What I Like Doing Best…

 Posted by on April 12, 2014
Apr 122014
 

Cycle, breathe, listen, look about, think a little, then stop, get off, have a snack, maybe a chat, get back on and repeat. It’s the life rhythm which engulfs anyone who travels for long distances on a bicycle. It’s a gloriously simple, wonderfully self-indulgent and a purely escapist way to live. For the most part we do nothing of any great significance, but as my travels begin to near their end I think more and more about how fortunate I’ve been to do not much other than observe for such a very long period of time. Time spent getting to know the world for all its good bits and bad bits and getting to know myself for all my good bits and bad bits. Away from a world where time flies by to the rhythm of a cash register I feel it’s these days spent doing nothing much other than watching the world pass by and figuring things out for myself that will turn out to be some of the most memorable of all.

“What I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing,” asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say, ‘Oh, Nothing,’ and then you go and do it.

It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.”

A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Once we leave Wat Phu we island hop across the Mekong and found wonderful roads on which to do what we love doing best. Life does not move slower than here and it feels as though if we pause to lounge in a hammock for even just a moment we may never summon the energy to leave.

Once we leave Wat Phu we island hop across the Mekong and find wonderful roads on which to do what we love doing best. Life does not move slower than here and it feels as though if we pause to lounge in a hammock for even just a moment we may never summon the energy to leave.

So we maintain a steady clip and ride on, stopping in on the largest waterfall in Asia with a small throng. Following the Mekong's swirling waters we bid a fond farewell to Laos and move on to country number 12, Cambodia.

So we maintain a steady clip and ride on, stopping in on the largest waterfall in Asia with a small throng. Then, following the Mekong’s swirling waters, we bid a fond farewell to Laos and move on to country number 12; Cambodia.

Straight on to the backroads we go and bloody hell the conditions are bad.

Straight on to the backroads we go and blimey the conditions are bad.

Sand up to the ankles and the only vehicles which make an easy job of it seem straight from the set of Mad Max.

Sand up to the ankles and the only vehicles which make an easy job of it seem straight from the film set of Mad Max.

Plenty of time for us to think about what keeps bringing us back to these roads over and over again.

Plenty of time for us to think about what keeps bringing us back to these roads over and over again.

Ride a little, grind to a halt, get off, sigh, push, get back on, and repeat. There's an all encompassing rhythm to riding in these conditions. Eyes perpetually scan the road hunting the best line, the body works to wrestle the steering and keep balance whilst applying just the right amount of power to the pedals. Everything works in unison to keep you moving. Everything is entirely pre-occupied with the single act of moving. Like yoga, climbing, surfing and many other sports it is meditative and even in temperatures over 40 degrees bizarrely relaxing.

Ride a little, grind to a halt, get off, sigh, push, get back on, and repeat. There’s an all encompassing rhythm to riding in these conditions. Eyes perpetually analyse the road ahead to pick a line, the body works to wrestle the steering and keep balance whilst applying just the right amount of power to the pedals. Everything works in unison and is entirely occupied by the simple act of moving. Like yoga, climbing, surfing and others it is meditative and even in temperatures over 40 degrees bizarrely relaxing.

Detours scoured by scooters give us small breaks from horrors of the main road.

Small detours scoured by scooters give us breaks from the horrors of the main road,

But for the most part it's a day of pushing.

but for the most part it’s a day of pushing.

A few steps and the odd pedal at a time we inch our way through 50km of sand

A few steps and the odd pedal at a time we inch our way through 50km of sand

until we finally reach a good road where travelling salesmen and women roam serving up all sorts of sugary icy delights.

until we finally reach a good road where travelling salesmen and women roam and serve up all sorts of sugary icy delights.

And on we head

And on we head

to Ban Lung.

to Ban Lung for a rest and a wander.

Mornings begin supping coffee with the usual crowd.

Mornings in Cambodia start slowly, supping ice coffee with the usual crowd.

Then we head into the forest

Then we head into the forest

to get horribly lost

get horribly lost,

push a bit,

push a bit,

cycle a bit

cycle a bit

and generally continue on the assumption that all roads must lead somewhere.

and generally continue on the assumption that all roads must lead somewhere.

until smoke fills the air

We ride until smoke begins to fill the air

pollutes our lungs

from fires left unattended to burn through the undergrowth

and our stomachs sink.

and our stomachs sink.

Cambodia is the third most deforested country in the world. 70% primary forest in 1970. 3.1% in 2007.

Vietnam war remake? Cambodia has the third highest rate of deforestation in the world. 70% primary forest in 1970. 3.1% in 2007.

