You can’t keep a good lunatic down. Immersed for quite a while in various exacting responsibilities, I decided that enough was enough: I’d played at being Mr. Do-The-Right-Thing for far too long, and that it was high time I undertook a long bicycle ride in some interesting country. I hunted around, and quickly settled on an eight day, eight hundred and fifty kilometer ride from Bangkok to Phuket, that plays tag with both Thailand’s east coast (Gulf of Thailand) and its west coast (Andaman Sea). And so here I am, in a cute little hotel in the Nana district in Bangkok, anticipating the ride that starts tomorrow.
Sheer lunacy. As followers of these chronicles would know, I am not a stranger to long-distance riding. But this one is different. My previous long rides have all been on touring bicycles and hybrid bicycles, with a focus on comfort and good sense. The designers of this ride though, have purposely made this a road-bicycle ride; they believe that that is the only way to cover this much distance in eight riding days.. For those who don’t know what the term means, road-bicycles are those sleek low-slung machines that riders of the Tour de France and other killer races ride. They are meant for aggressive riding, with very high average speeds. They also involve being hunched up over the handlebars, the better to use the body to propel the bicycle, and the better to reduce drag. I have avoided such bicycles like the plague in the past, preferring comfort over celerity. I am therefore quite nervous about how I’ll perform on these nasty-looking contraptions. We will be averaging over a hundred kilometers per day.
Pretty much the first thing I did today in Bangkok—I flew in in the morning and have today to rest and catch up on sleep lost on the flight—is to go to the office of the tour company that’s organizing the ride, and make sure the bike fits me. I’d already asked for an adjustable stem to be put in, so that the handlebar height could be adjusted. Today I played with the fit, and decided that it is best if the handlebar is as high as the stem and cabling will allow. Even then, it is outside my usual comfort zone, and I need to learn how to sit and balance my weight on such a machine. I figure much of tomorrow’s ride—a relatively short one of seventy kilometers—will be spent adjusting to this bicycle.
Here is the machine that is supposed to be an extension of my body for the next eight hundred and fifty kilometers, after I was done making it as friendly as I could:
I have been to Bangkok before–coincidentally at the end of a different bicycle ride in South-East Asia about six years ago with a couple of buddies—and so taking in Bangkok on this one day I have in the city was not on my agenda at all. All the same, I kept my eyes peeled. The traffic was as bad as I remembered it from last time, but the city seems to have suddenly broken into a rash of pink taxis. I don’t remember there being too many of these last time. Contrary to what one might think (based, for example, on the Bangalore example: http://www.gopinkcabs.com/), these cabs aren’t run by women. There is apparently no symbolism to the pink. Still, it does give a sense of whimsy to the city:
But my favorite moment of whimsy was when I espied this dog and its owner riding their two-wheeler:
There appears to be nothing restraining the dog on its seat, certainly no seat-belt. I asked the owner, and she said the dog is perfectly comfortable there and rides with her in traffic just fine. The dog is five years old. I didn’t get to ask the owner how long the dog has been riding like this, but certainly, the dog gave the impression that there was nothing unusual in where it was perched. It appeared quite philosophical to me in fact, as if it were busy contemplating life from its unique vantage point.
Tomorrow I get picked up at 730 AM. We get bused to Petchaburi from where we start our ride. So technically, the ride is not from Bangkok to Phuket, but from Petchaburi to Phuket. But this is understandable: given the traffic, it may well take us a whole day just to get out of Bangkok if we were to start our ride from here. There are fourteen others (none of whom I know–I signed up a solitary traveller), and there will be two guides cycling with us the whole time. Plus, a support van, carrying water and so forth, and into which anyone who feels like a break from riding can pop in.
I must give a shout-out, a loud hello, to my fellow residents at Athashri, the senior-living complex where Prabha and I have bought a flat for my mother, and where we have been staying these past four months with my mother and aunt. They gave me a surprise send-off yesterday evening, tricking me first into believing that there was a business meeting which we needed to attend. The only business, it turned out, was to send me off with the warmest of good wishes! It was a very touching event for me; I was overwhelmed by the warmth and good cheer. They gave me a bouquet, and the roses were so aromatic I’d have brought the bouquet with me to Bangkok if I could. Here it is, sans the aroma:
Some dinner, then early to bed, and off tomorrow.