(Petchabun Province – Monday December 8th., 2014)
Sounds nice doesn’t it … Garden Hills? Actually it is a very nice area. The start of the hills and mountains of Northern Thailand. Hundreds of kilometers of farmland in almost any direction you look. Anything you can think of, and probably several things you’ve never heard of, are grown there. But that’s not why I was there.
I mentioned in an earlier article I’d been asked to help with a Classic Car Rally which will take place next February. It’s The Road To Mandalay. Seventy cars, the oldest made in 1907, travelling from Singapore, up the Malay Peninsular, all around Thailand, and across into Burma. Twenty-four days, with a few rest days. Dotted along the route will be Special Tests – tricky pieces of road timed to the second.
My mission for the day was to check a piece of road which will be used as one of those Tests.
In fact, I tried to do this yesterday, after I’d finished watching the International Rally of Thailand. By coincidence the two rallies are using roads in the same area. I had been sent two sets of route instructions (in the rally world we call them “tulip diagrams” or just “tulips” for short.) The Tests were different lengths, and I was asked to see if the roads were in good condition and then pick one them for the Test.
Well, the first road I went down, I thought “I wouldn’t want to drive any car down here, let alone one built in 1907. Ruts, potholes, and loose rocks. The second road I tried, I’d been advised might be “a little overgrown.” I turned into it and was met by a three meter high wall of greenery. It was almost impossible to see that it had ever been a road!
It was an odd area. I’d assumed it would be part of some vegetable or tree plantation, but the whole area was pure jungle. There were almost no views from any road. It was like driving through a tunnel of greenery. Anyways, after an hour or two of trying different roads, I could find no way of bypassing the impassable parts, and concluded there was no way to use any of the roads the organizers had said they wanted to use.
By this point the sun was so low it wasn’t penetrating the jungle, and I had to give up. I didn’t want to get lost (again!) and have to spend a night in there along with the wildlife. In fact everytime nature called I was very careful when I pissed off-piste as it were.
Once back on the main highway I called my main contact, who lives in Dubai. He was somewhere in the desert doing a recce for another rally. I gave him the bad news, thinking he would agree to scrap the Test, but he said he really really wanted to find some way to hold one there, and asked me to call his colleague in the UK. Given the time difference I decided to head back to the hotel and e-mail from there.
That was a good thing, because organizer #2 was busy doing a recce for a rally in the South of France and didn’t want to be disturbed by a phone call. We’re a mad bunch.
After several calls and e-mails during the evening, it seemed I had no choice but to return to the area, which was 250kms north of me. I had to find a new piece of road – using part of what had been a Rally of Thailand stage – along with various other bits of road to make the stage shorter.
For me this was a shame because I’d hoped to head southwest to Kanchanaburi, not north back into Petchabun Province – but hey – that’s rallying.
Anyways, using Rally of Thailand roads was a good plan, but not one that was easy to execute. The area is a huge warren of tiny roads and tracks, and I had to juggle Google Maps, Google Earth, some printed sketches, and a tripmeter, while making new tulips, all inside a jungle!
Working alone mistakes are made. A couple of times, checking my own tulips I became totally lost. Each time I had to find a way back to the start to figure out where I’d screwed up.
But finally, I put together an eight kilometer Test I was happy with. It took me six and a half hours.
I hadn’t realized just how much I’d been bouncing around in Bert – my truck – until I’d finally finished, and realized there was no skin left on my left elbow, which had been bashing the center console. My right elbow meanwhile was only bruised.
Anyhoo, by about 1530h I had draft tulips done – they’ll need to be rewritten – along with tulips from the road to Test, and back out to the road. And I was pooped.
But, the next task was to drive about 450kms to Kanchanaburi. Chuckles (my GPS lady) announced I would arrive at 2053h. “The woman’s nuts” I thought, and sure enough I arrived at 1935h.
And just as I was starting the “Chuckles: Where the hell’s the hotel?” routine, the owner called me, jumped on his motorbike, and guided me the last two kilometers. That was nice, and perfect timing.
But, that was one long, tough day, not to be repeated anytime soon. Well, not this week!