– ODO- 15676 – 15769km
– Location- Meiktila, Myanmar
– Weather- 29-38 27km/h headwind
The highway policewoman blew her whistle and stepped out into the road. I’d been on the Mandalay to Yangon highway for an hour already, heading towards the the Mandalay airport when I came to the toll gate. Throughout my trip I’ve snuck on to highways without issue, rising the smooth wide hard shoulders that take me right where I want to go. This highways toll gate didn’t have a moped lane which was the first sign of trouble. The highway police weren’t impressed. The woman stood in front of the bike with arms out moving from left to right to keep me from carrying on. I crossed the road to her colleague who shouted at me in a mix of languages. No bikes on this highway.
My alternative was highway 1. It runs mostly parallel to the new highway but with many more winds and kinks around and through small villages and towns. I took the diversion. Instantly I was surrounded by a wall of low slung Chinese trucks, vans converted into open air minibuses with a mix of bags, boxes and human cargo and wooden carts drawn by white bulls with the wood of the cart resting against their camel like humps. The sun was setting and after a day of passing long stretches of highway bordered by empty fields and forest the highway 1 was border by endless huts, shops in the day with the family sleeping on mats on the floor overnight, and farms of rice lined with coconut trees and palms.
I’m not so relaxed about camping I pulled up alongside a driveway to the next farm just as the sun shone across the golden rice tops. I pulled up under a couple of palm trees and a lizard the size of my arm shot across the road and a coconut dropped from above and smashed a few feet away. I moved a little away from the trees. As I sat cooking the last of my pasta and some baked beans I’d found in Moneywa, one of the farmers came home in his simple motorcycle. He smiled and waved and returned a few minutes later with his wife and a fresh load of bananas and a bag of mangos for me. They signalled for me to come and sleep in their house but I declined. My new plan was to wake before dawn and get some distance on the clock before the heat kicked in.
A rainless night meant a hot morning. I snoozed my new earlier alarm a whole hour and when I finally stirred, the arc of amber light from Mandalay on the horizon it was already 29 degrees. Despite the slight light pollution I could see the milky way clearly across the sky. I packed slowely without the motivation of the raising sun to encourage me onto the road and kitted the bike out with lights like a space ship from Close Encounters. Visibility vest with LEDs, three rear lights set to an assortment of flashing speed and my front full beam. After skanning the ground to make sure I hadn’t left anything I pushed off back to the highway. The road was transformed from the night before. For long stretches I cycled without a passing car. The ocasional long haul truck came past in the middle lane giving me a wide berth. Only at dawn did the scooter and bus traffic start in earnest.
My approached worked to an effect. I made good distance before the temperature edged up those extra five unbearable degrees. It couldn’t last though. As the sun crept up the wind picked up. As a pilot I’ve got an entire screen of weather apps. While waiting at a cafe for my breakfast fried rice I checked Windy. 27km/h was the consistent force I had to contend with. Looking at the local trends the whole of the plains act as a funnel feeding the rising thunderstorms with warm and wet air from the Bay of Bengal that tower on the horizon to the east and west each night. For me that means that however flat the road has become I’m always facing just that little bit of resistance.