Tour de Thailand
May 10, 2005
Today we went for a mountain biking adventure on the Doi Pui mountain, which is the 3rd highest mountain peak in Thailand. After a quick 30 minute ride out of Chiang Mai we were given a basic lesson on mountain biking to ensure everyone was on the same page and then we tested out our bikes. My initial reaction was that mine was in need of a tune up but I thought it probably would be okay because it wouldn't be that intense. We donned our protective gear and this is where you can see first hand Sponge Bob Square Pants in real life. See below. For some reason I always get yellow jerseys when we do these adventure outings.
Preparation and warm up
We started out on pavement and quickly moved on to a dirt path to work on some of our techniques. It had rained steadily on Saturday and Sunday so it made the paths somewhat muddy and wet so we started out slow and with mild trepidation. Our instructor Kent warned about the trails containing numerous rock gardens and large tree limbs and roots. He also mentioned that he went down the day before and had the scraps to prove it so I was feeling that this might be more than we thought it would be. We made it through the first section of riding without too many tumbles. Lynn from Scotland was our first crash and a fellow who will be unnamed also did a quick tumble but nothing was bruised but his ego. After about 30 minutes of riding we stopped at a local village and had some snacks and discussed the next portion of our ride. At the village Kent indicated to make sure we left the local rooster alone because the woman who worked the coffee stand said it had Bird Flu. See here to learn more : www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/gen-info/facts.htm
Crazy! Of course one guy in our trip who I don't think understood English completely went up to the rooster and tried to touch it's beak and pretty much egging it on to bite him. All of us sat back in horror and amazement. After everyone finished their snacks I went around and took some pictures of the village. There were a couple of cabins in the area that were available for rent which I'm sure would have been a trip to stay in. As you can see the scenery was lush and beautiful.
Before we headed out on the next section of our trip Kent discussed each route and their terrain. Craig and I had signed up for Trip #3 which was described as being good for "motivated beginners to experts." We felt like we fit within that description. Another guy in our group had signed up for Trip #2 which is essentially the same as #3. Well Kent went into the specifics of our trails and went on to note that he didn't "think that I(Tina) could handle the uphill" as it was really steep. Anyone who knows me can guess what happened next. I thought to myself, "We'll see about that" and Craig, Ian and I all agreed to ride the same trail and give it a try. Kent was really trying to talk us out of it but we were set on doing what we signed up for. We got back on our bikes and said goodbye to the others in our group and started off for the Highlanders Route. Two of the other guides came with us to make sure we had plenty of help if needed. Their names were Lek and Lou.
Nervous energy and pain sets in
So as we get started we immediately start climbing and deep down I'm a bit nervous because I'm wondering if I can keep up w/ 4 guys with no fear cells in their bodies. The scenery is gorgeous and I'm trying to take it in but with the trail being single track and quite rocky I can't really look up for more than one second or I'd bite it. We start coming into a really technical part of the trail. This is where I really start thinking I might have made a mistake. When Kent indicated I might not be able to handle it I told him I could do the uphill but the technical stuff would be tricky for me. I made it through the first section okay but almost got hit by a random moped on the trail around one corner. That got the heart pounding. I felt like we were in "no mans land" and all of a sudden there would be a moped coming down the trail with no less than two people on it. Throughout the trip our guides would stop to make sure everyone caught back up and were feeling okay. We stopped in a Hmong village to catch our breaths and Lek described the next portion as "uphill" and that we'd have to walk our bikes up the first 10 minutes because it was too rocky and steep. Just walking the bikes was burning our legs and lungs and soon Craig, Ian and myself were laughing at the predicament we put ourselves in. Plunging our bodies onto our bikes we started to climb and get ourselves into a rhythm. Making sure I was in the easiest gear I was in front behind Lek and was feeling pretty good, except for the heat. It was about 1:00pm when we started the climb and the sun and humidity were at their full intensity. We climbed for about 15 minute increments and would stop to catch our breath. I found myself loving this part but Craig and Ian were less enthusiastic. Ian noted that he was surprised at how out of shape he'd gotten while traveling and Craig couldn't talk. I was absolutely invigorated. Partly I was motivated to prove that a girl could handle the uphill and secondly I was thrilled to be riding in such a truly amazing area. When in my life will I mountain bike through rural villages in Thailand again? I had a lot of time to talk w/ Lek during our rest breaks and we shared stories of where we are from as well as some lychees which he pulled from the trees along the path. I can't even describe the zone I was in and how intense the day was mentally and physically. Our second big break was where I got a tad nervous for Craig and Ian. We were wearing all sorts of padding and protective gear and with the weather being what it was the both of them were really sweating and I wondering if heat exhaustion might be a concern. Craig laid down for a bit under a tree and we got a few lychees in him for a sugar zap. After resting we got "back in the saddle again" and continued our climb. Not only we were climbing 1000 feet the trail wasn't packed dirt or concrete so you had to be completely focused on every move you made because one hesitation or wrong path could take you into a rut and it was hard to get your cadence back. One more break and one more climb and Lek and Lou promised we'd be at the top. They made good on that promise and we couldn't be happier. We all sighed with relief and took the view in from the top and were so happy to hear the rest would be downhill, our new favorite word for the day. As rain approached we got going for the downhill section.
