Monday, July 29, 2013

Mountain Bike Chiang Mai Thailand


Last year I traveled with my good friend Colin Blevins to Chiang Mai Thailand.  We had one goal in mind, find fast and fun single track.  What we found was a thriving local bike community, great food and the single track we were hoping for.

Early in the year Colin and I started riding together frequently and Colin would mention the idea of heading back to Thailand to find more single track to ride.  Colin has been traveling in Thailand for the last several years and had a bit of experience with some of the trails. On many of our rides I would just toss out that I was in for the adventure myself.  Not sure if either one of us was taking me seriously.  Well my kayak season was nearing its end and it was time to make it happen or not.  I figured it out and bought a plane ticket. It felt a little head first since I have never flow anywhere with my bike before.  But Colin had a good plan and I was confident.

So we both purchased flights via Korean Air and we decided we wanted to try and take our bikes apart and pack them in our luggage and simply check them on the plane. With Korean Air we were allowed 2 checked bags and 2 carry on bags.  I opted for The North Face Rolling Thunder (Large) and Colin picked up a Dakine bag.  Both bags looked up to the challenge.  Our second checked parcel was a cardboard wheel box.  We completely disassembled our bikes and had no problem packing the frames in our bags.  The wheel boxes tuned into the holding tank for what ever parts we could pack into them without exceeding 50 pounds.  Lots of Gorilla Tape was used to secure the closure of the boxes.  Our bags with our frames were then packed with whatever clothing we thought we would need.  The bags actually had plenty of room.  Weight was the limiting factor.


After checking over the shared google doc spreadsheet we agreed we had everything we should need and maybe a bit more.  Once at the airport things went really smooth. Bags were pretty much right on the dot for weight and they were check in and ready to go.  It was nice to get that over with and know/hope they were on their way to Thailand.  All in all the travel to Chiang Mai went great.  We had great flights and no delays and arrive right on time.  On the ground we were happy to see our bags pop up on the conveyor belt.  Colin's girlfriend was already in Chiang Mai, as she was there working on new clothing designs for her business back in Friday Harbor, Wa.  She met us at the airport and had secured a room in the apartment building on the same floor as the room she and Colin were sharing.


This was the start of a month long trip to seek out fast single track. The first morning we built our bikes and went out for a bite to eat. Then it was time to hit the streets on bikes to ride out of town to Doi Suthep. Rising to around 1,676 meters (5498 feet), it was not hard to located where we needed to go.  We actually have a great view of the mountain from our apartment.  The street riding is an adventure in its own.  At first I was skeptical about jumping into what seemed a chaotic push of traffic with cars, trucks and motorbikes.  But once you make the move into the traffic it is amazingly less chaotic than it seems.  There is an unseen rhythm that you notice once you join the flow.  Finally we reached the base of the mountain and given the objective of the trip, finding steep single track, the plan was to hire a Song Tao (taxi truck) to drive us to the upper parts of the mountain.  This process in itself has some excitement.  But dealing with the drives day after day becomes a bit tiresome.  There never seems to be much of a consistent rate and wait times are variable.



The first trail we rode was the Bamboo Trail.  Yea I will admit I had no idea what I was in for and honestly the Bamboo Trail on day one kind of beat me down.  But it was a super fun single track ride though dense jungle to thick strands of bamboo.  The trail, looking back, is more all mountain style riding, which is right up my alley.  I was riding a 2010 Specialized Enduro Expert and Colin was on his Transition TR 250.  I have to say the TR 250 was more up to the challenge than the Enduro. So Day One was short and eye opening.

The days that followed we continued the routine of traffic ride out to the mountain.  Then the Song Tao hustle to get a ride up the mountain.  Along the way we met some other riders traveling the area. Then one day on the way out a guy pulls over ahead of us and asked if we were headed to the mountain.  We stopped and told him what we were up to and he was on his way to do the same.  He told us to ride to the park and his buddies were there and have their own shuttle setup for getting to the mountain.  We said sure and pedaled on.  Arriving at the park we were a bit surprised to see the rigs these guys were riding.  Everyone one had big bikes with dual crown forks.  We sat around and made some introductions and for a small fee for gas that everyone pitches in, we were on our way up the mountain.  First stop the Bamboo Trail and I was a bit intimidated by all the DH bikes and the amount of body armor everyone was putting on.  I remember asking Colin if we were all riding the same trails. Well these guys are local and know the trails very well.  So they were riding with speed I could only visualize and not achieve at the moment.  Plus the Bamboo Trail was just the mellow warm up for what was to come for the day.

The day was good and lots of new trails discovered thanks to our local hosts.  All the guys were great. Jay was the one who stopped us and the rest of the guys were super nice too.  Note was another great guy we met in the group and given I speak no Thai and he could speak English.  Well it was easy to get to know him.  He is a super friendly guy and we stay in touch today.  Actually we are going to be doing some work with Note in 2013, but more on that later.

So what does a day of riding looking like?  After reaching the top of the mountain we take steep descents through the jungle and end at small little village areas where there is always time for Thai Tea or some other yummy treat.  Then back to the shuttle and to the top of the mountain.  Another crazy fun and challenging run down the mountain and another village and time for lunch.  The process repeats till you cannot hold on to the bars anymore.

Trails are steep and some long.  Some of the longer trails were a good solid hour and a half of down. Trails are a mix of steep rock gardens, deep ruts that create plenty of hazards and the occasional slippery jungle mud.  Every second on the trail is exhilarating and challenging.  Ending the day walking the city streets and finding amazing places to eat.  Then back to the apartment for late night beer on the balcony listening to the bustle of the city.

From exploring steeps in the jungle to traversing the city on foot. This is a trip of a lifetime.  Great people and great riding.  I was there for a month and was not ready to leave when my time was up. Though I had good reason to get home and take care of some personal events.  I was still sad to leave the city.  Yea I was leaving a bit beat up from one of many crashes on the trail, but yet a bit wiser and faster on the bike.  The trade off seems worth it.

The news today.  Spending a decade operating a successful kayak guiding service on San Juan Island in Washington state, Discovery Sea Kayaks. I have decided to give mountain biking a try. Its a perfect complement to the kayak season.  My summers spent operating Discovery Sea Kayaks and winter in Thailand.  So I launched Discovery Adventure Tours (DAT).  My business partner Richard was super excited and supportive of the concept so its officially moving forward.  Colin Blevins is being brought in at the ground building level of DAT.  Colin brings his savvy travel knowledge of Southeast Asia, expert bike skills and over all great attitude to the team.  We are very excited about the project and hope that we can generate a small amount of energy and get people on the trails.  We are working closely with our local friend Note.  Note will be a big part of making things come together and we are excited to all be working together.  The new DAT site will launch in the next couple of weeks.  So if your interested give me a call at my Discovery Sea Kayaks office, 360.378.2559.  We have dates starting early as November.
 










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