Thursday, January 18, 2018

MHS Day 6 - Soppong to MHS. 70km

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We woke up to another freezing morning - this time it hit 7c! Getting out of bed was difficult as anyone who has experienced winter would know. Even going to the loo took a giant effort, much more waking up to start a brand new day.

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I had forgotten to top up my mobile phone data and had to brave the cold to 711 for that very important errand to be done. When I got back, everyone was at the breakfast table and looking very excited but shivering. As much as we wanted to set off early, it made no sense to be freezing on the roads so we left when the temp warmed up to about 15c which was 9-ish.  This meant we could take our time to enjoy our lovely bacon and egg breakfast. 

Soppong River Inn by far made the best one, with fruit included all for 130B including coffee/tea at the Seven Elephants Cafe. We all could not finish the fruit and kept it for later, and that proved to be a very wise decision.

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Today's ride was to be our toughest as can be seen from the terrain map. At least we were going in the easier direction compared to some poor soul going the other way.  Still, there were some pretty hard climbs and we just rolled on without thinking too much of it. Ignorance can sometimes be bliss.

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We took off bravely with a full stomach and a gung-ho attitude.  No matter what laid ahead, I know we can overcome them with determination, courage and when all fails, our faithful Mothership is on call! The first stage is to climb 15km or so to the peak and then I psy myself, it was to be downhill all the way from there.

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The climbs and hairpins came fast and furious. We were soon working our granny gear overtime and I do wish I had a lower climbing gear. 24" while sufficient for most tours, is NOT for the MHS Loop. So you have been warned. Aware that I have a recently recovered right knee, I was not going to push it too hard and when the going got too tough, the tough went walking.

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I soon saw the Mothership whizzed past screaming, "Jia Yu, Jia Yu!" but alas, I had no more oil to add to my overheated engine. But as one ages, we develop a secret weapon called mental endurance and it is that special inner strength that pushed me all the way to the peak.

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Out of nowhere, I spotted Lance coming out on my left from a side road to Hway 1095. Apparently, he had gone for some exploration as he was much faster than us and had time to kill. No wonder our world worships the Elixir of Youth and staying young etc! But my encouragement is to accept and understand that in life, there are seasons and to know which season we are in. Right now, I am in the season to complete the MHS Loop, not to break any speed records, because I can't!

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Like yesterday's traffic which was heavy at the peak, it was no different. There seem even more stalls selling all sorts of stuff and I wondered how they survived. We bumped into 2 Malaysian motorcyclists who were riding big 1800cc Honda Goldwings. I reckoned they had the best seats in N Thailand as they cruised anywhere and everywhere in supreme comfort. However when it comes to feeling accomplished and satisfied, nothing beats cycling this loop, on your own strength.

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We were surprisingly not too tired at the peak as we have grown to expect long climbs by now and to pace ourselves. It was time for Sol Sol and Hana, my travel companions, to take a photo here as they have been here at this same spot in Jan 2014 with a few more mates on an earlier LTF tour.

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Sol and Hana - Dec 2017
Sol and gang - Jan 2014

I informed the team the best news ever - that the next stage was a 12km descent and before I knew it, everyone was gone, leaving myself all alone. Feeling somewhat amused, I launched myself down with glee like a child on top of very long slide. I tried catching up with the team but they were nowhere to be seen. I was once again, completely alone.

But then again, this gave me the opportunity to reflect on how beautiful life is as given by our Great God... The freedom to fly away on my bicycle. This old song by Amy Grant captures my feeling and I'm sure you know the feeling. I hope you enjoy it!

For the encouragement of my friends who feel bad about being too "slow", I say to you do not be discouraged. So long as you keep moving, the waiting time for those in front will be approximately 15 mins at most for every 10-15km stretch, which is not too long. I took the opportunity to take a few photos as well and truly enjoyed my solitude time.

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When the descend ended, I pushed on a few more climbs and came across a small village with some shops. I spotted the Mothership and there was everyone having drinks and looking so happy. But I have come across this village before and told them to move along another 2-3km where there was a shop that served very nice Khao Phad or fried rice. 

Arriving there, we met a Thai local tourer who was going the other direction towards Soppong. I felt so sorry for him when he asked if there were some more climbs as we just descended 12km! He did looked knackered. Though we struggled to communicate, we knew we were brothers as we were fellow tourers with a shared passion and we gave him some chocolates.

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This stretch of Hway 1095 is very sparse when it came to cooked food so this little stop is truly a life saver. It is about 15km from the first peak, heading towards MHS. We ate our Khao Phads gratefully and that really boosted our energy. Interestingly, it was at this stop that Celia and Pete Roscoe were resting at these same wooden benches few years ago and I took a photo to mark this occasion.

