Road to Doi Phatang, A Motorcycle Adventure...

This can’t be real.  This can’t be me.  Its dark, its cold, its late and I am still on my motorcycle, riding through villages thick with smoke.  At least I’m nearing home.  What is that eerie orange glow in the sky?  
As if in unison, the villagers were burning their massive mounds of rice-straw, leftover from the harvest.  Dozens of bright orange, flickering mountains of fire, and hanging above each, a gigantic glowing cloud of smoke.  
Somewhere in the midst of this inferno, I could just make out the silhouette of our house in the field.  Having previously taken careful note of distances from our house, of each and every potential inferno, I was not overly concerned.  Still ones heart sinks each year when this bacchanal, love fest of fire occurs.  
Anticipating an edict that, “Thou shalt not burn.”, there is a mad rush to set alight all that is flammable, before that day comes.  Not that they stop burning, when told not to.  Just that it is more difficult to evade detection when there might be someone watching.  So by the time the order comes down, most of the damage has already been done.
With the dawn of morning, as first light broke upon this chilly, foggy day, I had no notion that it would end the way it had.  Earlier in the week we had not felt well enough to accept a camping invitation to Doi Chang with a Farang friend and his Thai family.  Last night, feeling better, I did say yes to a Thai friend who wanted to ride our Phantoms to Doi Phatang, high in the mountains overlooking the Lao boarder, past Phu Chi Faa. 
Riding to our rendezvous point, I was shivering from the cold, as the fog clung to my visor obscuring my view.  I was greeted with a welcome cup of hot tea and warmed up while we waited for our third rider.  Briefly there were four of us, as we bumped into someone else at the gas station, but the trip was really two Fire Edition Phantoms and a Kawasaki Boss.  As we reached the foothills and started up the first steep road to Phu Chi Faa, my friend’s Phantom died with no warning.  
Repairs were attempted, but failed.  It was decided to leave the bike and continue the trip, with my two Thai companions doubled up on the Boss.  There were no further incidents but we took it quite easy as the roads were very twisty, steep and covered with loose gravel on many of the bends.  Some areas had washed out during the rainy season, so there were dirt detours and makeshift wooden bridges in places.
Higher up the mountain we stopped to visit another friend who has a school for young mountain children and bungalows for visitors or tourist from Bangkok.  The four of us sat around talking of culture, business, politics and life.  All of us being worldly and travelled, topics were varied, animated and much to my liking.  I must say, I could not hide my pleasure or my smile when our host was so adamant that the four of us must be of the same age.  Thais often maintain friendships within a narrow range of age and socioeconomic background, so being ten years older, I was delighted being seen as a peer.
We continued on to our destination, arriving in time for lunch, followed by obligatory shopping, visiting with vendors and taking pictures of the area.  On the way we stopped to take pictures of the cabbage patches that blanket the slopes but sped past the onion patches as there was less going on.  

Looking at the map it was decided not to retrace our path, but to take a slightly longer but better maintained route back, lower down the mountain.  Even with the haze, the views and atmosphere were fantastic.  The twists and turns provided an intensive course of maneuvering, braking and gear selection.  I would have preferred not to be driving directly into the setting sun, in the end that was but a minor annoyance.
Eventually we made it back to where we had left the lifeless Phantom, and in the goodness of time, managed to load it in the back of a pickup truck and have it taken to a shop in Thoeng, as we followed.  From there it was back to my friend’s house.  
Friends safely delivered and the contents of my saddlebags sorted, I was ready to leave.  “But you can’t leave.  We have made dinner and you simply must stay and eat.”  As I “waied” to all, I explained that my wife would be very worried about me riding my motorcycle after dark and I really needed to get home.  After all I had never driven at night, steadfastly considering it too foolhardy to do so.  
Had I been on my own, the day would have been much different.  Not better but different and more controlled.  It was definitely more fun with others but with that came more difficulties and responsibilities.  It was easier being a follower most of the way, with no need to make decisions.  It also meant that I was driving home alone on a dark, cold, smokey night with many hazards along the way.
Returning well after dark, to the relief on my wife and the joy of my dog, I was soon relating the events of the day.  It struck me that just the other night, while we enjoyed luxuriating in a hot aromatic bath, the wife and I had been discussing our differing outlook on group activities.  For me, more people means more responsibility, stress and less freedom of action.  For my wife, more people means more fun, less stress and more security.  
The day’s events provided excellent object lessons for both points of view.  I think it was clear to both of us, that it is not really an either/or decision on most occasions.  It is more of a balancing act, where we weigh the needs of those involved, against the task at hand.  Sometimes choosing one path over another and sometimes compromising as we strike a balance between the two.
So in spite of it being dark, and cold, and late, and decidedly not me, it was very real indeed.  In all, a good day where I stepped out of my comfort zone.  A day filled with beauty, friendship, camaraderie, overcoming adversity, compromise, new experiences and the simple undeniable joy of riding a motorcycle in the mountains of Chiang Rai.