ISAN 2020 – A 2024 KM Brevet in Thailand

ISAN 2020 – A 2024 KM Brevet in Thailand


Date: 2 February 2020 - 8 February 2020

Total distance: 2,045 km

Elevation Gain: 17,964 m

Allotted Time: 168 hours / 202 hours

Start Time: 7:00 am 2 February 2020

Return Time:  7:25 pm 8 February 2020

Time Taken: 156 hours 25 minutes

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The ISAN 2020 ride was introduced to us at PBP 2019 where an information kiosk had been set up on the pre-ride day. The ride was interesting on a couple of fronts, one being that it was closer to home, there would not be too much change in the time zone and the distance which was over 2,000 km.

About the ride:
This was going to be the inaugural edition of the ISAN 2020 ride being organised by Audax Club ISAN. A 2,020 km ride the route was a loop across northeastern Thailand (ISAN Region - covering 20 ISAN districts) along the borders of Cambodia and Laos. 800 km of the route was along the Mekong river which is the border between Thailand and Laos.

The ride brief said that we should be prepared for heat and rains and that we would have 24-hour shops every 40-50 km along the route and that we would be facing a lot of Thai dogs as well during the ride. Use of a navigation device or a navigation app on the phone is very important as navigating the route without a device/app is very difficult as the route is not marked. The ride in the night will be fraught with a lot of encounters with dogs when we pass by villages/towns, be prepared to be chased by a bunch of dogs at a time till we make it out of the village/town. Pork, seafood is a staple diet in Thailand. It is difficult to get vegetarian food in small towns/villages. Asking for 'Fried rice' means it is 'Pork fried rice. 7-eleven stores are available around the 50-75 kilometer mark where it takes time to pick out the vegetarian food options. Make sure to read the contents of the pack to ensure that it is vegetarian. Event information is available in English on the ISAN webpage (http://www.isan.bike). During the ride, we did not face any issue with language at the 7-Eleven stores or in the towns. However, in villages where there was an issue with communicating, Google Translate was used to overcome the language barrier, although it took us 2 days to figure out the Google Translate option before which it was a struggle to communicate. Afternoons’ are very hot in general and the nights are cold (when we are in the hills). We struggled with cold weather only at the end of the 2nd day and beginning of the 3rd day which was around the 800-kilometer mark and at the end of the 5th day which was around the 1,560-kilometer mark. Other than that the weather is very similar to what we have in and around Bengaluru.

Registration for the ride:   It did not take long when Mohan Subramanyam said that he was registering for the ISAN 2020 ride for me to jump on and register for the ride. The registration process took over a month as the process was split into phases which included pre-registration, payment of fee, uploading medical certificate and travel insurance. There were 2-time options for the ride, one at 12 km per hour - 168 hours and another at 10 km per hour - 202 hours. Wanting to play it safe I opted for the 202-hour option. Waited for a little to book the flight tickets and the accommodation and we were set to go for the ride.

Preparation for the ride:  Although the travel plans were made I was not prepared physically for a ride of the magnitude of 2,000 km. I had barely ridden in the months after PBP and had totaled about 2,000 km over 3 months from October - December and the thought of having to do it over the course of 8 days seemed herculean. I was getting friendly reminders from my friends that I was not practicing for the Thailand ride. With just January remaining it was time to pull up my socks and get on the saddle and get rid of some weight which I had accumulated over the past months. Getting up early was a big challenge in January as it was very cold and getting rid of the laziness which had set in was difficult. I knew that as long as I could get out of bed and get on the saddle I would be done with half the ride.

I was able to start January with a couple of back-to-back rides, a 300 km recce of the Melukote ride which I converted into a 400 km ride with some additional km and followed it up with a 200 km Nandi brevet. I was riding a brevet after almost 6 months in Bangalore which brought back the focus a little. Followed up this ride with a ride to Bellur Cross, a 200 km night ride and then an easy-paced ride to Markandeshwara - Teerahalli hills two days later. Did a ride to Jawadhu Hills and then to Panchapalli to get some practice on climbs/rolling terrain and threw in a few hours on the trainer to prepare me for the ride. I had managed to accumulate 2,000 km in January and was silently confident of being able to do a 2,000 km ride in Thailand.

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Plan for the ride:  I spent minimal time drawing up a plan for this ride. Given that I had limited time and was spending it on riding during January I came up with a simple plan and did not look at the route in detail. I was going to depend on Bike GPS completely for this ride and Santosh Surendra had provided the split files of the route to be used for the ride. The plan was to ride the first 600 km like a regular brevet and finish it within 40 hours. Subsequently, the plan was to ride 300 km every 24 hours. This would ensure that the ride would be completed in 168 hours max. If it was possible to push further on any day then I would take the additional distance to keep a buffer for the climbs which were going to start after 1,400 km. The organisers had divided the route into 20 stages and had provided a difficulty index of each stage:

Difficulty Index

Number of Stages

*

12

**

5

***

2

****

1

.Going by the difficulty index Stage 14 and 15 were *** and stage 16 was the most difficult at ****. So the plan was to keep an additional buffer for these stages. A plan factoring in the difficulty of the stages was drawn up as follows:

Day

Distance

Ride Time

Total Time

Stop Time

1

400

20

24

4

2

350

18

24

6

3

300

15

24

9

4

300

15

24

9

5

250

13

24

11

6

250

13

24

11

7

200

10

13

3

.

2,050

104

157

53

.

It was a basic plan and it was going to be changed based on the actual ride and conditions on the day of the ride. However, one aspect of the plan was non-negotiable and had to be adhered to at any cost which was to stay ahead of Mohan Subramanyam and Santosh Surendra since I knew that they were targeting the 168-hour finish as their flight tickets were booked as per the 168-hour finish and they would have to finish within 168 hours.

Since ride preparations were ongoing through January and since Visa on Arrival was applicable to us, the travel preparations did not hit me till I had only 2-3 days remaining to board the flight. Some last-minute apparel purchases since we were going to have 6 drop bags available, purchased MTR sachets, serviced the cycle - a new chain installed just before travel again (something I don't like to do but end up doing before every big ride). Bags packed with a few hours remaining to travel to the airport and with the arrival of Rajkumar Khot from Pune we had a quick lunch and headed to the airport. Synced up with the other riders from Bangalore and we were on board the flight.

We arrived in Thailand at 6:00 am on 31 January 2020 and had to wait for about 6 hours for other riders to arrive before being transported to the start point. In the interim, we were given a tour of the sprawling 25 km cycling track near the Suvarnabhumi airport - Skylane. It was a fantastic place and we were impressed with the cycling infrastructure in place and also by the cycles being used by the Thai riders. After the tour, we started from the airport around 1:00 pm and reached the hotel near the start point around 5:00 pm. Quickly assembled the cycles and went on a small test ride to ensure that the cycle was working fine. The surprise element during the test ride was that it was not humid and there was a slight chill in the night air, conditions which felt like home. Dinner and packing the drop bags took a long time and we slept around 1:00 am.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-8U1AHdvMU74/XkzDM7TnIaI/AAAAAAAArOo/kJ4tEiKjWFos6v7M0N1Ju99CU7jmBNFzQCLcBGAsYHQ/s320/IMG-20200201-WA0007.jpg01 February 2020, was the registration for the ride, headed to the start point, completed the ride formalities, put our stuff in the respective drop bags and after a brief rest back in the room headed back to the start point at 5:00 pm for the route briefing. A detailed route briefing was given stage-wise and we were told about the road conditions and traffic that we could expect during the ride (Briefing was in Thai and in English). Quick dinner and then headed back to the room to catch up on as much sleep as possible.

Synopsis:

Day 1 - 390 kilometers: The 2,020, kilometer ride had started and we did a relatively quick ride on flat terrain. A short and steep 2-kilometer climb gave us a feeler of the kind of climbs that we could expect in the later stages of this ride. We had to contend with rough roads to start with and then the heat during the mid-day. Food stops were at odd times and were going to hurt us a little on the next day. We managed to get 2.5 hours of sleep and almost covered 400 kilometers in the first 24 hours.

Day 2 - 310 kilometers: Encountered a lot of bad road sections and also the tiredness from the first day's ride had set in along with acidity due to the odd times when food was eaten. The heat was again an energy sapper and it took the Sun to reduce its intensity for us to be able to make up time and although we had some steep rolling terrain sections in the evening we were still relatively quick to get through this. Another short and steep climb to get to the Control Point and post freshening up and a change of clothes we were able to do a steady ride after 10 pm and stopped at the Nam Thaeng Police Station Control Point to sleep where it was freezing. We slept on a cold floor with just one blanket available to us and again managed to get a disturbed sleep of 2.5 hours before resuming the ride. Bad roads and steep descents were negotiated to round off this block for 24 hours.

Day 3 - 300 kilometers: The day was going to be spent riding next to the Mekong River. We had our first sighting of the river in daylight and also started to experience the towns which had developed on the banks of the river. Another short and steep climb to get to the temple at Mukdahan and then ride on flat terrain with a beautiful night market experience at That Phanom and then a relatively easy ride to Nakhon Phanom. We managed to get 2.75 hours of sleep at the River Hotel in Nakhon Phanom and then set out in the early hours of the day onto a cycling track which was decked up for the Chinese New Year and when we got back on the road it was time to re-focus on the road and get some kilometers covered. We did get onto concrete roads and got to see agricultural activity as we rode towards the next control. The 1,000-kilometer mark was reached by the end of this block of 24 hours.

Day 4 - 316 kilometers: Excellent Thai hospitality got us going on this day, although a little slowly as we had to negotiate our way from the concrete surface to the tarmac. The pace of the ride was not great and we were back onto rolling terrain after having done a relatively flat day yesterday. A stop to have Pizza for lunch to deviate from the usual Rice with Fried Egg and Upma/Poha combination and then a steady ride to get to the Control on the banks of the river. Another round of Egg Fried Rice and we were ready to ride after nightfall. Good wide roads, the terrain was rolling but gentle. Our attempt's to draft in the group were not working out, instead, we had a nice chatty ride to Nong Khai. Beautiful Serpentine figurine near the Control Point, I had rice with fired egg and then an unsuccessful attempt to sleep at the Control resulting in just over an hour of disturbed sleep. Back on the saddle, cycling track covered and then onto relatively flat terrain before another 30 minute stop to catch up on sleep. Overall, another decent day with over 300 kilometers covered.

Day 5 - 251 kilometers: The day started with rolling terrain and then a drizzle for few minutes. A minor fall at a Petrol Bunk on account of the greasy floor caused by the drizzle and then a puncture for Rakesh and then rice being served with Pork was not an ideal start to the day. We had to ride further to get Egg Fried Rice and then got onto a steep rolling terrain. The day got worse for me on the mechanical front as the front gear cable got cut and I had only the small chain-ring available for the rest of the ride. Consolation at the time was that the next 400 kilometers were going to be in steep rolling terrain and climbs, so the front chain-ring was what I would have used in this terrain. We reached the Resort on the Mekong River which was a beautiful sight and since we had reached in the evening, we opted for a quick change, food/refreshment stop and then headed back out to take on the very steep gradients that lay ahead. The gradients were very steep with the max gradient in some places being around 20%. Steep climbs, forests and then a lot of dogs in the villages were what we encountered at night. We decided to stop at Dan Sai and catch up on sleep and found a hotel with a little difficulty for this. Managed to get 3 hours of sleep to round of this day. Distance-wise it was one of the lesser kilometer days with just over 250 kilometers being covered, however, this was down to the gradient as we were now riding the difficult sections of the route gradient-wise.

