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Travel Image: Pai, Thailand
Photo: Ole Jenson

Travel Image: Pai, Thailand
Photo: Paul Piebinga

Thailand: No Pai, No Gain (cont.)

On a remote Thai mountain road, my chances of hitching a ride with anything faster than a rabid monkey were slim at best, so my only choice was to “Go faster.” Nothing focuses your mind like fear. I opened up the throttle and maintained a death grip on the motorcycle that would’ve required the Jaws of Life to pry loose. Luckily, I had no idea how fast I was actually going since none of the gauges on my bike were working.

The few moments that I wasn’t holding on for dear life, I was able to enjoy some spectacular scenery. Climbing into the mountains there were some outstanding views of the countryside. Every once in a while, we’d be able to peer through the canopy of trees lining the path to see the valley below. Lush, forest-covered hills stretched out to the horizon.

We rode through a few hill tribe villages, a sparse collection of seemingly abandoned huts and bungalows. Thip assured me that this was only because people were out working during the daytime. As we passed through one of the villages, we rode by a school where the kids all stopped what they were doing and ran to the fence to wave at us. It was heartwarming seeing these little kids smiling and waving at strangers passing through their village. I almost plowed into an embankment as I tried to wave back.

As the day wore on, a low fog formed over the hills, enveloping us in mist. We were climbing up a hill when a disturbing amount of white smoke began to flow from Thip's engine. Problem. We barely reached the next village where we pulled over to survey the damage, although, pulling over would have required a road.

It started to rain again, so we hauled Thip's bike under a raised house, which we came to find out belonged to the village doctor. The village was practically empty but Thip managed to borrow a toolbox from some locals in order to open up the engine. Sprockets have teeth that are supposed to engage a gear or chain of some sort. This one was completely round and smooth. The teeth were lying at the bottom of the engine in a pool of oil.

Two of us. One bike left. I knew I couldn’t control a bike with two people on it, so I wound up sitting in the back. The next hour was possibly one of the most physically uncomfortable of my life. The seat of a 250cc bike is not designed for two fully grown men. I could either slide forward, in which case I’d have to constantly use my groin muscles to maintain balance, or slide back, in which case there’d be no cushion separating hard plastic from my tailbone. I ended up alternating between the two, which, to my credit, ended up being the ideal solution for maximum pain. Did I mention we were still off-road?

There was also, of course, the classic problem of two guys riding on one bike. Where the hell do I put my hands? Do I go for the around-the-waist grab, or do I chance it and try to hold on behind me to the molding on either side of the tail light? Did I mention it was still raining?

We finally reached Mae Hong Son about an hour before dusk where we stopped for dinner. Rather than go to a guesthouse, I agreed to spend the night at Thip’s friend Loei's apartment. In my evening with a Thai family, I enjoyed the Thai version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” I ate a basket full of rambutan, which is a fruit with a spiky red and green shell and a sweet, white pulp. Thip was visibly frustrated from losing a bike, and chattering his frustration away with a friend in Thai seemed to lift his sprits. I ended up sleeping in a toolshed because there wasn't enough room in the apartment.

The next day, we wisely decided to take the paved road back to Pai. The ride took three hours and my muscle cramps developed muscle cramps. It was nothing that a hot shower, a nap, and perhaps a Six Million Dollar Man-esque musculoskeletal transplant couldn’t fix.
When I saw Thip later that evening, he told me that if I ever came back to Pai I can stay for free at his house and work with him in the off-road motorcycle business. He offered me 20% of the take. I told him I’d take him up on it, but only if he provided health insurance. He smiled and said, “No problem.”

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