Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Solo trip to Udon

 Not all that much is happening here in Chiang Mai but I've been wanting to write a short post describing my trip to Udon Thani last week. I've fallen into a routine, albeit a comfortable routine, but there's not much exciting stuff to write about. Life over here is easy and I'm basically a home-body happily passing my time studying Thai, eating out, riding here and there, playing tennis and lately, contributing to the Open Street Map project. I'll have lots more to say about that in a later post. Nut and I moved into a new, bigger apartment a few weeks ago and it's quite a nice place that we've been adding bits and pieces to all month. We have a kitchen now, a huge separate bedroom, a living room, and 2 baths. Quite an improvement over our old place and at 4500 baht per month ($150) it's cheaper too.

Of course, heart surgery is on my mind occasionally. There will be plenty of time to think about that as the time to leave approaches so I try not to dwell on it. I did hear from a Dr. Johnston at the Cleveland Clinic who, after reviewing my medical data, told me he was able to offer me the so-called minimally invasive aortic valve replacement procedure.This is very good news. It means that instead of the standard sternotomy (massive chest sawing and splitting) he wants to use the newer mini-sternotomy procedure, which involves a much smaller incision in the chest, to access the aortic valve for replacement. Success rates are excellent, healing time is much reduced and there are fewer side effects. After giving up on the idea of tennis next summer, now I'm thinking maybe I'll be able to play after all. That would be most excellent. My endurance on the courts is noticeably reduced now. A 5-shot rally leaves me fairly winded and 3 hours of playing doubles in the heat wastes me. But I'm happy and my game is actually improving. I have hopes that this operation will change all that for the better.

The trip to Udon had a sort of dual purpose. I wanted to get out of the city for a ride in the country and also to visit my Homer friends who hang out over there. DC, Albert, and Sean were freshly arrived from Homer and the motorcycle has been just sitting around begging to be ridden. Nut decided to stay home and putter in our new place so this trip was a solo ride.

Udon's about 450 miles (700 km) from here and I always take two days to do it  breaking for the night in Nam Pat. It's a lovely ride especially at this time of the year when northern Thailand enjoys the clear air and moderate temperatures of its "cold season."

First burning of rice straw - Route 1105 near Uttaradit
Scene from Route 1268 near Nam Pat
I took Route 1268 to go from Nam Pat to Loei because it's such a beautiful, scenic trip. The road is very twisty though and it's become bumpy during the past year so the going was slower than I remember. I traveled the 1268 during my first few weeks in Thailand when three Homer friends and I did a big motorcycle tour of north Thailand. It seems long ago that we set off on that adventure but in reality, it was less than 3 years ago. That trip turned me on to motorcycling and to Thailand.

The jungle is lush along much of the route and that makes it shady, always a welcome situation in the tropics. I used to tease Nut about how she instinctively avoids the sun. Now, I too invariably cross over to walk on the shady side of the street.

Riding through the shady jungle - Route 1268
Along Route 1268
I got to Udon and hooked up with Albie, Sean and DC. Those boys were doing their thing, staying out late and chasing bar girls. But DC loves to ride and he's just bought a new motorcycle, a CBR250 like mine, only in black. We did a few day rides in the surrounding farmland and along the Mekong River.

The Mekong River north of Nong Khai
DC and I with the Mekong in the background
We got Sean and Don to go along with us to one of our favorite haunts, Phu Fai Lom park. I have posted similar scenes in the past because when I'm in Udon we always make this trip, so bear with me here. What you see below is a composite of two photos.  DC took one with me in it and I shot the other with him in it and then Photoshopped myself into the first one.

At the park
After a few days I turned the CBR westward and headed toward Chiang Mai. I decided to return by a slightly different route seeing as 1268 had been so bumpy. I drove Route 203 back through Phu Ruea and then split off onto Route 2013 just above Dan Sai — all beautiful roads and pretty farm country. Here are a few photos:

Route 203 near Phu Ruea
Serpentatious statue -- Route 203

I reached my little guest house in Nam Pat after a thoroughly enjoyable day of riding and ended up spending most of the evening researching alternate ways back to Chiang Mai. I wanted to try the back roads north of Lake Sirikit and after fooling around with Google Earth, my Thailand paper maps and my Open Street Maps that live on my GPS and computer I came up with a route that I thought might work. There were about 40 miles of dirt to cover but I reasoned that as long as it wasn't wet, it was worth a try. The trip up to where the dirt began was pleasant. So far so good. Route 1341 runs through very rural back country but the further I got the rougher and narrower it became.

Along Route 1341

Peaceful valley - Route 1341
Muddy ruts on PHR 4001
As I climbed higher into the hills I got excited about the views I would soon enjoy and that I was developing an alternative route over the mountains that could be a vast  improvement over Route 11, the limited access highway that one is practically forced to use for the last 100 miles to Chiang Mai from Uttaradit. But it was not to be. The road, PHR 4001, described as having a "compacted surface" was anything but. It was rocks, gravel, seriously washed out from the recent rains, slick muddy ruts, and then more rocks.

I might have toughed it out over the rocks but the mud was very slippery and I didn't want to risk a fall, especially so far from anywhere. So after just a few hundred meters I reluctantly turned around and headed back down the hill.

Maybe next time....