Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bicycling as a cure for the Trump Blues

Bikeride on October 20th — the Ping River near flood stage.
The other day, Thais mourned during the cremation of their beloved King Rama 9. Everything was shuttered, even the nation's thousands of 7-11s. Homer friends in Bangkok complained about the bars being closed and being forced out of hotel rooms because they had been reserved long ago for this occasion. It was a huge national holiday and I must admit, things were so quiet around here it seemed like a holiday for me too. I took off on my bicycle for a lovely 25-mile ride on lanes and highways that were virtually deserted. The area just south of my neighborhood is ideal for bicycling and so for the past several weeks I've been riding for exercise and to clear my head. The rural lanes are narrow and lightly traveled but they're all paved, and some are quite scenic, almost idyllic. My rides take me past countless rice paddies, fruit orchards, fish ponds and tiny hamlets. The entire area is in the Ping River valley and that means it's totally flat, a nice bonus for people who hate hills, people like me.

The other reason I've been doing more bicycling lately is to escape from Trump and Trumpism. I get on the bike with my Bose earbuds and Motorola phone, put on some good music and I can retreat from my email and news feeds and forget for a few hours the miserable condition our country is in with such a dangerous paranoid running it into the ground. I want to air my feelings about Trump and made a start on two or three posts but quit when I realized, not for the first time, that what I write and how I feel about Trump isn't going to change anyone's mind. History will determine whether this lunatic managed to destroy our government and precious institutions. If we're lucky, his legacy will be one characterized merely by the hate and divisiveness he catalyzes. If we're unlucky, his legacy could include the end of the world as we know it. I hope I live long enough to celebrate the day when Trump again becomes irrelevant.

September was on the warm side with temps in the 90s by late afternoon most days but the weather since the start of October has been quite fine. If I can get out before 8 o'clock the temperature is in the mid-70s which means heat isn't a problem even for someone who sweats when he reads. The rainy season is drawing to a close — winter is starting to make its presence felt and although I love the rain, I love Thailand's winters more.

A cloudy day on a lonely lane
The rainy season means lots of clouds and swollen streams and ponds. The pond in the following photo, caught during a sunny morning, I call Pretty Pond. It's about 9 miles from home. There's a small sala or shelter on its shore that makes a perfect rest stop. During my breaks I pause the music and listen to the sounds of rural Thailand, doves cooing, roosters crowing, and watch the farmer across the pond as he moves his water buffalo from pasture to pasture. I recently noticed there are nets running shore to shore. Whether the nets are for catching fish or divvying the pond into sections, I have no idea but Thailand has a lot of ponds where fish are grown for market. All of rural Thailand is studded with fish ponds. And it has water ponds aplenty besides those — rice is a notoriously thirsty crop and farmers stash water everywhere to use during the 6-month long dry season when there isn't enough rain to keep the rice happy. Anyway, my point is that while there are ponds everywhere, this one is special.

Pretty Pond (N18.67084° E99.02276°)

Pretty Pond shelter — my Trek MTB was a gift from Walt Bovich
Small sala overlooking the Little Ping River
Entrance to Wat Don Kaew
Last season I didn't ride all that much. I was spooked about uncontrolled dogs, which I consider the worst thing about Thailand. Unfortunately, Thais don't neuter their pets. That means some of the dogs I encounter on my rides are territorial, some much more than others, and those constitute a major threat to bicyclists and joggers. I've been feeling more positive about getting back on the bike after equipping myself with an array of defensive tools to fend them off. I carry a stout bamboo pole, a cap pistol, and lately a can of pepper spray. Usually, threatening them with the bamboo stick works but in cases when they persist, I'll point my plastic six-shooter at one and shoot off a cap or two. But now that I have the pepper spray, I feel empowered. Just let one of those snarling bastards get too close and I guarantee he'll never attack another bicyclist again.

Below are a couple of photos from one of my favorite parts of the rides — the peaceful, park-like grounds of the McKean Hospital. When I get here I'm only 20 minutes from home so I sometimes take another rest stop in McKean's big octagon shelter. Originally a leper colony, the hospital grounds offer the casual biker the most beautiful forest scenery in this part of town and I generally set my route to pass through here. It's a little paradise, an oasis of shade. McKean also has an assisted-living facility that's quite affordable compared to anything in the states. One of my friends is considering moving there at some unspecified point in the future.

Tall, stately trees shade the McKean Hospital grounds

Bamboo forest track at McKean Hospital (N18.73979° E98.98621°)
Home sweet home, 180/24 Ban Chang Kham Soi 5
(N18.74817° E99.00248°)
Last stop is our home in Ban Chang Kham. Nut has planted flowering vines out front to provide privacy and shade, which is invaluable in Thailand's tropical climate. At ride's end I'll jump in the shower and then return outdoors to sit in the shade with an iced latte, enjoying the morning air and chatting with Nut as she fusses with her orchids. Life is good.

On these recent rides, I've been listening to some new music by Agnes Obel, Spoon, and the Hooverphonics along with old standbys Phish, The National, and Arcade Fire.
I've fallen in love with Agnes. She's a Danish composer that I happened upon while listening to a few months ago. She writes the music, plays piano and percussion and sings on most tracks. She has three albums to her credit so far.