The Worst Day Yet: Sukhothai to Uttaradit, 3 July 2013

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First it was the stage to Khampaeng Phet, then the one to Sukhothai, now it was the one to Uttaradit. Each stage in sequence was the worst we had done, only to be replaced by the next (little did we know that in a few days time we would wish to be back on those flat, endless roads).

It didn’t begin badly. We wended our way through Sukhothai, the early morning shadows still long, smiling with fond recognition at row after row of bicycles, passing wat after wat, stopping to take photographs of lakes and lily pads spread like a rich carpet before a regal wat. We could have stayed longer in Sukhothai if the kilometres we had to crunch hadn’t been so insistent.

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Something to identify with…

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So, what’s the problem!?

1.We were tired from the run the day before, having spent approximately 8 hours in (and out of) the saddle.
2. We had slept poorly, having been woken up by ceremonial drums or someone with a sick sense of humour at about 4:00 in the morning.
3. Our hands were more painful than ever, becoming as much of a hindrance as the baking heat.
But the baking heat was still a big problem. With a love of good hotel breakfasts and a belief that they were essential for the cycling day ahead, we stayed too long at the hotel, heading out as the day was starting to warm up to the blistering lunch time incineration level.
4. The first (small) signs of gradient. Nick pedalled at these, spoiling at the mild challenge, where as even the sight of them made me more lethargic and I began to worry about things to come.
5. Food again – the huge (and very delicious) chocolate milkshakes we enjoyed at lunchtime in Si Satchinalai increased the burn. There is a good reason why competitors in the Tour De France do not stop off for milkshake; if I could have got more sluggish, then I did after that shake. That said, I’d take the shake every time, it was amazing!
6. Finally, as sure as night follows day, negativity breeds negativity. Instead of the hoots and the waves, all around us was noisy, fast, unforgiving traffic.

I tried and failed to stir some positive feelings with 80s soft-rock (this usually never fails), then turned on ‘The Woman in White’ audiobook, hoping to distract myself with a story much darker than my own (there’s a logic to it somewhere).

One blessing was that that the hotel was sign-posted from well out of town. With aching hands and hearts we followed these on auto-pilot for kilometre after kilometre before the mecca of the Seeharaj Hotel (home of mid-week karaoke), came into sight.

The facts:

Stayed at Seeharaj Hotel, Uttaradit, where they kindly allowed us to keep the bikes in a cranny, just off the main reception.
Cycled 103km, check out the link on Strava.
No punctures, no rain but my bad attitude made up for that.

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Life and Death on Route 101: Khampaeng Phet to Sukhothai, 2 July 2013

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The day began badly. The Navarat Heritage Hotel had done away with the buffet breakfast, consequently we only had one course and Nick’s spirits were low. Then they wanted to charge us more than twice the agreed rate for an alleged upgrade that we had not been told about. We stood our ground, but that meant we were already behind schedule when we removed the bikes from the ballroom to the hotel car park.

It was already hot and the air was rent with despair. Thai crows circled overhead. Beneath a tree at the edge of the car park a small fluffy crow, large feet wheeling, was fleeing for cover. If it could have flown it would, but it didn’t know how, it may even have fallen from the nest trying. The flapping and screeching continued while the adolescent bird made shelter.

I set about fixing my panniers, swearing as usual when the handlebar bag lock got stuck. Sweating, beads running down the valley of my back, I glanced up from beneath the peak of my baseball cap; the bird had not gone unnoticed. Two Thai workers, orange masks over noses and mouths, were watching the tree. They had come from the workshop on the other side of the car park. They walked closer, both pulling the masks down, revealing expressions of curiosity and dangerous excitement. They squatted before the tree, rubbed their faces and examined the dust and scrub. Frustrated, hoping they would not find the bird, I barked at Nick to hold my bike steady as I fitted the final item of luggage.

The cries overhead grew and grew.

I didn’t see them take it, only looked up to see their backs as they made their way towards the workshop, trouser bottoms dusty, flip flops hooked over dirty, dry toes. I felt sad because their heads were cocked towards the cupped hand of the older man. While they made their way towards the workshop, excited by the small, fresh life they held, believing they might keep it or save it, the tearing, unified voice of the flock above and the silence that followed confirmed that the young bird, to them at least, was already dead.

I got on my bike and we headed to route 101 with a heavy heart.

