For thousands of years humanity has used forms of sunscreen to protect themselves from the damaging UV rays of the sun. The Ancient Greeks used olive oil to shield their skin and the Egyptians used extracts from jasmine and lupine plants, for thousands of years zinc oxide paste was a popular defence until the founder of L’Oreal, Eugene Schueller, introduced the first major commercial product in 1936. So, you would presume that after millennia’s of awareness of UV damage I would be wise enough to slather on some of Nivea’s finest to reduce the risk of crisping up along the Thai coast. Unfortunately, I am a tremendously foolish individual who thought that eight hours of exposed cycling in forty-degree heat wasn’t a necessary time for such precautions. It was only at lunch when Nick pointed out I was slowly changing colour that my mum thought it was the right time to apply some shielding to my unprotected shoulders.
By the next morning my back was one maple leaf short of mirroring the Canadian flag. I had two radiantly red arms and shoulder blades sandwiching a wonderfully white middle section and all the Aloe Vera in the world couldn’t have soothed the uncomfortable burning. Every second the sun emits the equivalent energy as 100 billion megaton nuclear bombs and it seemed that the entirety of this energy was funnelled towards my bare skin, as if the sun was personally insulted by my stupidity and had taken it upon itself to teach me a lesson.
As I mounted my bike for another day’s riding I struggled to maintain my seat as I slid about on a lathering of Aloe Vera and sunscreen and it was only then I realised the true aftermath of the previous days 100km. After a day at the saddle, the reverberations from the rough roads through the hard seat had wrecked my bum, making just sitting on the painfully designed bike a struggle. Not being accustomed to the prolonged attacks to my buttocks like a true cyclist, the state of my soft behind was a sorry and sore one and just getting back on the saddle was incommodious. The worst part of the whole derriere difficulty is that it was something I had actively tried to prevent. Purchasing what I hoped to be an unbeatable combination of a soft seat and padded cycling shorts I had wished to repress the ravaging of any rumps but my investments were unsuccessful in protecting my posterior as by only the third day into our adventure I was sore, so very sore. To rub salt into the wounds (metaphorically I must declare) Rong had a surprise for me. The planned 40km cycle which was on the limit of my capabilities had been miraculously upgraded to a scenic 60km to our next hotel across the border in Cambodia.
It didn’t take long to reach the border, something much owed to the minivan shuttling us up the hills to the crossing to save us having to cycle up the mountainous roads, where we arrived at the visa issuing centre. The border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia is a notoriously defamatory one, with crisp dollar bills being a great aid to get into the country, and not just for the visa fee. My experienced mother who had made the crossing before took it all in her stride, knowing where to go, how to fill in the paperwork to the authority’s requirements and even knew what to pay for the ‘service charge’ to the officials. Despite the prime example set by my mother, the official at my window wasn’t a fan of my work on the visa application form and didn’t seem delighted at my efforts. After some angry sounding Cambodian words and my best attempts at trying to understand the problem, Rong helped me straighten out the procedure and accompanied by a crack of thunder in the most pathetic of fallacies my passport was stamped, and I was granted entry.
Fortunately, the storm was brief and the rain quickly passed, rather than being a monstrous monsoon which are common in the wet season and we began cycling through the Cambodian countryside. Even in recollection I am still shocked at the startling differences in scenery when you pop over the border from Thailand. The fields seemed richer and the roads felt quieter. The road side huts were sparser and occupied by friendly, waving children who were even generous to give us fruit when we stopped, and you really can’t beat a freshly picked lychee from a tree when you’re sweating buckets and having your bum mutilated by a bike. Anyway, the backdrop was infatuating. As we ploughed through the miles I became utterly absorbed by the landscape, and the hills in particular. They were so far from the rolling hills I was used to back in Gloucestershire and the only way I can fathom to describe them is as massive mole hills, projected from the surrounding flats by gigantic moles, or the cliffhanging villain from the end of the Incredibles film- ‘The Underminer’ (what a throwback of a reference). My fascination was disturbed by a barking chicken, which is when I realised I was becoming deliriously tired as I stared at the offending poultry, who turned out was stood infront of a dog, I hope. More worryingly, I noticed I was completely alone on the road, out of sight of the rest of the group. Normally, when I lose my mum we are the supermarket and my panic is quickly quelled by sweeping through the aisles when I find her pondering over which veg looks freshest as she tucks into some grapes, but this wasn’t the same. Being alone in a new country invoked more panic than the average grocery run and I was staggered to find out I had garnered a hefty lead at the front of the pack. Having overtaken the older generations up the hills I had failed to slow down on the downhill sections, but had instead conjured my racing spirit and flew down, separating myself from the pack. Personally, I was rather impressed with my fitness levels and I continued at a comfortable pace whilst basking in the glee of leaving Nick in my dust when I noticed Rong haring down after me. Haring seems like a drastic understatement as even hares wish they could move at the pace he was going, he was like a merrier Bradley Wiggins, smiling at the speed of sound as he caught up with me in no time, before telling me to carry on as he helped the others.
My newly found speed and position as self-declared group leader relinquished the thoughts of sore arses from my mind as I continued into the Cambodian countryside. And then I realised I had no idea what I was doing, or where I was, or where I was going. Inevitably, mum caught up with me and together we navigated our way between the mole hills, pondering where our Aussie counterparts had got to. We both had no idea what we were doing, where we were, or where we were going but at least we were clueless together, which was nice. We stopped at a cross roads out of fear of going the wrong way, as we needed to go the Rong way to get to our hotel and before long we were once again one team as the others joined us. After weaving past some road dwelling cows and touring down a rough mud track we arrived at our secluded hotel just outside of Pailin. The thought of a lie down was as apeeling as my sunburnt back and to have my weight not being crushed through my buttocks sounded swell so after an arrival beer I headed to the air-conditioned room for a rest, having happily completed another day’s ride and enjoyed the Cambodian scenery. I was very much beginning to enjoy the cycling life, posterior pain aside.