into the void.
A HIGHLY irresponsible and unforgettable jaunt into the jungle.
Story and photos by Fraser Byrne
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The sun was low when I took that left hand turn into the jungle. I had 7 pounds worth of Thai Baht in my wallet, no food or water and 2/3rds of a tank of petrol. The smart thing to do at this stage would have been to make a U turn and buy supplies; reserves of food, water, petrol... Then I should have packed a tent, a GPS device and come back in the morning at first light... But fuck it! I was way too excited for such sensibilities and the trail was beckoning me deep into the jungle like the exhilarating lure of the ghost ride at a fairground.
I knew it was a bad idea,
I just couldn’t resist.
A few days earlier in Chang Mai I'd bought detailed map of Northern Thailand that showed all the small roads as well as dirt tracks that had been chartered through the jungles by local dirt bikers. I plotted an off road route from the town of Mae Hong Son back to Chang Mai where I had rented a KLX250. It appeared to be a decent 150-mile off road jaunt through the jungle.
Looking at the map, there were towns linked by these dirt tracks. Being that I was in Thailand, even the smallest towns I'd ridden through all had ropey hotels, shitty karaoke bars, drunk sunburnt tourists, a plethora of hookers, and ATMs.
I naively presumed it would be the same out there...
With that in mind, I carved left off the main road and onto a single-track lane heading straight for the mountainous jungle. Immediately the smooth concrete road deteriorated into a dusty, winding, hill climb and that’s where the fun started.
The corners were covered in deep, fine, moon dust like sand, there was a long series of switch backs winding the whole way up the mountain. I took every opportunity to slide into the corners and roost the shit out of the moon dust. I watched the white pluming dust clouds over my shoulder and with a big childish grin. I had no idea were I was riding and I didn't care. I howled like a wild, free beast into the humid air.
This is the stuff I had been pining for while I was working and saving back in London. A few months later, BOOM! Here I was, living it...
Alone and happy, riding a dirt bike wide fucking open into the void. Fully immersed in the cathartic, visceral act of riding a motorcycle.
I was free from tourists,
free from my past,
free from the future,
free to binge on the thrill of speed.
This pseudo motocross track progressed higher up the mountain and then snaked into the jungle. The trail lured me deep into the trees and foliage, through valleys, across streams streams. In the shadows the ground was moist with lots of traction, perfect tacky riding conditions with pockets of dust in the areas exposed by the sun. The foliage was lush, moist and tropical, the colours bright and vivid. The trail was so fun and inviting, it pulled me in, corner by corner, it lured me in deeper and deeper. I was digging myself deeper into a hole with each crack of the throttle and having way too much fun. I was being greedy.
I'd ridden for about an hour into the jungle when the penny dropped.
I had the frightening realisation I'd gone in too deep to turn back and it would soon be pitch black.
“If I turned back now I'd run out of petrol half way back, but if I keep going forwards, will I find petrol? I've got 7 pounds in my wallet. That buys me 3 tanks. What about food? Water? Where am I going to stay? There’s NEVER gonna be a hotel in this rats nest. Where the hell do I buy petrol? … Oh shit. Oh Fucking bollocks! you're deep now boi. what the hell i am i doing out here?”
I came to a fork in the trail that wasn't on my map, there were hand written sign posts, but of course, all written in Thai which rendered my map useless.
Fatigue, thirst and hunger kicked in simultaneously. After the initial rush of blasting off the main road, railing those loose corners and cruising down the epic single track, the reality and remoteness of my situation started to kick in.
When I looked out to the distance, there was no sign of human life. No lights on the horizon, no smoke from fires. Nothing but wilderness. It was very beautiful and very overwhelming.
Alone in the jungle, low on petrol and losing light, a chilling layer of anxiety was beginning to flush and permeate through my nervous system. Feelings of elation and happiness shifted to panic and stress.
It was clear there would be no hotel, no ATM, no karaoke bars... In 30-40 minutes it would be pitch black. I figured in around 10-15 miles of this steep, demanding, high RPM off road riding, I was going to run out of petrol. I would never make it back to the main road with the fuel I had, so I committed to riding deeper into the jungle and not looking back.
I continued nervously on the trail, nursing the throttle. I switched off the engine on down hills to conserve petrol, without the roar of the engine I could hear the wildness of the jungle, which amplified my growing hysteria. I dreaded the steep hill climbs. Revving the engine hard felt like pulling teeth as I pictured all the fuel I was burning.
“How long is this path? What if there’s no villages for 50 miles? A 100 miles? 200? Do I have enough petrol to make it there? To make it where exactly? Where is this trail going? Where did all the humans go? Am I riding closer to shelter? Or riding further and deeper into a maze? Into the void...”
Under the dense foliage, it got really dark, really fast. The lights on the KLX were terrible and my fancy LED headlight was so deep in my bag I'd lose too much time and light trying to find it. I left my tent behind to save weight, thinking Id be staying in a hotel or guest house and the Baht I had would buy me 3 tanks of petrol. There was no budget for food or a hotel even if I could find one. I had to find hospitality out there. Heck, I had to find anyone.
Isolated and vulnerable my mind blew up in a strange cocktail of anxiety, adrenaline, fear, optimism… I started seeing things, scanning the shadows for snakes hanging from trees...
“Was that a fucking anaconda? No, a cobra? Tiger? Do they get lions out here? Can you imagine the slithery insects out here... Centipedes, scorpions, ants, LEECHES, lizards... What happens if I crash now? What happens if I get a concussion? How would I deal with a compound tibia fracture? STOP IT! stop it! just watch the road, watch the road, watch the road... easy on the revs, conserve petrol... fuck me its getting dark now. Oh God. Come on! where am i? there must be something out here soon?! This trail wouldn’t exist if it didn't go somewhere… BREATH! BREEATH! Was that a snake? A monkey? No! noo FRASER! BREATH! breath! breaaaAAAaath! ”
I was riding myself into a deeper and deeper into the maze. The prospect of running out of petrol and spending a night alone in this place with no water, food, petrol or shelter was getting very real. It was a prospect I wasn’t prepared for, practically or mentally. Sure, a night in the jungle is no biggie for tough boy scout like Bear Gryls or Crocodile Dundee, but to me, in that moment, it was a fate worse than death.
I imagined trying to sleep out there with no tent or sleeping bag, I knew the cold wouldn't get me, but God knows what kind of blood sucking tropical pests would crawl under my skin or chew off my eye lids. I imagined trying to sleep next to my bike and pictured insects slithering all over me. It was a night of paranoia out that didn’t bare thinking about.
I'd made my decision, I was running with it.
The trail proceeded to wind down hill. It was steep and rooty, a hardcore base with a loose surface of small sharp rocks and I couldn't see a thing. The place was starting to come alive with a booming orchestra of screeches from all kinds of creatures I couldn't see. The air was thick with midges and I was squinting just to trying to keep them out of my eyes. My hands were shaking and my throat was bone dry. My chest tight with anxiety.
With my energy levels on the fringe of depletion, the bike running on fumes and my mind nearing psychosis , I spotted smoke and tiny lights at the base of a valley. The timing was so perfect it felt too good to be true. It made me wonder if the road was testing me. Making me pay for those gluttonous cracks of the throttle earlier in the day.
I started laughing hysterically.
I knew everything was going to be okay.