When I decided to ride southern Myanmar, it was because I wanted a challenge. I wanted to push myself into an uncomfortable place.
I had all kinds of ideas about how this could be challenging.
Myanmar was just reopened to tourists in 2012 after years of violence. Many restrictions are still in place—foreigners are only allowed to sleep in “foreigner” designated hotels. Wilding camping is strictly prohibited as is providing any sort of accommodation for a foreigner.
The penalty for the foreigner is minor, the penalty for the a local disregarding the rules is up to 6 months in jail. These limitations set up potential obstacles from the outset. Plus, except for two cities, southern Myanmar is pretty much void of any tourism at all. We would be on our own.
My biggest fear was that the police would give us a hard time. I was not worried about any sort of danger to myself as much as the mere inconvenience. So in this way it was meant to be a test of patience.
But there were also other things I considered could be challenging. It might be the heat. Riding all day without shade in 90+ degree weather is though.
It might be the roads. I had read that they were rough in places.
It might be the lack of accommodation. Maybe we would have to sleep on the road.
Or possibly elephants. I heard about one cyclist who was asked to turn back because two people had just been killed by wild elephants (in the area I am currently riding).
I wanted to challenge my ability to embrace the uncomfortable and unpredictable.
But life is funny. The universe seems always to be winking at me. I am rarely given the obstacles that I worry about or expect. And this trip was no different. There were hardships that I never saw coming.
I did not expect to be challenged physically and mentally in the way that I was.
My mind can be my worst enemy and my greatest ally.
The enemy came in the form of a little voice in my head that said, ‘you are not riding fast enough.’ ‘Or you are never going to be able to do this.’
Sometimes I got to roads that simply seemed too steep or just unridable with huge divets and completely filled with large rocks. My initial reaction was a combination of fear and anger. But then I took a deep breath, and usually found that I could do it.
When my partner suggested we would need to ride 160 km because there was no accommodation until that point, I refused.
But then I slept on it. Woke up. And thought, wait, I think I can do it. So we tried, and it was a fantastic day.
Another obstacle—I got some sort of amoeba or parasite during the ride. My energy was low. There were many small hills. One day we climbed nearly 4,000 meters. When we finally got to the intended village, I was determined that we hitchhike the final 200 km to Thailand.
All kinds of stories were going through my head. I can’t do this. It is not worth it. There is too much trash here. It is so dirty. I am going to just get more sick eating this food (which is basically room temperature food that was made previously—previously could be anytime!). I can’t do it.
When I suggested to my partner that we hitchhike, I had hoped he would say, I was just thinking the same thinking. But he was just silent. I got the sense he had no intention to hitchhike.
I said, will you please talk this through with me. He said that when he broke both of his arms (long story), he could not complete his coastline ride of Jutland, Denmark. It was just a tiny part but it is still nagging at him. He said he would feel the same way if he did not complete this last section of southern Myanmar.
It was then that I realized that I need to just go step by step. Sleep on it. No harsh reactions. Slow down.
It felt better. I knew I could always hitchhike if I needed to. But it was worth making the effort to do it right. Finish the task.
And suddenly I no longer felt like “I need to get out of here right now.” I surrendered to the fact that the journey is not over. The next 205 km could take several days. Maybe we would get enough energy to ride them all in one day. Maybe we would get stopped by something completely outside of our control. There could be dangerous wild elephants. I had no idea what would happen. And I did not try to anticipate. Because I knew that all I could can do at that moment was rest, refuel, and be in the present.
We spent the next day relaxing and refueling. It was not always nice. It was hot. The hotel room had two twin beds which were basically hard wood platforms and no real mattress. The night before we had slept on a monastery floor.
Both of us needed food. We were rapidly losing weight with all of the kilometers cycles combined with the intestinal situation. We found a restaurant with good hot food and for these purposes that is all that really mattered. We feasted and it cost maybe $5/meal for both of us.
We set out in the dark at 5am. It was one of the hardest rides we have ever had. The hills were unrelenting. It was 10,000 meters climb after all the ups and downs. That is a lot.
It was very hot. Rene got pretty far ahead. My brakes jammed and I had to do a makeshift repair on them. I did not really sleep at all the entire night before. My intestinal situation was not good. At one point, I found myself in a very remote area with no food or water for many, many kilometers. This was very unexpected.
I rode and rode with nothing but oil palms. I decided to try to hitch a ride. There was such little traffic I did not want to risk waiting. I knew there was a risk I would have to spend the night out there if no one came. Eventually, a pick-up drove by. I stuck up my finger. They stopped. They were three really funny, nice government workers. They drove me about 50 km. I had them drop me off so I could do the final 25 km into Kawthaung, the southernmost city in Myanmar.
I wish that my body was stronger on that day. I wish I could have ridden the whole thing with ease. But not every day is a winner day. What made me a winner that day is that I tried. I am proud that I rode 155 km in those conditions. But I have plans to ride 205 km sometime soon!