The 6 AM Weekday Ride & Scooters
March 23, 2018 § Leave a comment
After the Sunday Club ride was over and I was back in my hotel room, long after the incident in the massage parlor, and long after the sun had gone down, I was cruising through Strava, and noticed that guy that I had reached out to a few weeks back concerning riding in Thailand and where to get a bike, had been on that ride. If you recall, I arrived just as the ride was pulling out, and so failed to introduce my yankee ass to anyone who gave an F. The whole ride I was pretty much front group, and I was constantly evaluating my ability to even do the damn ride, so I was surprised to find that I failed to find Mark, this guy, and introduce myself. So I did the next best thing and left a comment on his ride that I had reached out to him a few weeks back and see now that we were on the same ride and apologized for not seeking him out.
Mark wrote back promptly that if I was not aware, he and a small group usually met 6am at the bike shop for a morning ride. I immediately applied my own reasoning and concluded that morning ride in Phuket was morning ride in New Jersey, and I wrote back that though it would mean a 4:45 start time for me, I would be there.
With a goal, clearly set, I went to bed with a little read and hoped like hell I would sleep until 4:30, but I was still adjusting, and it was another up again, down again night. Fortunately I was up again, when I needed to be up, and I grabbed some clean, yes clean, shorts and a shirt, but donned the same stinky pair of socks I had ridden since I got there, loaded up the bike, and set out.
I wish not to repeat prose about my trip that has already been written, and I will adhere to that here, however, there was something unique in THIS morning that I had not experienced in the prior morning. On the road between Pa Tong, and Kamala, after the up/down windy chicanes, when the road began its ascent to the needle top I noticed, on the other side of the road, a light like mine, only, it was 12-15 feet in the air. Puzzled, was I, and stare I stared, and blink I blinked, and internally scratch, I scratched my thoughts: “What the fug am I looking at?” Amazing how only a few meters can change everything, because after a few meters, the smell hit me. “Elephant”, or as Christopher Robin would say “Hefalump”. Someone was moving an Elephant at night on the road without a transport vehicle, barebacked with only a head and tail lamp. You just don’t see that every day. When I texted this info to my friend Cliff, “Are you Drunk?” was his reply, which conveyed the level of disbelief associated with this sighting.
Aside from a Hefalump sighting, the rest of the journey to the ride start was the same as previously described. I arrived well ahead of time, and since I met the ride at the traffic light, that was where I returned to. There I found a place to sit, and I downed two bananas that I had “pre-maturely” grabbed from the breakfast buffet that morning. “Sir, the buffet opens at 6. We are not ready yet” was supposed to warn me off. “So sorry. I just need bananas for my ride pleeeeeeease”. I was not lying.
Mark rode up and pointed me to the two fellows down the block waiting at the bike shop. I really had just made it in time on Sunday, because if not for a Red light, I would have missed them! Introduced I was, names quickly forgotten, we set off.
I have done many weekday rides. For me, they are usually pre-work rides, so 30 miles, 40 at most. “Hey, Mark, so what are we up to?” I asked. I was thinking 30-40 must mean we stay around the North Central part of the island, maybe some small hills, maybe I get to visit some parts of the island I haven’t seen yet. “Just sit in, you’ll love this ride” was his answer. So, I sat in. We rode out to the 402 again, turned North, not expectantly, and I followed along. We rode double pace line out to the 402, Mark and I chatting. When we got to the 402 we dropped back into single pace line and pretty soon, the Komatsu sign was passed, the 13 kilometers to the airport turnoff evaporated, and just as I was about to question our destination, we turned left and the road began to gain elevation. Mark immediately jumped around the 3 us and opened a gap. Not knowing what I was in for I simply followed wheel. Now, its a funny thing about people who attack a hill. Sometimes they have it, and sometimes they don’t. Mark got about 50 meters in front of us, and then the distance between us started to decrease. BMC was on the front of the chase, and the other red shirt was starting to get gapped. I jumped around red shirt and got on BMC’s wheel as we closed down on Mark. I had no idea how long this climb went on but it was the kind of climb where decent power to weight ratios were in my favor, and I felt pretty strong.
Being unfamiliar with the road, I have learned from past faux-pas that if you are the new rider, then don’t be in the front, because you WILL make a wrong turn and THAT, will be costly. So, I followed. As we passed Mark, like he was standing still, I heard something like “Hellllloooo”, and soon I could see the top of the rise another 200 meters ahead. At 200 meters, that could have been a false top, but it turned out to be the real top, and soon BMC and I were flying down the other side, chicaning, left bend, right bend, flying along. I took a few glances every now and then to see how our dropped brethren were trying to bridge back, and simply applied as much effort as was needed to hold BMC’s wheel. We rode this gap all the way back to the 402. Turns out this little side road was simply the other two sides of a large box whose other two sides were the 402.
