Offroad through rice patties and shortcuts by Dean

24 Feb

by Dean

It was a late start. It’s always a late start at r4c. Paul waited patiently as Gary went to post a package, Sam had a basket fitted to the front of his scooter (hmmm), Matt went to find a bank, and everyone else filled with fuel. So what was supposed to be an early start turned into a 10:30 start…

Then one of team Roger’s (Frank and John) bikes developed an exhaust leak so they were held up (and consequently decided to take a different road today). Then Laurence’s bike broke the exhaust off as well, which held up Sam, Gary, Laurence and Dave. This left Paul and Matt and I to continue ahead and try to find the mystery dirt road that would lead us to Battambang.

I call it a mystery road because it doesn’t occur on any map or gps, i found it pouring over satellite imagery months ago while planning the ride and trying to avoid the highway. I could see what looked like a road that led south from the highway just outside Siem Reap down to Battambang, but couldn’t be sure it was a road and not a canal or river… i plotted the track in google earth and then downloaded to my gps with absolutely no idea how reliable it would be.

Meanwhile Laurence’s exhaust repair was taking forever, and as the mystery road was an unknown quantity, we decided to push on without the rest of the gang and at least be able to let them know what to expect.

It started surprisingly well. The road was exactly as per my gps track, every turn was within 10 metres of our actual position, i was feeling good about things…

“hey i think i have a puncture… does my rear tyre look flat?!” i yell at Paul down the intercom
“yep it sure is…”

I turn around and try to make my way back to the main rd while it’s still partially inflated, i make it only just but walk it the last 100m to a tyre repair shop where a 13 year old boy slowly repairs the 2 nail holes in it for just $2.

Rule no 55 : you never need to walk more than 100m to get a puncture repaired in Cambodia.

On the road again but it’s Ground Hog Day and the tyre goes down again, this time too far from the road to consider returning though. So it’s out with the rear wheel which Paul heads back with this time looking for a new tube.

Matt and I wait…

Matt makes a fire and then heats water in a plastic bottle to make coffee.

Paul returns and i refit the wheel as Matt greedily drinks all the coffee himself…

“hey Matt could i have a sip of that coffee please?”
“ahhh no sorry i drank it all…”

and Americans wonder why the rest of the world hates them!

By the time this was over i had Dave on the phone who was only a few minutes away, so we waited a little and eventually the team was reunited, but by now it was 1:30pm and we had 60km to ride offroad in about 4½ hours. That doesn’t sound like much but i use the term ‘road’ quite liberally here.

“right guys, we’ve got a long way to go and it’s getting late so we really need to make this happen without messing around too much, is everyone good with that?”

Leading the team away i felt a little like mother duck, with all the ducklings following in a line.

The track quickly degenerated to the point that it occurred to me that this must be how it would feel to try to ride a jack hammer. It might be my imagination but i’d swear that i could actually feel all the bolts coming loose in the bike. The track was just so rough, and no matter how we rode it there was no escaping the vibrations.

Even when we stopped it still felt like our hands and feet were vibrating – crazy.

“how much more of this can these little bikes take until something breaks in half?”

Rule no 45 : The Dailem is one tough little moto

Every now and then i’d stop for a head count, and at each stop i could see the team’s nerves starting to fray more and more. We rode along gravel tracks, we rode through rice paddies and over precarious handmade wooden bridges, hey we even rode right through the middle of a rural school without even breaking stride. It was fantastic!

I was watching the km count down and in a morale boosting tactic continually relayed the good news to the team…

“we’re half way there already!”

“not far to go now!”

“the good road starts just the other side of this enormous channel that has no bridge…”


In adventure motorcycling, the point of no return is when you’ve gone too far on the fuel you have to be able to turn back to the last fuel stop. I’d had a sense of impending doom for some time after we passed that point, and when my until-then-perfect gps track took us off any semblance of a road, across 2 broad rice fields and into a river – i really started to worry.

So did the team, half of whom by then were about to run out of fuel. I’d barely made a wrong turn all day but at this point had to admit we were in trouble as i rode up and down the rice fields along the river looking for some way to cross.

A family living in a makeshift shelter nearby did an excellent mime of a person drowning to convince me not to enter the water with the bike, their vivid mimes of water over my head and bubbling noises, along with one of them wearing a plastic leg was enough to stop us for a moment to regroup.

We delayed there for a little while as they somehow produced some petrol, all of which somehow went into just one of the bikes…

“hey Gary did you just put all that fuel into just your bike?!”
“yeah i did”
“why didn’t you share it!?”
“hey man i frikkin asked everyone if they wanted some gas and no one responded alright!!!”

Things were getting tense.

Paul doing what he does. Paul Waiting.


Matt and his Monk friends


Laurence offroading on the "shortcut"


Daveg crossing the sketchy bridge


Our farmer guide leading us through a route we never would have found


Dave paying the guide. Total money spent - $7. Total lives saved - 7.


We were trying to understand the directions from the village family without any success, until finally it occurred to me to call Visa.

Rule 33 : Visa is the greatest person in the world.

The father of the family offered to take us to the place where we could cross the water, Visa said we’d just need to give him some small money for the fuel he’d use.

“hey this guy can lead us to a track, what do you all think?”
“hell yeah!”

So Mr Saviour poured a litre of fuel into his busted up old bike, put on some clothes and led us off down another nightmarishly bumpy track. We were now heading in the opposite direction to the mystery track, but with a local guide now lighting the path we all rested a little easier. He took us a kilometre or so along the river until it eventually dried up enough to cross it, steep banks made of slippery clay made this a bit of fun but eventually we all got across and continued on down the bumpy path.

Gary was first in line and I could tell by his fist pumping antics that we must have found a road, or at least a maintained track of some sort, Mr Saviour stopped and pointed us in the right direction smiling broadly. We each paid him $1 for his trouble and hugged him goodbye, our gestures of appreciation seemed to confuse him a little, as though he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The $7 payment might seem like a pittance, but when most rural Cambodians live on about 30c per day, $7 represents almost a months wages. His already broad smile was even bigger as we rode away.

This track was elevated above the fields and took us through several villages and small camps, and eventually into a bigger village where a shop was selling petrol. Phew.

A quick check of the GPS and i saw this little diversion had taken us about 50km out of our way and used up lots of time, so the initial aim of reaching Pursat that night was no longer possible. We all agreed to make for Battambang instead and ride to Pursat early the next morning. Another 10km of dirt track before we popped out on the highway, and another 30mins at full speed (70km/hr) saw us arrive in Battambang.

We’d been looking for a really testing ride to give the group some lasting memories of this trip, and Dave and I agreed this was just the ticket. Another great day for the R4C team.

Rule no 31 : Getting lost is not always a bad thing.

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