Annette McCartan December 14, 2007 at 11:34 am

    Hi Cass abd Cara
    What an EPIC. We’re glad you are both safe and sound – what next? Wonderful blogs: Inspirational, exciting, frightening at times, must be read again and again. What a team!
    Take care

    Ron and Annette

  3. 3 Simon December 14, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Some wonderful posts recently!

    And glad to hear that you’re safe and well despite the mechanical issues – I always reckon you’re not trying hard enough unless you have to push and/or have bike failures :O)

    Take care,

  4. 4 Simon G December 15, 2007 at 12:21 am

    Greetings from a surprisingly chilly Quito. I thought we had had a bad 36 hours until I read this post. So glad that the extrawheel came into its own…planning makes perfect again.

    Sarah and I are heading up to Otavalo tomorrow but will be blogging over the next few days…Simon: Sarah:

    We are having a couple of issues with Sarah’s website but hope to have it sorted soon.

    It’s good to be on the road again…warts and all…S

  5. 5 otbiking December 16, 2007 at 11:44 am

    Thanks for the posts guys. All good now, just another 150km to go before the end of the trip! )-:

    The ride from Luang Prabang to Vang Viang is a cracker – even if the place itself is a bit of suprise. Kind of like Backpacker Thailand by the river… Still, we’ve enjoyed being in holiday mode, staying in cosy wooden bungalows, eating papaya and generally chilling out…

    Back soon, so look forward to meeting up for winter rides…

  6. 6 Christof January 1, 2008 at 2:33 am

    Dear Cass and Cara,

    I’m amazed reading your article abaout our trip. It seems to me that you are much better in bringing this incredible many impressions into words. I really felt this steltshut again, when I read it.
    Amazing Photos as well – congratulations.

    Hope to bike with you again under less severe circumstances

    Happy new year!

  7. 7 Peter Travers January 2, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    This story is so inspirational, I have been so moved I’ve just bought a 29in mountain bike.

  8. 8 otbiking January 2, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Oh, yee who belittles the big wheel… For that, I will ensure we have some extra hills on our next ride.

  9. 9 Matilda May 30, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Excellent blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?
    There are so many options out there that I’m completely confused .. Any tips? Appreciate it!

  1. 1 A night up on stilts… (Part 1) « out there biking: the blog Trackback on December 19, 2007 at 12:40 pm
  2. 2 The 29er Touring Experiment – riding Sichuan Singletrack* « out there biking: the blog Trackback on December 20, 2007 at 5:40 am

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