To read Part I of this story, click here!
Week 3: Hitting the Soi
I’ve been practicing driving for a couple of weeks now and have finally gotten comfortable turning, braking, and maintaining a consistent speed on a bike. Even the stray dogs have stopped staring me down with contempt and judgment every time I drive by.
I’m delighted with my progress and can’t wait to show Wade, my Aussie neighbour and de facto driving instructor.
“You’re going on the Soi today,” he informs me.
“The Soi???” I shriek. He’s referring to the main road leading to Tiger Muay Thai.
“Yes, the Soi.”
“I’m not ready for the Soi!” I whine pathetically.
“Christine… you’ve spent hours going around those dirt roads and now you’re comfortable there – we need to step it up.”
“You’re only as great as your greatest challenge – do you want your greatest challenge in life to be driving slowly in a square?”
I want to say yes, but I know that’s not the answer he’s looking for.
We go over some of the driving rules again, and he gives me a list of things to practice.
“Okay – go!”
“Wait… you’re not coming with me???”
“I’m not going to hold your hand! You are ready! You just have zero confidence in your abilities. And you’re not gonna get any confidence if you only drive within your comfort zone.”
He stares me down with steely blue eyes, cigarette perched on his lips, an irritated Aussie James Dean at the end of his patience.
“Get out of here!”
Week 4: A Dead Recycling Bin
We’re going to the beach. I have driven up and down the Soi about twenty times on my own, and Wade has determined that I am ready to drive to the beach, despite my protesting.
Wade’s been reading David Goggins’ Can’t Hurt Me and is trying to pump me up for our next driving challenge. Goggins is a former Navy Seal who, until recently, held the Guinness World Record for most pull-ups done in 24 hours. His book is all about putting yourself through hardship so that you have a stronger ability to deal with adversity when it arises.
We have a briefing before our drive. I am still terrified – the terrain to Kata Beach is hilly, there will be a lot of traffic, and we’ll be driving for part of the way on the highway.
“Oh my god, you are ready, Christine! Stop freaking out!” he orders. “Just think about David Mothafucking Goggins™ – what would he do?”
“I don’t want to be David Mothafucking Goggins™!” I whine. “I just want to drive myself to salsa practice once a week going at grandma speed down the side of the road!”
He looks at me in silence. In front of him is a wimpy baby full of excuses, the exact antithesis of David Mothafucking Goggins™.
We set off after our briefing. Driving on the highway is intimidating. Transport trucks, tourist buses, Toyota Hiluxes, and minivans whip by me, changing lanes spontaneously and cutting in front of me without warning. Elderly men on rickety scooters pulling giant carts of garbage putter slowly along the left side of the road, taking up the full lane. Motorbikes careen down the shoulder, going against traffic without any concern.
But I bicycled around Phnom Penh, Cambodia for two years, with motorbikes going the wrong way down one-way streets, stray dogs charging across the road, and cars U-turning on a whim. My Cambodian bicycling experience prepared me well for scootering in Thailand.
I am feeling pretty good and in control during the drive. The hills are daunting, as is the traffic, but so far, everything has been fine.
We stop at a roadside stand for chicken on the way to Kata Beach. Wade goes over some of the things I need to work on. I am still too slow, and I need to get more comfortable passing vehicles.
We finish our fried chicken and get ready to leave. I back my scooter out of the parking lot, when my hand accidentally pulls the throttle back. My bike shoots forward and hits a wheelie bin directly in front of us. The bin teeters and then tips over.
Wade looks back at me and sees the dead recycling bin. He bursts out laughing. I am shaking.
Some of the Thais eating at the roadside stand look over at the commotion in both amusement and disgust. Wade is laughing so hard he’s almost crying.
“I could have hit a person!” I shriek. I’m in full freak-out mode right now.
“But you didn’t.”
“But I could have!”
“Well, they would have been fine. You would have barely tapped them.”
“I don’t want to barely tap anyone!”
“Well, are you going to do it again?”
“Good. And what did you learn from this?”
“… Don’t pull the throttle back when I’m reversing out of a parking lot?”
“Yes. Good. Now let’s go!”
I am beginning to question my instructor’s teaching methods.
We take off again and make it to Kata Beach shortly after. No other recycling bins were harmed that day.
Week 5: Training Wheels and Driving Math
We are going to my climbing gym. Wade thinks I am ready to drive unchaperoned, but the gym is far – about 30 kilometres away – and I want to get comfortable with the route first before I go there on my own.
We meet on a steamy hot Saturday morning. I am wearing long, thick tights, a sweater, and a pair of elbow pads and knee pads that I bought from a Muay Thai shop. Most of the accidents I’ve seen with motorbikes usually involve drivers skidding to the ground and ripping off parts of their skin, so I want to be prepared for this.
Wade ignores the fact that I’m dressed like a high-school musical version of Robocop, and we have our usual pre-drive briefing. He is still not impressed with how slow I drive, especially on the highway.
“OK, you are going to go at least 60 kilometres an hour – say it with me!”
“But the speed limit is 50!”
“We’re not in Canada or Australia! If the speed limit is 50 kilometres an hour, and everyone is doing 100 kilometres an hour, what speed should you do?”
I failed Grade 9 math twice. I didn’t realize there would be so much math in driving.
He pauses and thinks about my response.
“Good answer. Yeah, you should be doing at least 60. When you drive slowly, you are an obstacle in the road that everyone else has to pass – this is more dangerous for you than going too fast!” he informs me.
“OK. I will drive 60 kilometres an hour…” I hesitantly agree.
“Good. Now I’m only going to drive with you up to the T-junction, about three-quarters of the way. Then you’re on your own.”
“Wait, what??? You’re not coming with me the whole way???”
“The training wheels have to come off at some point. You’re too reliant on me.”
We head towards the main road and turn onto the highway. As promised, I am doing at least 60 kilometres an hour. Most vehicles are still passing me, though.
He pulls me over to the side of the road about 15 minutes into our trip to give me some pointers. My eyes cloud over as I listen to him talk.
“You’re still terrified, aren’t you?”
“No…” I lie.
“Come on… think about David Mothafucking Goggins™!”
We arrive at the T-junction, and Wade again pulls me over.
“Ok, this is where I leave you.”
“You’re really going?”
“Yes. You are ready to drive alone, young Padawan,” he says seriously.
I don’t get the reference, but I know it has something to do with Star Wars.
With those final words, he U-turns and merges smoothly into traffic, leaving me in a cloud of exhaust fumes and regret.
The rest of the trip should take about 15 minutes, but I didn’t keep my promise to drive at least 60 kilometres an hour. I also got lost and spent ages going up and down back roads in my pathetic attempt to find the highway.
I arrive at my climbing gym over an hour later. I’m shaking and soaked in sweat from the hot sun. I’m still wearing my budget Robocop attire.
This is the proudest moment of my life.
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