Today is Christmas Day and while people around the world make easy decisions like which presents to open first, we had to make the most difficult decision for the trip. Our original plan was to just follow the recommended Google Map route, an easy and manageable 49km through some minor roads of about 25km. Or to use sealed good roads but it would be a huge detour involving nearly 100km.
There was only one way to find out the condition of the roads and so Ying Chang my trusty navigator and I, with Mark, hopped on to the Mothership early morning before breakfast for our morning adventure. Making our turn out of the main road into the left minor road was tricky as it was so hard to spot. When we finally found it, our hearts sank. The road began with a hilly section with loose pebbles and brown dirt, narrow and obviously more like a farmer's path. The Chevy had to spin her rear wheels to make some climbs and as we drove in for 2km or so, we knew this option was fading with each wheel spin.
There was no way our bikes could withstand the punishing roads (except YC's Santa Cruz MTB and Sinn Tail's Surly Troll) and especially a mountainous meandering one on the ridge. The Mothership too could get stuck. This was remote country and I wonder why Google Map recommends this route?
Hence with safety as the priority, the decision was to take the 100km route through mountains and piggy back everyone where necessary. We broke the news at breakfast and each put on a brave front although we knew that 100km with steep climbs would be a big ask, even for the best and strongest tourers. We met the Pastor who was happy to give us a lift near Mae Win as he had an errand to run but we were happy to work this out ourselves.
It was also lovely to say farewell to the lovely kids as they made their way to school as Christmas is not a public holiday in Thailand and I am glad KC captured these in photos.
So with breakfast taken and a prayer said, we first aimed for Mae Cham some 25km away but not without a group photo.
It was a most beautiful ride with cool morning wind in our faces. As usual speedy gonzales Lance and Wayne was off like a rocket and we soon saw 2 distinct groups - the over 50s and the speedys.
The ride to Mae Cham was pleasant compared to yesterday's killer hills and we rolled along quite nicely into town through magnificent scenery.
There were some killer climbs and we realised that these cannot be helped in this parts of the woods. More than just having a good bike with low climbing gears, conquering these hills require mental fortitude and determination which separates the men from the boys.
Mothership located a nice cafe 2 km out of Mae Cham and that was to be our lunch stop and meet up point. Celia and I took our time to arrive and had drinks at 7/11 first - always the cyclist's best friend. We seem to have taken forever to regroup however no matter how slow one goes so long as we keep moving, the waiting time for the front guys surprisingly is not too long. In this case, 30 mins only.
This cafe was somehow overwhelmed by our orders and I supposed being in a small town, 10 cyclists plus a few locals was a huge group to cater for. We had to wait a long time for our food and I took the opportunity to order some takeaways from across the road. But we were grateful for ice cold water and we enjoyed great conversations as always.
Looking at the terrain map, the next section that led all the way to the intersection of Doi Inthanon was daunting. Yet George who was feeling in the words of Karen Carpenter, "Top of the World" decided to ride with Sinn Tail carefully shepherding him. He was encouraged by his freewheeling experience 2 days ago and felt ready for some bike action.
KC was nowhere to be seen and needless to say, Wayne and Lance who was way way ahead. As the Mothership passed George and Sinn Tail, he directed us to carry on despite the hills. But later, we had a SOS WatsApp to say he has had enough and was all pumped out. We were actually surprised he could climb so far and on the Marin 4 Corners too, which did not have enough gearing for these hills. George did well for someone who is recovering from a head injury.
George was not the only one who got into trouble with these steep hills - all did except Lance. KC soldiered on bravely and was in good form but he too surrendered after a respectable distance.
I dropped off 4km before the intersection of 1009 and jumped on Celia's red Pocket which could climb so well thinking we have hit the peak. However, there were still some hills and I was getting pretty weary of them. As I was pushing up a hill, a pick up on the opposite direction slowed down and the driver yelled if I was ok. Turned out it was the Pastor from the Orphanage and it is so good to have angels everywhere. But I told him I was ok and thanked him! Even a well respected tourer like Mallika once remarked in the middle of her ride through this area that she "hated" hills - and this is from someone who I deem a true mountain goat!
