Keep The Wheels Rolling – Mud, Sweat And Despair

Lush countryside on the way to Kalemyo

Lush countryside on the way to Kalemyo

It struck me that it’s not only when cycling that, metaphorically speaking, sometimes our wheels stop rolling. Things we normally do without a great deal of conscious effort suddenly consume our every waking moment. A problem at work escalates from an inconvenience into a livelihood threatening catastrophe: I had an accident in a car at work once which eventually resulted in me getting fired. Consistent denial to face problems in a relationship causes them to fester until the core is rotten, and only good for the bin: I’ve had quite a few relationships and I’m still single – enough said. Progress towards big goals and dreams by nature will meet circumstances which seem insurmountable: I’ve lost count of the number of goals that overcame me, resulting in failure.

Whatever the challenge, if it’s worth fighting for, one simply must find a way to keep the wheels rolling.

There was a group of about 10 girls too but they scarpered as soon as I got the camera out?

There was a group of about 10 girls too but they scarpered as soon as I got the camera out?

Getting into Myanmar was a doddle compared to getting out of India. Mar Swe, a gentleman (I believe?) at Seven Diamond Travels, had arranged a letter of authorisation from the Government of Myanmar on my behalf, and his colleague was waiting for me with the letter when I reached the border. I then followed him to his hotel in Tamu, where I stayed the first night. Already I was warming to the friendly and helpful nature of the Myanmar people.

The next day crossed a significant distance marker:

On the lower ground south of the higher elevation of Manipur, India, the heat and humidity were back with a vengeance, and I once again hit rock bottom physically before reaching Kalemyo. Stopping at a roadside restaurant, the sudden onset of diarrhoea found me cramping at speed down a steep flight of stairs into a stilted cubicle, where I would learn a new skill I had been avoiding since Turkey: paperless pooing. When I say, ‘learn a new skill,’ that’s an exaggeration, and after an impromptu shower I returned to the restaurant even more confused about the art of paperless pooing that I was before trying it.

This lady helped me learn some Burmese words at her restaurant in Kalemyo.

This lady helped me learn some Burmese words at her restaurant in Kalemyo.

The short ride between Kalemyo and Kalewa was the calm before the storm:

On both Google maps and the paper map provided by the Myanmar Embassy in Kathmandu, the main road through Kalewa passed over a river, in reality, it did not. The alternative road proved to be more challenging than any I had encountered to date. Steep inclines and declines over uneven surfaces made progress desperately slow. Then there was the mud, which often became unridable, usually after I had fallen off unable to create enough forward momentum with a spinning rear wheel. When pushing Shurly my feet grew to twice their normal size, heavy with mud every step ended with a slip and my leg grating against the mud encrusted rear pannier. I thought to myself, ‘This is shit. This isn’t bicycle touring. What is the point of pushing a 50 kg bicycle through mud? Fuck this for a game of soldiers.’ And for the first time ever I considered thumbing a lift. But there was no-one there, I was in the middle of nowhere. ‘Just keep the wheels rolling.’ I said to myself.

Out of options, I resolved to find positive ways to change my perspective. In my childhood I was a keen mountain biker and would have revelled in the prospect of spending the day cycling through mud over uneven ground. That was it. Instead of cursing every bump and muddy section I began to see them as challenges to cross without stopping. Gradually I became better at choosing the right route through, and gauging the best speed and gear to reduce wheel spin and carry momentum. Forgetting about the schedule to reach Monywa, focusing on the present moment, and becoming absorbed in the challenge presented by the road released me from the prison of expectation.

Pushing a 50kg bike up muddy hills still sucked though…

The sun was heavy in the sky, ‘Aaaaaargghhhhh!’ The frustration of pushing Shurly uphill through the mud was getting the better of me. The half way guesthouse was out of reach and the day was coming to an end when on reaching the top of a particularly exhausting peak I heard the rapturous laughter of a family tickled by the sight of me doubled over covered in mud gasping for air.

The family were adorable, the evening was spent miming in between broken English and Burmese. The couple from across the road came to join us for tea, and I tried to learn some more Burmese words which they all found very amusing.

The friendly family that helped out in the middle of nowhere.

The friendly family that helped out in the middle of nowhere.

