Bipolar: Part 2

The dirt road stretches out before me and into the unknown.

I’ll pick up the adventure where I left it in Part 1. I was just starting the real trip into the Cardamom mountains. The first day would take me from the Chrolong Bopta Farm and Resort to Pra Maoy in Veal Veng and was supposed to be ~100 to 105 km, all on dirt roads. The day started out great. I was full of energy, happiness from the friendly stay at the park, and excitement to see the “real Cambodia.” The road was actually pretty nice for the first 25 km or so as they seem to be preparing it for either paving or higher traffic loads. The downside of that was a huge amount of dust constantly being kicked up by large dump trucks hauling dirt and gravel. But, I was making great time and a little dirt didn’t bother me. About an hour in I stopped for breakfast and to buy water. I bought an extra 1.5 l beyond my 2.25 l water bottle capacity as the map didn’t show many settlements in the next 70 km (there are many small places water is available). I had the standard breakfast of noodle soup with some various meat bits. Its actually a pretty tasty breakfast.

In small villages I attract a lot of attention. My trailer is a bit unusual, and generally tall skinny white guys stopping in these villages seems to be a rare occurance. People often watch me eat, for what reason I’m not quite sure, and they often chat to each other about me and laugh/giggle. I know they’re talking about me because they stare and look embarrassed when I look over at just the right moment. Children almost treat me as a zoo animal. Taking turns to approach as close as they dare before running away excitedly. I’m certainly not offended by it, and often take part in the fun by acting oblivious to their approach before making a sudden movement of recognition of their presence, inciting their retreat. It’s all good fun. 

Getting mountainous.

Having eaten and procured water I set out again and was soon turning off the nicely maintained dirt road onto the small side roads that would take me the rest of the way to my next guesthouse. I soon encountered the first of many mud holes. I didn’t have a clue what to do when I saw it. My bike and trailer setup isn’t really equipped to handle those sorts of situations. Luckily, a motorcycle came by at that time and showed me the path they take to get through them. Based on the motorcycles path; straight down the middle of the road which I assumed was the ridge between two deep ruts from trucks, it didn’t look too deep.  All I had to do was hold a steady line down the middle and I’d be fine. Deviation to either side (by an uncertain amount) would likely result in a wheel slipping off the ridge and me, my bike, and all my gear crashing into a mud pit of unknown depth. I took a deep breath and headed into the mud carrying enough speed that I could just coast through. Successfully on the other side I had found my method to tackle mud pits. 

Lesson 2: Wait for a local to show the way through mud pits and water crossings, or look for the motorcycle tracks.

Obviously it’s preferable to see a motorcycle go through so you can judge the depth of the mud, but sometimes that’s not possible when you get farther into the rural areas and traffic starts to get low.

Still happy despite the rough roads. Yes, I took to riding without a helmet on the less travelled roads. I hate that Smith helmet, and it’s so much cooler without it. 

The day continued on rough roads crossing mud pits and streams. Many times people would stop on one side or the other to watch me go through, maybe hoping to get a laugh seeing me go down or just to see what I’d do. The pace was slow due to the rough conditions, but I was having a good time as the adventure was still going my way.
At about 58km into the day I saw a white Toyota camry nearly get stuck in a prolonged mud hole.  At 63km in, after 5km of having to pick my path via Garmin compass and phone map apps because the road I was on suddenly ended leaving two directions to choose from, neither of which was on any map; I saw the Toyota again. This time it was stuck. It was around 2 pm meaning I had 4 hours of daylight left, and at least 40 km left plus whatever the detour I just took added. Since getting on the smaller rough roads my average speed had dropped to 12-15 kph. If all went well I should have 3-3.5 hours of riding left. If anything went wrong I could end up in the middle of nowhere in the Cambodian jungle in the dark… not where I wanted to be. But, I also knew that I’d feel like a complete piece of shit if I didn’t try to help this man get his car out so that he, his wife and two young daughters could get to their destination. We found a few bits of wood to try and shove under the tires, but couldn’t get them far enough under to provide purchase. Then he had the great idea to use a big board that the mororcycles used to cross the stream/mud pit as a lever to lift the car so the wood could be put under the tires. It worked like a charm. We got the wood under the tires and at about this time some locals actually stopped to help rather than just continuing on their way. I was actually pretty astonished at the number of people that just went right on by as we worked to get his car out. For the first 10-15 minutes no one else stopped to help. Anyway, with a good couple shoves from four of us and a little throttle, he got out. He and his family thanked me, and were soon on their way. It took about 30 minutes from start to finish. Feeling good, but also now a bit stressed about time. I was pushing the pace as fast as my now tiring legs (4+ hours of riding to that point) would allow over the rough roads. As I climbed in altitude I hoped that the number of mud holes and water crossings would decrease. They didn’t until the last 20 km. With 40 km left in the day I met the biggest water crossing of the day. I actually had to unhook the wagon and carry the bike and wagon through the two knee deep water crossings. 

