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by SS at 2:57 pm on Thursday 25th March

(Or The Day Everybody Got Flats)

After a fast stretch to Dodoma yesterday, the capital city of Tanzania, and a brief taste of beautiful pavement, I vowed to take today's stage slowly in order to let my body recover. My saddle sores have resurged with a vengeance, not that painful but if they get any worse, I may be back to a situation similar to Egypt.

Having been passed by most of the fast people and sweating heavily in the swampy morning humidity, I was already irritable when I hit a piece of corrugation that gave the final blow necessary to snap my bottle cage damaged in the truck collision. It's held on with two (red) allen bolts and snapped just below the top bolt. Hopefully this means it should be repairable with Duck tape but an annoyance until then anyhow. At the same time, my camera flipped around and pulled down on the earphone cable, yanking the left earphone down and out. Consequently, I'm now back to mono (probably better for road safety).

The day got better though, I caught up with Dave and Adam and rode with Adam down some singletrack running alongside the road. (For non cyclists - singletrack is the holy grail of mountain biking, a smooth, flowing path wide enough for just a single bike.) I've been dreaming of singletrack since we started cycling in January and increasingly as both the road sections bored me slightly and as the dirt sections seemed to lack genuine enjoyment. This singletrack was sublime, flowing, sandy and lacking corrugation like the road. On my fat but skinny tyres, I struggled a bit to avoid washing out around corners (where either wheel loses traction and the bike slides sideways).

At one point there was a rock in the way, up which it was necessary to ride in order to continue down the singletrack. From one angle the rock was rideable, from another it was a sheer vertical face. The rock was hidden behind shrubbery and although I noticed Adam suddenly climb up nearly a metre, it still came as a shock to me and there was a sickening creak as my front wheel hit the part of the rock inbetween the rideable part and the vertical wall. Somehow, my bike made it up the rock and once again I wished for front suspension.

We got to lunch at 10:30, earlier than the last few days. Carrying on from lunch, we passed Steve, the youngest rider on the tour, dealing with a flat tyre. As we continued down the road, we pulled over to let a tractor pass and as it came nearer, it was clear that there was a bike skewered on the front of its fork. It all made sense when we could see Steve inside the cabin, squashed in with another five Tanzanians.

After a lengthy (warm) sode stop, a pleasant descent began, not too technical and not too steep either. Unfortunately, it was here where I got my first flat while riding on dirt (all previous have happened at camp) - I hit a sharp rock and it gouged my front tyre and tube. The front tube was my one surviving Slime filled tube and started spraying out green liquid all over my right shin. Slime is a brand of sealant that is meant to seal punctures once they happen. In this case though, either because of the location (Gerald reported a similar issue) or because of the size of the puncture, the tube didn't seal and I had to swap the tube.

By this time, I thought Adam would have continued on but when I reached the bottom, he was patching up a tube. Apparently he had a flat too and in the process of pumping up his patched tube, the valve fell apart. His spare tube had three punctures in it which he was busy patching. As further riders came past, they mentioned that quite a few others had punctures. Once we had sorted it all out, we headed down the road and managed to get to a beautiful section of singletrack.

Unfortunately, Adam's tube went flat again on this section. He repaired the fourth hole on the tube but the valve self destructed as he pumped it up. I left him behind here and went ahead. Unfortunately the singletrack didn't appear to rejoin the road and at one point when it was clearly going in the wrong direction, I cut right across several fields.

It worked and the road was under my tyres. However, both my tyres were covered in circular seeds with sharp 'teeth'. Pulling these out, I heard a hissing sound from the front tube but it seemed to be holding its air. I went on a few kilometres to find about ten riders sitting drinking soft drinks. Joining them, I was about to leave when I realised my rear tyre was completely flat. Pulling it out, I searched for a hole but couldn't find one. Putting it back in, I pumped it up and hoped that the pressure would last until camp, only 13 km away (apparently).

It didn't last. Every kilometre, I'd have to stop and pump it up and with 5 km (apparently) left to go, I decided to patch the tube since it was taking so long to pump it up each time. Once I'd dealt with the tyre, I checked the front and found that it was now also flat. Removing the tube, I patched it too and put it back together.

My patch job on the rear tyre wasn't great and it was losing its air. I managed to cycle another couple of kilometres before it was flat again. Giving up on patching it again (riding on tube with insufficient pressure had stressed the valve to the point of failure) I started walking the remaining three kilometres to camp. Shortly afterwards, the green Land Cruiser that has been supporting us came past with Adam inside, his bike was also irrepairably punctured. I gave them my bike and continued walking, although they mentioned that the distance was actually approximately eight kilometres.

By this time it was pushing 4pm and so I was already resigned to a ridiculously long stage time. Walking in the mid afternoon Tanzanian heat, it was refreshing not too attract too much attention from the locals (apparently they ignore pedestrians). A while later, I saw a local cyclist who I managed to convince (with a few Swahili words and lots of gesturing) to let me ride his bicycle. He sat on the back of the bike and I pedalled the remaining few kilometres to camp on his single speed bike with 20" wheels.

When I finally reached camp, after a ten hour day, the soup was cold and the light slowly fading. After Martin (our awesome Kenyan bike mechanic) trued my wheel, and dinner was served, I set about patching my tubes. The rear tube was wrecked but the front tube was salvageable with five more patches. I think these singletrack dreams will have to wait until my return home.

2 comments posted so far
Leszek wrote at 3:32 am on Tue 30th Mar -
Does walking and stealing a bike still count as EFI?
SS wrote at 6:39 am on Thu 1st Apr -
Yes :-p

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