We wake feeling as though we've been rummaging through a lucky dip in a deep-fat fryer. To try and give my mitts some protection, I bite holes in the arms of my jumper, making a pair of chic hobo-gloves. More importantly, today is Wee Mo's birthday and for a number of reasons, it may well prove to be one of her most memorable.
Full of birthday cheer, and with the sky over overcast, we set off quickly in the gloom. Our next stop – Laksao – is 62km away, along a road that is classified for 4x4s only and said to be impassible during the rainy season. Again, though, all that's hard to believe as the first 10km pass through some more of that weird Doomsday landscape without incident. At this rate, it'll take us less than two hours, not the four that Mr Kip projected.
We stop to take some more footage and it seems that the moment we put the camera away, everything changes for the worse. The surface of the road changes repeatedly, without warning and it's hard to say which of the conditions is toughest: large rocks and potholes; cloying mud; sliding gravel; or oleaginous goo.
|Photo: Wee Mo|
Both handle bikes well, though, despite testing terrain. My riding too seems passable; easing off the accelerator and a quick wiggle of the hips later, I've navigated a chicane. It's a decade since I did any real mountain biking, but this is fun, even with the re-emergence of the sun.
Eventually, in spite – or perhaps because – of my growing confidence, I come undone. Taking a slimy ridge at too shallow an angle, the back slides away and I am duly dumped in the mud. For an instant, I worry that I've seriously damaged something on myself or the bike, but so far as crashes go, it could hardly be more gentle.
But inside I'm trembling. Soft as the landing was, and although the damage to the bike was minimal (a bent peg that stopped the gears from shifting – a problem that was resolved with a few well-aimed kicks) my confidence is totally shaken. Now I feel the need to be cautious I become altogether more inept in the conditions. Worse, the incident heralds major change in our fortune.
Before the hour is out, the chain is off again and a mechanic is fruitlessly trying to adjust the back wheel. Next, we find ourselves on a long stretch of muddy farm road that is difficult to navigate, even for the experienced locals.
Thinking I know better, I try to take a short cut through a massive puddle and promptly find myself in two foot of water, the engine giving little protest as it drowns in rainwater. Wee Mo and I stand in the sunshine, burning, yet muddy, helpless as the engine offers nothing in response to our attempts at kick-starting it.
A quite monumental amount of swearing later, a benevolent local in a Liverpool top stops and helps. A screwdriver here, a push there and eventually the engine comes back to life. The Kop in my head roars.
We get going again, more cautious with the water now but before long the chain is off again, evidently being pulled off by the still buckled back wheel. Thankfully, the third mechanic seems to be worthy of the name. Better, he refuses to take a fee.
We set off again for the final assault to Laksao. The bastard Nixon administration apparently stopped bombing here some time in the 1970s, but I'd wager not a scrap of work has been done on the roads since. Occasional bits of tarmac pop up, but bumping onto them and plopping off again becomes so debilitating, I resent that they're there at all. Wee Mo speculates that the periodic agony will be akin to contractions: the closer together they get, the sooner the ordeal will be over.
By the time we stop for lunch, it feels as though Manny Pacquiao has had at our liver and kidneys with merciless abandon. Our spines feel as though they're fused into searing iron rods, and arses and seats are melding together like trees and the Temples of Angkor. By far, though, it's our ruined hands that cause us the most problems, all because of this stuff:
|Avoid this crap at all costs|
We collapse into a café, muddied, bloodied and on the brink of tears.
Again, though, fate comes calling: the owner is a French-Canadian-Laotian who whips up some tasty noodles before raiding his mother's cosmetics to bring us some genuine sunblock. That horse may well have bolted, but coating our increasingly amphibian skin at least gives us some respite.
Too soon we have to leave. Sitting gingerly back on the bikes, we look at the map. We've done 62km today. There are over 100 to go.
Next: From Worse to Better