The front rack of my bike was shaking. Chris and I were pedaling on a major highway, trying to nail down the first few kilometers of what was supposed to be an easy day. We were in a hurry to get to Nagpur and catch a train to Mumbai, and I was looking forward to it, because Mumbai would offer luxuries I hadn’t tasted in many weeks. We were riding a smooth and new road, a walk in the park for my equipment, but the rack was upset. I called a halt to investigate.
The s-shaped rack was attached to my fork at two points, top and bottom, by screws that connected to threaded eyelets. The bottom screw had broken, and was flush to the eyelet on both sides. This was a problem. A broken rack meant that I couldn’t carry my front bags. We could not move forward.
“Think we should tie it?”
“Wire would be best.”
“Let’s walk over to the gas station and ask for some.”
This was not the first time we’d dealt with issues like this. A different rack had snapped in Georgia, which had threatened the tour. That time I had transferred all the weight to the back of my bike, 25 pounds of it, and it had worked for three days until I lost control going down a hill and warped a wheel. Then, I’d been forced to call it quits and put my bike on top of a van to Tblisi.
In India, there was no need for quitting. Wire would hold it, we hoped. The fact that our tightly scheduled tour to Nagpur was at the mercy of the success of the wire did not occur to us, or if it did we deemed it too unimportant to waste energy worrying. We would get to Nagpur either way, the question only laying in how big of a hill getting my bike operational again would prove to be. We are good at climbing hills, though we still prefer the flatlands.
A gas station attendant proudly handed us an old electrical plug, which we stripped to serve our purposes. The wire experiment worked. We turned our wheels again for Nagpur, though I kept glancing nervously at the rack and my shaking bag.
Two days later, the problem threatened to stop our progress again. It got bigger. The bolt could not be extracted because there was nothing for a wrench to grab onto. It would have to be drilled out, in such a way that a new thread could be put into the eyelet. The actual size of the thread was left to question, because it might have to be drilled larger than the old one. Our host in the city spent his afternoon with us, driving from metal shop to metal shop to find the man who could drill out my bolt. It was tiring. He was a difficult man to find, and most of those who we talked to were unenthusiastic about offering help.
We eventually found the right shop, whose manager was taking a grease bath under a propped rickshaw. He crawled out and leaned into the car and rubbed the eyelet with his finger.
“Yes sir, I can do that. But I do not know if I will be able to keep it five millimeters.”
I hoped he would. I did not want to have to drill my rack thread larger as well, or use a weaker bolt secured with a nut. These were problems that would once again threaten our ability to bike forward, our cardinal measure of achievement.
I was left to the mercy of the shop. The place itself was cramped. It had dirt floors and many machines of strange purpose, a lot of clamps on the wall and old parts scattered across the floor. Four men scurried about different rickshaws in need of repair. Another four sat lazily, watching the others scurry with the eyes of critics. The man we had talked to returned to the greasebath with a different wrench. He seemed to be the only one who could help us, but he was busy, and it wasn’t clear when he’d get to the bike.
“Let’s go have a drink.” A bar seemed the appropriate waiting room.
I didn’t want to think about the man attempting to redrill that hole into my bike frame. The frame was costly, and hardly useful for the purposes of bike touring without a functioning eyelet on the right fork.
We drank beer, and had a second round, and the waiter brought more peanuts three times.
I did not mention the bicycle, though the threaded tops of the beer bottles that screwed the caps in place made me think of it. All the greasy man had to do was flick his wrist the wrong way, and we would be stuck. Nagpur was dirty and uninspiring, and we wanted to move forward, but everything hung on the bolt and the drill, just as it had hung on the wire.
We finished the peanuts and walked back to the stand. I did not see the greasy man, but my bike was there, with a five millimeter screw that I had given him screwed into the bottom right eyelet of my front fork. It was perfectly drilled. I smiled and gave Chris a high-five. We could keep moving forward.
There will be all sorts of broken bolts on this trip. It is a lesson in humility that just one of them can destroy the grandest of our plans.