Day 6 - 253 kilometers: The day started with a 7-kilometer climb which was very steep in sections and followed up with a descent for the next 15-20 kilometers. A relatively quick breakfast followed by a good 15-20 kilometer stretch before we got back to climbing. The climbs were steep, and having to do this in peak heat was not very appealing. We did run out of water and also ran the risk of getting into a nutrition deficit if we took long breaks. Managed to keep going and with food and drink sorted after the first set of climbs for the day, we took on the next section of climbs. Getting past this section was key as we were done with the steep climbs and the remaining distance was going to be relatively easy. A stop to freshen up at the Control Point, Rice with Fried Chicken and when we made our way out onto the road I had a puncture. Fixed the puncture and got onto steep rolling terrain followed by a very steep descent. Had a wobble on the descent and was fortunate not to crash at high speed. After the descent, the terrain was gentle downhill and riding was easy. Had a nice chatty ride and the energy levels were high and it was looking good to pull off an all-nighter so that we could complete the ride in the early hours of the next day. However, the plan fell flat as sleep caught up with us and we had to make 3 stops to catch up on sleep which across the 3 breaks totaled 2.5 hours.

Day 7 - 200 kilometers: With the night ride plan failing, we had to ride in the heat today to complete the ride. The day started with a 5-kilometer gentle climb after which we were onto relatively easy terrain for about 40-50 kilometers after which we were back onto rolling terrain on a rough road surface. With 70 kilometers remaining to the finish, there was a very steep descent on patchy road surface making it very risky, again fortunate to get away unscathed. After that there was a little bit of a struggle to get through the last 50 kilometers of the ride, more to do with fatigue than with the terrain which was relatively flat. We pulled into the finish at 7:25 pm to complete the ride in 156 hours 25 minutes.

Detailed Overview of the Ride

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-X2-EYKks-Jw/Xki2yjtgR5I/AAAAAAAArHM/eDmjEjFTfIEUsIpqmNF9H8Syr__TgU72gCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200201_112344090.jpg Start Point:  The start was scheduled for 7:00 am. We were up around 5:00 am, got ready, and headed to the pantry to have some bread and jam. We headed to the start point which was just under 2 km from the hotel. We reached around 6:00 am and saw a whole lot of riders already assembled at the start. We headed to the breakfast counter and collected the breakfast pack which consisted of a cupcake, a dry fruit cake, 2 bananas and a sachet of soy milk. I stocked up all of it in the jersey pockets to consume during the ride except for the dry fruit cake which I ate immediately.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-LOJ1aSIiMX8/Xki263S7A8I/AAAAAAAArHU/F8Y7haohwoI7YpBeU22nu3nDoKYVp0hYQCKgBGAsYHg/s320/FB_IMG_1581260017172.jpgPhoto sessions were in progress and the Indian contingent got one of their own. The 12 of us assembled and got a few clicks taken and then headed to the start line and waited for the clock to tick over to 7:00 am. It was a bunch start and all the riders irrespective of 168 hours or 202-hour slots were going to start together. The organisers were doing their bit to keep the energy levels high before the start. The clock was taking a long time to tick over to 7:00 am and it gave time to keep fiddling with the bike and apparel and make last-minute changes to re-check the lights, re-look at the stuff in the handlebar bags, route uploaded on the bike GPS, etc. Finally, the clock chimed 7:00 am and we were waved off from the Khao Khaen Public Park at Pak Chong.

 

Stage 1 - Pak Chong - Khon Buri
Distance - 118 km (Cumulative Distance - 118 km)
Difficulty Index - **
Control Point - 7-11 Store
https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-vHGfUGqkw80/Xki2684ktJI/AAAAAAAArHU/jTKU9YVrd7YD6Yqt_YT_ocLuujJC6KyKQCKgBGAsYHg/s320/FB_IMG_1581259816336.jpgGetting out of the park took some time as I was amongst the 177 starters. A cautious start and then got into a long line of riders as we hit the road. Steady pace for the first couple of km to ensure that there were no hiccups and warmed up to the occasion. It took a short time for the mind to digest that I had started off on a 2,000 km ride and the next 7-8 days would be about enjoying the ride and not having to think of anything else. At the 3 km mark, we took the right to head towards Khon Buri and this is where the ride kicked off. Mahesh and I started to increase the pace and were going past riders. Went past Mohan Sir and Santosh which ticked off the pre-requisite of the plan which was to stay ahead of them and then caught up with Rajkumar who had started very fast and was ahead of all of us. In a short while, Mahesh and I were ahead and it was a relatively quick ride and we caught up with a group of fast riders. After a while surprisingly Mahesh had dropped back and I was sitting at the back of the group and was able to hold their wheel. It was a fast start for me and I was trying to stay in touch with the group as much as possible. Ride speeds were averaging close to 30 kmph on rolling terrain and the road surface was not smooth. I was worried if I had started off too quick, however decided to stick on as long as I could. It was still early hours and the weather was pleasant and the wind was mild. However, with the clock ticking past 8:00 am the wind speed was beginning to increase, a crosswind blew across us. Even though the wind was getting stronger, the speed was not coming down and the effect of fresh legs was being seen as we rode quickly. Close to 40 km done in 90 minutes when we reached the first major turn of the ride, a left turn to start a climb. This climb was a teaser of the climbs that we could expect during the rest of the ride, a short but super steep climb. The initial part of the climb was rolling terrain until we hit a wall for about a km. The group disintegrated here as everyone climbed at their own speed. I zig-zagged my way up the climb and then started a nice long downhill. It was a perfect recovery after a small shock. 

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-cYqHHz5H6Bw/XkojUtYS5bI/AAAAAAAArIg/cOmJpZBY9MY-hxamnaevXKyoo4SX2DluACLcBGAsYHQ/s320/84646107_905753026509998_9217377164452691968_o.jpg The downhill had re-aligned the speed and just as we got back onto the flat road, I had a small blip in speed as I tried to avoid a pothole. That's all it took for the gap to open to the group and tried as much as I could but there was no catching up with them. Held onto the wheel of another group of riders, however, it was not long before they sped away as well as tiredness from the morning effort was beginning to show. My speed wilted and the heat and wind which were beginning to grow in strength were sapping me. It was a slow and laboured ride from here. A few turns to be taken and I was using Bike GPS for navigation with a top tube bag being the latest addition to the cycle set-up to help on the navigation front. I was running through my supply of food and my jersey pockets were empty by the time I reached the 90 km mark.

The first control was almost 30 km away and getting there seemed a little far-fetched. Made my way past the 100 km mark in under 4 hours and then heard the familiar voice of Mahesh telling me to get into the group. He was riding with another group which sped past me. I tried to catch up with them, but the effort was futile and I settled down into my pace not wanting to blow up any further at the start of the ride itself. The group was gone within a minute and I was riding alone, with a few riders visible in the distance in front and behind me. I couldn't wait to get to the control as I was now hungry and was swigging on the water to keep the hunger at bay. Finally made it to the control at 11:29 am. 118 km covered in 4 hours 30 minutes was a very good return considering that I had struggled over the last 40 km. Mahesh loitering inside the 7-11 store was a relief and we decided to ride together as sustaining the pace of the group was going to be very difficult for us. Got the brevet card signed by the 7-11 staff, bought a rice and egg meal off the shelf, and a coca-cola. As we sat to eat, Satish Sharma, Venkatesh Shivarama (Venky Sir) and Satish Addanki arrived at the control. It was a small gathering of the Indian contingent. We took our time to eat and get started.

Stage 2 - Khon Buri - Buriram

Distance - 111 km (Cumulative Distance - 229 km)

Difficulty Index - *

Control Point - 7-11 Store, PTT Petrol Station

Time was flying and before we knew it an hour had almost flown by and we were still at the control. The rest had given sufficient recovery, however, we were getting into the zone of having to eat at odd times and I was wary of this situation as not eating at the right time would lead to acidity and https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-5gAnWLzyxB8/XkoklnUtUJI/AAAAAAAArJU/FToMSXIkTME_WmCuho8dAxPmAzeO31FNwCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200202_132145636.jpgI wanted to stay away from this as much as possible. However, with the food being taken at 11:30 am, it was more like a brunch and not a proper lunch. Mahesh, Satish Sharma, Venky Sir and I started from the control just before 12:30 pm. Rakesh Jakhmola had just reached the control when we were leaving and Satish Addanki opted to rest for a while longer before starting. The road surface was better than the morning session and it was easier riding having recovered from the morning session and now it was about holding a steady pace. However, the heat was peaking and it was beginning to slow us down more than we would have liked and it also necessitated more breaks. On one such break, Satish Addanki caught up with us and the 5 of us were grouped together again.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-IDhkHbgjnZs/XkzC8jQCAuI/AAAAAAAArOg/iGfw_hDBGbYvocmiNwNRuEDLT6xd-pooACLcBGAsYHQ/s320/IMG-20200202-WA0002.jpgThe ride speed fluctuated between being steady and quick. Venky Sir was beginning to cramp and we stopped to rest at the next 7-11 store. Since Venky Sir and Satish wanted to rest a little longer, Mahesh, Satish Sharma and I started from the store and rode steadily and were seeing riders intermittently on the route. As the heat was bearing down on us, Mahesh was getting faster and Satish and I could not stay with him as he disappeared. However, within a few km Mahesh had found a provision store and had stopped there for a break. Ideal place for a break as we feasted on a family pack of ice cream which was our lunch. It was close to 3 pm and we ended up taking over a 30-minute break. Venky Sir and Satish Addanki caught up with us here and we started together.

.https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-P_rq6DrQkRw/XkojnCjnlPI/AAAAAAAArI8/jXl4Y31VNSUhZE152QmIlZZBN0PGPAxBwCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200202_142742894.jpgThe route after the break was scenic and there was ample tree cover. It further helped that the Sun had begun its descent and the legs were able to recover. Venky Sir and Satish Addanki fell behind after a while, however, Mahesh, Satish Sharma and I were able to maintain a steady pace as we began to whittle down the kilometers to the next control. With the intensity of the Sun reducing the number of stops reduced and we made it to the next control at Buriram just after 6:00 pm. The volunteers stamped our card and we refilled water and headed into the 7-11 store to get hot water as we prepared a couple of MTR sachets, one Poha and one Upma packet was mixed and I began to eat up. We were joined by Venky Sir, Satish Addanki and Rakesh Jakhmola in a short while. 6 of us resting and eating before we started the ride again.

