Wat Chan, Thailand 5 Dec 11
Odometer 72,625 m 116,879 km

Hmong tribesmen are not to be underestimated. Just ask the North Vietnamese Army, the Viet Cong, or the Pathet Lao. They all ticked off the wrong guys. So, for more than a decade during the 1960's and 70's, the Hmong allied with America to fight what came to be known as the
Secret War against the communists. They lost more than 100,000 warriors before the United States even acknowledged the fight. Many fled to Thailand. Some are still hunted.
With the rainy season behind me, Mae Hong Son's once slippery clay had turned to hard-pack, and I dug into it with gusto. Numerous off-road routes spider-web their way through this mountainous province, not far from the Myanmar (Burma) border. Sun dappled trails sprawl beneath the jungle canopy. They twist and turn, climb through switchbacks, and roll up and over ridges to bottom out in narrow valleys carved through some of Southeast Asia's most impressive natural scenery.

Even the paved roads here offer exciting challenges for riders from colder climes, as they're all engineered without regard for snow and ice. Steep grades, tilted berms and whiplash-inducing switchbacks, the likes of which are unimaginable back in frigid Colorado, are what make motorcycling in Thailand so much fun.
Jeremiah rounds a switchback amid the Thai jungle.
But the best part of today's ride was the ridge running. Only rarely do geology, topography and demography align to permit a road to be built along the crest of a narrow ridge. When it happens, it's special, and today was no exception. "Stay focused," I continually reminded myself, as spectacular tree-lined vistas spilled away in either direction towards range after range of beckoning peaks.
Miles from nowhere
Not a soul in sight
Oh yeah, but it's alright

I have my freedom
I can make my own rules
Oh yeah, the ones that I choose
-- Cat Stevens
As I zipped from west to east, I turned to face a steep climb, followed by a sharp bend to the right, quickly followed by a second, shorter climb. Motorcycles are much lighter and ounce for ounce more powerful than automobiles, so it's possible to go ripping up a hill at great speed only to rear-end a slow-moving vehicle in front of you. But in a fit of irrational exuberance, having not seen a soul all day, I turned the final corner of my climb and nearly did just that.

Belching black clouds of soot-laden diesel smoke as it struggled to overcome the final step, the rusted-out Toyota pick-up resembled a post-apocalyptic homebrew straight off the set of a Mad Max movie. The windshield and roof over the cab were missing. The taillights too were long gone, though a few loose wires remained in their stead. The tires were spent baloney skins, visibly patched, and spinning wildly beneath the bed. Though the truck lacked a tailgate, it carried three

In stark contrast to countries in Latin America, most of them full of heavily armed soldiers, guards and police, Thailand is relatively unmilitarized. In fact, upon disembarking in Bangkok and again in Chiang Mai, I was struck by the lack of machine gun toting brutes, hanging around. The Thai military does patrol its borders, especially those in dispute, but it's a rare day that you come face-to-face with a weapon--like the three I was staring down now!
click to zoom
My near instantaneous approach startled the truck's occupants as much as it did me. Imagine calmly sitting around your dinner table when suddenly Captain Kirk beams into the chair next to you; no one quite knew what to make of it.

Their faces quickly evidenced more state of alarm than surprise, a subtle but potentially lethal distinction. Each moved quickly to embrace his weapon. And while they may have been doing so simply to keep them from bouncing around with the truck, I couldn't take any chances.

Instinct offered me two, immediate options:
fight or flight. But neither seemed particularly practical or productive. So, I employed a third, learned response, honed as a life-long traveler and student of human behavior. It was a not-so-secret weapon with proven results.

First, and this is key, I feign fearlessness. Next, I carefully place a round in the chamber. Then, I slowly raise my hand--and fire off a wave and a smile.

Direct hit!

Without speaking a word of English or Mhong, they sensed my non-hostile intent. One of the men waved back. One guy relaxed his shoulders, dropped his gun, and reached over to grab again onto the truck. The third guy waved his gun, though thankfully not with the business end, and all three broke out in ear-to-ear grins!
Just as I've found that people are less willing to screw somebody they like, I've learned that it's a lot harder to shoot a guy who's smiling and waving at you. Now, if only that smile could truly be weaponized. After all, it's more contagious than anthrax and a lot cheaper than an aircraft carrier.

We really should get to work on that.

Friends in America sometimes ask me why I don't carry a gun. Many Latin Americans asked me how many guns I carry. Here in Asia I continue to carry the only ammo I need: 5 fingers, 32 teeth, and a willingness to deploy them at a moments notice.

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