I woke at 5am, my legs aching from cycling 100 hilly km the day before and then being forced to curl into a ball for the whole night to avoid touching the sodden sides of the tent. It was like I was on an island with the outside edges of my Yoga mat having soaked up the furious rain with me in the middle trying to conserve my body heat.
I frantically rubbed my arms and legs to create much needed heat to those areas. It was too early to get up I thought, I needed daylight and I was putting off putting on my wet clothes to begin the hard slog uphill ahead.
Today I just had to complete the mission and get through the Mountains over to the main road. I couldn’t afford to get in trouble with Thai immigration so had to do what it would take. Even if it meant pushing my bike through mud and the cold rain at night. It was going to happen. I was simply going to treat it as an Adventure Race.
Too easy, I thought. It’s all about just turning those legs over again and again.
Mapsme was telling me I had 1400m of elevation to ride however that was not to be trusted.
Yesterday it had told me I only had 1200m of elevation to get all the way to the Thai Border of Mae Sot but yesterday my Garmin told me I had ridden 1800m. I wasn’t even halfway to Mae Sot.
I woke again just after 6am and stared out from the wet, miserable tent.
Let’s do this! I thought to myself.
I managed to pack everything away in little under 30mins. Most things being very wet, and therefore heavier I was hoping for sunshine along the way so I could be a moving washing line and soak away the weight. At the last minute I threw off my dry clothes and put on my wet cold clothes and shoes. This was one of my most hated things about doing an Adventure Race. I shuddered as I swang my leg over my bike and started pushing down hard on the pedals to climb to the top of the first Mountain of the day.
“Awwwwww!” I cried out to myself as my sensitive groin area rubbed against the seat. In a few minutes I knew the pain would numb itself, and I was right.
Almost nearing the top I had to stop and put on my arms warmers and my (once was waterproof) jacket as the mist and fog set in over the hills and the temperature on my watch read 17 degrees.
Holy! It was 39 degrees only a few days ago!
As I made it down the other side the temperature got warmer and warmer and I was passing through some larger villages with small markets and plastic small chair seated restaurants. I stopped at a restaurant and managed to buy fried vegetables and white rice. A 16 yr young girl was interested (perhaps at little astounded?) in my journey and we communicated in broken English and with the help from Google translate. She told me by going on the roads straight ahead it was a quicker way to go to Mae Sot. I checked on Mapsme and her suggested route looked like it was full of many ups and downs (as opposed to the way i was going to go which was just straight up and down one Mountain.)
I decided I might as well go her suggested route as I peered out from the restaurant into the cold rain, pulled a funny face at the girl to say ‘This is crazy!’ and headed off into the unknown.
Passing very poor and unhappy looking villages along the way I finally came to the end of the road and bumpy rough red clay with small rocks lay the path ahead.
I climbed up and down, my pace definitely much slower than what i could jog at. The path was very very steep and wet, and my loaded bike made it very challenging. I often had to walk my bike, which was nice for me to get off my seat, but made for 1-2km/hr pace. At this rate I would definitely be walking right through to the next day. Mapsme told me I had 54km of this rough terrain to go.
At 2km/hr pace, that was 27 hours I had ahead of me!!
A few locals on scooters passed me and stared back at me in disbelief as i pushed my bike up the track, using my brakes to then haul myself up to my bike; and repeat.
I was going much slower than 2km/hr.
The downhills were so super steep, rocky, at times muddy, and mostly jutty with holes and ruts to manurer; so with a very heavy laden bike I could not go fast.
You could probably not blame me if I told you I was swearing, if I was saying in my head how stupid this was, how stupid I was, and how crazy this was. How I sat by the side of the path crying contemplating the 27+ hours ahead of this (what could be thought of as) torturous existence.
But I didn’t.
Those thoughts were simply just thoughts passing through like a cloud high in the sky. Holding no substance and having no purpose to helping me; so I simply did not entertain them.
There was no point.
What is the point of an unhelpful thought that would make my current situation even more miserable?
Admittedly this has been many many years of practice to finally get to this, and still many times I fall short. I find it’s much much easier to do this being by myself as when i’m with others I’m picking up on their energy, or I’m wondering what they’re thinking, or I’m more likely to mutter something out loud by mistake and have them latch onto it.
