Trees. Birds. Rivers. Sky.
Running with my Uncle Hec.
– hunt for the wilderpeople
It’s nearly week 3 of PrincessLua and my SE Asia whirlwind tour, and we’ve been having a wonderful and adequately chaotic time. There have been many a mishaps, serendipitous adventures and general terribly planned Mowgli-ness. There have also been plenty of lazy days hiding out under fans, reading books and doing absolutely nothing too.
Like today, where I’ve taken a day off being the responsible adult and carer for my 16year old sister and have decided to spend the day inside our guesthouse room being totally antisocial, eating mango chips and writing.
But no one wants to hear about that (or about the hour of washing I just completed using soap and a spare toothbrush for scrubbing accumulated monsoonal season sweat stains from my clothing).
So let’s hear about our time so far in Siem Reap.
After catching a long bus from the smelly capital Phnom Penh, we arrived at the much smaller, much nicer Siem Reap, and to a cheap but awesome guesthouse tucked away in some quiet backstreet. After waking up early the next morning, nomming on some awesome banana pancakes and iced coffee, we hired out the guesthouse bikes and explored the streets of Siem Reap, enjoying our newfound sport of AsianTrafficDodging™. But before we could get 10m down the road, the ancient rusty skeletons of Hipster Bikes Past coughed and spluttered and Lua’s tyre went flat.
That was flat tyre number 1. The rest of the day we pedalled along the river, out of town and to the shady jungle road that leads out to Angkor Wat. We visited museums, had our souls and energy sapped from us in the way all museums do – even if there is airconditioning – then pedalled home through a storm.
Day 2: we woke early, breakfasted early and left early, only to find out the ticket office for Angkor Archaeological Park had moved 4kms away from its original place, and so after a long hot and sweaty detour – we arrived late.
The riding itself is brilliant. Flat roads, the wind of cars and tuk tuks passing 2cm away cooling you down, and the pressure of having to pedal your heart out taken away by the simple fact youre on an ancient rusty Fixie.
We chained our bikes up and entered the tourist mecca of Angkor Wat. I’ll write about our day in this awesome temple complex later, and skip straight to the cycle home.
A storm was rolling in and around us, teasing us with sprinkles. We decided it wasn’t going to get any better so we left the temple to ride home through the refreshing rain. At our bikes we immediately saw a problem. Lua’s front tyre was completely flat, sagging all over the place like old lady boobies.
I started walking around, looking for other cyclists who might have a pump or anything useful.
A tuk tuk driver approached us, asking if we needed a tuk tuk.
“No, but we need a bike pump.”
He grinned, licked his lips. “No bike pumps here. Have to go back to siem reap. Tuk tuk?”
I replied that there MUST be a bike pump somewhere here, with all these hundreds of stalls and vendors with their bicycles.
He insisted there wasn’t and argued we would have to take a tuk tuk instead.
I moved on, with a worried Lua tailing me, quietly wondering whether we should take the tuk tuk.
I found a banana stand lady. No English beyond “banana?”. I pointed to luas flat tyre. She pointed up the road.
We smiled, waved and left. Banana stand ladies were to become my favourite Cambodians.
Sure enough, down the road, was a tiny little shed with bike tyres pinned to the trees, plastic chairs, Coca-Cola umbrellas and chickens.
We arrived just as the rain started pelting down, and stood all together with 2 young guys, our bikes, us and a few scraggly chickens under the faded Coca-Cola umbrella. The young guys started disassembling the tyre, and replacing the torn-beyond- repair inner tube.
The rain had not subsided when we paid $3 for the tube, and the boys laughed and wished us luck as we rode out from the safety of the umbrella and it’s plastic chairs.
Within 2.5seconds we were soaked through. It was difficult to see where we were going, so with hands shielding our eyes we wobbled down the drowning road. Tuk tuks, with their shielded up windows, drove past at alarming speeds. The tourist occupants inside glanced out the windows on the back, staring at us with pitying eyes as we slopped down the road.
A lone motorbike came up beside us. On it, a mother, a child, a toddler and a grandma – all in soaking clothes – were laughing as they, too, shielded their eyes to try and see. They all waved enthusiastically at us, laughing with their faces turned to the sky, sharing in our refreshing misery. Even the grandma got in on the waving action. We laughed and waved back, sharing for a few moments the universal hilarity that is finding yourself absolutely drenched in a warm summer storm.
We slopped on home, through streets that were now rivers, and up our muddy little road.
Day 3 found us heading out again, tempting fate, on our rusty hipster bikes. We thought, surely after replacing the tubes and having 2 days of bad luck, we would be spared a third day of trial.
