Saturday, January 1, 2011

Home Again

We've been home again for 10 days. I've already talked to most of the people who follow this blog, but I hate leaving this thing without a conclusion.

Erin and I spent our last few days in Chiang Mai Christmas shopping and tying up loose ends. On our last day, we cleaned our bikes and packed them back into their boxes, and then we went out to say goodbye to the few people we met.

We had a final Thai lesson with Sompop, our Thai teacher. We gave a tip to Bpong, the lady who cleans the guesthouse we stayed at. She nearly burst into tears. I guess nobody tips the cleaning lady around here. She made us promise (in Thai) that we'd come back next year.

We bought flowers for the owners of our guesthouse, for the nice women who run the street bar on our soi, and for the soup lady who made us breakfast on about half the mornings we spent in Thailand. The soup lady did burst into tears. Apparently nobody buys presents for the soup lady. She made us promise (in Thai) that we'd come back next year.

That night we made our rounds of the few bars where the staff knew us and had a couple of beers at each of them. People seemed sad that we were leaving. It was nice. After two months of intermittently living in Chiang Mai, we felt like we'd sort of found a place for ourselves.

We have been discussing whether we'll be able to do this again next year. It doesn't seem particularly likely at this point. We've got our projects and our obligations, like attending my brother's wedding in Borneo in August, and we probably won't be able to go back and get fed by the soup lady and have our room cleaned by Bpong. We'd sure like to go back, though, and learn some more Thai and do that big loop of a bike tour that we were never able to find time for this year.

I put 1979 km on my odometer on this trip. It was a good chunk of riding, but I feel like we could have done more, if it wasn't for all that pesky work getting in the way.

I think if I was to do this again, I'd bring a different bike. It was fun to be able to burn across the flats at 33 km/h and put in 130 km days, but my sport-touring or club-racer or randonneur or whatever you want to call my bike, was the wrong choice for a number of reasons. First off, I didn't have the gearing I needed to climb the ultra-steep hills in Thailand. Secondly, I would have been a lot more comfortable on some of the less well-paved roads if I'd had wider tires. Thirdly, I'd have been a lot drier and happier if my bike had some fenders.

And fourthly, we really ought to have had more luggage capacity than a trunk bag in my case, or a trunk bag and a handlebar bag in Erin's case. That's a fine amount of luggage for a two-day tour, but it's the shits if you're going any longer. We were washing our clothes in the sink, travelling without rain coats and worrying about where we'd next be able to get our laundry done. A pair of lightly-packed panniers would have pushed a lot more wind, but they'd have made the tour a lot more flexible and fun.

Next time around, I'd like to have a proper touring bike or possibly a folding touring Bike Friday. They fit into a standard-sized suitcase and apparently they're good enough bikes for long distance touring. I'd like to ride one before I made up my mind, though.

So that's it for now. Have a happy 2011. Reset your bike odometers and work on a new cycling total for the year. Between two bikes, mine was something like 8000 km this year.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Last Tour Part 2: the end of the tour

Yesterday, Erin and I rode 190 kilometres.

Note that I didn't say we rode our bikes 190 km; we only did about 130 km on the bikes. We did the other 60 or so in the back of a truck. It can actually be quite convenient to ride a bike in a country that uses trucks for public transportation.

We left Chaing Rai shortly after sunrise with the vague idea that we might just try to ride the whole 190 km back to Chiang Mai. Erin's ankle was a little sore, though, and grey clouds on the horizon hinted that they might not let us finish the ride, but we started off with optimism in our hearts.

We had an excellent start to the day. We'd ridden 90 km by noon, which was when the misting drizzle we'd been riding in for the last couple of hours turned into bonafide rain. I don't want you to think we're sissies; we're not made of sugar and we wouldn't melt in the rain. I've ridden in downpours before that would make you shit your pants and run for cover. The rain was being complicated by two things, however.

First, we didn't have the proper gear with us. We didn't bring fenders on our ride, which is something we've regretted on more than one occasion. Without fenders, your own tires shower you with muck from below while the sky showers you from above, and if you're riding behind someone without fenders, you get completely blinded by muck from their back tire, so you can't even consider riding in a paceline.

For you non-cyclists, a paceline is when cyclists draft off of one another by following closely behind. A paceline can save you about 20% of the effort that it takes to pedal, and when you're thinking about riding 190 km, that's a big deal.

The other piece of gear we were lacking was raincoats. We have good raincoats with us in Thailand, but we didn't bring them on this most recent tour because we've got a very limited amount of luggage space, in keeping with the moronic fast-and-light touring concept I came up with. Listen: fast-and-light is great if you're going for a weekend credit card tour. Fast-and-light is retarded when you're going for a whole week because you spend half your time either doing laundry in the sink, or worrying about how your freshly laundered clothes will have time to dry before you need them.

Raincoats, I argued, would be unnecessary, because when it rains on you in hot weather, you just take it like a man and get wet, because you'd get even wetter with sweat if you wore a raincoat. Here's the catch, which is also my second complicating factor: it was cold. I'm serious, it was cold in Thailand. I've never seen it get that cold in Thailand. It was well below 20 degrees, which might not sound so cold to you jerks shivering away in the Canadian winter, but when you're barely wearing any clothes, you're soaking wet and you're out in the wind on a bike, it's cold enough.

So we decided we were through with cycling for the day. Our options were to get a hotel room in the little flyspeck of a town we were in and try to kill all of the hours between noon and 7 the next morning without going insane, or we could try to catch a ride back to Chiang Mai, where we had clean clothes and a nice hotel room already paid for.

So we caught a ride and a short way into the ride home, it stopped raining. Naturally. It took some time to convince ourselves that the rain had really stopped, but after 60 km the road wasn't even remotely wet anymore, so we got out of the truck and got back on the bikes.

The rain was ambushing us, though. The rain was waiting about 10 km down the road, like a mugger in an alley, and when we got to it, it clubbed us over the head and soaked us thoroughly. Then it abruptly stopped. It didn't actually feel like raining; it just wanted us to know that we couldn't pull one over on it with our little getting-a-ride trick.

And now we're back and we're enjoying Chiang Mai for a last couple of days before coming home. It'd be a lot harder to leave here for the rain of Vancouver if the weather here wasn't so lousy. It's cool enough that I actually wore a jacket out tonight, and we haven't seen the sun in two days. This time of year is supposed to be cloudless and rainless, incidentally. We never should have been rained on in the first place. Stupid global weirdness.

How was the rest of our tour, besides that last day of cycling and my ruminations about speaking Thai while standing at a urinal?

How kind of you to ask. Quite nice, thank you. I might write another post about it later on.