Biking Bad is back !

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One year ago I was entering Tennessee and was three weeks away from the end of my US trip. Tomorrow I’m leaving for Cambodia for a two-weeks bike trip !

Contrary to the US trip, this one was not planned for long : it was decided less than a week ago. I’ll go into more details of why in some later post. Suffice to say for now that this is more an emergency vacation to clear my head, rather than a long-needed spiritual break.

However, I still intend to have a strong spiritual aspect to this trip ! For the US it was home, a missing father, and overcoming one’s physical limits. This time around, I will ponder about love – and that’s a big clue as to why I do this trip.

I have written down these questions : learning about love, what is love (to me), expressing love, being loved, preventing love voluntarily or unconsciously, letting love come after some time, maintaining love and relationships, mending love, long term relationships, teaching about love. I’ll tackle them one by one over the journey. Some I’ll have a lot to say about, others probably less. But I’ll have time thinking about them, just as I had time over the last few months.

 Biking along the Ourcq canal east of Paris

I had a very short time getting more or less back in shape : I did runs of 40 to 60 km’s over the last few days, but combined with not eating anymore altogether for a week, I lost a lot of weight fast ! I don’t feel tired after each run, and as this trip will be in group, and van supported, I should be ok. I haven’t checked slopes on the way, but if I have to walk at some point, I’ll walk ! Going from Angkor Vat to the Mekong river should well be worth it.

So, leaving tomorrow, starting on Wednesday, which should be my first post on the road. See you there.

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Day zero : flying around the world

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So, less than a week after deciding upon this trip, I am in Cambodia. Although I flew quite often up to now, it is actually the first time I do a flight transfer (in Qatar), first time a touchdown (the plane dropped a few passengers in Vietnam before moving on to Phnom Penh), and first time in this part of the world.

So what am I doing here ? Well once again this is very therapeutic experience, a holiday in the strictest sense : I need to rest. And how to do it better than biking all day ? 🙂 I had a very rough month of July on a personal level, even tougher as it went on, up to the point where I lost control and made a huge mistake. I’ll come back to it. To clear my head, I needed to take a break, and was pointed to bike tours done here in Cambodia. Why not ? I initially thought of doing that somewhere in France, but being far away will help.

Once again I am left to feel very lonely in a remote place. Much more remote than the US last year, but less alone : I will be biking with a group of around ten people, with a guide, and a support vehicle. Plus the trip is two weeks and not four months, so the feeling of loneliness is much less daunting than last year. Much deeper are the guilt, regret and fear of consequences linked to my mistake of ten days ago. This is the whole spiritual part of the trip and I’ll have time to think about all that.

But at the very moment when I write this, I am also very tired : long sleepless flights, following a string of sleepless nights, are taking a toll. The excitment of discovering a new country has to fight to get noticed ! It should be easier tomorrow.

Angkor Wat

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A great and easy first day, with less than 40 km’s, mostly on dirt tracks in the jungle, and visiting temples!

   

I met the rest of the group over breakfast : six people from Australia, three from Canada, and one from Germany – who also did a very long flight coming here. People slightly older than me, except for two sons (teenagers). I was getting a bit nervous when some started discussing their marathons times! But at the end of the day, we don’t seem to have a huge gap in capacities. Tomorrow will be much longer, I’ll see if I keep up – especially as they know now I crossed the US, and probably think I’m an Olympian biker!

 

Today was dedicated to visiting a few temples around the city – there are actually dozens in the jungle north of the city, among which Angkor Wat is the biggest and the most preserved. We started quite early at 8, and left the city to quickly enter the jungle surrounding it. Biking in small dirt paths is great when you have the proper bike. And I got the same exhilarating feeling of biking in another country, as I did in San Francisco the first day last year. Except that, when you miss so much the one you love, half of yourself is kinda like switched off, looking out the window.

 

We were slaloming from one road to another, taking shortcuts in smaller paths, with quite a lot of mud, as it’s been raining for some time (as would be expected during monsoon season). But there were no major difficulty, and we were moving fast enough.

  
 

Our guide, Bun, takes all the time to explain when and how the temples were built, left to decay, and for some, restored, then going even into comparative theology, as the country switched from Hinduism to Buddhism around the 15th century. This was right after the 600 years of the Angkor period, where Cambodia was autonomous and powerful, and everyone was building temples around. Then we visit one, two, three not-so-small temples. Among one of them, trees have reclaimed their place, and are now part of the structure and the tour – some of the most famous pictures of Cambodian temples include them. Most of the walls are carved with events of the time, in a similar way to Egyptian carvings, or the Bayeux tapestry, with lots of soldiers, and sequences of events.

