Friday, January 11, 2008

Pedal power

A British cyclist embarks on a non-stop marathon from Phuket to Bangkok to honour His Majesty the King

Published on December 11, 2007

Pedal power

Alan Bate

Alan Bate looks a little weary as he walks into Starbucks at Central World Plaza. But that's to be expected as this yellow-shirted Brit is suffering from "bike-lag", the result of having spent 29 hours and 15 minutes in the saddle pedalling from Phuket to Bangkok.

Yet he's managing to sit and walk normally, although he jokes about taking a rest in hospital after the long trip. "I feel numb in my fingertips and my knees," says Bate, who will spend an entire month recovering from his gruelling feat.

Bate left Phuket on the evening of December 3 and arrived in the Thai capital on December 5 at 7am. The 30-hour ride was to honour His Majesty the King on his 80th birthday. Last year, Bate spent 26 hours in the saddle of the same bike travelling the 700 kilometres from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.

Growing up in a poor family in England, Bate didn't even know of the existence of the Thai Royal Family until he arrived in the region three years ago on a cycling trip through Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. He got no further than Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai province.

He fell in love with Thailand almost immediately and decided to settle in the small town by the Khong River. He's now sold his house in England, shipped his 60 collectible bikes for display in a soon-to-be-completed museum in Chiang Khong and joined the local cycling club to help improve the skills and training habits of its young members.

Since arriving, he's heard a great deal about Thailand's King. "He's one of the world's last real role models," says Bate. "He lives a modest life even though he has the potential to indulge himself".

Bate was impressed to learn that His Majesty once took a train to Phuket instead of flying by private jet because of his concern over oil prices.

He's also learned about the different projects initiated by the King for his people, including the simple but clever idea of using soil-stabilising vetiver grass to help nature take care of itself. A keen awareness of environmental problems has been a feature of His Majesty's thinking since 1965, the same year Bate was born and long before other leaders paid attention to climate change and the potential for eco-disasters.

But what impresses Bate the most is the King's sufficiency economy philosophy and his ideas for the lifestyle to be adopted by Thais nationwide. "He lives a very humble life," says the Englishman, adding that he wishes he'd been aware of the King 20 years earlier so he too would have had a good role model to follow.

Bate is highly critical of the materialistic lifestyle in the West, commenting that the people there no longer know how to live.

"Wealth is in the heart. But Westerners think that happiness is found only in their shopping bags."

Bate was introduced to the world of bikes at the age of 11 when he found an old bicycle, fixed it up and then sold it on. He repeated the practice a few more times before a friend convinced him to ride the bikes, not just fix them. His life changed one foggy morning when he was taken along to a bike race.

"I couldn't see anything. I just remember hearing the sounds of breathing and the smell of rubber and oil," he says of the moment that still thrills him almost 30 years later.

For his two-days in the saddle in Thailand, the cyclist kept himself in shape with 21 pieces of power gel, each of which takes about five minutes to be absorbed into the bloodstream and gives an hour's worth of energy; 16 bananas; 10 litres of water and 20 bottles of Being Boost, provided by his sponsor. Short breaks were taken to use the toilet and for massage.

Bate has been training at least 20 hours a week for the past two years. That involves riding for two hours in the mornings and one hour in the evenings during the week, and 10 hours non-stop over a distance of 300kms at weekends.

But this will be his last long-distance non-stop ride - he reckons that the effort he puts in plus the lack of sleep reduces his life expectancy by about a year each time.

The hard training was important but he wouldn't have been able to reach the Royal Plaza without an iron determination. On the hilly Chumphon roads, Bate worried about crime and strong winds and at one point wanted to give up when he realised he still had another 90 per cent of the journey to go.

He felt lonely on the first night then started hallucinating on the second due to lack of sleep and too little oxygen to the brain.

He continued only because it was a very special ride for the King's birthday. "I wanted to show my human capability for the King," says the two-wheel marathoner, a veteran of long-distance cycling competitions in England, where he's placed highly in the past.

He's planning to use his knowledge and experience to help young local cyclists and is seeking sponsorship to form a team. Young Thai racing cyclists, he says, are capable of winning any international competition including the

Tour de France but are scared of the Western riders.

"It needs a big heart to beat a foreigner," he says. He's currently training 10 young hopefuls aged between 14 and 17 in Chiang Khong.

"I'm not very academic," admits Bate, who's managed to learn a little Thai. "But I know about the environment, the bike and nutrition."

After paying tribute to the King with his human capability, Bate is determined to use his skills to help develop young Thai cyclists into international-level competitors.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai

The Nation

No comments: