First Zemblanity in Lampang

Earliest story of the gang’s Zemblanity – sometimes around 1997 !!

This story is so old that I can only find one picture so far (before we had digital cameras – will ask members for more picture contributions) but I think it has to be told because it was one of the earliest Zemblanity and we were not really how we were able to manage to finish it safely without all the modern tools such as cell phones and GPS routes.

So the adventure started innocently – one of our usual biking gang said that one of her friends who works at Electricity Generating Authority’s Mae Moh Plant (in Lampang, northern Thailand) said that he knows a very good 36 Km loop trails that goes up to a hill tribes village. The trails are used by local villagers and was “still very pristine”. He has hiked it before but have never seen anyone riding bicycles there and suggested that we try it and he was willing to lead as our guide.

So twenty four of us decided to give it a try. The group had sixteen adults and eight kids age 10-12.

As the trail is more like an upside down U-shape, and not a complete loop, the plan was for the vans to drop us off at the entry point and then go wait for us at the exit point about 10 Km away. Both of these points are on a small rural road was pretty much traffic-free.

As we started riding, we realized that the first 4 Km was so steep that it was mostly pushing bikes up the hill. It took us almost two hours to get to the top. At the top there was a gazebo aptly named “ม่อนโล่งใจ” (roughly translates as “I am so EFFing relieved”)

From that point on we had a good 8 Km gradual downhill to a village with a nice cool stream. By then it was already lunch time.

Some of the members said that the trails was a tougher than they expected and they prefer to go back the same way (12 Km) than to try to finish the loop (24 Km) so we split into two groups. So as each group had its own Zemblanity story, so we shall give them names. The first group of five (3 adults and 2 kids) that decided to turn back is shall be known as the “U-Turners” and the other larger group of nineteen (13 adults and 6 kids) that pushed forward shall be called the “Brave Fools”.

So lets start with the U-Turners : We found out later that, after the Brave Fools took off, the U-Turners had bright ideas. They hired the kids in the village to ride the bikes back uphills and hired motorcycles so the can ride in the back. This way, they would not have to expend any energy.

Turned out that they were smart but not very clever !!! As I mentioned earlier that the vans are supposed to move 10 Km away to meet us at the exit point, when the U-Turners came back to the road, all the vans already left.

Without cellular signal and no car traffic, they were stuck alone in the middle of a very remote area. All they could do was to sit in the shade praying that someone would come by. They had to wait about two hours. It was lucky that one of the van decided to drive back to buy some food from the market and passed where the U-Turners were waiting. So they were rescued at last.

As you can suspect, the story of the “Brave Fools” is quite a bit longer with plenty more Zemblanities to tell.

First Zemblanity : As we had a large group that would string out over a fairly long distance (kids in front, older members in the back) and had only one guide, the guide said that he would mark each intersection using white chalk powder. He was to make a sign of the arrow in the direction we should follow and a “T” to block off the wrong direction.

That proved to work well the first few hours ……………… until it rained !!! With the water, an arrow and a “T” look exactly the same ….. just a white pool of water !!! For the life of me, I still have no idea how we all got out without anyone getting lost in the woods.

Zemblanity number two : We finally realized why no bikers have ever ridden this “trail”. The “trail” was more like a walking track for the villagers. It was not only narrow, but they are mostly steps up and down the mountain that we ended up just pushing both going up and coming down. A member remarked that it was more like we are “taking our bikes on the tour” than actually touring by bikes.

Zemblanity number three : The last 5 Km of the “trail” was actually not a trail at all but we had to ride in the knee deep stream with heavily canopy trees. It would have been great cool fun since the bottom of the stream was hard and smooth except for the fact by the time we got there the sun had already set. We were pretty much riding in dark.

When we finally got out to the vans, we found that all the kids have arrived safely well ahead of us. By then it was pitch black and we were still missing five members. So we hired a villager nearby who had a motorcycle and said he knew the trail to backtrack and see what happened to the last group of “Brave Fools”.

About an hour later, he came back out with a funny handwritten note from the group that they were safely at the last village just before reaching the stream. They have been hosted by the nice villagers there. They already gave them dinner and offer rooms for them to stay the night. So unless we can find a pick-up truck with chained-wheels to pick them up, they would just spend the night there and come out in the morning.