As we approached the Check Point, which if you recall from the story a couple postings ago, was the last point before leaving Phuket Island for the mainland, I chatted up Red Shirt, and asked “What am I into here?”. Red Shirt indicated that this was “Marks ride”, and with Mark on the front, I bridged up to Mark. “So, Mark. This ride is really great. I am enjoying it immensely. There is just one thing. My time is not really my own. I am traveling with family, and they are going to expect me back at the hotel, and ready for everything that they want to do today.” “I understand completely Eric.” he began. “Over the bridge, just beyond there is a turn-around. Just sit in and I will point it out if you don’t see it. Great to have you along, go have a blast with your family and come out and play again.”
As the man said, an opportunity to merge across the 402 and catch the turn-around appeared, and soon I was turned around and heading South. Memories of how relatively empty I was the last time I was here, were still pretty vivid in my mind, however there were a few very key points to keep in mind. 1) It was a lot earlier in the day, and so, the heat was not full on yet, and 2) I had less miles in my legs. So, really I was in pretty good shape. There was another difference though. Last time on this road, it was Sunday, but this time it is Tuesday, and it is early, and it is a school day, and there was a lot of traffic. Funny thing about the 402. There are enough vehicles moving on it, that no matter what direction you travel on it, the air moves in that direction, so I was helped along by a nice moving mass of air, riding with scooters that were loaded with 1, 2 or even 3 kids as the parent shuttled them off to school. No giant SUVs or mini-vans, just a lot of scooters, and a lot of those going the wrong way.
I decided early that I was NOT going back the route I had come. I was going to take the 402 further South to the split point where the bypass cuts off, and there somewhere on the other side of the road was a turn-off to a small road that paralleled the bypass but should have a LOT LESS traffic on it. There was just one issue. There are not a lot of control structures on the 402, and so if you need to make a right turn, then you have to merge across the lanes of traffic to the turn-around in the middle. That wasn’t too bad on the mainland where there was no traffic, but here there was a lot of traffic. Fortunately for me, most people want to take the bypass, and so it bottle necks there, where there is a control structure, so until that light turns green it creates an oasis of no traffic south of that. I found the turn-around, and moved across an empty highway, and soon found the 3001. (Note, Nor-Easter Toby just blew out my surge protector).
Now the 3001 was just the quiet small ruralish (new word I made up, just roll with it) road that I was looking for, and soon I was barreling along it. Everyone was over on the bypass, and nobody was on the 3001. Just the way I wanted it. Soon, I started to have some company. The 3001 does wind through some small residential areas, each of these having some businesses that were in the startup for the day mode, and double parked vehicles were the norm, but other than that, all was well. I passed the Ban Thung Kah School, where I should have stopped!!! Right there in the school yard, were all the little Thai boys and all the little Thai girls dressed in their Thai sky blue uniforms and in formation singing the Thai National Anthem. It was a sight to behold, and I beheld it for a fraction of a moment as my mind was focused on getting back to the hotel. I COULD have afforded myself the time to smell these roses, but I did not, and I kick myself for not getting a picture. I was running late, I wanted to get back in time to catch the last minutes of breakfast, and be ready for scooter day. Yes, we were going to do scooters, and I needed to get home, so I rode on by.
Continuing the theme of avoiding the bypass, 3001 merges into Yaowarat Road where a quick right onto … Yaowarat Road. So, Yaowarat goes straight, and turns right. I went right, and that takes you right down into the heart of Old Phuket where I learned that the road I was on turned into a one way against me, so I had to turn left. I didn’t know my surroundings, and I was running late, so I stopped for a moment, and brought up the “Here we Go!” app, which I found is the “Here we try to go, but we crash and die” app. I dialed in the hotel, and clicked the “Route” button, and I was on my way. This app does not “hold” the screen, so every once in a while I have to stop and unlock the screen. Every two times, the app crashes, so I have activate the app again and repeat all the “I want to get home!” steps.
Eventually I found my way to the 4021 which would take me all the way to the intersection where I could then grab the 4028 and climb up and over the only hill between me and the hotel. That intersection was where two very busy roads, and a spur met at a circle with no means of control. Fortunately for me, the meek, they yielded to the least tonnage, and I actually got through there pretty easily. The morning was beginning to get hot, and the climb had no shade what so ever. However, it was only one climb, and it wasn’t that high, and soon I was at the top and racing down the West side through the high streets of Kata Beach, past the super market, past the local market, and before I knew it, I was turning into The Thavorn main driveway. I wanted to ride right to my room, but I had to dismount. Time was of the essence, so I got back to the room, changed without showering, and raced down to catch the last remnants of breakfast.
