The one about Paddy’s broken rim
Two months after starting our adventure in Rio de Janeiro, we rolled unceremoniously into the pretty port of Colonial del Sacramento on the Uruguayan coast. We’d pedalled over 3,500km, but the last 100 was reluctantly spent on a bus.
After four days in the river port of Salto, there was still no sign of the parcel from home with my replacement clothes which we had been waiting for. Itching to be back on the road we set off empty handed, hearing a few days later that the package had arrived and I was able to dash back by bus to pick it up.
The Antarctic winds that had hampered us on the way to Salto had disappeared and been replaced with a warmer, steady tailwind. After the extended break, our legs made light work of the daily distances, covering over 250km in two days.
Basking in the sun at lunchtime on day two, we talked about how it was great to be moving again and that at our current rate of progress we’d be well ahead of schedule for getting to Buenos Aires.
We had spoken too soon. Listening to a Desert Island Discs podcast (oh yes!) I became aware that my back wheel was rubbing violently against the brake pads. Stopping, I examined the wheel, expecting to find a broken spoke or the brakes off centre, but it was worse. The metal rim of my back wheel had split and was bulging outwards. It was a shock as it was not something that I’d expected, especially so soon.
SJS cycles – from whom we had bought the bikes – were as surprised as us that the rim, being carbon, had failed. They think the problem was probably the tyre pressure being too high, and criticised the manufacturers guidelines which we had followed. Fortunately, as the bike is under warranty, they quickly sent a new rim to Buenos Aires for us to collect.
After realising the problem, we had little choice but to carry on to the next town. I transferred the pannier bag to the opposite side and released the brake pads to reduce the strain on the wheel. The bike felt fine along the smooth roads, but on the cobblestoned streets of Mercedes it felt wobbly.
I hoped it might hold out for the next two days pedalling, allowing us to get it fixed in Buenos Aires. Laura disagreed and in no uncertain terms told me “on my head be it” if we ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere.
We set off the next day along smooth roads, and I was confident in my argument that the rim would hold out, having covered 80km without incident. On reaching the outskirts of Nova Palmiro on the River Plate though the road deteriorated into potholes.
This was too much for the rim, which cracked further creating a sharp hole that the inner tube caught on, blowing out the tyre. Laura’s look said it all, but I was just extremely relieved to be within walking distance of a hotel and not to have been travelling faster than I was.
On inspection it was clear there was no way the wheel was ride-able. There was no other option but to complete the last 100km of our journey through Uruguay by bus.
We had to wait overnight and then found ourselves wound up by bus company bureaucracy, delays and the noise of the bikes bouncing around in the luggage compartments below us throughout the ride. Sat on a stuffy bus we whizzed along to Colonia missing the countryside we’d have cycled through. The whole bus experience made us realise how lucky we are to be able to cycle where and where we want, taking in the world around us.
We’ve also begun to understand that as physically challenging as this trip will be, it is the mental test that is going to be the hardest. We are still very much of the mindset of wanting to do things to our schedule. Slowly, we are beginning to appreciate that things will sometimes be beyond our control and we will have to learn to be patient.
The lesson begins now as we wait for the rim to arrive and the wheel to be repaired. Fortunately we had some downtime planned anyway, including a day trip to the Uruguayan capital Montevideo before heading to Buenos Aires on a short ferry ride across the River Plate. Not a bad place to be stranded for sure.