Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Tallest Mountain in Thailand

I'm warning you: I'm kind of pissed (in the British sense, not the American one).

Our two-day tour got extended to a three day tour. We returned at about 1:30 this afternoon and went out for lunch and a beer. Erin went for a massage and I stayed and had a second beer. I intended to spend the whole afternoon there drinking beer and reading my book, but after two beers I had to leave. I was too drunk.

One of the marvellous things about long-distance cycling is that it quickens your metabolism to the point where you can become a one-beer drunk.

We were nearly at the end of our planned ride for the first day and at the end of some of the most gruelling hill-climbing I've ever done, when we nearly turned back. The hill was ridiculously steep and we had run completely out of water; it'd been hours since we last saw somewhere we could buy some. We'd covered virtually no distance since the last time we stopped and ate, but we'd gained at least 1000 meters in altitude. Our odometers indicated that we should have been at our destination, but there was nothing to be seen. Every corner we rounded showed us nothing but another steep ascent.

We were both bonking -- which means we were hitting that hypoglycaemic wall where you've run out of blood sugar to feed your muscles, and you feel as weak as a kitten and as prone to vomiting as a newborn. Erin ate her ninth little banana of the day, which I gave her, because I couldn't imagine being able to swallow it without water. It was our last banana. I was ready to turn around and go back to the "resort" we'd seen advertised back at the bottom of the mountain.

Erin pointed out that our odometers might easily be out a kilometre, that the town we were riding to might be just around the corner and argued that we should press on; I, suppressing every natural desire I had to divorce her on the spot, agreed on an intellectual level and then forced flesh to accept the mastery of my intellect. After another kilometre, which probably took us more than 10 minutes to climb, we saw an insignificant little advertisement at the side of the road. It promised us that there was an internet place in 200 meters. We weren't interested in the internet, but where there's internet, there's water and food. I felt like we were running down the side of a sand dune into an oasis. Naturally, the ad lied, but after about another kilometre, there we were, in Khun Klang, a town on the side of the tallest mountain in Thailand.

We had some noodle soup and talked about our situation. Khun Klang looked like a bit of a shithole and we didn't really relish the idea of spending the rest of the afternoon there. It was chilly, because it was at something like 1400 metres, and there wasn't a lot to do. There's a road that goes right to the summit of Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand, but it was way too steep to ride up, and there didn't seem to be much point to going up there anyway; the mountaintop is permanently surrounded by clouds, so there's no view. Thai people go during the cold season so they can experience such novelties as frost, but we didn't give a shit about seeing frost.

We talked about going back down the mountain to a more comfortable altitude. Then the third bowl of noodle soup of the day raised our blood sugar levels and our spirits and the idea was advanced (I'm not sure by who, but Erin blames me) that we go on; we could climb another 300 meters and then descend the other side of the mountain to Mae Chaem. It'd mean adding a day to the tour and turning it into a loop, where we'd go south through Hot and then back up the valley to Chiang Mai.

So we did it.

I can't expect any of you to understand why, though some of you will. The reward is all in our heads, in the enormous doses of endorphins and other chemicals our bodies give us when we're mean to them; in the unexpected vistas and the expected ones; in the amazed looks and smiles and thumbs-up we got from local passengers of vehicles who saw us at the summit of the pass; in the well-earned appetite at every meal; in the small interactions we have with the locals when we stop for water or food or directions; and in the immediate and profound head-buzz you get off of a single beer after spending a day on the bike.

And that was just a three-day tour!

We did a little over 300 km and a fuck-ton more altitude than my ride mapping website will give us credit for. I felt like quitting several times, but there was no way we could quit; what would we have done? Thrown up our arms on the side of the road and waited for our parents to come get us? Besides, Erin was there, not wanting to quit at all. Then, when Erin did want to quit, I felt fine and wanted to carry on, so she kept going.

One of the many songs I invented, to be sung as loudly and raspily as an out-of-breath person can sing it, was:

Forty-eight, Thirty-eight, Twenty-eight
Where is my triple?
Na-na naa naaaaa

If you're confused, I was singing about gears. Those hills are steep. I don't have the right gearing. Erin's gearing is a good 15% better than mine, and she doesn't have the right gearing for these hills either.

Each night Erin ate everything in the world while I choked down as much food as I could make myself swallow, and we went to bed, afraid of what our legs would be screaming at us the next morning. Each morning I had a huge breakfast while Erin ate a reasonable one and watched, and we got on the bike feeling surprisingly good. After a dozen kilometres, though, we found that our legs had very little in the way of reserves after that huge climb on the first day.

But we made it back. And now I'm enjoying my solipsistic triumph by trying to explain it to others. To hell with this: beer is a hugely more rewarding use of my time than writing to the likes of you.

Writing about a good bike ride is like telling someone about a really great orgasm you had. "Oh, is that so? Well, good for you!"

1 comment:

  1. I have a feeling you and Erin are going to come home scrawny after all of this hill climbing.

    Sounds like hell. Glad I wasn't there! But good for you two for doing it! :)