Friday, October 29, 2010

Chiang Mai to Samoeng to Chiang Mai

View Chiang Mai to Samoeng in a larger map

Erin and I just got back from our first tour. It was a little one-night practice tour. We learned some things.

We learned that Thai engineers don't grade roads the way that Canadian ones do. These guys aren't afraid of 12% grades. Today we went up the most ridiculous bunch of switchbacks I've ever seen.

I'm pretty organized about these rides we're doing. I plot them out on maps on the internet and I create route sheets with the distances noted so we know where to turn, because even if there is a sign for a road, it's rarely written in letters that are legible to us. My Thailand cycling cockpit contains a route sheet, my bike computer and a fuel tank full of bananas.

I also check out the elevation profile of the route to see just how much climbing we'll do, and where on the route the climbs are located. You can't budget time with a 2-dimensional map in the mountains, because there's a huge difference between 30 km/h on the flats and 9 km/h going uphill, and you need to budget time so you don't end up sweating your way up a mountain in the noonday sun.

We started a moderate ascent and I knew we were only a couple of kilometres from the second and final summit of the day. It was maybe 9 o'clock in the morning and we were nearly done climbing for the day. We were getting cocky. And the road was getting steeper.

And it got steeper and the road started switching back and forth across the side of the mountain. We'd seen some steep roads the day before, steeper than you'd ever see on a highway in Canada, but we hadn't seen anything like this. At home it's a steep hill if I drop down to 8 km/h. Today I was doing 5 km/h at times -- the speed of a brisk walk. When there were no cars around, I zig-zagged up the lane to try to lessen the grade for myself.

Finally, as we were approaching the summit, the mountain got less steep. So how did the Thai road-builders respond? Well, they scrapped the switchbacks and rammed the road straight up the slope, to maintain their ridiculously steep grade.

The second thing we learned is that it rains in Thailand, even in the morning, even at the beginning of the dry season. Fortunately, we had stopped for breakfast when it started, so we didn't get caught in it. If we had been riding, we'd have had to pull over and walk our bikes. It was coming down so hard we wouldn't have been able to see a thing.

If you have never seen a tropical rainfall, I have a statistic for you: last week it was recorded raining here 100 millimetres per hour. 100 mm! In an hour! For more than one hour! Vancouver gets 1150 mm of precipitation per year. That's like an average month's worth of Vancouver rain falling in one hour. No wonder it's flooding downriver from here; they've got to deal with all of our rain and all of their own.

When the rain stopped we got back on our bikes and we got wet and filthy. The skies had finished unloading, but the roads were still wet. We didn't bring fenders with us, because we decided we were going to be lightweight and super fast. Well, we are lightweight and super fast, but we're also soaking wet and super filthy.

The third thing we learned is that my pump is dead. My great little emergency pump, which looks cool, weighs almost nothing and worked pretty well considering its size, is dead. It can't get a tire's pressure above 60 PSI and we need 110 or 120. It was the only pump we brought. We're idiots. These little pumps never seem to last long, and this one's had to do a fair bit of work, re-inflating all four of our tires when we got off the plane, and topping our tires up every day. Then, on our first flat, it stopped working. It was tired, I guess. Fortunately, we were in town when it happened, but now we're pump-less. Time to go shopping.

The tour really was fun. We saw a lot of beautiful countryside, we rode well, and we abundantly rewarded ourselves for our hard work with Beer Chang. Right now I'm tired and I'm concerned about my equipment, though, so I'll leave off singing the praises of cycling for another day.

Late addition: anyone who is interested in the actual route we took, you can find it here. I won't swear that the plotted route north from Chiang Mai is the exact one we took, but it's pretty close.

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