After what’s felt like a lifetime of planning, fundraising, doubts, COVID scares, more doubts, enforced route changes, fear of saddle sores and lost sleep it’s finally all systems are go for Bruce’s bike ride across Thailand to raise money for the elephants of Mae Wang and ‘the ride’ is all set to start at 09:00 on Tuesday the 25th May and the return to Chiang Mai scheduled for the 13th June – just in time to watch England v Croatia in the Euro’s (now isn’t that interesting planning and whether that will be worthwhile remains to be seen…..)
The initial idea was to cycle North to South from Chiang Mai right down to Trang in the deep South of Thailand. However, Bruce then started thinking about how to get back and didn’t quite fancy another 2,000km’s just to get home – or the outrageous prices to fly his bike back or a car rental. So, the first re-route was to then head to through far more interesting, and far less visited areas by cycling through Isaan (the North East of Thailand) to Ubon Ratchathani on the border with Laos and then heading back by a slightly more Northerly route. This was all good to go until Thailand’s latest COVID scare.
At first – around mid / late April – Chiang Mai was a bit of a ‘hot spot’ meaning that travel out of the province was ‘no go’. Then, once Chiang Mai was no longer regarded as a hot spot and travel out of the province was possible, several parts of the country created rules whereby they made it very clear that overnight visitors in their province were not welcome (fair enough – safety always needs to come first).
So then came route 3! After many lengthy discussions with different provincial health authorities (incredibly helpful people and very supportive of what Bruce is doing) a new, and hopefully final route, was planned – avoiding those regions not ‘open’ to visitors and snaking a path through those that are happy to receive overnight travellers as long as all COVID rules are followed.
The final route now is slightly longer – at around 2,400 km’s – and considerably steeper, with over 18,000 metre’s of climbing along the way (so 2 x Everest albeit spread over 20 days!) including one rather scary day of 3,500 metres climbing (Bruce says he’ll worry about that later as it’s not until Day 16 and hopefully he’s fit by then)
The first half of the route will head roughly South from Chiang Mai to Nakhon Sawan and then East into Isaan avoiding one or two provinces that are semi-closed. Bruce will land in Surin (another home of many elephants in Thailand) before heading to the sort of half way point in Mukdahan – no, we’ve never been either – which is on the border with Laos and where he’ll meet the might Mekong.
Then it’s time to start heading back to Chiang Mai and the plan is to head through the Northern parts of Isaan sort of along the route of theMekong and finally through Loei, a stunning province with mountains, mountains and more mountains (and the site of the rather scary Day 16). With luck and a strong tail wind Day 20 will see Bruce back in Chiang Mai and, more importantly, having hit the target of £16,000 to feed the elephants.
As part of this re-routing, the plan around overnight stays and support has changed a little. He’ll now have a support vehicle in the shape of one of The Tuk Tuk Club’s bright orange Tuk Tuks. And, even better, this will be driven by Noom, the person who first introduced Bruce to the elephants in Mae Wang and someone who has been a huge supporter of this project helping hugely with plans behind the scenes. This support was demanded (rightly probably) but Bruce’s family who’d quite like to see him be able to return one day (there’s no accounting for taste) and, despite his protestations we believe that Bruce is somewhat relieved, about the support that is.
And, as the route now heads through even more rural / remote territory a tent has been added to the kit list along with a hammock that fits into the Tuk Tuk meaning the team can sleep wherever pretty much wherever and will add a little more excitement and adventure into the whole plan.
Everything is now in place: the bike will be cleaned over the weekend, final beers drunk, the COVID-19 test has come back negative and there’s just the chance now to watch Leeds Utd’s final game of the season on Sunday, pack all the gear on Monday and then……….
Tuesday it is with a 9:00 start and Destination 1 being the small district of Li in the hills of Lamphun. Roughly 110km from the starting point with around 800 metres of climbing in the day a sort of gentle introduction to things and hopefully Bruce will get there before sunset to get a good rest before Day 2 – a much hillier and longer day heading to the small town of Thung Saliam in Sukhothai province. The weather forecast is good – cooler days (only 35C or so) and rain (hooray) – so the slight delay may just have helped things in terms of missing to hottest of the hot weather but we’ll soon see.
Thanks all and the next update will be ‘from the road’ when no doubt Bruce will be wondering what on earth he’s let himself in for…….
And finally – keep your eyes peeled for updates on The Tuk Tuk Club’s Facebook page and if you know anyone who may be interested in supporting the elephants please do pass on the JustGiving link here – we’re 70% of the way to hitting the target and every single £ / $ / € / THB ++++ counts…..