Showing posts with label Mountain Bike. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mountain Bike. Show all posts

VillageFarang moves to NEX-6, dumping the old S-90


I am presently going through another quiet spell with this blog.  I am still out riding the mt. bike and taking pictures, we even took a lovely day trip around Chiang Rai which included Doi Chaang and Rai Boon Rawd.  The pictures ended up going straight to Google+, instead of stopping by the blog first, however.  I am looking for new direction, or at least new motivation for the blog, but no luck so far.

You can see what I have been up to by going to my Profile Page on Google Plus.

The big news, is that my Canon S-90 was dying on me, and I was getting tired of fixing the dead pixels in my shots, so I recently went out and bought a Sony NEX-6.  The weather was not cooperative yesterday so I only took a couple of test shots around the house and I was blown away by the difference.

It is still grey and wet outside but I am keeping my fingers crossed for this afternoon.  I desperately want to get out on the bike and play with my new toy.

EDIT:
Okay, here are some test shots from my afternoon ride and one view from the house.  As you can see things are very green these days.











Just adding a new shot from the house today.


Something a little more recent.  Fishing.



Chasing Blue Skies …


It rained through the night and I awoke to one of those lazy gray days where one cannot tell time without the aid of some manmade device.  It was a colorless, featureless day, very good for doing nothing at all.  It had been far too many days since my last ride, however, and that had me chomping at the bit, restless to hit the trail but still uncommitted due to the weather.

By the time I managed to overcome my inertia, it was nearing noon and I was still undecided about which direction to take.  My initial plan was to head West but as I paused at the end of our driveway in a light mist, I could see rain in that direction.  To the East though, high above the mountains, I thought I glimpsed a touch of blue and made a quick change of course, in search of those blue skies.  By the time I was crossing the Ing River, I began to feel more confidence in my choice of direction.

The closer I got to the mountains the clearer things got.  That mist like rain which I began my ride in, was gone and the mountains beckoned, promising blue skies and clear views.  It had been some time since I last attempted the two kilometer climb to the mountain reservoir but I felt the call on this day.

Threading my way through tight village lanes, I found my way blocked by a funeral procession as I neared the mountain trailhead.  There was not an inch to spare on either side, and dressed in black as I was, I fit right in with no one offering to make a path for me.  I could see the temple up ahead, but at the processional pace, it was going to take some time to get there.  Taking a chance on a side soi, I eventually found my way to the foot of the mountain and the beginning of the torturous climb to the top.

It quickly became apparent they had done some work on the trail.  I have grown to expect the dramatic changes that one encounters on the trail.  Sometimes they are washed out, burnt out, overgrown, graveled over or excavated by tractor or backhoe.  As usual there were also some newly cleared slopes and felled trees, as the industrious locals seek to add to their meager incomes.

My biggest surprise was yet to greet me.  Heart pounding, lungs searing, panting like Cookie on a hot summer day, I stood in awe at what lay before me.  Usually I have been greeted by water which stretched from dam to forest with no vantage other than from atop the dam itself.  I had been there when the water was low but never like this.

There were massive old tree trunks scattered about and large areas were covered by a moss like growth which helped to keep one from sinking into the muck and mud.  Looking out over this odd terrain, which was usually hidden from view by several meters of water, I saw a few trails where someone or something had trod, leaving deep footprints, highlighted by the angle of the sun.

At first I venture slowly, uncertain of my footing.  Each step was an adventure as I walked my bike over the spongy floor of the lake.  From the tiny plants beneath my feet, to rocks and tree trunks which dotted the area, to the eerie feeling of walking in this giant bowl like space, my senses were overwhelmed.  I spent quite some time wandering about taking pictures and marveling at this magical place.  I really didn’t want to leave but I had spent much longer than usual and still had a long way to ride with the temperature rising and my water running low.

Reluctantly I found my way back to the dam and started home.  That is when it really struck me, how much work they had done on the trail.  Lets just say it was quick ride to the bottom.  It ended up being a 48 kilometer day and I am feeling it today but I still have a smile on my face when I look at the pictures and remember.


Crossing the river.


Clearing the forest.

An improved trail


The dry lakebed. 

Tree stump.

A dried out relic from the bottom of the lake.

A different angle.

Flying close to the ground.

Closeup of the green carpet on the lake floor.

