More About Mt. Biking and Village Farang …

I have been receiving some very helpful suggestion from readers about my mountain biking and that got me off on a tangent, thinking about my exercise history here in Thailand.  Actually, my thoughts went much further back in time, but the whole family history and childhood thing didn’t seem relevant to Thailand.

I have lifted weights on and off throughout my life and that was the first form of exercise I engaged in at the YMCA on Sathorn.  A hot sweaty little room off the swimming pool at the Y was soon replaced by working out in a friends apartment, on a free weight set he obtained locally.  We also ran through the streets of Bangkok but traffic was different back then.

Later, Clark Hatch opened a gym across from the US Embassy and soon after that several new hotels were built, most with high end health clubs and squash courts.  It wasn’t until my mid thirties that I was introduced to squash, and a love affair that lasted nearly sixteen years.  It was only an injury at fifty that put an end to my squash obsession.

I have never been one for team sports or competitions and squash was made for my style of self-learning.  I didn’t need a partner initially as I could stand there bashing away until I learned how to hit the ball.  Sure I get that it is more efficient to get a coach to teach you but I guess I enjoy a slower more agonizing path of discovery.  I watched people play and some would take the time to give me pointers.  As I improved I took on as many different players as I could.  All the while I kept up with weights, stretching, sauna, Jacuzzi, and massage.

Unlike a professional athlete who starts young and perhaps peaks in his twenties or thirties, I continued to get better every year up to my injury at fifty.  Of course I was never as good as the player who took the traditional approach but I was still having fun in my late forties and enjoying myself instead of lamenting what used to be.  I was also in the best shape of my life.

I struggled after losing squash.  I put on weight and it took nearly a year before I could lift any decent weight without pain.  Even then I had to be careful.  Moving to Chiang Rai was another big adjustment as I had to make do without a fancy health club.  To this day the health club environment is the one thing I miss about Bangkok.  The outdoor nature of exercise up country left me at the mercy of the weather and I had a hard time finding anything I liked anywhere near as much as squash.

One thing I tried early on was the mountain bike but I knew nothing about it.  I would ride for a while, loose interest, and end up doing something else.  I hadn’t had a bike since I was a kid and knew nothing of the advancements made over the years, so I guess that was to be expected.  The motorcycle was a big distraction for a couple of year but this last year I started coming back to the bike.  As I read a little, and talked to others, I began to make to changes to my bike and my riding style.  With each incremental change I could feel the difference.  To date I have changed everything on my Trek but the seat post.

I understand that if I had been an expert from the beginning I could have taken the money I have spent to date and perhaps bought a better bike than I have today.  The thing is I didn’t know anything at all back then and it is only through replacing and upgrading things that wore-out that I have learned about mountain biking and what it means to me.  This is the way I like to learn, with a heavy emphasis on trail and error, and little flashes of insight along the way.  I guess it is down to the stubborn, independent streak, that runs through much of what I do.

Anyway I have told my wife I want to sell the motorcycle and focus more on the mountain bike.  It gets me closer to nature and the things I like to photograph, while at the same time providing me with much needed exercise.  It is still not something I like to do everyday but it does provide me with multiple goals and opportunities for growth, development and fitness.

I rode all the best motorbike roads of northern Thailand last year but had no desire to do the same thing again this year.  I tried my hand a being a biker guy and found that we were not a good fit.  It was something I picked up fairly easily, never having ridden a motorcycle before I was fifty.  I tried it, and learned a lot, but it just wasn’t me.  Perhaps if I had fallen in with more likeminded riders, things may have been different, but I doubt it.

I am beginning to feel like I may have finally found a replacement for squash, in the form of my mountain bike.  I like where it takes me.  I like the way it makes me feel.  I like the access to things I like to photograph.  I like that at 58 I have a new way of exploring the world and that I have only just begun down this new path.  I don’t want to do it everyday but after a few days I really want to get out there again.  I like that it always feels like an adventure.

I want to thank all of you who have been so encouraging and helpful as I have stumbled along in search of a dignified way to go kicking and screaming into my rapidly approaching sixties.  I may be a dinosaur in many ways but there is still a Peter Pan reluctance and resistance to growing up that dwells at the core of my being.