Cycling in Chiang Mai

10 06 2011

At the end of a hard week’s Birkman training in northern Thailand, I found myself with a free morning before my 2pm check-in at the airport. The friend I was staying with offered his mountain bike, a water bottle and a hand-drawn map of a route through the foothills north of Chiang Mai.

You can see where this is going, right?

Actually, I had a perfectly wonderful time in the foothills. Great scenery, lovely long green snake crossing the road in front of me, and the dogs that chased me never tried to bite. No, it was once I got back into Chiang Mai I had problems.

All I did wrong (it latter transpired) was to cross one intersection too many before following the instructions to cut in past a housing estate and cross the large block of land to get back to my friends’ house. I wasn’t too bothered when I found myself in paddy fields and amongst little villages – outer Chiang Mai is like that. More worrying was that requests for the estate I was looking for were answered with a range of answers covering most points of the compass. Still believing I was in essentially the right place, I began a rational approach to getting back on track, designed to undo whatever wrong turning I had taken since leaving the main road. It should have worked, but instead I found myself at a huge river I knew I hadn’t crossed at any other point of the day. The reason it didn’t work was that I had taken into account every possibility except the one that mattered – that I was already south of a major road I needed to be north of.

The nett effect was a 2 hour, increasingly desperate spiral through the outskirts in the full blaze of the midday sun. At long last (i.e. about the time I finished the water) I found someone with enough English and a sense of direction who was able to put me right. I had even passed the end of the road I was looking for 15 minutes earlier, but hadn’t recognised it because it wasn’t on the side I was expecting. I arrived back just in time to get to the airport and save my friends from making a slightly embarassing phone call to my wife, “…um, we seem to have lost Jon…”

The sunburn certainly left an interesting pattern – the backs of my hands were brick red up to the first knuckle, and white above that. I spent most of my time in the following fortnight in the UK explaining why I was moulting. But more to the point, it was an object reminder that the best plan to get yourself out of a hole is only as good as your ability to reorientate yourself. Without getting an objective reading on where you are, you are likely to be solving the wrong problem. Something to think about as organisations shed staff and resource by the shed-load.





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