I’m reminded of a time, a few years ago, when I decided to take a mountain bike to a waterfall on the Thai Island. The bike was old but had enough working gears and brakes to make the experience bearable and potential successful. I headed off in the humid air. I cycled past red cars and giggling girls on bikes and turned right off the main orbital road into the middle of the Island. I only had a rudimentary map for directions but it felt like the right way and I soon left the urban chaos behind. As I cruised along the road I saw clearings amongst the rainforest with men standing around, collecting coconut husks and lighting small fires, not rushing to complete their farming tasks. The road signs were worn, faded and weathered.
Pretty soon the road became a single grey strip of concrete, there were signs in English and in Thai ordering those on scooters not to tackle the road ahead. My back was soaked with sweat. It was hot and even hotter when the sun came out from the clouds.
I rounded a corner with a derelict house beside it and looked up – the grey concrete road had another scooter sign with a red line through it and it just went straight up. I’d never faced a road like it! Across the world roads never defied the contour lines like this one – it just headed directly up transecting the virtual lines on the map. It was going to hurt. It highlighted the arrogance of man’s machinery over the country’s topography, or did it simply use the least amount of concrete?
I made a valiant effort but my thighs were burning, the heat was intense and I was worried for my heart. For the first time since I started cycling, I got off and pushed. Even pushing was hard work, my heart fluttering as I pushed.
As I reached the top of the road, it headed off to the right, and I finally felt able to remount and try and try and make my legs circulate again. I cycled past a group of bemused looking workers sitting in the shade with nothing in particular to do.
I continued onwards, the road alternating between its dramatic upwards gradients and more gentle curving upward stretches. I got off and pushed again. I had drained my water half an hour ago and it was now drenching through my skin, my t-shirt and shorts were soaked through. I could smell me as much as I could smell the dusty road and countryside.
Eventually, I came to a turning, with an old metal sign directing me to the waterfall, and I headed off the concrete road and pointed the bike downwards onto a little rough dirt track. There were potholes and ruts so it wasn’t much of a respite. I cycled past some more derelict houses and some inhabited ones too. The inhabited ones often had dogs barking, and I realised that the island seemed to have packs of wild dogs.
The dogs were thin but sleek and wild-eyed and barking. They kept barking and chasing me. The last time I’d been chased by wild dogs I’d been on a motorbike in the desert and I had the confidence to outrun them. We’d failed and I remembered the time we crashed off the edge of the piste in the failing light and landing on our sides, looking back to see that fortunately, the pack of dogs had given up their chase. We were only bruised that time and we mounted the bike again and headed out down South.
Back now in this Thai Island, I was unsure of my horsepower on this shabby mountain bike and my dead limbs and gasping lungs. I carried on, through the packs of barking dogs as is my way. The dogs seemed to lack the courage of their barks to actually make contact but it was unnerving and certainly motivating. I was already dreading facing the dogs again on my return journey back home.
Eventually, the track swung upwards and I could see a straw-covered hut in front of me.
I’d reached the waterfall which was a low key tourist site. I was very pleased to see a little hut selling cold drinks to tourists which was manned by two Thai people. I smiled and said hello to them as I dismounted and tried to casually park my bike up against a large concrete slab beside the road. Pleased with my standless bike parking I started to walk towards the stall.
The two stall owners who had previously been staring at me blankly started to say something to me and pointed at my bike. I thought they were admiring my bike skills but actually, they were pointing out that I had parked my bike right beside a bright green snaked that was now poised and ready to strike me. My heart felt like it couldn’t take much more stress and I very slowly inched away from the bike towards the stall. When I felt that I was at a safe distance I risked a glance back towards the snake, which fortunately appeared to have lost its stimulus and was now slowly sinking back towards the concrete slab.
I bought some water from the stall owners, and then shaken by my close encounter with the green snake cautiously set about following the narrow foot track down to the waterfall.
After about 10 minutes walking I finally reached the waterfall, although sadly all I could see were the smooth slabs of rock as there hadn’t been any significant rainfall on the island for months.