Day 46: Dumping motorcycle during water crossing


Oh no, I've crashed Kennie! Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli. Music: The Zombie Dandies

KENNIE slows down to a crawl as we approach the first water crossing on the way to the Karen Long Neck Village on the outskirts of Mae Hon Song. I blow past him, spraying water up as my tires break the surface of the shallow stream, holding onto the cement road that dips down into the water.

By the third water crossing, I'm feeling more cocky and comfortable. Standing on the pegs, I hit the water. My tires start to slip on the thin layer of algae as slick as ice. The bike threatens to pitch over as the front tire and back tire nearly slide out from under me.

Somehow I maintain control of the bike and we make it through. On the way back, Kenny and his 1000cc Honda Varadero aren't so lucky.

We park our bikes on the dirty road at the entrance to the touristy part of the village. It costs 250 baht to “get in”. On a long wooden table in front of the woman selling tickets to the attraction – lets be honest, it is a tourist attraction – are a number of prepackaged food items mostly involving sesame seeds, palm sugar, nuts or some combination of the three.

Down a narrow, cement path and across a small bridge we are “in town”. Of course, the real village of tin-roofed shacks spreads out in all directions, but here the women dress in traditional Kareni longneck tribe clothes and sit on the raised porches of their homes with vast displays of souvenirs on tables in front of them and hand-woven textiles hanging behind them.

The refugees allegedly fled their country in 1992 due to the political turmoil in Myanmar. In their homeland, the farmers had houses, villages and farms explains a flier we're handed at the Huay Seau Thai Village.

The woman, most of whose necks seem to be about as long as your average Burmese neck, wear the traditional brass ring necklaces as they weave scarfs on wooden looms.

The dirt walkway between the shops (though they might also be people's homes, the reality of it is that these places are catering exclusively to the new potential economic benefits of tourism) is covered by low hanging tarps.

At the far end of the 100 meter road, there is a small clearing that I can use to get the drone flying.

From high above, I spot a tribes woman waving her hand at the drone, calling the electronic bird down toward her. The drone responds to her beckoning. However, I pull it up short of the shop houses, afraid to crash.

Kenny snaps a few photos of the elderly woman, who has been the poster child for the project since she was 17 years old. Several postcards being sold in front of her house, along with other sovereigns, show her in the beauty of her youth. Up on the wall of her house, are a number of framed newspaper clippings about her, brown from the acids in the paper reacting with oxygen.

Across the street, a beautiful married woman – I asked – talks to us in front of her shop. She has a lovely round face with leaf designs painted on her cheeks with thanaka powder. Thanaka powder markings are the easiest way to spot Burmese in Phuket, and elsewhere in Thailand.. She chats with us in English, her eyes squinting, sparkling and smiling as we talk.

Many of the women at the village did not have "long necks" and weren't part of a Hill Tribe. However

She migrated over from Myanmar with the rest of her family, which is now spread throughout Thailand – she's not a Hill's Tribe person. But that's the nature of the beast. Is it so important that she is for the experience to be authentic? I think not.

An elderly, hunchbacked man with a tattoo on his concave chest and teeth missing in his contagious grin ambles toward me and the drone. There is a great deal of pointing.

He wants me to do a low flying run of the market, below the canopy – exactly what I was avoiding.

Nervously, I comply – it is Drone Week. The dies' will will be done.

After several attempts to take off, the drone manages to hover in a safe place and we get some shit footage before taking off through a gap between the houses and landing back in the field nearby.

The toothless grin and giant thumbs up the man gives me when I return is rewarding enough.

“You go first so I can get video of you driving,” I tell Kennie after a photo shoot of us and the bikes.

Hill Tribe drone to motorcycle crash. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli

He offered to get some photos of us splashing through the water, but warned me it would take awhile. He's a professional photographer, so with the right lighting he'd be able to freeze the water droplets as we drove through. They would be amazing photos. However, it's getting late and it's a very long road to Mae Sot. Though I won't make the entire drive today, I need to start ticking off some kilometers.

Nonetheless, I toss the die, giving the photo shoot a 33 percent chance of happening. Luckily, the die says it's time to ride.

Kennie manages the first two water crossings fine. The third, however, goes wrong.

Needing to slightly turn during the crossing, Kennie's back tire slides, he keeps the bike up right for a couple more seconds.

Then, both tires go out from under him. He crashes hard into the water.

He bonces up from the mess, as most people do from accidents, even when injured. The bikes pipes steam and sizzle in the water. I drive past him to the other side to park my bike and help.

“You okay?” I ask.

He's shaken, but okay – thanks to his riding gear.

A couple locals cutting brush from the shoulder of the road walk over and help me get the bike up right. Kennie then joins us in rolling it out of the stream.

One pannier remains behind, bent and ripped off the bike in the crash. I go back for it, while Kennie gets his barrings.

“I'm sorry man. If you need to go, go ahead this could take a few hours,” Kennie says.

Though I do need to get going, I'm not about to leave him until we at least get a better idea of what needs to done to get him back up and running. This is the sort of things I don't mind slowing me down. However, his glacial pace earlier this morning was making me pray for global warming to take it up a notch.

It wasn't a great night of sleep on the concrete floor with only a yoga mat between me and the ground. My elbow is particularly unhappy about the entire affair. However, I'm up early, which is nice.

Several times I stepped out of my tent last night to use the restroom, there was the LED glow of a light from Kennie's tent. It's no surprise that he's still asleep as I start breaking down camp.

It's a strange situation, as I don't want to just pack up and leave, but I'm also not keen to just sit around while he's sleeping and then packing.

I let him know that I'm going to pop down the road to a cafe to do some writing. When he's ready, he can meet me there.

