I first sat on a road bike 9 months ago. I remember being taken up a pretty decent hill on my first climb, but having to stop halfway up to cry and catch my breath. Yes, I was really that unfit. Never did I imagine I could conquer Doi Inthanon.
Fast forward to early June this year and I never thought I would find myself here. After a two-week trip to Thailand, I would cycle an 11km hill every morning, as well as doing a 20km ascent at Moncham and the dreaded 40km at Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain.
I wasn’t keen to ride this climb at all. I had to be coerced and persuaded for days even to consider taking part. Yet, there I found myself awake at 5am getting ready to leave for a 220km long ride. FML.
The ride there is pretty easy. It’s a long 70km but it’s all flat, with minimal traffic lights and nice roads. Even the first 10km of the climb is pretty chilled out. There’s a few steep parts, but they’re all followed with a smooth descent after.
If you’re considering riding Doi Inthanon and come past the same restaurant that we did, we strongly urge you to take some time to eat. Rice, veg and fries later, we don’t know how we would have coped the rest of the ride without that food.
The climb itself isn’t actually too bad. Sure there some parts which aren’t exactly a walk in the park, but they’re not so bad that you want to turn around and scrap your plans for an epic Strava activity.
All was going pretty peachy for us, until a drizzle of rain started, and refused to stop. Then, came the clouds.
It seemed as if one minute we were riding in the sun, and the next we were slap bang in the middle of a random Thai cloud, with pissing rain all around us. Now that, is what made the climb so awful.
When visibility is no more than 20m and the rain is so strong that your tyres are slipping when you’re going UP the hill, that’s when you know things are going a little pear shaped.
An utterly painful 3km from the top of the climb, we had an epiphany. Is losing the tips of our fingers and the possibility of hyperthermia really worth the Strava segment? Probably not.
Then came the next issue. Hours of continuous rain and being over 2000m above sea level makes descending a bit harder than it needs to be. With sharp turns and nothing but fog in front of you, the chances of sliding and meeting a car or a fence were nervously high.
A crash a few days before had left me cautious anyway, and the thought of descending on sopping wet roads and basically blind was a big fat NOPE.
Deciding standing still and waiting for a lift would most likely end in freezing to death, we had the slow and miserable task of walking 3km down the mountain with our bikes. Note, it’s still pissing with rain.
After what felt like a heart wrenching few hours of walking, the sight of a restaurant ahead glowed like a lagoon to those hallucinating in the desert.
One very odd conversation with a local through Google Translate later, and we had blagged ourselves a place in the back of their truck. Luxury.
So there we were, sitting in the back of some Thais truck, with plastic ponchos and our bikes by our sides. The definition of defeat.
30km+ later, we were out of the clouds and no longer worrying about whether we’d lose our extremities to frost bite. So, what’s the perfect way to warm up? Yep, another 70km ride home.
You don’t know exhaustion and the feeling of despair until you’re wet to your bones, starving hungry and have an arse so sore it feels like you’ve been sitting on a fence for twelve hours.
70km and what felt like a lifetime later, we finally made it home. 14 hours later, a ride in a strangers van, and the longest ride of my life ever, I had made it.
Did Doi Inthanon Defeat Me?
Am I pissed I didn’t make it to the top? Hell yes. Do I regret turning back? No way. There’s only so far you can let your ego decide your actions, and sometimes you’ve got to do the boring option.
The top of Doi Inthanon is still waiting for me, and next year, it’ll be all mine.