Day 115: Biker stranded after midnight in Thailand (PART 2)
The bike wasn't going anywhere under its own power. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The road heads into the complete darkness of the countryside, away from civilization.
A light rain begins. Figuring I have nearly six hours of riding left before I reach the Laos border, I pull over next to a small community shelter. Tugging on my rain pants, I realize that I'm in a cloud of malaria. Everywhere the light from my head lamp turns it's obscured by a swarm of tiny mosquito.
As quickly as I can, I get back on the bike. The chain slips. It's slipped nearly every time I've taken off from stop light this evening. Nonetheless, Rocinante and I are off.
With the forest looming large on each side of us, the rain lets up. There is suddenly a heart-cringing clatter as Rocinante stumbles beneath me.
She clacks to a stop in the middle of nowhere.
I get off the bike and look at the damage. Like a horse whose shoe has come loose, she's dropped her chain.
It occurs to me that this is one of the many reasons that driving at night is a bad idea. A few trucks carrying goods one way or the other zoom by, but it doesn't look like anyone is going to stop and fix this for me.
If it was a bicycle chain, there would be no problem at all. I've dropped more than my fair share of pushbike chains. In fact, it got to he point that I could grab the chain with the tip of my foot and put it back on while still riding the bike. This, however, was a different issue.
I can nearly put the chain back on by pulling it, which isn't a good sign for the chain. With the weight of the bike leaning on my shoulder, I'm able to reach down and start the chain on the rear sprocket. Shuffling forward on my knees, the sprocket picks up the rest of dirty chain until it's all back on.
That wasn't so bad.
I start the bike. Put it into gear. Drop the chain.
I put it back on. It falls back off.
The chain was stretched beyond the point the point of fixing. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Okay, I need to tighten the chain once it's back on. Dumping my bags on the wet road, I dig into my pannier for the necessary tools.
The bikes emergency lights flash orange and dark, orange and dark, as the forest presses in on us and passing traffic gives us a wide berth as they pass by at speed.
At least the rain has let up I think, as I start watching YouTube videos on how to fix the chain. All the videos keep talking about making these tiny adjustments: a quarter turn on each side of the adjuster. But how the hell do you move the wheel way back.
“It's important that the wheel remains aligned while making the adjustments to prevent wear and tear on the chain,” one video says.
None of this is helpful.
And it turns out I have no idea how to tighten the chain. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
I loosen the nut on either side of the rear axle and loosen up the the locking and adjuster nuts, but unless the tire is able to spin freely, there's no way to pull it back – that's how much slack I've got to pull out of the chain.
“You lean the bike on the sidestand and then place a block underneath it so the rear wheel can freely spin,” says one YouTube video. That would be great if there was something around I could use as a block. I walk along the road a few dozen meters, but there are no logs, nothing handy to jam under the bike.
The helmet flexes a little as I swing the bike over, using the front tire and kickstand, settling the weight into it. However, the helmet holds and the tire spins.
I crank down on the adjusters on either side of the bike, but nothing happens.
The wheel stops spinning freely, as the helmet compresses further. Poor helmet.
Nothing on these videos is helping.
Digging into a pannier I pull out a copy of the CB500X Shop Manual. This manual is for authorized shops only, not an easy thing to get your hands on. However, by the undisputed grace of the Chiang Mai Honda Big Wing bike shop, despite many of its other flaws, the manager allowed me to exchange my passport for the shops only manual, giving me the chance to have the entire book photocopied and bound. My passport was returned when I gave the original book back to them.
I flip through the photocopied pages until I get to the section about the chain. There are markings on the chain guard that show how tight the chain should be. It should have 35 to 45mm of slack in it. It's safe to say that the chain has a great deal more than that.
The bolt for the rear tire is in fact pulled so far back that it's deep into the red indicator, which I'd never noticed before.
Suddenly, what the young Thai kid who I asked to tighten the chain in Chiang Mai said makes sense. He had made some large gesture of a tire spinning off, before tightening the rear axle bolt with an electric drill and sending me on the way. Apparently, this meant that it couldn't be tightened any more. Of course, I'd have been glad to buy a new chain from him. Two months prior, I tried to buy a new chain when it started clacking about, but they just gave it a quick cleaning and some lube. That seemed to do the trick – at the time.
Maybe I can pull a link out of the chain, I think, before discarding the terrible idea.
So that's it. The bike isn't going anywhere on it's own power; she's a lame horse, but not one I can just put down at the end of the race and walk away from.
At this point, my gear is scattered across the edge of the road, some of it having found its way into the wet grass and mud. The bike tools and the rest of my gear is piled onto the road. A can of bug spray lays out in the open. It all blinks into existence and then disappears, blinks into existence and then disappears as the emergency lights on the bike flash on and off.
I was forced to take everything off the bike while trying to lift the back tire. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
“I've got to walk the bike back 20km to the nearest town,” I tell a friend on Facebook. “Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. Maybe 10km.”
To be honest, I have no idea how far it is to the junction with the main highway. There isn't a town at the junction, but I recall seeing a gas station that might be open 24 hours.
It's a start.
