Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Ride!

Got up at 4:00 in the morning again. I'm glad my body adjusted so accurately and regularly to an Asian time zone; I just wish it was this time zone and not the time zone of the Kamchatka peninsula. Seriously, I had to make an adjustment of 10 hours and I fell about 3 hours short.

I went for my first ride yesterday. I went west out of Chiang Mai and up to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, which is a temple up on the side of a mountain. It was a big climb -- something like 670 meters. Several Thais who passed me on the way up looked at me like I was crazy. Then on the way down I passed several cars and motor bikes. The road is nearly perfectly paved and it's incredibly windy; not too many vehicles can corner like a road bike. I blew their doors off. The locals were probably looking at me like I was completely psychotic, but I couldn't see their faces on the way down.

I had about as much fun as I've ever had on a bike before, going down that mountain. The best part about the ride is that the temple at the top is a destination for pilgrims and tourists, so it's surrounded by people selling food, drinks and tat. You can get a little bottle of ice-cold freshly squeezed orange juice for about 65 cents. It's like a frozen, sugary little angel pissing on your tongue after a climb like that. Gorgeous. It's the little pleasures that make existence worth enduring, but sometimes you have to suffer for them to get the full effect.

Cycling here isn't nearly as harrowing as you might think it would be. The roads are chaotic, but the flow of traffic is generally pretty slow in the city -- between 30 and 50 km/h on most roads. That means that most people are only going maybe 10 km/h faster than me, so they're not blowing by me at terrifying speeds. Drivers here are also used to driving in mixed traffic, with hundreds of little motorbikes buzzing around at speeds varying between half and twice the speed of traffic, so people tend to be very aware of what's going on around them. Out on the road, I'm basically just another motor bike. The only problem is the clouds of soot some of the older trucks belch out when they change gears or climb hills. I probably won't get run over, but I might get lung cancer from riding here.

Apart from the few people who pedal around the city here, there aren't many other cyclists. I saw a couple of locals climbing Doi Suthep, a few trucks full of mountain bikes and lazy tourists being driven to the top of the mountain, and I spotted two farang (foreigners) in snazzy lycra costumes on road bikes. We found that there's one shop in town that deals in road bikes, which could save our whole trip if we happen to need parts or repairs.

Erin and I are planning a big tour sometime in November and it's going to involve a ridiculous amount of hill climbing, so we need to train a bit. I'm going back up that big hill again today and this time Erin's coming along. When the sun comes up, we'll probably each have two breakfasts of rice soup and then hit the road. Rice soup is reasonably delicious, but one bowl of that stuff isn't going to push a bike any distance.

In other news, we found a better guesthouse, which we're going to move to in a few days, and Erin and I signed up for a Thai language course. We just booked one lesson, so we can try it out and decide whether it's even possible to learn this crazy language.

I promise we'll bring a camera with us today, so I can show you what some of this stuff looks like.

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