The alarms began to ring at 4 am, pitch black, but a cacophony of cockerels were breaking the silence all the around. Quickly I covered all my exposed bits in sun screen, dressed and organised my bag for the ride - 2l of water, a couple of bananas and tangerines, camera, phone and lip screen. Silently, I left my room and crept downstairs trying not to disturb anyone to collect my bike. There were hammocks strung everywhere, as the night boys and security staff tried to get some sleep, nobody stirred, so perhaps they had understood when I told them that I was leaving really early. The velvet, black sky was absolutely covered in beautiful twinkling stars, a sight I do not see when I come in each evening, so it was a pleasure to witness - no cloud and virtually no light or other kind of pollution to spoil the display. When I got to the lane Carmel, Sarah and Diana arrived to leave their town bikes as they were hiring mountain bikes, so we walked together to the Sohka Angkor hotel where one of the Grace House trucks was going to collect us. Once we got to Route 6 there were tuks and cyclists everywhere, none with lights on, some heading to work and others to the ride like us. Professional like cyclists on their smart bikes appeared from every direction, as did the likes of us with our Giant etc mountain bikes, and some even their rickety town ones. Once we got to the place where we were going to be picked up we could witness the traffic/bike chaos first hand. Only the many large tourist buses taking tourists to see the sun rise at Angkor Wat had lights on, the rest just wove their way through blindly, if like me, they would have had their fingers crossed that all would be well. Whilst we waited we enjoyed the beautiful temperature - about 25 degrees, but after standing for a while even that began to feel cool/cold! Eventually, the three trucks arrived - one full of bikes, one half full, and the other full of the Youth Club students, and some G H staff, and then Alan, Bridget, Nicki, Anne and Dani arrived in the GH large tuk - they were going to be our back up/mechanics for the ride. We were soon loaded, I choose to ride in a truck with the kids and we joined the snake of vehicles and bikes to Angkor Park. It was very slow due to congestion, poor roads and vehicles, and volume of traffic. Chaos ensued once in the park due to the fact some were tourist for sun rise, and the rest of us were aiming for the start at Angkor Thom's Elephant Terrace, amazingly, our truck drivers didn't know where to go, but eventually we arrived to join the thousands who were warming up, and the milling spectators. The GH kids were frozen - literally blocks of ice, but once Mom and Sophea started doling out breakfast, the moans stopped. I had initially refused breakfast when asked earlier in the week if I wanted one ordered, but once I saw the others eating I went to find if there was a spare one for me. The bread roll with pork I had was delicious, although I did decline all the side bits of chilli, onion, sugar, salt, lemon etc. Khmers always have their breakfast at about 5 am, so the early start was not unusual for them. Soon the interminable speeches began, and the 100 km riders were ready and off, a large part of me wished I was with them, but as the 30 km ride progressed I realised, that sadly, I wasn't fit enough for it. Once the 100km riders had departed we were called, but as there so many of us we had a rolling start, I found that extremely frustrating and dangerous, as so many riders tried to work their way through to the start line. Before the gun we were warned about the dangerous/difficult road surfaces, monkeys, elephants, stray dogs, tourists, and all modes of transport that would be on our route! Eventually we were off and could build up some speed, and it was great fun passing people, and then aiming for next lot to catch and pass. Soon the mass had spread out, and we were cycling towards Angkor Thom's N/S/E/W gate and saw hundreds of monkeys racing and chasing about, some were very young and play fighting, but none bothered me. Soon we were cycling past Angkor Wat, and between the tourists who were leaving after watching the sun rise, I assume it was a good sight, as there were no clouds to be seen. By now the cyclists were spread out, but there was always someone to overtake or someone overtaking you. I knew the route were taking very well, so had agood idea of what the surface and obstacles were. Once we were near Preah Kravan we had to negotiate all the children going to school, walking, on motos or three to four on a bike. I think they must have realised how seriously we were riding because no one tried to high five me, which usually happens, they made do with shouting hello.
The 30km took me 85 mins, but within that time I had to stop twice to try to help GH people - Thyda's bike had lost a screw, so I told hm to phone for Alan's help, and further along Sokkey was feeling ill, but after drinking some water she was able to continue. I love cycling past Pre Rup temple and the water buffalos wandering around it, but sadly, this time there was no water for them to wallow in, and the paddy fields of ripening rice. The extension of the ride was completely new to me, about 5kms along a deep, sandy track through some most beautiful and tranquil scenery, but very poor homes and families. All this within a very wealthy park which receives money from from its 11 million visitors every year. Once back on the main track it was then top speed, overtaking as many riders as possible as we past Preak Khan, through Victory Gate, past the Leper and Elephant to the finishing line and the cheering crowds. I couldn't believe the time, it was only 7:40 am, and we had done so much already. This time the race was much better organised, two ambulances patrolled the route, and simple refreshments were available free at the end too. At one point I was trying to push my bike, but it wouldn't move and I couldn't understand why, but soon saw that Zac (not corect spelling), an ex GH student was holding the back wheel to stop it. It was great to see him, he is now a student at The Paul de Brule school of catering and Hotel Management, fees paid for by GH, and enjoying it all. He'a a lovely guy and hope he does well. Then we stood and cheered everyone in until all the GH lot were back, and then it was time to load the trucks and everyone to return home. Diana and I decided to cycle the 10 km back, although a slow one due to the traffic, elephants, monkeys, people and bikes we were soon back in town, and I was able to come here for my breakfast - all before 9 am. As a reward the staff gave me an extra plate of fresh fruit - they cannotunderstand my cycling, or that people choose to do it. I was the only cyclist here, but on Sun morning from 8 am onwards about thirty people returned here who had run the Angkor half marathon. All had flown in for the weekend from neighbouring countries, but most of them were westerners. I then had my breakfast with six Malaysian guys from Kuala Lumpur, who are all 70 years + and regularly run half marathons in any of their neighbouring SE Asian countries. They were very proud of the time they completed it in and were encouraging me to take up running!
The Angkor Bike rides and Runs are now over for another year, but I hope to be back for next years. I am now off on my bike to nearly repeat the circuit, but today will visit a few temples I haven't seen before, and revisit Ta Prhomn to see what is happening there as I haven't been for about three years. Then it will be back for a quick shower and a frantic buying of presents - none have been purchased as yet! Then tonight I am having a leaving meal in town.
Take care and love to all, J x