First things first… A very happy 2016 to you all.
I got my New Year’s wishes early. I was moaning last time about the extreme dullness of the Thai roads I’d so far encountered. Ploughing along for hours in a straight line, on the flat, is a very efficient way to get around. But it’s not especially interesting. Or interesting at all, in fact.
Still, that changed on Wednesday, as I hit the hills.
You could see them coming from a distance. And, with the temperature over 30C, I knew things were going to get harder. Things did. After 30 miles of flat road to soften me up, a 600-vertical metre hill on a brutal gradient got things started. There wasn’t even a descent at the end of it; just a heavily-forested, bumpy plateau infested by wild animals:
Although, in fairness, I never actually saw any wild elephants. There were some ‘signs’ on the road that they were about (which needed severe swerving, while checking behind for trucks). But thankfully, having had my route obstructed by cows, goats and dogs already in south-east Asia, there were no elephant roadblocks to deal with.
The downhill was incredibly grudging, dropping a few metres at a time before presenting me with another 15% incline. It hurt by the time it started dropping properly. On the plus side, the countryside finally opened up a bit, and I got some proper views of Thailand. It’s not a bad looking country in places…
The next day (yesterday) was New Year’s Eve. So, of course, I’d set myself a little end-of-year challenge. The same sort of amount of climbing, but with the eminently sensible additional aim of putting in 130km (around 80 miles).
And, despite the hard miles in my legs from Wednesday, it went much easier. The road reminded me of some of the big climbs in the Rockies, back in 2014 (without the effect of altitude, of course). Wide, perfectly surfaced roads on reasonable gradients. Another big uphill slog, but with masses of encouraging honks and waves and thumbs-up from festive Thais. There was even a big Buddha at the pass, which gave a nice target to aim for.
There were a few more ups and downs along the way (and the ups in Thailand do seem to be especially steep). But, after a lovely, long, gently downhill run, back onto the plains, I made it to Phitsanulok just in time for the last sunset of 2015:
A nice day off today, and a chance to catch up with my family, thanks to the magic of the Internet. It’s amazing to think that the first time I went outside Europe, you had to go to the post office to make a call home…
Anyway, tomorrow it’s back on the road, westwards towards Myanmar. Hopefully, three more days should do it; still a long way to get home. Plenty of miles still to come in 2016…