At the entrance of Khao Yai Park, we fork over a whopping 400 baht ($13 US) each. Normally, there is fee for bicycles too, but the guards waive it for us with a wink, a friendly smile, and a bemused look about our choice of transport. It is a very nice gesture, but not quite the answer to my silent prayer that they'd charge us the entrance price for locals: a mere 40 baht.
As soon as we leave the park gate, the road begins to climb. Slowly spinning our pedals, we're trying to find our rhythm as the familiar burn of lactic acid begins to flood our muscles. It it hard to believe, but we haven't cycled a long ascent like this since we were in Greece – that was more than eight months ago.
Though I'm enjoying the foriegn sounds of the jungle, the rustling leaves, and the lushness of it all, I am fighting a sinking feeling about few things. First, our abundant food sources have all but disappeared, second, our emergency packets of cookies aren't bound to last long. I wish we'd eaten more.
Third, I'm concerned about finding a place to stay. We left for this ride relatively late, and the sun sets early now. I don't want to be stuck out here without a roof over our heads, and I don't particularly relish the idea of biking in the dark. As well, our guidebook advises booking accommodation in the Park, but then again, when have we ever had a problem finding a room?
Tyler is, unsurprisingly, unbothered by any of this. He responds to my concerns by saying we can hitch a ride if we get too exhausted. Then, with a glint in his eye, he proposes camping in the jungle, making a shelter of some kind, and rolling out our sleeping mats for a night in the wild. Are you kidding me? I'm not going to sleep in the jungle without a tent.
After an hour of pedaling, we've only traveled six kilometers, and we've eaten all of our meager emergency rations. A quiet hopelessness begins to creep in – we have another twenty five to cover, and it will surely be dark by the time we reach the top.
What keeps me going is Tyler's stoic encouragement, and the fairly steady traffic of pickup trucks. Some honk at us, others give the thumb's up, and nearly everyone smiles. I'm not sure if they're park rangers or tourists, but I know that if worse comes to worst, we'll have no trouble hitching a ride.
It's nearing dusk, and the six kilometers between us and the top of this climb are ticking by with all the speed of molasses in winter. As the shadows around us lengthen with increasing speed, their arms stretching out across the road ominously, passing cars illuminate their headlights to cut through the creeping dark.
I am exhausted, and though we should be pedaling as fast as we can to beat the sunset, even Tara, who is rapidly losing her cool, can't help but stop when we see these guys in the road:
We're yelling to one another in hushed tones, monkeys!!, as I grab the camera and the flash we bought in Bangkok (of which I still have absolutely no idea how to use properly). Seeing these guys running around town was cool, but watching them in their natural habitat for the first time, jumping from tree to tree at the edge of the jungle is incredibly exciting.
Even though I'm standing on a highway in a tourist-laden park, it feels like I am a National Geographic photographer on assignment in the remote jungles of Thailand, chasing obscure species of primates the likes of which humans have rarely seen.
Meanwhile, Tara is my eyes outside the lens. Get that one over there! she hisses, or, there's one in the tree right above you!
Once the monkey break is over and we begin to pedal once more, I gradually devolve into complete despair, for climbing never ceases, and fatigue has taken over my body. When has worse come to worst? At what point do we unfurl the white flag and hail a truck?
I don't need to prove anything to myself, or anyone else. I don't need to have some sort of enlightening experience where I bravely overcome obstacles and learn some valuable life lesson. I just don't want to be doing this. But what choice is there? We can't just stop here, and the pickup trucks that once plied this route have stopped coming. We must continue.
I am incapable of pedaling. I shakily get off my bike and begin to push, tears streaming down my face. Tyler pulls over and wraps me in his arms, and eventually, locking his eyes on mine, tells me to keep it together and that everything is going to be okay. Then, as if on cue, it starts to rain.
Now the mountains are shrouded in a haze of mist. It is beautiful and epic, but I have very little energy with which to appreciate the dramatic landscape around me. I no longer care about elephants or macaques or gibbons, and I wish we never came here in the first place. Darkness descends, consuming our last bit of daylight, and we climb ever upwards.