I've never had a puncture before. Not in all my years of riding bicycles. Not when I cycled from Paihia to Kerikeri aged 15 to go to the school pools. Not during my short-lived attempt at cycling touring in Holland. Not when dodging the cows, tuktuks and who knows what else when cycling to work in Delhi. But I always knew the day would come. That day was yesterday and what a day it was.
It began rather early, 4.38am if we want to be precise about it. The voices of the group of men in the hallway came straight through the walls. I suppose it could have been worse, given that the hotels I've stayed at all offer 'o'clock' rooms. The fishbowl room that I was given had only one window, a large, zoo style one, which opened onto the hallway. Perhaps the receptionist was hoping that I would keep the curtains open and provide some kind of freakshow entertainment? Ooo, let's watch the muddy foreigner eat her Snickers bars (yes, that day it was plural).
So, after attempting to sleep through the boisterous conversation outside and the regular slamming of doors, I got up at 5.30 and started packing my things. I drank my second to last earl grey tea bag which I had, after years of sniggering loudly as my Mum put her teabag to the side to reuse later, used once the night before. I was on the road before 7, thinking that I could make it in good time to Guiyang, some 90km away.
Ha. After about 500 meters I started climbing and two hours later and I had barely covered 20km. I stopped for a bowl of noodles on the side of the road, much to the amusement of the group of women sitting at the plastic table. They pointed at my legs. I had rather hoped that the mud was so thick that it might pass as a tan. Apparently not.
I pressed on. Well, up.
Finally, I reached the top and began a glorious decent. The "whheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" turned quickly to expletives as I began swerving like a drunkard. From one side of the road to the other I wobbled, wondering whether it was better to hit into the barrier or go for the ditch. Just as I had made up my mind that the barrier was too low and the cliff beyond it spiked with big rocks, the road levelled and squeezing the brakes I wobbled to a halt. Getting off my deathmobile, I saw the problem at once.
Yes, I am quite the Sherlock.
At that moment, a drop of rain fell onto my chin, shortly followed by another on my hand. Soon, it was absolutely bucketing down. To top it all off, a loud boom of thunder echoed nearby.
It was all rather comical. Here I was covered in mud, staring at my very first puncture, in a thunderstorm.
I heaved my bike and bags to the closest building and sheltered under the eaves. I could see shoes at the door and hear a television playing inside. Hoping that no one would emerge and demand what I was doing on their doorstep, I got to work. I located the hole, patched it, pumped up the tyre to check, found another hole, patched up before pumping it up to check once again. I checked over the tyre but found nothing responsible for my descent of doom. "Let's be glad that I had somewhere out of the rain to stand" I thought, in true Pollyanna (an honorary member of the Banfield whanau) fashion. I waited out the worst of the rain before popping my jacket on and heading off again.
It was slow progress. Hill after hill and after hill. By lunchtime I had reached the next big town, Longli, but was still 50km from Guiyang. I devoured another bowl of noodles and an ice tea before setting off. Ten minutes later and my tyre was flat again. I pulled into a construction site just as the rain increased to a road-flooding level. Hiding under what I hoped was a solid first floor and fully aware that a construction site is likely to house many tyre-puncturing within its cluttered floor, I fixed puncture number three.
Off I went, cheered by the sounds of 'Send me on my way' (the song of Matilda, one of the best movies of all time) and the satisfaction of actually fixing something.
An hour later and that satisfaction had deflated to match my tyre. Puncture number four.
By now, the torrential rain had washed off the mud previously caked to my bike (and myself) and finally I located the problem: multiple evil shards of glass were wedged firmly into tyre.Despite having pulled into a little side road, fully out of sight of anyone on the winding national road, a couple soon pulled up on a motorbike. Thinking they might be wondering I needed help, I cheerfully said hello and laughed in a "I have this completely under control" kind of way. Already intrigued by what was going on, the crazy bike lady cackling away sealed the deal and they propped up their motorbike and got off to watch. I checked over the tyre very carefully, inside and out, before fixing puncture number 4 and putting the bike back together. The couple, whose help comprised of offering me an oily cloth to wipe my hands on, were fascinated by my puncture repair kit, passing the items between them, particularly interested in the glue. Well, if I can't be an impressive bike mechanic, at least my predicament can provide some amusement. "Let's be glad I had some smiling company while fixing my fourth puncture." They seemed very pleased for me when the tyre was back on looking innocently plump. Here we are, having a grand old time in the middle of a muddy forest.
By now it was late afternoon. The road continued to deteriorate, offering gravel-filled mudpools,
and culminating in an impossible-to-push-my-bike-through-without-mud-oozing-over-the-top-of-my-shoes swamp.
My main reason for heading to Guiyang is because one of my four chain ring bolts (the name only known because I sent a photo of it to a friend) has fallen off. The other end of it, now unattached, tends to get stuck to the inside chain ring. Sure enough, a few kilometres after puncture number four and I had to stop for about twenty minutes and use my favourite method, the 'how many tools can I use', to unjam it.
But still, all was hilarious in my mind. I stopped for some fried rice, which further improved my spirits, and was quite cheerful, despite my horrendous appearance, as I sat for a little rest just outside of Guiyang.
I made my way into Guiyang feeling pleased, given that it was already 6pm, that I had for once booked accommodation in advance.
Two hours later, after numerous phone calls to the hostel describing where I was (rather difficult when you can't read anything), I gave my phone to a random man on the street who described my location rather more accurately. It turned out that I was nowhere near the hostel. 20km away in fact. The photos I had taken of the google map location turned out to be of the wrong one. Obviously...
After an hour of wandering around looking for a hotel and finding only a humongous shiny Sheraton, I decided to get a taxi to the hostel. So, I piled up my muddy panniers and took my front wheel off, figuring that this would make it look highly transportable. Apparently not. By the time more than twenty taxis pulled in, took a glance at the bike sitting there absolutely caked in mud and zoomed off, I had gathered a small audience. By this point the day had lost its hilarity and I was trying desperately not to cry, although I'm sure this would have added further interest to the already ridiculous scene. I continued to stand there with my arm stretched out and Another one pulled up and seeing my bags, popped the boot. Before he had a chance to see the bike and zoom off, I had stuffed it into the boot and was already loaded up the back seat with my bags. It was after 10pm when I finally pulled up at the hostel.
A cup of sesame porridge, an amazing shower and a friendly conversation later and Pollyanna had returned.