Day 34: Hoosier drone master?
Though this was long before drone week, it's going online now. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
THE owner of Three J Guesthouse, a wild haired Thai with a strong hippy vibe, and I pose for a picture on the fairy garden walkway. His wife struggles to take a few photos of us with his old DSLR Fuji camera, but is able to quickly snap a couple extra ones on my phone.
I am the first person from Indiana that he's ever met, which is my current claim to fame. Last night, we pulled up the Christmas stocking shaped state on Google and I showed him some photos from back home: the gently rolling hills, maple leaves going gold and red in the fall, corn fields, corn fields and, well, more corn fields – it's good to keep things in perspective.
This morning he's determined to have a little photo shoot before I take off on the bike to the Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park, which I had dutifully avoided yesterday.
He's far too impressed with having met a real Hoosier. As a parting gift, he gives me a small key chain with the head of mythical Thai giant on it. In return, I give him a Dice Travels sticker.
Usually people don't make such a big deal about meeting a Hoosier. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Trying not to feel a bit silly as I pull into the Historical Park after five minutes of driving – and an hour of of suiting up and packing – I drop my bags in the parking lot. With only my drone and my tank bag, I head into the park, paying my 100 baht fee.
The temple grounds would seem in the right place if they were somewhere in the woods surrounding Siam Reap. Though it doesn't have the grandiosity and elegant details preserved at Angkor Wat. There are the ancient latertie blocks as walls and Two distinct styles of chedi are present. Though the ruins remind me of what I think of as Khmer style, the guide explains that the chedi are in fact “Sri Lankan-style bell-shaped chedi”.
At the center of the park is a reclining Buddha image in front of two seated Buddhas. Their thick lips are frozen in serene smiles; their long, wide eyes peacefully closed. In stark contrast to these images are the gaunt, faceless laterite Buddha images, their serenity worn away by hundreds of years of heavy weathering, their remains seeming more appropriate at Burning Man than anywhere else.
I'm attempting to get use to getting off the bike and and exploring with my heavy layers of black riding gear in the hot tropical sun.
I know I'm struggling with the project, with being too destination oriented, and failing to stop and just watch farmers plant rice. So now, aware of one of the many issues that needs to be addressed, I'm doing my best to welcome the sweltering heat as I capture some drone footage.
Some of the older Buddha images have been heavily worn with time. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Back on the bike, with the cool air blasting down on me, I stand up. I think trickle of air seeps into my pants, like welcome ice on the welding ridge of my ball sack.
Though I've lined up a four hour drive to Chiang Mai for the day, I'm playing “Give it 33%” with potentially interesting attractions. I pull over on the shoulder of Highway 1. The red die bounces on the road. Nope, sorry petrified forest park – another time my friend.
By the time the die turns down a second option, I'm pretty happy cruising. The road has changed, as has the scenery. The rice paddies have given way to wooded foothills. Where there would be karst limestone cliffs decorated with dense jungle in the south, here, the mountains are gently rolling, the woods more sparse, the undergrowth nearly nonexistent.
To the west, where the mountains begin to rise, dense, black storm clouds unleash on the country side. From the sunny section of the world, where my bike and I currently reside, the view is spectacular.
The rain itself can be seen at this distance, a smudge left by an eraser on a landscape drawing done in color pencil. To the east, the clouds billow up, buoyant, the texture of new love. Between the two, I ride – speeding northward.
Right as I enter Thoen, I split away from Highway 1 onto the more rural 106, which crosses through the mountains to the west before heading north into Chiang Mai. Though Highway 1 has become much more bearable, even enjoyable, the simple two lanes of 106 is what I've been craving.
Immediately, we're in the twisties as the road follows the contour of the mountains. There are plenty of back to back hairpin curves that require me to lean into them, despite braking and taking them at the crawl pace of 40km/h. It's beautiful driving – it's actually driving, which has been sorely missed so far during this trip.
The turns continue, my boot scraps the cement on one corner – that's what I get for riding duck footed.
Stuck behind a gray pickup truck, I'm forced to let it set the pace. I see an opening, a straightway I can shoot for and brake hard to make the next turn. I'm antsy, but I hold back.
This is the first time I've been in the twisties with the bike fully loaded. In fact, the first time with this bike at all.
The problem is that I don't have enough experience. Though I could probably make the pass, if something else happened, another vehicle popped out from behind the blind curve or a deer bounced into the road, it is very unlikely that I would adjust properly. Too much conscious focus would be going into the current maneuver that my instinctual reaction could very well get me killed.
