I set off reasonably early after my night on the vodka, I still had several hundred miles to cover before I would reach Novosibirsk. Here I intended to chill out for a couple of days and get the bike sorted with new boots and an oil change. I decided to do this short distance over the next two days covering 450 miles on the first day and the remainder the following day. This should get me into Novosibirsk for an early lunch giving me plenty of time to find a hostel and settle in. I got a hundred miles east of Omsk, roughly my halfway mark and was happy that every mile I did now, before finding a place to camp, was a mile I didn’t need to do the following day. But fate dealt me a different hand. “It’s when you break down that your adventure really begins”. I have read this and heard it said from many seasoned travellers, and it’s a philosophy that I thoroughly agreed with and wa subscribing to more and more, at least in principle. But over the next few days this world view would confirm itself wholly and completely in my mind.
As I passed yet another section of highway maintenance I began to feel the bike fish a little, it’s probably the road surface I thought, it does this sometimes when you ride on uneven surfaces. Except this time it continued on the smoother stuff, so I decided to stop and investigate, already the possibility of a puncture was beginning to plant itself in my mind. Sure enough, I had come several thousand miles and I had my first, and probably not the last, puncture of my trip, indeed my whole riding career. Part of me was pleased, I have all the kit and know how to fix it. I decided to simply replace the inner tube with my spare and then patch the punctured tube in the comfort of the hostel. But first I had to remove the wheel. So I heaved the bike onto the centre stand and got my work area ready with all the tools I would need and proceeded to remove the first axle bolt.
Here, my friend shows just how easy it usually is to remove the rear wheel.
Once the axle bolt is removed it should be a quick and simple process of sliding out the axle. I had done it on numerous occasions when changing my tyres but today of all days the axle was a stubborn SOB and did not want to come out. I used liberal amouts of WD40 and pounded on it with all my might but it would not budge… I put the bike down on its side to beat it out but still nothing. Finally, after ninety minutes of considerable effort, leveridge and foul language I finally got the damn thing out. But it wasn’t without some damage to the bolt and the last few threads on the axle bolt, but I’ll have to deal with this later. With the wheel removed I could finally set to replacing the tube. With the old tube removed I reached for my spare to be struck with the overwhelming realization that the numpties at the bike shop had sent me the wrong size, the diameter was okay but it was just too narrow. I should have double checked before I left the UK.
I had no choice but to repair the tube by the roadside. As I was repairing the tube a fella pulls up in his car to help and I explain that I have knackered the axle threads. We both think of the same solution: to file off the last two or three threads. But I have no file, only a hacksaw. So he drives off with my axle and returns 15 minutes later job done. He then drives off, never to be seen again. This complete stranger saved my bacon with regards to the axle, it would have been a tough job for me to repair that with just a hacksaw. But So thank you kind stranger, but it wouldn’t be the last time I would meet perfect strangers who would rescue me from the random circumstances that I find myself
With lorries speeding inches past me I set to repairing the puncture, but it wasn’t just any puncture it was two punctures and a partial gash. I repaired the two holes but they didn’t seem to hold very well so I removed them and redone it. I had a big patch which I used to patch the gash and inflated the tube. It seemed to hold and more importantly there were no other leaks. I eventually reinstalled the tube into the tyre and put the wheel back on. Everything was looking fine. With fingers crossed and with baited breath, I cautiously rode off, not entirely convinced that my dodgy repair would hold. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have bothered with the repair but I had no choice this time. Filthy and tired I decided to stay in a cheap motel for the night to rest and clean up. I also didn’t want to ride off into the wild to camp only to awake in the morning with a flat tyre and a long push back to the road.
Unfortunately, the two motels that I stopped at wanted £30 a night… bugger that, its a bit rich for my modest budget, I’ll risk camping again tonight. So I found a nice quiet little place, Russia is full of them, off the road and in a delightful silver birch forest. I pitched up as usual, had a cheese and tomato sandwich and hit the sack. Next morning I awoke to find my tyre still inflated. So I headed off, but would I make it to Novosibirsk?
As I left the forest I lost the front end and dropped the bike, great start to the day I thought. No problem, I removed my helmet and jacket and managed to lift the bike fully loaded. I got back on the bike and set off again. When I reached the mud track back to the road I was cautious but apparently not cautious enough. Choosing the wrong line on the track, there were three: the left with logs, the middle was good and dry but the right line was a muddy quagmire. I instinctively avoided the ‘log line’ but went too far across and went straight through the ‘mud line’. Feeling the front end go I powered through but lost the it completely again and the bike went down throwing me forward. Kicking myself for not being cautious enough and having only just dropped it not 2 minutes ago I knew that in this swamp of a lane, this pick up wasn’t going to be as easy as the last. I knew straight away I wasn’t going to lift it fully loaded but it didn’t stop me from having ago. I soon accepted that undesirable fact that I would need to unload the bike and try again. With the bike free of its heavy load I still couldn’t lift it, not because of the weight but because I simply could not get any grip in the mud. I would get it half way up when my feet would slide in the mud and I would have to let it go or risk injury. My boots were becoming as heavily laden with mud as my bike. But I eventually got it up right only to slip in the mud again and drop the bike onto its other side. Argghhhhh FFS I screamed… what a pillock! The mud was even slimier on the other side of the bike.
Take two, but try as I might, I could not lift the damn thing. Stop, breath, think and assess I said to myself. You ARE going to recover from this situation. You simply have no choice but to get the bike up. I tried another technique but still couldn’t get any purchase in the mud. I had two options trek back up to the road and flag down a car to help me lift it or pull the bike around to dryer patch of mud. I decided on the latter. So I dragged the rear end around with all my might so that I have a slightly drier patch of mud to get some better grip and I tried again, but still nothing. FFS I screamed louder, part of me wishing someone would hear my screams and come to my aid, but nobody materialized. With one last ditch attempt I stoked up inside me a new level of resolve and determination. I gripped the end of the bars and heaved. I got it three quarters of the way up and I felt it slipping… “Do not give up, do not give up, do not give up”, I repeated to myself as I summoned the last ounce of strength I had. Arggggggh… I finally got it upright!
This time I was able to put the kick stand out before lifting so when it was finally up I was able to gently rest the bike on its side stand. Taking a few moments of well earned rest and a large gulp of water from my platypus I set to repacking and loading the bike. Not five minutes went by when a Lada, one of millions in Russia, passed me by on the very track that I had so desperately struggled for the last hour. Once packed I was soon back on the road but after only 30miles the bike was feeling funny again, so I pulled into a petrol station to fill up the tank and the tyre. With both me and the bike replenished I set off but I only got 10 more miles before the tyre went completely flat! I pulled over, set up for yet another repair, removed the axle, easy this time, removed the wheel and pulled out the tube. It was a complete mess, shredded to peices. WTF was I to do now? I have no spare tube and absolutely noway of repairing the tube that I have.