Phnom Penh to Kep

I started my 9 day bike trip in Cambodia today. I was all excited, though still toting around some jet lag and fatigue. But today was 48 km — piece of cake, right? (Or, weird banana mango spring roll).

Two of our guides with young monks peering over at us

Well, it was frigging hard. For reasons — started in midday heat, all rutted super bumpy dusty roads, fat tire mountain bike I’m not used to, spent the morning in a van and at the killing fields. Despite my natural affinity for pondering suffering, a sign saying “do not walk on mass graves” isn’t exactly energizing for a hard ride. It makes me want to sit quietly and hard, just being with the reality of being human.

I’ve spent a lot of time riding my bike and walking in poor countries with chaotic and painful histories. I’m always struck at how much developing countries all over Asia and Africa look the same if you’re not reading the signs — the small store fronts filled with cheap Chinese goods, markets plump with mangoes and jackfruit, people reselling petrol and charcoal in tiny affordable quantities, motorbikes loaded with two or three people, bundles and the odd ladder or coffin. This trip, I’m finding it piercing in a new way, feeling like I’m disturbing an equilibrium, even as I know the tourist dollars help.

But I ate the picnic lunch (well, actually I fed the pork to some skittish and heart breaking dogs and the fish to some feral kittens that let me cuddle them but turned into savages when given food.)

This is a group trip, and my guide is good and the other participants are gentle and kind. There is no pressure. But as the road unfolded under me today, I never felt I owned it. It was riding me.

Holding an icy cloth to my hot neck during a break at a monastery

After 20 km or so, I started listening to an audio book of Trevor Noah’s life. It is riveting, and diverted and got me through the feeling of melting. But then I didn’t feel like I was here, now. Riding but pushing harder than I thought I should need to. Sobered by the morning, by the man with the two scrawny cows we disturbed on the bridge, riven by the hungry dogs and cats. Riding.

At the 37 km mark, as we turned onto a highway, the guide gave us a choice — we could ride the additional 10 km or so in the itinerary, or get in the van. Either way there would be a bit of a van ride because it was getting dark.

Everyone else chose to ride but I — to my own astonishment — got in the van. Usually I’m such a completist that it’s one of my defining characteristics— see: 350 workouts this year; everything, pretty much, lol.

But there I was, riding slowly in the van, filthy with red dust, listening to Trevor Noah, completely content. Aware that tomorrow is 80 km and wanting to store up my grit.

Two showers didn’t get me completely clean

I wrote last week about wondering what comes next for me. I guess this is part of it: following my own rhythms. I also chose not to wait for dinner with the group but to eat a quick pile of veggie fried rice and go to bed early. Perfectly at peace.

When I finally stopped for a moment to take a photo.

2 thoughts on “Phnom Penh to Kep

  1. Hot and dusty, gotta love it – but it is hot and dusty. Love the photos – brings back tons of fond memories. Kep is awesome – Crab in Kep. Good luck with the ride. I’ve passed bikers along those roads in the family Rav4 and have always been amazed by their determination. Don’t fear impacting the equilibrium, enjoy the genuine warmth of the people. Good luck!

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