Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The ride - Day one and Two

Personnel: DC, me, Al, Andy. DC rides a sport bike,  a 150 cc Honda CBR while the rest of us have Honda Phantoms. Mine's rented, Al and Andy own theirs. Andy's is almost brand new.

Day 2, Nan, Thailand: I don't really have words to describe the trip we're doing. I used to own a motorcycle back in my Boston days,  a Honda 750 cc 4-cylinder road bike. I used to tell people about the best riding I'd ever experienced in those days, in fact I told that story again just prior to starting this trip. In southern Vermont there is a road that runs through the White River valley, Route 100 I think, which I had always described as the best motorcycling road I'd ever driven. I'm here to tell you that it can't begin to compare with the trip I'm on in Thailand. Riders in the U.S. are happy to experience a road with a few nice s-turns, or a couple of switchbacks, ones that you can lean into and squirt around applying a bit of thrilling acceleration as you ease out into the straightaway or if you're lucky, into another tight turn. I have just finished the second day of a ride that had hundreds of s-turns, countless hairpins, all on good roads in empty territory with virtually no traffic. And  each night we finish in a city friendly to tourists, full of night life and great eating. It's a biker's dream come true. I hate to keep stressing this but this world-class adventure to date has cost me less than a trip to the Safeway in Homer.

The hotel in Nan where I'm staying tonight is costing me 350 baht, about 10 bucks. It has air-conditioning, a huge room with TV, a king size bed and Internet, nice bathroom and a covered parking place for my rented Honda Phantom. The Honda is costing 12 bucks a day, and we're eating very fine Thai food for cheap. Our superb meal tonight (penang shrimp for me, morning glory salad and rice) cost only 750 baht for 4 big appetites, including beer.

The connection is a bit slow because it's 10 pm and this is the time when all us travelers are on the Net doing email, catching up with the news, and in my case, blogging. I'm not going to write too much but will post a few pictures and then come back and elaborate later. Below are a couple of screen shots of day 1 (purple) and day 2 (green) of the trip. You must click on them to see them at full size and be able to read the town names, etc.

We left Udon Thani at 9 am and spent the first couple of hours on highways with plenty of traffic, racing along through the sere countryside on our bikes. It's the dry season now so the land is brown and dry. And it's hot of course. I'm comfy in shorts and tee-shirt while the other guys are dressed more appropriately for what we're doing. They do a lot of biking over here so they are wearing clothing that in the event of of a spill would offer at least some protection. But they're not as comfortable in the heat as me. Things started getting interesting after we left Loei. The road started getting snaky and running up and down hills as we began climbing into the less populated regions. My bike, a rented Honda Phantom, called a "chopper" by the Thais, is not in perfect condition: the front shocks are leaking, the rear shocks are almost dead and it's missing on the hard climbs, but it's surprisingly agile and with its wide, low seat is actually quite comfortable. The other guys have all their gear with them loaded in panniers because they're not returning to Udon but I, thinking I'm heading off for just a few days, am traveling light: a couple of shirts, a jacket, my camera and computer gear, books, my GPS, my toiletry kit, some sun blocker, and my passport. But it's a kick to be back on a bike, hitting the road in this manner, gradually taking the curves a little faster as the traffic thins to nothing and my confidence builds. I remember how to do this--even though its been many years since I last rode a motorized bike. My partners are very good riders and have been at it for years. The constant advice I get from my riding buddies is to ride at my own speed.  Stay comfortable. We will wait for you at the next turn if need be. But I manage to stay with them most of the time. And it's all good. On day one we rode 235 miles and traveled from Udon to a little town called Nam Pat. We spent 6 hours riding and about 9 hours on the road. Our route is shown in purple on the Google Earth screenshot above. Nam Pat is in the teak region of Thailand and it seems everything in our hotel is made of this heavy wood. Below you see me reclining in a teak glider. I couldn't begin to lift this thing off the ground -- it must literally weigh a ton.

Day 2 began with a short diversion to look at a giant teak tree (Sak Yai Park) and a large earthen dam (Queen Sirikit Dam), built as a hydroelectric project. To the right is a photo of DC as he tries to recall the correct way to identify a teak leaf.

We went back to Nam Pat for breakfast and then turned north toward Nan, our next stopping point. Our route is shown in green in the Google Earth screenshot below.

We rode close to the Lao border (the yellow line) on several occasions and had to slow down to pass through checkpoints. The roads we took are very remote and have almost no traffic but many hills and turns. The boys chose a hell of a route as it turned out. We did 170 miles in about 5 hours of riding that day. Below are some shots of the Nan River taken as we sat watching the sun set with our first post-ride beers.

As I woke from my slumbers this morning I realized I'd been dreaming about the ride and wondering whether I completely crazy to be risking my life driving a motorcycle the way I am and in the places I've chosen to do it. One little fall, at speed, and I might never play tennis again. And there are no EMTs close by; there is nothing close by. A fall could easily prove to be fatal. I pushed those thoughts aside as I packed up and loaded my Phantom for today's ride.