Sun 15th November. 200km approx.
The plan today was to get off our collective backsides and ride approx half the distance between Mae Sot and Chiang Mai, aiming to camp overnight in the Mae Ngao National Park, just 20km south of where Route 105 runs through Mae Sariang and then becomes a 200km section of the Mae Hong Son Loop – the magical 2-3 day loop to the west of Chiang Mai that is famous for its 1,864 corners.
We – Karen & I, and Aad & Mike needed to get off our backsides as we had settled in at the Hop Inn Hotel in Mae Sot, which had allowed us to recover both from the exhaustion of the past 10 weeks or so, and also a short bout of illness that I’d succumbed to – first a fever that just came out of nowhere and hit quite hard, followed by stomach cramps that lasted a day or so. Yesterday had been an improvement for me over the previous two days, and today I was good to ride.
We also needed to get going as whilst we’d had the chance to rest, relax and recuperate in Mae Sot, our allotted 15 day visa allowance was being rapidly chewed through and we weren’t making any forwards progress. Not only did we need to get to Chiang Mai to kick off our Mae Hong Son Loop ride, but there were things we needed to do in Chiang Mai that would take some time (bike service and new tyres), and there are many other famous & scenic rides radiating out of Chiang Mai that we wanted to experience.
The route we’d selected to take us from Mae Sot to Chiang Mai wasn’t the quickest as we wished to avoid the main highway as much as possible, but it promised to be more scenic as it ran straight north up from Mae Sot, hugging the border with Myanmar in many places as it entered Thailand’s western mountains.
After packing the bikes and having a light breakfast featuring the nice hot chocolate drink, we were all ready to go. The first section of the road was commercial in nature, but quickly the built-up area started to start away and be replaced by cultivated lots of land, which themselves soon gave way to the jungle bush.
The road was good, the sky was blue, the temperature a pleasant 25 degrees C – and we had an awesome ride. I switched the bike across to ‘dynamic’ mode – something I haven’t made much use of to date – and instantly it felt as if we were rising a different machine – no longer the tame, well-behaved animal that we’ve grown accustomed to, but an absolute beast that reacted instantly to throttle and brake commands, snapping out of corners as the power came on and braking sharply at the lightest touch on the front brake lever. I was loving the responsiveness and unbridled power of the machine but Karen was somewhat less than impressed as she could sense the rear end sliding through some of the perfectly crafted corners we were shooting through.
We had a few short stops in the morning – a police check post that just wanted to see our passports (most checkpoints have either been unmanned or they have made no effort to stop us as we’ve approached so we’ve just ridden through slowly), a fuel stop, and just a short while later we stopped at a tyre repair place so Mike could pump up his tyres as they were a bit low.
The countryside was lush, green, serene, and beautiful to ride through. We pushed on steadily, enjoying the road that in most places was smooth and well-formed, easily coping with some older sections of road surface that were showing signs of age and repairs. Out in the lead at one stage I created a hill to see a family of six cows lined up across the road, so I stopped quickly and put the hazard lights on, with Aad and Mike a few seconds behind and giving them enough advance warning to just avoid the hazard – the 1200 can pull up very quickly when called upon.
Around midday we came to a long section of rough unsealed road that twisted and climbed up the mountainside but even that was blissful to ride – standing up on the pegs and leaning the bike in, body out in the curves that dipped and snaked. A short section of tarmac appeared but this quickly showed major signs of determination with large potholes in it, and this was more demanding to ride across than the unsealed section.
Out in front I crested another hill and slowed to assess a very steep downhill section when the tyre pressure alarms started to freak out on the dashboard – the red warning light wasn’t inviting and I could see that the pressure in the rear tyre was plummeting towards zero in the space of a few seconds. I stopped completely and flagged down Mike to tell him we had a puncture, and Karen alighted so I could get the bike down to the bottom of the steep hill and onto some flat ground where we could take a look at the problem.
The downhill section was quite rutted and covered in gravel, and I walked the bike down with a combination of clutch and brake, Aad & Mike walking alongside ready to catch any slips as the bike squirmed around with a completely deflated rear tyre, but the front braking action was just superb, never once invoking a slide on the steep, loose surface.
Down on flat ground I rolled to a halt, and Aad slipped a plank of wood he’d found under the centre stand before we all helped to get the bike up onto its stand. The damage to the tyre was easy to see – a slash between the blocks. We were carrying our spare (but very well used) front and rear tyres – though the spare rear still had a puncture in it that we’d picked up at the temple of 8,000 Buddha statues in Myanmar and hadn’t repaired.
We’d stopped in a small valley, a rice paddy field on one side and lush jungle with the sounds of a waterfall on the other side. The road level was a few metres above the paddy field, and a small hut made from concrete blessed blocks stood a short distance away, adjacent to the small river that flowed under the road and which fed the waterfall on the other side.
I lifted out our puncture repair kit and 12 volt compressor and set about repairing the puncture, with Aad looking on closely as he’s never used one of these kits to repair a tubeless tyre – and then he laughed when I told him I’d never used this before either. The kit is simple to use – ream out the hole using the reaming tool, lather up one of the worms with rubber cement and then use the insertion tool to drive the worm into the hole. Let the glue dry, trim off the excess worm ends that protrude from the hole and then reinflate tyre via compressor.
