Showing posts with label Motorcycle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Motorcycle. Show all posts

Do You Miss Your Ninja 650, Dear? …

When my wife asked that question of me, on a recent drive to town, there was little hesitation before my answer.  I had been mulling over a similar question of why I didn’t seem to miss the Ninja at all, so was ready with a reply.  She was a little surprised, I think, when I quickly answered “no” to her query.  As a supportive and caring wife, I believe she was just checking to see if I was still okay with the decision I had made.  At least that was my take on her question, as she really didn’t seem to like riding two-up, so had no personal investment in the bike.

I like to think I don’t make impulsive decisions.  I may appear to pull the trigger and move on, but by the time it gets to that point, I have thoroughly vetted my options and made a choice.  I prefer to look forward, and don’t as a rule, spend time missing things from the past.  One exception might be that I miss being able to walk to a high-end health club and enjoy all their wonderful facilities.  I would no doubt be in better shape than I am presently, if that could somehow be combined with my rural lifestyle.

So my three year biker experiment appears to have run its course.  I went to bike shows, bike shops, road in groups and with a partner for a while, but mostly I preferred solo rides.  Northern Thailand has some really great roads for riding and I have covered them all, as both a cager and a biker.  Along the way I discovered some things about myself.  I don’t posses the rough edges and careless abandon that seem to be a biker prerequisite.  I like to be comfortable and clean, indulging my love of nature in perfect conditions.

I couldn’t get behind the whole live to ride and ride to live thing.  For me transportation takes me somewhere.  Armored up in my riding gear, I found it awkward at best, to get off the bike for a hike or a little photography.  Long rides were fatiguing but hardly a form of healthy, beneficial exercise.  I found that four wheel drive not only took me to places the bike could not, it delivered me in comfort and with toys and accessories to better enjoy the destination.

Though I did not so much as drop my bike in all my outings, that is not to say there were not a number of close calls, on Thailand’s notoriously dangerous roads.  I was helped by the fact that most of my driving experience was derived on Thai roads.  What others complain about as being unusual, unreasonable and unacceptable, I see as simply normal and expected.  Reacting early definitely helps.

With all the accidents I have witnessed and all the wounded road warriors I have met, it became clear that it was simply a matter of time before I was injured or perhaps worse.  For me the idea of living the rest of my life physically impaired was just not very appetizing and I am not yet willing to leave my wife alone.  I know people who have seemingly adjusted to their situation but I question my own ability to do so.

Then of course there is the Mt. Bike which takes me to remote locations while bestowing important health benefits.  Usually I ride from home but in combination with the SUV the options are nearly limitless.  The Trek can pretty much go anywhere I can hike to and covers much more ground in the same amount of time.

To bring you up to date on my Trek upgrades, I finally replaced my seat post which was the last remaining original part.  I had seen Thompson Elite posts online, and they came highly recommended by Lloyd, one of my longtime readers.  Enquiring as to what was available in my local bike shop, Northern Bike, Peak’s wife started digging about on the lower shelf where they keep some of the high-end stuff which is not on display.  Sure enough they had one Thompson that was the right size for my bike.  Comparing it to other brands on offer it seemed much lighter in weight.

Due to extremely hot weather my bike was on the trainer again so I fitted the new Thompson Elite and played with the adjustments.  I was really impressed with how light it was, and minus teeth or grooves, it was infinitely more adjustable.  It felt good on the stand but yesterday was my first chance to get out to test it on the trails and roads.  Rain the night before made for improved riding conditions, in the low 30s instead of the high 30s.  It was amazing how much better the position felt throughout the entire 40 km ride.

The only remaining upgrades that need to be made, are to me.  Fitness and weight are the only things holding me back from being a better climber over the rough bits.  I continue to learn more about riding and more importantly continue to find it enjoyable.  Riding takes me places that recharge my soul, provides me with photographic opportunities and gives me great exercise at the same time.  At some point I may need to try riding with others to get a read on where I am and where I might be able to improve, but I have yet to reach a wall that I can’t get past on my own, thought that day may come sooner than I think.

Clear Sky In The Rai ...