Stage 3 - Buriram - Sisaket

Distance - 118 km (Cumulative Distance - 347 km)

Difficulty Index - *

Control Point - Wat Prai Pattana

Another hour spent at the control before we could restart the ride. This time, Rakesh Jakhmola joined us and we were 4 in the group now, Mahesh, Rakesh, Satish Sharma and me. The Sun had gone done and the lights were switched on. We started as 4 on the road and in a short while we could see flashing lights ahead, some we caught up with and others we lost sight of. The roads were wide and the good road surface made riding easy. The only issue was that the Thai dogs made their entry here. As the night got darker, the dogs were on the prowl and would come chasing and barking at us. It was not one dog, but a group of dogs that would come after us at one go on most occasions. On one such occasion, it almost caused a crash when a dog came right across Satish's cycle and he had to stop abruptly, as I was drafting behind him, I was just about able to avoid a crash. Close call and one which necessitated that we ride with a gap between each rider and that we should not ride close. The aftereffect of the crash was not only a change in formation but we went off-route as well. Seemed like all our devices were suffering from the shock and there was no alarm when we went off route. We had ridden about 3 km off route and stopped to re-fill water when we got to know that we were off-route. Had to ride back, got on the route and made it to the next town Kap Choeng and stopped at a 7-11 store for dinner. The same routine here for Mahesh and me, hot water from the store, a couple of MTR sachets and we were good. Venky Sir and Satish Addanki caught up with us just as we were preparing to leave from here. One of our quicker stops as we spent just over 30 minutes here.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-OsJmIGuCU-s/XkzDaBQxBII/AAAAAAAArO8/ZzdkGKx60DAHfMg7RMQiRu8B5qrZfHa7ACLcBGAsYHQ/s320/IMG-20200203-WA0000.jpgWe were about 60 km from the control at Sisaket which was the first drop bag location. The night was kind and the road was good and the terrain was relatively flat. We were able to keep a steady pace and rode through the night with ease. Having flashing lights in and around us gave the needed push to stay focused on the ride. However, I was beginning to tire and sleep was catching up, knowing that it was the first night and the plan being not to sleep, I wanted to take a power nap. We found a lawn at a roundabout and slept, 20 minutes later we were up just as we were passed by Venky Sir and Satish Addanki. Took a further 10 minutes to get back to pace and we rode for a further 15 minutes when we caught up with Venky Sir and Satish Addanki who had stopped for a break and were eating roti's. We stopped and I took the opportunity to catch up with some more sleep as the others rested/ate the roti. We were up again in about 30 minutes and started the ride towards the control which was about 15 km away. Satish Addanki playing music on the speaker kept us entertained and awake as long as he was with us, in a short while he had sped ahead and opened a gap with ease.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-QuOdBh20S5A/XkojxEqlyxI/AAAAAAAArJA/-O6OnCl1Ycs6IFI-pnfthf2WAmYsStzZACKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200203_041717925.jpgWe reached the control which was a temple, Wat Prai Pattana at 1:33 am. We had covered 347 km in 18.5 hours. We were hungry and although the plan was to have minimal sleep on the first night we opted to sleep for a couple of hours. Although the option to bathe and change clothes was available, opted not to use it as the time spent on this could be used to sleep instead. Tended to the sore butt with some Chamois cream and headed to the pantry where excellent rice and chicken soup was being given. Had one serving of this and headed to the hall where sleep arrangement had been made. https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-mtkwn44UfrA/XkzC0m4_ePI/AAAAAAAArOc/SggIDwHr56YvT2KmPjD-0cGDrVKcC7znwCLcBGAsYHQ/s320/IMG-20200203-WA0001.jpgWe decided to wake at 3:00 am and re-start the ride which would give us an hour's sleep. We woke up at 3:00 am and promptly went back to sleep. We woke up again at 4:00 am, an hour had been lost. The loss of the hour got us back on our feet as we hurried to make our way out of control. We stepped out and met Mohan Subramanyam and Pritish Abraham. They had reached the control a while back and were heading into sleep for a while. All the Indian riders had made it to the control except Rajkumar Khot who was about 10 km from the control. Mahesh, Rakesh, Satish Sharma and I got ready and started from the control at 4:30 am. The target was to get to 400 km at least by 7:00 am which meant we had to ride 50 km in the next 2.5 hours.

 Stage 4 - Sisaket - Kantharalak
Distance - 100 km (Cumulative Distance - 447 km)
Difficulty Index - *
Control Point - Grocery Store

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-U9nqX1dpBOQ/Xkq0480pl1I/AAAAAAAArLg/ztViuDOr3AQAklC9fePT0S8DfDv84nD4QCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200206_172903857.jpgThe ride started with a climb from the temple. A nice way to warm up as it got the heart going again after the rest period and we were back on track. Navigation was key here and this time we did not go off route as we found the turn to the 1 km gravel road without going off route. This turn was easy to miss, however, the Garmin devices of Mahesh and Satish were on cue and we were on track. Daybreak was early with the sky beginning to change colour around 5:30 am. The artist was at work changing the black sky into different shades of blue and throwing in some orange in a short while to signal that a new day was beginning and that we had to pull up our socks and get ready to experience another beautiful day. The change in the day meant that we had to catch up with the km requirement for the first 24 hours, however, hunger was beginning to bite and I was repenting for not having an additional serving of the superb rice and chicken soup at the control.

We came across a small store around 6:30 am and stopped to eat/drink coffee. Language being a barrier, we could not get the point across that we wanted coffee and had to settle on eating chips and soft drinks. I ate a packet of caramel popcorn and drank an M150 (the Thai equivalent of the Red Bull). As we sat munching on chips and popcorn, Thai riders came by and asked for coffee and they got it. Mahesh, Rakesh and Satish followed suit and pointed to the drink and they got coffee as well. The Thai riders came, had their fill and left, we were still sitting at the provision store. We were taking long breaks and even though we realised that the Thai riders had left we still took a little more time to get going. We restarted slowly and took our time to get going. We reached Khun Han, which was a big town and since we had stopped about half an hour ago to eat we did not stop here. We took a right turn here and after a few km, the road surface became very very rough. The road had been watered to keep the dust levels down, which made this feel like a ride just after a downpour. The rough surface brought the pace down to a crawl and the vibration from the road was making us suffer. We were riding on the paint in the middle of the road as much as possible to try and get as much smooth surface as possible, however every time we went off the road to avoid the reflectors installed in the middle of the road it was painful. We came across less rough surfaces intermittently which felt like a smooth surface even though it was not, and tried to make max use of the respite from heavy vibration from the road.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-qvLjetY_ywY/Xkq0Fb90v3I/AAAAAAAArK0/sbXBSv31-vY3XQTquvDVqieorf9sIOJigCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200204_153034677.jpgThe road surface was so rough that I kept hoping that I don't get a puncture. Kept looking for a change in the road surface and the sight of the same surface up ahead was met with a groan and a push to keep going and hoping that things would change soon. Things got better with about 10 km to go for the control. A relatively smooth surface was time to make up some time and get to the control as soon as possible. Mahesh stopped at a provision store for a break to refill water, however, with just a few km to go for the control I told him to keep going and that we should stop only at the control as we were almost there. Unfortunately, we had to endure a few more km of the rough surface before getting onto the highway where another surprise was waiting for us. We took the right turn onto the highway and were hit by a strong headwind immediately. Fortunately, we were just 2 km from the control and the sight of the volunteers beckoning to us was a welcome relief. Brevet cards stamped and we were given coupons to the restaurant where we were served rice and meat and a drink complimentary. The base meat being pork, it was difficult for the other riders to eat and they had to wait for some time to get chicken fried rice and also just plain rice and vegetables. We took a long break here, almost an hour as we freshened up and recovered from the difficult session which we had. Santosh meanwhile had taken minimal rest at the previous control and had caught up with us at this control. We decided to get going together from this control and spent some more time here drinking an extra juice before we got going.

Stage 5 - Kantharalak - Na Chaluai - 73 km

Distance - 73 km (Cumulative Distance - 520 km)

Difficulty Index - *

Control Point - 7-11 Store

Fortunately for us within a km of the control, we took a left and instead of a headwind, we had a crosswind. We were sitting at the breakfast table and dreading the headwind as we watched the plants bend backward. We were relieved that we had taken the turn and avoided the brunt of the headwind and the crosswind was far better. We started at a steady pace as we did not want to tire ourselves out. As the Sun began to crank up the heat we were slowing down as the aches were beginning to show up. Saddle sore necessitated off the saddle riding frequently and acidity was beginning to hit, the food at odd times was beginning to take effect. The next control was only 73 km away and this was supposed to be easy, however, the afternoon heat and the previous day's ride were beginning to slow us down. The ride speed had dipped considerably and our attempts to set a steady pace were failing. We made a stop for watermelon and resumed the ride after a 30-minute break.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-vtXQMmysVjY/XkojnLOXkyI/AAAAAAAArI8/ttEr3QHU5HkEFJJWNDEfEZhCJXVxgNWxACKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200202_170304119.jpgGetting to the next control seemed like an impossible task as we were struggling to ride in this section. The patience levels were being tested here as I was feeling sleepy as well. We couldn't take a sleep break which would only delay the arrival to the control and we were already looking at another delayed lunch day. This would only worsen the acidity and I was not looking forward to adding a stomach ache to the list of body aches. With about 15 km remaining to the control, Mahesh and I shot ahead and tried to get to the control as soon as possible. The km coming down quickly helped on the mental front and kept us going. We made it to the 7-11 store at 2:24 pm and went around the store and picked up salted egg cup noodles and a coke for lunch. By the time we came out, Satish and Rakesh arrived as well and few more minutes and Santosh reached as well. The effect of less sleep was beginning to show on Santosh and he was visibly more tired than the 4 of us. Another hour spent at the control and this was when I realised that we had taken 6 hours for the 73 km from the previous control which included 2 breaks of almost an hour each. I was not too happy with the time taken and did feel like we had lost out on a lot of time in this section of the ride.

Stage 6 - Na Chaluai - Ubon Ratchatani - 87 km

Distance - 87 km (Cumulative Distance - 607 km)

Difficulty Index - *

Control Point - Wat Phu Prao

We started from the control around 3:30 pm and just as we exited town we were onto bad roads. Riding on these roads was very tough and also worrying with the puncture risk being high. When we did manage to get off the rough patch after about 30 minutes it was time to make up for lost time and we sped along. The tiredness and pains of the morning were forgotten, the Sun turning down its intensity helped to a large extent. We were averaging around 30 kmph for the next hour I guess. Mahesh, Rakesh and I were around each other and Satish was following a little behind. Each one was spurring the other to ride faster and it did not look like anyone was tired. We were in rolling terrain, sprinting on climbs and recovering a little on the descents was the formula for this section. It was on one of the climbs that Mahesh raced past like the wind and was gone in the blink of an eye, one of the moments of the ride for me to have watched him blitz past. We regrouped when we reached Buntharik town and stopped for a bottle of Coca-Cola. Satish reached as well and we started after a half an hour break. The half-hour break had undone all the work that had been done over the past hour of riding. We took a left to head out of town and were immediately hit with bad roads again. The pace dropped and the anxious look further up the road to see for the visible change in the surface was back.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-I26W9QXmEKs/XkzHGsrxBYI/AAAAAAAArPs/3wwHrmP1sGAlj084A30MYkmdo0b98kA2wCLcBGAsYHQ/s320/IMG-20200205-WA0014.jpgThe road surface did change after a while, but now we were in steep rolling terrain. It was nightfall as well and with the reduced visibility carrying speed on the descent became difficult. The climbs were taxing and the descents could not be enjoyed as much. Further, when we did get to the top of the climb and we had a descent section we were greeted by bad roads which made the descent difficult as we had to avoid potholes. Rakesh almost avoiding a crash in this section had us trying to play it safe over the remainder of the descent as much as possible. When we did make it out of the descent and entered town steep climbs continued. The control point was a temple (Wat) and by now we had figured that a temple means it would be atop a hill, however, the gradient was not expected. One km to go for the temple and the gradient just kicks up and we had to crawl to the control point. We reached the control at 7:45 pm. 607 km completed in 36 hours 45 minutes. This was a drop bag location and we went about the routine of bathing, change of clothes and then having dinner. The discussion at the dinner table and also towards the last few km in this section was that the difficulty index for this section was * and if this was an easy section then getting past the **** section would be near impossible. We had to build a buffer to accommodate the difficult sections and hope to come out of it unscathed. The sleep arrangements here were not as elaborate as the one at Drop Bag 1 location and we opted to ride further than to sleep here as the night was still young.