Finally we located an appropriate pick-up truck that went in to fetch them and their bikes and they finally reached the hotel in Lampang well after midnight.

Like all Big Foot Tour Zemblanities, they do not just ended happily, but also give members stories that they can tell to their children/grandchildren/friends over and over.

THE INSIDE STORY FROM THE “MIDNIGHT RIDERS” GROUP

As I stated above, I was not in the very last group and after I circulate my version, the Dear Brave Leader of the Midnight Riders Group (the last group to come out) took the time to give us the real inside story per below :

I was in the last group with 4 other bikers. After the Lunch Break and we decided to complete the rest of the trip with the main group.

We were very slow because of the terrain and the rain and was far behind the main group. Actually we were not even clear how much longer or how far we had to and what arrangement we have had to get us out but we just followed.

It was not really a bike trail but more of a walking trail for the local peoples – very narrow, up and down and some steep slopes all the way. We had to pushed most of the way and it was raining constantly.

The white chalk marks- yes, we did noticed them at first but it was very unclear and difficult to noticed at all, right from the start. We just followed by observing the tracks and foot marks of the main group. It was very lucky that it was not difficult to see the wheel marks because the ground was soft.

One things that were comforting at first when we were doubting some part of the trail heading- there were 1-2 “black-faced” guys (THIS IS NOT RACIAL IN ANYWAY I used the Thai words หน้าดำๆ) the kept behind us all the time. We thought they were the local guys who help set up the trip and knew where we were going and the pick-up point etc.

It was very comforting until it was a bit later on the trail and we needed some explanation of where we were going.

We asked them how much further and how much longer we had left to the pick-up point. What they answer was totally unexpected – They said that they were not local. They are from the Bangkok team. They do not know the trail and they were just following us also!!!!

Well that was very encouraging!!!

It was getting dark but I was the only one who had a small Torch Light , some plastic sheet, some small food bar, matches and a knife. At least water was not the problem. I talked to the gang and tell them that we may have to find cover and shelter because it was getting very dark. Others had some provision also but together it was not enough for all of us. So we marched on (this really meant pushing our bikes).

My chins start to hurt a bit because they were hit by the pedles (because of pushing and not riding most of the time!) We reached a small village around 8-9pm and it was such a beautiful sight!

One villager greeted us and said the group has already left for next village about 2-3 hrs before and we still had about 8-10 km more to go.

We were so tired but there was a small water falls there. We so muddy and took a bath in the water falls, very tired and hungry. There was a dog that came to observed us and I (jokingly) asked for a knife so I can kill this dog and roast it for our dinner. The dog looked at me and let out a cry “เอ๋งๆ” and ran a way!!!! We were laughing at this even now !!!

We asked the villager if we can rent a pick-up truck to take us out? We settled for about 500 Baht and they spent at least 1 hours to put the chain on the wheels. The distance was around 8-10 km and we were on the pick-up until we reached the exit point not knowing if anyone was still waiting for us.

We finally reached the exit around 11 pm and were very happy to see that that there was a van waiting for us. It took another hour before we reached our hotel -must have been around midnight or 1 am.

After a long and hot shower , my adrenaline was so HIGH and I could not sleep. We went out drinking at a bar nearby. We had so many drinks (mostly Beer) and did not return until 5 am !!!!!!!

THE INSIDE STORY FROM THE LEADER OF THE “U-TURN ” GROUP

This recollection from the U-Turners Leader revealed what went on while the rest of us labored on.

OK — here is my addition … from what I can recall.

Let’s start at the very beginning.  As Big Foot said, the first section of the trail was four kilometers straight up.  Well, it felt like straight up anyway because I walked the bike most of the way.  During this first part, I was already worried about the young kids and some not-so-tough ladies, so I decided to hang back to take care of this slow group — the soon-to-be U-TURNERS.  (Sounds thoughtful and reasonable ?)

After four long kilometers we reached a resting point where we were told that it was the top of the hill.  Someone said from here on it was going to be very easy because it would be downhill all the way to the village where we would have lunch.  I remember that I felt so relieved and after a good rest we started our downhill ride.  I was expecting it to be a joyful breezy ride — a good rest after pushing my bike up hill for four kilometers.  Well, I was so wrong …

After a few hundred meters of easy ride the trail started getting steeper and I had to squeeze the brakes often.  Then it got worse and I had to brake hard almost all the time and finally ended up having to stand on the pedals.  I remember that at many points I was going so fast that I had to stop to catch my breath.  It was actually more tiring than pushing the bike up hill !!

