Sorry it’s been so long since I updated you. I’ve sort of just drifted off into the ether and only today landed again. But i’m back on planet earth now so I thought I’d start by sharing this old tale I’ve written for a local newspaper about a ride I’ve just been on;
Pai to Bangkok, 800 kilometres, 25 hours. (pics to come, my disposable cameras just at the chemist being developed)
I feel dizzy, my heads all woozy and my eyes are a brilliant red. Nope, I’ve not been in mother’s gin cabinet or sat smoking Haile Selassie’s peace pipe. Not even close. Instead I’ve just finished riding a moped from one end of Thailand to the other and after 25 hours on the road I’m feeling totally pooped. But there’s no point complaining, I’ve still got to ride the bloody thing all the way England.
Yes, for all those who don’t read this fabulous newspaper every month, that’s the reality for my little red moped Dot; Australia to England, just to satisfy my adventurous whim. Poor motorbike. There she was, all set to retire, put her feet up after a long career delivering mail around the suburbs of Sydney, then wham, I turn up at her bike shop, stick my underpants in her back box and begin riding in the direction of London. Why? For the adventure, for the challenge, for that sense of satisfaction if we finally crawl out alive at the other end.
So far the two of us have crossed Australia, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia and are now in Thailand, the setting of the 25 hour ride we’re now wide-eyed from. It started in Pai, a hippy-trippy little town set right out yonder in the north-west of the country. Me and Dot had ridden up there to escape the hustle and bustle of Bangkok while a man from India put visa stamps in my passport. That’s the route you see; from Thailand over to Nepal by plane (we can’t ride through Burma) then down through India, across to Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, before making the final dawdle across Europe to England.
But those adventures are still in the future, over horizons still very much ahead. Right now I can only tell you about Pai and the roads out of town that were as gnarly as the hair on my chin. They go up and down and round and round with me and Dot screaming at the top of our lungs as we went faster and faster. At times we’d slow down to look at countryside far more dramatic and prettier than anywhere in the rest of Thailand. Giant valleys, cute villages and towering mountains that Dot wheezes up before collapsing at the top.
That all changed when we hit Chiang Mai, the biggest city in the north and one visually splendid with its ancient stone walls and old moat defence. We stayed for a short while, looking around, observing the tourists here for the cheap beer and ping pong shows, before leaving under a setting sun on the long and lonely road south.
I’ve ridden in rain throughout much of this trip. I crossed Australia’s Northern Territories during the wet season, Indonesia in the middle of its storms and now Thailand as it’s sky also starts to cry. When it does rain I usually dress down to my shorts and flip flops and plough on with my feet dragging through poodles like when you were walking home from school as a kid. It’s what I’m ready to do now as the sky above us grows angry and black. The rain is coming. It’s just a matter of when.
First the lightening strikes. Huge pitch forks of the stuff, bright and fierce, blasting down from the heavens to this mortal Asian earth. Nature’s beast, snack, crackle and popping like a bowl of God’s cereal on his breakfast table above our heads. Lightening bolts dazzle the dark land. Dot runs over a dead animal. I stop for fried chicken and sticky rice. We take pictures with a disposable camera and on we ride. The rain starts, just a drizzle, then big heavy splats of fragrant summer rain. If only we could bottle the smell and attach it to this page.
By midnight we’re tired and weary. The rain’s stopped but my shorts continue dripping. We’ve been riding 11 hours and can do no more. At the side of the road I find an empty field and pull in. With Dot’s light killed it’s pitch black. We can’t see a thing, just fumble around trying to put the tent up and brush my teeth. At last it’s up and I crawl in, sleeping in clothes and without a blanket or pillow because on a trip like this both are considered a luxury we cannot bring. Tonight I don’t even have a sprig of food or drop of pure water. I lie listening to the passing trucks on the road not far away and then drift off while mosquitoes try desperately to get in.
At 4am I wake, take one big arm-stretched yarn and tell Dot it’s time to hit the road. The tent is packed, Dot’s oil is checked. Under the power of her headlight I study the map; South, still 400 kilometres to go. Ride Nathan ride, through the black morning-night, lorries passing, colder now, the rain has stopped, the trousers come on and so does a jacket given to me by a stranger I met on the road. He was worried about my arms burning in the sun and was insistent. ‘A gift from Thailand,’ he said; a young man who worked in a factory earning 100 pounds a month. Kindness. I’ve found a lot of that in Thailand.
In the east the sun now rises. Warmth fills the faces of these two lonely cowboys, a boy and his bike, just each other for company on an open road leading somewhere, out there, along there, anywhere, everywhere. We’re just riding. Finding. Searching. Discovering. Waiting for next week to come when we park our bottoms on the wing of an aeroplane and leave this great land for Nepal. Then the journey will really begin as we make our push west, home. To a plate of beans on toast and a cup of Tetley tea.
For now, as the signs count us down to our destination, Bangkok, I scratch my chin and think about this trip. I think about Pakistan and how glad I am that they’ve decided to let me in. I think about the debt this trip is getting me in and how much it shall grow. I think about the relationship left behind in Australia and how both of us will both cope spending another four months apart. I worry she’ll fall in love with someone else while me and Dot are blazing our trail, that someone more settled will sweep her off her feet and leave me with an empty heart when my boat docks in Dover.
I worry about Dot and whether she can make it. Her weary legs have travelled 18,000 kilometres so far and have at least another 20,000 to go. That’s a lot for a bike designed to potter around cities or local dirt trails. But her soul is strong. She will make it. She told me so.
Now though, as I peel the sopping clothes from my tired body in a backstreet Bangkok hostel, there’s no more time to think. Only time to do and to go. First to the British Embassy to ask if they can help me get a visa for Iran, then to the offices of the shipping company to reserve a seat for Dot on the Nepal plane, and finally on to the Canon shop where my camera’s been in for repair after I dropped in the sea. With that list ticked I shall return to the hostel to say farewell to a German friend who today is leaving.
We shall have a beer. And then I shall go to bed.