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The number says it all

It was on this journey that the pain in our hands became more than an annoyance. Before beginning the ride I would not have believed that holding handlebars for hours on end would hurt, or that my hands would actually be the most painful part of my body. The discomfort in the heels of my hands and my middle fingers had always been there; but I had developed a contortionist’s ability to twist my arms and hold the bars back to front or to arrange my fingers like claws over the bars to take the weight from the heels of my hands. But on this day, my tactics failed, my fingers and lower arms were numb by half way into the ride and I let it consume me.

While my wheels were rolling better than they had done in days (courtesy of the bike shop in Khampaeng Phet) my expectations of the ride were low; my heart was not in it. I just wanted crunch the 78km the GPS told us we would be travelling. But after a luxury rest stop (two drinks; iced coffee and Red Fanta) it was not long before I realised I had another puncture, the bike fairly bouncing down the road. It was the rear wheel again.

Like the tyre, our spirits were flat. I cycled with my eyes on the concrete, watching the wings of stunned butterflies tap out their last beats, how a lizard that scuttled into the road, was twisted upwards, before flopping beneath the wheels of a speeding pick-up. Later we saw a dog, disturbingly large across the central white line, one leg detached and blood leaking from its dead mouth.

The GPS let us down; we ended up in flat countryside, without habitation as far as the eye could see. So, we spent the rest of the day looking for signs of life.

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Nowhere (the middle of it)

And eventually, beneath a rain-burdened sky, we found our way, passing and riding straight through rural life to put our bad day to bed.

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Cow herding

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Cycling Thai-style

The stats:
Stayed at the Thai Thai Sukhothai Guesthouse – recommended.
Cycled 91km, here is the geek bit on Strava..
No rain.
One rear puncture on my bike. Again.

Dirt Cheap Sophistication – Uthai Thani to Nakhon Sawan

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We left Payamai Resort early, waving to another group of cyclists suited in lycra, shades and helmets.

We paid a fond farewell to the town of Uthai Thani, and its disproportionate number of bike shops, as we made our way through the early morning traffic. As we waited at traffic lights in the town centre a Thai woman pulled her moped alongside, a child perched in front of her. She asked where we were from and an exchange followed that neither of us fully understood. As the lights changed she revved the moped and set off, calling ‘welcome to Thailand!’

The ride was short and unremarkable, save rivers and sparkly wats.

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The sparkling roof of this wat brought me up at the road side

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The obligatory river bridge photograph – nice job they’ve done on painting those flower pots

Perhaps I needed something to remark upon, because say 5 – 10km from our destination I noticed that both of my wheels were squeaking and shuddering, albeit almost imperceptibly. My brakes were sticking, moaning against the wheel rim, which meant I also began to moan.

The biggest challenge on the ride, aside from my moaning, was the final 500m; turning right across four lanes of dense traffic.

The Aramis Hotel, Nakhon Sawan, is gold and marble sophistication for little cost. OK, so the gilt edges show a little; the infinity pool is right beside the car park, for one thing, which in turn is right beside a busy road. But the place has a concierge (sophistication indicator), who insisted on wheeling the fully laden bikes into the marble lobby, unloading the the dusty panniers unto a luggage rack (indicator two) and gesturing that the bikes could stay in that large glass and marble space. We issued huge thanks and went off to raid the mini-bar.

Nakhon Sawan holds a special place in my heart. This is not for the bike ride, nor for the huge shopping mall, nor even for the lovely hotel, but for the great market that was setting up when we got there. By the time we had drained the mini bar of juice, showered, dressed and eaten, the market had begun to hum. And it was my type of market; hand made silver jewellery, t-shirts, foods, fruits, plants and vintage clothes. Along with cut off denim shorts, shirts, worn casually with the sleeves rolled up, seem to be a big thing over here. As do military jackets, vintage dresses and fashion sports shoes. NOt a Chang t-shirt in sight; more floral and well-worn canvas. Here, my long thwarted desire for ‘stuff’ was sated with two shirts, one crisp, stripy, a perfect fit, the other overlarge and checked, 180 Baht the lot. What I did not like into the bargain was being, once again, reminded by Thai market stall owners, that ‘lady, you are an ‘L”. The degree to which I was disgruntled did not compare to a Sing Buri department store encounter in the underwear section; I am still traumatised by this one.

As markets go, it was one of the best I have experienced. The best thing was that it was not put on for tourists, as I suspect Nakhon Sawan courts and attracts very few. However, something we foreigners do tend to love are the famed bugs and maggot snacks and this place had several disturbingly popular vendors. A big ‘no thank you,’ from me.

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Market – yes please!

The fact stuff:
Stayed at the Aramis Hotel.
Traveled 45km.
No Rain.
No punctures but sticky, squeaky brakes.