29 January 2012
Long day. First 20km goes in 50 minutes, as does the second, which is a reassuring start. I hit the Coke early, but it doesn't quite hit the spot.
I just steadily grind the day away, breaching the 5000km since Kunming mark after around 50km. All goes smoothly until my front tyre looks soft at around 70km down. Sure enough, another slow puncture. I pitstop it a couple of times, thinking that I'll change the tube in Kampong Kdei, after 85km or so.
Kampong Kdei is the usual place to stop for a third night on the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap bike run. I'm planning to ride straight through. The place is noted for an Angkorian era bridge adorned with carvings of nagas. At the time of its construction in the 12th century, this 86m long bridge was the longest corbelled stone arch bridge in the world. A corbelled arch is apparently a primitive arch design that lacks the load distribution properties of the familiar key stone arch. A naga is a many-headed serpent. Being born in the Chinese year of the snake, I can't think of a more auspicious place to mend a flat tyre.
I take a few photos of the bridge, eavesdrop on the few tourists that are there, guzzle another Coke and throw down a couple of baguettes, then set about fixing the flat.
Simple, I think. I pull out the old tube, decide to post mortem it later, and grab one of the new tubes I bought in Phnom Penh. It's some 30 seconds later that I discover that the rim on my front wheel is only drilled wide enough for Presta valves - the Schrader tube isn't going to fit.
My options: a) find someone to drill the hole wider, b) try to patch the tube I've just removed, c) find transport. I never really consider c) and I drop a) pretty fast. But, finding this slow puncture could take some time.
The naga I'm sat in front of has 14 heads - an array of nine on top and five below. The difficult moment lengthens, the sky grows dark, and the eyes of the naga's biggest head begin to glow like embers. Suddenly, I'm at the centre of a vortex of swirling serpentine coils, the space around me is drenched purple and green, and an ancient hollow howl cuts off all other sound. Flash! I can see the air leaving a strain in the tube. All goes still.
I've found the leak inside seconds. I gamble that it's the only flaw in the tube, patch it, and get it back inside the tyre. It holds. Only 62km left to ride. I get to work.
151km, 23.9km/h, 6hr19min, 5102km