Saturday, December 15, 2007

stuff I've been up to

Besides riding a mechanical bull at a food fair (pictures to come later), I went out and ran a 10km run the other morning.

[pre-dawn start] It is hot here so runs start pre-dawn. Which makes it kind of cool because you get going and the sun is rising and then the endorphins start kicking in and life is pretty good.

[Kat finishing] Josh had called me the day before asking if I wanted to run a 10k the he just found out about. My thought process went like this: That sounds like fun, I haven't run at all in at least a month, last time I ran, I had to stop because my shoulder was hurting me, when am I get to do this again, o.k. I'm in.

[Standing around with our medals]

[After the race, they serve Rice Soup, which has never tasted so good] So we ran it. I actually got a pretty fast time for me, but then I couldn't really walk for two days. Very exhausting.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Forrest Visits Thailand

Forrest came and visited for two weeks. And for two weeks we did something somewhat intense everyday.

We did some touristy things like going to temples. In this picture, Forrest is releasing birds for good luck. I snapped the image seconds too late, but you can the debris.

Here are some monks.

And then we went to Cave Lodge for two days. Cave lodge is one of my absolute favorite places to visit in Thailand. It isn't actually in a cave, but it is very tastefully done and is in the area of Thailand that is completely littered with caves. It is owned by an Australian, John, who moved out to Thailand something like 20 years ago and decided that caving was his thing. He is the ultimate resource for caves. In fact, he has done so much caving, that he is known to just hand over virgin caves. On my first visit up here last spring he told us where to go and within minutes were pushing open leads with blind fish and all.

[Drinking coffe on the ride up to Cave Lodge- we didn't bring a camera into the caves so this will have to do]
On the first day up there, we ducked into Christmas cave which is short, but very intense. A lot of scrambling, then a complete duck under. What this means is that there is a pool of water. A curtain of limestone comes down and dips into the water meaning that if you want to go further, you have to hold your breath, go under the curtain and find air on the other side. No so bad... in theory. But in practice it is quite scary. Especially when the other side only enough room to put you lips above water. Then you have to go like this for another 2 meters or so. Beyond that is a big rappel, some serious threshing, a 100 meter tummy crawl down an oval tube (aesthetically pleasing), another scary scramble down, and then a pool with blind fish. You can go on further from here, but it is a long long long duck under into what might be a room with bad air (high CO2 content). So we stopped there. We came out and into the night with a full moon which was pretty cool.
After feeding ourselves, it was time to go into the small town of Sappong for Loi Kratong festivities.
Loi Kratong is a buddhist/ animist holiday. Kind of a big deal around these parts. The tradition is to create a little raft with the trunk of a banana tree, decorate it with flowers and a candle and then float it down the river, along with all your bad feelings and worries. People still do that, but fireworks have taken over as the weapon of choice on this holiday.
[trying to win a beer] Sappong is a crossroads of sorts for all the different hill tribes in the area (and there are a lot). Think of it as a trading post. So you can imagine that on a big holiday like Loi Kratong, everyone from all over comes into town to drink and be merry. But what happened by the time we arrived, was that all the beer had been sold. The only beer left was attainable only by throwing darts at balloons and hitting 8 out of 8. At 20 baht (65 cents) a try, we tried and tried, but could never quite win a beer. As we were playing this game, we noticed a loud noise and a giant plume of fire spewing up behind us.

I'm not exactly sure how the fireworks are made, but I think it has something to do with buried bamboo and about 900 000 things that make sparks. The kept lighting them off in front of the temple one after another. Here is a video of the sparks. The video ends by looking up at a bunch of fire balloons that are quite lovely, especially when there 1000's of them in the sky. Never mind that they are made of plastic and that what goes up must come down, but this is thailand.

The next day we went into a forbidden cave that had 3 km of passage, is a through trip and has a high passage section with some of the most incredible features that I have ever seen or will ever see. There is a blue stalagtite (colored by copper) of which there are only 3 or 4 in the world so far. Amazing.

Ok... enough of the pansy stuff. After cave lodge, it was time to dust off our underwear and get the testosterone out. So we picked Hal up at the airport (he flew up from Singapore for 4 days), drove to the motorcycle rental place and rented real motorcycles. We ended up with Honda XR 250s.

