Updated: Nov 12, 2018
My ode to riding!
“The engine growls. The exhaust heat warms my legs. The cool morning wind rushes over me. The vents in my helmet whistle in joy. The asphalt crunches slightly as the rubber ridges of the tyres hammer it in unison. Blues rock fills my ears, morning smells invade my nostrils; the winding road ahead fills my vision and my senses. Alert, focused, relaxed, my brain analyses the approaching corner without prompting. Speed is calculated without thought. My eyes pick a line, starting wider left, allowing for leaning. I draw a mental line & prepare. My knees grip the tank slightly tighter, I tuck my ankles in. The leather in my gloves crinkles softly as I lessen my grip, switching to fingers not hands. I want to guide, not drive. My right foot hovers in anticipation over the rear brake pedal, two fingers on the clutch lever, two on the front brake lever. Now! Reaching the line, I touch the brake pedal, simultaneously squeezing the front brake lever. Speed reduces. My left hand squeezes the clutch for a split second & my left foot jabs the gear pedal twice; downwards. Releasing the clutch & the brakes, the engine tone rises sharply. I adjust my body position, slipping my weight slightly to the right. I apply gentle pressure to the right hand grip, forcing an immediate lean. It’s sharp & I apply more pressure, leaning 40 degrees. My head and the world stays horizontal, the bike angles, keeping to the imaginary line as if on rails. All pressure on the tyres shifts to the sidewalls. Complete commitment. Any change to the planned line now will cause immediate instability. The wind noise lessens, the rock beat diminishes & it’s just me & the imaginary curving line. Smooth, steady. The balance of life. Two inches of rubber sticking 350Kg of man and machine to the asphalt. Nothing moves except the wheels. It goes on forever. Until the curve straightens. Gentle pressure on the left handle slowly brings the bike upright. Twisting the right handle the throttle opens. A quick flick of the clutch and the gear pedal & speed increases. The next corner approaches fast, the brain calculates again...”
Five seconds out of our ride this morning. Just one reason why I take great joy in biking. There are so many senses, so many muscles, so much brain activity involved in just a short ride on good roads. This morning was a joy. We left Loei having had a punishing ride the day before down from Laos & across the north east of Thailand. We stayed in a so-so place & were not looking forward to another long ride to get to Chiang Mai. Well, pretty much immediately we left the town, we headed up into the hills on fabulous roads - truly. That hill climb must rank up there with some of the great roads to ride. We let loose & really enjoyed ourselves. Later on, there were, of course, boring bits, but the morning start was enough to boost us to get to Chiang Mai tonight. We skirted rain & there were another couple of fabulous biking stretches that we unfortunately couldn’t take full advantage of because the roads were wet & slippery. Everyone was taking real care, probably because of the overturned lorry half way down that obviously wasn’t careful enough. Load strewn about but didn’t look like there were any injuries, luckily.
I don’t know if every biker is the same, probably not, but my greatest fun on bikes is cornering. When I started riding, many years ago, my greatest fear was leaning the bike over. Surely it would become unstable & simply slip out from under me? Well it appears that a bike leaning over at an impossible angle is almost as stable as it is when upright, as long as there is balance, a good surface & no sudden movement! Just ask my wife, she’s a great pillion rider (although I think she stays still mostly out of fear :) ) & she & I have experienced almost horizontal riding round some corners in the past! Sorry, I digress.
We normally stop at roadside local cafes, because we can then get some drink & possibly food & we did have one almost impossibly sweet & cold smoothie today! Brain freeze & sugar overload, all in one. Just an example of how you are never quite sure what you are going to get when you order by pointing & smiling & using English words that they don’t understand, but you can’t help yourself because you know no others! But an exception today was stopping in the middle of nowhere, just on the edge of paddy fields. It was such a peaceful place & the true Thailand.
The north-west of Thailand is palpably more affluent & prosperous than the east and south. As soon as we came over from Laos & headed west, we could feel & see the difference. 4G networks everywhere, so I got reliable Google directions, good road surfaces most place & more retail & trade activity.
One oddity is the Thais seem to be inordinately fond of theme park resorts, with some mythological & extraordinary characters. We stopped for lunch at one such active resort & sat eating our chicken fried rice (at least I think that is what my translator app ordered us) looking out on a vista of large model pandas reaching up to bamboo trees, next to an ancient bicycle with sidecar. The surrounding areas were Chinese themed pagoda pavilions, with the flower beds full of odd animals & cartoon characters. We also stopped at another roadside site that has long since closed & been abandoned. The rusty gates were locked so we found a low part of the wall & climbed in. Overgrown & falling apart, there were animals & mystical creatures everywhere. I took some pictures here (see the gallery) but I couldn’t bear to photograph any in our lunch stop!
We parked up about 30 minutes outside Chiang Mai & did our usual Booking.com look. We chose the Amora hotel because it was a reasonable standard - 4 star - and was offering excellent rates. But the real reason was because it was bang next to the old city centre. It proved a great choice as after a quick freshen up, we walked out for a drink & dinner just across the street. A truly excellent Indian dinner - I know, but we have been eating primarily local food most of the time, and we both just really felt like an Indian! As we are on the 11th floor, the room also offered a great view of the city, especially at sunset!
Just on a side note, I was glad we had left Laos behind because Simon simply couldn’t stop slaughtering the place names, especially Vientiane, which varied from Visace to Vincenzo to Vianetto! I told him to call it V, but he couldn’t do that either! So, I thought we were at last clear of that hurdle, when he called Chiang Mai, Chung Ho....!
You’ll find all the images from my Rovings here:
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