  

Moving around with a support vehicle is really fantastic, as I discovered in Kansas. You don’t have to carry much, you have snack breaks every now and then… And someone to look over your stuff when you visit.

   

We visited Angkor Wat mid afternoon. This temple was never left to decay on its own, as there was always some people looking over it, which is why it’s in a great state. Lots of restorations were done though, including by French colonists early in the 20th century. The proportions are impressive, especially as each level rises 10 or 20 meters, with steep stairs, over the previous one. What was the most surprising to me, is that each new level is a block put on the previous one : there are no rooms in the current level, it just rises to a new plateau. That’s a lot of stones. Lots of tourists there of course. The roads around the temple are filled with small shops and kids trying to sell you postcards. 

  

Rain started to pour right as we headed back for the hotel. After a couple minutes, I was soaking wet, my shoes were soaking wet, so there wasn’t much else to do than enjoy it to the fullest! So I started aiming at any rain puddle on the way, parting water like Moses, laughing like madman, and having the most fun I had in over a month! That was a whole new meaning to “biking bad”, as I was spraying water all over my partners when passing them 🙂 And I jumped in the swimming pool as soon as we arrived, a perfect way to relax after riding. 

  

So, even with a short ride, I had some time to think about my first theme, learning about love. But this is a question that’s been in my mind for long. What I mean here is how you are given a visual, social example of what love is. Basically, what school would teach you about it, if they would.

  

I think that, as with most lessons, you learn by watching, and then doing. Monkey see, monkey do. And the first place to learn is in your family. If not, among other families, or among friends. But the parents are, probably, the first example of what love can be experienced in a couple, and in another form, the love they have for their children. This is certainly how you learn about caring, tenderness, helping, being present, protecting, respecting, etc.
  

The challenge comes when you haven’t got two parents, or no sensible parental love. Then you have no example set to you in the beginning. As I understood a long time later, this is a critical missing piece in early education. I certainly wasn’t an abused orphan or anything, but the fact that you are not the worst off doesn’t diminish your issues. It takes a lot more time to discover that you missed something, simply because you can’t know you should have had it in the first place. You have to play with the cards that you are dealt, whatever their value in the game. But if you are able to play well with bad cards, you become that much stronger.

  

So when you do find that you are lacking something, there isn’t much to do but learning by yourself, and trying not to overcompensate. For instance, I always had a tremendous lack of tenderness, and expressing it now is very important to me, even more so than receiving it. When it is not accepted and I don’t know why, it is a great source of frustration. This is where you must understand that you are probably not the cause, but a collateral damage of what is happening in the other one’s life. Not so easy at the start of a relationship, when you are still missing a good understanding of how everyone works. Later on, you would know to back off for some time, help in some other way, and not stress out for a bad reason.
 

River of Thousand Lingas

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Today was a real biking day, with 70 km’s on all road conditions. We did a large circuit from and back to the city, which we’ll leave tomorrow definitively.

  
Rising up, I wasn’t sure I would be up to the challenge : that was another sleepless night, where all the pills in the arsenal did not help a bit. It’s very hard getting a grip on your brain when it has decided to mull over everything it has in store. The upside is that it does produce result. But the downside, no sleep. Plus the B team for gear : my bike short, gloves and shoes were still wet. So, would I be able to get through the longest day for a year ?

  
We left even earlier, 7:30, to go north east, leaving the city on another path. We quickly escaped the larger paved routes to go back on dirt roads and enter the countryside. There was still houses along the way, some of them very nice, all constructed on stilts. Many children were waving at us 🙂 It wasn’t hot yet, I had a butt cushion made from another short, it was ok when we reached our first stop after one hour. Having regular stops with drinks and fruits makes the whole difference.

  
The second bit was more difficult, with mostly dirt road but with lots of rocks. But we really entered the countryside, with deep views, rice fields, cow cattle migrating form place to place. Lots of nice moments! Many views were postcard-worthy. I was getting a bit tired, but it was enjoyable. I was also cycling alone mostly : a pack of three riders was outpacing me, while I was outpacing the rest of the group, itself split in three parts. The second break was really welcome. 

