I have thoroughly enjoyed this organized ride so far!
We met up with our group (five paying guests and two guides) in Chiang Mai the day before yesterday - and I feel as though we've been on the road for a week already. Mr. T, our tour guide and ride-guide, is a young Thai fellow who has managed to combine his training (tourism) with his passion (cycling) and just loves his job and the company he works for. Our driver, mechanic, person who nursemaids and babysits us is Mr. Rin - I don't know how to spell either of their names but I know that's what we call them. They are both great guys. They picked Bruce and I up at our first hotel at Noon and took us to the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel where the whole group is staying - two Americans from Manhattan, an Englishman and we two and, immediately after we were checked in, we went out for a 40Km 'warmup" ride (basically so our guides could see what kind of riders they had in the group, I guess). I sure showed them just who they were dealing with! We hadn't gone ten minutes from the hotel before Yours Truly covered herself in glory - once again! (Stop me if you've already heard this one before............ )
Mr. T and three other riders were ahead of me at a traffic light. I looked, I checked, I paid attention and saw that they had all gone through on a light that made no sense to me - one red and one green arrow pointing down and to the right, so I followed only to see, to my immediate shock and dismay, that an entire army of motor scooters, line abreast, was coming at me from my right. It required prompt action on my part to avoid meeting them all in the middle of the intersection, so I jammed on the brakes and went head over tea-kettle, landing on my left knee and rolling around with the bike in a very undignified manner. Bruce was just behind me so he pulled into the intersection and bravely held up his hand to stop all the motor scooters but, frankly, I think I had already flummoxed them. :) Mr.Rin was right behind us with the van, so while Bruce retrieved my stray water bottle from the middle of the intersection (and shouted at me to stop lying on the ground), Mr. Rin got out of the van and came over to assist. So I've got a very sore knee (the raspberry is the least of it) and a big bruise behind the knee where I got tangled up with the bike. Oh well, the way I figure it, if I can get this kind of stuff out of the way right at the beginning, maybe the rest of it will go okay? Yes????
We rode about 20 Km out to this beautiful lake with little thatched gazebos lining the shore, and our guides immediately whipped out fresh chilled towellettes for us to clean up and laid out containers of watermelon and pineapple. They then ordered lunch from a little thatched-roof stand nearby. At this point I decided to show them, yet again, just who they were dealing with. As I stood up under a corner of our palapa I managed to jam my back on a wooden roof spar - I knew it smarted, but didn't realize my back was bleeding until we were on the road again and someone asked me what was wrong with my back. (Now I wonder why everyone is giving me such a wide berth - yet again?)
That evening we went out for a Thai dinner at a lovely waterside restaurant and the following morning, after a really hearty breakfast, we hit the road around 8am (not literally, this time, I hasten to add!) Mr. T leads, Simon and Maryanne are close behind him, Bruce plays up and down the whole line, I gradually fall further back, and Steve saunters along behind me with Mr. Rin bringing up the rear with flashing lights on the van. We did about 115 kms on this first day and was it ever HOT! After getting out of the city environs, we first made a brief stop at a local crafts village, Salapi, that had an enormous selection of really nice goods. Too bad we're packing our own bikes along with us - I could have used an empty suitcase and really done some justice to that market. As we continued we rode hrough some lovely, flat country roads and tiny villages but that was just to lull us into a false sense of security because then we got into a fair amount of 'undulations' as we reached the foothills surrounding Chiang Mai. There was a real pig of a hill to do in the middle of the heat in the afternoon and if Bruce hadn't been riding behind me and hurling abuse to chivvy me along, I'd have given up on it and jumped into the van. There were also a LOT of dead snakes in the road - I counted our first day out as being a 9 D.S. ride (nine Dead Snakes - no live ones) We had lunch at a new roadside restaurant overlooking people working in rice paddies - it was delightful. It's going to be Thai food all the way, of course, which I'm not keen on (too much spice and cilantro for my taste) - but so far, so good - I'm not wasting away or even living off my fat yet. At most meals there is an omelette served up along and there's always pad thai.
Had a nice surprise at one point - it's not every day you're out for a bike ride and look over a bridge and see an elephant strolling along in the gully below. I know now that there is an Elephant Conservation area near where we were riding so it was probably from there.
When there was still a further 20km or so to go, and it was hot as Hades and the traffic was getting really heavy, we all of us decided we didn't feel like riding the final stretch into town, so we all piled into the Rin-Mobile to get to the Hotel Wiengthong in Lampang, a cowboy town, where Mr. T organized three small, horse-drawn carriages to take us to dinner by the river that night. Being such a small group we already have it worked out as to who is vegetarian, who doesn't eat pork and who won't touch anything really spicy, so it's very civilized as the dishes are passed around as in "You may find this one is too hot for you" or "there's pork in this one", etc. Good news for me!
