Paul and Ray arriving at Black Sea in 2012

Paul and Ray arriving at Black Sea in 2012
Paul and Ray at end of 1,600km ride from Budapest to Black Sea in 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pak Mong Laos mile 586

This post is from February 28, 2017.

We departed the relative comfort of Luang Prabang this morning at 7:20 and made it 71 miles through moderate terrain to this town of Pak Mong. We are in a guesthouse but this one and this  entire town is a bit primitive. We are frankly afraid to eat most of the fly-covered foods on display in the restaurants here. What's more, I now am on Imodium to control explosive diarrhea that started last night. This of course leaves me weak. Also my lungs are doing worse than usual despite regular use of my asthma medicine.

We have met today a German adventure cyclist, a French couple cycling. and a Brit on a motorcycle.

Here are a couple of shots of when we met the German cyclist. He is significantly more heavily loaded than we are. Note the white disks of sticky rice drying next to us:

We see many extraordinary sites that we don't stop to photograph. Today we saw people making yarn on spinning wheels and women working with .looms.

Here is a shot of some scenery after one of the bigger climbs on this distinctly not-very-hilly-for-Laos day:

This is our current location:

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Luang Prabang, Laos -- Rest Day

Today's post is from February 27, 2017.

Just relaxing today to try to recover a bit before we continue to push on. I do have a bit of an upset stomach from something I ate and did not sleep that well last night so I do need this rest day. There will also be some walking around the town and looking at the history that makes this a UNESCO world heritage site. I will include some pictures of this below.

Inside these little woven cages are little chicks that you buy to set free so you can feel good about yourself.  Apparently the people that put them in there for sale don't feel that badly about themselves:

Luang Prabang, Laos mile 515

This post is from February 26, 2017. 

We biked 71 miles today through easier terrain and somewhat moderated temperatures. Once again we left at exactly 7 AM to beat the heat and we didn't really know how bad the terrain would be. We reached this town at 2 PM with two 15 minute stops for water and energy. Because the terrain was somewhat easier I was able to think about taking pictures and not just about suffering so there are a few shots of the countryside we went through today below. When I say the terrain  was easier it still involved several big climbs including one that was about 1200 feet vertical within 2 miles and in general there were a number of 15% grades today but still a lot easier than the previous two unbelievably hilly days. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage site. More importantly, there are sinks in our bathrooms and open restaurants!

Here are some shots of some of the terrain today:

We crossed the Mekong for the 3rd time this trip:

This is a shot of one of our water breaks and me resting my sore right bunion.   That is also the foot with the artificial ankle:

Here are some shots of sites we saw while walking from our guest house to the tourist area where we had lunch and supper:

This shot shows our current location on the map of South East Asia:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Xanaboury, Laos mile 444

This post is from February 25, 2017.

We are safe in the guest house for the day. By making it here tonight we are now exactly on our original schedule. Today was about 54 miles and extremely hilly but it was once paved and also the temperatures were a little bit less hot until noon time. Because we were scared of how the hills might affect our ability to make distance we ate "breakfast" in our rooms at 6:30. There really were no places to eat in that town in the morning anyways so last night we bought coconut juice, soy milk and bananas and ate them in our rooms after making a slight repair on my bike. We were biking by 7:20.
It is so hot and we are working so hard that we don't actually have normal appetites during our biking. But of course we need to replenish fluids and electrolytes and rest from time to time. Today I saw a store where they had a bunch of watermelons on the table out front so we stopped there.  Ray and I split a small watermelon. We asked for some salt and put the salt on the pieces as we ate them. It was the perfect lunch considering the conditions. Certainly better and more appealing than the water buffalo broth with curdled blood from yesterday!
Every day there are some comical moments that really are noteworthy but I am usually too tired to remember them all when I compose the blog in the evening. One thing that happened today though is still very clear in my mind. We were biking down a hill at  good speed and we encountered three young cows. They were frightened by the sight and sounds of our approaching and started to run. Two of them broke off but one of them continued to run faster and faster by the side of the road and was keeping up with my speed. It was clearly afraid and thinking I was chasing it. After about a half a mile at a full gallop it crashed through the underbrush and appeared to go down a very steep hill. This whole situation was comical but also dangerous because the galloping cow at any point could've veered directly in front of my bike causing a bad collision.
Here are some shots of some of the more civilized country side we went through after we got out of the mountains today. We really don't get to take pictures of the most dramatic scenery we are seeing because the biking is too exhausting to stop and take a picture:

