Back To My Roots – On A Bicycle

The open road with gray skies.

The open road with gray skies.

I don’t remember when the thoughts of bicycle touring first entered my mind. Looking back it must have been in the early 1970’s. Now decades later the thought never leaves my mind. There is something about being out on the road that draws me there – and I like it. For those of you who share the desire you know what I mean.

Being on the road in Cambodia is much different than a long bicycle tour in the United States but that is where the fun begins. Moving along at twelve miles per hour allows me to see all those things we normally miss when we travel in or on a motorized vehicle. When I see something interesting I can stop almost anywhere when I am on a bicycle.

My first long bicycle trip was back in 1990. That one took me across the United States in about one-million-six-hundred-thousand pedal strokes. It took years of planning and uncounted hours of dreams leading up to that ride. It was a ride that changed my life.

My second long ride was down the east coast of the United States in 2003. Less than half the distance of my first trip this one took just twenty-five days to complete compared to forty-four days for my first trip. In comparison the East Coast trip to Disney World just took a couple months of planning and preparation.

I knew when I first bought my bicycle in Cambodia last year that it was going to lead to an increasing desire/need to hit the road. I had been off a bicycle for more than a year and fifteen miles felt like an eternity. The heat didn’t make it any easier nor did the constant rains during the rainy season. But I knew one hundred miles in a day was close at hand.

Reminders every kilometer.

Reminders every kilometer.

I decided to challenge myself after about a year of riding in Cambodia and I rode one hundred miles fully loaded to Battambang and then back to Siem Reap. That ride showed me that I could still hit the road at my age and go to exciting places.

Soon after the Battambang trip I upped the ante to a three day bicycle ride taking me through some territory I have only passed through once or twice. Lots of open space to ride through with rain clouds nipping at my heels all the time. It was a pretty easy and successful ride. The aches and pains that follow a long day of riding are gone. It is now time to increase my days in the saddle.

I was planning a two to five day bicycle ride when I decided the day before that maybe a three week ride would be better. No more weeks or months of planning needed. Realistically I don’t need to do or bring anything different for a three week or three month trip than I would for a five day trip. Packing is the same no matter the duration so the decision about the length can be made and changed at any time.

Let’s Bicycle!

Day one took me to Koh Ker, a temple complex about two hours by car from Siem Reap. A bicycle trip of sixty-nine miles. This is a ride I don’t need a map to guide me as I have traveled here by motorcycle many times in the past. Once I passed Being Mealea Temple I was treated by some gentle hills. At any other time of my life this would not be a big issue. But for the past year – and about six thousand kilometers – I have never bicycled up a hill! The terrain around Siem Reap is as flat as can be. I had forgotten what it was like to crank up an incline and then enjoy then coast down the other side. I am in heaven!

Life in the jungle.

Life in the jungle.

Cambodia is now lush and green. The last time I passed through here was during the dry season. It is like night and day. Brown versus green. Dust versus the wet smelling dirt of the surrounding crops and jungle.

The closer I get to Koh Ker the higher the hills get. But nothing that would be considered hard by any reasonable  standards. I made it to the Mom Morokod Guesthouse just outside of the temple area. A fan only room goes for $12 per night compared to one with A/C for $20  night. I opt for the cheaper room. Tomorrow I want to get up early to get in a drone flight around the main temple before any people are around.

Koh Ker Temple
Thom Temple - Koh Ker

Thom Temple – Koh Ker

There are over twenty temple structures in the park. A ten dollar fee covers a one day visit. Most people make this a day trip from Siem Reap so in the morning and late afternoon the temples are deserted. No one but me here at 6:00 AM. Nothing more than a handful of workers riding down the road. I have been here a couple time before so my focus is on some drone shots of the main temple – Thom Temple. As I get the drone in the air I can see some ground fog starting to clear giving the area an eerie feeling.

On the way back for breakfast I stop at one temple for some regular pictures. Then it is time for breakfast and the short bicycle ride to Preah Vihear City.

The area between Koh Ker and Preah Vihear City is so green! The hills are a bit higher today but the view makes any exertion seem effortless. Fifty short miles and I am tucked away in my guesthouse just before the rain pours down. So far I have had good luck with the rain. I keep my eye on the rain I see falling in the distance as the road weaves right and left seemingly avoiding the storms just for me.

