After this readjustment to the road, the day was going swimmingly. A fiery Korean lunch, was digested with a dip into a desert oasis. It was only then that theme for the next new days burst forth. The punctures tapped in with a quick 'clink, clink, clink'. With a single glance I discovered the culprit: A cartoonishly large screw had pierced the rear tire, straight out of an ACME crate from Loony Tunes, our kevlar armoured tires didn't stand a chance. With this eventually repaired and dusk blending into the sky, we pushed a little while on, and set camp - alone in the scrub land.
A flock of sheep awoke us across the river we had found, grazing on what should have bee our luscious campsite. All the same we were set for a good day saddle. At least we were for 50m until I realised the rear had gone again in the night, this time a split near the valve that rendered the tube impossible to repair. We had nursed a single spare tube over the whole of Central Asia, unable to find the correct size and valve type anywhere. We had struck gold in Almaty and were now +4. Although now +3 with the devilish roads of west Kazakhstan and Mongolia looming before us, maintaining a stock of spares was vital. Grubby hands and a sweaty record speed change later, we were rolling again, and laughing how 6 months of me cycling with punctures probably deserved 2 in 12 hours anyway. Little did I know what was ahead of me.
A few hours later, and again I felt that distinctive twisting, turning tire-spin that means just one thing on the rear. We stopped at a nearby cafe, puncture number 3 on the rear, this time a changed in a silence of forced equanimity. A vicious piece of metal, like a sharpened and straightened staple, was found and removed. Before we could get going again though, I got that sinking feeling. Flacid once more, that staples dancing partner had stayed in the tire and had now caused another. This tube had now had 3 gummy repair stickers and was starting to resemble the grimy underside of a school desk. Relieved that that would be the end of it, we were off once more, ready to push and capture the lost KM's.
We lasted a good 70km cycling dead straight through barren desert shrub, roadside carcasses desiccating in the sun were the only signs of life. Just as our lunch stop appeared on the horizon, as if to taunt us: rear puncture. I limped and pumped my way into town, and on arriving at a cafe, I left the cause of my recent woe behind in search of some inevitable shashlik and restorative ice tea. Mechanics must eat too.
At this point, we were convinced that this ordeal was a test from on high, ensuring our continued serenity in the face was the only way to pass through this and be admitted to a pantheon of true tour cyclists. With these lofty thoughts foist in my mind, I found a fresh mosaic of holes in my inner tube, 5 in total, spread on the other side to the morning's problems. Full blown surgery was now in order, we spent a good 90 minutes with tweezers and a needle on a search and remove mission in the day's heat. Again it was the same metal pins, they seemed almost tailor-made to the task of puncturing a tire that was marketed as puncture proof, and then concealing themselves within the rubber like metal moles to avoid identification. We dug out a handful of these calthrops, each find bringing a rush of triumph, the glueing and gumming followed, the school desk now despicably covered in these sticky splodges. I looked over the tire itself, it's tread was balding after 12,000 km, and surgery had left the tire with small craters inside and out like a stretch of blackened no-man's land running in a ring. Incredibly, we hadn't brought a spare, wowed as we were by shop claims of round-the-world on a single set, and now it all seemed hopeless. Quickly getting a replacement seemed impossible, until we met Alec. Another customer at the cafe, he was heading back to Almaty and promised us he would send a tire with his friend coming this way in 3 days. Moreover, we could stay at a resort on lake Alaqol, where he was managing construction work at. Oh the wheel of fortune.
For the mean time, the front tire was only half as worn as the rear due to the weight distribution of me and the panniers, so we switched the tires across the wheels as a stop-gap to carry us to the lake. This seemed to be the finale of the ordeal 8 punctures in total, and acting mechanic on 5 occasions. Short of the magic 10,000 hours to mastery, but it didn't feel that way. There was even a small encore the following morning, the tire was flat again on awakening. This sight on opening the eyes, and apparently losing a pair of sunglasses, was enough to throw me in the rotten mood I had had during the whole tour, my mantra of 'tis as is' disintegrated, a foul nadir followed in its place. This was only partially lightened, when I saw the problem was loosened repair-work and not another steel devil-prick. The emotive power of a ring of rubber and a half dozen metal fragments was truly astonishing. That my mood so closely followed the air pressure in a rubber tube is something to work on further.