My first day, I set off from Chiang Mai around 11 am headed for Chiang Dao, a place I had camped two years ago during the Shamballah in your Heart festival. It only took my a few hours by motorbike so I figured it would not be so bad by bicycle. Well, my body told me otherwise.
I messaged a friend who own a houseboat, Om Waters, at Mae Ngat Dam and asked him if I could crash there for the night and continue my journey to Chiang Dao in the morning. He, like the amazing human he is, said yes! I was on my way, excited for the relaxing oasis that is Om Waters.
I pedaled, trying to find my rhythm on this bicycle, weighed down by 5 bags. It was my first day ever to cycle with this much weight. Pedal after pedal, leaving the city I felt empowered, strong and on top of the world. “I’m doing this!!!” After a year of planning it felt to real, so alive.
Not even an hour into the journey, I totally ate shit. While looking lovingly at the rice paddy fields to my right, I swerved left and right off the road. No, i’m not joking. After dusting myself off and pouring water over my scraped up knee and elbow, I pedaled on, hoping not too many people saw, what they would probably think was, the lamest crash ever.
After about an hour or so, I realized that my phone charger had broken inside my phone, and that said phone was now dead. Again, not joking. I pulled over and asked around for “the dam” and eventually arrived at something that looked exactly right! “Hooray!!” I thought, patting myself on the back and doing a little dance.
The excitement lasted about 20 minutes, for as I was doing my little dance I saw ahead of me a hill, some nice-looking white buffalo, and a gate. “A GATE OH NOOO!” For some reason that is beyond me, probably dehydration and a lack of food, this gate seemed like the most daunting obstacle for me and my big, heavy bike. It was. I stared at this gate for a while, angry with it for existing.
“If I was on foot I could just JUMP over this gate and be done with it!” Being that I was not traveling by foot, I began to remove bag after bag, throwing them over the gate in a childish huff. After reloading the bags onto my bike on the other side, I shook off this annoyance and continued riding until, of course, I arrived at yet another barrier. These became a theme for my day.
Under the hot Thai sun, I felt like Sysifus, rolling his ball up the hill day by day only to have to do it again the following day. Except instead of rolling a boulder, I was hauling my bags and bike over barriers every 15 minutes while my legs were being swarmed with giant, red jungle ants. It must have been a scene for the Thai farmers who were looking at me with curiosity and confusion. A foreign girl, alone with a big bike and too many bags, stomping around while scream-crying in front of a car gate. I can’t even imagine their thoughts.
After the last barrier of my day, I still hadn’t found Om Waters and was starting to despair. My chest started closing, my throat had a knot the size of a watermelon and my tears wouldn’t cease flowing. A Thai cyclist had passed by to see if I was alright so I asked to borrow his phone to check the map. To my surprise, I was at the completely wrong dam.
Instead of Mae Ngat, I was at Mae Kuang… The sun was setting. “I’m sorry!’ said the Thai cyclist. “Me too!” I choked between sobs. There was a flat piece of land on the banks of the dam right by me. “This is it. I’m stopping here.” I clicked together my red shiny poles that gave my tent its dome like structure and went up to find some food. My fork shook in my hand as I forced rice and fish down my throat, wanting the day to be over already. Exhaustion overwhelmed me. Before I was done, a pickup truck pulled up beside me and a man asked if it was my tent down by the water. “Yes, that’s mine.” I said.
“Be careful! There are wild dogs down there!”
I cried the entire walk down to my tent and nearly passed upon entering my tent. You’d think i’d be able to after the day I head but the noises… frogs, crickets, toads–howls of dogs that echoed off the mountains and came back around to haunt me. “I can’t do this.” I kept thinking to myself. “Who was I kidding..” As my heart started to settle and my mind got heavy with sleep, I heard a car pulling up beside my tent.
“THIS IS IT! THIS IS HOW I DIE!” The car door opened and closed. The silhouette of a man outside my tent got larger and I mustered a meek “Sawadee ka?” or “Hello” in Thai language. It was the man from the pickup truck who warned me about the dogs. He had left his money in his fishing boat and came to see if I was alright. He brought me two bottles of water and a Leo beer. I was skeptical at first but after 5 minutes of chatting about life and adventure under the stars, my worries subsided. People are good, I was reminded, and I crawled into bed and attempted to sleep.
I let my body feel heavy, sinking into the Earth and imagined being fully supported and protected in my bubble. My eyes got heavy, my forehead softened, the evil sounds from before started to play a melodious song. And then a flash, and then a bang, and then the storm began. It raged through the night and I finally fell asleep in laughter. It’s all a game anyway.