Stage 7 - Si Mueang Mai - Khemmarat

Distance - 139 km (Cumulative Distance - 746 km)

Difficulty Index - *

Control Point - Nam Thaeng Police Station and Lae Khong Resort

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-8t8yeKZutZg/XkrCJv19DiI/AAAAAAAArMg/M1Q7z0DaZQ0CEu-kENbkfkpW8OjtqAfxQCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200203_223850235.jpgThis section was divided into 2 parts, a pass-through control at Nam Thaeng Police Station which was 63 km away and then the Lae Khong Resort which was a further 76 km.  Our plan was to ride to the Nam Thaeng Police Station and then stop for a couple of hours of sleep before we resumed the ride. Almost 10 pm when we started from the Control. We were in for some steep rolling terrain to get out of town. We were circling around the Sirindhorn reservoir and I did miss daylight here since the view would have been beautiful around here. We had made it close to the Mekong river and a few turns later we were crossing the bridge over the Mekong river. The ride from here for the next 800 km almost would be adjacent to the river, although we would not be seeing the river for the next 200 km almost. Another place where we missed out on daylight as we crossed the bridge.

The ride from here was in rolling terrain and the climbs were steady but long. The gradient was not steep but was taking forever to get done. On the few occasions when vehicles passed us, we would have to raise our heads skywards to see them descending. As it was night and we were together we were joking about the climbs and made it past these with relative ease. The bath had helped the legs recover to an extent and we were not feeling very tired. As the night wore on the climbing seemed to be a lot and we were hardly doing any descents. We were bordering a forest reserve and at the same time climbing almost all the time. This was another * difficulty section which was worrying to say the least as the **** section was becoming more of a scary section.

The ride was slow and we had taken over 3 hours to ride 50 km. We got a 7-8 km descent after this which left me wanting to climb more than having the descent. The weather changed to cold weather and the descent sent chills down the body. After looking forward to the descent while climbing, when it did come by I wished that it had rather not come by. We raced downhill and then rode through a flat section in town and pulled up at the Police Station at 1:00 am. We woke up the volunteer and got the brevet card sealed and headed into the Police Station. Few riders were sleeping here, we found ourselves a place on the floor and tried to sleep. We were up in about 15 minutes as the place was freezing. We could not sleep and the body was beginning to ache cause of the cold. Mahesh had found himself a blanket and was fast asleep. The 3 of us walked around the police station looking for a blanket. Fortunately for us after about 10 minutes a rider who was using a blanket got up to leave. We took the blanket from him and the 3 of us covered ourselves in one blanket and slept. The plan was to get started at 3:00 am which would give us about 1.5 hours of sleep. We woke up at 3:00 am and our efforts to wake Mahesh up were futile. We decided to get back under the blanket and sleep for another hour. 4:30 am and this time all of us woke up. Getting rid of the blanket was very difficult as it was still biting cold. The body was aching and getting back on the saddle was difficult. The warmth of the blanket was very tempting to crawl back into, however, we still had to get out into the cold and get through 10 difficult minutes on the bike before the body would warm up.

Nam Thaeng Police Station – Khemmarat - It was almost 5:00 am when we started from the police station. Just as expected the cold weather was difficult to get through. If this was not enough we had a rough road surface waiting for us. I had to use two headlights to have sufficient visibility and the sight of a climb was rather pleasing to the eyes even though the road was not good as it would heat the body up. A few km later, the cold was not as big a factor as it was when we started. The neck warmer which was covering the face was pulled down as it was getting stuffy and now I wanted a little bit of the cold air on my face. We were still adjacent to the forest although it felt like we were riding through the forest. In a short while it was daybreak, the rough road continued.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-ppVXh2O_Pao/XkqzY9hciKI/AAAAAAAArKg/nMk_jBWpSs8gSUy9FT1ISHx9XmbwMEb3gCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200204_073411728_BURST000_COVER_TOP.jpgI kept looking at the map and thought that the rough road would end when we get out of the forest area and looked up the distance remaining of the forest. Roughly about 10-12 km remained and I mentally prepared for a rough ride for a further 45 minutes. The terrain was rolling and in some places, the descent was very steep. On one such steep descent, the back wheel got into a wobble and I was struggling to control the wobble, had to reduce the speed gradually and did so by sitting upright on the saddle and as the speed reduced, I was able to bring the bike under control. For a fleeting second, I did think that a crash was imminent. Fortunately, nothing untoward occurred and I was still on the saddle and riding ahead. We got out of the forest and my expectation that the rough road would end did not materialise. We were still on rough roads, however, they were better than the roads that we had ridden through the forest area. The clock had struck 7:00 am and it was time to take stock of the km done:

Day 1 - 390 km
Day 2 - 310 km

Day 2 mileage had dropped significantly and it was down to the rough roads and the additional hours spent sleeping if not a 350 km day at least was on the cards. Even though we were on rough roads the Pickup trucks were whizzing past us like the road was smooth and driving on them was easy. We tried to ride the paint in the middle of the road when possible and tried to take the least bumpy line on other occasions to get through this section unscathed. The smooth sections when they did come by were met with a broad smile and relief, just the thought that the body would get a respite from the vibration was comforting. https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-h3GTtf2t5Jo/XkrDzGEY2kI/AAAAAAAArMs/hKq3_t7ktbcuqrVDH0yRuXTlPJn-exwtQCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200204_094216168.jpgWe were slow through this section as well which was on account of the road surface and were happy when the distance remaining to the control came down to single digits. An easy-to-miss turn with about 5 km remaining to the control was spotted thanks to the Bike GPS alarm which rang within 20 meters of having overshot this turn. We were on track and in a short while got a glimpse of the Mekong river. A quick stop for a photo and we were back on the saddle. The control was a resort that was built on the banks of the river. We reached the control at 9:45 am and headed inside to get the brevet card sealed. Card sealed, photo's of the river taken, phones being charged and we sat down to eat. Pork fried rice was available and the egg fried rice took a while to arrive. An hour spent at this control as well, which was becoming a norm, an hour spent at the control and half an hour for a break.

Stage 8 - Khemmarat - Mukdhahan - 86 km

Distance - 86 km (Cumulative Distance - 832 km)

Difficulty Index - *

Control Point - Wat Phu Manorom

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-0G-bARkbVKc/XkqzY9rP4II/AAAAAAAArKg/sualspQi5aQUQZK4XVErWY770IDa2FkxgCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200204_063145289.jpgAlmost 11:00 am when we got started from the control. The next control was 86 km away, which meant a further 5 hours of riding at our present pace. If the road surface and gradient and the difficulty index of * stayed true then we could make up some time here. The road surface was good and the gradient was not bad either although it was rolling terrain we were able to hold a good pace. The heat was not bad as well as it was a cloudy day and the Sun was not too much of a factor today. We did a good stint in this section with minimal breaks and the effort paid off as we were able to knock off 80 km in about 3.5 hours. However, just as we neared the control the huge Buddha Statue was visible from a distance and we prepared for a climb to the top of the hill. Little were we expecting a steep climb.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-BrmilJX3-w0/Xkqz-WwJAQI/AAAAAAAArKs/YtlJ8ECu8vwc4pO2FcxqNknPcOr20NqYACKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200204_152842724.jpgJust 2 km from the control and there was a steep climb in front of us. There were boards stating that we should use low gears and also boards stating that the gradient was 8%. It was a slow climb to the top and the option to zig-zag on this hill was minimal as there were cars ferrying devotees to the top and bottom of the hill. With cars using this road frequently in both directions it was about riding the max gradient with no scope to ease the gradient by zig-zagging on this hill. Fortunately, it was a 2 km climb and we made it to the top at 3:10 pm. We were famished when we reached the top and were expecting food at this control, however, this was a refreshment-only control and we had to go to town to have food. We spent some time on the hill before heading downhill in search of restaurants. We did not know that Mukdhahan was a big town and kept making inquiries at every small shop just before entering town for food to which we were only getting, food not available response. We entered the town and at the first place of inquiry where we got egg-fried rice we settled down to have lunch. It was 4:00 pm and it was a delayed lunch..

Stage 9 - Mukdhahan - Nakhon Phanom

Distance - 105 km Cumulative Distance - 937 km

Difficulty Index - *

Control Point - The River Hotel

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-OsKPtUNzsNE/Xks0rh8o5yI/AAAAAAAArNM/JnprOLzajLAwQQGLoBDR-gukj1ecp0asACKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200204_171652316.jpgThe distance to the next control was 105 km. By now the conclusion was that if the distance to the next control is over 100 km then that section had to be relatively easy. The difficult sections had been kept at around 80 km or less and the next section being over 100 km was going to be easy. 5:00 pm when we started from the control. A ride through town and we realised that this is where we start riding next to the river with a view of the river all through from here. When we got past the town we stopped to take a few pics of the river and the bridge across the river which connects Thailand to Laos. A fellow cyclist from Mukdhahan was at the waterfront and took a few pics with him as well. 

The road was flat and although narrow was smooth. Our time spent at the waterfront had resulted in us having very little time of daylight remaining. As the night began to take over we still had substantial distance remaining to make it to the control. The closest marker on the milestone was That Phanom and we got about to ride to this place. https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-YggE9ars58E/Xkq0N1G2zXI/AAAAAAAArK4/KE4Cl7AEVkgnbpnJqqxmHdC6AkT4h-LkwCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200204_191224071.jpgThe km remaining to this place was under 30 by now and it was easy to countdown to this location. The pictures of the temple on the milestone showed that there was a big temple at That Phanom. As we got closer to That Phanom we could see that the streets are lit and the place was very vibrant. The route took us straight to the night market and we had to get off the cycle and push the cycle to get past the night market. The jackfruit was very tempting and I feasted on jackfruit here. The food stalls which were set up here were very tempting and we walked around like we were on tour fascinated by the food on display and momentarily forgot that we are on a brevet.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-LiyEIkoWRAM/XkzGyfhNV-I/AAAAAAAArPc/h6w7-xFrNjwMtjDrOvZW1M69thFhXTtMgCLcBGAsYHQ/s320/IMG-20200205-WA0002.jpgThe GPS map showed that we were on route and that we had to walk through the market, we walked past and reached a cordoned-off area. Now we were unsure of how to proceed. A few inquiries with the people and we were told that we could carry the cycles across and that we were on route. We carried the cycles and saw that there was a recital in progress for which the area had been cordoned off. We wriggled our way out of the melee and got back on the road from where we could get back on the saddle. We still had about 40 km to get to the next control. The road was flat and we made progress rather easily in this section. We stopped for a break with about 20 km remaining and ate groundnuts and yogurt. When we resumed the ride there was a strong crosswind. The road was well illuminated as well. From the time we made it past That Phanom it did not feel like we had exited the town as the road was well lit. It felt like we were riding within the same town and after a couple of hours we were looking out for the control.

We reached the River Hotel at 10:24 pm. Got the brevet cards sealed, collected the drop bags and headed to the room to freshen up, catch a quick nap and be on our way. The 4 of us were given one room. Food was ordered and by the time we had bathed and changed our clothes, the food had arrived. Mahesh was asleep, Rakesh, Satish and I had food and went to sleep. The alarm was set for 2:30 am and we went to sleep. The plan was to get at least 2.5 hours of sleep as it was 12:00 pm by the time we went to sleep. After the previous night's experience where we had overslept, this time we woke up promptly at 2:30 am, Mahesh ate and we headed down to hand over the drop bags and then get started.

