One of my main goals of my “cycling career” was to ride the Mae Hong Son loop in under 24 hours. The loop goes from Chiang Mai City to Bpai (via route 107 and 1095), to Mae Hong Son, to Khun Yuam, to Mai Saliam, to Hot (all via route 108), to Chiang Mai. The ride is almost exactly 600km or 372 miles. I have been riding this loop over the past few years. This year I rode it with my GPS. The steepest climbs enroute are 24%, of course, this depends on which part of the road you ride up. The road is steeper than this in parts, but I try to avoid those parts. There are dozens of climbs that go over 15% and hundreds that are over 12%. The total climbing is almost exactly 9.000 meters or about 30,000 feet. Considering the primarily flat section from Hot to Mae Taeng is about 155km or 95 miles, that means 30,000 feet of climb are coming in 275 miles. This is essentially the same amount of climb as in the Adirondack 540, which is really 544 miles, but in HALF the distance. The climbs on this loop are endless. The temperatures are always over 100F, and it is often smoky due to the hilltribe people burning the mountains … to clean up and to get mushrooms … as I am told. The roads are often wet, and going up these grades on slippery wet roads means staying in the saddle. It also means that descending is extremely dangerous … Anyone who has been up to Bpai knows that there are endless switchbacks. In fact, there is even an official signed station for throwing up from being car sick …
If a rider did not stop at all, that means an average speed of almost exactly 25kpm or 15.5mph. Of course, one must stop at 7-11s to resupply. There are roughly ten 7-11s along the route. Even quick stops in each one results in a time loss of an hour. This pushes the required average speed up over 26kph. I have ridden the loop in 25 hours riding time, but that was with one short overnight stay. In May 2014 as my final preparations for RAAM, I rode the loop twice. In neither case could I achieve my goal. The loop is just too difficult for me. On the second attempt I left Chiang Mai at 10pm after sleeping just 1.5 hours. Anyone who has ever been to Thailand knows that there are a ridiculous amount of dogs out at night … well, I was chased at least 100 times on the road to Bpai. In the total darkness on route 1095, I can tell you that that was not a pleasant experience, especially as my mace supplies dwindled. I reached Bpai about 4:30am on an incredibly hot and humid night. I had done this section on just two water bottles, and with all the sprinting to get away from dogs, I was already completely wasted and dehydrated. Not good. I needed to stop and rehydrate at 7-11 Bpai. I have done this section in just over 5 hours before, but my plan of leaving at night backfired. Did I mention the road construction on route 107? And, the traffic leaving Chiang Mai that night?
The section between Bpai and Mae Hong Son is brutal. It contains the steepest climbs of the route. The climbs are endless, steep, and (did I mention?) brutal. I pulled into Mae Hong Son at around 11am completely spent. And, of course, I needed to resupply there. When you have gone over the edge too far, you can never come back all the way. So, even after a considerable break, I was no where near back. My dream was already long forgotten. I pushed onto to Khun Yuam, and there are many many climbs between Mae Hong Son and Khun Yuam. I reach Khun Yuam around 4pm. The weather was actually looking pretty good. But, I had only ridden about 190 miles in 18 hours … under 11mph, and my dream required an average speed of 15.5mph. Keep in mind this is total time divided by total miles, not just riding time. After riding all night on almost no sleep, the dogs, and the mountains on the loop, my will was broken. I hated to give up 3 hours of daylight riding, but that is what I did. I spent the night in Khun Yuam. After a plateful of rice, I went to sleep. Did I mention that I had nothing with me? I thought that I was doing the loop in one day … no toothbrush, no extra clothes, nothing … you can’t have any extra weight on this loop or you cannot get up the climbs.
I woke up early, sore as hell, and pushed on … the loop gets easier, but barely. The climbs still often reach 12% and there are still dozens of climbs that go over 10% for a long while. I was not riding fast. There are still some long climbs. The longest is about 20km or 12 miles, I think, with sections over 12%. By the time I reached Hot, I was a broken man … just before 5pm. I had stopped at 7-11 where possible to resupply. I was hell bent on getting back to Chiang Mai that night. Leaving Hot, I had a good tailwind. I was finally riding fast again … 38kph or about 24mph. Did I mention a huge dark cloud up ahead on my left? The thunderstorm hit hard, but, as I said, I was hell bent, didn’t I? I pushed through the driving rain. Cars and motorbikes had long stopped, but I continued onward in a fierce rain. I was only about 40km from Chiang Mai. The rain came down harder and the road was flooding. The wind picked up to about 100kph or 62mph. A flash food hit the front of my bike, and I almost crashed. Noone but me was moving in this storm. Dammit. I had to stop. I found an abandoned bamboo hut/metal roofed building. Yes, I said “metal roof”. I went in and crawled under a concrete table. If you have ever been to Thailand, you know the kind that I mean with a checker-board pattern on top. The wind picked up and lightening struck all around. The thunder was loud! I had stopped at the last possible moment to take shelter. I was in the middle of a violent storm. I looked up at the metal roof … I was not happy or comfortable. But, I decided to take a nap. I was so tired and slept through about an hour of storm. Eventually, some brave souls on motorbikes began moving again. I got back out on the road. Did I mention the mosquitoes in that “hut”? I don’t know how they could bite me while that wind whipped through there, but they did manage, clever little devils.
The roads were covered in fallen branches and debris after the storm, and it was dark. I could hardly see due to worn out eyes and reminients of the storm. My will was broken. And, I felt that the danger of riding in my fatigued state and with the debris on the road was not safe … not to mention the flooding and (new) sandy areas. I started looking for a “resort”. After another 5km, I found a place. Yes, there were dogs barking and growling as I entered … thanks for asking. Yes, I was angry and afraid. Yes, I was practically out of mace. I carried my bike over fallen bamboo and found a human. My room was 800 baht for the night. In the morning I was woken by the sound of workers clearing fallen trees, and, of course, barking dogs. I got back on my bike with my bad breath, and rode on to Chiang Mai. I actually took the long way back and dropped my bike off at the shop for some repairs. I then caught a tuk tuk back to my condo in the city. I was wasted. I knew that my dream would not be realized. Although in great shape for RAAM, the Mae Hong Son loop and my goal was just too ambitious. If I ride a great RAAM, I am considering bringing my bike back to Thailand and trying the loop again. I doubt that I will be in this type of shape for cycling again, and my dream is not possible if I am not in RAAM type of shape.
There I now have gone on record with my failed dream, and I have memories of the Mae Hong Son loop which I have ridden about ten times.