Day 38: Honda BigWing Chiang Mai sucks
THE Honda Big Wing shop in Chiang Mai doesn't open until 9:30, so Nora and I are setting ourselves up for a late start for climbing today. However, the bike needs some work done. I figure that one more time in the hands of professionals before I start mucking about on it is the best way forward.
I had hoped to get it tuned up before picking up Nora yesterday, but the nice plump little woman who was helping me explained that her mechanics were going to lunch and wouldn't have the bike ready until 3pm, which wouldn't work for me.
We agreed that I should bring it back tomorrow morning.
The extra time also gave me a chance to do some research on the set of Pirelli MT 60 Corsa tires I was eyeing. Originally, the woman said that I had about a month left on my current tires, which is a useless way to talk about the wear on tires or any other mechanical parts for that matter: one month sitting in the garage is very different than month of cross-country travel.
It sounded like I need to switch tires. With rainy season sweeping across Myanmar, it's best that I switch the road tires I'm currently running to something with a bit more off-road capability. The MT 60 Corsas are a 60/40 on-road/off-road split. An 80/20 split might be slight more ideal, but there is no telling how bad the roads are going to get in Myanmar or northern India.
The 60/40 on-road/off-road tires will be perfect for Myanmar. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Last night, I shot a message over to the amazing woman at Bike Saloon in Phuket who helped me get the bike ready for the trip to see if the tires were going to be a good fit. I received a resounding “yes”.
I explain to the chubby woman this morning that I do want the 24km tune-up, as well as the new tires. I also want to know how much life I have in my brake pads. Basically, I want them to use their professional skills and knowledge to ensure the bike is ready for the road again.
I do forget to mention that one screw on the windshield has come free, as well as the fact that the bolt on the right side of the engine guard is noticeably unscrewed.
However, I figure that anyone giving the bike a cursory look over will spot the two minor issues.
Originally, the woman claimed they couldn't have the bike ready until 3pm, which would kill the entire day of climbing – the reason Nora is here – as well as defeat the point of me bring the bike back this morning. Luckily, the head mechanic gives her a nod and they promise to have the bike ready to go by noon.
The Honda BigWing shop in Chiang Mai is a big building with a healthy lineup of motorcycles be worked on. I roll the bike into he shop, happy to know that despite being about to spend some serious cash on my tires that the bike will be taken care of properly.
All in all, the tune-up and tires are going to cost me just over 450 dollars. That's not chunk change. In fact, it's going to make a serious dent in the number of days spend on the road.
I resolve to start reining in my spending.
From the start of Dice Travels, I knew the coffers weren't full enough to fund the entire trip. I knew I would have to roll the die to find a job or find some other way to make ends meet as the days drop off the countdown clock on the website. However, I've been far too loose with my money so far. I've not even mentally set a daily budget. Though not lavishly living, I've had my five dollar cocktails and six dollar hamburgers. It's going to be necessary to stack the odds on the die against such expenses in the future – coin flips for drinking is just too much drinking.
I spend a few hours writing before joining Nora back at the hostel. Coffee in hand, she's a bit distant and disengaged. I worry that I might have done something wrong, though I can't be sure what.
We gather our climbing gear and head out to breakfast before picking up the bike.
On the corner of two tiny sois is Angel's Secrets: Budget Gourmet Cuisine. Hard to imagine a better fit.
Honda has just finished with the bike when we arrive after breakfast; the new tires are a beautiful black with the tiny rubber hairs unworn.
After settling the sizable bill, we get ready to roll out. I double-check the engine guard – it's still loose.
The bolt on the engine guard was still loose. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Fucking Thailand. It's a mentality the permeates many aspects of the service industry in this country. I point out the issue. They agree to screw it back in really quickly. I follow them back into the shop with them.
It's not such a simple problem: the bolt has sheered inside the engine.
“You can take back?” the woman suggests. As if driving the bike back to Phuket to the Bike Saloon, which installed the guard was the simplest solution.
Bottom line, they can't fix it.
