Hairy E-bikers Travel Blog  – Part 2/ Week 3

Including video at the end of this week

 

Day 15 (Danny)

The next day we set off early as we still had the majority of the journey to cover and we knew the heat was going to be especially harsh that day. We had forgotten/ not bothered to do any laundry in Vang Vieng and I was down to my last top. This white t-shirt was going to have to suffice for the 60 mile journey on dusty roads in the blazing heat and then my 90 minute gig in a reasonably established bar.

We set off in earnest and smashed out the first half without too much difficulty. We were both tired and snoozed over our lunch break, but knew that the mountainous second half was going to have to be done at full speed to get to Vientiane in time for the gig. The t shirt had predictably gone dark brown and was not going to work, that problem was going to have to wait but was playing on my mind nonetheless. We got back on the bikes and hit the mountains aware that time was running out.
At one point Tom suddenly stopped and veered off the road. He had spotted an old lady selling shirts on the side of the road. The serendipity seemed ludicrous to me as my last t shirt clung to me with sweat and dirt, certainly not suitable for the gig. I bought a nice grey corduroy shirt for about £2 and we headed off with one problem solved.
About 10 miles out disaster struck. A huge bang rudely informed me that I had a puncture on my back wheel. Not a problem, I jumped off and flipped my bike over. I’ve fixed a puncture before, it’s not normally been this hot but I’ve fixed a puncture. Tom and I worked together, got the tyre off and inspected the inner tube looking for the hole that had caused. Normally this can be a long process but was cut short when we noticed half the tube had been ripped open. Ok, we were going to have to replace the inner tube which means removing the wheel. Bit of a pain, especially in the aforementioned heat, but something we had done before. We removed the wheel, replaced the inner tube with a new one and pumped it up. Pumping with the tiny hand held pump we’ve got with us is exhausting work so when the inner tube began to bulge out of the so far unnoticed hole in the tyre our sweat started to mix with tears. There was nothing for it. We were running out of time, there were no bike shops for miles and we barely had a penny between us. We stuck out our thumbs, eventually being picked up by a lovely Laotian couple in a pick up truck. There was no room on the seats so we accompanied our bikes on the back of the truck and were driven the last few miles into Vientiane. Although disappointed that part of the journey was not being completed by bike, we were pleased to be getting into town on time after what had felt like a pretty epic race, overcoming fatigue, heat, a puncture, mountains, a spontaneous shopping trip and many many miles to make it to the gig (Picture above!) with barely a minute to spare 

Day 16-17 (Tom)

After some lengthy discussion about whether to go to Bangkok, we agreed that we could definitely get a fix for an ailing Balloo there, and may not be able to in the smaller Udon Thani (in case we hadn’t mentioned it for a while, along with Bagheera, were names we had given our Whisper Electric bikes.  Having brought us across China and onto Vietnam last year, they were once again transporting us on another mad adventure to Nepal.  Need-less-to- say, they were becoming part of the family) . Our decision was cemented by the train fare. A mere £8 each, including the bikes, in 3rd class to travel 575 km. The 11 hour stopper night train is simply furnished with 2 seater, straight back benches, slowly rotating ceiling fans and a hole in the floor as a commode. We drank whiskey in an attempt to numb ourselves to sleep on the unforgiving seats, but only managed short 20 minute breaks from the rattling carriage and the Thai early rainy season heat.

 

We were nudged back into action by an inspector’s baton and the words “Bangkok, next station!” Bagheera and Balloo were lowered to the station floor, mounted and then we drearily wheeled them out into the morning rain. The road to the e-bike shop was some 18km from the railway station,  through Bangkok’s bustling markets.  It was drizzling and the road weaved against one way traffic and over bridges with huge carp and the flicking tongues of giant water monitor lizards underneath. After some easy flat-road city cycling, something which we’d bitterly missed in the hills of Laos, we reached a place that Google maps called “train graveyard”. As the tracks ended, and the post-apocalyptic, graffitied engine wreckages lay in our wake the relevance of the name was all too apparent. The road narrowed to tiny passages lined by make shift houses, of all colours, that had been built over a blue-green coloured swamp, which we criss-crossed through. Dogs chased us, people stared, as we desperately tried to negotiate our way through this maze on no sleep. The people, hundreds of them living in the space of about 100m squared, were at once surprised and ambivalent at our presence as they went about readying for school and work days. The unique character of this strange, Riverside, thrown together neighbourhood will stay with me for life, beautiful and mystifying yet unquestionably tough.

After dragging the bikes across rail tracks and over thick mud we reached the highway and found the e-bike shop at long last. The boys done good. We showed them the sensor hanging off and for the magnificent price of about £2.50, they fixed it. We were exuberant! Feeling Balloo’s power kick in after days of nothing made it feel as though it was all possible again, to reach Nepal, to continue the journey and not have to walk back into Hanoi with our tails between our legs saying that we’d tried but failed.

