Near Death on Route 13



Having done all of what Savannakhet had to offer (a scantily filled dinosaur museum and the monkey forest) Ricky and I decided that we would leave today.  We filled up the bikes and the spare gas can (which took nearly all the money in my wallet, which wasn’t much) and paid our bill for the room (which took nearly all the money in Ricky’s wallet, which was quite a bit more). We still had money, because we never leave a town empty-handed. We had enough for a couple of food stops and more gas should we need it.  This was to be a long ride, and we thought we were pretty prepared for it. We had water, money, toilet paper, all the essentials.

Well, we weren’t really prepared.

See, since our trip to Monkey Forest, my bike had been feeling a bit wobbly, like the steering was a bit loose or something.  We got out onto the road and things were fine. After about an hour or so, my bike started feeling a bit looser still, so I slowed down from 80 km per hour to about 70, thinking I was just going a little too fast. Ricky was still going fast, so distance grew between our bikes.

I had just crested a hill when disaster struck. All of a sudden I lost absolute control of the bike. The front and back wheels seemed to be fighting for control and I swerved out into the middle of the road. It felt as if some unseen hands were pulling the handlebars back and forth while someone else pulled the back tire in the opposite direction.

I was going about 70 km per hour still and didn’t know what to do. If you recall, I’m fairly new to the motorbike scene, having learned to ride them just over a month ago. I didn’t really know how to handle this. My hand was off the accelerator, but I didn’t know if I should brake, and if I should use the front or back brake, so I think I may have eased both of them on. To be honest I don’t really remember. I remember saying “oh no oh no oh no oh no” over and over as I swerved out of control. All of a sudden I was at the side of the road, unharmed but in shock. I pushed myself off the bike and immediately burst into sobs.

I turned to face the road as I saw Ricky’s bike climb a hill and disappear over the top. I knew he would turn around as soon as he saw I wasn’t behind him, but all I could do was shake and cry as I waited.  Eventually I saw the glint of the silver front of Betsy Black, and then Ricky was parked behind me.

Before he had properly dismounted the bike I was on him, still shaking, holding onto his neck while he attempted to disentangle himself from his headphones. He looked over me for scratches and asked if I had fallen. All I could say was a simple no, and keep holding on.

When I had composed myself a bit, I told him what had happened, and that my steering might be loose. After a short inspection, however, the truth became clear. About 6 or 7 spokes on my back wheel had snapped off, which had caused all the wobbling. The wheel was frighteningly loose when we tested it; it was amazing that I hadn’t gone careening off the road and fallen off.

We tried to figure out what to do. The bike was all but undrive-able, and we didn’t know where we could go to fix it.  We also don’t speak Lao, so we also had that against us.

Ricky flagged down a man on a bike and mimed that we had a problem. The man pointed the way we had come, so Ricky hopped on the bike and was led to a repair shop. Or repair shack.  He came back and I took his bike to the shack while he drove mine. He ended up having to push it (uphill) because the back tire soon got flat with all the wobbling. He arrived drenched in sweat, panting from the exertion and the heat, ever my hero.

The repair shack that luckily wasn't too far away.


After some work and a little more miming, I ended up with a new wheel and tube. The price came to 175,000 kip, about double what we actually had with us.  I was cursing myself that I didn’t go to an ATM before we left. The nearest ATM was in Savannakhet, the town we had just left. We had already had a late start on the long drive, and adding a couple extra hours would leave us arriving well after dark in Paxse. And after the fright and the trouble, neither of us wanted to do much more driving. Instead, we told the repairman, and half the village that had come to gawk, that we would go to Savannakhet, sleep there, and return in the morning with the money.

My old wheel with the broken spokes, next to the tire.

Pictured: Instant Death


They agreed, and we left them working on the bike and put our huge backpacks in another building as collateral, and also because we couldn’t take them with us back to town with only one bike.

My new wheel leaning against the bike.


So here we are, back in Savannakhet. The lady at the guesthouse was surprised to see us, but gave us our old room, without even making us re-check in and told us to relax.

We took her advice and will depart for take two of the drive to Paxse in the morning. Wish us luck!

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