  
We then followed a larger, paved road, with some traffic, more housing again, up to our destination and lunch break. After ten minutes the group was split with the same logic. Boeun and his two fellow riders, plus the two vans, had a lot of work to make sure nobody got lost at intersections! We were now in a more forested, hilly environment. Hills were still very small and manageable. We were passing many children, leaving school with their uniforms, on bikes way too large for them.

  
  
Our main destination today was the river of Thousand Lingas (a type of stone pavement), a walk in a small mountain, in the jungle, to reach an ancient Hindu ceremonial site, where rocks in the river had been carved. I love walking in such old forests, with roots coming and going everywhere, the sunlight playing tricks, and a path where you jump, crawl or escalate. It feels like being in an old fantasy setting like in the movie Dark Crystal. Walking uphill was also a nice change and a good cardio exercise.

  
We did a last stretch by bike to visit a small Hindu temple, Banteay Srei, also known as the women citadel, dating back to the 10th century, a bit older than Angkor Wat, and built from volcanic rocks again. This gives the temples a sort of dark, almost evil atmosphere. During this stretch I tried sticking to the front pack. I reached Malcolm, who did not keep up, but was still a minute behind the other two. But hey, at least I try 😉

  
Then we jumped in the van to drop by a landmine museum : Cambodia has been stuffed by personnel and anti-tanks mines during the many years of war before, during and after the Khmer Rouge (strangely the name remains in French) period. Plus it got bombarded by the US during the Vietnam war to cut off the Ho Chi Minh trail. So there’s still a lot of risk finding explosive material in many areas.

  
We went back to the city by van, right as the rain started falling. Not today, rain! Strangely, I am still the only one to really use the pool after the ride. I don’t know of a better way to relax the muscles (apart from rough sex, obviously).

  
Another fancy restaurant tonight, with traditional dancing !

  
An easy question tonight ! What is love ? Once this question is settled, I’ll solve middle eastern conflicts and world hunger. I will limit to my own view, as the world literature revolves mostly around this question already.

  
Love is to me the strongest, most important feeling. It is a possible answer to the meaning of life. It is the only time where you don’t live for yourself, by yourself, but also for and through someone else. It makes the difference between a possibly enjoyable life, to a passionate, fulfilling life. As the poet said, all you need is love. And Internet added : and all you want is sex, and all you have is porn.

  
Love is thinking, caring and being devoted to another person, while at the same time enjoying its presence, its quirks, and reveling in its qualities. It is said love is blind, and that you tend to forget imperfections and downright defects. But this has not been my experience. Love is getting to know the other person and accepting her as she is, with her complexity and obsessions (for instance).

  
Love is to me a mixture of hope about tomorrow, pleasure of today, and joy of yesterday. Love is built on what you share, what you experience together. This is the point that was made today by Jennifer, while cycling in the countryside, about her 40+ years of marriage.

  
Falling in love is the best verb to be applied to the feeling. I have always felt that it is akin to jumping in a pool : at some point, you decide to let go. You can turn around the pool for a long time, getting to know the details, reassuring yourself about this or that, testing the water maybe. And then you fall, you forget about reason and let passion guide you. It is clearly, at this moment, the brain getting disconnected and hormones taking over.

  
I have had a tendency to fall in love relatively fast : a few days, a couple of weeks. Last time was a few minutes. I don’t like the English expression “love at first sight”, and prefer the French version “coup de foudre : thunderstruck”. Still, falling in love so fast could prove to be a mistake, but if it takes hold, then it’s real.

  

Beng Mealea

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We start getting serious today, with 90kms in four segments, mostly in the countryside, going east.

  
We leave Siem Reap for good this time, no circle, a direct route east to start the large curve that will bring us through Phnom Penh and then to the seaside. We continue moving and stopping every 20kms or so, about one hour of cycling. I start getting back in shape, not leaving the front pack anymore.

  

We mostly ride through the countryside, generally on good, firm dirt road, which is surprisingly nicer than paved road. The texture and feeling is much more appeasing, and when it’s flat and hard enough, you can move at about the same speed. There are always houses around this time, we never completely leave civilization. Shack houses made of straw or wood sit side by side to very modern, even impressive brick houses, with many decorations. There are also small shops everywhere, selling food and water, and gas in plastic bottles.

   
And there are children in all places ! Two, three, four very young kids, waving at us a mix of hello – bye bye, as we ride past them. With that many children, it is also comforting to see so many schools here and there, in very good conditions.

