For the last two days we've been unable to travel more than 40km at a stretch on our Mobylette without the rear tire going flat. In every instance there has been a repair shop within walking distance and/or many people determined to help us. This has been both a blessing and a curse. With four people at a minimum swarming us the moment we pull off the road or into a repair shop (all trying to fix our scooter with enough speed to win the Dakar Rally), it has been very difficult to solve problems for ourselves.
With our reservation at Hotel Pansea in Ksar Ghilane only a day away and no reliable method of self-transport at hand, we decided to ask around about getting a ride. We were shocked to learn that the run would cost more than we paid for our Mobylette! The round trip from Douz appears to go for about 250 TND (roughly $190 USD) per person. Just as we were about to blow the whole thing off, we met a friendly woman named Nour at the Desert Horizons travel agency across the street from our hotel. Draped in colorful shawls, her head wrapped in a turban of silk, she emerged with a wide smile from her office to see how she could help.
It was a breath a fresh air when Nour was remarkably enthusiastic about our hope to ride a Mobylette to Ksar Ghilane. Unlike everyone else we'd spoken with who more or less told us we were crazy to even consider it, Nour thought it was a wonderful idea and "très originale!" Not only did she offer the services of her company to pick us up if we broke down, but she was also sure it would be no problem for her to contact the hitherto uncontactable Hotel Pansea for us the following morning.
With four flats and one most likely unneeded pair of shocks behind us, we decided to take one last test ride. Hopeful that our problems were over, we agreed if we could cover 80km without issue, we'd be willing to attempt the trek to Ksar Ghilane the following day (150km from Douz into the Sahara). Armed with a spare tube and all the tools required to remove our rear wheel, we hit the road. El Faouar, a small oasis village 40km away was our destination.
We barely made it 25km before our rear tire went flat with the dreaded "thunk-squish-thunk of doom". As we pulled to the side of the road, our hopes were dashed. Feeling utterly defeated, I grabbed our tools and removed the rear wheel and tire. Fortunately, nobody was around. For the first time since our troubles began, I actually took the time to look at the problem. I couldn't help but mentally kick myself for not doing this sooner because as soon as I did, the source of our constant flats instantly became apparent.
The nylon belting on the inside of our tire was completely shredded on the left side. This rough, fibrous surface was obviously the problem. Indeed, the left side of our formerly (35km ago) new tube was scuffed as though someone had vigorously attacked it with sandpaper. If anyone (namely, me) had taken two minutes to look for the source of our issue rather than patching or replacing the tube and sending us down the road, this would have been obvious. And so, I put another tube into the shredder, hopeful that we'd make it back to Douz.
Just moments later, four young Tunisian guys arrived and more or less took over the rest of our repair. We did our best to explain that we had everything under control but once again there were eight hands jumping around smashing and pushing and pulling and yelling and helping to get us back on the road NOW. It was really frustrating, but of course they were only trying to help. After ten thousand "ça va?"s (roughly translated from French as "everything okay?") they finally left.
With fingers crossed, we headed back to Douz. At the nearest shop we purchased a new tire for the paltry sum of 20 TND, took it back to the garage of our hotel, and closed everyone out. With a bit of much needed privacy, we took our time working as a team to remove the rear wheel, replace the tire and tube (after only 10km the new tube was already noticeably scuffed) and re-mount the wheel/tension the chain. One hour later we emerged, covered in grease, and successful!
All that remained was another test run. After cleaning ourselves up, we went out again, this time covering 70km without issue, riding back into Douz as the sun was setting. Confident we could make it to Ksar Ghilane, and elated we'd fixed the problem together, we exchanged dirty high-fives and went around town getting supplies (two extra bottles of fuel strapped to the back, food, water, spare tubes just in case etc).
Tomorrow morning Nour from the agency will call Hotel Pansea for us to make sure they know we're coming. She'll even try to haggle with them to lower our costs, since our failed attempts at contacting them repeatedly for over a week is, in her words, unacceptable!