Senin, 06 Februari 2012

Mud Superman

Back in 1990 I traveled around the world on a circumnavigational ticket from New York to LA to Biak to Bali to Jakarta to Sumatra to Penang. From that old port I rode a train north to Surathani and then continued onto Bangkok and farther north to Chiang Mai. I stayed at the Top North Guest House within the walled city. The month was April and the temperature scorched my breath. The hotel had a swimming pool shaded by trees. I spent most of day wallowing in the shallow end, but once the sun dropped behind Doi Suthep I wandered along narrow sois to ancient temples and beer bars. A farang bookshop at the Eastern Gate rented dirt bikes.125 cc MTXs and 250cc ATXs. $10 OR $12 a day.The owner was wizened Australian yellowed by malaria. His wife glowered in the kitchen. She clearly didn't trust westerners. "He's an American. Not an Israeli." Jerry wagged his finger at his diminutive wife. It was tinted by nicotine. He wasn't planning on leaving a good-looking corpse."All farangs, all men, kee." She wrapped herself in a wraith of wrath."Kee?" My Thai consisted of 'sawatdee kap' and 'eek nung kuat beer' plus 'unai hong nam'. Hello and more beer were almost as important as 'where's the bathroom'. My stomach was having a hard time adjusting to real Thai food."Kee means shit. The Thais are the French of the Orient. They think they are better than anyone else and in some ways they aren't wrong. This country was never conquered by the west." He smiled at his wife. He was also proud of Thailand and whipped out a map of the tribal hills on the Burma border."Mai Hong Son was one of the last market towns on the Silk Route." The broken nail of his index finger tapped a location to the west of Chiang Mai. "You could fly there for $15, but the road there can take up to ten hours. Every corner is a turn into the 15th century. The Thais are trying to pave it, but the steep hills eat up the road like land sharks.""I'll take the 250." I had a Triumph Tiger 650cc back in New York. Power was good for speed in getting someplace and getting out of it too. I gave him my passport as a guarantee and motored around town like Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONES. The bike had short pipes. They glowed red from the exhaust. The backfires spat a blue flames. I returned to the hotel and went to sleep early. Ten hours could become fifteen easy.The next morning I woke at dawn and ate a quick breakfast. After checking my bag with the hotel, I strapped a small daypack to the bike and pointed the front wheel north. The Trans-Asia Highway was unpocked by potholes and I turned off the smooth road at the turn-off for Mai Hong Song. Construction crews and their heavy trucks were grinding up the two-lander without mercy. I weaved through the swatches of destructed pavement in 2nd gear, climbing into the mountains scarred by the slash and burn agriculture of the hill tribes. I felt the centuries disappearing with every mile. The unpaved section of the road were ankle deep in a red dust. I wore a scarf over my mouth and nose. Sunglasses protected my eyes, but my denim jacket and jeans were caked with powdery dirt. Opium trucks rolled past police barriers without inspection and I promised myself a taste in Mae Hong Song. It would go good with beer.A little after noon I topped a crest of a pass. The sun was burning the slopes to a cinder and the temperature was roiling a touch under 100F. I spotted three buses stopped at the bottom of the valley and slowed down to a stop. Their passengers were sheltering under the shades of withered trees. The drivers stood at the edge of a 25 meter stretch of dried mud in the middle of which was a 10 meter bog. The Thais looked at me and I looked at them. One of the drivers waved his hands, as if to say getting across this mire was impossible. He hadn't seen Evel Knevel leap Caesar's fountains in Las Vegas and I u-turned the bike spraying a rat tail of parched earth.200 meters back up the road I reversed direction and braked the 250cc ATX to a stop. The Thai men at the side of the road rose to their feet. The women stopped eating and stared at the farang on the bike. Their children ran closer to the edge of the soggy road. They knew that there was going to be a show. In their minds all farangs were crazy.The drivers stood in the way. I waved them away and revved the motor. As long as front tire stayed up and the rear wheel spun at top speed, then I could hydroplane across the fetid mud. I torgued out the bike at 7000 rpms and dropped it to 1000. I was ready and tore down the pitted road, hitting the dried goop at 90 kph. My only protection was my courage. I wasn't wearing a helmet. I made it halfway across before the front tire gave way to gravity and the bike stops on a coin. I was thrusted off the seat like Superman and landed in the goo face first. I rose from the muck and Thais laughed like maddened hyenas. I was covered from head to foot like a troglydite. The men helped me hauled the stalled bike from the bog and I promised to buy them beer in Mai Hong Sing.It was only another five hours away and the mud saved me from the sun.The bus rolled into Mae Hong Song around midnight.I had beer waiting.And my clothes were clean.Those were the days.

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