I awoke yesterday to an unfamiliar view.  Having grown accustomed to seeing little more than haze and a few blurry images, I got my first clear look at the scorched hills in the distance.  When the bad weather started I felt anxious and unsettled being confined to an air conditioned room.  Having found things to do and having adjusted to the new norm, I found it strangely difficult yesterday to get myself into gear and out of doors.

As Cookie and I enjoyed the nontoxic air on our morning walk, I eventually won my battle with inertia choosing the Ninja over the Trek.  I could have used the exercise but the motorcycle had not been started for quite some time and it needed the exercise even more than I did.  My mileage hangs at just over 17,000 kilometers, 13,000 of which were done last year.  At this rate I won’t be ready for the 18,000 checkup until sometime after Songkran in mid April, as I will need another six trips to town before reaching that number.  I can’t help but feel that even with the big drop in mileage I had more fun this year because of the trips I took and the sights I saw.  Quality over quantity one might say.

With little traffic on the road and not much to look at, yesterday was more about the ride and getting out of the house.  I ended up at the Mall reading the paper at Starbucks.  My wife was more adventurous and as planned went to Laos yesterday with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend.  Chiang Khong is only fifty kilometers away but neither of us have been over the boarder before.  I didn’t have the time or the interest to find out what I would need to do about my visa to crossover, so I let the girls have some time together.  It is good to see them on speaking terms and laughing together again after a prolonged estrangement.

We had rain last evening for the third day in a row.  After a beautiful but hot day, the sky went dark in the late afternoon.  We were first assaulted by ferocious winds that broke branches and scattered debris everywhere.  As the winds subsided the much needed rain began.  Unlike the previous two days, this was a proper rain, heavy even torrential but short lived.  Still it brought much needed water to our area and may delay the onset of further burning. 

Unless they were able to gather their cassava before the rain hit I doubt the workers there were appreciative of the rain.  On the first day of storm warnings they had bagged everything and the fields were bare.  Yesterday on the way home I noticed they had once again spread the cassava over the drying beds, taking advantage of the clear sunny day.  If their crop was hit by both the wind and the rain, one wonders what the damage might have been.

Today is a cleanup day.  The plants will recover from their losses over time and we will enjoy breathable air for a bit longer.  Such is life, as it bathes us in its infinite variety and unpredictability.

As an afterthought I wanted to share these images of a couple of friends who joined Cookie and me on our morning walk.

My Riding Season Comes To An End ...

My riding season seems to have tapered off to an uneventful end as I have completed all my favorite rides around the north of Thailand to date.  The last longish ride was a day trip to Doi Mae Salong with a connection to Doi Tung on the back roads.  I hadn’t been up there on a bike for a couple of years so thought it deserved another go.  Sadly the best views of the year have faded into the smoke that comes with the burning season.

The weather is still nicely cool in the mornings but is getting much warmer in the afternoons.  The oppressive heat of the hot season and the torrential downpours of the wet season take away from my joy of riding so no more long rides for a while I would guess.  There are still lots of easy day rides and I suppose I will have to get over to Chiang Mai for my 18,000 km service after a thousand or so more kilometers.  I will deal with that when the time comes.

Feeling like a ride today but with no real destination in mind, I ended up in town at a lovely little coffee house and day spa call Chivit Thamma Da.  It is a beautiful place right on the river.  Bumped into some friends having lunch there and was greeted by the owner who being a biker wanted to checkout my bike.

Other than great coffee and sweets they offer a limited menu that I have yet to explore.  The only thing I have tried is the Caesar salad and it is delicious.  This is such an unusual place for Chiang Rai that I wanted to share it with you through a selection of images I collected today.

On the way home I stopped by to say hello to my wife and her class of little monsters studying English at a local school.  Their English is not good enough to carry on a conversation with me so it is mostly Thai with a few English words thrown in to keep them on their toes.  They have a million questions on a diverse range of subjects.  Of course the bike gets its share of attention, at least from the little boys.  Here they are grilling the Farang as I prepare for my getaway. 

Chiang Rai to Pai on the Ninja ...

I was awake at first light and ready to go by seven but it was a cold, wet, cloud of mist that enveloped my world at this hour.  Delaying as long as I dared, half an hour later I was on my way regardless of the weather.  With the visor open, eyes stinging and water dripping down my face, I limped along at a feeble pace.  Bumps in the road would dislodge the droplets on the windscreen, adding to my discomfort and further blurring my vision.  It was the same with the visor on my helmet, covered in mist as it was.  It wasn’t until I passed Chiang Rai town that I was able to put the visor down and start making time on what I expected to be at least a seven hour ride.