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Ying Chang then told me that they passed Mallika, the Thai Tourer on their way here and she was probably 5km or so ahead of us. That got us going and I decided to jump on the Mothership to catch a ride until we caught up with Mallika.

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It proved to be a very wise decision as at this stage, it was the beginning of a 10km climb and at some parts, the Mothership had to shift down to 2nd gear. We passed Lance and was surprised at how far he has covered despite the hills. Truly, he is a mountain goat! Finally, we spotted a lone cyclist heavy laden with 35kg of gear on 4 panniers struggling up a hill. It was our friend Mallika! She was just spinning her way up on her Thorn Sherpa.

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We pulled off the road safely some 50m  in front of her and I hopped out to give her a push up a very steep hill. What impressed was that she had a certain calmness and Zen attitude to hills and broke into a friendly smile despite those long climbs.

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We exchanged greetings and learned that she was on her way to Pla Cave (Fish Cave) where she will be camping. She had left Soppong at 8am, when it was still so cold. By this time, all the team caught up with us and we introduced ourselves and exchanged details. Everyone was so excited!

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 I felt so blessed to be able to ride with her all the way from here to Pla Cave, some 15km or so and enjoyed the pace that she went along. Just cycling with Mallika, I learn that touring is certainly about just going at your own pace. Despite her diminutive size, she had a giant of a reputation among the Thai tourers and for good reasons. Slow and steady was her style through the climbs and when it came to downhills, she descended with confidence, poise, speed and aplomb.  

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Our ride together ended too soon and certainly, this was a very special time for me to be able to ride with a Thai Legend for an hour or so. 

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Mothership was waiting for us at Pla Cave and we said farewell to Mallika who wasted no time in setting up her tent. We took this opportunity to order drinks and have some freshly cooked Phad Thai. I encouraged Wendy and Sinn Tail to go in to enjoy the beautiful Pla Cave and they did.

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On her way out, Wendy bumped into Mallika, all ready for the evening! No one can tell that she had just completed a day of very hard and grueling cycling as she looked so fresh and youthful. Cycling has its benefits.

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We had only about 20km to Mae Hong Son and we pushed on.  Wayne and Lance set off first as they have been waiting the longest.  I was expecting the climbs to end but it surprised us with a steep one just out of Thampla Cave.  But when the end was near, we always can do it. Traffic was certainly building up but it was no issue.

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As we entered Mae Hong Son, the familiar archway greeted us. I took this opportunity to whip out the GPS to navigate ourselves to the our guesthouse - Baan Mai.

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It was so delightful to be cruising through the streets of this beautiful town where we were going to spend 2 nights. As the sun was setting, this was what photographers call the "magic hour" and I managed to shoot a photo of this temple at MHS Lake. With the sun beautifully shining on its magnificent golden tower, it was a sight to behold and it looked much better in real life. 

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It was so nice to finally arrive at Ban Mai Guesthouse where we have booked the whole resort. It is run by Nong Jum, a mid-age lady who used to work in the UN as a Social Worker and we got along like a house on fire.

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Baan Mai is an old Thai wooden house and if you like traditional architecture like me, this would be your cup of tea. Be warned though, it is shared bathrooms only. Behind they have a new wing which half of our team stayed in. The reception area serves complimentary coffee/tea and we had some nice cut fruit to welcome us.

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What impressed is also how clean the whole place is and with a shoes off policy, one can really feel the clean floors on our soles.  I love my bedroom - which was spacious and had a thoughtful clothes rack too to hang the laundry. However, this being a Thai wooden house, be warned. Little did I know how thin the walls were and sleeping between 2 natural orchestras was challenging to say the least, but that is a story to be told for another time.

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We enjoyed our dinner at the famous Sunflower Restaurant and it was nice to have live music. The performer was really great, belting out hits from the 70s and 80s and that was appreciated by the older members of the Team. MHS too has a thriving night market which we enjoyed - selling all sorts of souvenirs, food etc but it closes rather early compared to Pai.

I tried getting a massage too after dinner but unfortunately, the shop was busy and KC and I had to wait for another day.  This marks the end of Phase 1 of our MHS Loop where Loh was going home and tomorrow, we welcome Celia who will be flying in from Chiang Mai.

As I slept, I felt a true sense of satisfaction knowing that we pedaled here all the way from Chiang Mai through 1864 curves. The best part was that we were only half way through our adventure and my better half joins us in 18 hrs!

And all this has been possible only by the goodness and grace of our Father, who promises...

The Lord will guide you continually, watering your life when you are dry and keeping you healthy, too. You will be like a well-watered garden like an ever-flowing spring.  Isaiah 58:11

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Pics KC, ST n AL

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