Day 39: Stuck engine deep in mud
At this point it doesn't matter what tires you have. Photo: Nora
AFTER about an hour of waiting for the mechanics to switch out the sprockets and chain on another motorcycle, the young Thai men take a look at my CB500X. Guiltily waiting – it's yet another day of delays before Nora and I are able to climb – I buy chain cleaner and new brake pads. They don't have the throttle cable, clutch cable or filters I need to bring with me to Myanmar just in case things head south once I enter the country.
They guys flick the chain on the bike, testing its tension.
“Tchssss, tchsssss, tchssss,” goes the aerosol can of lubricant. They spin the back wheel, hitting the chain with more lubricant.
Sixty second later, it's done.
“Okay,” the mechanic says.
The bike purrs as we speed toward Crazy Horse climbing crag.
Starting with the basics on 'fixing' the bike. Photo: Nora
I'm an idiot.
The links of the chain, which hasn't been cleaned since I started the trip were locking together, clacking as they ripped across the sprocket.
Feeding grilled fish skin to two shaggy mutts that followed us up to the climbing wall from the parking lot, Nora and relax as the mosquito coils keep the mozzies at bay.
We find our rhythm on the wall, selecting routes, sending them. We're working hard, but moving at a lazy pace. At the top of the routes, cresting the tree line, a mud track on the other side of the narrow valley is visible.
It was a good day of climbing in Chiang Mai, but things were about to get dirty. Photos: Nora
I'm watering at the mouth to get down and test out the new Pirelli tires. Of course, if you end up engine deep in mud, it doesn't matter what tires you have.
Pulling my leather gloves on, I leave Nora and the climbing gear on the gravel parking lot at the base of the limestone crag, taking the dirt road up the far hillside.
Through a little puddle, I feel the tires sink and slip for a second then gain traction as I start to plow up the soft, red mud of the hillside – neglecting to weigh in last nights rain.
The back tire spins. And spins. And spins. But I'm not going anwyere.
There is no need to put the kickstand down. Engine deep in mud, the bike stands upright without any help.
Not too far away, Nora watches. Further afield, an elderly Thai man waves me back down toward his shack. Apparently, it's inadvisable to be up here – clearly.
“Need help?” Nora calls up.
I look at the bike. I look at her. I look back at the bike.
“Yup,” I yell back down.
Shoving and rocking the bike, jamming pieces of wood under the back tire in hopes of giving it traction, does nothing but exhaust us.
“Okay, lets lay it on its side and drag it out of the rut,” I say. I'm fairly sure I saw Ewan McGregor pull of a similar maneuver while crossing through Mongolia in the movie Long Way Around. However, he was forced to make the tough muddy crossings – I am simply an idiot on a motorcycle out for a two-minute joyride.
Due to the bank of the hill, we're forced to lay the bike chain-side down in the mud. Heaving, we attempt to drag it out of the hole I've dug.
“Stop pulling on the handle,” Nora warns.
Moments later the stitching on the handle of my sidebox snaps in my hand.
With the bike back upright, we make another attempt to move it. However, the little beast as no interest in going anywhere.
Far down the hill, the scrawny, weathered Thai man has left his shack and is hiking toward us, his slight figure growing in size as he approaches. He's wearing a thick blue bennie, with a satchel made from re-purposed plastic rice bags across his shoulder.
With a hand that his familiar with hard labor, the man waves us away from the bike. In his other hand is a small wooden stick.
Standing back, we watch as he starts scrapping cleaning the sideboxs and the back tire. Moving to the front tire he starts clearing away the thick mud jammed between the tire and fender, preventing it from moving.
Attempting to drag the bike out of the mud wasn't a very clever idea. Photos: Nora
Nora takes some photos before finding her own stick. The two of them scrape away mud as I pull on the bike the muscles in my legs, back, arms straining against its static nature.
Twenty minutes later, the man steps back from the bike. He trudges back down the hill with no explanation.
“He's left his bag, so I guess he's coming back,” I tell Nora.
Covered in the thick clay, Nora and I stand there, catching our breath.
The man comes striding back up to us, carrying a red gas can of water, as well as a small water bottle.
“I don't think that's going to help,” Nora whispers to me.
“Let's see. He's been right about everything so far,” I say, though it's hard to imagine what splashing a little water on the bike is going to accomplish.
Lubrication. Of course, lubrication is the key to a many a good thing.
With the front tires wet, the three of us are able to get the bike slowly rolling back down the hill. Every few meters it grinds to halt as the mud becomes caked between the fender and the front tire again.
Patiently, the man and Nora scrape the tire clean, wetting it again and again as we slid back down the hill.
With the bike turned around, the man makes it clear that I've got to ride down a narrow, water-eroded path for the final stretch off the hill. I, which should come as no surprise, would have done the exact opposite, avoiding the ruts, fearful that the tire would catch, pitching me from the bike. However, it makes sense, along this track the recent rains have flushed out the softer soil, leaving the harder clay below untouched.
At the base of the hill, I hesitate. The man now wants me to drive through two large, muddy puddles – perhaps to help clean the tires off.
I give it gas, but not enough. The bike comes to dead stop halfway through.
More scraping. More mud.
The spray from the back tire paints me backside brown, also speckling the poor old man's chest as he pushes. My feet slip as I my body flexes against the dead weight of the bike and it's locked tires – it's amazing the difference rolling tires make in the world.
The sky is a deep blue with night settling over us fast as the bike finally breaks free from the water.
If you hate reading, but still want to confirm I'm an idiot, enjoy the show. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
With Nora holding the motorcycle on the harder dirt path by the man's shack, I start washing down the wheels, clearing as much mud away as necessary for mechanical reasons – not fussed about the aesthetics.
Playfully, I splash a big handful of water up Nora's leg.
“What the hell!” she snaps. After helping me tow the bike out of the mud for the last sixty minutes, getting any dirtier or wetter was not okay.
“Sorry,” I say with a big grin. She's just stressed about the possibility of dropping the bike, her shoes sliding out below her.
With the bike “clean”, we profusely wai the man, thanking him for the rescue.
“We'll bring him beer tomorrow,” Nora and I promise each other.
Climbing onto the bike, we head for the main road. With every inch of us covered in my mud, the bike itself no longer black, but clumpy red-brown, we know we look bad ass zipping by cars and scooters on the way back to town.
If only they knew, that it was two minutes of mild awesome followed by more than an hour of being rescued by an elderly man.
“You're an idiot,” Nora says with a sort of warmth that makes you realize it's one of the highest compliments she can pay a person.