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

To Nan on a Ninja...

I had fully intended to get an early start but the fog was not being very cooperative.  As it was, I didn’t get started until around 8am and still spent the first forty-five minutes of my ride wet, cold and unable to see as I plunged in and out of the remaining pockets of fog. 

On Tuesday we noticed that I had Wednesday and Thursday free, so the wife suggested that she could hold down the fort while I took a blast over to Nan and back on the Ninja.  Having recently been to Nan in the truck I thought I would change things up by taking the mountainous roads of the 1256 and 1081 in a clockwise direction this time and do the longer ride on the first day while I was fresh.

The sun seemed to be in my face all day and I was anything but fresh seven hours later when I pulled into the hotel parking lot.  My ride all the way to Chiang Mai and back is a lot further but takes an hour less.  It also lacks the backcountry isolation, mountain twistys and sense of adventure provided by the roads of Nan.  On one washed out bend where I was stopped to take pictures I spotted this group of three Thai riders, the only other big bikes I saw in two days of riding.  I guess the riding season doesn’t get started in earnest until next month with the approach of the Chiang Mai Bike Week.

They say things have to get worse before they get better and that is proving true for the roads of Nan.  In order to repair the damage done to the roads during the last rainy season they are resorting to major roadwork in some areas.  While some of the more picturesque twistys are still intact there is a lot of dirt and one has to take heed of the little Thai roadsigns that warn of impending road hazards.  No telling what wonders await you just out of sight as you crest a hill or round a bend.  On occasion it was necessary to wait for debris and construction vehicles to be cleared before it was safe to continue.  While that added to the sense of adventure, it did cut down on the pure riding thrills that some expect from these roads.

A meal, a massage and a good night sleep had me refreshed but ready to return home.  Thursday morning I didn’t get started until 8:30am but the weather was perfect and the sun seemed to be at my back all morning as I returned home by noon.  Taking a more direct route home I took the 1080 to Tha Wang Pha and then the 1148 to Chiang Kham.  Only one section of 1080 was torn up with most of it being a psychedelic strobe light ride through the trees.  Good thing the road was in good shape as the play of shadow and light on the surface made it impossible to spot potholes if there had been any.  The sun was just over my right shoulder as I left Nan and danced on my visor as it pierced the trees at a low angle.

Day two turned out to be the most throttle twisting fun I have had on a motorcycle to date.  The 1148 has to be my favorite road in this area with an infinite variety of twistys.  Weather and conditions were perfect with the previous day’s ride making things feel relatively easy.  Some bends went on and on giving the feeling that you had done more than 360 degrees.  I discovered that my least favorite turns are the tight corkscrew downhill right-handers.  It just seemed hard to keep my weight off the grips with the steep angle and that made control heavy and uncomfortable.  The uphill lefties were just amazing in contrast.

I did stop to take a few pictures but stopping a motorcycle on a steep grade to take your camera out and snap photos is not the easiest or most natural of maneuvers.  The riding was so much fun that I often went for great distances before remembering that I needed some photographic documentation of this trip to add color to the blog.

After not riding much for several months I was interested to see if my enthusiasm would return with better weather and it has.  I find that I am enjoying riding alone or 2-up with my wife which I find new and interesting.  I am free to go where I want and do what I enjoy, without the constrains imposed by riding with others.  After all there is a solitary element to riding a bike.  The speed, danger, noise and the level of concentration needed, don’t lend to much interaction while riding, only after you stop for a break.

This last ride did reinforce what I had suspected about myself, that I prefer day-rides to overnighters and I would rather ride for no more that three or four hours at a go.  I can see how one could build up tolerance for longer rides but for me it would be more of a struggle than a joy.  For me it is not about how far, how fast or how long.  It is all about having fun, enjoying the scenery, feeling the freedom and being in the moment.  Sometimes that is more easily accomplished on a solitary ride and before fatigue sets in.

I am hearing rumblings that my wife might like to go for a ride together tomorrow but as yet I have no idea what she has in mind.

My Amazing Thai Wife ...

Fourteen years together and she can still amaze me.  After being reluctant to drive for years she recently stepped up, realizing she would need to drive while I was in Hawaii for a couple of weeks.  Before that there had never been a pressing reason for her to drive so it kind of sat on the back burner.  Now she chauffeurs me about more often than not.

She had never shown any interest in my Ninja 650 and then one day she suggested we ride it to Phu Sang Waterfall, a 142 km trip.  The day after we drove even further, most of the way to Mae Sai.  The plan had been to do the Doi Mae Salong route but we got a late start and had to change plans.
Taking pics

I had no experience riding 2-up but it didn’t take long to adjust.  It felt really good to have her along for the ride.  Then again everything is better when we do it together.  Worried about her reaction I took it easy on the outward leg only to have her ask why I hadn’t passed this one car we followed for a while heading toward Thoeng.  From then on I drove and passed as I usually do.  We didn’t go exceptionally fast, but except for the wind trying to take her helmet off, she said she didn’t mind the speed and really felt safe with me maneuvering the roads in my usual fashion.  That was a relief since I had been concerned about her reaction, sitting helpless on the back of a speeding Ninja.