Traditional rural housing

Traditional rural housing

 

As I pushed on oscillating over more mud and rubble it felt more like an assault course than a road, I wondered if I would ever make it to Monywa. Eventually crossing the ridge the road descended and flattened out into the village of Gangaw.

A slight misunderstanding over the lodging arrangements meant that after showering and washing my cloths with laundry detergent in the back garden of the restaurant, the owners promptly asked me to leave. Fortunately, the chap who told me I could stay, whom I thought was the owner, saw what happened and very kindly offered to host me at his home for the night.

I followed him on his motorbike back to his home where he lived with his wife, mother-in-law, and three year old son. We had a lot of visitors that evening as word got out that there was a strange looking Westerner with white feet, brown hands and ginger facial hair staying in the village.

The house sat on stilts, was constructed in hard wood and well engineered. The kitchen was outside under a shelter and the cooking was done over wood-burning fires. There was a well to provide water, they also collected rainwater in large metal basins on an outside balcony which acted as an open air washroom for everything from clothes and dishes to people.

The house comprised of two rooms: a living room which also doubled as a dining room and bedroom, and a separate room which was also used for sleeping in at night. There was very little furniture, everything was done while sitting on the floor. Electricity was only available between 5:30pm and 9:00pm, however, the night I was there the power didn’t come on until 7:00pm.

We sat and ate a meal together of rice, vegetables, and fish and chicken curries. I was exhausted soon after eating and they laid out a bed and put up a mosquito net for me to sleep under. In the morning they prepared a breakfast and I followed Aung on his motorbike back to the main road. Thanks so much Aung and family it was a pleasure to meet you.

Aung, his wife, mother-in-law and son.

Aung, his wife, mother-in-law and son.

Despite pushing every last drop of determined effort into the pedals, the wheels stopped rolling. It was the start of the third day spent inching painstakingly from Kalewa to Monywa, a journey naively embarked upon with ‘A‘ day set aside to complete. Keeping the wheels rolling was proving to be an all consuming vocation, which in the context of ‘cycling around the world’, might seem obvious. In reality though, keeping the wheels rolling doesn’t usually absorb a great deal of conscious attention. Just get on the bike and pedal, and normally the wheels keep rolling.

Immediately upon leaving Gangaw began the steepest, roughest climb I’ve ever cycled. The gradients were so steep that I had to zigzag across the road to make progress, but often not even that was enough. It was like the worst kind of interval training imaginable: I would cycle for as long as I could until the point of failure, spend a couple of minutes doubled over on the verge of being physically sick trying to get my breath back, then start cycling again. That went on for twelve miles, at one point I was close to tears. I felt so helpless, I had reached the point of failure over and over again and the hill just kept on going.

Then the realisation hit me that I had spent most of the last few days outside of my comfort zone, continually uncertain if I would be able to reach the end of the road. But all personal growth happens outside of your comfort zone: you’re either breaking down or you’re breaking through, it’s simply a matter of perspective. You have to decide which it’s going to be. I had written about it a lot, the whole idea of cycling around the world was devised to put me in those very situations.

In moments of despair it’s easy to forget what brought you there in the first place. I was there because I chose to be there and reminding myself of that was exactly what I needed to get the wheels rolling again.

Whatever your challenges are, whatever the mud, rubble and steep hills are in your life right now, just find a way to keep the wheels rolling. Eventually you will get to where your going.

[Side note: This blog made it onto a¬†list of the top 50 bicycle touring blogs based on Alexa ranking, page authority¬†and domain authority – Whoop whoop! When I say made it onto the list, at Number 47 it just made it onto the list, but still, for a one year old blog it’s pretty good going.

I also found out that the children of Horizon School that I visited in Dubai raised a whopping 400 pounds for Room to Read through their sponsored dress down day. Thanks again to Liz, Paul and Lara for hosting, organising and contributing.]

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12 Responses to Keep The Wheels Rolling – Mud, Sweat And Despair

  1. Tom Begley October 6, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    Hi Fraser,

    10,000 congratulations my friend, what a fantastic achievement! I just could not properly describe my admiration for your courage, stamina and commitment.

    Clearly, from your video clips, things get a bit hard at times and I hope you’ll err on the side of caution when it comes to balancing the need to look after your health and strength with the schedule. Isnt it refreshing, however , to find real humanity and hospitality – however simple -in a country which has had a very bad press in the West. It seems you have met some lovely people and hope you will continueto do so.

