After the shock of the accident, I ride sedately into Loei and pulled into my usual parking spot behind my usual ultra-cheap hotel. As I turn off the key, I breathe a sigh of relief. I have made it back safe.
I already know the hotel will have a room for me, same deal every time. These days they don’t even need to ask for ID, they know who I am, and it’s a relief because I don’t feel much like talking. I just give them a few hundred baht, they give me a key; I unclip my rok straps, grab my tiny bag and head upstairs. Every one of their cheap rooms looks exactly the same so in my moment of exhaustion it feels almost like coming home: familiar, safe.
But the adrenalin is still coursing through my veins. It’s been hours, and I even stopped for a green tea on top of the mountain, but my hands are still shaking. I need to talk, so I talk to the camera. It helps me to reflect and put things in perspective a little. Overwhelmingly, I feel grateful.
I can’t stop pacing up and down the room though. I put on an audio book – Motley Cru talking about being dirt bag rock stars, sufficiently removed from my own reality – and I make myself wash my riding clothes and take a shower. I’m relieved when darkness has fallen and I know that my friends will be at their bar, ready with a warm welcome like always. I need someone to talk to.
A schniztel and a few whiskies later, I’m feeling way more human and my hands are steady again.
I am on my way back to Chiang Mai for an important appointment and I have two days to get there. Enough time to take the twisty roads all the way. I am loving my new Rosso IIs and have no intention of squaring them off on some straight, boring highway.
Speaking of boring, you’re going to get sick of me describing how nice the weather is, so let me just say: the weather is perfect, and will remain this way for the next three months. Blue skies, cool mornings, blazing sunshine. It’s delicious. I head back up through the national park and it’s all just lovely, but by 2pm I am hit by sudden fatigue. The end of yesterday’s adrenalin: whereas before I couldn’t stop pacing, now I just need to collapse.
But I have some work to do first. I detour a little, up near the Laos border to see an rustic guesthouse that I’d noticed on my maps before. It is in a tiny village dwarfed by the mountain range marking the international border. The rooms turn out to be basic but clean, surrounding a large open air eating area. It’s perfectly placed as a midstop in a long, long tour through the mountainous border lands, without having to turn back towards the flats just to access accommodation. I could just see cold beers and good local food being knocked back with gusto by a happy tour group here, in the midst of two days of twisties. I pin it on my map, chat with the owners and think about what I’m going to call this particular tour. The Epic Twistie Tour. Why not?
Lunch is gwetiow – thin noodle soup – with barbecued pork, cooked over a wooden fire by old ladies who are surprised to see me. Woman, alone, big bike, no husband, no friends! It’s also some of nicest gwetiow I’ve ever tasted. In the cities it usually comes with these dodgy meat balls which I am pretty sure are nothing to do with meat, but out here in the national park, it’s just beautifully barbecued pork, sliced thin and delicious.
By four in the afternoon, I know that I’m not going to make it across the resevoir today. The sun is still high in the sky but I am toast after yesterday’s unwelcome excitement, so I find a roadside guest house. It’s a little more expensive than I usually go for – about $13 – but I am so tired. The adrenalin is gone and it takes me ten minutes to pull off my riding gear, sweaty and tangled and stupid.
Right now, all I want is my beer and my bed. Unfortuantely, it’s not yet 5pm which means I can’t yet (legally) buy a beer in Thailand. But you know what, these days I can almost speak Thai, and that is rad. Honestly, it is. So I just go around asking old ladies where can I buy beer? And am immediately directed to a little shop where a thorougly toothless old man sells me a bottle of beer Chang on the sly. I go back to my room a happy woman, drink my beer, work on some tour plans. I love touring this part of Thailand, and I know a few other people who are going to enjoy it too.