Posted on December 13, 2015
We rode as fast as our 48cc’s could muster through the south of Thailand, with fleeting appreciation for the landscape as it passed. We were once again surrounded by karst topography, the ancient limestone hills with pale, sheer walls and rounded tops. I was zoning out a bit looking at the hills, when we were shook by a horrendous jolt from the bike that sounded like we’d run over a baby carriage. I stopped to see if there was in fact a baby wedged beneath the gearbox. The gearbox was baby free, so that was good. When the gearbox wouldn’t engage the rear wheel, I knew that our long-suffering chain had finally given up on us.
We literally had not even gotten off the bike before a pickup truck came along, I put my thumb out and we had our ride to the next town. We hoisted the bike into the back and Jamie and I squatted next to her for 40 km or so. The truck’s suspension was long dead, the road was bumpy, and I honestly longed for the safety of our motorbike. The new DID branded chain cost $5 USD and we were off again, hardly missing a beat.
At the hotel around the corner I saw a grizzled looking dude wearing a plaid shirt and bike shorts talking to the receptionist with his girlfriend tending a set of fully loaded bicycles. It was obvious that they’d been on a long journey and it soon occurred to me that I’d seen them before. The last time that we’d seen Paul and Jo, they were standing in the skinny shadow of a telephone pole in the Uzbekistan desert. It was the only shade around for miles, there seemed to be no-where to resupply with water, and I thought they were completely mad to be riding bicycles there.
It’s been a heroic ride all the way from the U.K and will carry on to Australia and North America ( check out their FB page). Their route across Asia has been much more direct than ours, which wandered through Mongolia and Siberia, but even so, it was a shocker to have them turn up having pedaled the whole way there. We drank beers and commiserated over the unique challenges of traveling in China and the wonders of the Stans. Talking to them helped me remember why we just keep riding and how mad this whole trip has been.
Back on the Thai island of Phuket, I’d been looking around for a used board, figuring out how to attach it to the bike, and working out where to catch a ferry to Sumatra. I’d just zip tied my sandal together, hoping they’d hold together awhile longer. I wondered how many more miles the back tire would run and if the wheel bearings were starting to go. But then I got some news that vaporized all of the silly little problems that have occupied our transient world for so long. My dad had just died. The journey was over, and it was time to go home.
He had been doing just fine. He was sitting there talking to a doctor when his heart stopped beating and refused to start again. Suddenly it felt as though we’d just been floating along in a dream and that real life was happening on the other side of the world. We loaded up the bike the next morning and rode south, headed for Singapore, where we’d booked a flight back to North America. It would take days to get there, but it felt good to just keep doing what we knew for a while longer. There’s not much better for sorting out your thoughts than sitting on a bike all day long anyway.
My dad always seemed like he was born a century or so too late. I’d say he never fully embraced the advent of the telephone. He’s always been more of a ‘see ya when I see ya’ kind of guy, and so that’s how we left it more than two years ago. I’d always expected that when I got back, we’d go sit outside somewhere with a six-pack of Budweiser and I’d get to tell him all about the trip. The sun would be burning off the coastal fog, he’d be sitting there in his U.S. Navy hat, and he’d tell me a new joke and call bullshit on one of my stories. He’d know half of the people who walked by on the sidewalk by name and tell them that I was his son just back from riding around the world and I’d know he was proud. It didn’t work out that way, and I’d give about anything to do that just now.
Approaching the Malaysian border, we once again wondered whether or not we’d be able to cross a border with the bike. There was a bicycle race happening in honor of the king of Thailand’s birthday with a route that crossed the Malaysian border. After getting our passports stamped, we just pushed our bike through the gate along with all of the bicyclists. No one seemed to mind.
We spent the days riding through Malaysia dodging storms. They have a real motorbike culture of sorts in Malaysia, which is reflected in the roadway design, with a big shoulder and sometimes an entirely separate lane for bikes that winds its way around tollbooths and through tunnels under the overpasses. It made for quick miles when the sky wasn’t opening up on us. Jamie made me laugh singing songs from animated Disney movies as we rode.
By the time we reached Singapore we were soggy and exhausted.
It was time to move on.
We were having some trouble moving on.
On the Malaysian side of the border with Singapore, I found a little hole-in-the-wall bike shop, just like one of those that had helped us countless times on the road, run by a very nice lady. Since we had nowhere left to ride I gave her our faithful little bike to take back to her village. Out of the city, someone could use it without having to worry about not having a plate. It felt like giving a little something back to the sort of people who had helped us time and again. We were glad to see our girl go to a good home after all our time on the road together. After 12 thousand kilometers or cheap as chips Chinese bike was still running perfectly.
We weren’t in the most festive mood, but Singapore put on a heck of a light show to see us off anyway.
Our final wild camp was in the Shanghai airport en route to Vancouver.
A rider named Pete who had seen our story offered to help us out in Vancouver. He had picked up the bike from the shipper when it arrived and kept it tucked away in his shop for us until we arrived. As if that weren’t enough, he showed up at the airport to meet us, towing an enclosed trailer with the bike inside. When the bike wouldn’t start or charge the battery after we got her running, he even gave us a ride straight to the bike shop. It was yet another gesture of kindness in a clutch moment from someone that we’d never met. The guys at the shop let me wheel her inside along with our entire pile of luggage and start taking things apart. The multimeter read only 4 volts on the battery, so we knew it was toast.
While I worked on the bike, the mechanic there mentioned a gang of 7 British guys on a big trip riding DR350’s, who had stopped at the shop for some custom fabrication work way back in the early 90’s. He thought they had made a movie or something about it, and had a photo of them on the wall. Of course it turned out to be a photo of Austin Vince and company on the legendary Mondo Enduro ride. It seemed that we’d come to the right place.
Things don’t always go as planned on the road and changes of course along the way are part of the deal. With all of the dangers and barriers in our path, I always figured that what stopped us would be running into some bad luck of our own, rather than events back home. There wasn’t much left ahead for us other than some nasty looking storms and a bone-chilling ride home to California from Vancouver. We’d take it one mile at a time, just like always. It’s been a ride to remember and I’m so happy that we took the chance to do it, even with a heart so heavy in my chest on the journey home. I never imagined that we’d get so far in the first place.