Returning to my biking ways

I always liked riding bikes as a kid but in recent years started to ride a Mountain Bike with vengeance pushing myself hard both physically and technically. I’ve ridden bikes a few times as I travelled but never felt fully fulfilled – In Siem Reap I tried again and boy did it turn out well.

For me, it’s about the biking

My old bike on the North Face Trail, Lake District

In moments of solitude, I relive the process of dismantling my bike to stow it in the boot of my car and taking it to a single track somewhere, be it near or far. I recall with fondness the drive, the expectation of the ride, the rebuilding of the bike, getting everything ready, the exploratory ride around the car park, the punishing climbs, the brutal descents and the feel of the bike bucking and twisting underneath me. I remember the crashes, the resulting limps, cuts and bruises and returning home to clean my wounds. Whilst travelling I tell stories to people of my crashes and of my victories as I try to enthuse those around me to the way of the bike.

I may be terrible at it, but Mountain Biking is my thing.

Pretty much every day I dream of climbing aboard my bike again and playing. I dream that when I get to Australia for the next part of the trip my bike turns up and away I go exploring pastures unknown. I’ve tried to capture the feeling a few times whilst travelling but haven’t really managed to get the sheer intoxicating escapism that my bike and familiar terrain offered me back home.

Go back in this blog and you’ll find posts from Sorata, Huaraz and Moab where I hired bikes and pushed my technical limits but I’ve never really pushed my physical limits the way I used to. I haven’t really pushed myself hard, reached my plateau of endurance and stamina and then kept going, pushing through the fatigue to achieve that endorphin high. I did this in Siem Reap and it felt good. Damned good.

Biking cures all woes

When I arrived in Siem Reap I was feeling quite down for various reasons. It might have taken nine months but Travelling had finally worn me down and I was sick of it. I wanted out and thus was feeling quite depressed, wondering what I should do with my life. I decided to write a blog post on the subject, Today I’m Hating Travelling and then got off my backside and did something.

I rode.

I picked up a bike from my hostel for $1 and rode it the 8km to Angkor seeing the sunset and it was punishing. The bike had a internal brake and gear hub on the rear and it was horrendous thing to cycle. Every turn of the pedal required huge amounts of energy and whilst I propelled it along at a fair rate I knew I couldn’t ride it the following day so picked up a basic Giant Revel 3 Disc and instantly fell in love. It was the same geometry as my bike back home and the grippy tyres were perfect.

The next day I set off early at 0530 (yup, thats half five in the morning) in the dark of night and rode through the town and out on to the dark roads which lead up to Angkor. Riding with my head torch blazing I was reminded of my Cross-Country runs back home at night, lights a-blazing, but only illuminating small patches of scenery directly in front of me. It reminded me of launching the bike into the unknown and the lack of peripheral vision giving me one objective – keep going forward. Always forward. The darkness is all consuming and all around noises demand attention, all whilst the tyres produced a beautiful hum on the tarmac. I was alone most of the time only overtaking (and been overtaken) by other early risers in Tuk Tuks. It felt good. Damned good.

The bike is the perfect tool to explore Angkor as it allows you to get lost, to take that little track and see what is at the end, to find the deserted ruin, the alternative gates and the workers beavering away… Actually this last one was one of my favourite experiences of my day in Angkor.

Taking a little path I came across a group of Cambodians clearing out the stream and sitting next to a little bamboo bridge. As I rode up to them, they looked on in bewilderment as I hoisted the bike to my shoulder and started to cross the bridge – I lost my footing and lunged right nearly tipping off the edge. The crowd gasped. I held my breath and threw my free arm to grab the railing. The railing came with me and I continued to slip sideways. I threw my weight to the left using all my strength in my legs to try and rebalance. The gasp grew louder as I continued to fall. As if in slow motion I slowly managed to regain my balance but it was sure a heart pounding moment. I made it to the other side, turned to the crowd as they stared chatting away and gave a quick bow. They didn’t understand the motion but nodded and chatted loudly pointing as I remounted my bike and continued down the trail.

Ah, back to the good ole days of falling off things.

The rest of the day consisted of pushing myself hard, always maintaining a fast pace. I would ride to a temple, walk around and run up the stairs, see what I wanted to see and then back on the bike to the next place. Given I was by myself, I got a little bored in the early afternoon and decided to challenge myself riding 4km without touching the handle bars. Eventually I hit traffic so redoubled my efforts, racing them. I flew along the road and then took the bike off-road, jumping the ruts and ditches and grinning the whole time.

As I neared town I was the fastest thing around, carving through the traffic in a desperate race against time to get the bike back before darkness descended completely and I had to pay for an extra days hire of the bike. I completed the 14km dash at the end of the day in 40minutes which isn’t that fast (it’s a 13mph average) but it was tremendous feeling to step off the bike knowing that was the best I could do.

That day I was on the bike for around 65km. I drank 6litres of water and 2 litres of pop. I was out in the sun for 14hours and I loved it.

My favourite quote goes “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece, but to slide across the finish line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil, and shouting GERONIMO!!!”. That day in Siem Reap I did just that. I arrived back bleeding, bitten, covered in mud, drenched in sweat and completely exhausted, but I was shouting GERONIMO!

It felt so good, I did it again a couple of days later

One afternoon I needed some exercise again so picked up the same bike again and rode solidly for five hours completely 82km. The people at the place I rode too looked on in puzzlement as it is 35m outside of town and you don’t get many people riding there. To the Cambodians 10km is a long ride and takes them 2.5 hours to complete so for a foreigner to be there on a bike is a strange sight indeed.

Of course, the Cambodians showed no leniency and wouldn’t let me enter the temple as I didn’t have a ticket (even stopping me from sticking my head around the door, but hey, I was here for the exercise so meh!

It felt damned good. Mountain biking, I may be terrible at it but, it’s my thing.

Click here to load a map showing you the location of this post and images from the digitallery taken nearby.