Upon meeting up with Dad it quickly became apparent that this ‘ol cycling lark was on the brink of change. Gone were the days of camping by the bushes (no pun intended!) and in were the days of posh hotels and swimming pools! This was bike touring Bushy style!
Waking up in my private poolside room we enjoyed our breakfast before hitting the road, panniers overflowing with equally useless content; mine with a bunch of camping gear that I was not to require for months and Dad’s with enough art equipment to supply the population of Bangkok… indefinitely. The road was mostly flat which perhaps was a good thing seeing as Dad’s “training schedule” had comprised of one cycle to art club; a destination approximately 400m from our front door. The lack of preparation echoed my own in the lead up to this trip whereupon my warm-up bike ride to Chichester culminated in a train journey home… I wonder where I get it from.
We made our way down Thailand’s coastline heading slowly towards Cambodia. Although not rushed we had to keep half an eye on our schedule as we were to be meeting my Mum and little sister Ami in Sihanoukville. We jumped along the coast from nice hotel to nice hotel and I have to say, Dad did bloody well! He kept up the whole time, despite the paints and brushes weighing him down and, importantly, he always chose the nicest room option at the end of each day!!! This was a bike tour I could get used to!
In just over a week we found ourselves at the Cambodian border where we soon discovered that saying goodbye to Thailand also meant saying goodbye to smooth tarmac. The roads were immediately rough, littered with pot holes that were both sizeable and frequent. We bumped our way into Koh Kong just over the Cambodian border and checked into a hotel (yes of course it had a swimming pool) before having a look around the small town. We had timed everything perfectly with just enough time to have a look around Koh Kong before catching a ferry the following morning to Sihanoukville where we were meeting Mum and Ami. Timed perfectly that is if the ferry had not been cancelled as of 2009. As chief researcher and organiser I had made what Dad kindly referred to as “a cock up” and suddenly we found ourselves with 235km to cover in less than 24 hours. 235km was notably further than my longest day thus far and Dad was far from keen to take on the distance especially when he found out the route required us to cross a portion of the Cardamom mountains. Eventually we decided that Dad would jump on a bus the following morning with his bike and the heaviest of my bags while I would leave at 3am carrying minimal gear and attempt to make the distance in one day.
Come 3am I woke reluctantly to my beeping alarm and waved goodbye to Dad who had dutifully gotten up to see me pedal off into the Cardamom range. It was my first time riding at night and it proved to be stunning. The skies above me were clear but a huge storm was raging off the coast and the entirety of the sky to the south was periodically illuminated by huge bolts of lightning… a thunderous light show purely for me. Albeit beautiful there was an element of riding into the darkness that was unnerving at times especially when I passed a petrol station on the outskirts of town. Guard dogs behind the chained gates growled and barked aggressively at me as I approached and then out of the darkness I came across a man slumped in the middle of the street. He was knelt upright, head lolling forward onto his chest, not moving a muscle. I paused. He was knelt directly in the centre of the road, on the dotted line as it were, and to continue I had to pass within reach of him. I can only assume he was drunk and had passed out precariously, in prayer like pose, but with no one around for miles and dogs raging across the road it was insanely creepy. My heart pounded as I rode past as quickly as I could… uphill… of course. Once “safely” past I was too nervous to look back and I nearly gave myself a heart attack in my attempt to put some distance between myself and the eerie scene but I worried for the rest of the morning about the man’s hazardous position in the middle of the road. Had I been with someone else, or even had it been light, I’d like to think that I would have tried to get him out of the road but I had felt so vulnerable in the dark it was the best I could do to make myself cycle past. Cowardly? Yes probably. I may be nearly 30 but it seems I’m still afraid of the dark.
The rest of the day was, thankfully, much less creepy. In a nutshell, it was long, hot and long again although my average speed picked up once I passed the Cardamom range. Yet while progress in the mountains was on the slow side the scenery was awesome with lush jungle surrounding the narrow winding road. I had heard of other cyclists catching glimpses of some pretty cool wildlife and as the day broke I kept my eyes peeled but despite my best efforts I succeeded only in seeing a rat… a squashed one. I may be mistaken but I didn’t think you’d appreciate a photo of that. It doesn’t pack the same punch as an endangered hornbill.
It wasn’t until the early afternoon that a honking van signalled the approach of Dad in his transfer. He pulled over to say hello and take a few photos before continuing towards Sihanoukville and would you believe it, no less than 5 minutes after he left I got a flat tyre. It was my 6th flat since leaving Florida which, for nearly 15,000km, is pretty good going I think you’ll agree and my Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres had been doing a sterling job. They are tough tyres, so tough in fact that I have serious difficulty in getting them on and off so I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have to do it very often. Sat on the side of the road I removed my wheel and set about trying to remove the tyre. As I suspected, my travel sized tyre levers when in combination with my bad technique and pathetically weak arm/hand strength was not conducive to success and as time went on I achieved nothing more than attracting a bigger and bigger crowd of spectators. Eventually a young lad, who couldn’t have been more than 12, came over with a long crowbar and in seconds popped my tyre off. I patched the tube and he put it all back together in less than 5 minutes. Had I not been so relieved I’d have been suitably embarrassed! With a big thank you I rode sheepishly on aware of how ridiculous it is that after 15,000km I still couldn’t fix a puncture alone!!
Back moving again I made a final push for Sihanoukville but it was dark by the time I approached the town. I had planned to meet everyone at the hotel, located somewhere along Otres Beach slightly south of the main tourist strip. I was thus prepared for the area to be on the quiet side but unsure of the exact location of the hotel I had been banking on finding a cafe/restaurant with wifi en route where I could confirm my final destination. It was something of a shock therefore to find myself along a pitch black and seemingly empty “strip” that was apparently Otres Beach. With no idea where to go I headed for the only lights in sight. As I swung into the courtyard, would you believe it, the first thing I saw was the back of Mum’s head!! “Mum?!?!” I gasped. I couldn’t believe it, I had inadvertently cycled directly to my waiting family!
It is here that, once again, I am going to hand you over to Dad who has put together a pretty cool overview of our trip together. Give him lots of love in the comments for me would ya, I think you’ll agree he did an awesome job! Three cheers for having a creative Dad with an iphone 6 who is cool enough to come and cycle across a country with you! Nice one Pops xxx