  
After the third leg, we stop for lunch and to do a quick tour of the Beng Mealea temple. This one was built by the same king who erected Angkor Wat, right before it (the guy lived to be very old, as each temple took 20 to 40 years to build). It is a massive temple, totally fallen to the ground, another giant jigsaw puzzle left to be solved. Trees have started claiming back the land, and this is a testament to the ruin of civilizations, as well as a strong Tomb Raider feeling!

  
After that, we do a final 20-something ride, and stop when we reach the outskirts of a city. The team breaks down the bikes, to put them on a trailer, and we are carried to our next rest. Driving in Cambodia is a real challenge. The main roads are really wide, but most vehicles drive in the center, as there are motorcycles on each side, and going in both directions, on each side! Plus you have to be careful of dogs or cows crossing without warning. Plus of course the regular pothole or jump in the pavement. I can’t remember where I had the same feeling of chaos on the road. It was either Algeria or Mauritius.

  
On my bucket list today is expressing love. It seems to be the easiest theme I have written down, although it is probably very different from one person to the next.

  
I’ve read that there is no love, only proofs of love. To me that’s how you espress your feelings that really matters. Anything you don’t say or express in some way, doesn’t exist for the other.

  
Besides saying it obviously, I feel the best expression of love is in the day to day details. When you care about someone deeply, you have a lot of minuscule attentions that build up. There are physical expressions of course, through touch, kiss, smile, embrace or others. But I think it is when you take the other into account during any routine activity that you give the best of yourself. Remembering about coffee brand, breakfast details, special bathrooms quirks, packing for a holiday, searching online for details, all the little things help. It’s how you live for yourself and for the other one at the same time, and make her feel that way.

Han Chey

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Today was a long road meal, another 90kms, on paved road all the way to Kampong Cham. We reached the Mekong !

  
After a few weeks of trying to wrap my mind around the latest and difficult personal events, yesterday I finally understood and found the key that explains everything. It’s very hard to find the real core personality of someone else (even for yourself actually), but when you do, and every event falls into place logically, and you know what must be done, you are finally able to get to sleep 🙂 Having your days devoted to a repetitive activity like cycling really helps in getting your brain to work full time.

  
Kampong Thom, where we started, is a busy town, so we escaped by van before putting the bikes back together and starting the ride. Along the way we passed a district with a lot of stone carvers, making mostly Buddha statues of course. As unusual as the temple carvers of Mauritius! Before starting, I finally witnessed what I only knew from comic books : Buddhist monks praying for foot offerings. Then we started the ride, with three legs of around 20kms. Exercise started taking its toll, as we jumped to four people down, traveling by van, meaning only seven were doing the whole journey.

  
We never really left civilization today : there was always houses around the road, generally spaced out, and a bit closer together when we went through villages. We saw the first slopes early on, still gentle though, around 2-3%, and very short slopes of 5-6%. The countryside at this stage was turning into rubber trees plantations, where we made our first stop.

  
After another run, we stopped inside a Buddhist monastery. These monasteries are open to the public, mostly for religious business of course, but also for travelers. They are very large properties, with several buildings, including housing, and of course temples. Once again, lots of kids around 🙂

  

 Rain started as soon as we stopped there, and embraced us for the third bit until lunch. It was drizzling at first, then got stronger, to a real downpour, the kind of like I only experienced once in the US. At some point I had to remove my glasses which didn’t help anymore, and choose which eye to clean alternatively to continue seeing something. Up and downhills were also on the menu, until we reached the Mekong, turned south, and entered another monastery for the break.

   
 This time the team had planned a carry out meal, and it was just as well! We had some time to rest, while another flock of children was swarming around. The sky also cleared a bit.

  
The fourth leg of the day was supposed to be a strong uphill, but short : 12kms. I was a bit worried, as 12kms uphill is very, very long. I did that only twice last year : to pass Cedar Breaks, and the Rocky Mountains! The whole morning I was looking out for some mountain in the distance, but there was really nothing of the sort. We started moving, 2,3,4kms, still along the Mekong and flat. 5,6,7, nothing in view. Then I understood : we were going to climb a small, but steep indeed, hill, to reach the Han Chey temple and a view on the river. Everyone but the locals ended up walking, and France topped the charts!

