On ya skates for homeless kids
BANGKOK, 3 April 2012: Cycling home and feeling smug about completing 95 km in the scorching summer heat, I got the shock of my life.
A girl on inline skates almost overtakes me. This is ridiculous, I thought as the super fit lass pulls alongside to say hello. She has another not so athletic mountain biker in tow, carrying their luggage.
Anja Schwarz earned my immediate respect as she glided along at a comfortable 23 kph.
There was more amazing stuff. She had just skated 1,000 km from Chiang Mai in just 12 days with only the support of her partner, Kelli Bartel, who had the map, bottles of water and the backpacks strapped to her mountain bike.
On the stretch to Bangkok, where I met them, they were battling head winds, the heat and heavy traffic on a busy 347 highway, the last stage of a pursuit to raise cash for the Baan San Fan Orphanage in southern Thailand.
A German citizen, Anja would qualify for long-stay tourist status in Thailand having spent nearly six months at Khao Lak where she met here trip partner Kelli Bartel, a US dive instructor from Alaska. In between sipping coffee at the Wicked Café and diving off islands near Kao Lak beach the days passed slowly. They needed a challenge.
Bored with expatriate beach chatter, they wondered if they could take a risk and do something edgy but with a purpose like helping orphans to gain a better start in life.
“I think we wanted to give something back to Thailand for being such a great host country to us,” explained Anja as she downed an ice-cold cola and a plate of fried rice at a canal side restaurant on the outskirts of Bangkok.
“We thought of the 14 children at the orphanage and the need to expand to accommodate 40 children and that is how the skate challenge was born.”
Usually expatriates groan about visa hassles or how they were ripped off by taxis. Not Anja and Kelli, even after 12 days toughing it out on Thailand’s gruelling highways, they still were enthralled by the hospitality of Thais along the way.
“After Khao Lak crowded with tourists, it was quite a shock,” explained navigator Kellie. “We only saw two farangs (foreigners) on the whole trip and you are the third.”
“Did you ever feel it wasn’t safe to be skating on highways,” I asked.
She laughed: “Only this last bit on the approach to Bangkok.”
As for the rest of the trip their skate and cycle challenge caught the imagination of all they met on the windy road to Bangkok. Villagers put them up free in their homes, fed and watered them and waved them off on the next stage of their trip with cheers and photographs.
Anja and Kelli paid their own expenses and raised over US$2,000 for the orphanage.
They made it all the way from the centre of Chiang Mai the long way round on a 1,000 km route that avoided mountains. Their challenge ended in front of the Don Mueang railway station, the first city district just around 25 km north of the city centre.
They ditched the plan to skate all the way to Khao San Road recognising the dangers of Bangkok’s pot-holed streets and the lack of road manners of its car drivers and motor cyclists. Celebrations followed in Khao San road as they met up with friends, but there was nothing to match the expression of joy on Anja’s face when she glided past the Bangkok boundary line. She was home and dry without an accident or incident to mar the remarkable trip.
Anja is almost a career skater now and ready to return to her homeland Germany, but she leaves behind a record and I would be surprised if it is not in the record books for some time to come.
As anyone walked the trail between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I wonder? I know author and journalist, Steve van Beek, kayaked south, or slithered, according to the title of his saga that described his trip from the far north source of the Chao Phraya to the capital.
Record or not check out Anja and Kelli’s facebook page and if their feat motivates you to help the orphans they will travel to other shores knowing they had made a difference.
Or visit the charity inline skate and cycle road trip facebook page.
Visitors to Khao Lak can drop a donation in the box at the Wicked Café, Khao Lak beach.