Breakfast eaten, I was late for meeting up with the family. All I knew was that the place they went to was across the street from the place we did the cooking class only the day before. We had traveled there and back by taxi, but I hadn’t noticed the necessary landmarks on either Patak, or the beach roads, and the “Here We Go” app didn’t show either business. Add to that we couldn’t communicate unless we were both in wi-fi at the same time, I left and headed in the right direction. When I got some wi-fi I lucked out and was able to get a screen shot of my “Find My Friends” app which showed me exactly where they were. As soon as I lost wi-fi, I lost the active location, so I showed that picture to a taxi dude, and soon I was on my way.
Being late is not something Susan tolerates well, and they went ahead and and rented three scooters, and had left already to get used to riding. I was in the process of renting my own when Corinne showed up. “Mom and Alyson just left me!” It seems to be in Corinne’s nature that when something doesn’t go to plan, that there was in fact a conspiracy against Corinne. “I am sure they didn’t do it intentionally. Stop internalizing it.” I tried to assure her. While I was trying to deal with Corinne, we got a text from Alyson and Susan, they were at the coffee shop that was part of our resort, and that Alyson wasn’t handling the scooter well, and Corinne should just bring me over and I would ride that, and Corinne would take Alyson as a passenger. We undid our transaction for another scooter and quickly met up with them.
After meeting up, it quickly became clear what the problem was. Everyone thinks they are now scooter excellent, and no one follows directions. We headed off North just to get a feel again, and the plan was to go as far as the circle at the north end of the beach, and then circle back and go South and head to the Karon View Point. I took the lead, and being a cautious cyclist in the tourist crowd, I maintained what I thought was a safe speed, but it was too slow for Susan, and she passed me. Passing wasn’t enough, as she was speeding away up the road, now I had to chase her. I lost sight of her before getting to the roundabout, and I went around the roundabout like I said we would, Corinne and Alyson following me. Corinne caught up to me and said she thought she saw Mom go through the roundabout and out the other side. Once again we were split up and scooters was starting to become frustrating. I wasn’t sure I could trust Susan to figure out her mistake, so we set off in pursuit, and once again I was passed, so now I am at the back chasing again. Corinne and Alyson rode right past Susan who had stopped on the road just before it began to rise into the bordering hills. Susan asked “What happened?” and I told her her mistake, but now the girls were ahead of us because they didn’t notice her here. We were going the wrong direction. We decided to chase after them. I asked Susan to please stay behind me, and we set off. By this point in the day, there is actually a lot of traffic on these roads, and heading out of Karon, it is a single lane, but heading back in, it is two lanes, so it could be very easy to miss our daughters if they had turned around. Probably we simply should have waited where we were, but the sun is hot, and it is cooler to keep moving. Needless to say Susan and I reached Pa Tong without seeing the girls, so we decided to return to the coffee shop where there was wi-fi, and see if there was a message awaiting us. There was, and the girls headed for the view point we had all agreed was our destination. We found them there, and we decided then and there that we were not going to zoom off ahead willy nilly any longer, and we were going to stay together.
We had until 7 to return the scooters, so we used that time to explore the Southern part of the island, taking in the Karon View, Nai Harn Beach, Krom Luang, Rawai Beach, and The Big Buddah. Along the way we grabbed some lunch, and refreshments, managed to actually stay together. Getting to the Buddha was a challenge in both navigation, and traffic challenges, but we persevered, and had a nice East and West views. The Buddha greets the rising sun.
We found some gas on the way back and returned our scooters on time and in one piece. We decided to walk back to the hotel, and on the way the girls recognized a cooked food market where they said they found a small stand that made the “Best Mojitos!” . Who can argue the best? We found the stand and ordered four, which took a long time to make, but were in fact well worth the wait. It would seem that in Thailand, you can setup a stand and sell liquor drinks. While we chatted about our adventures, we started looking at the other food that was around, and started to order small appetizers. Some were good, some were okay, but we didn’t over do it. Another round of drinks, and soon we were on our way again walking past all the shops. We were moseying along, kind of doing our own things when I stopped in a tailors shop just to “feel them out”. My sales person was a young man of Indian descent, with an accent that was familiar to one who had spent an enormous amount of professional time working with colleagues of Indian descent. “Five shirts, made for you, 750 baht per shirt, let’s pick the fabric”. That’s about $25 a shirt, custom made. I was intrigued, but I told the young man that I could not pick out fabric without my wife (Big Lie), but that I would return the following evening, and she could help me. (I was telling the truth) He looked disappointed that a sale was walking away, but he would just have to trust me.
We snacked enough in the market that we didn’t get a formal dinner, and we all needed to get to bed early because our pick-up for our Phi Phi Island adventure was 5 in the am. So we needed our rest. Actually, the girls needed their rest. Susan and I would be up, because that was how we were rolling in Thailand. Up by 5. It was a long day for me already. I had left that morning on the bike at 4:45, ridden almost 80 miles, and then got beaten down badly by the sun while riding around on the scooter. No amount of sunscreen can protect you for ever. I applied generous amounts of aloe, brushed my teeth, and retired for the evening wondering what the next day had in store. If I only knew…