Disgruntled about the situation, though not as disgruntled as me, the head mechanic starts screwing everything but the engine guard back together the best he can as Nor and I wait inside the dealership.
On the road, the bike hums a different tune on its new tires. It feels different, better on the curves as we lean into the long, loping flyover heading out of Chiang Mai.
As we get closer and closer to Crazy Horse, the climbing crag, the bike sounds worse and worse. The chain clatters, eventually sounding like a train running over poorly set railroad tracks.
“Fuck Honda,” I say. “They didn't even fucking tighten the chain properly.” Each clatter of the chain grates on my soul. We clack off the main road at the turnoff onto a dirt road, parking at the nearest clearing.
Off the bike, I jiggle the chain, it seems very loose – Nora agrees.
As little as possible was done during the tune-up. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
A bit pissed off and unhappy, I get out our climbing gear. I glance back at the bike's ignition after we pass a sign reminding people not to leave their keys in the bike.
No keys there.
Nora and I are completely unprepared to climb. Mentally, I'm not there due to the chain noise. Practically, neither of us is prepared. We've shown up with no food, a single bottle of water that happened to be in one of the sideboxes and no idea what climbs are on what walls at the crag.
As the stronger of the two climbers, I should have prepared everything, or at least that's how I feel about it. Though I'm sure Nora wouldn't agree.
The wall is not some magnificent piece of awe-inspiring rock. However, it is rock, with breaks and slopes very different than what we see down south, which will present new challenges. A group of three climbers are already at the site, so we bum a guide book and get some pointers on where the easier climbs on this wall are. There are three climbs at the bottom that should be suitable warm-ups.
Though I don't fall or take on either of the first two routes, they are challenging. A number a couple moves require full commitment to make the next bolt, which means there is no back tracking if things start heading south. Impressively, Nora is able to confidently lead both routes after I set them, sucking down cigarettes between her attempts.
The routes we've done so far are rated “6a” and “6a+”, both seemingly hard for the grade. Little do I know that there is habit of sandbagging ratings at Crazy Horse, which is basically rating them easier than they are. Yet another reason I hate thinking about ratings when selecting climbs.
After the first two climbs, Nora is pushing for us to take on a 6c further up the wall. I really don't want to do it. It's a slabby, technical start with some issues between the second and forth bolt, which are grounding bolts – if I go for the clip and slip at the same time I get involved with Mother Earth in a very hard way.
“It doesn't look too bad,” Nora says.
You don't know what the fuck you're talking about, I want to say. Of course, I don't. It's a strange balance between needing someone to push you and dealing with being the strongest climber in a group: if you fail to finish the climb, you are the one who has lost gear – nobody else will be going up there to get it.
“If you lose gear, don't worry about it. Just try to lose the long sling, if you do,” she says, pushing hard to give the climb a go.
She's right; it's a beautiful route with a number of interesting sections. I read the lines, picturing the moves. I still don't want to do it. But she's also right about the fact that I should be able to, assuming my head is in the right place.
Finally, I give in. I really should be able to do this.
Tied in, I give the tough boulder start to the first bolt a go, jumping off before committing to it. I've positioned Nora in the right place below me and explained that if I fall off before I clip the rope to push me at my shoulders so I land on my feet, avoiding the possibility of cracking my head open.
On the second attempt, I make the move fine. It was a mental block. That's it, just a mental block.
Keeping my weight in I nervously work my way up the tiny holds, unhappy about the entire situation.
“Take,” I call, signally Nora to pull in the rope and hold my weight. I need a break. Okay, "need" isn't the right word – but I want one; I really want one to calm my nerves.
After making the second clip, I'm still not out of danger. Delicately, I work my way to the third bolt. It's just there, almost within reach, but I need to commit. I don't see the line. I know it's there and I can do it, but I can't make the move. I down climb and then take a short, swinging fall.
Nora and I have not climbed a lot together and I'm also getting a bit out of shape, both factors playing up my mental block.
I suck it up and give it another go, then another, then another.
Pissed off, I call it.
“Sorry, I can't,” I say.