The gray truck is stuck behind another truck, but finds a reasonable place to zip by it, I follow in it's wake. There is an exhilaration in making a pass. However, the gray truck is moving just too fast for me to make a move on it.
The truck comes to a near stop as a lorry crawling through one of the blind turns eats up half our lane with it's massive body. This is exactly the sort of additional factors that would spell my death in clear letters all over the pavement. I'm able to squeeze past the lorry, remaining stuck behind the truck.
Another opportunity to pass flashes, but I miss it.
Eventually, there is the chance for an easy clean pass. I take it. Nothing exciting, just bouncing around the truck now that I can see far enough ahead.
Without the truck ahead of me, there is just open road and plenty of tight turns.
There is something undeniably better about not having anyone in front of you work through the mountain roads on a motorcycle. Now that the truck isn't pacing me, I speed up – fully enjoying the weight of the bike and leaning into the turns. Well, leaning into them a little bit at least.
Past the section of road with the sharpest turns, the pavement widens a little bit.
It begins to rain, which is no surprise – I did drive directly into it.
I pull under a tree and put rain covers on my backpack and tank bag, which has busted another zipper. Happily, I stand under the cover of the tree, drinking in the moment.
The rain lessons; I start back up again. The rain returns. However, the timing isn't so bad. I'm able to pull into a small town and quickly locate Me Cafe.
With a coffee and rainbow colored layer cake, which consists of a hundred thin, colorful crepes stacked on top of each other with a little cream between them, I settle in to let the storm pass.
Why have I so regularly just battled it out on the highway?
The rain stops. Back on the road, the sun finds its place in the sky and drys me out.
Pulling into The Pause Hostel in Chiang Mai – chosen from the 20 options of hostels with a 8.7 rating or better on the first page of HostelWorld.com – I realize that I've lost my flip-flops and Elizabeth, the jasmine plant, somewhere within the last 150km to Chiang Mai.
I'll just have to plant a different plant in her memory in order to honor my promise to the Bangkok Swing Club.
Andrea gives me four options for dinner: Anchan, Timdor, Cafe de Nimman and Ice Love You.
Andrea wasted no time when we matched on Tinder. Strictly on the app for friends, she sent me the following message: “Climber, diver, and you're on an adventure that certainly caught my eye... you seem like quite a gem to stumble upon.”
I probably should have been on my guard given how perfectly she stroked my ego, but then again...
More interested in having face time and good eye contact, we keep it simple with the Tinder chat.
The dice, which chose my hostel, put me on the posh side of Chiang Mai and within walking distance of Andrea – the stars seem to be aligning.
The die chooses for us to meet at Anchan. It's already 7:20pm, I want to get some things taken care of before we meet for dinner. Andrea sadly reports back that the kitchen closes at 8pm.
I have to go. However, since she's just wrapped up her yoga practice, I explain I don't expect her to meet me.
She makes it minutes before the kitchen closes.
Andrea is a free spirited woman in her mid 20s. With an Indian scarf tied around her wet head of hair, large wooden earrings and necklace consisting of a crystal and shard of shell at the end, she's clearly on a gypsy's journey.
We're both PADI Dive Masters, environmentalists, travelers and animated story tellers. However, there is no chemistry at all.
I launch in with a question. We get going ,then the conversation wanes and finishes. There is a long pause before I jump in with another question. Dinner drags on like this.
Though she doesn't drink, we agree to grab a beer at the Beer Lab down the street. Their beer menu is extensive. I order a cocktail, because they are delicious. She has a half pint of Stella.
The Lab cocktail arrives in a beaker with three syringes of booze and mixers sitting on a steaming block of dry ice – it's impressive to say the least. The taste, however, is awkward and reminds me of a cone of crushed ice that's been hit with all the flavors of syrup at the concession stand after a little league baseball game.
I watch Andrea's beer slowly, slowly disappear... trying to pace my drink with hers.
We talk. And talk. She's had insanely great connections with travelers, making Tinder friends all over the world and even some wild adventures in Myanmar.
We should be jamming, but it's just not happening. There is no flow, no banter, everything feels a bit stock – none of the conversation is fresh.
While she slowly drains her beer, I sit on my stool feeling drained myself. It's been a long day on the bike I tell myself, though the tiredness is really inexplicable.
We pay our tabs and make plans to meet up later in the week; I invite her along for some climbing.
After grabbing some khao soi on the streets, I settle in back at the hostel.
Despite the complete lack of chemistry, I send Andrea a message to thank her for making time to meet me.
It was very cool that she was able to meet up for dinner on such short notice.
I apologize for the lack of a spark, explaining that I was just feeling drained. Though, I'm sure there is more to it than that.