After eight hours on the road, the sun has set. Scratched-up, low on fuel and tomatoes, and sharing a headlight, we’ve left the last village we plan to see on this trip, Tabos, for the Davis’ home, with directions from the village chief.
It can’t be long now, we thought.
It was totally dark, and the road was smaller and bumpier than ever. The forest loomed up on both sides. The sand gave my thin Dream wheels a terrible time.
Since the road was narrow Alex took the lead and I tried to point my headlight in front of him. We slowed to 15 kilometers per hour. A lot of little roads were joining and splitting, and we were supposed to take one of them.
We didn’t know.
Alex was looking for signs. He recognized the rocky part of the road, the bridge, the creek bed. We were making progress. It shouldn’t be more than ten minutes.
Ten minutes passed.
Alex stopped recognizing things.
Fortunately, Alex’s phone had barely enough battery and signal to call Ben. He could give us directions, if we could just find the starting point.
“There’s one road about 100 meters past the creek bed–don’t take that one–there’s another road about 500 meters past the creek, with lots of sand, turn left there.”
We had passed it. It was now that I decided to tell Alex that my fuel was low. Very low. He didn’t say much, except that we were both in trouble if my fuel ran out, because then he would have no light to drive by.
We turned around to find this sandy turn-off.
Once we’d back-tracked to the creek and started again, we found the turn and came to the last hurdle: the Corduroy Road.
If the road had actually been made out of corduroy, at least we would have had some material to patch the hole that it made in my pants. Unfortunately, this road was given its name for the bumps that give it the texture you might imagine corduroy would have if the ribs were one thousand times larger and made out of wood. That is to say, this road consisted of logs (plain, unhewn, fallen trees), laid side-by-side, perpendicular to the direction of travel. There were two single-board tracks running over the logs the width of a car axle apart. In the rainy season, this part of the road floods and the logs keep you out of the mud.
Now, this is not the road to some kind of ancient, booby-trapped Khmer temple. It is the road to the Davis’ home. It’s a road that they travel regularly. It’s just that, when you’re on your tenth hour of driving, at night in a forest, with one headlight between two bikes, a small bag of tomatoes perched precariously on your seat, and scars forming down one side of your body, you feel like Indiana Jones.
The boards raise your bike up just high enough that you can’t touch the ground with your feet on either side, so once you start, you can’t stop. And if you fall, you don’t just hit the dirt. You hit logs. And since we only had one headlight, once we started, we had to stay together.
And so we began, one on either track, fates tied to each other and our measly boards.
We’d gone about 5 meters when Alex had to slow down because he was getting ahead of my light. Because he slowed down, I caught up to him right as he started falling my way. I sped up to get past him, but to no avail. His handlebar caught my pant leg and we both went down. I’m not sure where he landed, but all of a sudden I was laying on the logs, with two bikes on top of me. Thankfully, Alex only took a moment to start pulling the bikes back up.
After a few more falls, a romp through some brush, and a few fewer tomatoes (at this point, I could probably say “less tomato” because it was all sort of forming into one cup of unseasoned gazpacho soup) we left the Corduroy Road behind, wheels once again on solid ground–sometimes shifting sand.
We saw the lights of the Davis’ home through the trees about an hour after leaving Tabos.
As we pulled up to the house, we heard a rush of air.
Something big was swinging toward us.
Next week, I’ll tell you what it was (do you love these cliff-hangers as much as I do?).