Theravada Buddhism, Thailand’s dominant system of spiritual belief, describes each 12-year cycle of human incarnation upon this mortal cycling coil in quite specific terms, with precise activities and stages of mental and spiritual development to be attended to, and hopefully attained, during each 12-year period. My next cycle, which will be my seventh from 72 to 84, if I am fortunate enough to make it, should, the ancient teachings tell us, be dedicated to a turning away from the Sound and Fury of the day-to-day concerns of life, and dedicated to quiet contemplation, and the development of equanimity and spiritual harmony in preparation for my inevitable recycling from my presently constituted format into my next incarnation… probably as a slimy toad, or pond wort, given my abundant past mis-deeds this time around!
I have to say this all sounds rather appealing and far better than the common Western alternative of ‘three score years and ten’, followed by dementia and afternoons spent reading the Daily Mail in a damp Costa Coffee outlet.
The rather benign Buddhist system of calibrating the passing of one’s life, got me thinking about the constants which have sustained and nourished me through my journey so far, of which cycling and being outdoors, have been prominent.
My first cycling cycle running from the time I saw fit to pop out from my mater’s womb until my 12th birthday passed in a sort of chaotic blur, as far as I can recall. I was born in 1949 in the post-war Midlands of England and spent many happy hours on the saddles of various three- and then two-wheeled bicycles mainly careening into various objects in our garden and terrorising our dogs. I fell off and crashed a good deal, as do most new cyclists I imagine, but despite early set-backs developed an enduring love for all things cycling-related.
From 12 to 24, my cycling horizons expanded to include weekend trout fishing adventures with my father and grandfather who I would meet on a Worcestershire river about two hour’s bike ride from our home, then after a full day’s fishing, I’d ride all the way home again. At 18 I went up to Nottingham University and spent many happy hours cycling around the leafy and extensive campus often in amorous pursuit of sundry delectable female students.
My third life cycle from ages 24 to 36 saw me entering work life in advertising and marketing, firstly in London, where partying took over from cycling, then Toronto where skiing and sailing were my main outdoor sports. I then moved to work in Hong Kong for two years in 1980 where I played squash and ran the mountain tracks to try and stay fit.
In 1982, when I was 33, I arrived in Sydney Australia after a few months travelling through Southeast Asia and immediately fell in love with that most beguiling city, where outdoor life is embraced with immense enthusiasm. I bought a new Italian road bike to celebrate my arrival and spent my mornings furiously lapping the trails of the huge, nearby, Centennial Park before breakfast and then riding off to work.
At weekends I did longer rides across the iconic Harbour Bridge and up the Northern Beaches through Manly, Dee Why up to the Hawkesbury River; or south to Botany Bay and the Royal National Park. I also played competitive squash at a good level and I think that in my late third, and early fourth cycles I was probably fitter and more active than at any other time in my life.
This seems to be a life pattern for me, to do things later and be a late developer in most stages of existence. Hopefully I can apply that quality to my final demise and delay my ultimate exit from life’s stage for as long as possible too!
During my fourth life cycle from 36 to 48, I moved back to Hong Kong and then to Bangkok to open an advertising agency handling the Thai International account worldwide.
My darling daughter Olivia was born in 1993 and I well recall cycling around Bangkok’s Lumpini Park in the early morning miasma with her in a kiddie seat screaming as huge monitor lizards waddled away from the lakeside as we approached. Cycling took something of a backseat in my life as work and family pressures took over, as they do for many of us in this phase of our being. My main physical recreation came through hastily-grabbed gym sessions, plus playing squash and swimming at the iconic British Club off Silom Road in Bangkok’s downtown heat.
I was fortunate indeed, however, to be able to retire from the intensity of international corporate life in 2005 when I was just 55, and embark on a new career doing something I had always hoped to do.
I relocated to Phuket and joined my old friend John Everingham’s Art Asia Press Publishing Group as the editor of Phuket Magazine. It was something of a renaissance for me, as I was able to regain my passions for being outdoors and cycling in the wonderful new Andaman region in which I now had the great good fortune to find myself.
I started writing this Blazing Saddles column in 2013, when I was 64, and the magical alchemy of words and cycling has taken me on a wonderful array of outdoor trips around the Andaman region; across other parts of Thailand; and indeed, on cycling adventures from New Zealand, to Croatia, to Scandinavia, to Scotland, to Austria, to France and Canada.
As I boldly pedal into whatever the seventh cycle of life has in store for me, I feel truly blessed to have had the pillar of cycling as a mainstay of my journey through Shakespeare’s mortal coil and in facing the next 12 years I will do my utmost to comply with Einstein’s cautionary observation that: “Life is like riding a bicycle. In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
“Bicycling” Baz Daniel has been penning his Blazing Saddles column, chronicling his cycling adventures in Phuket and beyond, since 2013.