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Team Wheeling in Sangklaburi

The next day, we saddled up to the counter at the P.Guesthouse in Sangklaburi, and began the arduous process of procuring bicycles for the entire nine-person team. With the Speed TRs always around, Scott and I had forgotten how much time we had spent during the pilot study finding bicycles. And how piss-poor the cycles usually were.

Three guest houses, a few repairs, and many rejected cycles later, we took off, all in a great mass, headed for the town.

We were quite a squadron, most of us on cycles that were too small for us, and almost all of us riding bikes that moaned and squawked with each pedal. Our first waypoint was the van station, where some of the team was to purchase tickets to go back that evening. Scott and I would be staying for a few more days, so we took that opportunity to acquire a few cups of iced coffee from a delightful local vendor, which while she spoke no English, took very good care of us, providing us with strong iced coffee, made with freshly ground beans in an old plastic espresso machine, and giving us a plate of friend banana pieces, which were sugared and spiced in a most intriguing way.

With tickets purchased, we got back on the cycles, and set into the wheel. The sun was hot, and we were an ungainly group. We quickly made our way out of town, not so much because of the speed of our wheeling, but because the town itself was rather small. Soon we were wheeling along the fantastic, rarely trafficked roads of rural Thailand.

The road was made of bright pieces of poured concrete, and wound among the steep hills that make up this landscape. This time of year, the air is thick with the smoke from slash-and-burn farming practices, so we were unable to see very far. But the presence of the smoke gave the entire experience a kind of mystical feel, which might be directly related to computer games that I played in my youth, such as Bungie’s Myth Series, which due to my slow graphics card, would need to save memory by shrouding the world in smoke.

We were rolling deep, manhandling the rusty old iron cycles, and sweating in the bright sun, which, even filtered through the smokey air made sunglasses essential. We had burned down a long slanting straight-away, when we suddenly we came to a large concrete bridge over a section of the man-made lake, followed by a giant uphill section, which we could see from the surrounding morphology would be long and arduous. I called a waypoint and we turned to the group. We were sort of between a Newtonian rock and a hard place, having already descended a fair way down  the recent straight-away. Our goal was to wheel across to the Mon village on the other side, to eat a little Mon food for lunch.

The Mon are an ethnic group from Myanmar, living mostly in Mon State along the Thai-Myanmar border. Things in Burma had grown tough for the Mon, as well as for many other people as the junta grew in power and activity. One of the earliest peoples to reside in Southeast Asia, the Mon were responsible for the spread of Theravada Buddhism in present-day Burma and Thailand. In Myanmar, the Mon culture is credited as a major source of influence on the dominant Burmese culture. Regardless, the Thai side of the border is full of small Mon villages, some of which double as brick and mortar refugee camps. One of these was to be found across the river, and was only one giant climb (and presumably a subsequent descent) away.

Back in Sangklaburi, we called a brief meeting of the team and finally decided we would go for the ascent.

As we all climbed back on the cycles, most of which had gears, few of which had the ability to change between them, and began to hump them up the hill, it occurred to me that you, dear reader, might be wondering who are these people we’re rolling with? Well, let me tell you:

Hood — A Thai fellow of Chinese descent, Hood is a comedian and a party animal. He is a warm person, and a loyal friend, notorious for his Photoshop prowess, and ability to create imaginative depictions of people, transported through space and time, often with additional organs affixed to unusual locations on their bodies or the surrounding scenery. He recently got involved in a project selling posh motorcycle helmets. We wish him luck.

Dane — Our fearless Bureau Chief, he is a giant among men – literally. Despite his size, he is quite gentle and intellectual. With his recent purchase of a Mono Machine, he is also becoming quite the electronic musician. His Thai is superb, and his lifestyle consists of making many many competing plans, most of which will never come to fruition, but the few that do produce quite glorious results. These were his last few weeks in Thailand before leaving to return for a short bit to the US. Many plans to return to Asia are cooking for him.

Karona –  From Japan, she’s whip smart, caring, and a woman who counts her words carefully. One might confuse her for being meek when first meeting her, though during our time together she proved again and again to be a tough cookie, never complaining, and always going for it.

Samara — A Canadian by birth, she comes from a mixed lineage of Canadian and Burmese peoples. She was living in Thailand studying South East Asian… studies. Samara is an easy-going intellectual woman, always willing to lay into a debate, and exhibiting that oh-so-hard-to-find, but most refreshing, ability to separate an argument from a fight. The first time I met this girl, she lied to me for 15 minutes telling a fanciful tail about Bedouin camel traders and arranged marriages. Entrancing.

Nico — A laid back French dude, dating Alice, Nico is 110% bro. Cracker Jack guy, friendly, and acutely stylish. He is as quick to share his hilariously stylized diving techniques while swimming in the lake, as he is to lay into a busted iron cycle. The man works in film distribution, and was also on his way out of Thailand to go work for the Cannes Film Festival in southern France.

Alice — Alice is a spunky, logical, and delightful person to be around. She’s dating Nico, that lucky duck, and works for a French company in Thailand. She is devastatingly stylish and makes a fantastic addition to any social gathering.

Golf — Golf is a giggly, friendly Thai girl, and a helpless romantic. I first met Golf on the eve of our departure. She arrived at Dane’s apartment with well over 300 roses, recently purchased to celebrate Dane and Karona. She is a warm and caring person, whose English skills are getting better by the day, thanks to a few American teen celebrity adventure novels.

Back on the roads, we were sweating hard and reaching the top of the hill. Nico and I were the first to reach the crest, followed shortly after by Dane and Scott.

As the rest of the team made its way up the mountain, a pickup truck pulled up, and out hopped Hood. He reached into the back and swung his rusty hulk of a bicycle over the side. It seems he had lost interest in climbing the hill and just hitched his way up.  Oh Hood, you sly dog.

Now that the worst was over, we could indulge in the pleasures of a breezy downhill into the smokey valley and the Mon town. Inside the town, we found many people selling hand-made crafts, and quite a few restaurants. We tucked into a meal of pig blood soup, pork fat curry, fried chicken and rice.

We crossed back to the Thai side of town over a long snaking wooden bridge, one of the longest in the world we later learned.

Communities there had sprung up on the water, living on pontoon houseboats.

Back at P. Guest House, we took a quick dip in the lake, before bidding goodbye to our new friends and fellow wheelers. As they climbed back into the van toward Bangkok, Scott and I returned to the hotel where we could relax into the womb of free wireless there, enshrouded in smoke, in the middle of the Thai countryside along the Burmese border.


Comments

  1. Mark/Dad | April 18th, 2010 | 10:06 am

    I spoke too soon in my previous comment! I loved the mini-bios for your companions.

  2. John Norton | April 18th, 2010 | 4:53 pm

    Nice touch with the bios. Golf’s intro made that photo with the roses come alive.

  3. Diane Heditsian | April 20th, 2010 | 1:56 am

    I love the photo of the snaking wooden bridge with what looks like a Burmese monk walking down the center

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