Monday, 27 July 2020

Key learnings from the Mae Hong Son Loop

A couple of weeks ago Jo and I cycled with some colleagues from work around the Mae Hong Son loop. It was a wonderful trip - epic climbs, hair-raising descents and a near-constant parade of impossibly beautiful vistas.

Our companions on this ride were hard-core mile-eaters, used to hours in the saddle at a pace that we can't sustain, but they were extraordinarily gracious and patient on this ride. We followed Alee Denham's gpx tracks pretty religiously, only deviating in the sense that we missed the Chiang Mai to Pai day, and that we doubled up on the Mae Sariang > Wat Kiew Lom > Mae Chaem section to make a long single day. 

This was our first real test of multi-day 'unsupported' touring in a tropical climate (we carried our bags, but had the luxury of a vehicle popping in on us now and again). 

Here are the things I took away from the experience:
  1. I sweat A LOT in this sort of climate, so much that I'll need to ditch my Brooks saddle and opt for something a bit more like this. The Brooks is going to get trashed. I also get so sweaty that I can't twist the grip to change the gears on my Rohloff hub. A late-on-the-tour-discovery in this regard was the utility of a tiny pack towel tied to the handlebars for when a gear change is required.
  2. It's debateable whether it will be worth lugging a stove, tent and sleeping bag with us for the first section of the ride. On the one hand we'd like the flexibility, on the other camping in that heat with no prospect of a shower, when budget accommodation is such good value, might be a fool's errand. I'm erring more on the side of not bothering now. Safe in the knowledge that there are points on the ride where, if we find ourselves under-equipped,we could get what we need on the go. Less is definitely more.
  3. Cooking for ourselves won't be necessary whilst we're in SE Asia. It is very easy to eat delicious food for less than £1/head with all the savings in time/weight that doing so entails. We could go all Alistair Humphries on the issue, but what would be the point...?
  4. Hills slow you down massively. I'd been estimating that we'd comfortably cover 100km a day, but if it's hilly progress can be painfully slow. We'll need to be flexible. Our 60km days were refreshing - giving time for regrouping in the evening afternoon. I still hope we'll be able to average near 100k and sure some days we'll need to get the miles in, but finishing late day after day will be no fun. And above all, we want to enjoy our trip. 
  5. On previous tours I've felt ravenously hungry all the time; not so on this trip. The heat saps appetite somewhat. Water on the other hand, needs to be replenished about every 20k with at least 2 litres on the bike (3 would be better). Ice (Nam Keng) is 8THB in the ubiquitous 7-Elevens.
  6. Jo and I are closer in speed than we've ever been, either she's got better, or I've got worse, or a bit of both - we might even manage not to lose each other on this trip as we have done so frequently in the past!
  7. Rain is a pain. We'll need to make sure we've purchased decent, cycle-specific rainjackets before the grand-depart.
  8. Foot comfort is tricky in the hot, wet conditions of SE Asia. Trainers felt perpetually soggy and quickly reached a state where they couldn't be kept in the room overnight! I've tried Keen Sandles, as recommended by other cycle tourists, but found that these too aren't quite right. A shoe is needed that keeps the sun off, dries quickly and stays fresh or is easily washed down ready for use the next day - answers on a postcard...
We were reaquainted with the intoxicating sense of freedom cycle touring gives and can't wait to get going...!