Passing through the chaos of the "frontline" into the desert beyond leaves us feeling sick.

Gone forever, never to return. Passing through the chaos of the “frontline” into the desert beyond leaves us feeling sick.

A change in the wind doesn't do much to help.

And a change in the wind doesn’t do much to help,

nor do the tables we dine on - slabs of tropical hardwood pitted with the signature streaks from a chainsaw.

nor do the tables we dine on – slabs of tropical hardwood pitted with the signature streaks of a chainsaw.

The market in Usan Monorom is a rabbit warren of crooked rubbish strewn alleyways complete with pungent wafts of rotting veg and ageing meat. The kind of place I've become quite fond of.

The market in Usan Monorom is a rabbit warren of crooked rubbish strewn alleyways complete with pungent wafts of rotting veg and ageing meat. It’s the kind of place I’ve grown quite fond of this last year.


For the very last time we chug across the Mekong on a rusty tub

For the very last time we chug across the Mekong on a rusty tub

Once across we run to a spree of good fortune and for three nights in a row we are welcomed to sleep in all sorts of places.

and once across we run in to a spree of good fortune. For three nights in a row all sorts of people invite us in.

After overnighting in a monastery Sun took it open himself to open up and show us their temple.

After overnighting in a monastery Sun took it open himself to show us around

And finally Prov invited us to sleep in his back garden. These small encounters and insights into local people's lives do not grow old. And when they keep happening over and over and over again, no matter where you are it changes how

and Prov invited us to sleep in his back garden. These small encounters and insights into local people’s lives do not grow old. As they’ve happened to me time and time again no matter where I’ve been they’ve changed how I think about strangers and foreignness. To the extent I recoil at the scaremongering headlines on my BBC News app; that’s not the world I’ve come to know.

Trouble ahead. The first signs of the dry season breaking begin to show.

Trouble ahead. The first signs of a change in season begin to show.

And it's not long before the clouds break with characteristic South East Asian aplomb. An enormous thunderstorm batters our tents

And it’s not long before the clouds break with a characteristic South East Asian deluge. An enormous thunderstorm batters our tents and our road becomes a lake

pepperpotted with pools of stagnant water.

pepperpotted with pools of stagnant water.

Back to pushing then.

Back to pushing then.

The rain brings out all sorts of creepy crawlies and amongst the unwelcome campsite visitors were a 3m long python and this scorpion.

Careful where you tread. The rain brought out all sorts of creepy crawlies and amongst a host of campsite visitors were a 3m long python as thick as my calf and this scorpion.

Finally here's a few shots from the various Angkorian temples we've been exploring.

Finally here’s a few shots from the various Angkorian temples we’ve been exploring.

Matted with tree roots

Matted with tree roots

and lichen

and plastered with lichen

Now there's a doorway worth poking your head through.

there’s always a doorway worth popping your head through.

Filthy. Knackered. In need of a good feed. Happy.

Me. Filthy. Knackered. Hungry. Happy.

  11 Responses to “What I Like Doing Best…”

  1.  

    looks like an amazing place beautifully captured by your photographic eye. you’re a wonderful story teller. love the one of yourself at the end. Ciara

  2.  

    Awesome… Love your first paragraph and final photo in particular. I am looking forward to some extended time doing nothing much in the very near future. I can’t imagine how coming back to a ‘normal’ life is even a possibility after all this…? Chris

  3.  

    Nice post Alex, I enjoyed hearing a fellow long distance cyclist reflect on the simple pleasure of watching the world go by at the pace of a cycle. Not sure how I could ever go back to life that ‘flies by to the rhythm of a cash register. As you say only time will tell…

    All the best,

    Fraser

  4.  

    Who is the idiot in the hat?

  5.  

    I was in Siem Reap not too long ago, I’m more of a mountain biker, after going through the land mine museum, I’m not in a hurry to ride around Cambodia.

    Your photos are awesome though!

    •  

      There’s definitely a risk, no doubt about it. I think three people a month still manage to step on mines in Cambodia and, unlike most of the UXO in Laos, there’s no way you’ll be able to see them. We were very careful wild camping and only strayed off the road when the land was very well trodden, dug up or manipulated in some way. The biggest problem was nipping off for the loo and I can think of a couple times when I really wasn’t happy having to leave the road. Perhaps then the risk was unacceptable.

  6.  

    Stumbled upon this blog while in my more or less constant state of wanderlust. What a fascinating journey you had, just currently binge reading all your posts don’t mind me…

  7.  

    I would love to go off road cycling and travelling here.

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