Stage 10 - Nakhon Phanom - Bueng Khong Long - 111 km

Distance - 111 km (Cumulative Distance - 1,048 km)

Difficulty Index - *

Control Point - Loawluang Police Station

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-rJ8ur-DY0YI/XkzGo3nadNI/AAAAAAAArPU/YDXHxcCFNt8Sc4W7WTkE2HGZoWfJYVxfQCLcBGAsYHQ/s320/IMG-20200205-WA0009.jpgIt was 3:30 am when we started from the hotel. A few km and we were passing by the waterfront with beautiful temples and then we had to get onto the cycling track which was beside the river. It was a beautiful track and was well decorated, illuminated for the Chinese New Year. It felt like the cycling track had been decked up for us as we were the only ones on the track at that time. A few photos later we were back on the track. We got back into brevet mode as soon as we exited the cycling track. 960 km had been covered and we were looking at reaching the 1,000 km mark at least by 7:00 am. The road was flat and the road surface was good, so it was an easy ride. The rest had served us well with a small recovery on the saddle sore front and also on the acidity front. I was beginning to feel better physically on this day.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-dt78aufOf3U/XkzHWgaJ_kI/AAAAAAAArP0/Dia9OtRUS8sW8BKydGFL7feBcjylGT__wCLcBGAsYHQ/s320/IMG-20200205-WA0018.jpgWith daybreak, there was a small push to get as many km as possible under our belt. However, we had to take a right turn and head onto interior roads which were not as smooth as the highway. We were on concrete roads and the pace dropped. The pace was not noticed too much as we were in the midst of agricultural fields which was very scenic. When the clock struck 7:00 am we had covered 1,000 km. It had been a 300 km day which meant that the buffer time for the ones in the 202-hour category had increased, however, for Rakesh who was in the 168-hour category it was only a marginal increase since the minimum requirement for him was 289 km per day. For Mahesh, Satish and me the buffer was now at 28 hours as against Rakesh's buffer which was at just over 11 hours. With the difficult section coming in after 1,400 km we had to maintain the buffer at least if not increase it over the course of the day.

Our immediate goal was to get to control which was still over 40 km away. The road surface was not smooth which hampered us on the speed front. We were cautious while riding here. Mahesh and I had gone ahead a little in this section while Rakesh and Satish were riding together. The agricultural fields with the river in the background were a beautiful view which took the mind off the time and the ride. We had ridden for a couple of hours and had barely realised it. We were passing by a town and a quick check of the brevet card, we realised that the control point was a police station and that we might not have food available there. We stopped at a shop in town and we requested hot water. https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-V7Zm9hfTY2I/Xkq0Ys16cTI/AAAAAAAArLE/iDWDd48cUqsRyEMkJ8kRO2iQGL1___bLACKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200205_100501248.jpgThe owner instead took the MTR sachets with him and prepared the upma and poha for us and gave us the dish ready to eat. Just as Mahesh and I were getting ready to eat, Rakesh and Satish arrived and picked up a juice and other items to eat. The break took about 45 minutes, we were about 12 km from the control. Once we were done with the break we resumed the ride and headed for the control. Half an hour later we were at the control. It was 9:50 am. Got the brevet cards stamped and had juice and a Bun with coconut filling in it. Took a few pics with the volunteers before heading back on the road. Even though we had stopped for breakfast and taken a break before reaching the control, the stop at the control point was over 30 minutes..

Stage 11 - Bueng Khong Long - Bueng Kan

Distance - 95 km (Cumulative Distance - 1,143 km)

Difficulty Index - *

Control Point - Wat Ahong Silawat

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-FXtUclCXKsk/Xkq0cIRkm-I/AAAAAAAArLI/Ef40aecE9ooNzHEd97bGIX2xiC348KsRwCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200205_102208231_BURST000_COVER_TOP.jpgWe were about 10 km away from getting back onto the highway. I counted down the km to get back onto the highway as the pace would increase on the highway as compared to the concreted interior road. Half an hour again and we were on the highway. In a short while, we were being waved down by the volunteer. Satish had forgotten his water bottles at the control and the volunteer had caught up with us to hand it over. We had been oblivious to the fact that the bottles were missing till then. The road was good with trees lining both sides of the road. It was a pleasure to be riding on this route. However, good things don't last too long and we had rolling terrain waiting for us. It was mild rolling terrain and was not very difficult, however, having ridden over 200 km on flat terrain, even a small increase in gradient felt like a lot more than it actually was.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-sQHq0FUNB3Q/XkzH5VMGVjI/AAAAAAAArQM/35SzSrbRYq4sI-OXRVU9kQAkTpIb2inUwCLcBGAsYHQ/s320/IMG-20200209-WA0024.jpgIn an hour's time, I was feeling very sleepy and was slowing down a lot. I requested a sleep break and we found a nice bus stop and I took a quick power nap here. 5 minutes nap and the overall break was 20 minutes. We got back on the saddle and made steady progress. We made it to Beung Kan city around 2:30 pm. We were looking for lunch options and Rakesh spotted the board of Pizza Kitchen. We searched for Pizza Kitchen and although it was probably half a km off the route we headed to the restaurant. We ate pizza and all of us were happy with the change in the menu which over the past few days had been either fried rice or upma/poha. An hour spent for lunch, we were about 20 km from the control and got back on route. Mild rolling terrain continued and we took just about an hour to get to the control. This control was a drop bag location with sleep arrangements. However, as we had reached around 4:00 pm at this control it was too early to sleep, it was decided to shower, change clothes, have food and ride on rather than to sleep here. We collected the drop bags, 1 room for two of us which made this a quicker stop and we made it to the food counter. Egg fried rice and grilled chicken was ordered, refilled water, packed our bags and headed back on the road at 6:00 pm.

Stage 12 - Bueng Kan - Nong Khai
Distance - 115 km (Cumulative Distance - 1,258 km)
Difficulty Index - *
Control Point - Culture Park, Wat Lamduan
The distance to the next control being over 100 km we were expecting an easy ride. The road was good and it was mild rolling terrain. As the night set in we tried to draft which was not working out. I was struggling to set a constant pace while riding upfront which was throwing things out of gear. The fluctuations in speed were not working out and Mahesh and Satish were doing the bulk of the riding up front as they were able to set a constant pace. We stopped at a Tesco store and filled up on water and got ourselves a couple of apples for the road. Satish had told us to keep eating on the ride and this was working out well for me as it kept the acidity at bay. I kept a packet of salted peanuts in the jersey pocket and kept munching on them while riding and the breaks at these stores were being used to top up the peanut packet.

The highway was broad and well lit on most occasions again. We had another hour of riding at varying speeds and the shortest distance on the milestone was the target. The next town on the radar was Phon Phisai and I was looking forward to getting there and stopping for dinner. Mahesh sped ahead as he was feeling sleepy and tried to overcome the sleep by increasing the speed. The three of us were riding steady and failed to notice that we had passed Mahesh who had stopped at a bus stop. Satish did think that we had passed Mahesh and we called Mahesh to confirm that he had stopped and we were now ahead of him by a couple of km. We told Mahesh to ride into town as we were stopping at a 7-11 store to have dinner. Mahesh came by and so did a Thai rider as well who wanted to ride along till Nong Khai which was the next control. We told her that we are stopping to eat and she was okay to wait for us.

It was another session of upma/poha with hot water from the 7-11 store and some yogurt for Mahesh and Strawberry flavoured milk for me. I don't drink milk/coffee/tea, however on the ride I find that drinking milk helps on the acidity front for me. There was a top-up of peanuts as well at this store. Around 10:30 pm when we started the ride from Phon Phisai. Just over 40 km to the next control. https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-afvn7-AXVwg/Xkq0kxiyNBI/AAAAAAAArLQ/1lS9hZN0tUU9qFcAGIWRgTC7qu1lPT0RQCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200206_002611161.jpgWe had a nice chatty ride and did not realise the distance coming down. It also dawned on us that we were done with 1,200 km and were now going beyond our max distance in a single ride (not considering the SR5 as it's 4 different rides and not one single ride). The pace was not fast and neither was it slow as we pulled up at the Control at 12:15 am. We had taken under 2 hours after the dinner break to cover over 40 km. Happy to have got to the control which was a temple with the river across the road. There was a beautiful serpent figurine that looked like it was guarding the entrance to the river.

We were given fried chicken and rice at this control and there was beer for the beer drinkers as well. We ate and planned to catch up on a couple of hours of sleep here. It was 1 am when we headed to the portico to sleep. Rakesh meanwhile had managed to find a blanket and three of us snuck under the blanket while Mahesh found a nice enclosed area to sleep. The plan to sleep till 3:30 am did not work out. We were up at 2:30 am and decided to get going as we were not sleeping well here. It was disturbed sleep on this night and since everyone was struggling to sleep here we decided to move on. It took a further 30 minutes before we started from the control.

Stage 13 - Nong Khai -  Sangkhom

Distance - 84 km Cumulative Distance - 1,342 km

Difficulty Index - **

Control Point - 7-11 Store

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-bFa-taEPd1U/Xkq0qEWWV0I/AAAAAAAArLU/7ysKncpT0pw7IBqNlKWpSMw--J8ex6KTQCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200206_025622879.jpgAfter the failed attempt at trying to get some quality sleep, we were back on the saddle at 3:00 am. We had to get onto a cycling track and the next few km was on the cycling track. Once again we were early and there was no daylight to enjoy the cycling track as much as we could. We rode slowly for about an hour as we had not slept well. The pace was slow and we managed to push for an hour when we stopped at a Tesco store and topped up on water, peanuts, fruits and strawberry flavoured milk for me. We spent about 20 minutes here before we resumed the ride. We made it for only a few more km when sleep struck again and we decided to sleep. Found a closed storefront and all of us slept on the floor. We took a 30-minute nap here I guess and were up and about in 40 minutes. The breaks were increasing and the timing of the breaks was also increasing. The last sleep break had worked and we were able to get a sustained period of riding in. It was rolling terrain. Slow on the climbs and quick on the descents to average the speed was what followed for the next hour or so. The clock had struck 7:00 am and we had done 1,316 km which meant that we had ridden 316 km on Day 4. Not a bad return and the daily mileage read as follows:

Day 1 - 390 km
Day 2 - 310 km
Day 3 - 300 km
Day 4 - 316 km

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-H3_j_OfKzBY/Xkq0tNoFLqI/AAAAAAAArLY/S5w7czQV0lsiOnowRY6hhXd96CmW2066QCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200206_073512644.jpgAt the end of the hour, we were close to the river and were getting a beautiful panoramic view of the river as we were on elevated ground. We had a small downhill on which we stopped and took a few pics before resuming the ride. Just before arriving at the control, we had a little bit of flat terrain and we were making the most of it. There was a drizzle at this point, not enough to warrant a packing of the electronic items, but was enough to make the top surface of the road wet. There was a rider about 100 meters ahead of us and I saw him turning into a 7-11 store on the right-hand side of the road. This was about 2 km before the control marked on the map, however, since the control was a 7-11 store I assumed that this was the control and followed the rider into the petrol bunk where the 7-11 store was located. The rider saw me and signaled that this was not the control and that the control was further down the road.  I acknowledged and turned the cycle, but in my hurry to turn I forgot about the wet concrete and down I went. I was up almost immediately, with a few aches on the left side of the body, that is the shoulder, finger, thighs. The wheels were rotating and there was no damage to the cycle. We headed out of the petrol bunk and back onto the road and made it to the other 7-11 store which was a km ahead.