  
We reached our destination an hour later, still following the river, with a more busy road, cows and dogs all around the place. And of course, children. I checked : half of the population is less than 22, and probably a quarter less then 10. In rural areas, women have on average more than 3 children. It’s also interesting to note than almost all children aged less then 7-8 wave at us, and almost none above 10, including the adults. One should never grow old.

  
Ice cream truck!

  
Today is about being loved. I had this chance only once up to now, and it was the best period of my life. It feels like fundamental yet elusive component of happiness : you are extremely lucky, or you are not, especially if the feeling is mutual.

  
Being loved means that someone cares about you, perhaps more than about themselves. Saying it like that also implies it is a big responsibility to accept this love and care about the person who offers it. It means being respectful and honest in return, at the very least. You would of course try not to hurt, and baske in the chance of feeling loved.

  
Being loved is like being in a warm bath, with foam and bubbles, and not having anything to worry about. Being in a welcoming, peaceful environment where you can forget everything and simply enjoy the moment.

Mekong

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Today we followed the Mekong river for 80kms, until Phnom Penh, on tough and tiring mud roads, but with a happy ending!

  
Leaving Kampong Cham a bit later than usual, it was another overcast day, with rain looming on the horizon. So I put on the rain gear and prepared for that. We followed the river all the way, but it can be only seen from time to time, mostly when we passed small to very large bridges, with the Mekong on our left.

  
The paved road quickly gave way to a dirt road, laced with mud. At this stage the goal is to avoid the potholes filled with water, and not get creamed by mud too much ! I was a bit worried about my stamina, as my legs were aching a bit very early on. The rhythm of cycling on such roads is very random, with a lot of focus needed on all details.

  
The road was becoming more and more difficult, blocked with construction engines, small useable paths, and at other times, filled with rocks or deformed by engines. We were not going very fast, probably less than 15km/h. So the second stop turned into the lunch break, sometime after noon, as we were getting late. We did all our stops in monasteries along the way, filled with children as always.

  
The arch at the entrance of this monastery is covered with the names and donations made to the temple. Many children were in the area, Jennifer and I gave them our lunch box (sandwich and fries, unusual for the country!), and so we made a lot of new friends at once!

  
The road was still difficult on the third leg, but not as much. It was a bit smoother. There was always quite a bit of traffic, always houses all along the way, and of course children waving at us. It is really unbelievable to see wooden shacks side by side with modern houses, and all so far out of towns or villages.

  
Right at the third break, as we were getting closer to the main road and the capital, the rain started falling very, very hard. It was a choice of going to the planified stop, or getting all in the van. Six of us wanted to keep going, and I was one of them. Cycling under warm rain is fantastic, especially when you don’t have to worry about your gear! It was another happy rain puddle session, me getting brown from the mud, and wet to the bone 🙂 We reached the main road, as close to a highway as it can get here, and there was still small shops all along! How many drivers get to stop here, so close to the city?

  
About 10kms from Phnom Penh, we stopped and got all in the van, to avoid the city traffic. Approaching it was another experience by itself. Small houses gave way to small, then larger factories, and then to construction sites of shopping malls, luxury condos, etc. And a hundred meters later, a group of metal shack houses, right by another furnace factory. This went on for a few kilometers, then we entered the city center, with a chaotic traffic as it is expected to be.

  
I wrote down for today : preventing love voluntarily or unconsciously. Could be like a strange question, except that it is one that buzzes around for me, for quite a few months 🙂

  
As a direct question, I know very well that it is possible to prevent oneself to fall in love. I had this direct experience a few times. I voluntarily chose to avoid any romantic feeling, when I suspected that 1. romance was out of the equation anyway for the other person, 2. there was a mismatch somehow, or that a strong difference in character that would get me crushed, and 3. the current relationship was good already and more fruitful. So, even for someone like me, who seeks and needs love to live, it is sometimes better to avoid it entirely, and possible to achieve it.

  
From that point on, I assume it is even more possible to do it unconsciously. The subconscious is much stronger at directing subtle feelings like love, to provoke it or quell it altogether. What can be done voluntarily, when it concerns the inner persona, is done by the unconscious with ease : it has all the local connections and can work 24/7, even when you sleep or think about something else.

  
But why would it do that ? Logically, to protect oneself. If it evaluates that there is a risk, or if it not at ease with a situation, it will send the fire brigade and drown the starting fire at once. Then you are left with an incomprehensible feeling that something should have happened, but did not, and you don’t know why.