It was the final day of our Northern Thailand road trip. I had ridden close to 1500km on a scooter over the space of a week and I was delighted that the end was finally in sight.
Even so, when I awoke on that final morning I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness in my heart. This adventure had grown to be such a huge part of my life over the past week, and I was worried about returning to the real world. I really didn’t want to go back to lying in my room on my laptop for 12 hours a day.
Looking back over the fantastic memories I’d accumulated over the week, I smiled slightly. We’d been fortunate on this trip. I’d been apprehensive before our departure. Feelings of paranoia creeped over me as I imagined crashes into mountains, plummeting off cliffs and the breaking of various body parts.
Against the odds, though, we’d survived.
Unable to avoid it any longer, I eased my sore, aching body onto the scooter one last time and prepared myself for our return to Chiang Mai.
Given the option between taking the shortest route via the main highways or riding for much longer through the backroads and mountains, we were obviously going to choose the latter.
Not long after turning off, the road had narrowed to that of a width that only a scooter could ride on.
I found myself grinning inanely as we slowly began our ascent. We were the only vehicles for miles and with the exception of the whine of our engines, there was silence all around. I was really going to miss this.
Taking my eyes away from the brilliant blue sky for just a second, I noticed goosebumps forming on my arms. I shivered slightly. The heat and flatness of the rice paddies were now far behind us as we rode ever higher into the mountains.
And as much as I was enjoying the scenery, I couldn’t help but notice the road becoming steeper with every passing second.
This was not going to be an easy ride.
As if to confirm this, seconds later our engine was groaning and spluttering, filling our lungs with deadly exhaust fumes. The sharp gradient coupled with my heavy bag had me gripping tightly onto Dave so as to not fall off the back.
Our speed was already well below 20km/h and we were barely even half-way up as the scooter threatened to topple over at any second.
…And then it happened.
Approaching a slope at least twice as steep as the previous ones, I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out. I didn’t want to continue. This felt wrong. Even if we did manage to reach the top of this hill, there were going to plenty more of them – some even steeper than this. And on the way down…? It didn’t bear thinking about.
There was no time to voice my opinion as I nervously watched Dave grip the throttle and rev the engine to an ear splitting level. There was no turning back now.
As we raced uphill, I watched the speedometer slowly decrease from 30km/h to 20… to 10…5… and then nothing.
It was if time was standing still as the engine furiously roared and our wheels battled to move.
We were stationary on the side of a mountain and there was nothing left to do but jump.
“Jump! Get off! Now!”, Dave yelled.
Fighting the urge to scream, I gritted my teeth and forced myself to leap off the back of the bike.
A strangled cry escaped my lips as I landed on my knees. Biting down hard on my lip, the sharp pain and taste of blood distracted me from the burning sensation that was quickly spreading through my legs. I squinted through the agony, looking up to see Dave sharply accelerating over the hill and out of sight.
As I silently cursed the scooter, I picked myself up and began the long hike uphill.
Wincing under every step, it felt like my bag was increasing in weight while my will to go on was rapidly decreasing. When I finally caught a glimpse of our scooter around the corner, I almost cried with relief.
We reached the top of the mountain just a few moments later, and my thoughts now turned to the descent. As predicted, the hills were just as steep on the way down and I was beginning to feel extremely uneasy.
“Good thing we’ve got brakes, hey?” I muttered to Dave, my anxiety amplifying when I received no response.
I suddenly shot forwards as Dave slammed hard on the brakes, giving me no option but to peer over his shoulder and down. My scream caught in my throat, strangled and almost soundless, when I saw the huge drop in front of us. There was no way of stopping now, the strength of the brakes were fading with every minute and we were beginning to pick up speed.
…And then they failed.
Hearing a strange clicking sound as the brake lever flapped uselessly in Dave’s hand, a disgusting smell filled the air around us. We lost all control of the bike and began careering down the mountain at scarily high speeds.
We were unable to stop.
I didn’t even have time to think as we built up speed. I wrapped my arms tightly around Dave, closed my eyes and winced, waiting for the inevitable sensation of plummeting to my death.
But it never came.
Instead I felt us slowing down, wobbling slightly and jerking to a halt.
What had just happened?
I cautiously opened my eyes and surveyed my surroundings. I was sat face to face with a large bush. Fortunately, Dave possessed enough common sense to think to stick out his feet and drag them along the road, creating enough friction for us to slow down. He was then able to navigate us safely to the side of the road and into a bush. We had survived.
But now what do we do?
In possession of a scooter with no brakes, we would surely have to walk all the way back to Chiang Mai, but fortunately, this was not the case.
It soon became clear that the brakes had overheated, and that the only thing we could do is sit on the ground and wait for them to start working again.
It was a long wait and took over twenty minutes before they began to come back. Needless to say, the rest of our journey was spent driving very slowly and very cautiously, with our feet dangling a few centimetres from the road.
I still can’t believe we managed to ride 1,500km around Northern Thailand and been absolutely fine and yet almost died just an hour away from the finish point….