Being Thai my wife has a few fear issues with things both real and imagined, but every once in a while she just says enough is enough and faces her fears head on.  That is more or less how we ended up going skydiving in Hawaii after her saying she would never do so.  She is still reluctant to do much hiking or any camping in Thailand as she doesn’t feel it is safe here.  It is her own country after all, so who am I to argue with the way she feels about her own countrymen.  Her rationale actually makes a lot of sense.

In the States, however, some of our longer and more difficult hikes were undertaken at her request.  She had seen young women on the trail and marveled at their self-confidence and athletic prowess.  They hiked alone or with a dog on the trails around Bolder Colorado in skimpy outfits that would be frowned upon in Thailand and seemed to have not a care in the world.  We also found people quite friendly and approachable on the trail, wherever we went in the National Parks.

San Francisco

Mount Rainier

Somewhere in California

Lake Tahoe

Grand Canyon

Crater Lake
Bryce Canyon

Fiery Furnace, Arches 
Multnomah Falls

Sadly my wife was born into an environment where children are controlled by fear, superstition and are held back, instead of being encouraged.  I guess it makes it easier for the parents but it does little to prepare a village child for the bigger world that lurks beyond the boundaries of their village.  Cultural changes do not come easily or quickly, however, no matter where you are from.  Oddly there is no shortage of visitors to this country who are eager to voice their quick fixes for all that they feel ails Thailand.

Most visitors tend to ignore the inherent dangers in attempting to tinker with another’s culture.  I constantly weigh the plusses and minuses of the tinkering I have done with my own wife’s world view.  She obviously pays a price in her own culture for having been modified by me to fit better into my own world.  On balance I think she has gained more than she has lost but I suppose only time will truly tell.  At least I am here everyday to provide support and encouragement when she struggles in her attempt to straddle the divide between her culture and the life we have carved out for ourselves.  In many ways she is probably better suited for life in my country than she is here, but here is where we live.

So life goes on, just as my love and admiration for my wife grows with the years.  From a child of 23 to a woman of 37 she has never ceased to amaze me.

11-11-11 in Chiang Rai

Just another glorious day in the Rai.  Loy Krathong went off without a hitch last night.  Donning light jackets to ward off the chill of a beautiful moonlit night, the wife and I moseyed down to the pond to float our Krathong on the still reflective water.  We had leftover lanterns from a previous year so unpacked them and headed for the front drive.  We were quickly joined by neighbors who felt compelled to help release our lanterns to the heavens.
Yes that is the moon above my head.

In every direction there was evidence in the sky that others were doing the same as us.  The loud explosive celebrants remained far enough away for my own personal comfort but the dogs ran off in terror at the explosive sound of the rockets.  From a nearby village there was a simultaneous release of a large number of lanterns that formed into something that looked like a double helix strand snaking its way into the bright moonlit sky.

After the neighbors left I convinced my wife to privately liberate the last pack of lanterns down by the edge of the pond.  An aunt and her daughter arrived just in time to help us again and to float their Krathong on our pond.  All in all it was a lovely night.

Earlier in the day I had taken the Ninja over the nearby mountains in the direction of Phu Chi Faa.  Before I tended to traverse the roads that led to town in search of coffee shops and companionship.  Now I find myself looking more to my own back yard and the roads that lead to Phu Chi Faa or Nan.

The Trek got another workout recently as I find this weather and the call of the trail irresistible.  Topping the trail the trees had been cleared providing a view out over the valley and a faint glimpse of our house near the temple.  Trail conditions varied greatly from rough and rocky to a newly blacktopped section I came upon while entering a nearby village from the mountains and fields. The temperature and the light are just so inviting it is hard to choose where to go and which form of transportation to use.  Even running is made more enjoyable by the more moderate temperature that has blessed us recently.

Random Thoughts on Riding My Ninja 650...

The oppressive heat of the day began to subside as the sun set heavily in the haze and dropped behind the western hills.  I sat with the dogs and the cat, on the driveway looking north over the fields as a slight breeze developed.  There have been some spectacular displays recently, with multiple thunder storms, towering columns of cloud, and the sun and moon at opposite ends of the stage, but this looked to be a grey and uneventful evening.  Slowly but surely, the shapeless mist-like clouds that lingered in the murky sky began to catch the rays of an unseen sun beyond the horizon.

I marveled at the progression of pastel colors that migrated across the evening sky from right to left, east to west.  I have recently instigated a jogging routine around sunset but today I was nursing a sore tendon in an effort to avoid injury.  What better place for recovery and contemplation than this pastoral setting, surrounded by my four legged friends and a soothing light show.

Realizing that next month brings yet another birthday, I began reviewing the events of my fifty-sixth year.  Most notable was perhaps the purchase of the Ninja 650r and the nearly thirteen thousand kilometers I have put on it, to date.  Most of that milage was acquired during the first six months or so, as I rode with a friend learning how to deal with the beast and exploring my own connection to the road and the bike.  Riding a motorbike is a very personal thing though most people probably fall into one or another of the notable subgroups of riders.  I have only recently discovered where I fit in.

