Mum always joked that it was all a scam, and by the time we were faced with the arduous cycle in the sweltering climates I was hoping so. If we had fallen for some ingenious plan to part ways with our money only to arrive in Bangkok to never be picked up and discover Cambodia Cycles is a fictional lure I would’ve been delighted. It would have left me in an amazing country, with my Mum and a whole new culture to explore, and I think she was beginning to agree. We could’ve been on the white sandy beaches sipping on beers and cocktails, lapping up the sun and seeing the sites- all without the exhaustion of any pedalling. So, after an hour had passed since the tour company was due to pick us up, mum was agitatedly pacing the reception the way only a mother could whilst my mind was already on a sun lounger in Koh Tao. If we had been successfully scammed, we could give up on the thought of cycling and spend a fortnight living the dream. As I ordered my second beer to my imagined beach my illusory heaven was shattered as the van rocked up to the hotel doors to collect us. It was all real, horribly real, the bikes, the guide, the humidity, all of it- I was going to have to cycle to Cambodia. Shit.
If the prospect of the 400km cycle itself wasn’t a worrying enough prospect, the only other information we had received prior to our departure was that we would be joined by two other people who were doing a 21-day tour which carried on through Cambodia into Vietnam. We had no concrete knowledge of the pair who had dared to take on this incredible adventure but our presumptuous minds had jumped to several assumptions. Anyone who was mad enough to attempt three weeks of exercise was obviously going to be in impeccable shape and have the determination of a woodpecker, which meant they were pro cyclists who would be cruising at a remarkable pace. We basically thought we would be tagging along with Sir Bradley Wiggins (British Olympic gold medallist and Tour De France winner) and his team. As I stood by the van in my baggy t-shirt, trunks and flip flops I was expecting the door to fling open to reveal a pair of pedigree athletes looking back at me, complete with cycling shoes and shorts and top of the range lightweight, vapour releasing, go faster tops and probably a look of disappointment as they were faced with an unfit, beach ready teen. The couple in the van had the shoes, they had the shorts, they had the top of the range, lightweight, vapour releasing, go faster tops, but they were no gold medal winning world champion athletes. They were no athletes, I would dare to describe them as fat, in search for a better word (although this one works nicely). The relief as the weight of the world (or maybe even their weight) was lifted off my shoulders was amazing. The realisation that I have a chance at keeping up and completing the cycle was wonderful. The sight of the middle aged, bald, sweaty bloke sat sweltering in the pickup vehicle was one of the most reprieving sites I have seen on all of my travels.
As we were taken out of Bangkok in the van, to avoid cycling through the kamikaze, tuk tuk laden roads, I delved into the cycling history of our stout acquaintances. They had the chat to back up their tight-fitting clothes, boasting of their successful cycles through France and Japan, and in their home country of Australia. The fact they were from the notoriously sporty nation of Australia did support their claims of astonishing athleticism as Ozzy’s have a history of sporting triumph, and I wondered if I had been to quick to assume they were not at the peak of physical fitness. A lot of larger folk do have unbelievable fitness, like prop forwards in rugby or some swimmers, and maybe these two keen cyclists. The way they talked about bikes and seats and spokes only reinforced their rhetoric and once again I pondered how out of my depth I was. When we were flushed from the air-conditioned van onto the roadside and introduced to our bikes their rigorous testing was fitting to their cycle wear and they dawdled over gears and brakes and putting on their own pedals, whilst me and mum got our seats to the right heights and got comfy.
My main worry was the scorching temperature and steamy humidity but once you get moving on a bike and get a bit of breeze going the airflow is fan like in cooling you down. I settled in at the rear of the pack, taking in the coastline of Rayong and keeping an eye on the Australian cycle team wannabes. I was delighted to discover after five minutes that cycling was rather easy. My fears of early exhaustion and retirement to the support van were abandoned as I cruised along the cycle friendly roads and 40 kilometres later we arrived at our hotel. It was only after I sat down and failed to get back up that I realised I was a fool. By the end of the first day my legs were already gelatinous and incapable of carrying out the basic motor skill of walking. My mum was bounding around, eager to get to the beach and have a drink as I tried to disguise my temporary incapacitation. I placed my faith in a swim and beer to restore my legs capabilities for the following day as Neil’s irritating brags during dinner had triggered my competitive streak and I was determined to not get shown up by egotistical Ozzy the following day.