Into the Unknown
Route 62 stretches south from Preah Vihear City.

Route 62 stretches south from Preah Vihear City.

Today I head south along Route 62. I have been down the first part of this road in the past. The second half of the day will take me onto my first unknown road on this trip.

Krapoum Chhouk Temple

Krapoum Chhouk Temple

The sky is dark and thick as I leave Preah Vihear City. It seems like the temperature is in the sixties but I am sure it is close to 80. The hills are longer and steeper here. From a distance I feel the rain in my bones. I am doubtful I will make it through this day unscathed. I stop at Krapoum Chhouk Temple which is just off the road about twenty miles into my ride. The small temple is deserted but the burning incense near the Buddha statues in the center of the temple tell me that it has not been without people for very long.

Back out on the road I am hit with my first burst of rain. I always seem to wait too long to put on a poncho. I guess I hope that the rain won’t last long, but it does. It becomes more of a hassle to put on the flimsy plastic rain jacket than it is worth. The wind is whipping and twisting the jacket as I proceed to put it on backwards. Then I have to reverse the whole thing and do do it again. I ride only about ten minutes and the rain is over. Quick and easy.

This happens two more times during the day. No more than ten minutes of rain each time. It would have made more sense to sit out the rains but I never know the duration until the end. If I had some kind of a special weather predicting power I would surely use it in these instances.

Leaving Preah Vihear City this morning I forgot to have breakfast. I figured I would get it on the road but before I knew it the clock said it was lunch time. I stopped in a small village just at the edge of the Boeng Peae Wildlife Sanctuary to get some lunch. By chance I sat across from a young man who spoke great English and we had a good conversation over lunch. He invited me to see his home as I set out for the rest of the trip. Due to the distance I had to cover I was only able to stop for a quick look. And right next door is a guesthouse! Had I known my riding plans for the day may have changed.

Going though the wildlife sanctuary I pass very few homes and villages in the beginning. The road eventually takes me through some rubber tree farms and a large rubber processing plant. My bicycle got a flat tire along the way and I had to walk about ten minutes to get to a place where I could have the flat fixed. I usually analyze my options at this point. I have everything I need, including the knowledge and experience, to fix my own flat tires but having someone else do it for twenty-five cents is hard to turn down. It also allows me to interact with the locals – who love to gather around the weird barang on a bicycle.

The road flattened out as the sun inched closer to the horizon. I left the rains far behind me and the sun is peeking between the cumulous clouds as I move steadily forward. My stop for the night will be in Kampong Thom, a town I am familiar with. I roll into town just after dark and check into my guesthouse. Now is time for dinner.

Boring National Road 6.
I scream, you scream , we all scream for ice cream!

I scream, you scream , we all scream for ice cream!

Today I get to ride on National Road 6 – one of the main roads in Cambodia. The road was recently updated and has a nice wide shoulder that I get to share with a constant stream of motos. The scenery begs for anything to spice it up. Just a basic road with lots of traffic. I will be on this road for two days taking me through Skun for one night and then on to Phnom Penh the next day. One benefit is that I can find ice cream along these roads. Ice cream is scarce in the countryside and without a doubt – I need my ice cream!

I like going through the towns along the way. When the road was updated they put bypasses around the towns so the bulk of the traffic and I split ways for a mile or so. I wish I had more time to spend in each of these small towns. I stop for a drink or an ice cream but that doesn’t begin to allow me to understand anything about the towns or the people that live there.

The ride from Skun to Phnom Penh goes quickly. There is a ten mile or so ring around Phnom Penh that takes me through crowded, dangerous roads. The city itself is better riding than the outskirts. The bad thing is I have to pass through this danger zone on the way out of town and two more times as I head back north to get back home in Siem Reap.

I am taking a day off in Phnom Penh to get some laundry done, tune up my bicycle, get some god food and see a movie. Next I will head south towards Kampong Trach to get some drone shots of the mountains and the rice fields. This was my main focus and reason for heading this direction and distance on this trip.

To be continued as my legs continue to take me long the roads of Cambodia……

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