We were back up and running! Both bikes working for the first time this trip, it felt. With a couple of hours sleep in a nearby guesthouse, a quick dash to a Decathlon to restock on socks and get Danny some shoes without huge friction burns in the bottom, we hit the road once more! Long, straight, flat ones too, finally! We promised ourselves a bit of lie in, until 8, after no sleep the night before, sank some beers, cleared our noodles and rice, and slept like kings with Balloo and Bagheera eagerly awaiting our next move in the guarded parking lot downstairs.

Day 18-20 (Tom)

We set off once more with nothing but flat roads and motorways as far as the eye could see. Finally moving at a good pace, determined to make up some ground, Balloo and Bagheera galloped northward. Then disaster struck once more 12 km outside Ayutthaya. Suddenly the steering was wobbly, the speed lost and then the all too familiar jolt as the puncture kisses the tarmac.

We sprang to action, determined not to let this put us back. “You find the puncture repair kit, I’ll get a bucket and water.” Before you knew it we’d located and patched up the puncture and were back on the road. Steering falters, speed diminishes, jolt, jolt, jolt. Pull over, fix again, change inner tube this time. Steering falters, speed diminishes, jolt, jolt, jolt. “Try just putting more air in, maybe it wasn’t fully inflated, it’s a brand new inner tube after all!” Steering falters, speed diminishes, jolt, jolt, jolt. Get off, calm yourself and start pushing, luckily we weren’t far from a petrol station, we wheeled the wounded Balloo in flopped down feeling defeated at a table outside a roadside restaurant. Danny began to converse with a group of intrigued young men, their leader speaking excellent English, who had surrounded the bikes. He called over to me that they had a spare tyre at their office which would fit Balloo! Within minutes of us arriving we’d ordered a delicious Thai green curry and the men had set off to retrieve the new tyre! By the time we’d finished our meals they’d returned and with their help we’d managed to take the wheel off and make the transfer. We were back on the road to Attuyhaya, the ancient capital and even had time to show Bagheera and the revitalised Balloo the old city ruins.

The road took us as far as Ang Thong that night. Then in the morning along a river with the occasional monitor lizard head breaking the murky, reed-banked water system, to Sing Buri for some lunch. We came across a strange Chinese place, and after eating, slipped into a snooze, until the old man who ran the place slapped my feet and shouted “you, no sleep!”

Still meandering along the banks of the Chao Phraya river with it’s cool trees offering intermittent breaks from the early afternoon heat, we continued to Chai Nat, and specifically a guesthouse (the cheapest in time) located within its bird sanctuary. Beautiful little bungalows, built between the bamboo trees with lit outdoor eating areas. We had a few dirty beers which led to a few more and the owner, an ex worldwide shipping worker, joined us and traded stories. He offered to pick us up some phad Thai from the town and so we continued drinking and laughing right there, we could have stayed there all night, but for the eternal calls of Nepal!.

Day 21 (Tom)

We were packed up and setting off from the bungalows when a cry from Danny broke through the opening track to ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDLES’. This has become my album of choice for shaking myself awake and into another day of pedalling. It was the cry of puncture. Time was ticking. The owner, the former shipper, offered his help and drove Danny and Bagheera into town to a tyre place. The rear tyre had, like Balloo’s a few days before, ruptured beyond repair. We had come to a grinding halt once again. Just one day problem free, please oh vengeful one! Early afternoon now, 40 degrees and nothing but tarmac spreading out to a distant haze. We took the distance in gruelling 30 minute bursts, with the heat searing and sun screen flowing along sweat-filled contours of skin.

At one point the hazy horizon, where tarmac and blue converge, was broken by the outline of a huge lizard. As we grew closer and attempted to picture the beast, it with uncharacteristic speed, considering the thickness of it’s tail and the stubbiness of its legs, slipped through the undergrowth out of sight.

Due to the mornings problems we were unable to visit the main tourist attraction in the area an old city called Uthai Thani, but fortunately we had seen some Thai temples at Attuyhaya. Instead, we headed directly for Nakhon Sawan, quickly found a guesthouse, and dressed in jeans as we’d spotted a nice looking bar nearby. As we entered we were met by a whole host of hostesses. In a bar with about 5 full tables, there must have been 40 waitresses, all attractive young women! We eventually managed to get an order placed, with 3 girls using translation apps and another 5 relaying messages between us and the kitchen, 2 more pouring us beer and another cramming ice into our glasses. Then the guitar player stopped and I gestured that Danny can play, and the country by country gig list received another tick.

Unforgetable night all in all!