One full-moon cycle had passed since our trip to Pai with Cookie in the truck.  This time I was alone on the Ninja 650, with only a vague idea what I would be doing.  I spent a couple of days on my Google Map examining our previous route and looking for alternate roads that would expose me to new ground.  Google Maps suggested a route through Chiang Dao which turned out to be a no go.  After speaking with locals in the area I retraced my path, pleased to discover that my wife had not missed a shorter route on our previous trip, but discourage that I had waisted valuable time on a false trail.

I am a bit of a dinosaur in that I have never used GPS and this time even traveled without a map.  There are, after all, road signs and locals to ask if one is uncertain about the path ahead.  The overcast conditions made for a cool and comfortable day of riding but not a good day for photography.  I had modified a liner from an older jacket to use with a new lighter one and that kept me comfortable during the cold wet morning.  It wasn’t until noon that felt the need to remove that liner and once again enjoyed feeling the cool breeze on my upper body.

I arrived in Pai at two thirty, almost exactly seven hours from my time of departure.  After a shower and a little nap it was time to eat and explore parts of Pai that we didn’t have time for on the last trip.  The first thing I noticed was the change in atmosphere.  Gone were the crowds of Bangkok Thais and in their place was a smattering of foreign travelers.  To be fair it was still early and the vendors were just setting up in parts of walking street but I wanted to take advantage of the evening light and catch the sunset down by the river.  The walk from the hotel to the river and back did wonders for my feet and legs.  Having collected a few shots and after a massage I turned in early, so still don’t know what the nightlife is like in Pai.

Twenty years ago I may have joined my fellow travelers in one of the open bars or restaurants but on this day I really could’t see the point.  I much prefer riding alone and at my own pace with time for photos and pee stops in the mountains but it is a little lonely when you get to your destination.  I guess that might be why riders like to travel in groups.  Another thing I have noticed, is that riders tend to be both drinkers and smokers.  I guess if you are doing something as inherently dangerous as riding a motorcycle, why worry about the added risk of drinking and smoking.  Still I find myself taking a step back when talking with fellow riders on their roadside smoke breaks.

Except for the occasional wave to a passing rider or a smile and a nod to a traveler I passed on walking street, all my communication was with Thais.  There is what appears to be a reluctance on the part of some travelers to talk to other foreigners.  If I don’t make the first move, the gap between us is not bridged, and we remain strangers.  Perhaps I was just tired from a long day on the bike but I just didn’t feel like mounting a charm offensive and allowed others to maintain their distance.  To be fair tourists and I don’t really have a lot in common, though it can be entertaining to get their take on things.

Thais are a different story.  I’m not talking about those in the tourist trade who make their living by interacting with foreigners but normal people who don’t have much contact with farangs.  A good example can be found in a couple of fellow travelers and their driver, I saw at breakfast.  We obviously saw each other but having not been properly introduced, as is the Thai way, we politely ignored each other.  Later, however, we crossed paths on a mountain pass where everyone stops for a photo op.  This time there was an instant sign of recognition and the Thai gentleman approached me as we took pictures of the sign that marks the spot and shows others where you have been.  A pleasant exchange followed after he discovered that I spoke Thai.  Also talked with Thai BMW rider from Bangkok for a few minutes.

I find even those Thais who speak relatively good English, are relieved to speak Thai.  Expats sometime take offense at being ignored, or by a Thai’s reluctance to deal with their mindless babbling.  If you don’t speak Thai, then what comes from your mouth is nothing but meaningless noise to most people, if you hadn’t guessed.  Throw in a lack of understanding about proper social etiquette and how to approach locals and what do you expect of an encounter.  The reaction of some expats is sad, however, considering it is their own fault that they live here without learning to speak Thai.  Recently a guy was complaining about bad service at a car dealership because they didn’t speak good English.  Leaves me wondering how many mechanics back home are great linguists.  Even expecting one’s wife to translate in an area where she has little interest, expertise or vocabulary is a little far fetched in my opinion.  I somehow doubt that the actual service was really all that bad.

