I sat down and wept.
It was very easy taking the back wheel off Charlene, but the truth is, I had never done it before. I imagined putting it back on and slipping the cogs onto the chain while pulling the derailleur back would be as easy as it was when I was a kid. Remember those Simplex derailleurs?
It was not so easy. In fact, it was impossible. The Shimano XTR is a wonderous thing, light as air and as smooth as silk but a total bitch if you don't have three hands. Sweating, covered in dirt and surrounded by giggling airport staff I gave up and called Sara Melki.
Sara Melki is a crazy French girl who bears an uncanny ressemblance to my daughter, Cléa, and they are the same age. Sara is a cycling freak, worse than most, and she built her own mountain bike out of bamboo – with the help of Willy at Top Cycle on 47 Don Palan Street in Vientiane. Fine, anybody can build a bicycle out of bamboo if they are insane enough, but Sara then rode it, solo, from Vientiane to Marseille.
So you can see that Sara was just the kind of fanatic I needed then and there. Luckily for me she lives in Sam Neua, of all places, working on a project having to do with ... bamboo, of course! Sara didn't answer, so I put poor Charlene back together as best I could and walked her to the hotel.
It took Sara about 1.7 seconds to put the wheel back on, giving me that look that says, 'old imbecile', and of course she was right. What kind of mad person goes traipsing around the middle of nowhere on a bike he can't even maintain?
Sara's blog: https://bamboosara.wordpress.com/
The nicest thing about Sam Neua is the road out of it. On the road to Vieng Xay I came upon a party of H'Mong school kids.
After a phô I left the main road to make my way toward the Nam Ma River. I was once again in the homeland of my heart: blue skies and comfortable temperatures with Charlene humming perfectly along dirt roads. The air was pure, so pure that when a motorbike did pass I could smell its exhaust for long minutes. Pauvres de nous who breathe in city air day after day.