Kenny Peavy, an environmentalist, revisits his trip across Asia, exploring the enormous biodiversity and conservation efforts.
An idea is born
Like all good adventures, it started in a pub.
I was attending a weekend workshop on service learning and how to implement service projects with students. One of the other participants, Jamie, had come into Kuala Lumpur from Japan. We’d partnered on a few of the activities during the day and hit it off immediately. I was eager to get to know him better so invited him out for a beer to show him around town. I always liked sharing local restaurants and watering holes with visitors and this time was no exception.
Jamie agreed and we visited a few trendy spots in Bukit Bintang, downtown Kuala Lumpur.
After a walking tour of a few famous walking streets, we hit the town for a bit of street food. As Fate would have it, we soon ended up sharing a couple of drinks at Little Havana, a cool hang out spot on the corner with live music and, pub grub and nice draught beers.
After a couple of drafts of Guinness Stout, I boldly announced to Jamie my intentions to leave classroom teaching and set out on an adventure. I was burnt out and needed a break.
Hiking across Malaysia was being floated around as an idea. Being from the USA, we have plenty of cross-country trails such as the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail that, in my youth, had inspired me as bucket list adventures I would aspire to complete someday.
Now was the time. I needed play time. I needed adventure time. I needed to explore and roam for a spell. Hiking across a rainforest didn’t seem as feasible since there really were no trans Malaysia trails to be found. Cycling was also tossed about as an idea. Cycling across Asia had been done before. It seemed a more achievable adventure.
Back in 2012, I was not very Internet savvy and the number of blogs, vlogs and social media sites with information about how to cross Asia on a bicycle was scarce. As a result, we had to rely on our imaginations, grit and a bit of pragmatic know-how and determination to figure out what we would do and how we would do it.
During the excited and rambunctious discussion in the pub we let every wild idea and notion fly. I could ride across China. I could ride around Thailand. Maybe I could venture into Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia. All sorts of options were tossed about and floated around.
After the weekend workshop, Jamie returned to Japan. We stayed in touch.
More ideas were thrown about, and we eventually decided that a trip from Thailand to Bali would be a good course of action and something that could be achieved. Soon thereafter, Jamie announced that he’d join me!
The plan was coming together slowly but surely. An idea was taking shape.
We wanted to do something centered around conservation or environmental issues. We could focus on that during our bike ride. The idea fit because cycling is eco-friendly. No fossil fuels. No pollution. Since Jamie was joining me, it would have to be done during the school holidays which meant we had approximately six weeks to complete the adventure in July and August. Yes. We could do it!
I talked to people in my network. Someone knew someone and they sent the word out to bike shops, cycling enthusiasts and adventurers. Shortly, Sunny from Singapore reached out to us and said he made bamboo bicycles. He asked if we’d like to try them out on our Thailand to Bali adventure.
Sure, why not?!
Sunny himself had ridden a bamboo bike across China and was designing and building bamboo bikes for long haul trips. We’d get to test one out and provide feedback. The experimental science guy in me said YES!
He sent us images and catalogues and we picked a mountain bike model since we figured the roads would get a bit messy at some point and we would want fat tires for any back roads, dirt roads, palm plantations, or gravel we might encounter.
We finally had bikes! Now we just needed a route!
We’d make our way through Thailand on to Malaysia across into Singapore and then onwards to Java and eventually end up in Bali for the grade finale.
We finally had a route! Now we just needed a name!
I honestly don’t remember how the name came about but I do remember quite a few failed attempts.
I wanted something that made us sound like superheroes! Green Warriors! Eco-Adventurers!
Eventually we settled on Green Riders.
It had a superhero kind of feel. Simple. Easy. Explained our mission. Done.
Yay! We finally had a name.
We were set.
On the road
We started at Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand for two reasons.
Firstly, it was one of the oldest and most biodiverse rainforests in southeast Asia. Secondly, I knew a guy that had a resort, and he could sponsor our first night by giving us accommodation and food!
We spent the first night in a small bamboo chalet next to a gorgeous turbulent river amidst the sounds of cicadas, swirling rapids and a myriad of jungle critters making their nightly sojourn throughout the forest by moonlight. It was paradise on Earth. The next morning, the sound of gregarious chirping birds welcomed the morning through the open-air bamboo chalet and mosquito nets.
With brand spanking new bamboo bikes, way too much gear, an adventurous spirit, and no idea on how the adventure might play out, we hit the road. Within a hundred meters my bike rack fell off and eagerly dispersed its burdensome contents onto the rich humus of the rainforest floor! Apparently, the marriage between an overburdened metal bike rack and a bamboo bike frame was not a match made in Heaven.
With plenty of laughing onlookers from the launch of Green Riders, Jamie and I made short work of the repairs and set off on the road.
During the six-week adventure we saw numerous indescribably beautiful and wild places.
We made acquaintance with numerous interesting and intriguing people and immersed ourselves in a wide array of cultural diversity ranging from the village life of rural Thailand and Malaysia to the hyper-developed modern city state of Singapore on to the chaos of the port of Jakarta and finally the super touristy island of Bali. With a tip from a local at a roadside food stall and coffee kiosk, we ended up visiting the first rubber tree planted in Thailand. Apparently, the rubber sapling had been stolen from the botanical gardens in Singapore and smuggled across borders in 1899 that eventually resulted in the booming and habitat destroying rubber industry of the 1980’s and 1990’s.
We spent the night in a pristine an efficient locally run Eco-village situated in a mangrove on the Isthmus of Kra which lies on the border of Thailand with Malaysia. There children roamed freely playing, exploring, and jumping in the brackish water as part of their daily free time. A place where a deep connection with the rhythms of the tides, the moon and the daily fishing harvest are intimately woven in the psyche of the Thai villagers that inhabit that ecosystem.
With yet another tip from a local in a pizza joint in Krabi, we made an unplanned sidetrack to see a very cool playground in a small village in Thailand that had been built from recycled and repurposed tires pulled from their local river. We ended up helping a nearby village copy the design and build their own playground and plant shade trees at a local school.
We ferried from Singapore to Jakarta aboard a defunct cruise ship, full of deportees and work permit violators from Java and Sumatra that were being deported back to their country of origin. Another crazy adventure we could not have planned.
We learned the hard way that Baluran National Park in East Java was dry and had not even a single measly roadside stall to sell water or food, making an arduous trek uphill even harder. Within the first hour of that particular day, we quickly depleted our supplies and road around for six sweaty, throat parching hours in search of liquids and sustenance. On the last leg of the ride, we sprinted as fast as we could to exit the park and crashed into the first shop to empty their barren stock of the bottles, water and soft drinks!
When we finally landed on the shores of West Bali National Park, we stood in amazement of all we had seen, done and accomplished.
We spent the last days wallowing in the company of Menjangan deer, water monitors, mangrove trees, wild boar, ebony langurs, various shore birds and the coveted Bali starling, an endangered endemic species of gorgeous bird in its protected habitat. Green Riders provided more explorations and adventures that we had counted on or even imagined!
On the road, we became absorbed in a Zen like trance that comes from 8 to 10 hours of singular focus on pedaling and riding. We learned the value of clearing the mind through the monotony of riding all day every day with a single purpose to keep pedaling.
The experience of being connected with self, with others and with Nature were priceless and life changing.
Kenny Peavy is an environmentalist who has a memoir called Young Homeless Professional. He has co-authored a pioneering environmental education handbook, As if the Earth Matters, and recently, an illustrated book, The Box People , was re-released digitally to enable children, young people and their parents and educators anywhere in the world to use the book. He also created Waffle House Prophets: Poems Inspired by Sacred People and Places.
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