“I saw you at the bamboo bridge,” says Garry, the Singaporean man Kenny was chatting with yesterday. Garry sits down.

There seems to be a trend in my conversations with Singaporeans: if I don't mind, he's curious how much I paid for the motorbike.

A friendly faced man in a ill-fitting baseball cap and a t-shirt with four Bald Eagles on it, Garry launches straight in, promising to follow the blog after I tell him I'm a journalist – I've started using the term for pure convenience, especially because I dislike the term blogger.

He shows me a picture of the salt and pepper shakers at the place next door. I must confess, he's right, they are cute. Very cute little people that you can shake what you want out of.

We exchange Facebook contacts, What'sApp contacts and then phone numbers so I can put him in touch with Kennie. If Garry wasn't with his mainland Chinese girlfriend, I might have assumed he was gay, just from his speech pattern and mannerisms. Not that it would make a difference one way or other.

Garry's girlfriend, who's name I didn't catch, speaks only a handful of English words, but has such an expressive round face that she really doesn't need to use words to make me laugh.

“She says I cannot not come in,” Garry says after the two take some photos and are on their way out the door of 77 House cafe. The entire front wall of the artistically decorated cafe are thin window pains with red trim. One wall is covered with extraordinary black and white photographs, the person working the camera having played with the lighting so that it deepens the wrinkles on the faces of the photographed hill tribe people, limning their other features.

“It says no dogs. She says I cannot come in. She says that,” Garry says with a laugh.

Shortly after the fun pair leave, just as I am able to get back to work, Kennie strides in.

“I recommend three things for today,” Kennie says. He wants to get a tourist certificate for having completed the twisted road here (60 baht), take our photo at the entrance of Mae Hong Son (free) and visit the Karen Village (not sure how much).

Enter Garry and his girlfriend stage left... well, at least from my left.

The Singaporean connection is bubbling over as Kennie and Garry start chatting in Mandarin.

“I'll buy you both breakfast,” says Garry. “Choose anything.”

Free breakfast thanks to the Singaporean connection. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonlli

I'm not exactly sure where in the conversation I walked in, but I'm pleased as peas to be present. It turns out buying a traveler breakfast is the fastest way to make him your best friend. Already feeling pretty positive about the outgoing man, I find myself entirely grateful.

Kennie and I both order big English Breakfasts (250 baht). I had already let the die choose my breakfast drink earlier and figure I should get as full as possible from the free meal in honor of traveling Kennie style.

The four of us sit down and chat for a bit, the dog not allowed joke surfaces a number of time. Garry's girlfriend seems to have a sixth sense for when a photo is about to be taken, pulling fantastic faces any time a camera comes out.

Kennie continues with his sort of direct line of questioning as he talks to Garry. As I established earlier, Gary owns an import-export company based in Jakarta.

“This,” he says, holding up a fork. Yes, he imports and exports household goods, which also explains why he was so pleased the the cute salt and pepper shakers.

Kennie and I brush our teeth and shave in the bathroom behind the cafe. While Kennie finishes eating and washes out his spare set of clothes, I find my way back to work.

“Knock your boots, always make sure to knock your boots. I found a centipede and a big grasshopper,” Kennie advises me.

He then needs to upload the photo of Gary and put in on Facebook, as well as back up some files. If I hadn't already chewed through the bit, I would be chomping on it still. I wait outside on my bike. I glance at my watch when he finally steps outside the cafe.

“For fuck sake dude!” I yell into my helmet, well out of hear shot.

About 20 minutes later, his bike is packed and we're ready to go.

It's nearly 1pm before we get started – I was ready about three hours ago.

Now, however, along the stream with a broken sidebox and shaken fellow rider, I'm no longer in a rush.

Kennie with his bike. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

“It could take hours to beat this out,” Kennie says looking at the bent box.

It could be even longer, given that he doesn't have a hammer. Looking at how the box attaches to the the rack, it seems that really only one of the four points of attachment is ruined, the rest are fine.

“Do you have a screw driver?” He doesn't, but with a wrench I attempt to unbend the hook on the forth point of attachment. In the process one of the rivets pops. I'm so consumed by the task at hand, that Kennie has to put a little edge in his voice the third time he tells me to hold off, fearful that I'll end up ripping his box apart.

“What about zip ties?” I suggest. With the rivet popped off, it's possible to secure the box to the rack with zip ties. Three zip ties later, we're ready to rock.

Kennie starts to re-pack, getting himself psyched up for the next crossing.

“Don't rush man,” he says. With the implied “me” in there. I'm not trying to rush, in fact I don't feel like I am rushing. However, he's understandably sensitive to all the little unconscious cues I'm giving about being ready to ride again.

“Follow my line. Just go wide and take it straight across without turning the wheel,” I say. I cross the stream first, my back tire slipping as I accelerate out.

I park and walk back through the stream testing if the well-worn green patches are better than the sediment covered brown batches, rubbing my boots as I go.

“Stay on the brown man,” I say.

Kenny makes it across. Even once we are past all the water crossings, as well as the sign warning us not to use our horns, as there are elephants in the area, Kennie is dragging.

I probably should be going a bit slower, but the distance between us isn't unreasonable, so I don't worry about it.

Back on the main roads, it's time to part ways.

“If I was alone, I wouldn't have done that,” Kennie admits. He would have more likely parked his bike and just walked in. However, we are on adventure bikes, so this comes with the territory, I say. Then again, Kennie has dumped his bike a great deal more often than I have while he was in Laos. My attitude may change after my first couple of crashes.

We make a few jokes about crashing and life in general, before a bro hug and getting back on our bikes.

Kennie helps me roll my bike back out onto the road and waves me off.

As he said, right before I left: I think we both learned a lot from each other.

Making a riding buddy. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

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