Two trucks coming zipping toward me go zipping past me.
I start slowly re-packing the panniers, putting away what scant tools I have. Carefully, I bungy my backpack on top. There's nothing left on the ground.
Balancing the weight of the bike on its tires, I start the engine to get the headlight running and begin to push.
The CB500X is a light bike for its class. But that's not to say it is a light bike to push.
I strain against the machine as we go up what would normally be an imperceptible incline.
Within minutes, my body is tired, straining under the weight of the fully loaded bike.
When the bike is balanced, its entire weight goes down through the wheels and into the road instead of into me, it's not so bad to push. However, the tilt of the road keeps the bike leaning on me, as does the fear that if the bike pitches away from me it will come crashing down. If it falls toward me, my knees can bend and I can drop my weight to get under it and steady the little beast, but if it goes the other direction, I don't have the strength to keep it upright.
So a portion of the Rocinante's bulk settles onto me.
A light drizzle starts, then stops.
I pass a sign that reads: Tron 20km. I didn't know there was a Tron, Thailand.
I'm exhausted. Sweat has drenched my dirty, oil-stained white t-shirt.
The bike starts to roll on a slight decline, pushing hard, I jump on. We coast for 500 meters, my body relaxing for a moment.
Feeling slightly refreshed, I hop back of the bike and return to pushing as we start up another slight incline. The darkness of the night continues to wrap us up in her arms. Maybe it's not that far back to the junction, I think, passing the shelter in which I had changed into the rain gear.
My right wrist and forearm ache from pressing down on the handle bars, my left shoulder is in pain from pushing upward. With a loud gym-bro grunt, my body fights the weight of the bike as Rocinante attempts to lay down for the night.
Laying down isn't an option. A dog from a nearby house starts to bark at us.
Nothing like a dog attack to spice up a dull night, I think.
A semi-truck, headed my way, passes me. I watch it go up a small hill, its red tail lights like burning embers rising up through the darkness.
I dig deep and keep pushing.
The tail lights don't completely disappear, somewhere on the horizon they come to a stop. I watch them. No those lights are different; they too far apart. Maybe those are the stop lights at the junction.
Up above the dark trees there is also the light orange glow of light pollution from a cluster of street lights. Maybe I'm delusional, then again, maybe I'm nearly there.
The stop lights come into full view.
Putting the kickstand down about 100 meters from the lights, I leave the bike and all my valuables. My body has no energy left. I want a break. But more importantly, I want to scout out whether or not the gas station I remember is even open. I'm not about to push the bike down an empty road to a closed gas station. I need to see what my options are for the night. It's nearly 1:30am.
“Hey there buddy. How are you,” I ask a friendly dog, who approaches me as I wander into the parking lot of the well-lit gas station. A pink, free-standing mosquito net sits on the ground between a row of pumps. A woman, dressed in her uniform, sleeps on a mat under it.
The station is a trucker station, which is a very good sign. Next to the Tiger Mini-Mart, boasting a Tony the Tiger lookalike logo on its sign, is a mechanic pit and work station. A lorry is pulled into the garage, though nobody is working on it. Several more large semi-trucks are parked near the back of the building, not far from the restrooms. Maybe they even have showers in the bathroom area.
It's a blend of a big corporate station and a slightly funk local station. Either way, it's open.
Inside the mini-mart, I'm sure I look crazy: a white man, big black boots, heavy riding trousers, bleach blond hair in disarray and an oil-stained t-shirts heavy with sweat. The woman at the counter looks up, but doesn't seem to be terribly interested in my strange appearance. I buy a big bottle of water.
I sit on the curb outside the shop. Jay and Silent Bob would find the place comfortable. The cold water sends a pleasant shock through my entire body as I pour it over my head.
After drinking about half the bottle, I start walking back to the bike. Near the junction, a man has fallen asleep, head nuzzled into the bend of his elbow, his pushbike is leaned up against a small community shelter.
Grunting and groaning, I get Rocinante to the station, put the kickstand down and wander back into the station.
I buy some more snacks.
“What's your name?” I ask the woman.
We talk a little. Just the basics in Thai. I explain that my bike “mai dia” – doesn't work.
Eventually, she tells me that I should roll the bike around to the side of the store, where it will be out of the way.
I do, putting it next to a row of cement tables and benches. Across the parking lot, I splash my face with sink water and wipe my body down with a cool, moist towel from the mini-store. Changing into a relatively clean t-shirt and my longi, I walk back to the bike.
There is nowhere it sit inside the mini-mart, where I'd like to take advantage of the air conditioning. I lean on the counter inside, eating more junk food. However, there is no way to keep this up until sunrise.
After pitching a tent between the cement tables near the bike, I roll out my yoga mat and use my meditation cushion as a pillow. I'll just read in the safety of the tent, I think. Anything is better than slapping mosquitoes all night and still getting malaria.
Inside the ten, valuables tucked into the far end, I start to fall asleep. The cold, hard cement soothes me. The occasional commotion of a late-night trucker pulling in for gas calms me. It's nice to sleep where the world is cool and a little active.
Not the most idyllic of campsites, but I liked it. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli