Very excited about our first day cycling in almost a month, we were packed and ready to go in record time this morning. Before we left, Tyler ran over to Cafe la Corniche to say goodbye to Yousri while I jogged over to the pastry shop to pick up a quick breakfast.
Chores completed, we waved goodbye to everyone and cycled off in order to catch the 9:30 ferry to Sfax. We were already cutting it pretty close: it was 8:30 and the ferry port was 25 kilometers away. Provided there weren't any headwinds, we thought could make it.
About five kilometers out of town, Tyler's rear tire emitted a few quiet thwack, thwack, thwack noises before a final, shotgun blasting BLAM made him limp to a halt. This wasn't just a any old flat, it was our first honest to goodness blowout. Making matters worse, when we looked at his tire, we saw this giant gash, presumably caused by the rim digging into it after it blew.
With a sigh, we hauled our bikes to the side of the road. While Tyler got to work, switching his front tire for the rear (hopefully lessening the strain on our now slightly ruined Marathon XR), I went to take photos of the ever-alluring Kerkennah coastline.
When Tyler removed the shredded rubber tube from his rear tire, we realized we were down to our last spare! With a groan, we decided it would be wise to go back to Remla for a few more. This turned out to be a very good decision.
Bike shops are scarce in Tunisia so we were happy that it was only a five kilometer ride to the nearest one: Remla's tiny closet-sized room strewn about with random bike parts. Unfortunately they only carried tubes with very short presta valves.
Our front rims, Deep-V Chukkers require very long valves (one more reason not to tour with them) which meant these spares would only be good for rear tube replacements. After nine months we're still running the same ones we started with up front; we weren't too worried about it.
Since we'd already missed the boat, we took our time heading to the port in Sidi Youssef. The next ferry wouldn't sail until 12:30… we had plenty of time! Not three kilometers out of town, I heard my rear tire ever so quietly go "thwack." I couldn't even finish my thought of "ohhh sh*t!" before my own gunshot of a flat reverberated through the calm Kerkennah air.
As I was slowing to a stop, Tyler pulled up beside me. I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard a tell-tale "pssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" of air escaping from his front tire, probably pinched when he switched them less than an hour ago. Seriously?! As his front tire slowly deflated, so did our spirits.
Thinking that at this rate we might never, ever, EVER make it off the islands and out of Tunisia, we schlepped our bikes to the ground and started disassembling them again so we could remove the tires. What was causing these flats?! Were our brand new rims somehow incompatible with our Marathon XR tires? Were we over inflating them? Were both our pumps' PSI gauges reading the same, incorrect pressures? Had we somehow pinched both of our tubes when we installed them?
While we sat by the side of the road with our belongings strewn everywhere like a cartoon bomb had gone off, Tyler located the problem. Our rim tape wasn't wide enough. In several places, the sharp edged spoke holes were ever so slightly visible. For my rear tire, he wrapped the rim with several rounds of electrical tape (using it up completely in the the process).
After a few minutes of mulling over the idea of taking another trip to Remla to get more rim tape, inspiration struck. He wanted to cut a band of rubber from one of the exploded tubes so he could wrap it around the inside of his rim. "Could you get me the scissors?" he asked.
Our scissors live in the cooking pannier (not sure why, but they do) and so I went to fish them out. I unhooked all the fasteners and opened up my Ortlieb pannier only to find that I had left the cap of our dish soap open AND had left it on its side. I am a fastidious cap-closer, and I NEVER pack liquids on their sides. Except today. The highly concentrated goober was now all over my jacket, our bag of spices, and the entire inside of my pannier. I cursed. I sighed. I found the scissors, I handed them to Tyler. I began to clean up the mess.
To close the dish washing liquid bottle, I flipped it over quickly and smacked it on the ground. Though I've done this before many times, it is obviously not a wise move. Unsurprisingly, this time, the nose of the bottle broke through its plastic base, and rendered the whole thing cracked, leaking, and now impossible to close.
Thinking it was about time that we eat something before we freak out, I went to get the pastries from my handle bar bag. When I popped it open, the pastries fell face-first into the dirt. Not that that stopped us from eating them, but it did add insult to injury.
Meanwhile Tyler was still trying to resolve our tire situation. He had located the leak in his front tube and patched it (as we have done countless times before). After reassembly, it became apparent that the valve had somehow failed and would no longer hold pressure. Since only some of the tubes were usable up front, there was a lot of switching going on.
Finally, every tire except my front was patched, switched or replaced. We put everything back together and looked at the little clock on my speedometer. It was 12:30, and our ship was sailing. By this point we were completely numb to the absurdity of our situation and neither of us cared. We'd just have to take the next one.
Sure enough, the rim tape turned out to be the problem. We were able to ride the rest of the day without further mechanical issues. Physical problems were another matter. We were only two kilometers from Sidi Youssef when we had to stop because we were practically incapable of pedaling and both of our hands were shaky.
After a month off, we'd forgotten what it was like to NEED FOOD NOW! A little delirious but laughing, we hungrily wolfed down a package of cookies so we could make the final whopping *2* kilometers to the ferry port. There, we bought cheese and egg chapatis (bread with harissa, omelette, and fakey cheese) and waited to board the ferry.
The ride smoothed our moods considerably and we both enjoyed a piping hot cafe au lait as we read our books for the entire sailing. An hour later, we arrived in busy, noisy Sfax, navigated our way out of town, and forced our whiny legs to carry on until we found a suitable free-camp. Behind an abandoned building, amid broken glass, barbed wire, and decaying dog carcasses, we made our home for the night. Oh yeah, this is the life!