We hadnt even ridden 1km past Angkor Wat , when Lua’s back tyre started deflating. I could have quickly stopped at the same tyre place as the day before, as we had just passed it, but being me – I said it’ll last the trip.
At Bayon Temple, I went looking for a banana lady. I found one. I pointed at Lua’s tyre. She pointed back down the road we had just come along.
It seemed we would have to go all the way back to the same place.
Trudging, sweaty and thirsty, and extremely hot and annoyed, we wheeled the bikes in the direction we had just come. But not 5mins later, we stumbled on another chicken overrun, bike repair shed. Thank-you banana ladies of Cambodia!
After a small hole was fixed in Lua’s tube, I warned her that if she were to pop another tyre again this trip I would leave her to walk home.
Surprisingly (Praise be to Buddha and all of the Hindu Gods of the temples) the rest of the day went without anymore tyre incidents, and only a mild storm related incident.
Our clothes are now drying, and I’m doing research to find out if there are any tyre repair places out near the temples we are visiting tomorrow.
Purpose-built single track.
Over 2,000m cumulative descent.
These words stood out on the glossy pamphlet of the Mt Buller mountain biking trails map, as Kirren drove us back down the steep and winding road from Mt Buller over a year ago. We had just finished a day of mountain biking around the Mt Buller trails – my first real day of mountain biking – and I’d grabbed the pamphlet while returning my hired bike to the shop.
I grinned into the blinding sunset over the Victorian snowy mountains and made kirren promise we would come back here one day.
Fast forward a year and a bit later, past all the tantrums and struggles of actually learning how to mountain bike, and Kirren and I are making our way down to Mt Buller again. This time to tackle the Australian Alpine Epic.
I had just returned from 6 glorious weeks of hiking through New Zealand, and was fit as a fiddle – ready to tackle the 40kms and 1000+m of elevation gain.
Kirren, on the other hand, was still recovering from a rather terrible bout of pneumonia.
Like the wonderful girlfriend I am, I made him go anyway.
As a present, kirren and his wallet* hire me out a shiny dual suspension bike that fits me like a glove, instead of the crappy hard tail $200 too big bike I’ve been wrestling around the smooth ACT trails.
After a delay in the getting out of bed, and a kerfuffle with petrol, we are off on the trail for a bright and early start at the crack of mid-morning.
Things are going well. Life is good. Julie (my new name for the dual suspension wonder beast below me) is good. Sun is good. Tralallalaa.
Kirrens lungs are even behaving reasonably, and it doesn’t cause excruciating amounts of pain for him to breath in.
Then, about, oh, 5kms in to the 40km ordeal, my medically trained eyes zero in on the greatest hernia I’ve seen in 6 months.
Except its on the side of a bike tyre.
And that bike tyre is kirrens.
We hummmm and ermmmm and uhhmmm for a few precious time wasting minutes.
The inner tube is intact, but it won’t stay that way long. Should we go back?
Just like with Kirrens pneumonia, I refuse to let smell medical speedhumps ruin my dream.
We end up risking it, and with the help of my 8 weeks of standing bored around the operating theatre at Armidale Hospital watching hernia repair after hernia repair, I get to work.
I scrub in, put my surgical gloves, mask and gown on, and begin the delicate operation I have seen a thousand times.
Except I use medical tape, a $5 note and some super glue instead of sutures and hernia mesh.
And my patient didn’t get time to recover, because we are off pedaling hard to try and make up for lost time.
If you’ve ever done the Epic you’ll know you get to this certain point in the ride, where you’re not even 1/4 of the way through and its already taking way longer than you thought and your lungs are about to explode and you actually just want to die and nothing can be worth this absolutely shitty grovel.
Kirren and I were literally ready to give up. His lungs were aching and he was coughing and spluttering and looked rather ill (good work dr Mowgli) and I just hate uphill mountain biking. Then, suddenly, we were at the top.
It’s amazing how quickly you forget the sufferfest when you start going downhill. Then there was just a little more uphill to go, but by that stage I’d forgotten all about how much I hate uphill because the best part of the Epic was coming up.
10+km of sweet single track whipped me down the mountain and I was flying.
I flew past alpine bush, past subalpine ferns, past rocky bits in between. I Flew past burms and over jumps and down drops and along logs and just kept flying.
My knees were weak, my quads screamed, but I kept flying.
Then all too soon (not soon enough! My thighs yelled) we were at the bottom, and racing the clock up the river to the last shuttle bus of the day.
As we retraced our footsteps from a year before, I grinned into the blinding sunset over the Victorian snowy mountains. I made kirren promise to take me back (and his wallet to buy me a dual suspension bike).