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A bicycle trip through Thailand becomes a tribute

Four months after her husband died of a heart attack, she pedals through a land full of guardian spirits. It seemed natural that his spirit would follow her there.

One single strand of string bound us together: 17 travelers, 32 guardian spirits, four guides, and a Buddhist monk. We all sat on mats in front of the monk waiting for something to happen.

“The Ageb and his helpers will put jasmine leis around your necks and unwrap a ball of twine to encircle the group like a spirit corral, as he chants his prayers to call in the entities who have strayed,” said Piak, one of our soulful Thai bike guides, who had been doing this for 20 years.

Before starting any important journey in Thailand, a master ageb, or retired monk, is invited to call the wayward spirits together, reuniting them in a ceremony called Bai Sii for safeguarding the traveler.

“After he is satisfied that the spirits are assembled, he will take the string and rewind it to make your bracelets, tied on the left wrist for women, placed on the right for the men in our group. You must wear the bracelet at least three days for protection. Don’t ever cut it, or it will bring you bad luck,” Piak said.

Our ceremony was for protection during our bicycle tour through the tropical farmlands and jungle forests of northern Thailand from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai — seven days and 210 miles of mountain biking over the Golden Triangle. The term applies to the opium-growing region where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Laos converge, but our group would stay safely on the Thai side.

It was my first solo bike trip in 36 years without my husband, Howard, who died of a heart attack four months before. Perfectly healthy, he left the house at 7 a.m. to go biking with friends. I called from the bedroom, “Goodbye, honey. See you for happy hour. I love you.” He never came home.

We had planned to take this trip together. I mustered up the courage to go in celebration of his life. It looked good on paper. Jennifer Lampshire from Backroads helped me book the trip.

“I don’t want to go with a bunch a guys or too many couples,” I blubbered over the phone, and she searched the upcoming trips and found me the right combination. My husband and I had toured Bali, China, Costa Rica and many other countries over the years with Backroads so I knew I’d be in good company even if I wasn’t very good company myself.

That night, assembled around the pool at our first hotel, we lighted fire balloons to send away bad luck. Rice paper domes heated with bees wax candles silently floated up, disappearing into the moonlight.

“This is always done for the king’s birthday,” said Ghing, another Thai guide, “and for many other celebrations.”

We hadn’t even really started biking yet, but the trip was bound to be blessed in many ways unimaginable.

Bike to shop or shop to bike?

We were 12 women and five men on this bike adventure, and I didn’t know a soul. Several of the women were hard-chargers, racing the guys up every hill, never missing a chance to extend the maximum mileage for the day. One of the women, a Brazilian beauty, had started riding only six months before the trip. I was somewhere in the upper middle, meaning that I was strong but lazy. We were a varied lot of cyclists. But, besides biking, we had one thing in common: shopping.

“There’s a great custom silk shop back in Chiang Rai,” said Lynny, our American guide, who had discovered the shop on her last group tour. Lynny was direct from San Francisco and was quite the natty dresser, even in bike clothes, which can be pretty grim.

“We’ll have a van available to take you and your bikes back to the Legend Resort after lunch. You’ll have time for a quick shower, and then our driver will escort you to the shop and wait for you to bring you back. Who wants to go?”

Full Article: LATimes

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