16 July 2018

I Paid Again (Don't Tell Anybody!)

Yesterday was a milestone for me:  It was the second day in a row I did an organized ride I had to pay for. I pride myself on not paying to go on a ride unless there's a very, very good reason--say, an event or cause or some ride I purely and simply want to do. (That's why I paid the five-dollar fee in a couple of the early Five Boro Bike Tours.) And it would have been against something--I won't say my religion, because I don't have one--to pay to ride two days in  a row.

 The way I rationalize this second consecutive day of pay-to-ride that I am in a completely unfamiliar place.  I can get around Paris almost as well as I can navigate New York.  After spending a day riding with a guide, Rome wasn't so difficult to figure out from the saddle.  Ditto for Montreal.  But Siem Reap is a whole different experience in every way--from the traffic patterns to the language, of which I can use about five words.

Also, I have no qualms about this second consecutive paid ride because it's very different, in almost every way, from the one I took the other day.  I enjoyed both, but some of you might prefer one to the other, for various reasons.

Yesterday's bike ride was run by a company called Grasshopper Adventure Day Tours, which also organizes rides in other countries.  The first point of difference between the ride I took with them, and the one I took the other day with PURE, is that yesterday's ride was supported en route.  The driver even picked up me and Stuart, the other participant in this ride, from my guest house and his hotel.  

The driver brought us to Angkor Wat, where we watched the sunrise. Well, we saw the dawn, or the beginning of the day, anyway:  A curtain of clouds cloaked the sun and allowed a few orange and pink rays from its fringes.

Oh, well.  For me, it was two days in a row of clouds blocking the sunrise at Angkor Wat.  It's a cliche, but you can't do anything about the weather:  In January, when I went to Florida, I had two days when the temperature didn't get much past 5C (40F) and two nights when it dropped to -4C (25F).  

After that sunrise, we had breakfast.  Yogurt, cereal, bread condiments, juices, coffee and tea were provided, and the driver made omelets (good, in fact) for me and Stuart. But the show-stopper, if you will, was a plate of sliced fruits, including the small but succulent bananas that grow here, as well as papaya, pineapple, a couple of melons and a white dragonfruit I'd never had before.  I could have eaten any of them all day!

That breakfast made me feel like I was part of a racing team.  Perhaps that wasn't a coincidence: Our ride leader, Vichea, is a mountain bike racer here in Cambodia. At least, he is when he isn't leading tours like ours or working his regular job as a teacher.

Before we set out to ride, he took us on a mini-tour of the main Angkor Wat temple.  I complimented his commentary; he demurred, saying, "Well, I  know this because I've been here all of my life."  

He also knows the trails in this area.  Grasshopper promised that this ride would take us away from the crowds.  Indeed, it did:  Even when we arrived at the temples, we were ahead of the biggest throngs of tourists.

Stuart is a regular mountain biker in his native Australia.  I once was semi-regular, but I haven't been since I sold my Bontrager 15 years ago.  Since then, I've stuck to road and street riding.  But I felt comfortable riding with Stuart and Vichea as we bounced oer rocks and tree roots, and navigated the steep turns, on dirt, mud and rock trails between the main Angkor Wat temple and its satellites, including Bayon.  We even rode through jungle but didn't see elephants, lemurs or even big snakes.  Near the end of the ride, though, we did spot some water buffalo.

By the way, in another contrast with my PURE ride, I rode a GT mountain bike with disc brakes and a mid-range suspension fork. When I registered, the Grasshopper administrator asked for my height and I noticed that Stuart, who is taller, had a bigger frame and Vichea, who is shorter, had a smaller frame than mine. I did the  PURE ride on a local-brand "city bike", which is kind of ironic given that the ride ventured  into the countryside.  That bike probably came in only one size.

We concluded with lunch at a roadside restaurant: a Khmer chicken-and-vegetable dish for me, accompanied by a small fruit plate, as every Khmer meal seems to be.  Not that I'm complaining:  I enjoy getting at least a taste of fruits I don't find often, if at all, when I'm at home.  

Now I'll admit that I feel at least one point of pride about this ride:  Stuart and Vichea both complimented my riding. I hope--and suspect--they weren't slowing down for me or tamping the intensity of those trails just because I am nearly two decades older than Sturart and he, in turn, is about a decade and a half older then Vichea!I  Then again, they probably didn't know that about me, if I do say so myself.

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