The tiny stream which feeds the lake.

The stream coming down from the mountains.

One last parting glance as I leave.  Blue sky found.



Bike Repairs and Some Trail Shots…

So there I was, contemplating a ride after several days off, and with my wife back in school for the weekend.  While prepping the bike I noticed a ping or click emanating from somewhere.  There are only so many moving parts and joints that could be making a metal on metal sound and I quickly eliminated everything but the chain and rear gear mechanism.  With my limited experience I couldn’t tell it something was on the verge of breaking or not, so I planned a trip to Northern Bike the next day when the car would be free.  No weekend ride for me.

Peak was visiting with a friend back in his work area as I rolled the bike in.  I marveled as he had a quick listen for the sound, before proceeding to remove the back wheel and disassemble the gear set, or whatever it is called.  Nothing broken but apparently I have been over cleaning a bit and things had dried up inside where the gears fit over a ratcheting spindle of sorts.  A quick cleaning and greasing of the mechanism and it was silent running once again.  All of this without a break in the conversation.

If I were to purchase an additional tool or two, I could probably do it myself, after watching what Peak did.  As it is we need to go into town fairly often so it isn’t a big deal to stop off at Northern Bike on the way.  If either of us is too busy, it is easy to drop it off and come back later.  It is always fun to rummage around the shop to see what they have in stock, so maybe I am not quite ready to become a full time do-it-yourselfer, just yet.

While I was there I asked Peak to weigh the bike to see what I had ended up with after all the upgrades.  It was roughly 11.5 kilos or a little over 25 pounds.  Apparently from what I found in a quick search, that is not too bad for a hardtail with disc brakes.  Anyway I am very happy with the bike right now and had another great ride yesterday, after a night of rain.  It was too wet in the morning but by two in the afternoon things had dried out enough to ride without getting too messy.  It was still overcast so the temperature was good for riding as well.

I love finding new trails and new ways to connect old trails.  It creates in me a sense of adventure and discovery, which distracts me from focussing too much on the physical effort.  The camera plays a part as well, urging me to pay closer attention to my surroundings, instead of simply passing through.  The other day I managed to trade 15 km of road for roughly 18 km of dirt.  That 43 km route now has only a 5 km road section at the beginning, which is repeated at the end, and a few village lanes which are rough concrete.  Everything else is dirt or gravel of various kinds.

I had something else in mind to include in this post but perhaps this is long enough.  Besides I do have a few pictures I would like to share.  At least I already know what I want to write about in my next post.
View on a new section of trail.

View on a new section of trail.

Came across this Phaya Mengrai water control area by entering town from a different trail.

Sluice gates.


One last angle before leaving.

Taking a break on the new trail.

This was much better than riding on the road.

Riding through a rubber plantation.

Forest trail of hard packed clay.

A fork in the trail.

Reflections and shadows. 

Hilltop temple compound.


Pulling fish from his pockets.


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.



Out On The Bike, Finally …

I feel so much better, you have no idea.  It was six weeks to the day since I had been out on the trails, due to weather and being sick.  Yesterday the smoke and heat was awful but today there was an abrupt change in the weather.  An overcast sky kept the temperature just below 30 for a change, instead of the mid to high 30s where it has been.  The forecast rain did not appear, and though still hazy, one could breath for a change so I thought I would risk it.

It may have been interesting to go checkout the burning up in the hills but I wanted to stay away from the potential of smoke and thus had nothing to photograph on this ride.  I chose a relatively easy 40 kilometers, with a good mix of dirt and road, to tryout my new gears and handlebars.  I could really feel the difference today.  Gear changes were ultra smooth, the front end felt lighter and I felt I had a little more control.  My hands were much lower and that worried me, thinking it might do in my back, but it didn’t.  I still needed to shakeout my hands from time to time but no more than usual.  My position made it a little uncomfortable to look as far down the trail as I usually do but I made adjustments didn't feel any fatigue in my neck.

Having come to mountain biking relatively late in life, I haven’t moved very fast but I think this gradual process of upgrading bits and pieces along the way has helped me understand and witness the performance differences of each upgrade.  I can’t be sure how much of my elation today came from the new parts and how much was just the result of being let out of my cage, so I will take a few more rides before I do anymore tweaking.  It was really good to get out and I am sure the indoor work I did made it a little bit easier.