And so our repairs would have been simple except for the fact that rather than a small puncture the tyre had been slashed – probably by one of the last potholes we’d encountered just at the top of the steep hill – and one worm wasn’t sufficient to fill the hole. Neither was two worms, and neither was three worms, and this was starting to look problematic as my repair kit only had five worms to start off with, and had also found another puncture near the slash and repaired that with a worm, so we had one worm left and diminishing confidence that we could repair the tyre.
By this stage Karen and Mike had settled into their chairs, sitting under the shade of a nearby tree that rose up from the field below us – and were quite enjoying watching Aad and I work on the tyre. We had a look at the spare tyre I was carrying – whilst the block had been slashed by the shard of glass we’d picked up at the Buddha temple from inside the tyre we could see that just a small puncture had actually pierced the tyre, so we reamed that from the inside and plugged that with the last worm we had, and then Aad removed the rear wheel from the bike and set to work swapping the tyres over.
Mike got some detergent from his pannier and we used that to get the repaired the onto the rim, and then we hit problems as we couldn’t get the bead to reseat. My little 12v compressor couldn’t generate enough pressure to reseat the tyre, so we ended up removing the wheel from the bike and trying a few tricks – like winding a strap around the circumference of the tyre and compressing the strap, but all of our attempts were fruitless, and we couldn’t reseat the tyre and inflate it.
From our GPS and trip meters we knew that the tyre repair shop that had helped Mike in the morning was 84km south, and Mae Sariang was about 50-70km north. Cars and light trucks were passing us reasonably frequently as we worked on the side of the road – covering us in dust as they drove past and providing entertainment as many of them struggled to climb the steep hill we’d come down a few hours earlier, but assistance came in the form of a young man on a scooter, who had stopped to watch us briefly a while earlier and had then disappeared, unbeknownst to us, into the besser block shack in the paddy field we were stuck next to.
With few words of English but clearly obvious hand signals – I was summoned to his scooter, along with the uncooperative tyre and rim, which he placed in front of him on the scooter. I grabbed my helmet, climbed on the back of the Honda Wave 100cc scooter, and we attacked the steep hill, bouncing and skating up the rough rocky section.
Half way up the hill my right foot slipped off the footpeg and the footpeg retracted, so I had to stick my leg out straight to avoid having it driven into the ground, and it was a very precarious and action-packed ride, but the rider seemed to know where the smoothest line to take was, and we continued to make forwards progress up to the crest of the hill where I tapped him on the shoulder and got him to stop so I could find the footpeg again. He passed me the wheel and I held that between us as we started the descent on the other side, negotiating the ruts and bumps as we headed down.
We bounced and bumped along the off-road section for a few km til we came back to tarmac, and around the next corner we pulled off the road into a little scooter workshop. The mechanic there only had an ancient foot pump to offer and whilst we tried that it still couldn’t pop the bead back on the tyre, so he instructed my helper to take the wheel further down the road – either 10 km or 10 minutes or 10 hours (I couldn’t understand what the unit of ’10’ was), whilst I was given a chair to sit and watch the mechanic at work on the steady stream of machines arriving at his rural workshop. I was a bit concerned at sending off my wheel in the hands of someone I didn’t know, but two-up plus wheel on the 100cc scooter was making it almost impossible to climb the steep mountain hills, and it made more sense to lighten the load on the little machine.
In the hour or so that it took my helper to return with the wheel successfully fitted with the reinflated and seated tyre I watched the mechanic work quickly and efficiently work on his scooters, and grabbed a refreshing Coke from the store adjacent to the workshop. Tarpaulins laid out in the yard were covered in rice and nuts, and as the sun started to drop ladies gathered up the dried produce and filled up sacks with them.
When my helper returned I grabbed him a beer and paid his fuel cost as he refilled, and then gave him a small gift of appreciation. He arranged for me to return to our stranded bike in a dual cab ute along with the wheel and some cold drinks I’d bought for Karen, Aad and Mike, and he followed behind on his scooter.
The sun was almost gone by the time we got back to the bike, and Aad quickly refitted the wheel to the bike whilst Karen snapped a couple of quick photos of our helper and his scooter. Bike reassembled and repacked, we headed off towards the campground in the Mae Ngao National Park, about 20km north of our location.
The tyre pressure alarm went off again – the recommended pressure is 42psi and it had only been inflated to 29psi, but at least the worm repair was holding and we weren’t loosing any air. The bike was squirming on the soft tyre so we just rode along at a slow pace, trying to protect the tyre.
Darkness fell quickly and the lights on the bike lit up the road extremely well, highlighting the curves and twists in the jungle road. We turned off the main road and headed down the track toward the campground, a further 5km of riding. Riding into the camp a man jumped onto a scooter and led us to a spot where we could pitch our tents next to the river.
In the darkness we pitched our tents and then went up to the nearby shelter and started cooking dinner. Karen had bought some steak in Mae Sot and she cooked that to perfection, whipping up some mashed potato and carrots and and a pepper gravy. Meanwhile Aad and Mike shared hotdog sausages and baked beans in their one-pot dinner. A hungry dog came by and Karen gave her some steak.
The air was very still and hot, and Mike and I grabbed some cokes and water from the campground store. Dinner over and pots washed and dried up we retired to our tent, struggling to get to sleep in the heat but weary from our long day. It had taken five hours from puncture to getting back on the road, but we had dealt with the situation as best we could and we’re happy to have arrived at our intended destination. Part-way through the night I got up and pulled back half the fly, uncovering the tent and trying to get a bit of cooler air into the tent. Sleep finally came, brought on by the relaxing sound of the river water rushing by. A great day’s riding – despite our puncture and unintended halt along the way.