Stage 14 - Sangkhom - Chiang Khan

Distance - 100 km Cumulative Distance - 1,442 km

Difficulty Index - ***

Control Point - Riverside Chiang Khan Resort

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-UH1Br2_s5qU/Xkq0zo2S-zI/AAAAAAAArLc/5SwLBL_5wgMAwTQFxAPzVZ7BcHEebwnCQCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200206_164928657.jpgWe stamped our brevet cards and headed out in search of a restaurant to have fresh food instead of the packed food at the 7-11 store. While we were searching for the restaurant, Rakesh saw that a huge pin had gone through his back tire. We found a restaurant and ordered rice with stir-fried vegetables. While the food was being prepared, we changed the tube in Rakesh's rear tire. In the meantime, we got to know that pork had been mixed in the rice and since the remaining riders don't eat pork we had to go ahead since the restaurant did not have rice available and we had to wait for a fresh batch of rice to be prepared. We headed further down the road and found another restaurant where we got egg-fried rice. We took our time to eat and then got going. We had rolling terrain on offer with the terrain not expected to ease up from here on. The stage difficulty index was only going up from here on till 1,800 km and it was about getting through the kilometers with as little damage as possible.

We had begun the ride after 10 am and as the clock ticked by the Sun slowly began to heat things up. Although there were trees around us, there was not enough canopy cover on the road which was bare which made us take the brunt of the heat. We were passing through a small forest area or probably riding adjacent to one and when we passed by the check post we stopped at a store to cool off with ice cream and other eatables. The breaks would usually consist of taking a look at the tracking and looking out for the other Indian riders. We had noticed that Rajkumar Khot was on a charge and had made up a lot of time and was only about 30 km behind us. We resumed the ride after about 30 minutes. We were tired and there were visible signs of tiredness amongst us and we're looking for a spark to ignite us. Suddenly, Rakesh caught wind and sped ahead and the rest of us followed suit. He had woken us up from our slumber and it took quite an effort to close the gap to him and then ride information.

The terrain was not letting up, it was continuous rolling and there were sudden switches in the gradient as well which necessitated the constant shifting of the gears. At one place when I tried to shift from the small ring to the big ring in the front, the cable snapped. I was distraught and was left ruing the decision to shift the gear at that juncture. I told the other riders that the cable had snapped and we stopped ahead to check and confirmed that the cable had indeed snapped. I could continue riding as the chain was now on the small ring and with rolling terrain and climbs for the next 400 odd km, I would not require the big ring too much. However, I did not want to slow down Mahesh, Rakesh and Satish and told them to go ahead. They were not keen on going ahead and wanted to fix the problem. We enquired about cycle shops at a couple of places and were told that we would get a cycle shop at Pak Chom which was a few km ahead. We reached Pak Chom and saw a 7-11 store where we ate food and then a quick visit to 2 cycle shops where they said that they could not fix the problem. So I would at minimum have to ride to the next control if I wanted to fix the problem.

I tried to convince Mahesh, Satish and Rakesh to go ahead but they were not ready. I was worried on two fronts, one was that I would slow them down and the second being that I would have to work harder to stay with the group and putting undue pressure on the chain might lead to another cable failure which would signal the end of my ride. The more that I was around the group the more frustrated I was getting and I vented it out to Mahesh after which they rode ahead. I mentally prepared myself for a slower ride with lesser breaks to make up for the loss in time on account of the slower speed. To my surprise, after about 10 km I went ahead of Mahesh and Rakesh who had stopped to refill on water. I did not stop as I was set on riding with fewer breaks. Satish rode along with me and in about 20 minutes we were pulling up at the control. It was 3:45 pm when we reached the control. Mahesh and Rakesh arrived 5 minutes later. This was a drop bag location and I wanted to shower, change and leave immediately from this control.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-f9XdZlwctSE/Xkq0zpK1moI/AAAAAAAArLc/p8rzFeMo8TYE6wSVgfrwbq6UOO_lKLPOwCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200206_172404545.jpgThis was a superb resort with the rooms floating on the Mekong River. We were taken to the rooms below and the location of the rooms was very tempting to call it a day and rest here and continue the next day. I did not have the luxury to take a rest here after the cable had snapped and moreover spending over 12 hours at the control did not seem to work for me and I got about getting ready. We got ready and headed back to the restaurant where rice with stir-fried vegetables, bread, jam and juice was on offer for us. We ate up and started from the resort at 6:00 pm. Rajkumar was about 30 minutes behind us and said that he would be resting at the resort before resuming the ride and that we should continue riding as he planned to ride after a 2-hour sleep break. .

Stage 15 - Chiang Khan - Lom Kao

Distance - 167 km (Cumulative Distance - 1,609 km)

Difficulty Index - ***

Control Point - Hen-Om Coffee, 7-11 Store and 7-11 Store

This section was divided into 3 parts;

Chiang Khan - Tha Li - deadly rolling terrain
https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-NSArJb53VgQ/Xkq040vT1eI/AAAAAAAArLg/Xxc9Mk3B0acgE7aKZ0RJipr609RepK7dQCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200206_172844176.jpg.Satish Sharma was reading the ridewithgps map precisely and he knew exactly when the steep climbs were starting and he told us that this was where the short and steep climbs start. It was going to be rolling terrain with the climbs having gradients in the 15-20% range. I had tried to contact the support car for replacing the front derailleur cable, however, there was no response from them. Venky Sir called when he got to know about the cable cut and enquired about the damage and said that it's better not to repair the FD now and that I should continue riding as it is, if not he suggested a couple of hacks to getting the chain onto the big ring if it is absolutely required. I was comfortable on the lower ring, but still had my concerns overriding in the group. I had another round of discussion overriding with the group here who were not ready to ride ahead. Finally, it was agreed that they would ride at their speed and would not slow down and would stay together as long as I could keep up with them. I don't know if they said this to get going because they did not go ahead after this and made it look like that was the max speed at which they could ride.

However, we were together and with nightfall, we were now in some serious gradient. The climbs were short but were super steep. The first one was negotiated with some degree of ease. We were taken aback when there was a sudden downpour that had me taking cover under a tree to pack my phone. Fortunately, the shower did not last more than a minute and we were back on the road. The rolling terrain continued and we were slogging it out on the climbs and getting a little recovery on the quick descents. The advantage of the short segments is that at the end of the first hour of riding, we can start the negative countdown. Anything under 40 km was not too taxing on the mind and was easy to keep going. Just when we were thinking that the difficult part of this segment had been done and that we would have an easy ride to Tha Li, we were hit by a wall. It looked like a 1 km climb and it required me to look vertically upwards to see the top of the climb. Lowest gear in use and zig-zagged my way to the top where the other riders had already made it. From here the next few km was relaxed and we made it to the control at Hen Om Cafe at 9:03 pm. We were given egg-fried rice and I had an M150 here I guess. Another 1-hour break before we got back on the bike.

Tha Li - Dan Sai - rolling terrain continues
We started from Tha Li and the initial km was easy paced and it was in stark contrast to the earlier segment. I was hoping that this would last, however after the initial easy km, we were back in rolling terrain. It seemed like we were in a forest area and the river was cascading downhill next to us, we could only hear the river and not see it. The climbing continued and when the descents started I had to use two headlights to enhance the visibility to be able to keep the speed up in the descents. At this point, after doing steep climbs I wanted to carry as much speed as possible on the climbs. The group would get split intermittently and we would make frequent stops to regroup in this section.

Once we were done with the forest area, we headed out and were passing by villages. Villages meant that we would be facing dogs in abundance. 4-6 dogs at a minimum at each location and each village would have multiple locations where we would be crossing them. First occasion Satish Sharma fell when he could not uncleat. A few more km and I saw Mahesh chasing the dogs with the cycle in his hand as he was trying to deal with the dogs that had surrounded him. https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-qnL4q4Szsg8/XkzIJHqV0EI/AAAAAAAArQQ/oRDR_c8qxTQiRgxvTbNxtmwuh5e67Q0swCLcBGAsYHQ/s320/IMG-20200207-WA0005.jpgI was having a free run at the back with the dogs turning their attention to the riders in front. We were tired and were looking forward to getting to the next control so that we could eat as we were hungry. The countdown had begun to get the remaining km down to 10 and once that target was reached the speed would be increased to make a dash for the control since we would be resting at the control and would get time to recover. We reached the 7-11 store at 2:15 am. We fixed up an upma/poha meal and also some hot fritters from the nearby market which was already set up. As long as we were riding we did not feel the bite of the cold weather, however, stopping to eat had us shivering by the time we were done..

Our plan was to sleep for a couple of hours at this control, however, the cold weather did not allow us to sleep outside. We decided to look for a hotel room for a couple of hours to sleep. Easier said than done as finding a person at the reception of the hotels at this hour was very difficult. We went around to 3 places with no luck. We headed to a petrol bunk and requested to sleep in their office when we spotted a sign for room behind the petrol bunk. It was a resort and we were lucky to get a room here for THB 350. The 4 of us crammed into the bed with the plan being to wake up at 6:00 am, which meant that we get 3 hours of sleep.

Dan Sai - Lom Kao - get the climbing shoes on
We were up by 6:15 am and got ready to leave. Took a further 30 minutes to get going and were finally out of the bunk by 7:00 am. Rajkumar Khot had gone ahead of us as he was on a roll and taking minimal breaks. By the time we started the 5th day was done and the daily mileage read as follows:

Day 1 - 390 km
Day 2 - 310 km
Day 3 - 300 km
Day 4 - 316 km
Day 5 - 251 km

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-FcbR41o4u48/Xkq1DLxN0-I/AAAAAAAArLk/_F0DPx38FtI4fNG8i4StgUGo8G5ENX5NACKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200207_074120242.jpgThe mileage had dropped drastically, however as it had been a day with some difficult sections the drop was understandable. Satish had told us that we would be hitting a 6-7 km climb almost immediately and that would be followed by downhill terrain for the next 15-20 km. With the next control being just over 40 km away this section was going to be about getting past the climb. When we came out, the Sun was out and the cold had subsided. Within a km of the start, we were in a steep climb and made slow progress. As the gradient began to let up we began to get comfortable and increased the pace a little. Took about 40 minutes to make it to the top and then started the descent. It was a steep descent to begin with and I was applying the brakes to keep the speed in check. Although I enjoy descents, steep descents are not for me and I was being extra careful now to minimise the risk of crashing as I could not afford it. 

The next 20 km was a breeze and we made quick progress as it was mostly downhill terrain. We reached the 7-11 store which was the control point. Got the brevet card stamped and sat to eat breakfast which was stir-fried basil chicken with rice, strawberry flavoured milk, and a top-up of salted peanuts. It was 9:10 am when we reached this control and we started from the control at 9:40 am. This was probably one of our quicker stops.