That is it for today.  I just feel so good right now I wanted to share.  It will be interesting to see how I feel tomorrow.

Speculation In Chiang Rai…

There is talk and speculation everywhere, as to what the future holds for Chiang Rai.  People seem to hold strong opinions on what will be built, when, where, by whom and what effect it will have on the future of Chiang Rai.  There are reports of the Chinese buying up land and driving up prices.  Our newest golf course, Happy City, was apparently developed by Koreans. 

Chiang Mai is still the primary destination for Thais escaping Bangkok but Chiang Rai is coming into its own.  Several Thai celebrities have properties in the area and we even have a few royals from Europe who spend at least part of the year on their own private estates, with one of them sponsoring football in the area.  We are slowly becoming a destination, not just a day trip or a stopover, on the way from Chiang Mai to Laos.

The new bridge over the Mekong near Chiang Khong is supposed to bring big changes.  There is talk of a rail line or two being built, from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and perhaps more likely from Chiang Khong to Denchai, but that talk has been with us for a longtime.  No doubt it will happen one day but I think it is still far in the future.  All this talk and speculation has got me looking back, not forward.  It started me thinking about how much has changed in the relatively short time we have been living in Chiang Rai, or Phaya Mengrai to be more precise.

Other than the bridge over the Mekong there have been two new bridges opened over the Kok River to facilitate traffic flow.  The bypass road which extends from the airport has opened two sections and it looks like a third is getting near completion.  I have heard another bypass road, on the other side of town, has begun construction but we don’t often get over that way, so I have not seen it myself.

Closer to home they have been widening the 1020 road from Chiang Khong to Thoeng and there is talk of another, yet to be built, road that may pass to the east of our village.  Landfill and roadwork seems to be constant and the roads to town are marked by the slow progress of heavily laden trucks hauling gravel from the quarries and dirt excavated from the hills.

The opening of Chiang Rai’s Central Plaza shopping mall has changed the shopping landscape and spurred other retailers to renovate and upgrade in order to keep pace.  New schools and restaurants have been added.  New housing developments are everywhere and now there is flurry of condo building.  I am not a football fan but I hear there are a couple of new stadiums in the area.  When we began our house they were still in the process of installing telephone lines, so the adsl high-speed internet I depend on, didn’t arrive until around the time our house was finished.

Living to the east of Chiang Rai we have perhaps been spared the most negative effects of development.  We enjoy the modernization in town but live far enough away, we only see it when we want to.  Close to us the biggest development has been the purchase of some 8000 rai of land between our village and the Ing River which has been planted with rubber trees.  Some rice land was lost but much of the purchase was scrub and prone to flooding, so the trees are a marked improvement.  Riding my mountain bike in the area, before, was a struggle and limited to the dry season.  Now the trees are getting bigger, there are trails everywhere and there is an interesting new embankment I rode on recently that helps to keep the river at bay.  The trees are tall enough to block views of landmarks, leaving me wondering where I am part of the time but with the trees boasting fresh young leaves it is a joy to ride through the plantation on the way home and I see real potential as a recreation area.

I have no idea how much of the new development and speculation will prove profitable for the investors.  Some think there will be increased traffic from China, while others think it will only be cargo trucks passing through as they head south, thus providing little benefit to the local economy.  I still stumble upon the ruins of old dreams from time to time on my rides.  Great ideas sometime lead to great folly and make for an eerie view of the gap between what could have been and what is.  I love riding through these resorts turned ghost-town but I am sure they represent a very painful chapter in the lives of others.

Since I began this post a while back, the smoke has become overwhelming and I have stopped all outdoor exercise until it clears.  My post about the burning from last year was republished by Asiancorrespondent.com, with more people reading the post this year than last. 

I moved the mountain bike indoors and mounted it on the training stand.  Besides getting a little exercise while watching TV, I am playing with adjustments, trying to find the most comfortable and efficient riding position.  Now I know what I want for my next upgrade.  Here are a few pictures from my last couple of rides before things got bad.
Kok River near Chiang Rai.

Flowering tree spotted from the trail.
Ing River near the rubber plantation.

Nice road through the rubber trees.

Flood prevention embankment between the river and the trees.

One of the lesser used trails in the plantation.
With all the holes, not sure how long this embankment will last.