Watch out for a couple of rocks and trees, and oh yeah and some cars, trucks and mopeds
On the way down I quickly moved to the back of the pack because the rocks, ruts and roots were just a bit scary for me. My hands were clenched so hard on my breaks that I literally couldn't shift my gears because my hands had turned into The Claw. I went slower than the guys but I just didn't want to go to the hospital for a smashed face or ruin a great day by getting hurt. As Lou kept me company he would whistle during the hard areas to keep me relaxed. At one point I felt my back end continually wanted to raise up and I was getting really nervous because I seemed to be losing momentum. A quick glance down I realized my front tire had blown. We stopped and Lou quickly assessed the problem and got a new tire put on for me. While he was changing the tire he looked up the trail past me with a slightly fearful glance. I looked at him and thought oh man what is going on. I turned around to see a elderly man riding his moped down the rutty and rocky trail. The moped wasn't on but he was just coasting down the trail in stealth like mode. It freaked us both out. He was a nice man and we exchanged pleasantries with facial expressions and hand gestures. Once the tire was fixed I rounded the corner just as the rain started to come down only to see that Craig, Ian and Lek had also stopped to fix Lek's flat tire. Craig's face was one of relief because he didn't have a clue what happened to me as he couldn't see where we stopped because of the thick bamboo and evergreen forest. As we waited for Lek to fix his tire I mentioned to Craig my left peddle was also feeling weird and sure enough it was inches from coming completely off. Fortunately Lou had all the necessary tools and he fixed that as well. My initial thoughts on my bike were dead on. My chain came off twice along w/ the flat tire and my peddle issue. We continued our descent with even more caution because the rain was making the trail really slick. Along the way there were some random shelters constructed where men were waiting out the storm and they always had a bewildered look on their face as we'd pass. The were probably thinking "What the hell are these farang (Thai for foreigners) doing?" We all made it down to the actual road and were ready for the final portion of our day.
The end is in sight
As the rain continued to come down in sheets we hit the road and soared down the hills on our way back into civilization. Along the way there was a little grass fire going on which was another bizarre addition to the day. Neither Lek or Lou seemed concerned as they said last week they rode through a fire on both sides of the trail during the ascent. The farther down we rode the busier the road was getting. This was particularly nerve wracking as we were on wet concrete descending rather quickly with constant oncoming traffic approaching. We all must have went into our happy places because even though we were all nervous we were having a blast. Lou was such a good spirit and kept singing and commenting how beautiful and what a great day it was which was completely true! For only being 19 he was really wise and such a great guy to hang with during the downhill section. It's hard to describe but even the main road seemed so remote but all down the road there were make shifts cafes and vendors on each side of us. Dogs crossing the road, children playing in the mud and more locals looking at us with bewilderment. It was such a trip and the senses were overloaded. The rain was making mud waterfalls to our left which eventually washed across the road which made your heart pound even harder. Finally we made our last right turn into another super cool village and met up with our other group members to have a welcomed drink and some food. The three of us were so happy to have made it in one piece and the others were amazed at how we looked. We were completely soaked head to toe with a mix of mud, rain and sweat. The lunch was an amazing way to end the day as the restaurant was set amongst the largest garden of orchids I've ever seen. There were literally growing hundreds of variations but unfortunately only a few were blooming this time of the year and I didn't have the energy to take any pictures of those.
As you may have guessed this day was an amazing one!! There was just something about the day which is hard to explain but it will definitely be going down in my personal record book. I felt an amazing sense of gratitude to be able to physically have the capacity to do such a trip and that it was in Thailand was like a thick layer of creamy icing on the cake.
I hope that you enjoyed reading about trip as much as we did experiencing it. It will inevitably come up in further discussions once we come home.
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