Live From Thailand: 2016 BMW GS Trophy Southeast Asia Update 6

Day 5 Review: 175 Miles, a Thousand Smiles, and a U-Turn

GS Trophy Southeast Asia
Team USA’s Tom Asher executes the “buffalo” turn relay race, while Charles and Dennis wait in the background. The South African’s apparently invented the term, saying that if a buffalo comes at you there’s only one course of action; go the other way, and quickly.©Motorcyclist

Day 5 confession: I’m running out of words to use to describe the scenery. I’ve been sleeping in a tent for more than a week now, breathing a lot of dust, and I’ve recently run out of clean clothes. I know I’m making excuses, and a better writer would keep digging, but if you’re reading this you’re stuck just like I am. So, just one more quick note about scenery and I’ll move on; what continuously surprises me is how quickly the scenery can change. It is occasionally mundane, but usually it’s amazingly unique and full of life, from lowlands to steep, lush jungle. It is beautiful here, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

A new sensation we experienced today came quickly out of the gate: cicadas. We climbed into the hills away from the campsite, as usual, and at our first break we heard the shrill pulse of insect life emanating from the trees. Diving into the forest, the sound was so loud it even drowned out the engine of the bike. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a cicada, but based on the noise I heard I’m guessing they look just like the aliens in Starship Troopers. Charles says they have the same in Virginia—I’ll trust him to lead the rebellion, then.

GS Trophy Team USA
Asher. Lucht. Godwin. Left to right, the three titans of Team USA at the 2016 GS Trophy (shown here distracted by the beauty of Thailand). If you squint you can see more competitors riding up the dirt road to the left.©Motorcyclist

After another stint of dust, dirt, and excellent scenery we arrived at Special Test #1 of the day. A u-turn; it sounds simple enough, but this being the GS Trophy we knew there would be a twist. I stood aside and cheered on Charles, Dennis, and Tom while they lined up for a relay race down a narrow grassy trail, turning as tightly as possible around a marked stone, then sprinting back to tag the next rider’s outstretched hand. Fastest time wins. A u-turn on a GS is pretty easy, but a quick u-turn on a 500+ pound bike is tricky no matter how you slice it. The guys were all disappointed with their effort, but a time of 32.94 seconds scored 14 valuable points and bested all but six teams.

Taking our eyes away from the views in part of the afternoon of riding was the road splitting into two strips of concrete surrounded by washed out dirt. We have run across this before during the week, but it seemed extra tricky today. In part because the roads were faster and partly because we were often around construction sites spreading sand and dust onto the concrete patches. Slippery, and ghostly in appearance on the road, it can be really treacherous.

No good roads in Thailand
This minimal concrete laid into roads is a common thing in Thailand. Ingeniously it’s usually on a hill, where braking and acceleration would typically do the road the most harm. This piece is clean, but sometimes an Everest-sized crevasse opens in the middle.©Motorcyclist

Team USA survived, naturally, and soon had another challenge to wrestle. Navigation. The BMW Navigator V GPS units installed on each journalist’s bike were removed, and we were to make our way on foot through the woods following coordinates given out by the marshals. This was a task I could help with, although it’s not clear I did. None of us are intimately familiar with the Nav V unit, so it was a bit of a crapshoot finding the waypoints. After scrambling down a wooded hillside and back up a creek, we emerged 23 minutes later with the correct letters. We were docked a point or two because the idiot journalist entered and logged one of the coordinates incorrectly, but aside from that it was a success to the tune of 13 more points.

And just like that, it was time to make it to camp. We were tired and plenty sweaty from hustling around looking for coordinates, and still had nearly two hours of riding before we were home for the night. Most of it was paved, out of the mountains and on to much more open terrain. The character of villages changed from houses on stilts and sprinkled over hillsides to slightly more dense neighborhoods, commonly marked with a large market in the middle swarming with scooters.

2016 GS Trophy Day 5 standings
South Africa continues to lay down the proverbial smack, while Germany and the UK attempt to chase. Brazil (177) is only 14 points ahead of Team USA, and spirits in the yankee camp are high!©Motorcyclist

Even weary from the day, Thailand proved a bright place. People of every age wave and smile, from the backs of scooters and pickup trucks to the side of the road. I can only assume we look positively Martian to most locals—draped in armor and riding dirt-splattered behemoths through their towns. But it’s impossible not to feel welcome, even if you can just about see the question mark over their heads.

After 175 miles, around seven hours of riding, and two special stages, Team USA racked up 41 points on Day 5; a respectable total considering the winning team scored 51. That includes the second photo contest, for which voting ended during the day, and Team USA’s fans threw down 2,646 votes (thanks to those who chipped in), netting the boys 14 more points. The total puts Charles, Dennis, and Tom at 163 points for the competition, and maintaining 8th place overall.

The really good news is that Day 6 is supposed to be the most difficult yet, with a six-mile section where allegedly even the best riders will need help getting their bike through. Team USA has been chomping at the bit for more technical riding, and it looks like tomorrow might deliver. With any luck it’ll count for some points and the boys can claw their way one step closer to the top five.