I’ve been putting this off. To write this would be to acknowledge that my summer ride is over and I didn’t want to do that. But the reality is what it is. I have been back to work in China for a week and am tepidly sticking my nose back to the grind stone of developing and delivering lesson plans. Gradually easing back into daily routines. Nah. That’s a pile of B.S. I am readjusting to civilian life like a brick adjusts to flight.
Making the Best of It
My trip to Thailand and Laos was not the trip I originally planned or wanted but it really turned into the trip I needed. The restful atmosphere of these beautiful countries was a tonic that I wasn’t aware I needed. As the trip progressed I found myself ever more removed from the hustle and bustle of cities and people hurrying everywhere. It was then that all the tension that had built up in my mind and muscles started to be released. Trains of thought drifted away from the busy life and focused solely on the quiet and solitude of riding. And what a ride it turned out to be.
The first ride was into the juggernaut of fiercely steep hills southwest of Chiang Mai in Doi Ithanon National Park and the Thai-Myanmar border region. It was the most physically demanding ride of my life and in the end more than I bargained for or was prepared for. After 5 days of brutal riding I took the first escape that came available and returned to Chiang Mai to reset.
Some may see this as a failure but I don’t see it that way. How can I? After all, I met so many amazing people and made new friends while I was on this route. People like Naa that opened his home to me and shared his food and whiskey, or Li No who gave me a ride in his truck to avoid several kilometers of difficult hills, or the charming young Chinese lady Yuan that I met at my bungalow in Doi Ithanon. And of course, Boat and his father Ban from Bangkok who offered me the ride that got me out the hilly morass in which I had become so hopelessly entangled. If meeting all those great people doesn’t make for a successful journey then I have never taken one.
Rest and Reset
From the reset in Chiang Mai it was a race to the Laos border. I covered the 290 kilometers in 3 days of riding. Along the way there was a multi day stop in Chiang Rai where I spent a day on a great tour during which I saw beautiful temples, unique cultures, and gorgeous scenery and a couple of days where most of my time was spent with a book in hand or the computer keyboard clicking under my fingertips. After a day’s ride from Chiang Rai I reached Laos. This is when the trip became about the ride and the dreaming began in earnest.
Laos is separated from Thailand by the Mekong River. The river is only about 75 meters from shore to shore where the Friendship Bridge spans it, but when you pass through the Laos border control and enter Huay Xai it feels worlds apart.
Life in Laos is so laid back compared even to still developing Thailand that you may find yourself wondering if time has forgotten about it. This apparent dispensation is reinforced by rudimentary houses with glassless windows and the torrents of joyful squeals and screams of naked brown bummed wildlings splashing in seemingly every irrigation ditch, stream, and clear watered rice paddy in the countryside.
Cycling in this beautiful country is primarily a combination of long climbs and sweeping descents. The scenery is continuously fabulous. At times in lower altitudes you may find the photographer in you a little frustrated as the roadside grasses and trees grow so tall that they obscure much of the scenery. You can see enough to know it’s beautiful but so much of it is blocked by the growth that it isn’t possible to get a decent picture. In one sense, this may be a blessing. If it weren’t for this the photographer may be tempted to stop so often that little or no progress would be made.
Wow Just Doesn’t Cut It
The scenery in Laos is so beautiful that it doesn’t take long to run out of interjections. I quickly got tired of hearing myself repeat words like wow, oh my, really, holy shit. After a while I just began laughing. It was the same kind of laughter that a person has when they don’t know how to respond to a situation. Like when I heard that my grandfather Ryan had died. He was the first person in my life that I was real close to that died, and when I heard the news I laughed. It wasn’t voluntary. I didn’t know how else to take it. I was overwhelmed by the moment. Such was riding in Laos. A series of moments of being overwhelmed. What an incredible experience.
From sitting in a hammock on the back deck of my bamboo hut in Vieng Phou Kha and watching kids float by on inner tubes, to trudging through knee deep mud and wading through thigh deep streams on an almost road while following the Mekong out from Luang Prabang, to the lady who washed my shoes, riding in Laos was fabulous. It was a trip full of smiling faces, generous hands, opium grannies, delicious food, and countless priceless memories.
Thank You and Ride On
Just like last summer when I rode through the desert in northern China it was made that much better because you were there with me. I always feel so blessed to have so many of you take an interest in my travels. It really does make it more special because I know that I get to share these amazing experiences with my family and friends. So, from the bottom of my heart I say thank you to all of you for helping to make my incredible summer vacation even more so.
Until next time.