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Phitsanulok Enduro & The Real Feminist. 

Date 27/10/02

    In Thailand at this time it's still the rainy season.  Yes it should be over by now but it is not.  Phitsanulok is about 600 kilometres directly north of Bangkok, as the crow flies, to the far west of Isaan, and it has been very wet up there over the last few months. This is unlike here in Pattaya where we have had very little rain at all this year yet.

    We set out at about 9.30am on the Saturday morning to drive the 700 or so kilometres there and be ready for the next day’s ride.  Two other competitors, Roland & Bruno, had decided to fly up there from Bangkok while Roland's wife, Miriam, who hates to fly, accompanied me taking our bikes up there in my pick-up truck. Gordon and this girlfriend were going to take Roland's truck up with three more bikes on the back, his, Roland's & Bruno's. We should have started at 9am but Gordon was a bit late. Oh well, never mind we will get there in plenty of time and we did.  However, numerous stops on the way by Gordon didn't help. First to check his load, then for this, then for that - well you get the picture.

    Miriam and I had a pleasant enough trip jarred only by complaints about why is Gordon stopping now & then etc. So we arrived at the moto-cross test about 5pm, just to the south of Phitsanulok with plenty of time to take a look at it before the darkness fell at about 6 p.m.  Roland, Bruno & Gordon decided to get the bikes off the truck’s and have a practice session that was allowed the day before. While Miriam and I decided just to walk the course as would be permissible by UK rules. Most of the track was the usual twists and turns that you expect with the odd small jump and series of small ribs across the length of the track, enough to put your kidneys into some sort of spasm, pretty well much as you would expect.  It had been relatively dry for a few days so there where a few small muddy patches but nothing to even think about. The very far end of the track was a bit different with a really good mud splash plus a few very tight turns and technical bits.   However, nothing that would give me a heart attack though.

    We met Carl, the wild colonial boy, there, if you read the three-day ride story then you will know that he's the one who had the bad accident with a poor Thai chap coming the other way.  He is still on crutches and will remain that way for a few more months yet.  I found out that the Thai bloke’s leg was also badly broken even though he was not complaining of it at the time. I guess you just put that down to shock, but if there are any doctors reading this please let me know. 

Carl was saying that we would be facing a lot of mud out there on the track the next day but having been to a good few Enduros in the UK, I know what mud is and put most of what he was saying just down to the usual pre-race banter. That is what you expect, especially from the sort of character he is.  Later that night over a beer or three he was telling us that he is going back to Australia for a while because his daughter has been diagnosed as having two brain tumours.  I simply can't imagine how bad it must be, to get news like that.

    That evening we met Carl again in the hotel for some food and a few more beers. He offered to make us some sandwiches for the lunch stop the next day or, more to the point, he offered his wife's services in that department. He also offered to take Gordon's girlfriend around the various parts of the track that could be reached by a pick-up so she was not just left alone in the hotel all day till we all returned that evening.  We    all signed on for the race - this is more of a social gathering than any big rules and regulations thing, meeting all the people again that you have met of previous events. We retired early that night more because we were all tired from the day’s drive and we had to be up at about 5.30am for the race briefing at 7am the next day.

    So 5.30am came and Miriam gave me a knock to make sure I was awake and I do mean a knock, not a nudge. We all appeared for coffee at about 6.30am to find that there had been a lot of heavy rain over night, this didn't give me any good vibes at all. After all the brouhaha of the briefing and the thousands of photos, we finally got off to the real start of the race which was just down one of the small sois north of the moto-cross track where it would all come to an end.  I had drawn no. 18 so my start was 18 minutes after the first rider.

Manote, the Asia champion, who used to ride with our club prior to the Maxxis 4 day event in March this year was no. 19 so he was just 60 seconds behind me. You can read about the Maxxis event by going back to the story page. He asked me very nicely to please move over when I heard him coming up behind me. Having known about his starting position the night before I had said jokingly that I would wait at the start for 60 seconds to elapse before setting off immediately behind him.

    So it came time for me to start.  Gordon on his 650cc XR had been the first of our bunch, off at no. 6, Roland 14, Bruno was 16, just two ahead of me and Miriam was way back at 39 because she was in the small  4 stroke class with her 250cc TTR Yamaha. The first part of the track was not so bad with one tricky water crossing, across the breached dyke between two flooded rice fields. The water was quite deep with the current running from one field to the others.  Manote had long since gone past me about 90 seconds after I started.

