I took a flight to Thailand for a Christmas and a bit of summer sun. I thought it was going to be one of those `normal` type holidays, chilling out by the beach and schlepping around the night markets. However, whilst taking it easy in Pai (Northern Thailand up near the Myanmar border), I met a man with a moto. We chatted and he told me of a national enduro champion who would take tourists out for the day to show them the lay of the land on trail bikes, quite literally, through the woods, across rivers, dirt tracks, into hill tribe villages, in fact, all manner of challenging terrain.
I signed on the dotted line, got suited and booted and given a kick start, an old DR250. Biked up, the four of us set off, the Enduro champ, me, my friend, and the chap I had met the previous day (on his own bike).
This was my first go at off roading, and whilst I had looked forward to it, it was with a certain degree of trepidation. I was alright on the flat, and started to relax, thinking things were pretty good. We drove through a river, and onto a tiny footpath alongside a bit of, what I can only describe as, a swamp! Up a couple of steps across a footbridge, down the steps at the other side, a quick exhalation for air and onward!
I found my kickstart frustrating, to say the least as I (it) kept stalling. My compadre rather gallantly swapped bikes with me so that I had a Yamaha with electronic ignition; I really started to enjoy things then!
Up through the woods, holding a line on solidified mud flats, with ruts of at least 3 foot up 1:4s. We kept stopping to see where we were heading….our glorious leader pointing out the lines I should hold; me gulping rather severely, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
I don’t think I took a breath for 12 minutes. I got to the top of a rather steep, challenging line at which our guide heartily congratulated me. It was rather surprising to see me atop my bike rather than stood over it. I needed a stiff cup of tea after that!
It was great trying to communicate with the locals of the hill villages, their dialect quite different from any mainstream Thai.
We took a few breaks but our leader was very keen to press on. He was keen to show us as much of `offbeat` Thailand he could and of course, challenging routes.
After being on the track for about 6 hours I was well out of concentration. My comfort zone had been well and truly tested, and I started making silly mistakes. On the easiest of tracks, just through the opium fields. I was starting to fall off. Me heading one way and rather spectacularly, my bike heading off in another direction. It was time to find a hot spring and cool off.
After our afternoon dip, and feeling slightly rejuvenated, we got dried and dressed and headed back to base. I was exhausted but what a great experience. With a Singha beer in my hand under the setting sun, I reflected that biking skills may certainly need some honing. But I`d been bitten by the trail bug. I`ll be doing that again!
Van Van Hayes