I’ve still got a way to go.
My Buddhist Nun Teacher told me, if in doubt “Pudo, Pudo, Pudo” which I actually have no idea what it means but to me it means be present by focusing on exactly what you’re doing.
For example if you’re walking, you’d say to yourself “Walking, Walking, walking”
Last year, as well as aiming to get my body as fit and strong as it could be for Adventure Racing in China in a team of super strong fast guys, I worked more so on my mind. If I could be completely present, I would get the best out of myself. However sometimes (ok actually most of the time) when at my absolute limit I found it so hard to push those unhelpful thoughts out of my mind.
Often it would sound like this in my head:
“You’re too slow!’
“No I’m not. I’m a fast, strong , powerful Athlete”
“Then why are you so slow? You’re useless. the guys are much faster than you. You’re slowing the team down. You’re ussssssseeeeeeelllllllleeeeeessssss!”
“Be positive. Be present. You’re amazing. You’re….
“You’re tired! The hill is huge. You’ve got so far to go. You’re sloooooow!”
“Shut up! Go away! I’m powerful…
“But you’re tired. See you’re tired! haha it’s tiring you out even more thinking those airy fairy words. I’m stronger than you. You’re tired, and you’re useless. See? See!”
It was often a huge battle.
By using the Nun’s ‘Pudo’ example, all I would be thinking of is “Biking, biking, biking” (over and over again.)
It’s really hard to have the ego mind interject with its unhelpful comments when this is going on, it’s also not tiring having to argue or counteract with positive affirmations that don’t really hold much substance (to me) when I’m in an extreme situation.
Just as it’s really easy to be cool, calm and present when things are going well, but put yourself in a tough situation (or spend a few days with your family) and you’ll see how much more work you still have to do.
So I’d simply repeat “Biking, Biking, biking” or pick another word such as “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful” and say it again and again as a tool to focus (and hopefully empty) my mind.
After a few hours and only a handful of people on scooters passing me, I thought to myself that a ride in a pick up truck for a little while would really be a great idea.
A maximum of ten minutes later I had to pull over to the side of the track as an old beat up Pick Up tore past me to make it up the slippery incline. I yelped in joy as he pulled over at the top of the hill and waved at me to get on.
It was a young guy probably in his mid 20’s who didn’t speak to me in a word of English.
“Mae Sot” I told him as he arched his eyebrows in amazement and then nodded his head for me to put my bike in the back.
I decided to jump in the back with my Bike. At over $5000 I wanted to make sure it was going to be ok.
But really, I should’ve been thinking about myself first…..
He tore off, like it was the start of a race and I remember thinking) or I probably yelled out
I was perched up over the wheel and was almost being flung off the track on every bump. My bike had heavy bags attached to it, it was going to be fine, but I wasn’t sure if I was!
I actually couldn’t believe how fast he was going.
Down below us was a steep drop and with the heavy rain the going was slippery so at times the truck would slide out. Also to make it to the top of every steep hill he would have to put the accelerator to the floor, the wheels spinning out of control and the engine screaming in pain.
I had a few moments being in absolute terror and wondering if I would survive, thinking how I could jump from the truck if we slid down the bank. I grabbed as many valuables as I could in between hanging on to the truck and stashed it in my shoulder bag.
Just in case.
If I had some money at least i could pay for someone to get me to Hospital.
My forearms were tense and tight from clenching on to the side of the truck to keep me inside, and my face screwed up in terror; but then I simply said to myself
‘Let it go. Relax’
I started to smile.
I then started to laugh.
And then I realised that some people would pay a massive amount of money for such a thrill seeking ride and I was getting it for free. So what if I’d die or severely injure myself or ruin my bike, why not just enjoy the crazy ride now?!
I cried out a “yippee!” as we tore around a corner, the back end of the truck going from left to right like the swing of a fish tail. I looked up ahead to a towering hill with thick ruts in the mud where another vehicle had obviously had trouble getting through.
As we almost reached the top of the hill we started to spin out and I looked down below and my terror returned as I envisioned us sliding out of control back down the hill and off the side of the hill.
Remarkably the truck hung on although now we were stuck halfway up a hill.
