Puncture in the Desert

There are some basic life skills I’m yet to master as I’ve either successfully and deliberately avoided them, or because my relatively privileged upbringing has meant I’ve never encountered them. To name just a few:

  1. I’ve never mowed grass.
  2. I don’t know how to change the car oil.
  3. I can’t clean windows streak free. 
  4. My rice is always gloopy, not fluffy. 
  5. Work shirts are never without creases. 
  6. Fitting a duvet sheet is still an effort. 

And finally:

7. I’ve never changed a bicycle tyre. 

And what better place to scratch that final one off than the middle of Chile’s Atacama Desert; the world’s driest desert. 

Our plan was to cycle to Laguna Cejar, a salt lake we could blissfully float in. The 22-mile round trip from San Pietro was fairly flat, so with some essential supplies, a shody hand-drawn map from our bike rental and a healthy dose of optimism we were on our way. 

The whole trip was surprisingly, and very uncharacteristically, a smooth ride. Cycling through the barren desert was spectacular. Our surroundings were incredible, Laguna Cejar was stunning (baltic, but stunning), we were even enjoying the cycling despite the blistering heat. Our tyres, however, were not. On our return, with 7 or 8 miles to go, my front tyre exploded and I grinded to a halt. Not quite a dramatic Hollywood explosion, throwing me off my bike – although the drama would’ve really enhanced this story. It was more of a quiet ‘pop’ from a limp, saggy, 3-day old balloon explosion. Either way, I was a tyre down. 

Was this a life or death situation? Probably not. But we were stranded in a desert, with little water, completely alone. There was enough reason to have that slight hint of justified panic in the back of our minds. Oh, and also the fact I didn’t have the slightest clue where to start with a punctured tyre. 

Our bike rental had included a tyre change kit which I dug out of my bag. We very almost didn’t bring it because it took up too much valuable space. Thankfully, we did, and instead chose to leave the Polaroid camera behind. Hindsight, we made the right decision, and avoided documenting our desert deaths on pink poc-a-dot framed Polaroids. The kit included a spanner and inner tyre so we began unbolting every screw we could get our grubby hands on. At point we had basically transformed it into a unicycle, and with our “Chuckle-Brother” routine we could’ve started a touring circus. However, an hour later, covered in grease, oil and sweat – we were back on the road. 

There have been moments where I have unjustly expected praise and validation for tasks which appear routine and unremarkable. However, I refuse to accept this is one of those occasions. If travel has taught me anything it’s how to keep cool and calm in stressful situations. That, and just winging it. And if no one is willing to validate this achievement then I’ll just continue doing what I do best, and pat myself on the back. Well done me. 


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