I don’t remember where my “slow group” was because we were coming down the hill pretty fast and I had to concentrate on not falling because the trail was getting very slippery.  (It was a wet track, wasn’t it?)  And then one moment … as I was coming down fast with both brakes fully squeezed … standing on the pedals … I remember seeing slippery cracks on the trail and started thinking that I should not be riding near these cracks. Sure enough, my front wheel then slipped into one of these cracks at high speed and I couldn’t steer out of the crack.  It must have been a few seconds later … the crack ended — It ended … just like that.  And if you remember high school physics, momentum is always conserved.  The front of the bike stopped immediately at the end of the crack. The back side, with me standing on it, could not violate the law of physics, so it lifted up fast sending me … flying … literally flying through the air.  I remember this strange feeling very well.  I felt like it was a slow motion flying and I even had time to think that “this is not good”.  Then I consciously decided that I must not land on my face and I don’t really know how I did it but I managed to put my head down and roll forward and fell on my back.  I ended up about … it must have been at least 20-30 meters or so from the the bike, which was stuck at the the end of the crack.  I remember that I was dizzy and confused for a few moments and then one of the guys from the farm team that accompanied us came running to check me out.
I was extremely lucky that I walked away from this incident without an injury. 

Reluctantly, I got back on my bike and continued slowly down the rest of the hill.  I was told that the downhill part was five kilometers long.  When we got to the place where we were supposed to have lunch, we found that the main group had already left.  I lost track of time — didn’t remember how long we took or how far we were behind the main group.  Then we started discussing whether we should continue.  If I remember correctly, nobody seemed to know how much further we had to go, or how long it would take us, or what the rest of the trails would be like.

Anybody in the right mind, in our situation, would certainly “make a u-turn”.  We were very proud to have walked four kilometers up the hill and enjoyed the downhill glide (and flight) down the five kilometers stretch.  But a quick analysis told us that upon going back we would have to push the bike up hill for five kilometers and then ride down another four kilometers.  The quick lunch we had was never going to give us enough energy to make it back.  Then an idea flashed into my mind.

While we were having lunch, I noticed that several kids were flocking around our bikes with great interest.  They must have been dying to try riding one.  So, after confirming that we will be able hire motorcycles to take us back to the top of the hill, I asked the kids — who wanted to ride the bikes?  They burst into joy and started pushing each other aside so that they will get to ride a bike up the hill.  There were many kids and we only had 5 or 6 bikes.  I think they finally all ran up hill and took turn riding the bikes all the way to the top.
Riding the motorcycles up the hill for five kilometers was actually the most joyful part of the trip.  And the kids had such a great time sharing the bikes all the way to the top.  The remaining four kilometers downhill back to the starting point was not so bad because the track was not wet.  No tricky cracks.

We got back to where we started.  No van, no pick up truck.  I remember someone in our group suggesting that we should sit near the road so that if our vehicles passed by, they might see us.  And it worked!  We got picked up and taken to the end point of the official track to wait for the brave bikers.  If I remember correctly, the first two that came out were Oat and Pam.  And more people followed.  Then a very long wait until it was getting a bit dark.  We decided to go back to the hotel for shower and dinner and thought the remaining group would follow us very soon.

I remember waiting and waiting after dinner till very very late at night.  When we heard that a pickup truck has picked the last group up safely we retired to bed.  ….. What a day !!!  No more unknown trails for me.

Imagine … the story would have been very different if we didn’t make the u-turn.

(I honestly don’t remember who were in my U-TURNERS group.  There were a few kids who must be well grown up by now.  Let them share their memories too.  And some ladies too?)

Another lady member also remarked that

” It was one of the most brutal trip I have ever been on. I remembered that I was in the first group and biked with the kids all the way both uphill and downhill after we finished lunch at a village. The trail was very slippery and some parts were very steep and we had to push and pull all the way. The one thing that I remembered vividly was that I had only one energy bar left in my backpack and had to share with another kid. I assured her that we would survive but in actual fact I was not really sure. But we finally made it out before dark. “

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