I jumped off the truck and we had a few awkward moments trying to communicate with each other about what to do. He obviously couldn’t get out of the truck with just the handbrake on, and I didn’t know what he wanted me to do.
Then another motorbike with 2 people appeared at the top of the hill, without a second thought ,and a quick chat between them, the guy jumped off his bike and found rocks and tree stumps and put it under the tyres of the truck. He beckoned me to climb onto the back of the truck and jumped up and down mimicking what I should do. Getting as much weight as we could to the back of the truck.
We took off with a loud squeal from the tyres.
I was filled with both complete dread and excitement.
As we neared the top, as much as we bounced up and down the back tyres couldn’t get enough traction and down we slid again.
We all sat there at the bottom for a few moments in silence contemplating our next move, and then another guy appeared on his scooter.
After a few yells and hollers the rather unenthusiastic older man climbed in to the truck and over my bike. We all jumped in.
With 3 of us in the back, this had to work.
He took off at speed again, and as we neared the steep top and deep mud we all jumped up and down the truck like young kids on a blow up castle, although the manner of a very stroppy kid when they don’t get their way.
As we made it to the top I screamed and yelled in joy and as the other guys jumped off, I climbed right inside the back of the truck with the bike almost on top of me and prepared myself again for the scariest ride of my life.
We came across another pick up truck on a corner and had a few moments of difficulty trying to get past each other, but yet the possibility of having another oncoming truck did little to slow this guy down. We were going so fast!
I was glad I wasn’t in the front of the truck and thought I would at least get a moment to potentially spring from the truck if it looked like we were to have a head on.
I looked in the back of the truck and saw a big bag of cabbage. Maybe his family was in a hurry to get the cabbage to prepare their meals?
I couldn’t believe this guy had gone all that way for (potentially just) a bag of cabbage?!
I pulled my phone from my sweaty clammy hands and noticed that we were now on a different track and not the same way Mapsme had decided I go. In fact, we weren’t even on a track in Mapsme land. This track didn’t exist.
I had a moments thought whether I should ask for the guy to let me off –
Maybe he was taking me down some dark track in the middle of no where to force his way with me?
Maybe he’d forgotten where I was going and was just on his way home?
Maybe he knew that this would be a better way for me to go than Mapsme?
I decided I’d just ride it out and end up where I ended up. I didn’t have any bad feelings about this guy, and I secretly hoped he might have made my 54km challenging journey potentially a little easier, local knowledge and all that you know.
As we got to the top of a steep hill, he pulled over and indicated to me that he was going to take a look below. He came back shaking his head and I silently thanked him for not going down there. He pulled to the side and we found big rocks and placed it under his wheels to prevent the vehicle going down the bank if there was indeed more rain.
We both started to walk down the hill and we arrived at a small, visibly poor village. People were yelling at us, smiling and laughing and mouths open wide. It sure looked as though this guy was getting some kudos leading a sodden, crazy foreigner woman around this small and very interested and curious village.
I doubted they’d see this very often.
I doubted that they’d ever see it again in fact.
We got to a muddy cross road and he pointed towards Mae Sot. I gathered from my limited Thai he was asking if I knew the way to go and I said yes holding up my phone with (nervous) glee.
He then beckoned for me to go with him, hands together with his head on his side indicating to sleep.
I quickly shook my head no. I had a long way to go and by now it was 3:30pm and it would be dark at 6:30pm.
Was he interested in me and wanted to sleep with me? Was he keen to show me to his family? Did he see that I was in desperate need for a shower, hot food and a good night sleep?
Unfortunately, I will never know.
It is the price you pay for having to obey the law and get your ass out of the country in time.
As thanked him and again and again I waved goodbye as I walked my bike down the road and got out my phone. According to maps I had just spent 2 hours of a potentially near death experience and gained nothing. In fact what lay ahead of me was actually MORE elevation and MORE kilometres than I would’ve had if I’d ridden it myself!
So called for local knowledge helping out!
What my phone was telling me is that I now had 56km of off road muddy tracks to walk my bike along, and 1600m of elevation! And that was only to get to the main road where I’d still have to ride 73km to get to Mae Sot!
I laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all.
I laughed and I laughed and I laughed.
And then I walked my bike as the rain started to fall relentlessly from the sky.
It sure was going to be interesting how tis would all turn out!