Motobike Trip Day 7

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June 19th 2007
Published: June 19th 2007
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Tuesday June 19, 2007
Laos Motorbike Trip - Day 7 (The Road to Paksan) 155 Km Covered

As we had planned the night before, we were on the road as the sun was rising. We blasted to Moung Khon and had breakfast at 6:45AM. We made rain gear purchases in the market and loaded up on supplies for the trip into the unknown…again. We bought rope and foodstuffs in case of another breakdown and got back on the dirt track. As we passed the spot of the previous day’s breakdown I was overcome with a feeling of overwhelming success. We were going to conquer this road. Persistence would pay off. The road deteriorated rapidly as we pushed on. By 8:30AM we had passed the point where D & J had been the day before. We were making great time. We passed two mahouts on their elephants working on the road. It was a surreal experience to see them walk past us as they made their way into the forest to go to work. The road conditions continued to get worse and worse. We had reached the “undetermined” part of the track. It was muddy…real muddy. I really couldn’t believe it could get as bad as it did. Around 10:00AM we hit our first river crossing. Kelly and Jo waded in and directed us through the shallow parts. Then the mud got worse. We came upon a truck stuck in mud over its wheels. The passengers were all out trying to dig themselves free. We couldn’t afford to stop and help. If things stayed like this we would be lucky to make it out ourselves. We guessed that we were averaging about 5km an hour at this point. The tracks were several feet deep and in some parts water would fill in the tracks. It would come up to the gas tank when we went through. Kelly and Jo were jumping off and pushing more than they were actually riding. It was completely insane. It was serious work just keeping the bike upright. Kelly and I laid our bike down in some deep mud at one point. It was 90 something degrees with 100% humidity and we were wearing rubber boots and rubber pants to keep the mud off us. It didn’t matter anymore….we were covered in sweat and mud. This all sounds really horrible, but we were still having fun. It was exciting trying to navigate the huge bikes through this mess. This is what they were made to do. Kelly and Jo were covered in mud from the spinning wheels as they pushed. In the back of my mind I was worrying about the fact that there was really no turning back now. We were too far in. If we came across a river or a landslide that was impassable we were in trouble. I didn’t share these fears with the rest of the group. We had enough to worry about. Instead, I remained positive and kept on skipping through the mud. We were deep in the jungle now. In the lower sections the mud was crazy. Every so often we would rise out of it and have dry ground for a while. We came to Tha Vieng village and the kids were scared of us. They ran away and hid. A woman came out and we tried to ask if there was any gasoline we could buy. Nope. She pointed up the road. Fatigued and hoping we would find gas sooner than later we pressed on. When we found gas in Tha Tom village we were elated. We stopped in the “gas station” and had a warm 7-Up and some water as a crowd of kids piled in around us. They were totally entertained by us. I had seen one of them running away from us as we rode into town, but now she was in the hut interested in what we were all about. I taught a small boy to high five. I really wanted to pull the “too slow” trick on him, but didn’t think he would get it. By the time we left he was hi-fiving like a champion. The woman selling the gas was a joker. She bantered with us the best she could and laughed and smiled. Daragh made everyone laugh with his best quote from the phrasebook: “When choosing an elephant, check the tail, when choosing a wife, check the mother”. It was a classic encounter that makes a trip like this all worthwhile. They must have thought we were completely crazy. Storming into town with huge bikes and quoting strange sayings about choosing a wife. They loved every minute of it and so did we. We put some extra gas in our extra water bottles and continued south.
And then it happened. Our tire went flat…again. I couldn’t believe it. We were literally in the middle of no where this time. It would be dark in less than 2 hours and we were beyond tired. We had been on the move for 10 hours at this point. This was pretty serious and we were all very aware of that fact. I opted to ride ahead for help this time and let Daragh rest. We had seen other people on mopeds sloshing through the mud, so we knew we weren’t totally screwed. I immediately was faced with two more river crossings. I tried to turn around so I could check the depth of the river and got stuck in the mud for about 5 minutes. I was freaking out. This is where I really started getting scared. I was all alone, in the middle of nowhere, stuck in the damn mud. I eventually got the bike out. A man came down to the river on the other side. I think he must have heard me revving the engine to free it from the mud. He directed me where to drive across the river. It came up over my knees. I still can’t believe how awesome those bikes are. On the other side it was my turn to draw in the dirt and try to find a mechanic. Mechanic #6 I might add. I found a hut and some willing participants. One kid even spoke some English. He set me up with three other guys and off we rode, back across the two rivers to where the others were waiting patiently. They pulled out a radio and went to work on the tire. This time the nozzle had been ripped from the tube. That tube was done for. We had the spare though. He tested it and found a hole in it as well. As we was burning on another patch one of the guys switched off the radio and motioned for us to be quiet. There was an absolutely huge swarm of bees flying about 25 feet over our heads, above the tree line. We all watched in amazement wondering what in the world we would do if the swarm decided to come down towards us. As if things weren’t bad enough right now. The swarm moved on and we returned to the task at hand. The goddamn tire. We were now putting patches over patches. It wasn’t looking good for the tire. Our best estimates put us about 80 or 90 Kms from the safety of paved highway. The jungle mechanics made it work and eventually we were packing our things up and getting ready to move on. We gave them some cash and they were stoked. They quickly disappeared and we were on our way. Back across the rivers and past the boy that had helped me find help. We waved and zipped along.
But the fun wasn’t over yet. The repair only lasted about 10km. I kept having Kelly look down to see if we were losing air. We were and eventually it popped…again. Puncture #4. What a drag. At this point we were really into survival mode. Things were getting serious and we all knew it. Darkness was quickly approaching and we were all on our last legs physically and mentally. I must add here - we all kept it together and made very rational decisions from this point on. D & J again rode ahead looking for help. I didn’t think we could repair the tire again. But when D & J returned with Mechanic #7 he seemed optimistic. We went right to work. He soon realized he would have to take the tire off and he didn’t have his wrenches with him. To make matters worse - his headlight didn’t work on his moped. D & J would have to follow him back to the village to get his tools and he would have to ride another bike. As he was monkeying with his headlight something caught his eye and he reached down and killed a huge scorpion. It was by far the biggest scorpion I had ever seen. He did a pretty good job smashing it and then he left to go get his tools. Kelly and I were left waiting again….in the dark. I would like to say we were cool as cucumbers, but we weren’t. It had been a long day. We were beat and we were extremely worried about more scorpions. Before the mechanic had left I used sign language to ask him if it was ok if we stayed with him tonight. He shook his head yes. We were relieved. We didn’t know what this would all mean, but at least we wouldn’t be sleeping with scorpions. The tire was eventually repaired and we limped into the village. Daragh and Jo were standing in front of the mechanic’s house with a large crowd gathered - just staring at them. After some arguing it was decided that we would stay with the mechanic and D & J would stay with another family. We’re pretty sure that they were arguing about where we would stay. None of them really had much, but they all wanted to give us a place to stay. Even to the point where they were arguing about it. We were not in the mood to chit-chat. But we were so completely thankful for them and their kindness. After the crowd dispersed, the mechanic’s wife cleared her children’s bamboo bed for Kelly and me and cooked up some rice and pumpkin leaves. We were beyond hungry. Plain rice has never tasted so good. I was completely humbled by the kindness of these people. I wasn’t sure how we would ever be able to repay them. As we rolled the bike into the hut before going to sleep, the mechanic noticed that the tire was losing air. He signed to me that he would fix it in the morning. We slept soundly….until 4:30am….

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