Mist is hanging, draped over our bungalow-studded hill like a spider web. The early-morning cool beckons us out of bed, and gets us moving. We have yet another near-100 kilometer day ahead of us, and we want to most of the riding before the sun comes out in full force.
We putter around, packing up, donning our don't-even-remember-the-last-time-we-washed-these clothes. And then we lug the last of our belongings outside. Goodbye and good riddance, bungalow. We straddle our bikes, give one another a nod, and release our hands from the brakes.
Down the steep gravel path we go, careening towards the road at the bottom of the hill. Reaching the highway, we turn left. Destination: Sihanoukville.
Refusing to give the Picnic Resort any more of our money, we've left without breakfast. But no matter, we soon pass a small roadside stand, where a mother and two daughters are brushing their hair and tidying up the small bed behind a curtain behind the counter. Many families in Cambodia seem to sleep out in the open, with very little privacy, their homes doubling as their business.
Once stopped, I pick out some packaged cookies while a nice woman makes us iced coffee.
We sit and relax, enjoying the morning, watching the world wake up. One by one, a handful of men filter over and take seats next to us, smiling and ordering coffees of their own. They chat, presumably about the weather or their crop or who knows what, and we enjoy simply listening to the sounds they make. We wonder, are people at home this relaxed? Or are mornings at home harried, rushed affairs of traffic and dread? It has been so long we can hardly remember.
Our breakfast at this small little stand is met with another guest: an ochre robe-wearing monk with a large brass begging bowl. When she sees him coming, our matron grabs a packaged pastry and walks over to give it to him. She stops before him and slips out of her sandals, then kneels at his bare feet. She seems to be praying; he seems to be blessing her.
I feel a bit voyeuristic looking on this scene, but I do it anyway. When they are finished, she stands and smiles, and hands him the pastry. He smiles and nods, and walks to the next establishment, where the routine begins anew.
Before we leave, Tyler quips once more, "You wouldn't have seen that on a bus!"
Back on the road, we pedal swiftly and happily away. I am enjoying the feeling of my legs churning, calves working, ankles rotating forward and back in an effortless dance of momentum. In this moment, I am utterly and completely happy, my body zinging and alive, ringing with energy from my helmet-covered head all the way down to my sandal-covered toes.
We've gone fifty kilometers, and our leg muscles are just starting to ache. When we enter a large town with a market and many restaurants, we decide it's time for a real breakfast. Pulling over, we pick a restaurant, and order what we think will be two plates of stir fried noodles with chicken. Instead, it's a nourishing noodle soup with chicken. We sit in the shade and slurp, both on soup and another iced coffee, until we're full.
Breakfast is over, and with it, our happy-go-lucky streak of swift, efficient pedaling. The sun has come out with a vengeance, and we're suddenly tired, overwhelmed by the fact that we're not even half way there yet.
With this knowledge at the forefront of our minds, once again the polar nature of our lives is brought into harsh focus, as is the sense that, like some real life calculus problem, we're ever approaching zero. The closer we get to our destination the slower we go!
I am hot and sweaty, and the pinprick beginnings of chafing have begun. At Tyler's behest, I pull to the side of the road, and change from cycling skort to cycling short, removing some of the sweaty friction. Disaster averted.
We're not far from Sihanoukville now, but a series of steep, significant hills have cropped up, slowing our progress even more. The unrelenting sun beats on our backs and I wonder if we ever will get there. Will we keep pedaling, slower and slower, always remaining an hour away?
On one huge hill, Tyler takes refuge behind a massive smoke-spewing truck, grabbing on to the rusted bumper, letting it take him to the top. Not confident enough to grab on with him, I opt for the hard way, and as I slowly pedal, people smile and wave, some uttering "ooooh, you veddy strong!" "Thanks!" I huff, and continue to cycle at a snail's pace, dreaming of the ocean.