[figuring out where we are- thai maps are sometimes not so good] I will save you the details, but after two days of riding around northern thailand, we were all pretty much hooked on motorcross (sorry to anyone I ever told that motocross is not so cool). We also thought that we were pretty bad ass cause we rode without any major accidents and we aced the long dirt rode section coming back. Big Kudos to Forrest and Hal who had pretty much never ridden a motorcycle before, let alone never driven in Thailand on the left side of the road with road rules that equal the physics rules set out for rivers. Talk about a steep learning curve.

So we came home safely from this trip and were immediately planning another, more technical, motocross adventure. Forrest reserved big bikes again and on Sunday morning off we went (this time with Megan) to drive around to the back side of Doi Suthep (the mountain the looks over Chiang Mai) and then back over the top on what looked like small dirt road. No big deal because we were experts, right? Off we go, right some dirt roads, right some slightly more techincal (read bad condition) dirt roads, eat some lunch, then head for the main objective, up and over. The only beta we had was that it was going to take a while to get over the top cause it was full on, but that advice was given to us by a friend who rode the trail during rainy season, and besides, we knew what we were doing.
[Forrest riding a bank] Riding along, the road starts to get worse, but it is fun. We are heading up a steep section and Megan falls off her bike. We were going quite slow at this part so she is fine but she breaks the brake lever slightly. Forrest and I laugh and feel all superior because we didn't fall down.
Minutes go by and then we decide to make a quick stop to check in on each other. Unfortunately, I was on slippery mud with no way to control my bike and it goes down. I jump free, but my clutch lever snaps off. Hmmmmm. I pick up the bike, play around with it a little and realize that I can still use the clutch, but it is tricky. O.k... I only really need the clutch when starting from a stop and I can sort of get it to work so I think I can go on.
We push on and the road turns into single track. Fun. Then it starts getting really rutted. Less fun. Then I find myself driving on a pedestal with two ruts on either side of me meaning that if I screw up, I'm going down far and hard. Hmmmm. We pull through this section into a wide part and park the bikes. We need to assess.
It is getting on in the day, we don't really know how much gas we have, Megan and I have both fallen down, my clutch hardly works (it is becoming apparent that a clutch is quite useful on technical terrain), and the trail ahead just gets worse... way worse. Forrest wants to push on, I feel the need to go back and Megan is up for anything. We make the decision to turn around. Back on the bikes, start up the engines, and Forrest's bike won't start.
[Forrest excited about his broken bike- notice the clutch cable sticking out]His starter engine just won't do anything. O.k... use the kick start. No kickstart. O.k. compression start. We think it through and decide that on a dirt road we will need two people on the bike to get enough weight over the rear wheel to compression start the bike. I climb on the back and down we go on the raised pedestal that I just referenced. We need to get speed so I just close my eyes and hope Forrest knows what he is doing. He does and his bike starts up.
No we are cruising on increasingly better roads feeling a bit defeated but also feeling like we made the right choice. Megan and I suddenly realize that Forrest is no longer behind us. We turn around and go back to find Forrest standing over his bike scratching his head.
He had gone down and jumped free of the bike, but had completely ripped his clutch lever off the cable. [Compression starting the bike the second time- I am jumping off the footpegs in the photo] He had absolutely no clutch and no starter engine. O.k. we can compression start his bike but once he gets his bike moving he won't be able to stop meaning I can't get on the back to add extra weight unless I stand on the foot pegs. We do it, it works and send Forrest off. Now we have to catch up with him to hold traffic when he comes to intersections cause he really can't stop. In my efforts to drive fast on rocky rough roads (and pass a little Honda loaded with three people), I end up going down one last time. This time kind of hard. No damage to the bike, but my knees hurt like hell and what is that sizzling sound? Oh yeah, that is my calf on the exhaust. It doesn't hurt right then, but about 10 minutes down the road, boy howdy.
[Healing our wounds]
After a few more epics and some heroic driving by Forrest, we make it back to Chiang Mai, through Chiang Mai traffic, and get the bikes back to their homes. We pay our fines for breaking parts (mine cost 2 dollars to fix) and decide that we know very little about motocross. We are humbled which is a good thing.
So... what better way to nurse our egos than by buying a large bottle of whiskey, checking into Bully Sing-a-long (private themed room Karoke) and singing our hearts out for 2 hours. Good times.

We did some more caving, climbed Anxiety State Crisis (one of the wackiest sport routes in the world) and continued to go non-stop until Forrest's departure. I was sad to see him go, but my body needed a rest from going hard pretty much everyday for 2 weeks.

[A Burmese python on the trail- Jeff isn't so brave as it looks, this guys was dead, but it still gave us a huge startle when we saw it on the trail].