Back to my travels, the next day started off with no more than a light fog as I headed out of Pai toward Mae Hong Song and Khun Yuem, where we stayed last time.  The weather cleared early and I managed to get some shots along the way.  The mountain pass at Doi Kiew Lom View Point was clear and not as windy as last time.  Making good time I made a quick pitstop in Khun Yuem, intent on making it to Mae Sariang by day’s end.  Parts of the 108 after Khun Yuem were quite quick, with plenty of opportunities to get out of second and third gears for a change.

Then of course there was a river valley where it looked like the road had been entirely engulfed by the river during the last rainy season.  Riding on the dirt was actually preferable to the patches that still had remnants of asphalt here and there, making the ride quite uncomfortable.  Anyway it gave me an excuse to get off the bike and take a few pictures.

I am embarrassed to say, I blew right past Mae Sariang.  I almost stopped at a big PTT station for gas at a wide spot in the road but was distracted by signs that had me choosing which road to take.  Stopping might have alerted me to where I was and sent me on a search of someplace to spend the night.  As it was, I was several kilometers down the road when I started to get an inkling that something wasn’t quite right.  At one of the police checkpoints along the way I discovered my oversight and though a little chagrined at my lapse, I was happy enough to continue riding until I got to Hot.  One officer thought I could probably make Chiang Mai before dark but I was pretty well done for the day by the time I pulled into Hot and I refuse to ride after dark.

It took some doing to find accommodation for the night and the place I found didn’t have the word hotel anywhere in its name.  It wasn’t quite as nice as the place in Pai but it was half the price and quiet enough, so I didn’t complain.  A little roadside food and a stop at the seven eleven and I was good for the night.  Interestingly day one and day two were both 371 kilometers and change, with a time difference of only half an hour from start to finish.

Initially I had planned to spend a night in Chiang Mai on this trip but found myself missing my home and my family.  I enjoyed the riding and being on the bike but the nights were far less enjoyable.  The wife and I talked several times a day, as I kept her up to date on my progress but it was not enough to keep me from missing her company.  Gone for me are those self-reliant bachelor days where I depended on no one.

I awoke on the third day to a beautiful sunrise and a burning desire to get home to my lovely wife and my dog.  The road from Hot to Chiang Mai, I could have done without and it was a relief to get on one of the bypass road around Chiang Mai.  I am not typically a speed or distance junky but my desire to return home combined with very light traffic from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai had me moving more quickly than usual.  I was lucky enough to slot in behind a car from Bangkok doing 120 to 130 when conditions permitted.  Letting him run interference, I was able to relax my field of attention a bit and enjoy the ride.  Even with a couple of leisurely coffee stops, I covered the 325 kilometers from Hot to home in roughly five hours and was home by 1pm.

For those unfamiliar with riding a motorcycle in Thailand, seeing a bike in the oncoming lane is often viewed as an invitation to overtake a slower vehicle or simply move into your lane to make a turn.  That means you sometimes have to retreat to the shoulder to avoid being hit.  The unregulated nature of the roads where I live make them a lot more fun but with the consequence of being much more dangerous.  Dogs, chickens, kids, bikes, scooters and various farm equipment, farm animals and their droppings are to be found on the roads.  On this trip I had close encounters with many of the usual suspects, with a lone cow in the middle of a narrow mountain road being the most exhilarating, one might say.  That is all on top of the sometimes questionable condition of the road surface.

Despite the dangers and inconveniences I still enjoy riding around in the mountains of Chiang Rai but I am happiest when I can return home at the end of the day.

Stuck in Second Gear...

This seems to be the season for doing, not for writing.  Yesterday was Thai Father's Day and though I am not a father I took the excuse to ride the Ninja over the nearby mountains.  Followed a route that included Phu Chi Faa and Pha Tang.  I toyed with the idea of calling this post "Lost in the cabbage patch" but "stuck in 2nd gear" seemed more appropriate as I was literally in second gear much of the day.  One section I actually did in first gear to make sure I didn't stall on the super steep hairpins.

I guess the mountain kids don't get a holiday on Father's Day.  With the onset of winter and the seasonal burning it is hard to get good photographs through the haze.  I still like to try, however.