Sunday, August 18, 2013

From Alaska to Chiang Mai

Dateline: Chiang Mai

I'm back in Thailand with my dear friend Nut, quite a bit earlier than usual, and it's good to be back despite the heat. I was sitting here yesterday afternoon surfing the Internet and feeling glad to be indoors where the temperature was a comfortable 85 degrees while streetside it was pushing 100. My comfort was enhanced by a floor fan blowing directly on me, and being practically naked besides. We hardly ever use the aircon but our big fan runs all afternoon. Evenings and mornings are quite nice though and the rain, which at this time of year is an almost daily event, drops the outdoor temperature 15-20 degrees. Getting caught in a hard rain on a 40 degree day in Homer, especially on a motorbike, would be a life threatening experience while over here at 85 degrees, not so much. I must admit I love that rain.

My time in Homer was short this go-round but the summer was a record breaker in many respects, especially the weather. Warm sunny day followed warm sunny day in almost unprecedented succession. Nearby Anchorage set new records for high temperature posting several highs near 90 degrees and broke the record for most days with temperatures of 70 degrees or higher in the month of June. July continued that trend.

My first day back - Anchorage, May 18 - snow with wind and rain
May 20 - Kirk's yard is still brown
I arrived in Alaska on May 18th, obviously a trifle too early. My old buddy Kirk was in Kansas helping his parents remodel their home so he was away for six weeks during which I stayed in his beautiful little hideaway. As you can see, summer started slow. I was cold most of the time and spent a lot of time huddled in front of the oil heater trying to get warm. Things changed quickly though and by Memorial Day weekend we were basking in almost tropical, for Alaska, temperatures. The beautiful weather continued for the entire time I was there.

The path to Kirk's home 10 days later
July 21 - Kirk's yard in full summer dress
I drove around Homer and outskirts putting the finishing touches on my additions to the Open Street Map of the area and visited some places I'd known about forever but had never seen before. Beautiful Eagle Lake sits just a few yards north of Basargin Road but is hidden from view by trees and scrub. It's a true gem.

Eagle Lake (N59.82704 W151.13339)

A view north to Bear Cove across a placid Kachemak Bay
I haven't been in Bear Cove for many years but it looked so inviting it convinced me to try and make it back for another visit some time. This was one of only a few cloudy days we experienced all summer.

I also stayed a week or so at another friend's home while he was away building a new get-away cabin at Little Jakolof Bay. Dave lives in a 30 foot diameter yurt that has a fine view of Kachemak Bay and the Chugach Mountains beyond.

View from Dave's yurt
I was treated so very warmly by my many friends that it made me realize all over again that I still have roots in Homer and that I'll be returning for summers until, well, just until....

My last day was extra special. I had lunch with Janelle, a favorite tennis partner who bested me many times on the courts and whom I hadn't seen for years. It was wonderful to get to see her and catch each other up on our adventures since she moved away from Homer. Afterward I played a farewell tennis match with Homer buddies Mary Ann and Chuck.

The day ended with a gala going away party staged by my partners at Alaska Boats & Permits. The food was perfect as was the weather. And as always, I came away feeling both humbled and lucky to have been somehow blessed with such a fine collection of close friends and colleagues.

After a too short visit with my son Tuli and grandson Harper in Eugene I arrived in Chiang Mai on August 4th. As soon as I got back I cashed in the stash of American money I had brought along and put a down payment on a new motorcycle, a 2013 Honda CB 500X. I know I've written with fondness about the bike I have now, my CBR 250, and it is indeed a fine bike for Thailand but riding two-up on the hills, with all our gear, is a bit of a struggle that demands running the smallish 250 cc engine at 7-8,000 RPM much of the time. Plus, riding in the semi-sporty posture this bike imposes tires my wrists when driving in the city with the constant shifting and braking required. With these factors in mind I decided it was time to move up to a more comfortable, more powerful bike with higher low-end torque and a wider power band.

Honda CB 500X
This model was introduced in early 2013 and is powered by a parallel-twin 500 cc (actually 470 cc) engine that is closely related to the single-cylinder 250 on my bike. It only comes in matte black and, to my mind at least, an unattractive white-red color combo. I chose black. The X model, there are also R and F models, is the so called cross-touring style and allows for a more upright seating position. That should take the pressure off my wrists. The bike is bigger overall than my CBR at 430 lb vs 360 lb with a seat height of 32 in vs 30.5 in. The one-piece seat is more generous than that of the sportier "R" series bikes too and that should suit Nut better. I'll do a road report after I get the bike and tell you more about it then.

It's inevitable that I compare life in Chiang Mai with life in Homer. Before retirement I had often wondered just how I was going to handle my passion for tennis, a summer sport, and my love for my adopted home in Alaska. I seem to have found a way to accommodate both of these needs by living in Thailand part-time. Unlike our neighbor and good friend Danny, who left the U.S. last year after retirement and has never looked back, I am always torn when I transition from one home to another. I reckon that's just my nature. I've never been good at making decisions.

The gardens at San Kampaeng Hot Springs
(N18.81570 E99.22811)
Danny and Nut on the road to San Kampaeng
Nut and me at our apartment on Siriton Road, Chiang Mai
Now that I'm back and have some new stuff to talk about, I'll probably be writing a bit more often. I'm back to full health after my aortic valve replacement operation in April. I'm feeling fit as a fiddle and have a lot of my old energy back. In hindsight, the operation was much easier than I had thought going in to it. I was playing tennis exactly one month after having my heart stopped and the faulty valve replaced. Ah, the wonders of modern medicine! Nevertheless, I'm glad it's over.