My riding partner clearly headed down a different path from me, buying a much bigger and faster sport-bike, with an emphasis on how far, how fast and an almost obsessive need to ride daily.  I on the other hand have taken to riding my Ninja more like a touring bike.  The bike is merely the form of transport I use to get where I want to go.  Riding at a relaxed and comfortable pace, exploring side roads, stopping to take pictures and usually with some scenic destination in mind.  More often than not, that means I am better off riding on my own and at my own pace.

As the weather has turned intermittently hot or rainy, I have found myself busy doing other things.  Riding for pleasure as I do, the weather has a lot to do with my enjoyment and thus the amount of riding I do.  Distance is another issue for me as I prefer day-rides with my longest ride being roughly 500 kilometers to Chiang Mai and back, for servicing at Kawasaki.  I have already explored most of the paved roads in my area and find myself, as yet, unwilling to take on multi-day rides.  When there is so much to see, so close to where I live, traveling long distances to see something not that much different from what is in my back yard, seems questionable at best.  Perhaps that will change next winter but for now I seem to prefer sticking close to home.

Though I was first drawn to Kawasaki by their Vulcan 900, I was won over to the Ninja 650 by price and the relatively comfortable upright riding position.  At first, however, I found the strain on my wrists and subsequent numbness in my hands unpleasant on longish rides.  With greater experience and improved riding style I no longer put much weight on my hands.  The saddle modification has added to my comfort as well.  So who knows, there may yet be some long distance rides in my future.

Though I chose to write mainly about riding today, my mind danced about erratically touching on many themes, until darkness enveloped, the bugs began to annoy and the sounds of nature overwhelmed.  At that point we ventured back up to the house and I left my thoughts lingering out there in the darkness, to be revisited another day.

Bike Ride and Potluck ...

There came a voice from on high.  It was heard to say, “Go ride young men, go ride.”  Sadly, there were no young men to heed the call, so the village elders of the Rai, did mount their many and varied beasts.  There were dirt-bikes, sport-bikes, and cruisers, from 150cc up to 1800cc.  A truly eclectic mix.  No mountain too high, no rut too deep, no trail too rough, no sand too loose, no pachyderm too large, no river too wide and no bridge too flimsy to stall the momentum of these intrepid adventurers.  Couples and singles, big bikes and small, all held their own on this lovely but hot adventure.  Oddly the day bore more resemblance to our Sunday Potluck than your typical biker’s melee, as we spent more time sitting around talking than actually riding.  In the end, however, we were lucky and no one came off or damaged their bikes.

Attending both events, the Potluck and Bike Ride, on consecutive days, I feel qualified to comment and eager to share pictures.  Being as spread out as we are here in the Rai, special effort must be summoned to gather the rank and file in one location.  A monthly Potluck picnic has been instigated for the more laid back and food motivated residents.  The reward being homemade dishes from various lands, often unattainable in our local restaurants or anywhere else for that matter.  It is a pleasant afternoon spent by a lake with a near equal share of Thais and Farangs. Primarily, Farang men and Thai wives but with the occasional Farang family or couple.  Seasonal residents and guests do make an appearance on occasion, as well.

The Chiang Rai Hash is another monthly venue aimed at the slightly more athletic, though in truth it is geared more to walking and talking, than it is to running.  Sorry no Hash pictures as we have not attended for quite some time.


Potluck Sala

Hot Springs.  First Stop on Bike Ride

Kok River at Hot Springs

Motorcycle Bridge

View from the Bridge

River view at our lunch break

My Dream Guest House for Lunch

Lunch Venue

Harley in the Forest 

Elephant Camp

Custom Saddle for my Ninja 650 (ER-6f)...

Others change mufflers, shocks and power mapping systems on their bikes but I find my stock Ninja 650r quite loud and fast enough, thank you.  I, being partial to my comforts, and having had success in the past with a seat modification, decided to risked a repeat performance on my Ninja.  The first time I went in to enquire about the job, I was sent away with the admonishment not to return until after the New Year.  Okay, I should have known better.  After all, it was still the harvest season and nothing gets done until the crops are brought in.

Fast forward to 2011 and I dropped off the seat on an unseasonably wet, rainy winter day.  Too cold and wet for a ride, so an opportune time to have some work done.  I was told to return the next day to check out the foam and form, before the finishing touches were put on.  Being eager to see the progress I went in, fully expecting to be a bit early.  To my surprise the project was complete and looked great, even under closer inspection.  Of course the proof is in the riding and that too turned out to be great, when I got around to riding the next day.

So enough with all this talk.  Lets see some pictures.  I have included some shots of the original saddle as shown on my friend’s bike for comparison purposes.  You might notice that I went for more cushioning, a flatter seating area and a slightly raised and fuller back.

Original Saddle

Finally off for an early morning ride.