I rode for over 10,000km throughout Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and never had major problems with my bike. Not a single flat tire. But...
There was that one time where I ended up here:
Where is 'here' exactly? A small village in the mountains of Laos somewhere between Phonsavan and Xam Nuea. The ride was absolutely stunning, climbing and descending a thousand kilometers at a time up and down and around the mountains. To give you an idea, below is a photo taken on the same day:
There wasn't a soul on the road. The first 4 hours I saw one other vehicle and passed through 3 small villages. I was thoroughly enjoying the beautiful scenery and the thrill of the ride around hairpin mountain turns.
While downshifting around a sharp corner, I heard a snap. Coming out of the corner, I tried to gear back up and realized that my clutch, usually feeling like an extension of my hand, was now flopping around and not connected to anything at all.
I wasn't an expert with motorcycle mechanics at this point (and I still have a lot to learn), so you can imagine my instant, semi-blinding panic. You need to be able to shift gears when driving in the mountains. It's essential. Through the onslaught of scrambled thoughts of what the hell I was going to do, my brother's voice came into my head clear as day. He said, "Katie, calm down. Speed up a bit to gain momentum to get up the next stretch to the top, cruise down, and keep repeating this, until you get to a village." So that's what I did.
20km of my heart pumping out of my chest while maintaining the clearest focus I've ever experienced, I approached a small village. At the very top of a steep hill, right in front of a small shop with two women sitting out front, I stalled.
Through the use of smiling and hand gestures, I managed to convey that my bike was broken. They helped me push my bike up through the village to the mechanic's shop at the top of another hill, then waved goodbye, leaving me with five boys who's ages (I think) ranged from 5 to 16.
I showed them my hand clutch, the foot gear shift, and upon inspection of my clutch cord, the pin had snapped off but the cord was in tact. The eldest of the group starts playing around with it, looking at my wheel thinking that it's a gear break. My hopes sunk with the realization that they had never seen a clutch before. I stood back, weighing my options, and checked if my phone had any signal to get online instructions and google translate for fixing a clutch. Not a single bar of signal appeared. When I looked up, there was an older man walking past and looking over curiously. His demeanour quite serious, he was dressed in full army clothes, contrasted by an oversized floppy sunhat. A hunting rifle was strapped across his back, a water skin on his right hip, and a newly sharpened machete on his left hip.
Of course I waved him over.
He grinned from ear-to-ear, the wrinkles from the sun and age turning his face from a serious man to a jovial grandfather in an instant. He proceeded to host a mini-lesson with the kids, showing them the mechanics of a clutch, all of them huddled around listening intently. Together, they got the pin back together and my clutch working. The man waved and strolled on off without a glance back. When I showed my wallet to ask how much, they just waved at me to say 'no money'. Leaving me there looking confused, the kids went back to playing or sitting down and chatting with each other. I took the equivalent of $5 out and said '2 beers' in Laotian, pushing the money into the eldest's hands, got back on my bike, and rode off.
To this day, it still blows my mind how generous and humble complete strangers have been to me throughout my journey. The kids could have asked for all of my money and I would have willingly given them everything I had. In the remote mountains of Laos, five boys and a man reminded me what it means to be humble, generous, and to express gratitude every single day.