Stage 16 - Lom Kao - Nam Nao

Distance - 81 km Cumulative Distance - 1,690 km

Difficulty Index - ****

Control Point - Ban Huai Lat and Pruksa View Homestay
We were done with 1,609 km and now we knew that if we made it past the next 80 km we would be done with the most difficult section of this ride. The next section was **** and was where we would have to get past a huge climb over 15 km at least of climbing to be done. This section was divided into 2 parts;

Lom Kao - Lak Dan - You ain't climbed anything yet
https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-P-3VWocBBAU/Xkq1J6N-O_I/AAAAAAAArLo/ugajBDJCXLcYaRlHLG6EbDH0c7ci-X7TgCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200207_112547219.jpgThe start from the control was relatively flat and it was a surprise that we had made it through about 15 km without any trouble. When the climb did start it was again 'looking at the sky' kind of climbs. The clock had ticked to 11:00 am when we started the climb and we had to contend with the heat as well while climbing. The gradient of the climbs is not something that I have seen or ridden before, so I cannot draw a parallel to compare these climbs. A difference between the climbs in Thailand to the ones in India is that while the climbs in India spiral to the top, the climbs in Thailand go straight up with minimal curves. We were climbing walls and every time we climbed one wall there was another one looking at us and asking the question "what are you staring at" as I had a dumbfounded look on my face and was looking at the climb with disbelief. Am I hallucinating or is it really that steep? Got to be hallucination was the thought until I reached the wall to start the climb and got to know that I was not hallucinating. There were small breaks in the gradient when we got small descents for about 100 meters, but every descent was tempered as we could see the next climb waiting for us. We zig-zagged where possible and had to take the steep route on some occasions since there were vehicles plying on this route. While we crawled, the trucks and pickups whizzed past us like there was no gradient at all.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-WfuEukL6PKk/Xkq1um0t2VI/AAAAAAAArL8/OeiV0Q-ZClgFglRwBbNha9a0pxXfHcR6QCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200207_134940896.jpgWe were drenched in our sweat in a short while. We were running through our water stock pretty quickly as well. There were no shops around and we were in a crunch situation as dehydration risk was high. We had to stop oncoming cars and request for water to stock up on water. At one point Satish made a statement that we had stopped sweating since all the fluid in the body had been drained, which was true as we were not sweating anymore. We took a small break to allow the legs to recover. Stopping for long was a risk as well as it was getting close to lunch and stopping would only make us hungry and we would struggle further to climb and the climb might just become impossible to overcome. We got back on the saddle and kept going at the climbs, it has to end at some point, if not we at least make it to the control. With about 8 km remaining to the control, we got a break and the downhill started. There was a house here, I went in to ask for water, however, there was no one at the house. We rode a couple of km and came across a store where we stopped to refill water. There was food available at the store as well, we ordered food. However, Rakesh and Mahesh did not want to eat, so we decided that they would ride ahead to the control to eat there while Satish and I would finish eating and come to the control. Meanwhile, Rajkumar had just reached the control and a quick call and he said that he would wait for us to reach. Satish and I did not take long to get started and must have started within a few minutes of Mahesh and Rakesh starting. We regrouped at the control where Rajkumar was narrating his experience to Mahesh. It was 1:36 pm when we reached here and we got the cards stamped and ate watermelon before starting from the control..

Lak Dan - Nam Nao - The dessert is served
https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-cCTgCnmQNH8/Xkq1TVHvijI/AAAAAAAArLs/bLwbZ2NRR1UA467wHiHyAWFJBcsn_Ba1QCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200207_152432726.jpgWe were 37 km from the next control. I was expecting that we were done with the difficult climbs and that this section would be easier than the previous section. However, when we started we were hit by a wall almost immediately. Crawled up the climb and made slow progress, every break in the gradient was now feeling like a mini downhill section. The 32-cog of the cassette was working overtime with the gradients being steep, I was happy to have a big cog to overcome some big climbs. We were taking intermittent breaks to regroup as we were climbing at different speeds. It took us over an hour to get past the major climbs and then had some respite when we got to a steep downhill section.

We were bordering a forest area and the descent took us out of the forest area and we were passing by villages now. The gradient eased up for a few km before rolling terrain came back in a short while. I was tired of the rolling terrain and wanted to get to the control as soon as possible. With the number of km going under 15 to the control, I did not stop to regroup and continued to ride. The rolling terrain was only getting tougher as I got closer to the control and it was frustrating to see the gradient of the road going up again when I was close to the control. Kept tracking the route on bike GPS and made it to the control at 4:30 pm. I was relieved that the difficult part of the ride was done. The other riders began to arrive within a few minutes. We collected the drop bags and the 5 of us split into 2 rooms to freshen up and get going as soon as possible. I had rice with fried chicken and we got ready to leave. Rajkumar took a power nap and we got ready to leave when he was up. Headed towards the gate and started the ride..

Stage 17 - Nam Nao - Kaset Sombun

Distance - 85 km (Cumulative Distance - 1,775 km)

Difficulty Index - **

Control Point - 7-11 Store, PTT Petrol Station
I had a wobble in the rear tire as soon as we started the ride and the tire was rather noisy. I stopped and checked the tire pressure and confirmed that I had a puncture. There was still air left in the tire and I feared that it was a puncture caused by a pin and finding the pin in the dark would be difficult. We located the puncture and saw that there was no pin that had pierced the tire and that it was a pinch flat. Changed the tube and with the help of the other riders pumped the tire up to pressure. We were on the road at 7:20 pm. We started with a small rolling terrain section and then started a steep descent. I had two lights on to be able to do this downhill. The downhill was very steep and keeping the cycle under control was difficult here. The speeds were high and the risk of a crash was very very high. Steep downhill's were getting me scared and I got into a wobble again. A wobble at this speed and I had resigned to the fact that a crash was on. However, some quick thinking and I realised that I had changed my position on the saddle for the downhill and got back to the regular position on the saddle which gave better control on the downhill and I was able to get the bike back under control. I was shouting on the downhill in anticipation of a crash, however, with the bike back in control I calmed down quickly.

After the steep downhill, the gradient eased up and it was a steady downhill gradient. It was easy riding as the 5 of us had regrouped and rode together. Mahesh setting the pace for us and we were sitting behind. The first 20 km having been done at breakneck speed had given us the opportunity to have a relaxed ride, however, we were doing a steady pace and did not back off the pace too much. The gradient helped as I did not have to spin too much to stay with the group. 40 km were done with relative ease and we saw a Tesco store ahead. It was around 9:30 pm when we stopped. I refilled the salted peanuts and drank a strawberry flavoured milk and had a pineapple pie as well. We got going from here in about 40 minutes. We were under 30 km from the next control and overall we were just over 250 km from the finish. The night was young and we planned that we should try to ride through the night with just a power nap so that we could finish the ride before the Sun heats up the next day. With this plan, we began the ride.

The next 30 km was pure entertainment. Rajkumar Khot was in his element and it was a laugh riot as he entertained us with his witty statements and regaled us with his tales. It was more like a joy ride and we were not worried about sleep and were wide awake and it looked like if Raj was going to be able to do this through the night then we would be finishing the ride quicker than we expected. However, the effect of the previous day's ride began to show up and Raj began to slow down with under 10 km remaining to the Control. Mahesh, Rakesh, Satish and I had slept well the previous night, however, Raj having ridden almost continuously with minimal rest over the past 3 days was beginning to tire. We made it to the control at 12:00 am, on the dot midnight. After a quick top-up on the food front, we planned to take a power nap which stretched to a sleep break, as we took a 45-minute nap and then got up to get going.

Stage 18 - Kaset Sombun - Chaiyaphum

Distance - 75 km Cumulative Distance - 1,850 km

Difficulty Index - **

Control Point - 7-11 Store, Ban Kwao
With 225 km remaining, we were looking forward to knocking off 125 of this km in the next 6-7 hours, given that the terrain would be easy. At a minimum, the next control which was 75 km ahead should be reached by 5:00 am. This was the plan when we set off at 1:40 am. We passed through town which was still buzzing on account of a concert. The town was well lit and the people were still on the streets. We passed by the ground where the concert was in progress. Negotiated our way safely out of town as there was traffic and people crossing the road and we did not want any untoward incident at this hour. The pace of the ride was slow and we were lethargic. https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-NXgBb9DvVF8/XkvYwuzOjTI/AAAAAAAArOI/k3haJgo0zJ0lQQkuKfw8a1KjRV4ED4NBACLcBGAsYHQ/s320/83866263_10157659099393153_6279898620963586048_n.jpgThe high energy ride before reaching the control on account of Raj's entertainment had mellowed down and we were trying to get through the km now. After an hour of riding and we were pretty much in sleep zone again and we decided to sleep as the plan to ride through the night was not working and we wanted to get another hour of sleep in. We found a closed store with benches out in front and decided to take an hour's break. Dogs had spotted us and were barking at us when we headed to the store, however, we were tired and did not care about the dogs barking and went to sleep in spite of the barking. The dogs continued barking for the next 15 minutes with a small competition on as to whether they could bark louder than the snoring before they gave up and went quiet.

All of us were up only at 4:15 am and we took a further 15 minutes to get going. It was a slow start again showing that the break was not sufficient. In a short while, Raj had a shut-eye moment and went off-road. We decided that it was too risky to continue and that we had to rest further and decided to restart only after daybreak. We rode a little searching for a place to sleep. We came across a closed store again and went to sleep on the stairs in front of the store. 5 am when we stopped and now it was a wait for daylight. We had curious and concerned people coming out of their houses and giving us puzzled looks. In about half an hour the store owner opened the shutter of the store and saw us sleeping on the storefront and immediately closed the shutters. The husband came out and enquired about who we are and what we are doing there? Once convinced he opened the store and that served as a place for us to fill up on some food. The previous night's plan had fallen flat and we still had 210 km to ride and were looking at riding for a further 12 hours at least. We started the ride around 6:30 am. Within 5 km we were climbing and it was a steady climb. We did it with relative ease as the gradient was gentle and nothing like what we had seen the earlier day. We did consider that it had been easy on account of the sleep/rest and that we might have struggled had we tried to do it at night.

.https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-YWY5jF_1B6Y/Xkq1YZ6-c-I/AAAAAAAArLw/fg63t-KymWUowAloSWDjadwkLPAW2YkSwCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200208_074343037.jpgA nice downhill followed the climb and we were in mild rolling terrain after this. Beautiful sunrise and a turn onto interior roads had us passing by agricultural fields again. Early morning weather was perfect for riding and we were in cruise mode. The km came down quickly and we made it to the next control at 8:37 am. Rakesh, Satish and I had reached early while Raj and Mahesh had fallen behind a little. The 7-11 store was a control point and we came out after the brevet cards were stamped, while Mahesh and Raj went to the adjoining Tesco store. They did not know that this was a control and had assumed that we were stopping for breakfast. A quick reminder to get their cards stamped and we settled down for breakfast. We took an hour to have food and drinks and get started from the control..

Stage 19 - Chaiyaphum - Dan Khun Thot

Distance - 106 km Cumulative Distance - 1,956 km

Difficulty Index - *

Control Point - Owl Coffee
170 km remaining with the terrain being flat meant that it was going to be tough for me to keep up with the rest of the group. 170 km was still a big number and I did not want to be pushing hard at this juncture. I was looking forward to getting the remaining km to under 100 before increasing the effort. Raj had taken off like a jet and was gone in a few minutes. Satish and Rakesh went ahead but were within sight. Mahesh slowed down and paced me as there was a strong crosswind and he was shielding me from the brunt of the wind. We were on narrow winding roads and passing through a lot of villages. When we made it out of the villages and back onto the highway, it was time to face the Sun and the wind. Raj was waiting ahead and we regrouped and continued the ride. The highway was difficult to ride with the Sun sapping our energy reserves quickly. The gaps between us was varying, although everyone was in sight, there was almost a 100-meter gap between the rider in the front and me at the back. The pace was dropping and we wanted to take a watermelon break as we saw a few stores selling watermelons. By the time we regrouped, we came across a stall selling cold drinks and not watermelon. We stopped and refilled on water and had a drink and 30 minutes later we were back on our bikes.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-ofPQtztfUbA/Xkt1jA69aII/AAAAAAAArNo/8wA7lXBdTwIFK1kzb4YWsKs7fkn6gAFRwCLcBGAsYHQ/s320/84404430_2707071799328342_6840870248023851008_n.jpgThe slow pace continued after the break with the Sun not doing any favours today and neither was the wind letting up. Managed to grind out another hour of riding in tough conditions and saw a 7-11 store and decided that we would stop for lunch. It was around 1:00 pm when we stopped and it was time to top up on food and refreshments. It was a comparatively quick break as we got going in 40 minutes. We now had just over 100 km remaining. It was time to get some quick miles in, however, we were in the mood for some circus stunts with the camera and it was photoshoot time while we were riding through town. I was trying to get into the frame and was in an awkward position and missed on the bump on the road. Went over it and almost lost control of the bike, managed to avoid a fall and was still smiling about the circus stunts that we were trying out. Satish managed to capture the moment. It took a good 10 minutes to get out of this mode and get back to riding. With the remaining km down to under 100, we were now in a relatively comfortable zone and I was okay to cross-chain as well from here. Getting onto the smaller gears in the cassette made it easy to stay on pace with the group although I risked chain damage. The lethargy of the morning was left behind and we were making good time post-lunch. We made a right turn on the route and were onto rough roads and a lot of traffic from here on. The vehicles were zipping past us and with minimal shoulder space on the left on a rough surface it was difficult to ride and required the concentration levels to be high. To complicate things further, rolling terrain was back and it was slightly more than gentle rolling so we had to work to get through to the next control. We stuck to the task of riding and did not make any further stops and got close to the control. As we got closer, it was that feeling that the control is just not arriving and every time we checked the route map we still had 2 more km to go. The mind was playing games here and getting to the control was becoming irritating to say the least. We finally made it to Owl Coffee, got the brevet cards stamped by the volunteers. It was 3:30 pm when we got here and it was time to rest a little before we resumed the ride..

