This short essay sent in by Stuart Hemphill is the 1st of 5 finalists picked for Road Holland's Cycling Shorts Essay Contest. All finalists and the grand prize winner will receive some incredible cycling gear! Enjoy.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia, I had many opportunities to cycle to see parts of the country that many tourists and cyclists don’t get to see. On one trip, I rode 320 km over three days to Mondulkiri, a mountainous province bordering Vietnam—one of the last remaining wild places in Cambodia. It was a surreal journey.
On day one, I rode through an area controlled by the NVA during the Vietnam War. Jimi Hendrix’s Machine Gun, a long, acid-soaked jam about the Vietnam War, randomly came on my mp3 player as I cycled on the same road that American tanks had rolled up when America invaded Cambodia in 1970.
On day two, I started early, knowing I had a lot of elevation to gain. I noticed something that I could have sworn was an American mailbox. When I got to it, it was indeed an American mailbox, along with two pristine license plates from Washington, my home state.
After 80 km, I stopped at a village for a snack. Around 11:00, I finished my food, got a half-liter of water, and started off again. Unbeknownst to me, I had just made a huge mistake.
As the heat of the day approached, the hills became steeper. I realized I was completely alone. The jungle grew close to the road. I had bumbled into an uninhabited 40km stretch where the plains of the lowlands smash into the mountains of the highlands. There was nothing between me and the next town except 40 km of steep climbs and heat.
My water was gone. My pace slowed to a crawl. I had to get off my bike and push to get to the top of some of the hills. Sweat was dripping off my face onto my handlebars, causing my hands to slip. It seemed like every time I got to the top of a hill, I had to go back down and start over.
After an hour, I was in trouble. Dehydration and heatstroke are real dangers in the tropics. I needed to get out of the heat and re-hydrate. But where? Miraculously, I saw a dirt road that led to a shack. It was a forest ranger station.
A man was lying in a hammock with a cloth on his forehead. I greeted him in Khmer but he only moaned in response. He was either very hungover or very ill. Either way, he was in even worse shape than me. I saw a water filter and asked for some. He moaned again, perhaps thinking I was a fever dream. I took the moan as a green light and filled my bottle.
After a rest, I thanked my delirious friend and started again. Back on the highway the torture continued, though I had to admit it was quite beautiful, especially the great views of the forested hills.
An hour or two later, the road leveled out onto the rolling hills of the highlands. I had made it.
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