South East Asia #3- Surprise 100km

Having completed the first forty kilometres and first day of cycling I was surprised to find myself in a fresh and energetic condition and, dare I say it, was eager to crack on with the days cycle. Having glanced over the itinerary my mum had safely stored in one of those plastic paper wallets her generation swear by to keep any documents safe on the road, it was clear that it was intended that the duration of bike time would gently increase throughout the week as we were eased into the cycling lifestyle. This itinerary was shredded, fed to the dogs, the remains then collected and thrown out the window. Rong, our Cambodian cycling champion guide, disposed of the plan as one would dispose a banana skin and almost doubled our days cycling to 100km. I had never cycled 100km in my life, probably not even accumulated 100km by bike in my nineteen-year existence, I once cycled the five kilometres to work in town and had to get dropped back home by car at the end of the day because I couldn’t face the cycle home. I had a lot of love for Rong, he set a nice pace and was the most contagiously happy bloke I’ve ever met, but when he announced it was a century of kilometres to the next place I could lie down he temporarily became the most hated person in my life, leap frogging Karl Von Drais who is to blame for inventing the bicycle two hundred years previously (two years for every one I had to cycle). I questioned his decision, before realising I should question the itinerary as there isn’t too much Rong could do about the distance between the hotels that were organised by the tour company, and began to worry about what other surprise distances lay ahead. Rong could’ve just been taking us on the scenic route, or maybe he was impressed by Nick and Reya’s lycra and fancy helmets, all I knew was I was not overly ecstatic about the change.

Considering my training consisted of drinking beers and a marvellously cheap brand of rum called ‘Old Nicks’ in the French Alps, I wasn’t too optimistic about my chances of making it to Chatamburi where we would be spending the night. As our pair of professionals stretched and tampered with their pedals, I begrudgingly awaited to get going, pondering the prospects of what would kill me first out of the heat, exhaustion and Nick’s relentless self-glorification. My mum was also a bit nervous as she recovered from the shock of the new route, but she has cycled 100km on a few occasions and is generally an amazingly determined, fit woman so she would crack it no problem, I could only hope I had inherited some of her resolute qualities. We set off from the sanctuary of our beach side hotel amidst a heavy drizzle of rain, which I guess is just normal rain, and I celebrated the completion of the first metre as it meant only 99999 remained (I had enough time on the cycle to do the math). When only 99000 metres remained, I was delighted to discover that not only were my legs still working relatively easily but that the rain had also stopped drizzling as we left the roads and cut into the jungle.

Once we were suitably far (lost?) from the roads we had a little break to rummage around the rubber tree plantations, which are incredible lines of trees with little latex collecting pots attached which slowly fill up. It takes six years for a tree to grow to an economical size to harvest, and then just six hours for the pot to fill, after the bark is expurgated and rubber flows like blood from a small cut. Whilst I was just grateful for the reprise from the bike saddle and a chance to get some water, Nick was keen to learn more about the harvesting process, presumably asking how many latex laden pots he would need to craft some kinky cycle wear, which is a horrible image. Over the next few days I learnt a lot about rubber, probably more than I’ll ever need to know unless a rubber round comes up in the pub quiz, but it’s nice to know I have more useless knowledge to bolster an already sufficient pile of useless facts. Rubber farms were only the beginning, after 100km’s of cycling through the Thai countryside you will most likely have encountered all variations of farm from fish to fruit and mangrove to cattle, which can all become entertaining once you reach a certain point of exhaustion derived deliria.

Powered by bananas, I worked my way through the cycle and across the east of Thailand and eventually wound up in Chantamburi. After excessive exertion I was ready for a swim, beer and a pile of pad thai which I was dreaming of for the final few kilometres, but to get to them I would have to cycle through the middle of this crazy city. I get nervous cycling into Gloucester so you can probably imagine my fear as we approached the busy roads of the city. South East Asian roads are a hectic place at the best of times, with hundreds of mopeds and tuk tuks meandering down the roads, interspersed by suicidal chickens trying to cross the road for reasons I still don’t know, but I didn’t like their odds of getting to the fabled other side. Trying to pedal through these lanes of inevitable death is terrifyingly fun, dodging poultry and market stalls a like, and even having a haggle and despite the traffic’s proximity the urban end to the long day was an enjoyably awakening one as the adrenaline kicked in and I arrived at the hotel proud of what me and my mum had achieved, and also a little wiser about rubber production.

May 2017

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