The two deep water crossings. The first is on the far side of that small island the motorcycle is riding across.

I pushed on. With 20 km to go I reached the last of the mud holes. I made it through the hole riding the precarious center ridge, but on the exiting upward slope the front tire slid off the ridge and down I went. Luckily it was on the exit and I just landed on the muddy earth and not in the pit. However, at that time I was less than pleased. I cursed a few times, set my bike upright and got back to work. The rest of the ride to my destination was pretty uneventful. There was plenty of dust to inhale during the last 5-6 km as I had to get on the main road which was also being improved. My fatigue outweighed my gratitude as adults and children yelled “hello”, resulting in less than enthisiastic quiet replies and few return waves. 

When I arrived I was tired, really dirty, wet from sweating for most of the last 8.5 hours, and ready to eat. That was easily the hardest 110 km day I have ever done. The combination of being beaten up all day due to the rough roads, mental fatigue from constantly trying to pick the right line through the road (like mtn biking), and physical exertion was just exhausting.

A bit dirtier than when I left that morning.

The guesthouse pulled a bit of a fast one on me and told me that the only available rooms were air-conditioned for $20/night. During this time of year, a fan is more than adequate at night. I wasn’t in the mood to go to one of the other guesthouses, so I took it. That evening, an Australian and his Cambodian wife were talking to me at dinner. They arrived about 15 minutes after me and the wife did the room negotiation. They got a fan room for $10/night… Maybe there was a missuderstanding between me and the guesthouse owner, but it sure seemed like she knew what I was asking for. Dinner was also a bit overpriced compared to what I am used to for the area, but taking me for a $1 on dinner is a bit different than lying to me and getting $10 more for a room I didn’t want. After dinner while doing a little cleaning of the bike and trailer I discovered a crack in the trailer frame. The other American weld from my original repair had given up. I decided to get up the next morning and prepair as if leaving town. I would then go find a welder, see when he could fix it, and if need be check into a different guesthouse. I found a welder without any trouble, there were a ton in town, and he ground out and re-welded the crack on the spot. Fifteen minutes later he was  done. I asked how much, and he said “$0.50.” $0.50!? He does skilled work and asks for $0.50! He refused to take the $2 I offered. 

As a side note. That village has really boomed in the past seven years. Comparing the google street view from 2010 to what I saw in person reveals an amazing amount of growth in the area. I fully expect the Cardamom mountains to be a major tourist destination in the next few years.

I did a pretty good job of staying reasonably clean myself.

Thinking about what I percieved as a discrepancy in the value of work between a guesthouse and the welder soured my mood a little. I was worked up over something small again, but I was on the road before 10 am with only 55 km to the destination in the mountains (O’Soam) that had been my goal for this unanticipated adventure. I was also back on a road that appears on maps to be a fairly major road, or at least the main road through the Cardamom mountains. Easy day right? (See Lesson 1 from “Bipolar: Part 1”) I would soon find out what kindness is and be truly humbled once again, realizing just how petty my short-sighted and short-term annoyances are. 


Published by: Andrew Monfort

I am a former engineer who decided to follow my dreams. After 9 years of working as a process engineer in the oil & gas production and refining industries, I decided to follow my passions (cycling and travel) to see where they lead.


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