I leave Yellow Sun on a Saturday afternoon, much later than intended. Between some final quick repairs on Jackie and errands in town, I am back at the hostel by lunch time. I delay my goodbye to the family as much as I can but then I really need to go. It is almost 1 pm and I need to ride 104 kilometers to get to Sihanoukville. The map says it will take around 3 hours. On the one hand it seems excessive, but on the other, I have seen the state of Cambodian roads so there might be something to it. Either way, I need to get moving. The last ferry is at 4:30 pm, and once I arrive in Sihanoukville I will need to find a safe place to park my bike for a few days. The schedule, I will admit, is tight. Damn you, woman.
The ride starts off well enough, and I am enjoying the uniquely Cambodian landscape. I reach the highway and notice that it only has one lane going each way. It strikes me as curious that a national highway wouldn’t have more lanes, and I absentmindedly wonder whether there might be a bigger, better highway that caters to heavier traffic.
The further I get from Kampot, the worse the road becomes. The highway is littered with potholes, and I am constantly swerving and slowing to avoid them. Each time I build up speed, I am slowing down again to avoid crashing straight through another hole. At one point I do the math and notice that I am averaging 30 kilometers an hour. That’s right. Thirty. At this rate I will be 90 years old before I arrive anywhere.
I double check the map for an alternate route and find that there isn’t one. This is the only (completed) highway and as the traffic gets heavier, cars and trucks rule the road. They claim their space, pushing all smaller vehicles (such as myself) off the road and onto dirt tracks. It is, quite honestly, maddening.
My progress is slow and I begin to get stressed out. If I don’t get a move on, I will miss the ferry and have to spend the night in Sihanoukville. This is, of course, not a life or death situation, but Sihanoukville (lovingly referred to as “shit-ville” by backpackers) is not a place I need to spend the night in. I would much rather have had another night with my family at Yellow Sun. I push the thoughts from my mind and keep riding, telling myself that whatever is meant to happen, will happen.
I am fifteen minutes outside the city when it happens. Google Maps directs me off the highway and onto a side road. It appears to be a shortcut, and I am grateful, because it means I will bypass the now incredibly congested traffic into the city. I am racing down the road when I reach the next turn and what I see makes me stop. It is a long stretch of road made entirely up of sand. Not dirt, but sand. Grains fine enough to be at home in the desert. And I immediately think of Paul and of one of the things he said to me repeatedly: “on these bikes, our two biggest enemies are gravel and sand.” Sand. Fuck.
My brain goes into overdrive, wondering why the map would send me this way, and what the alternate route would be. I look it up and find that it would mean doubling back, and looping all around the outskirts of the city to then enter it from the other side. It would mean that I would most definitely miss the ferry.
I decide that the only way to go is forward. I’ll just go slow and steady. It will be fine.
(This is the part where the narrator would let you know that it would not, in fact, “be fine.” It would not be fine at all).
With immense difficulty, I get about 100 meters down the road. The sand is so fine that my tires cannot get any traction, and I am not so much riding as I am simply sliding down the road. Jackie is rocking heavily left and right. I am gripping her handlebars and have my feet on the ground for extra support, trying my best to keep her upright. But it’s pointless. I hit a ridge of tire tracks in the sand and down we go.
We tumble down and I end up with one leg stuck under the bike, the other dangling awkwardly in the air. The throttle has gotten stuck in the sand so the tires keep spinning as the engine roars. Trucks carrying construction supplies still slowly rumble past and I realize that I need to get up quickly. They’re massive and you are both tiny and too low down. If they don’t see you, they’ll run you right over. I dislodge my arm and reach for the key so I can shut the engine off. I somehow lift a part of the bike up and throw it off me. The whole ordeal lasts less than a minute, and soon I am standing up and dragging the bike to the side of the road so that the trucks can continue to rumble past. No one stops.
Okay you’re fine, shake it off. You don’t know how bad it is yet.
I do a quick spot check to see if I’m hurt, but it doesn’t feel that way. Aha, but that would be the adrenaline, my love. I check again. Definitely nothing broken, I’m fine. Jackie, on the other hand, is in far worse shape than I. The headlight and dashboard that I just spent days getting repaired in Ho Chi Minh City, are entirely smashed. What’s worse, however, is the state of her handlebars. The entire frame of the handlebars has been bent at an odd angle. Simply driving forward means that I now need to lean forward and place my body at an almost 45 degree angle rather than sitting straight. Navigation is going to be tough.
It is 4:10 now and the ferry is in 20 minutes. I want now, more than ever, to get on the fucking ferry and see my friends. Screw Sihanoukville and its sand pit road, get me out of here. With tears stinging my eyes, I try turning around but find that between the sand and the harsh tilt in my handlebars, it’s impossible. The bike is way too heavy and we are both sliding way too much. There is nowhere to go but forward. So that’s what I do. I climb back onto the bike and start it, staring down the barrel of that fucking-sand-pit-road, hoping that it is not as long as it looks.
I keep my tires firmly within the tracks of other cars, as the sand will be at least a tiny bit firmer there. The road turns out to be a little over a kilometer, and I clear it in about 10 minutes. I hit paved roads again and race into Sihanoukville like a wild woman. I am practically sitting sideways on my bike and I am covered in sand from head to toe. I catch people staring and if I wasn’t so shaken and so pissed off, it would actually be quite hilarious.
I make it to a hostel my friend recommended to me and I race inside. “Hello would I be able to park my bike outside just for a few days while I go to the island?” The man behind the counter has barely said yes and I am racing back outside and putting a bike lock on Jackie’s wheel. The devil on my shoulder sneers at me, saying “well now that you’ve ruined her, why would anyone want to steal her anyway?” Fuck you, I reply.
In about a minute flat, I have my backpacks on, my helmet in my hand, and I am racing down the hill to buy a ferry ticket. I will deal with the rest of this shit show later.