What the heck am I supposed to do now?

Bulgaria. Autumn. I roll to a halt beside Andy. “Mate,” he says. “We have a problem. A really big problem.” I look down. There’s a six-inch crack along the rim of his rear wheel and the inner tube is bulging horribly from the gaping maw. We are only 3 months into our round-the-world bike ride.

What the heck are we supposed to do now?

Turkey. Winter. She’s really rather pretty. Or perhaps it’s the drugs. The ambulance lurches to one side. We’re arriving at the hospital. The cute paramedic get to her feet, and my attention returns to the deep throbbing pain in my face. I am covered in blood, blind in one eye and I have very little idea what just happened.

What the heck am I supposed to do now?

Mongolia. Spring. We look at each other in horror. We have each assumed that the other would bring spare inner-tubes and a puncture repair kit. It’s a thousand kilometres to the nearest asphalt and the valve on Andy’s rear wheel has just snapped off.

Why was it always Andy’s rear wheel?

And what the heck are we supposed to do now?

Oman. Summer. I am drenched in sweat. It’s 40 degrees and climbing, and the humidity is hovering at 100%. It’s a week’s ride back to the nearest city, and I am standing in the middle of the desert with a piece of snapped metal in my hands and my worldly possessions at my feet. The breakage is irreparable.

What the heck am I supposed to do now?

* * *

Hobo stove on the Black Sea coast

Nothing worth doing ever went according to plan.

This is particularly true of long bicycle journeys. It does not matter how prepared you think you are. It does not matter how much money you spend on fancy gear. And it does not matter how many precautions you take. Something is going to go wrong.

What does matter is how you react when it happens.

The anecdotes above are some of my own. I have dozens more. Every long-term traveller does. We collect them, in fact, as fond memories. They are the moments in which we are truly tested; in which the world conspires to offer us lessons about ourselves.

Needless to say, these moments are also the ones we can look back on and laugh about. We found solutions; ones that we could never have planned to find, and that were born of immediate necessity.

What’s (really) the worst that can happen? Here’s the answer:

First, you stand paralysed, crippled. What the heck are you supposed to do now?

Then you realise that the time has come. You must solve the problem yourself. You must solve it by whatever means necessary.

And then you go ahead and do whatever needs to be done.

* * *

We dug out the Gaffa Tape, bandaged the cracked wheel, and avoided all potholes. It lasted another 750km until we replaced it in Istanbul.

I had four stitches in my face. The police put us up in a hotel. I rode on with one eye until the other healed. I still have the scars.

Camping under the stormclouds in Mongolia

Andy had been using a discarded road-bike inner tube as a bungee cord. We put it in the mountain bike tyre anyway and hoped for the best. It lasted the rest of the trip.

On the road in Oman

I stuck out my thumb. A pickup stopped, and within two hours I was back in the city. I binned the broken trailer, strapped the heap of luggage to the back rack, and cycled to Dubai.

* * *

So hope for the best — always. Prepare for the worst — if you want to. But never let the fear of something going wrong prevent you from giving it a go.

Because if everything is going exactly according to plan, you aren’t taking enough risks. You’re not learning anything. And so it’s questionable whether you can call it an adventure at all.

What’s (really) the worst that could happen?

Comments (skip to respond)

7 responses to “What the heck am I supposed to do now?”

  1. Great article, and i’d like to add that the type of reaction by someone to any major damage with their bike and their travel plans in a remote area is down to confidence. That confidence is overridingly the knowledge that should the ‘shit hit the fan’ ample funds in their bank account and their contacts will save them — even if they can’t spend that money to get them out of the temporary fix they’re in, money and plastic is still the no.1 thing most people psychologically depend on in such circumstances. In my opinion it is false confidence, as it’s not always helping to improve the traveller’s ability to improvise should they really need to, but i was glad to see that Andy and yourself were resourceful and totally made the best of the situation and managed to get back on the bikes. 

    To me though, it’s not about the bike(heard that before somewhere) it’s about the journey, which i think you’ve already mentioned Tom. Because everyone’s journey is different the dependence on funds varies greatly and each will likely have a major problem of some kind along the way, but to base every solution to these type of issues on a quick fix by throwing money at it is largely debasing the value of the journey experience in my opinion. If hypothetically one didn’t have enough money to buy a new frame because the old one was snapped somewhere, then it could be welded. What an achievement it would be to walk the long distance to the nearest city with the bike and get it repaired that way. That would surely be an amazing confidence booster and would save money, but no good if you’re in a monsoon :-)) . Adrian Cooke from South Africa is testimony to this, he cycled “from Asia to Africa on a whim and a rock bottom budget” and had improvised panniers(plastic boxes at first) and racks added onto to his $500 bike purchased in Sri Lanka (see the “Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook” by Stephen Lord (2010) p.16).

    Although there are many more people long-distance cycle touring than before, there are still very few who do it completely solo and on a very low budget. To survive any big setbacks after such restrictions is surely addictive and a confidence impetus for the next trip.

    1. I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Jennifer Hill avatar
    Jennifer Hill

    Tom, I got hooked on yr travels, so I began at the beginning. Suitable place to start. However, my phone keeps re-booting & kicking me off the site every other or every time I change pages! Ack!

    1. How odd… what phone are you using?

  3. I keep telling myself the worst that can happen is that the bike breaks and you repair or replace it as and when you can, cowboy fix if needed until a real one, anyone leaving the house without gaffer tape and plastic coated heavy duty green wire is insane and deserves to need them daily. As i was reading this the smile grew and grew on my face and when you mentioned your gaffer tape fix i knew we were talking the same lingo, thanks

    1. Gaffa tape and zip-ties hold the fabric of the universe together!

  4. There are people in life who roll over and give up and there are those who carry on and find a solution. Keep battling on.

    By the way, what a great picture in Turkey with the facial bandages: you look so happy!

Something to add?