One day close to Christmas I get a message from my cousin.. ‘today is the last day to sign up’. She is talking about a charity bike ride through Thailand with her business mentoring group. I had expressed interest earlier but was undecided. But this email made something click inside me. I did a few checks to see if I could organise getting my children looked after on those dates and signed up. Eek. I wasn’t sure what I’d just signed up for - but I knew I’d be riding a bike 500km through Thailand. And that I’d be needing to raise $5000 plus pay my $2000 odd fee (not including flights and accommodations before and after the trip) for the privilege.
Guess I’d better dust off my bike then. She had sat in my carport for a few years without being ridden. I checked if it still worked and all but a flat tyre, she was good to go. For the next four months, I’d be getting friendly with my bike. We would spend anywhere from an hour to three with each other at least three times a week. We’d travel the coast, we’d cruise down to Willunga, and we’d push up to Old Reynella on the Shiraz Trail. And when I couldn’t get outside, I’d pop her into a trainer and spin for an hour or so inside once the kids had gone to bed, YouTube running.
Now, it's Anzac Day, and I’ve just finished up my 500km ride through Thailand. I arrived home today, took one look at her then kept walking. I don’t mind not seeing my bike for a little while. It’s not that I don’t like her, it’s just that I’m sick of riding. I’m not a cyclist.
I’ll get to the ride in a second but here’s what I learnt in the last few months in the saddle (yep, that's what the seat is called).
1. Padded bike shorts are your best friend.
2. So is bum cream.
3. Drafting helps get you further with much less effort.
4. Good conversation goes a long way to making legs (a term for a component of a bike ride) feel shorter.
5. When cycling all day in 40-degree plus heat, you can never have too much water and ice.
So… to the ride.
The hardest part. The heat.
I am not sure I can describe what it feels like to ride 7am until 5pm in 45-degree heat. The sweat pours off. The headache is near constant. Bags of ice melt in minutes. The hot wind does nothing to make me feel better. Waiting to push off, sweat dribbles from my neck bandana of ice down my back. Sweat pools behind the knees and dribbles into my shoes. Sloshing water over our head that has had everyone's hands in it is welcomed. Icy water being tipped over me only startles me for a second or two before it warms up and melds with the sweat.
Riding 135km in one day in this heat is something I still can't comprehend how we completed. I think it is just a matter of pushing the pedals round and round like the song 'the wheels on the bus go round and round' but for a bike.
Taking it one leg at a time. Cruising while having a chat or pushing myself to keep pace - knowing that by getting to the next rest stop, I’d have time to sit in the shade and recoup. Attempt to cool me down, rehydrate and prep for the next leg. After all, it was only an hour or so in the sun at the one time.
With a buddy to rely on, and a buddy relying on me, we push on. Looking ahead, eyes up. Heck, sometimes we’d even have a chuckle. People fall. People pull out. People slow. People power on. Everyone suffers, or are pushed through, at a different level. Even the fittest of cyclist, the seasoned Thailand riders, struggle at times. People grow quiet, then silent. We all cope in our own way. The jokers quieten. We all agree, it isn’t the physical nature of the ride taking its toll on us, it is the heat.
Seriously, at home, we’d be cooped inside with air-conditioning blasting, not out wandering around in this heat. We wouldn’t even dream of exercising in it for just an hour - and here we are now riding all day in it. Crazy. But crazy with a cause.
Each day is different. Some days we have undulations. Some days are flat. Some days are 75km, and we finish before lunch. One day is 145km, and at dusk, we are still riding. It is decided we have to cut 10km off our ride this day, to avoid riding in the dark. Safety first. Haha. That sounds funny… we can’t ride in the dark, but we can ride all day in this heat.
There is a lot of farmland, burnt out paddocks and shanty towns. Flat (ish) plains turn into mountains, dirt roads and leafy sided roads. Highways thin to concrete single width country lanes to pot-holed dirt tracks. At one stage we have to dismount and walk our bikes through a section of road being resurfaced. The sand sinking our wheels as soon as we hit it.
Riders are from all over Australia and New Zealand, and one lady coming from the USA. We are used to all different temperatures. And our fitness levels are just as varied, as are our ages. Our youngest is 16 and the oldest is Dale’s dad in his 60s (from memory - eek). But one thing we have in common is our reason for doing it - to help the kids. And we all possess the mental can-do attitude that helps push us through our dark moments. We have one girl that does zero training through to our every week cyclists.
How do I go?
Physically - I am fine. Well, apart from tingly toes and one pulled muscle in my left leg which voids that leg of doing any pushing up hills. It's nearly a week since I have finished riding and I still have tingles in my right foot.
Heat - so-so. I get heat exhaustion on day three and think I’m going to have a hospital visit. I spend the night barely unable to lift my head from the bed. I am trying to hydrate as much as I can but clearly not enough. After this night on my bed and head in a toilet I ensure I always have water within reach. I enlist a second bottle to stick in my back pocket while riding. That way I don’t have to ration. It helps. And when I get a headache, I drink even more, rather than thinking it’s normal. Obviously, there is no such thing as too much water on this ride. And I also eat more. More fruit, peanut brittle, chips and sweets. The first few days I was only stocking up on fruit during breaks - having more substance makes me feel better for the second half of the ride.
Riding into the Kanchanaburi orphanage on the last day completes the ride in many ways. Not only are we physically finishing it, but we are also seeing the reason why we have gone through all the pain right before us. Bright, smiling kids that are being given a chance of choice because of us are waving us in to the song of 'We are the Champions'.
The money we have raised through doing this ride will fund Kanchanaburi orphanage for a year. This orphanage that has given life back to over 50 kids that have, in one way or another, have no family to give them life. Spending a few hours with these amazing children is the best reward I can receive. And dancing with these energetic, happy souls in the evening is the icing on top.
Here is some video from 'in the saddle' of the trip... plus the wonderful night of celebration with the kids. Non, the child I was 'riding' for (when needing mental support on the ride we thought about a child we were helping) is a cheeky, small 12-year-old with an infectious smile. I loved meeting him and will remember his beaming face always.