We woke up to a beautiful misty morning and as I waited for the sun to appear, my heart was filled with excitement and anticipation as today was to be a very hard day. 80km through very steep climbs, which I learned later would usually take 2 days!
I found a colourful Korean traditional dress in the dress rack and the girls all had fun playing K-Drama Actress for the morning. And they all looked stunning! So lady-like unlike in their usual bicycle gear.
Breakfast was a simple rice porridge and it was most suitable for a coldish morning start. We gulped it down gratefully and had good conversations with the owner. Seems he has 2 daughters who are grown up and working in the big cities and this is his retirement job where he enjoys with his wife. His kindness and warm smile, we will never forget.
For this stage, the first 40km was going to be tough looking at the terrain and my legs esp my knee was getting sore so I decided to join the Mothership Team for the first half of the day while the cyclists consisting of Sinn Tail, KC, Wayne and Lance took off enthusiastically.
Celia and I meanwhile enjoyed our beautiful suite and with a view to die for, it would be such a waste not to savour it. We would catch up with the cyclists along Highway 1263 later.
George, Wendy, YC and Mark and us eventually jumped onto the pick up and waved goodbye to our amazing host. Our first task was to buy gifts for the Hot Coffee Orphanage as it was Christmas Eve and we found a village provision shop where we got several tins of biscuits, a huge bag of buns and stacks of instant noodles. When the bill came, I fell off my chair as it amounted to a grand total of 800b or $32! Loh had kindly donated some funds and it nearly covered all of it!!!
As usual with great skill, George packed the loot carefully and we took off to pursue our cyclists. We headed north along 108, passed Khun Yuam town and carried on for 1.5 km before making a right turn on Highway 1263.
The first 10km or so was gentle and we finally caught up with our cyclists. Fortunately, there was a lovely cafe and that made for a cute and good stop. Rinlada was adorned with all sorts of cute cuddly toys and teddies and it was truly pleasant to hang around here. We did for longer than we should.
The cyclists scooted off and when we drove along, the killer hills started appearing. It was nothing like we have ever seen and would be one of the most difficult section we have ever encountered. So much so that I was so glad I was in the Mothership. The first person we caught up with was Uncle KC who was pushing up a climb, looking like he had enough. He flagged us down as he was in cramps and he had to "up lorry".... The gallant Ying Chang took over his bike and I admired him for his bravado! YC being a MTB enthusiast, was not the least daunted as he sped off.
Meanwhile KC was all smiles being in aircon comfort with us and even with 2.5 litre of diesel power, we strained to make some of the climbs. I had to change down to 2nd and even 1st on some occassions and I wondered how our cyclists would cope.
We caught up with Wayne, then Sinn Tail and finally Lance who was way ahead of the pack as usual. Those hills were really tough and long and I truly took my cap off to our heroes. KC was not in the least interested to carry on the suffer-fest and mother-shipped all the way to the hotel - and that says a lot.
It was good we found an ideal spot to stop for lunch and to rest. Here, we watered our weary warriors and fed them with all the food and energy bars. Times like this, I wished we had a Thai masseur with us!
The only person who was still all smiles and sparky was the all conquering King of the Mountain Lance who rode passed our stop for more climbing before turning back! What is this guy made off?
At this stage, we knew that this was going to be a very long day and I decided to head for the hotel, unload the luggage so that we have room to bring everyone's bike on board and then turn around to rescue them. So off we went for an hour's drive to Hot Coffee and Celia and I decided to ride the last 25km of the way.
This proved to be unwise as the cyclists were all running low on water and was counting on the Mothership to take them up some of the steeper climbs. Unfortunately, we didn't come back for them on time and they had to press on until George and Wendy returned some 1.5 hrs later. I felt so bad about this and apologised profusely! We under-estimated the climbs and such is the ferocity of the mountainous terrain in this part of the N Thailand.
My ride with Celia started well with beautiful downhills, and though most of the climbs over, there were stages that we had to push for nearly 1km as it was simply too steep for us.
Just as we reached the top of a long climb, Celia's Pocket had a front flat tire. She immediately asked if we could hitch a ride but it was something that could be fixed easily. A good thing that a spare tube, tools and pump were carried and not left on the Mothership.
We arrived at Hot Coffee just before 5pm and were so happy to be at this beautiful resort - this being my 3rd time. The orphanage pastor recognised me and it was so lovely to see him and the staff who welcomed us warmly.
Despite being all hot and sweaty, he threw me a bomb shell. Could we run the Christmas Eve service for the kids at 745pm? I always love a challenge but this meant we had almost zero time to prepare and what was I to say? However I knew inside me that this was a task divinely arranged and said yes, without a clue what was to be! Famished, I had cold drinks and a hot plate of fries while waiting for the Mothership to return with the cyclists.
Much to my surprise, Mothership returned empty! Everyone of the riders wanted to cycle the whole distance and they did! Not surprisingly, Lance appeared first like he just completed a ride in the park. How does he do it?
Then came Wayne, Sinn Tail and Ying Chang who was always the sweeper, making sure everyone arrived safely. If ever there was an award for LTF's Best Sweeper, he wins it hands down!
We quickly washed up and enjoyed a sumptous dinner of lovely Thai dishes and rice. We all ate heartily as we were famished. It has been a long and a very hard day. I was very grateful to the team as I expected to get a ear-full for my bad decision but no, everyone was so kind and gracious. I felt so privileged to have such wonderful friends.
At 745pm, we all rushed next door where the orphanage was and they were all waiting for us eagerly. I roped in George and Wendy, who played Joseph and Mary, Ying Chang, Lance and KC as the 3 Wise Men and Mark as the guiding Star that led them to baby Jesus.
This was based on Matthew 2.
This was based on Matthew 2.
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
We had great fun acting this scene out for the kids and they all laughed and had fun. My message was simple - Christmas is about the best gift that God has given us. Although the 3 wise men brought Jesus precious and good gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and we brought them gifts of food, God gave us the best gift ever - his son Jesus. A gift that stays with us forever and cannot be stolen, lost or broken.
Accepting this gift, we have our sins forgiven, we become restored to God and given the right to become His children. Our lives become blessed, loved, guided and will truly flourish! Best of all, we are given the assurance of eternal life where we will dwell with God our Father when our time on earth is over. Jesus died on the Cross so we can live!
I invited the kids to pray and to ask Jesus into their hearts and in that sense, to receive God's gift. When we do so in faith, we become born again and what a special time we all had. Celia led us in a time of beautiful singing and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate Christmas than be with these precious children.
After the service, we asked if we could light up the last of our lanterns and the pastor gave us his permission. We got the kids to draw on the lanterns and this was when we really got to know them better.
The launching of the hot air lanterns truly got everyone excited with big smiles everywhere. As our lanterns floated slowly up into the cold, dark night, they met with a million stars that looked like small sparkling diamonds.
This surely was one of the most meaningful Christmas I have ever celebrated in my 55 years on earth and our hearts were all so glad and privileged that we could bring some Christmas joy to these wonderful children of Mae Na Chorn Children's Home.
Thank you Team LTF - Wendy, George, Ying Chang, Wayne, Mark, Lance, Sinn Tail, KC and Celia for your great help in making the evening an amazing success despite very little preparation! God's hand was certainly with all of us.
The Gift goes on...