In the sweltering Sun Belt states such as Arizona, Nevada and Texas, it’s no overstatement to say air conditioners make life possible. A population boom gave southern states considerably more influence in the electoral college, the body of voters who hold the key to the White House. “In 2000 or 2004, if we had had the population distribution of the 1950s, George W. Bush would not have won.”
Of course on top of that potential evil, you have the energy consumption. But, where do you start when so few people even dry their clothes on an outdoor line outside of an Amish community.
It is hard not to fall in love with air-conditioning. Every time we enter a 7Eleven, we want to stay there, and just have a lie down in a quiet corner. Clouds had been gathering and burning off for two or three days. It had tried to remember how to rain, but failed. If it did rain, it would probably fall as steam.
We are up before 6.00am, for a breakfast of chocolate milk, banana and a sort of sweet rice puff slab that is the size and shape of an iPad. It starts to rain, and quickly becomes torrential. We sit there in our cycling kit, all ready to go. In cricketing terms, by 8.15 we are looking at the ‘ Duckworth Lewis ‘. A crash of thunder, very close, and then another even closer.
It is well after 9.00 before we turn a wheel and we have quite some distance to go today. It is cool and wet, and the normally happy Thais are scowling. They are huddled together on their mopeds and under tarps in the back of trucks. It is still 22’c for goodness sake. They would not last a week in a Scottish summer you would think. But the ‘Lady Boys Of Bangkok’ are there at Edinburgh’s festival every time, and wearing very little. They must be a lot tougher than they look.
We drop down through Kaeng Sopha. The road runs through dense forest on both sides. Still raining and with low cloud, it all looks fresh. The birds certainly are enjoying the freshen up and are doing the avian equivalent of singing in the shower.
This morning, in the bathroom, there had been the lifeless corpse of possibly the biggest cockroach I have ever seen. Three or four centimetres long, it was a grim discovery and I was thankful that I had turned on the lights. There was no sign of a struggle and I guess everything can die of natural causes.
We get into the town of Phitsanulok. Esther takes an instant and irrational dislike to the place. To be honest, after a short walk I have to agree. We decide not to have a rest day, and move on from the most expensive and worst hotel we have yet been in. Not a hard call to make.
Early the next day, we pick up the 12. It becomes big, rather busy and more than a little ugly. Life in the fields at either side goes on. Rice, it would appear, needs constant attention. It is as fussy as a delicate house plant.
Last nights hotel was just over priced. By sheer bad fortune today, we manage to pick one that is worse. The town of Sukhothai is nice enough. Certainly, it must have a paragraph or two in the Lonley Planet as the backpacker ( they push suitcases and have carry-on luggage now ) crowed are here in number. Again, we fail to have a rest day, and move on a few K’s out of Sukhothai.
This is a gem. I would even go as far to put it on the’ must see on a visit to Thailand ‘ list. Yet another former capital, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site ( Which makes it amongst other things, a war crime to bomb it! ). It is a vast temple complex that leaves your head spinning even now. It must have bought the people of almost a thousand years ago to their knees in awe. Which I guess was the whole point.
We have had a good day. Sukhothai Hostel is quiet and comfortable and we have managed to pick up a very large bag of muesli. Hurrah! We get on the bikes and ride to the ruins. The scale of the site is hard to put across. We have picked up a postcard of a Buddha, and make for that first.
Esther asks a monk if he wants us to take a photo for him. This brings on a panic as it appears to be against the rules to hand something or receive something from a woman. He hands me his British flag wrapped smart phone, and posses with a fellow monk for snaps. Esther has our camera in her hands and I can not believe that she did not capture this perfect image.
There is dew on the grass in the morning, as we push our bikes onto the road. We are straight onto the 12 and ride through the heart of the temple complex with a rising sun at our backs. It is one of the most perfect starts to a day.
We looked up ‘ are there any poisonous Gekos? ‘, on the WWW. very shortly after we realised that there will be no hotel room without them in Asia. Happily the answer is ‘ almost none ‘. They make an incredibly loud chirping noise for something so small. You would think that a bird had got onto the ceiling void if you had not made the connection. We like Gekos very much.
As we approach the town of Tak, a line of mountains emerge from a thin blue smudge of horizon. They are actually quite big before you can point at them with any certainty and ask ” What mountains are those “. They are big, which of course triggers a feeling of dread for the touring cyclist. Esther has done a great job in navigating us around the lumpy bits of northern Thailand.
Tak is surprisingly nice. There are more market stalls than could possibly be needed, and a selection of nice caffes to sit out the heat of the day. To add to the joy, there is a Roti seller. We could take a minor road along the river in the morning. We are starting to feel a bit of urgency to get further north. We hit highway 1 for some uninspiring quick kilometres instead.
We are on dual carriage roads, but as always in Thailand, there is a bike lane. This all adds up to a big expanse of tarmac that bounces back the heat. At midday it is as if a switch is pulled and the heat turned to ‘ brain scramble ‘. We have done all the distance we need today and can sit with cooling iced tea in hand and gather our thoughts.
One of which is, ‘ we have an unavoidable big hill to climb in the morning ‘. We have failed to take a rest day for a while now, and sure enough in the low dawn light of the next day. Two very tired touring cyclists head towards a wall of mountains and hope that they will find climbing legs as the road rises.
We are on the 106. It is smoothly surfaced and would be even inviting on any one of the hyper light race bikes that we have back home. Newtonian physics takes much of the joy out of climbing a hill on something with as much mass in newtons as a touring bike. That said, there are the odd hills that are fun. By a great deal of good fortune, this turns out to be such a hill.
Not too steep for too long, and with stunning views when the forest opens to keep your interest. It really is a peach of a climb. We get to the top, with senses just tingling. Partly through oxygen debt, but also the sheer joy of being there. According to the profile app – gps virtualizer ( a great tool! ), it will be all down hill now. Bollocks is it.
There are two kicks that the road does on the way down to Li. My best form and all my energy have been spent back on the hill. Why must there always be a sting in the tail, a final kick? I demand a rest day.
Asia loves to set fire to forest. On the ascent and descent there were blackened areas of recent fires and some still smouldering. There are notices everywhere NO FIRES, one of which is itself burnt out. Thailand has lost almost half of its forest cover since the early 60’s, and often looks to be in a bit of a hurry to get rid of the rest as soon as possible. There looks like very little control or an easy bribe.
The town of Li is mostly one road, just long enough to have three evenly spaced 7Elevens. I doubt it is in The Lonley Planet at all. It is quiet and friendly and has a wonderful market. A great place for a rest day then.