Stage 20 - Dan Khun Thot - Pak Chong

Distance - 68 km Cumulative Distance - 2,024 km

Difficulty Index - **

Control Point - Khao Khaen Public Park
https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-QjiHG6md0Zo/Xkq1dAG9ZgI/AAAAAAAArL0/O0X2N2T5Gic7ayA5ruHK989anmYhaOypgCKgBGAsYHg/s320/IMG_20200208_200749800.jpgA week ago we had 20 stages to get through and now we were looking at the last stage which was only 68 km. It was only a matter of bringing ourselves to the finish based on the energy levels after the break it looked like we could finish before 6:00 pm. We exited from the control and were onto a steep descent. The road surface was not good and there were cracks in the road which on some occasions were about 1-2 inches wide. This was a risky downhill and my heart rate was probably more than it would be on a climb while doing this descent. Luck had not deserted us and all of us made it out of this downhill safely without any incidents. The downhill section was around 10 km and we had quickly brought the remaining km down to around the 50 km mark. The downhill had drained me and even a break for Coca-Cola was not enough to get me going. When we got going it was a struggle to ride at a pace and we were crawling. The road was mild rolling, actually based on the route that we had ridden till now, this could not be considered as rolling terrain and would fall in the flat terrain category. Flat terrain meant that we needed to keep turning the legs continuously which was not happening.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-y5aNEPyIRbg/Xkt0t_46tDI/AAAAAAAArNY/wCnQQQ9omVA0z6Srkr5VwV92-X1HXw0GACLcBGAsYHQ/s320/83882287_10218240157487625_7334858776316477440_n.jpgWith the end nearing, it felt like the mind did not want the ride to the finish and was not allowing the body to get to the finish. I was feeling drained and saw that Rakesh was also struggling at this point. Raj, Mahesh and Satish were riding easily. The finish was now under 30 km and I asked for a break and we stopped at a shop for juice. The break helped to re-focus and when we got back on the saddle, Raj took up the pacing task and he set a pretty high pace. We were now able to keep up with him although it was being done with a groan, the fact that the km were coming down quickly made up for the stress. The clock had ticked past 6:00 pm and soon it was dark. The last few km we were in a little bit of traffic as we entered the city and by the time we negotiated the traffic and the signals and made it to the finish point it was 7:25 pm. The volunteers greeted and cheered for us as we reached the finish point. We congratulated each other on having completed the ride and headed in to complete the finish line formalities. The Brevet card was stamped with the finishing time and we returned the GPS device and headed out for some pics.

Number Crunching:

Having completed the ride it's time to do some number crunching:

Day

Distance

Ride Time

Total Time

Stop Time

Sleep Time

Drop Bag Access

Time at Control/Breaks

Ride Speed

1

390

17.00

24.00

7.00

2.50

-

4.50

22.94

2

310

15.75

24.00

8.25

2.50

1.25

4.50

19.68

3

300

15.75

24.00

8.25

2.75

1.25

4.25

19.05

4

316

15.50

24.00

8.50

2.00

1.25

5.25

20.39

5

251

16.75

24.00

7.25

3.00

1.25

3.00

14.99

6

253

14.75

24.00

9.25

2.50

1.25

5.50

17.15

7

200

9.00

12.50

3.50

-

-

3.50

22.22

.

2,020

104.50

156.50

52.00

15.25

6.25

30.50

19.33

.

I was surprised when I saw that the ride time and the total time were pretty much in sync with the initial plan that I had drawn up for the ride. I did not track the plan during the ride and was only trying to get to 300 km every 24 hours. Post-ride when I did see the data and saw that the saddle time was 104.50 hours out of a total time of 156.5 hours, I did not know how I had spent the 52 hours off the saddle since I knew that I had not slept for too many hours. The total sleep that I got on this ride was 15 hours 15 minutes and the 5 drop bag's that I accessed took me 6 hours 15 minutes. The remaining 30:50 hours were spent for food and refreshment breaks which average to approximately 1 hour 30 minutes for every 100 km. This meant that even if we had ridden at 20 kmph, the break time would bring it down to 15 kmph and add the sleep time and drop bag access and we were close to the 12kmph average. On the days with climbs, the ride speed went down but we did not compensate for the drop in speed with a decrease in the break time. If the break time had been managed efficiently, we could have probably had more sleep time allowing for a better recovery rather than having to struggle as we did on the 6th night.

At the end of the ride, it shows that we have ridden 2,020 km in 6.5 days which averages 310 km per day. Good enough for this ride, however, still scope for better ride management. In hindsight, we could have probably touched the 350 km per day mark with better time management.

Summary
https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-G-IY8YTI8ZA/Xkq1dBk7DNI/AAAAAAAArL0/UQu5NJEeV4cEYSQ7EvZMla7SkbGaNKACgCKgBGAsYHg/s320/FB_IMG_1581323005877.jpgWe traversed 2,020 km across North-Eastern Thailand and it was a beautiful experience. We got to see a different Thailand and it changed my perspective of the place. Humid and hot was what I was expecting the weather to be, however, the weather was similar to what we have here in and around Bangalore. Close to the coastline and beaches is what I was expecting, however, the ride took us away from the beach and towards a river that forms the border between Thailand and Laos and further we were riding adjacent to the river for almost 800 km. The developed cities on the banks of the river with cycling tracks and the various temples were stress busters and a relief to the drooping eyes. The gradient of the climbs was something that I could not have imagined even in my dreams, this ride has redefined 'steep' in my books. Finally, the chain of 7-11 stores were our lifesavers without which the ride would have been much more difficult. The ride was not smooth sailing and there were issues, but overall I feel that I was fortunate that the damage was limited to one broken front derailleur cable and one puncture only on this ride. It could have been worse, however, being able to complete the ride felt good.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-iMWgkyq53Z8/Xki23BqqbCI/AAAAAAAArHQ/bZc2bsIjDakikb2YyPq2iq4RH2LoyOJWACKgBGAsYHg/s320/FB_IMG_1581308783661.jpgA shout out to the organisers who in the inaugural edition did a great job. The route was meticulously planned to give the riders a feel of the Thai people, culture, food, temples and locations. It was not just a ride to test our physical limits, but a ride that allowed us to experience Thailand. I would like to thank Mahesh, Rajkumar, Rakesh and Satish for riding with me and putting up with my tantrums when the ride was not in my favour. Phenomenal ride by Rajkumar Khot, who in spite of having a tough start made up a lot of ground over the course of the next three days. Would like to thank Mohan Sir, Santosh, Pritish, Grinshina, Rohit, Satish Addanki and Venky Sir for pushing us to the finish line. The other riders that we met on the ride were always smiling  and it was always positive energy around them and it was inspiring to watch them ride. The Thai people who put up with our English and sign language which they managed to decode and were able to guide us/provide us with what we wanted were very humble and polite. This ride was made special by the Indian contingent. 12 riders embarked on an adventure and at the end of the week, all of us had made it to the finish line on our saddles. Having a 100% finish is awesome.

ITEMS OF THE KIT:
Handle Bar Bag: 4 spare tubes, one 20,000 mah power bank, tire levers, puncture kit, charging cables, zip-ties.
Top Tube Bag: Mobile phone, one 20,000 mah power bank.
Saddle Bag: Spare tire, pump, cold weather jacket, towel, packaged food (MTR sachets), toiletries, medical kit.
Spare spokes were fixed onto the fork

Best Moment: Being able to ride fast on rough roads on tired legs on the 2nd day and riding up steep gradients without getting off the bike were the best moments on this ride. Other notable moments were experiencing the Thai culture, night markets, tropical fruits, resorts on the banks of the Mekong river and beautiful cycle tracks set up alongside the Mekong River. 7 Eleven stores will always be remembered fondly for being lifesavers.

Most challenging thing:
- Riding in steep gradient climbs in the heat and with minimal water.
- Getting past the very steep descents, had a wobble on a couple of occasions and was fortunate to come out of it without crashing.
- Numerous encounters with the dogs.
- Riding with a broken gear cable and having only the small chain-ring available for close to 600 kilometers on this ride

.Learning from the ride:
- Time management is very important. We could and should have done a lot better with the time taken during the breaks which would have given us more time to sleep and possibly been a lot faster when we rode on account of the additional and better quality rest.
- Riding in a group we should have been able to take advantage of drafting, however, riding at the front of the group and drafting requires practice and all the riders have to be on the same wavelength. We invariably struggled and could not make the best use of riding together.

Tips for the Cyclists who wish to attempt:
- The required average time of 10kmph for the 202-hour slot and 12 kmph for the 168-hour slot is not as easy as it sounds. We have to be on top of our time management as any laxity on this front can cost us a lot.
- Do not spend a lot of time on breaks and keep a tab on the time spent on food/refreshment stops so that the additional time can be spent on sleep/recovery.
- Do not expect food of choice to be available and make do with the food that is available. The 7-11 stores are arranged in a similar pattern across most stores, so understand the location of the items that we require on the first couple of visits and head directly to them in the subsequent stops. Avoid loitering in the stores as time flies inside these stores.
- Ice is available for free in most provision stores/bakeries and riders who are used to drinking cold water have the option to fill their water bottles with ice during peak afternoon and can have cold water as the ice melts to cool off.
- The dogs will be out in numbers during the night, don't panic, stay calm and keep riding, barking dogs never bite.
- It's not only the climb that is difficult, watch out for the descents as well, but a small mistake on this will also prove to be very costly.
- Stretch between 1,442 km to 1,680 km is the toughest part of this route. Timing the ride to get through this section or at least most of this section in the evening/night and early morning hours will be very helpful.

About the Author
E:\Website\Guest Blog\Monish Calappa\IMG_20150615_141929050_HDR.jpgMonish Calappa is a 39-year-old Chartered Accountant by profession. He used to cycle to stay fit and check out unexplored places in the vicinity. But over a period of time, cycling has become his way of life and his routine revolves around cycling and related activities. He has earlier represented Karnataka state in Hockey at the junior level. Other than cycling, he loves to watch live sporting action and movies. You can check out more articles from the author about his cycling experiences at http://mccyclingdiary.blogspot.com/?m=1

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