I switch out the draws in a very inadvisable way that nearly leads to me unclipping entirely from the wall and decking it.
Back on the ground my poor mood has deepened.
Nora isn't fussed by the loss of a single carabiner, but I'm frustrated with myself. It was a mental failure. An emotional failure. The sort of climbing failure I don't like to accept.
Nora starts eyeing other routes.
“This one looks easy,” she says.
“Where are the anchors?” I ask.
“I don't know.”
Ahhhh... How can you tell if a routes easy if you don't see the entire thing?
“If you want to set it, you can. I'll give you a catch,” I finally blurt out. I'm not going to get bullied into climbing another route I'm not ready to do.
“Okay,” Nora says without hesitation. She's a tough woman, one of the many things I admire about her, even when I'm frustrated.
With her having made the commitment to make the climb, I soften a little.
“Either way, I'll give it a go after you,” I eventually say. The situation feels more balanced this way.
Tenaciously, Nora works makes attempt after attempt after attempt after attempt to come over a small tufa roof after having crushed the lower section of the muscly route. The route is a fascinating, squirrely climb known as Kee Dtak (Diarrhea). The line starts inside a giant limestone archway, works its way up a section of tufa before flattening out a bit and then going into a small roof overhang. However, the crux of the route is at the top, after it slides out the other side of the arch on a steep overhang in a corner.
Eventually, Nora throws in the towel and I lower her. She apologies for taking so long.
“No, not at all. That was an awesome effort. You looked really strong at the bottom,” I say. I would have been fine letting her continue on for another thirty minutes if she wanted to. However, you do hit a point on the wall where you're so gassed that the extra time and effort is squandered.
I quickly work my way up to where Nora was stuck, then pause. It's easy to see why she was stuck. It's a tough spot. With one foot out wide against another stalactite-type formation, I blindly reach up. My hand pats the bit of rock as my muscles flex to keep me from falling.
There it is. A deep hold, a proper jug. I lock on and scramble through the rest of the section. Out of Nora's sight, I come face to face with the crux of the route.
“I don't want to be here. I want to go home,” I mutter to myself. Twisted around, I'm forced to reach out behind me with a quickdraw to make the clips – it's awkward, the kind of awkward that can give you the runs.
Boom! I make the final clip. It's a nasty route to clean on the way down, but after a bit of cursing and nearly wearing myself out completely, I'm back on the ground, feeling much more accomplished.
Though Nora doesn't know it, or I don't think she does, this is exactly what I needed.
Nora would love to climb more, but I'm dead, and her arms are pumped as well. There isn't much day light left either.
Hiking back to the bike I can't find my keys.
Did I leave my bike abandoned on the side of a dirt road with the keys in the topbox? I jogged back to the bike. It's still there, as are the keys -- in the lock of the topbox.
Back on the bike, we're reminded how terrible Honda BigWing is. The clattering gets worse and worse as we drive in the dark.
Nora's getting nervous, talking about the chain falling off, which could potentially lead to a serious crash if it locks the back wheel.
We're on the lookout for a bike shop, but nothing is open at this time of the night. Nothing. Yet the sound keeps getting worse and worse
Why the fuck didn't they clean the chain and properly tighten it, I fume.
“Maybe we should go slower,” Nora suggests.
I slow down as we enter Chiang Mai.
A small bike shop near our hostel is open. Kneeling down on the other side of the bike, I try to help him get the stand under the bike so he can tighten the chain. Feeling fairly useless, I step away and start talking to Nora.
There is heart-stopping crash.
Spinning around, I see the bike laying on its side on the ground, the mechanic hoping away. I go to the bike, while Nora sees if that man's okay.
I get the bike back up with a little help. It's fine. There is, of course, nothing I could have done if he had broken something. No recourse.
Sure the bike is okay, I guiltily turn my attention to the mechanic, whose toe is bleeding. Hadn't even noticed that he was injured. It's not bad though, nothing a plaster won't fix.
However, he's not about to try to fix the bike again. We'll just have to leave it for tomorrow.