Therefore he must have been doing something like twice my speed but that's OK , I was in total survival mode that day for sure. I watched the bloke in front of me go through the water splash with no difficulty so I just followed his path and got through without difficulty either. However, I was afraid that Miriam was not going to make it at all though this even if she had got this far. She has been out with us on Sundays for a few months now and I had said before that she was getting faster and she is, but she has never been up against mud and water like this, where the best of riders were on the edge of their ability just to stay on the machine and not to career off the top of a dyke and go for an early bath in a flooded rice paddy.

With that obstacle overcome I continued on my way. This particular part of the track became easier after that point, apart from one ditch. Picture this: you have two rice fields filled and I mean filled with water and a 10 foot wide passage in between them that is just slippery clay mud. I was in survival mode as I said, so I was not going at jumping speed.  Then you see a horrendous ditch in front of you - the sort of ditch that sends you straight to hospital, if you get lucky. Anyway just to my left there was a part about 18" wide that had been filled with house bricks. I was going too fast to stop but not fast enough to jump and the surface was like watered glass. OK, thanks to the new tyre I fitted to the front wheel I made the bricks. Shortly after that was the end of the section. I arrived at the time check, passed in my card for stamping and off to the next section.

I was not really giving any thought to my time just so long as I made it with out too many people passing me. When I watched the video that night back at the hotel, had I known the trouble that over half the competitors had faced back at that water crossing, I would have felt on top form.

    I was off again to the next section, the marshals had said it was off up the road to the left. I managed to get lost for about 10 to 15 minutes before retracing my steps to find the marker on the wrong side of the tree. This didn't matter, however, as it was along the road and an un-timed section. There was only one competitor in  front of me by the time I reached the time control  so I stopped the engine because it had been running really badly after the water crossing. I looked for any water causing an ignition problem but there wasn’t any after a long blast along the road. On restarting my engine ready for the off, I found that the problem was solved but with the very slippery conditions the lack of power made no difference in most places it was even a help not providing all that power to the back wheel. So now on the second of four sections plus the moto-cross test, I was feeling a little less apprehensive about the whole thing. Carl had said with his local knowledge that it was around the rice fields then up into the hills, which were not too far away now.  So there I was going down the track still between the rice fields - the hills were only a few clicks away, where Carl had said it was a really nice ride up there so I was looking forward to that after the mud. 

Having gone down the track a few clicks still on the top of large dykes, there was a right turn across a dyke and down in to yet more rice fields, following the tracks of the bikes that had gone before me as the marking was a little sparse to put it mildly.  The dyke between the growing rice fields was about 2'- 6" wide at the beginning but it got narrower and narrower the further into the fields one got till it was barely 6" wide, then following the tyre track to the right going back on the general direction of the route.  Yes, you guessed it, I had gone the wrong way but there I was in the middle of the field. I could only carry on, getting the bike round the corner (which was bad enough) but then the undergrowth on the top of the dyke got so thick it became impossible to see where the sides of the dyke were. I had picked the bike out of the growing rice many times till I simply collapsed with exhaustion. I settled in the field were I lay and had a cigarette. OK there where probably many leeches in the water and the good possibility of a cobra or a python, but I thought I am not sharing this fag with anybody or anything (fag being English slang for cigarette before you get the wrong idea).

 After the fag I picked my self up again to carry on, the little farmer bloke who had been watching this lunatic ‘farang’ mess about in his field while he was spreading something from the bag he had at his side, had come over once already. I think more just to see if I had dropped dead rather than anything else. Having finished my fag I got up for one more push, the side of the field being not more than 50 meters away by this time but this was difficult to see through the driving rain. After yet another struggle I got the bike back on the top of the dyke only to have it fall in again after about 5 meters. That was it then, for me and the bike were going to stay where we lay. With this the little Thai farmer came over again. Then I thought of the power of money producing 500 Baht from my soaked jacket pocket, I gestured to him that if he got the bike back on the track it was his, the 500 Baht I mean. I also told him that he would need three men which he didn't believe, he thought he would do it by himself so keep all the cash.  He tried to push it on his own but couldn't move it 1 centimetre.

He then believed me about needing 3 men to do the job. So he called two other men over from an adjacent field and with the three of them, one on each side pushing the handle bars & the other at the back, the bike went smoothly along the top of the dyke.  By this time I was barely able to walk behind them but I did resting again when we got back to the correct track. However, this was me finished and having thanked them again I started the bike & was off again. I had managed to have enough fun for one day. I went back the wrong way down the track taking great care for bikes still coming in the other direction. I easily managed to reach a marshal who had a radio, on seeing me he blew through a message that number 18 was obviously retiring. I asked another bloke for the general direction of Phitsanulok and set off down the road.

