A Taste of Things to Come: Uttaradit to Phrae, 4 July 2013

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The impending hills…

It was becoming a habit; leaving late, slow, sated on the hotel buffet breakfast. This day, we were also late because we mended yet another puncture; my front tyre this time, for a touch of variety.

And for a final bout of fussing we had to move our saddles. Google diagnosed that we were both suffering from Handlebar Palsy; a common cycling condition where the ulnar nerve becomes compressed due to constant pressure on the heel of the hands, causing numbness and pain. The advice suggested was as follows:

Overall, the cyclist should not be leaning and resting on the bars, the grip should be light;
The seat may need to be moved further back;
The handlebars may be at the incorrect height;
Core muscles should ensure a good position on the bike, rather than leaning.

Eventually, we left, seated a little further from our handlebars, crunching our stomach muscles and crossing our numb fingers in the hope that this would lessen the pain.

Thereafter, the ride to Uttaradit can be categorised by two things; the first of the hill stages and highways lined with durian fruit vendors. The durian is part of the Thailand right of passage due to being an indigenous fruit and for its disgusting odour. Inside the hard, spiked jacket, the fruit is akin to a sulphurous custard. Uttaradit is the principle producer in Thailand. And believe it or not, these fruits are pretty popular. Allegedly, once you get over the smell, you’ll love it. I did not.

I already knew I did not like the stuff when we pulled up at the side of the road to get sugary drinks. When a pleasant woman, one of the stall holders, held out portions for Nick and I on a plate I tried to decline, that is until it began to seem rude to do so. When all I needed was water, I was left smacking my tongue against my cheeks, trying not to gag, trying to push the yellow goo down my throat. All the time smiling, because don’t get me wrong, I was grateful.

The hill came shortly after, first of many on Route 11, as it turned out. It undulated to begin with, small climbs followed by rushing descents, lulling me into a sense that it was actually quite fun. Then someone forgot the drop. The carriageway split into two, leaving a crawler lane for trucks, and soon we were grinding upwards, HGVs chugging and wheezing past us. The road wrapped around the mountain and it was hard to see for more than a few hundred metres. Each corner bore hope that the summit was around it, but yielded only despair when it finally revealed another section of unrelenting climb. Nick was much stronger than me (and he told me later he attacked that hill as much for his Dad as anything, as it would have been his birthday that day) and I watched him push further up the mountain. I hated my body for how tired it was, how it could barely balance at those painful, slow speeds, how it let the front wheel to weave, using up vital energy, while my lungs felt like brittle shrink wrap.

I was later to realise that this hill was actually short. But at the time I was elated when I got to the top – elated, red and drenched in sweat. And then it was all downhill to Den Chai, the outpost some 20km west of Phrae (pronounced ‘prayer’).

We stopped halfway at a small coffee shop, drawn by the regular signposts and the promise of caffeine. Its young female proprietor welcomed us with a huge smile. It turned out she’d been ‘on the ships’ (this means working on a cruise liner, as Nick did for a number of years) before she came back to Thailand with enough money to begin her business, so Nick chatted to her while I thought about how inspiring that was. A cozy wooden cottage, flowered garden, a mural of the mountains painted by her brother and those ubiquitous emblems of travel (frogs on bikes and campervans) displayed on the counter, I felt a warmth from the coffee shop that didn’t come from my mug.

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Coffee Heaven

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It says it all, frog on a bike

The coffee was great and we left there with new hope (not least because the young owner had confirmed there were no more hills!).

Technical Stuff:

Stayed at Thai Phoom Garden, Phrae.
Cycled 74.4km, check out what Strava says.
No rain, no punctures, balanced by smelly fruit and upward cycling.

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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.