Up and out at 8am again on Day 3 of the ride. Also radically undulating countryside and the day was slated to be 141 Km! No way! That was not going to happen even for the strongest riders up front. It was too far, too hot, too hilly and too much heavy vehicle traffic. After a late morning break at a roadside stand, Bruce took off with the front runners and I found myself riding about 20 Kms completely alone. Wouldn't you know it? That was the time when my 9 D.S day the day before turned into my worst nightmare - a 1 L.S. Day! It was about 2 ½ feet long, and was just about to mosey into the path ahead of me when it spotted me and turned tail back into the grass at the side of the road. Yugh!!!Then the chain came off my bike and I couldn't get the darned thing back on again. I fiddled with it for about 10 to 15 minutes around which time Mr. Rin drove by and pulled into a shaded roadside stand about 100 yards up the road. That's when I realized that, had they looked, I would have been in full view of Bruce and the frontrunners all the time I had been fiddling with the chain, and there they were sitting under a thatched roof sucking back cold drinks! You can imagine how I felt about that! Anyway, after I settled down we had a lovely lunch stop with an absolutely beautiful family waiting on us - every one of the women (even the oldest) was gorgeous, and they had a couple of the most gorgeous little girls. We passed through teak forest, and eventually came to what for me is probably the most spectacular temple we have yet seen on this trip with a huge reclining Buddha out front, Phaphuthensaiyart - there, I've said it!.
At this point we had done about 90Kms, and decided to call it quits and drive the rest of the way to Uttraradit. Bruce and I climbed into the back of the van at one of the upper levels of the Temple, and Steve (the Englishman) piled in after us in the row in front. He hadn't been there two seconds when an ungodly smell pervaded the van and poor Mr. Rin swung round in his seat with a look of alarm hollering something about a "bomb" and, sure enough, it turned out that Steve had stepped in something very unsavoury and tracked it into the van. The doors flew open, the windows were flung wide, Mr. Rin hastily cracked open some new air fresheners and then tried to get the front row cleaned up while Steve was summarily dismissed to get his shoe cleaned up. It was really funny and Maryanne rode along afterwards with one of the air fresheners held under her nose as we headed towards Uttaradit, an unprepossessing town with nothing especially to recommend it other than being a place with a hotel to accommodate us.
On arrival at the Hotel Seeharaj, I booked a couple of in-room massages for Bruce and I, and we only had time for a quick shower before the ladies arrived to do the job. First I told my lady not to touch my left knee which was hurting quite a bit from my fall on the first day out. Then Bruce told his masseur to mind his shoulder, then my lady saw the band-aid on my back (from when I had backed into a wooden overhang) and by then they were doing a lot of laughing about this couple of wrecked ole geriatric "athletes". The massage was a good thing to do though, then we went downstairs for another Thai meal - which are now beginning to take on something of a sameness to me. It's now late and there's a huge din coming from outside somewhere - I think it's an exceptionally heavy bass from from some rock music nearby but I can't make out anything else - just the bass. Guess it's going to be another earplug night tonight.
I have to say that we are very impressed with this organization (www.spiceroads.com) - the people whose ride this is. Very organized, very helpful, very supportive and very well-informed.
On the third day, after a pretty unappealing breakfast, we began the day with a van tour through some lovely countryside, and were intrigued, once again, by the ingenuity that need, coupled with lack of funds, produces. We saw a lot of trucks with a kind of home-built look (mostly wood), with stubby front ends housing exposed Honda motors. I doubt they could haul a heavy cargo, but each sported a fairly long box so looked as though it was designed to take a load. We then rode some lovely backroads through tiny, picturesque villages along the Yom River with wooden houses on stilts and bouganvillea & palm trees everywhere. It was pretty flat, too - my kind of riding! Although this was only a 70 km ride, the heat really seems to sap our energy and we tire sooner than we might normally expect - more so even than riding through the heatwave in Europe earlier this summer. Maybe because of the accompanying humidity? In the morning we stopped first at the old (ruined) city of Si Satchanalai; a very tranquil, huge site and hardly anyone there but us. Simon and Maryanne took the opportunity to have their first elephant ride around the ruins and I paid 20 baht for the privilege of feeding a bunch of papayas to a pretty pushy, hungry elephant. It's a tad intimidating to have a couple of tonnes of beast wanting what to get at what you've got in your hand!
My bike is running a lot better today, too - no more 'squeak, squeak' from the left pedal, or 'tnk, tnk, tnk' and 'vhooh vhooh vhooh' from the back wheel. The pedal has now been oiled, and the broken spoke on my back wheel was gaffer-taped to another spoke which stopped the noise for today's ride. Bruce also loosened off my back brake a bit so that the slight wheel wobble doesn't result in the brakes occasionally rubbing on the rim. When we got into Sukhothai in the afternoon our first call was to a bike shop to find new spokes which was harder than you might think. The combination of rim, diameter, spokes, etc. that I'm using is apparently not common here so the guy had to rig the spokes he actually had a bit of another spoke using of rim tape and inner tubing inside to hold new spokes in place.
Our hotel here is absolutely gorgeous! Ruean Thai Hotel is small - not one of the high-rise things we've been in for the last few nights, and very distinctly Thai in appearance - sort of looks like one of the small villages we have been passing through. Our rooms are set around a courtyard with a small swimming pool, and I'm lounging outside in a reclinging chair writing this as dusk is starting to fall. There are vines falling over from the verandah above, with long, whispy tendrils hanging down to where we sit like delicate curtains. We get two nights at this lovely place - we'll do a 40 km ride in the morning to see the ruins at Sukhothai - but other than that it's an R & R day, and we'll have an opportunity to get some bigger laundry done than just doing the necessities in our showers each night.