    I soon came across the main road and as luck would have it there was a Thai style eatery on the other side of it. These places have no resemblance whatsoever to KFC or that other palace with the big yellow M for a symbol but it was sure a small part of heaven for me by that time. There was a Coke-a- Cola chair with a back so I pealed off some of the layers on me all dripping wet and covered in mud, collapsed into it ordering a coke as I went down. The young girl who ran the eatery was very charming asking where I came from and all the usual questions one is perpetually asked on these occasions. The questions soon turned to whether I have a Thai wife. Believe it or not if I was single she sounded like she was considering volunteering for the job even with me in the dishevelled state that I had arrived in. Of course, I told here all about my Noi and her little boy Black. Two Cokes later I was back on the bike heading for Phitsanulok which was only a few minutes away. I arrived at the finish where the moto-cross test was to be about 2˝ to 3 hours before the first of the riders completing the four sections would arrive.

The compere of the moto-cross test was there already and everybody wanted me to have a go around the track but I declined and said “No, you have a go.” which a few of the people that were there did. The compere offered me 55,000 Baht for my bike, this is about 20,000 Baht less than it's worth but if he had have been in that rice field with that offer he may well have secured a deal. Having got through all the pleasantries and been offered beer, whisky, water chickens feet, I settled on the water; had a glass of that and settled down for an hour or so's sleep. That's until the Thai music started up on the Tannoy which was the end of that idea.

Gordon rang me on the mobile, they had all reached lunch so were concerned that I was not there. It seems that in the second section that I had been on, there was another water crossing which had been - to say the least - a little trouble. Some but not all had made it through OK including Miriam. Where I was it was turning out to be a nice afternoon by then, the sun was shining and the ground was beginning to dry a little after the rain the night before. However this was not to last.  By the time the first riders began to arrive it was starting to rain again, soon deteriorating from light showers into an out and out cloudburst.  At first the top riders were starting on the moto-cross section five at a time but it soon became obvious that the daylight would go before all the riders had the chance of the last bit of enjoyment in the mud, so the olrganisers started them 10 at a time after the top 5 riders had finished their race.

By this time the almost dry track by moto-cross standard had turned into the battle of the Somme. With most of the riders having to pick up their bikes at some point or other along the track. Miriam, Roland, Gordon & Bruno (with a broken clutch lever) arrived. Roland and Gordon were the first to attempt the test. Roland was in the lead after the first straight and Gordon managed to drop his bike on the far side of the track but this was classed as a false start, because one of the other riders had jumped the gun. So the race was begun again. Gordon dropped out from sheer fatigue while Roland had a bad start being only about two from the back on  the first straight. He quickly made up ground finishing the race in second place. Miriam had completed the four sections but was refusing to have a go at the MX test, after a little cajoling from Roland and me she had her bike on the start line.

OK she was not first away, trailing somewhere to the rear but she completed the test totally under her own steam. All of us were waiting for her to come through the hard section at the back end of the track ready to help push/shove her to the end but nothing more than a little encouragement was needed at all. By now with the rain pelting down as heavy as I had seen it all day, the back end of the track was a sea of slimy hills and jumps which I have to say would not have amused me at all but with sheer grit and determination she managed the lot.  Bruno was the last to complete the test with all of us helping push him from the start with no clutch lever. He was second in his event, not bad without a clutch. After all, the Asian champion only came second in his event.

    Back to the hotel for a long awaited shower and soak. It was downstairs again for the meal, beer and the prize giving, not necessarily in that order. The meal was very good but it was Thai style but I need something a little more substantial. A few beers went down but it was not doing the job for me.  I needed something with more bite in that department as well. So the brandy & coke came out that hit the parts that were required. After seeing the video of the event a few times and re-lived every moment of the delectable torment, again and again, with the various different people who were discussing it, it was then time for bed.

    Oh, yes, I nearly forgot, Manote won but not by much. Roland was fourth and Miriam, after her first Enduro, was awarded a trophy for something or other. Finishing alone deserved a trophy as this was one of the hardest Enduros I have ever experienced, even in the hills and valleys of Wales.

    The ride home was without event once we finally got going. On the first night Roland had moved my truck but had forgotten to switch off the lights. After towing my truck around the car park of the hotel a few times it  decided that it was not going to go. So Gordon was sent to get some jumper cables but they were those cheap things, which proved to be next to useless. Roland & Bruno had to go for their flight back so between Gordon and myself we swapped the battery from Roland's truck to mine. Mine then it started, so leaving it running we put it back on Roland's, replaced the battery on my truck. So we were finally off back to sunny Pattaya. 

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