Route 11, My Nemesis…
In the end, after the battle from Phrae, I did decide to get back on the bike. Although this decision was made with my customary gracelessness. When we landed at Auangkham Resort, Lampang, I was exhausted. We only had one night booked before cycling to Lamphun, the next stop, but on arrival, the first thing we did was book in for an extra night.
The following morning, over American Breakfast (fried eggs with salad, toast and processed meat) Nick made his announcement:
‘If you decide to take the train to Chiang Mai, Jo, I might give you some of my luggage and still do the ride.’
I had thought briefly that Nick might consider this, I had wondered if perhaps I should suggest it. Nick had coped much better with the hills than I and it would be unfair to take the experience away from him, simply because I did not feel I could go through with it. His suggestion was not unexpected or unreasonable.
But my response was both; so much so that I can’t print it.
Let’s just say, the reaction was not just violent, but graphically so. My pride, my determination to succeed and my fear of being left behind (definitely the most powerful of the three) all rose up and made of me a wild animal.
It also determined the matter. While I did not say it right away, instead, letting the violence hang between us, dipping bread into my runny egg yolk, I knew I had to complete the ride.
The owner of Auangkham was a keen cyclist (with a good sense of humour too, for he lamented missing a season and subsequently carrying too much ‘luggage’ with a rueful tap of his belly). The hills towards Lamphun were a popular club training run, he told us. He indicated with his hand; they go up, he angled his hand, then flat, he held it horizontal, then up, angled, then flat, then up, then flat, then UP, he said, holding his hand up at a much steeper angle and widening his eyes so the balls looked like they might pop from the sockets. Then with a smile, he told us of the colourful melon farm on the other side, where we could enjoy good coffee, just like he had done.
The Delizia Garden
We set off in good spirits; my tyres felt solid for a change (courtesy of the Auangkham bike pump) and I was also looking forward to a chance to redeem myself. In the early morning (for a change) we cycled hard out of town in the company of monks, business owners and school children packed into songthaew (pick-up vans converted into buses). Just as we were passing the Lamphun Police Training Academy, some 15km out of town, the mountains looming and me consequently edgy, there was a beeping behind us. Nothing strange in that, only it went on and on. I looked behind, swearing, to see a man in uniform bearing down on us on a moped.
We were being pulled over, I was sure, until I saw something I recognised in the man’s hand – my glasses case. I must have dropped it. Then I recognised the man, the security guard from Auangkham. Turns out that I left my glasses there. I was touched that the owner had gone to the effort to return them, but as he later wrote in response to my ‘thank you’ email: ‘moped is cheaper that FedEx.’
At the bottom of that stepped climb is the Elephant Consevation Centre. It is rumoured that this is the only ethical elephant centre in Thailand. For that reason it is somewhere I would have liked to visit, having avoided all the others. Only, the climb ahead loomed and I wanted to start while the sun was still low.
The hills were as described, a sequence of huge steps, weaving through the mountain, before one lung stretching climb to the summit.
The summit was a relief (Nick later admitted he had decided not to try and race me to the very top, for which I was grateful) but the highlight of the ride was the melon farm, Delizia Garden. For just a little while, I was in Tuscany, seated on the veranda of the brightly coloured building, hills hills hunched behind. I snacked on melon chunks and grape juice, the closest thing I could get to wine. Clink!
After that, we enjoyed a gentle, rolling journey into Lamphun. Less than 1km from the guesthouse we stood at the side of the road, in fact arguing over which direction to go, when a moped stopped beside us, ridden by two women; Mai and Pai. While I was suspicious, it turned out they just wanted to show us the way, and so we followed them in convoy to the Phaya Inn (er, with a couple of wrong turns on my part when I misunderstood their waving and gesturing).
At the end of a day I had more than I started with. I had regained a little of my self-belief and was also humbled by their kind attention.