Okay, it wasn’t really midnight. It was only a little after 10:00 P.M. But it was definitely dark, and I was truly on one hell of a ride! How many times have you embarked on something with the best possible intentions, only to find yourself wishing fervently that instead you had done something much more sensible, like jump out of an airplane? Yes, the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. In this case at least I lived to tell this cautionary tale.
Since my last cardiac misadventure in June, I’ve taken to using my bicycle as a primary means of transportation. I of course am happy to get some much needed exercise. Also, since Dr. P. wasn’t offering a “buy one stent and get two free” special when he was fiddling inside of my barely beating heart, I’ve been looking for ways to cut back on unnecessary spending. Well, maybe it was my tee-rak who was crunching the numbers, but in any case I’ve been two wheeling it around Lampang ever since. I haven’t thrown away the keys to my Toyota, but I generally use it for shopping, long distances, and night time driving. And you know, I’m feeling pretty damned fine! Nary a cardiac twinge! My legs, while hardly made of titanium are definitely looking good! In addition, traveling around at a relatively slow speed I have come across a few interesting things along the way.
It’s about a half an hour from my home to my school. I generally leave the house around 6:30, before the morning rush hour. I’ve also found a quiet alternate route that brings me past a temple and a small market, where I occasionally stop to pick up some skewers of grilled pork <That'll do your heart the world of good! – Stick> and sticky rice. While there are a number of other bicycles on the road at that hour, I’m certainly the only Farang. (I am not counting the two Mormon missionaries I see from time to time in other areas of town, since they more correctly count as aliens from another planet!) The Thai ladies at the market are always amused to see me rolling up. I’m sure they must be thinking to themselves, “Why is the crazy Farang riding a bicycle? Is he too poor to afford a car or at least a motorcycle?” The idea of riding a bicycle for health benefits must seem a little strange. Near my home is the Lampang Sports School and I do often see packs of teenagers decked out in spandex whipping down the road. I however am no Lance Armstrong “wanabee”, and the mere idea of me wearing spandex is absurd! No, I’m dressed in khakis and a polo shirt most of the time, with an occasional windbreaker during the cool season.
Every morning as I make my way through the front gates of school, I am greeted with smiles and shouts from my students, who also are amused to see me pedaling my way along. Occasionally some of the Thai teachers I work with say that they should also be bicycling to school, but somehow mine is the only bike in the parking lot. It is a nice looking bike, although not a fancy one. When I made the decision to begin my exercise regime, I thought that I deserved a spanking new bicycle. My frugal (read cheap as hell) wife seemed skeptical, but, I don’t often buy any “toys” for myself. I was recently back from the brink of death, so if I wanted a new god damned bicycle, I was sure as hell going to buy one! End of discussion! I wasn’t looking for some high-tech computer designed marvel made of carbon nanotubes or buckyballs. No I was looking for simplicity itself. A plain old vanilla bike with upright handlebars and believe it or not…no gears! One afternoon I found my dream bike at a small shop near the train station. The owner, who speaks very good English, had just what I was looking for. A good old fashioned Raleigh, with a golden metallic finish. It’s the kind of bike that with a little maintenance should last me for many years. The price was right. We had a deal.
I added a few accessories. The first one is something that most Thais have absolutely no experience with: a side view mirror! How many times have you been nearly run down by a Thai pulling out (or changing lanes) without checking to see if there was actually another vehicle coming? I on the other hand am scrupulous about what’s going on around me. A fat lot of good that often does some nitwit decides to pass you on your right…usually at night…usually without bothering to turn on his headlights! That is why I have a Buddhist amulet, blessed by a monk wrapped around my handlebars. Hey, it couldn’t hurt! I also recently added front and rear strobe lights, white in front, red in the rear. The idea of course was to make myself more visible in the dark…not to mark myself as a potential target!
Okay here is where we get to my little night time excursion that this piece is about. I suppose it all comes down to being over confident in my biking skills. I had been traveling all over town for over six months, in all kinds of traffic, on some pretty busy street. I’ve been vigilant about keeping the hell out of the way of anyone attempting to run me off the road. I ride so far to the left side of the road that I am practically off it. I make no sudden moves. I always give a long and clear hand signal before turning. I obey all stop signs and red lights, much to the evident anger of Thai motorists behind me, who either honk in disgust, or simply go around me and ploy through the intersection. In short, I felt confident and in control. This was a BIG mistake. Most of my travels were during the daylight hours. My ride to school is before sunrise, but the sky is lightening, and I encounter very few vehicles. Naturally both of my strobe lights are on. When my neck is on the line I am most definitely a belt and suspenders kind of guy. Not having had any major problems, I had no trepidations when I set out on my night ride.
My school’s orchestral band was putting on a performance at another school in Lampang. All teachers were “encouraged” to attend. Actually I quite like our band. They are first rate musicians and the music director has done well in his work with these young girls and boys. If only they put in a fraction of this kind of effort into their school work! After the last round of applause had died away I set out for home. The school where the concert was held was about a 40 minute ride from my home, but I was alert and feeling ready for anything. Well, almost anything it turned out. I wasn’t quite ready to have at least half a dozen encounters of the way too close kind. I was a) suddenly completely invisible to every car, truck and motorcycle in Lampang, or b) held in such contempt that I was deemed a target worth running off the road. I lean towards theory b). In addition to my strobe lights and reflectors, I was wearing a multi-colored reflective vest so bright that could practically glow in the dark. I might have well been wearing a bull’s eye and a sign that read “Hit Me”! Seriously! People acted as if I simply wasn’t there. The traffic was nothing like it is in Bangkok, but it was heavy enough. Occasionally I needed to move to the middle of the road in order to make a right hand turn. That was touch and go! Even though I was pedaling my little heart out, it was never fast enough it seemed. Drivers either tailgated so closely that I hardly dared to put on my brakes at major intersections. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it to a quiet road which eventually led me to home sweet home. “How was your concert?” my wife asked sweetly. I just mumbled something innocuous and stumbled towards a warm shower. I was happy to be in one piece. So now I have two New Year's resolutions which I will have no problem keeping. One: Never go to Bangkok any time near a holiday. (read Rip Tide)
Two: Never ever ride my bicycle into town at night. No problem!
The idea of being on a bicycle (or for that matter, motorcycle) in Thailand petrifies me. At least in a car you feel you have some sort of protective shell around you.