Sunday, 24 January 2010

Goodbye Cycle Buddies

You can pick another touring cyclist from a mile off! They are usually the ones who have a rack (for luggage) on the back wheel and big smile on their face when they see you. This morning, while I was having breakfast at my favourite spot in Pai – “Good Life” – I noticed a young Thai boy casually riding along, eyeing off our bicycles. I asked him where he was going and he told me he was going back to Chiang Mai.

Kit, is an 18 year old university student who was on his first ever long distance bike ride. He bought his bike in May last year, through savings he earned at an upmarket Sushi restaurant in Chiang Mai. A few weeks ago he finished his studies and made a split decision to ride his bike for one week around northern Thailand. He bought a cheap tent, some warm clothes and set off, not telling anyone where he was going or what he was doing. His parents assumed he was still studying and his friends thought he was back in his home town for the semester break. That’s the way he liked it!
He told me that on his first day he rode over 100kms from Mae Cham to Mae Hong Song (one of the steepest roads in Thailand), stopping along the way to see caves, canyons and other sites. Often when Chris and I were riding through Thailand, we would skip certain attractions because they were off the beaten path and most likely, up a series of steep hills. But not this kid – he wanted to see it all!

Although quite shy, he obviously wanted to chat to other cyclists about his experience. We invited him to sit down with us and he told us about his dreams to ride into Laos and around Thailand, while I translated. The spirit of adventure radiated from his eyes, and he mentioned that one day he will have enough money to go around the world, like Chris.

Throughout our journey to Pai Straight Up we have met and ridden with some other cyclists who share the same enthusiasm as Kit:

You have already met Gemma (Gems), the girl who rolled out of a palm-oil plantation and into our hearts. Gems has been my gal pal and a great support to me throughout this journey. Having Gemma on the trip also allowed Chris and I some space from one another, which was sometimes needed. Until she met us, Gemma was riding solo through Thailand and Malaysia and at times she continued to go off on her own, which I thought would be impossible for me to do. But since meeting her I have realised that the only fear I had was fear of the unknown and I have learned to value (and even crave) time spent on my own.

On the final leg of our journey from Chiang Mai to Pai, we were joined by two lovely guys . Sawang is a Thai touring cyclist/adventurer who rode from Chiang Mai through Laos, China, Tibet, Nepal to India for 10 months during 2007. He has also done a lot of riding in South East Asia including Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines and Laos. Sawang has a great sense of humour (Poot Len) and I enjoyed chatting to him in Thai about his experiences.

Gunther, a German backpacker who we met at a Christmas party, was planning to see Thailand after finishing an English language training course in Bangkok. Wanting a different kind of travel experience, he hired a bike in Chiang Mai, attached his tent and backpack and joined us on the final leg of our journey to Pai. I was really inspired by his ability to ‘just do it’’ and also amazed that he could get up those mountains after so many cigarettes! He was constantly attached to his English language dictionary and made me realise that there is a lot that I don’t know about my own language. After reaching Pai, Gunther decided to continue on his own around the loop to Mae Hong Song and back to Chiang Mai.

In Chiang Mai we met a Swiss couple who have been cycling for the past 2 years. I felt a strong connection with the lady Mira, who had a very down-to-earth approach to cycling. They don’t make plans, just take it day-by-day and simply live in the wonder of it all. She also gave me some really good tips for China and helped me to rest assured that riding there will be a wonderful experience.

But this morning I said goodbye to a special cycling buddy. Chris has decided to do a 20 day meditation retreat in Pai, which means we are cutting our time together short by about a month.

Chris and I have been friends for almost 10 years, but over the past two months of riding we have come to understand each other on a different level. I am proud of Chris and what he is doing through the Cyclestrongman Expedition. His ride around the world by bicycle is indeed a journey of self-discovery and I am grateful to have had a first-hand glimpse of this journey myself. Thanks to Chris, I now know what I am capable of and am excited to embark on some of my own adventures. I am also grateful to Nick Harrison, my ex-boyfriend and Chris’s friend, who introduced us all those years ago, because without that meeting I would not be sitting here today.

There is a book/movie called Into the Wild about a guy who takes off on his own into the wilderness to find the meaning of life. When I first saw this movie, I thought of my friend Chris who was planning to ride around the world alone and felt scared. On reflection, I can see that even during this trip I had a lot of fears about riding on my own (even if the others were not far ahead), camping on my own – generally being alone. But now I am starting to realize the value of time spent alone and also of time spent with others. This story ends with a quote from the pages of the man’s journal which reads: ‘Happiness is only real when shared’.

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