Lazy Sunday morning. I glance up from the couch to see Rick walking down our stairs. He looks a little down. “Hey, you o.k.?” I ask. “Naw. I’m grumpy and I’m bored.” he says as he stares at his phone. I ask the next question as I silently brace myself for the answer. “So, what do you want to do?”
“Well, I figured out how we can ride our bikes to that park Jeff told us about last night. You know, the one with the beautiful bike path.” O.K., I’m thinking. That park is 10 kg from our house – which in most cases is no problem. Except, here in Bangkok, there are serious obstacles for a bicycle. Obstacles that require laser sharp concentration to avoid; obstacles that change from day-to-day; obstacles that move and shift in the moment; obstacles that require major upper body strength. This is not a cute little pedal to the park. Oh no. In order to GET to the beautiful bike path – we have to ride “street”.
If you are unfamiliar with this term, riding “street” basically means you use “trail” bike techniques in a city. For example, launching off or jumping curbs or “gaps”; navigating technical turns around obstacles; riding in places not meant for bikes like staircases, narrow ledges or rails. Pushing the physical limits of the bike and the human riding it. Fifteen year olds do this – on their BMX bike.
“Alright. Let me change into my bike shorts”, I sigh. I grab my gloves, a water bottle, hat and sunglasses, wallet and phone. We are out the door in 15 minutes.
We’ve got a series of navigational challenges today. The street market, the sidewalk, the Khlong path and two 6 lane roadways. A few new features to consider as well: Sunday morning market traffic and unfamiliar soi dogs.
The Street Market: Unusually busy this morning. So I throw it in a “hard” gear for super slow riding and increased control. Hands on breaks. Ready to step down. This is stop and go. Old lady on the left. Sharp turn through narrow opening between Durian cart and parked motorcycle. Little kid straight ahead. Brake hard – foot down. Smile and say “ahhhhh” to the mother of the little rascal. Motorcycle behind – go slowly straight ahead – do not swerve – or you will get hit.
The Sidewalk: There are three types of obstacles on every sidewalk in Bangkok. “Lips”, “Left/Right” and “Crappy”. “Lips” are everywhere. These are little steps up or down that have been created by the settling of the sidewalk. Even walking, these “Lips” are a hazard – especially for toes. “Left/Right” requires that you go left and right as if you are weaving through a series of cones. This is pretty common. Trees, benches, random poles, stairways, etc. create a gritty slalom course. Some of these objects are placed purposely to keep motorcycles off the sidewalks. Some of it is just bad planning.
“Crappy”, are areas of cement sidewalk, that through heavy use and natural settling, are simply put, in “crappy” condition. The jagged, jutting and missing cement pieces create the perfect opportunity for launching off or jumping “gaps”! I’m always so happy to see this particular obstacle. Navigation requires hyper concentration and control. Hit it wrong – and you’ve got a flat.
The Khlong: Rick yells, “Turn left” and I’m like, “Where?” He’s standing next to a three-foot wide opening by an overpass that leads to a narrow bridge over a Khlong (canal). There are so many little narrow paths that run along the Khlongs and down side streets. Most don’t have guard rails. Just a raised cement path, about 2 feet wide, on stilts, over water. And not the nice blue waters of Pinterest Thailand. No. This water is filled with Monitor Lizards, garbage and weird stuff. After hearing about another cycling friend that got run off a Khlong path by a motorcycle, I often just walk my bike. I do not want to go swimming with a Monitor.
The Scary Busy Road: Some roads are best avoided altogether. These are the scary busy roads with tons of traffic going 30-70 mph. Therefore, we simply carry or “portage” our bikes over one of the numerous pedestrian overpasses. Today, I did this 4 times up and 4 times down. Good for upper body strength. Yeah.
Siri Doesn’t Know Shit. According to Siri, we should be able to cross a bridge that takes us directly to the park. However, Siri doesn’t live in Thailand and hasn’t taken into account a large industrial complex that was quickly built-in the last two weeks. Maps provide loose guidelines more than anything here and that little blinking dot indicates that we are definitely HERE and at least getting close. So, we ride through a construction site (no hard hats needed in Thailand) and under an overpass only to meet up with an aggressive Soi (street) dog. Great. So, using the same safety strategy as you would with say, a cougar, Rick jumps off his bike to get the bike between himself and the dog. I do the same and we run/walk our bikes quickly past while not making dog eye contact. Back on our bikes we pedal standing up, as fast as we can, like a couple of ten year olds.
And like most everything here in Thailand we suddenly end up where we want to be-but, not quite sure how we got there. The park is lovely. Shade and benches. Romantic couples lounging about and old men slowly walking as they contemplate the trees. We ride around a man-made lake on the perfectly groomed path. Level, wide, no motorized traffic. We sit and stare at the still water enjoying the silence that is interrupted only by birdsong. An oasis.
After 10 minutes I turn to Rick. “Ready?” I ask. “Yep.” he nods. Time to head back to through the urban jungle. Settling back on our bikes, Rick turns to me and grins. “Let’s go back a different way.” I grin back. “You know where you’re going?” I ask. Rick just smiles. Looks like another adventure.