Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bicycling Fitness Campaign

If you had told me last year that I'd be bicycling in Chiang Mai, in the summer, in the heat, I'd have said you were crazy. No way was I ever gonna get on a pedal bike for enjoyment in the tropics. But I have. And I'm loving it.

There is a practical reason for my change of heart. I'm meeting my son Tuli in Germany next week where we will do a bike tour along the Saar and Moselle Rivers. I had a lovely time on a ride along the Danube a couple of years ago and was keen to do another. Tuli was available and interested so we decided to do it together. He lives in Eugene, Oregon, and bikes to work every day. In fact, he bikes everywhere. I, on the other hand, after years of fairly intense bicycling had all but given it up. The heat, my age, wah, wah. When I did the Danube tour I was fine for the first few days but after that my body began to complain. Well, not my body so much. It was my butt that hurt and it hurt enough to make the last two days of that splendid trip kind of painful. I was determined to get in shape before this ride and as I know too well the only way to prevent a sore butt is to condition it with riding. Luckily the place Nut and I moved to last month has tons of lockable storage so when my Homer friend Walt Bovich was about to leave Thailand I offered to store his bike. Of course, part of the deal was that I would be able to use it for some training. Now, after many miles of pedaling I'm confident I won't experience the same issues as last time.

Our rental in Ban Chang Kham
The neighborhood we're in is just south of Chiang Mai proper. This area was once the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom (Wiang Kum Kam, Wikipedia) and it's loaded with ruins dating from the 12th century. The capital was moved to Chiang Mai, where it's known as the "old city" inside the moat, to avoid the constant flooding it suffered from the nearby Ping River. There are something like 75 of these ancient temples scattered here and there in a two-mile radius. It's a very cool neighborhood. Our rental is a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home that costs 8,000 baht per month (about $220 USD), so it's significantly cheaper than our last place.

Nearby ruins of Wat Pupia (N18.74971° E98.99772°)
Just south of Wiang Kum Kam is peaceful farm country where the lanes are lined with orchards and rice fields. It's dotted with small hamlets, laced with canals and it's very flat. Walter's bike is a nice 18-speed Trek mountain bike with hydraulic fork and knobby tires. The roads and terrain where I ride don't require the knobbies and could be done without the gears for that matter because I seldom need to shift because there are no hills. The small lanes have light traffic and are a pleasure to drive. I had been thinking my riding would take place in Wiang Kum Kam itself because it's so quiet and visually interesting. But after my first few outings of 5 or 6 miles length I began wanting to see more and ride longer. I began expanding my radius to include new territory. Now I'll typically ride for an hour or two and travel 15 or 20 miles. Out of that total there is only a mile or so where I'm forced to use a bigger, busier road so it's a very pleasant way to get some exercise. I leave the house at 6:30 am when it's still relatively cool and traffic almost non existent. "Relatively cool" in Chiang Mai this summer means about 80 degrees — by afternoon the temps have been reaching 105-106 degrees! Whether that's because of El Nino or global warming I don't know but it's been brutal. I stay inside with the a/c on all afternoon. At any rate, the morning rides that started out being purely a training endeavor are now something I very much look forward to.

Typical road on the morning tour — a single lane of smooth pavement

Walt's Trek with my GPS mounted on the handlebars

A fishing pond on the wayside
Rice fields and my ride

Typical weed-choked canal - Ban San Pa Duea

Quiet path on the McKean Hospital grounds, Ban Pa Daet
Since starting this little fitness campaign I've logged about 280 miles on the bike so I should be in reasonably good condition for the ride. After biking from Saarbrucken to Koblenz on the river tour we'll take a train to Amsterdam, where bikers rule the roads. We'll spend a few more days riding around seeing the sights, checking out a few "coffee shops" along the way where we'll sample some of the odoriferous herbs that are legal there.

After that I fly to Iceland where I rented an AirBnB flat and a car for a few days. I'll drive around the area near Reykjavík seeing what there is to see before finally hitting the east coast of the U.S. and my daughter Carin's home in North Carolina. ETA Homer, May 24th at about 10 pm.

I'm counting down the days until I leave Thailand. Nut and I are going through our usual spells of separation anxiety. She's been cooking my favorite foods and treating me extra special. I'm starting to gather and organize my stuff for the trip ahead. I'll be leaving Chiang Mai on Sunday.

A note about dogs:

The biggest problem with riding a bicycle here, in fact one of the the biggest problems with Thailand, is loose dogs. Thailand is chock full of the mangy critters. Most of them won't bother you but many will chase a bike or a jogger and try to bite. It's scary to think about the possibility of a bite and the rabies shot to follow. Many Thais keep dogs to protect their property — most of those are confined to their yards which are enclosed with walls and gates. But many are allowed to run loose and those that live on small streets that don't see many bikers are especially dangerous. I carry a squirt bottle with vinegar for them and a shot in the face works pretty well. My buddy DC carries a stout bamboo stick that he swears by. Once a dog sees that stick raised, he says it stops them in their tracks. Some of the joggers I see are also "packing bamboo" for the very same reason. I just added a bamboo cane to my riding gear and I'm going to start using household bleach in the squirt bottle.

Walt's Trek equipped for mapping, and dog defense
Update April 22:
I had a chance to test "DC's bamboo hypothesis" on my ride today. Five dogs started running toward me growling with teeth bared. I raised the stick in the air and shouted Mai!, Mai! (Thai for No!) They turned away instantly and slunk back to the side of the road. A couple of them actually had their tails between their legs. The stick works much better than the bottle - I wish I could kill the bastards but for now the bamboo stick will be my preferred weapon.