The last two days have brought to mind a Malayalam word I learnt in South India several years ago.
In describing a small but powerfully-hot chili pepper, a homestay host told me “kanthari” means “small thing is sufficient to make many troubles.”
No phrase is more applicable to bicycle touring.
We merrily began assembling our bikes without incident until I discovered the plastic ziplock bag containing the screws for my front rack (it had been taped to the rack inside the bike box) had burst.
Although we were able to recover three of the washers and screws from the folds of the box, one screw and washer had managed to migrate out of the box sometime during transit.
The second small but potentially bad thing was the fraying end of my gear cable. Although this doesn’t affect the bike’s functionality if it’s outside the pinch bolt, it looked to be on its way to fraying inside the pinch bolt and that would be a problem.
Luckily I’d brought spare brake and gear cables, and with the help of Google we found Dmitry, a bike mechanic whose workship is inside the Dinamo Stadium in Samarkand.
Possibly we could have managed to replace the cable ourselves, but having never done it and on the eve of ~2500km trip, I was keen for it to be done by a guy who knew what he was doing.
We found Dinamo Stadium on Google maps and cycled there.
Inside the gates I said “Dmitry?” to a guard while miming bicycle repair.
He pointed across the stadium and shouted to another man who beckoned us to follow him.
We wheeled our bikes the perimeter of the soccer pitch and in under the grandstand, where Dmitry emerged and greeted us with a friendly inquiry.
I showed him the fraying cable and the spare and he nodded, leading us into the gloom under the stands and up some stairs to his workshop.
He gestured for us to sit down while he poured us cold fizzy water into paper Coca Cola-branded cups.
We watched, as Russian dancehall anthems from an old radio filled the small, dim space, while he deftly threaded the new gear cable, attached the kickstand I’d been unable to do without a 14 gauge spanner and even located the correct gauge screw for my front rack.
Jack asked him if he had any spare gear cables and he fossicked in a cupboard and produced one.
All of this with virtually no language crossover, except Dmitry asking where we’re from which produced a delighted grin. He’s mostly fixing the bikes of French or Germans.
Feeling incredibly grateful, I asked how much we owed him.
10,000 s’om. That’s about $2NZD.
Bicycle touring in a remote, foreign place has heightened our awareness of small things that can balloon into big problems. A lost key. Not enough water for a day’s riding. A broken spoke.
But sometimes they lead you to a Dmitry.