I was so glad when I finally arrived at the intersection and even then, 60km of hard riding lay ahead of me. But we were not too worried as we had the Mothership which we can call upon anytime and reflecting on this, I am grateful to God our Heavenly Father who always watches over us each day as we journey on in life. He invites us to call upon him in our time of need because he loves us.
He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber Psalm 121:3
At this stage, Ying Chang was busy driving the Mothership through the many steep hairpins collecting the fold who were all spaced out perhaps as far as 5-7km. It was a full house onboard so careful planning was needed and you can trust YC to execute that with Swiss precision.
Meanwhile, I was enjoying the nice downhill of 1009 except that the road had been damaged and worn. 1st third was sand and dirt, 2nd third uneven surfaces and last 3rd is ride-able except prone to fast moving traffic. I was not enjoying myself as I was on Primo Comet slicks which could barely keep me upright and was struggling to grip the bad road. In moments like this, it was prudent to descent slowly and safely, on a wing and a prayer. Coming off the bike under these conditions is not pretty.
I coasted down till I arrived at a small village where I noticed lots of colourful tents were present. I can certainly understand how nice camping is under these mild wintery conditions and had half a mind to join them.
Continuing on a bit I found a cafe which I stopped to wait for the rest of the gang. Lance was the first to appear and he rested for awhile before zooming off. Truly, if ever there was a cycling hero in the flesh, he was right in front of me eyes. I placed my helmet with blinking lights along the road so that our friends know to stop here.
It was nice to see Sinn Tail next on her Troll and she is another cycling queen! Amazing climbing power and so helpful a person. Soon, the rest of the gang came along and I was happy everyone made it safely to this stage. Time check - 4pm and another 40km to go. We were in trouble if we were going to cycle but we all patted ourselves on the back for the excellent choice of having Mothership.
As we could not haul everyone plus bikes to Maewin, we had to do 2 trips. So I volunteered to drive YC and Wayne first but as soon as we hit the peak some 12km away along Highway 1284, they decided to ride to the hotel and that was great as I could turn around and pick up the rest.
Meanwhile while waiting for us, KC was making full use of his time at the cafe reliving his lost childhood. Too much climbs have that effect on us...
They were surprised that we came back earlier than expected and we were soon on the pursuit of YC and Wayne. At this stage, Lance was missing in action and we were so worried for him especially if he had made the important left turn to Highway 1284. As we drove through many winding and narrow roads, the sun was setting and soon it became dark. It was not until we were 2km to the hotel that we spotted father and son in the dark, looking at their GPS for directions. They were very fast and had enjoyed a great time of bonding together on the saddle. This is how it should be!
Then like the best news ever, we got word that Lance is at Maewin Guesthouse having a drink. We could not believe it - he has conquered 100+km of the toughest roads and made it before sunset. As we checked into the resort, we all felt a huge sense of accomplishment.
Being Christmas, the restaurant had a live band and all dressed up in Santa themes which was a fitting close to our very difficult day. We enjoyed a beautiful Thai meal and celebrated Christmas as great friends who have completed a great journey together as a team.
Maewin despite the crowds had excellent and efficient service. Was told by the owner that many Westerners from Chiang Mai love to come here for the weekend and this was evident in the restaurant.
We enjoyed the music, the food, the drinks and finished the evening with a game of mini-table tennis. This was so fun and I must get one for my home!
Christmas 2017 at Maewin with Team Lovethefold - it cannot get better than this! I went to bed with a heart of praise, gratitude and song for this amazing day where we saw God's mountains, experience his care and grace. After 10 days together, our Team really gelled so well and the love we had for each other was evident.
Merry Christmas everyone!