    We – especially Marjory who has fairly conservative eating habits – regularly marvel at how you must be eating. Rice and vegetables I could handle but I shudder to imagine what local specialities might be on offer some times. If you have the time I am sure many of your followers might enjoy some detail.

    Theblogchats (dont suppose I have created a new word but you know what I mean – the video clips) are just great so please keep them coming. If you could now and again point out where exactly you currently are on a map that would also be interesting.

    Cant help but worry about you but have the distinct impression that whatever they throw at you, you will handle in style.

    Look after your self, Fraser. We think and talk about you often.

    Very well done so far and very best wishes for phase next.

    Tom and Marjory

    • Fraser October 8, 2014 at 9:43 am #

      Cheers Tom, Marjory,

      The people along the way have been fantastic, I find great people wherever I go.

      There have been quite a few odd menu entries along the way. In Myanmar I have seen massive fried cockroaches, fried barking deer and fried cat, and of course the sheeps head in Iran was memorable! I have been mainly eating a vegetarian diet since India, the quality of meet is pretty poor and you never really know what your eating. I’m not overly squeemish, though, so perhaps I will arrange an assortment of odd ball foods to eat in a future video. Right now I’m staying on the corner of 32nd street and Maha Bandula next to the Sule Pagoda in Yangon city. I’ll be here for another week while waiting for the Thai embassy to reopen and accept visa applications.

      All the best,

      Fraser

  2. Allan and Hazel Baillie October 6, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    !0,000 miles and still rolling well done What a milestone but what a way to treat a girl on achieving it. A mud bath and being thrown on the ground was not appropriate! I hope she is now recovering with some tlc although I fear that there may be more to come. This was quite an instalment and emotions were high in reading of the mental and physical challenge you endured. Very well done in keeping the wheels rolling. Having had the snow and ice in Turkey, the heat of India, and the monsoon quagmire of the road to Mandalay I’m not sure what is left, how about fire and brimstone ! The people you have met that have helped are truly amazing and we are grateful for what they have done to help you stay on the road. Lets hope the worst of the roads are behind you.

    Love M&D xxx

    • Fraser October 8, 2014 at 9:29 am #

      Ha Ha!

      Shurly is now doing much better! I spent a good hour or so bring her back to full health. I’m sure there will be plenty more troublesome conditions in the road ahead, as yet unknown.

      Lots of love,

      Fraser x x x

  3. Mack October 6, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    Thank you. X

    • Fraser October 8, 2014 at 9:18 am #

      My pleasure Mack – hope you’re keeping well x

  4. Gunadi Getol October 7, 2014 at 1:53 am #

    There is not enough words to express my appreciation of what you have achieved now, I believe it takes a lot of things to conquer all the difficulties there. However Myanmar is I believe a friendly country with friendly people just like most of Asian countries so you will get over it and I am looking forward to hear that you will reach Indonesia .

    What is your next route after Myanmar ? Anyway I wish you all the best!

    Regards
    Gunadi Getol

    • Fraser October 8, 2014 at 9:17 am #

      Thanks Gunadi – I’ll be heading into Thailand, Laos then Vietnam next.

  5. dave and sue gregson October 8, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

    Hello Fraser

    come home……………………..only joking !

    You adventure is truly remarkable
    Its so nice to here how kind strangers are to you.

    we really enjoy your blogs.

    ps your dad’s golf swing is improving at last !!!

    hugs Dave and Sue

    • Fraser October 17, 2014 at 6:59 am #

      Thanks so much Dave, Sue…

      ‘Stranger are just friends waiting to happen’ Dave Crothwaite

      If you keep swinging a club for long enough, eventually you hit a hole in one….

  6. Jane October 10, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

    Only one thing I can say….balls of steel!!!

    Your belief to keep going is incredible, I know there was not really another option and breaking through was definitley better than breaking down, but still incredible.

    Well done, 10000 miles just amazing.

    Like mum and dad I am also grateful for the kindness of strangers towards you, gives a bit of faith back!

    Much love from all of us
    Xx

    • Fraser October 17, 2014 at 6:54 am #

      I often wish my balls were actually made of steel, sadly the chaffing confirms they most definitely are not! haha….

      The Myanmese peoples are among the happiest, friendliest, kindest peoples who walk the earth. Truly a wonderful place.

      Lots of love,

      Fraser x

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