15 November 2015
Sander calls my name to wake me. It works, kinda. I groggily come to, head still full of the vestiges of stressful dreams. My nights have been filled with paranoid dreams of packing up, leaving, cleaning, having rental places checked over, planes, airports and luggage. I'm not sure a bike trip in Myanmar is the best place to come down from the stresses I faced before getting here.
While I'm grateful for the extra sleep, it's 10:30am and this reduces our options for the day's ride. We get some breakfast at a Nepali place. It's basic, veggies and roti, but it's enough to get us off the mark. We point our bikes downhill, back towards Mandalay.
At Anisaphan, we stop at a turning which would take us over to a reservoir on smaller roads, and discuss whether we have time for this unpredictable 'long cut'. Fortunately, the conservative option prevails, and we decide to gakk it downhill to the Irrawaddy plain, and then head for the town of Kyaukse.
The descent is good fun, a lot of it on lowish gradient tree-lined straights that provide some shade. There's also switchbacks, which allow for some fun jockeying with traffic. Overall, it's a surprise how much ascending we did the other day on our way up to Pyin Oo Lwin. We have about 40km on the clock when we hit the valley floor, having shed about 1000m in altitude. We stop for lunch soon after, before we branch off highway 3 to cut across due west to join highway 1.
The road west is flat and tree-lined. Surface is good and we get into a cruise of some 25km/h. We pop out at highway one at one of the noisiest, busiest, and fume-polluted junctions I've ever passed through. I had a minor meltdown here, the core of which was some stomach trouble, but mixed in was the disappointing feeling that there are few roads in this country that are sufficiently light in traffic to mean good bike touring and that we should just give up. We were only about 10km from Mandalay and we could have just jacked it in then and become regular tourists.
But, we pressed on, riding south on highway 1 - good surface, steady cruising, flat road. We were up in the high 20s most of the time, and from time to time over 30km/h.
On arrival in Kyaukse, we had a little bit of faff finding a place to stay, but it worked out okay in the end. The town seems to have some substance, with a technical college, some industry, and the rail passing through, but it wouldn't be too far from the truth to call it an overgrown truck stop.
94km, 3hr34, 26.5km/h