Just for kicks I am including a picture of my bike in my guesthouse room last night. It is basically a laundry rack each night:  We try to wash our biking clothes nightly to avoid developing skin problems.

Here is a map showing our location as of tonight:

We were very fortunate to find a store near our guest house that sold bicycles and bicycle tires. So I bought a tire tonight  that was almost the same size as the one I had and we just mounted it so my worries about biking on that crudely patched tire are over. I have to admit that my heart was in my throat on some of those big descents today with that questionable tire with the 3/4" slit..

This was the patch made on the inside of the tire 2 days ago in Pak Beng.  The patch was cut from motorcycle tire tube and was heavier grade rubber than bike tire tube.  This patch kept me from puncturing the tube and probably kept the tire from completely shredding apart for the two days until we got this new tire.

New slightly smaller Chinese tire:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hong Sa Laos mile 390

This post is from February 24, 2017. 

We made 54 miles today which was our plan. The conditions today were different then we've had before in Laos. In general we were on much better roads then we have seen before in this country. The pavement was good and the roads were created such that the climbs were not more than 11%. That was the good news; the bad news was that it was 105° today and we climbed over 6000 vertical feet in the crossing of several big mountain ranges. Strangely though this town looked like almost nothing according to the maps we had used for planning. It turns out this town is the site of a major power plant and fertilizer factory. From what we can see it looks like it may be built with Chinese help. In any event we were overconfident about getting lodging  because we had heard they were many Guesthouses in this town by the people we had asked yesterday and during the day today. However it was some type of big meeting going on for people involved in the power plant and therefore they were almost no lodging rooms to be had. We finally found some very basic accommodations. There's no sink in the room but there is running water and we were able to wash off with a kind of. hose with warm water so that was not so bad. We will be OK tonight and did not get too exhausted despite the heat. Tomorrow should be more difficult because the road will not be as good and we have to do another similar 54 miles to get to our next destination. I was happy that my tire repair seemed to hold up OK today. 

Because of the intense heat and all the work involved in all of that climbing we were not disposed to take many pictures today so I'll just include the one shot of the map to show where we are now:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rest day Pak Beng

This post is from February 23, 2017.

Could not find new tires or tubes here but we got a motorbike shop to patch my bad tire as well as the 3 punctured tubes. We have now mounted the bad tire on the front and the undamaged tire on the back where there is more weight. Fingers crossed. We don't come to a town that *might* have bike tires for at least 2 days. Tomorrow is going to be about 55 miles and is supposed to be all paved though hilly.

For the sake of explanation on Tuesday midday we departed the Mekong River and began climbing inland. Wednesday, a difficult day yesterday, was spent climbing over a broad range of 5000 foot tall mountains which was more than  a 4000 foot elevation gain for us with many ups and downs. When we arrived at this town last night we had returned to the Mekong River but many miles downstream from the point of our departure.  At this point both banks of the river are in Laos. This is what the Mekong looks like from our lunch spot on this rest day:

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pak Beng Laos mile 336

This post is from February 22, 2017. 

We biked about 45 miles today through extremely difficult conditions. They were many thousands of feet of climb some of which was between 12 and 18% grade, again in about 100° heat. The road surface conditions were really atrocious. Paul had three flat tires today. When we inspected Paul's rear tire we saw that the first flat had actually torn the tire, creating a 3/4" slit and all other flats after that were happening in this same spot. There is a picture below of Ray working on changing Paul's second flat tire. This was very difficult because we needed to patch the hole in the tire in addition to changing the tube. Additionally the pump that Ray had was not very effective (huge understatement). The first flat tire took one and a half hours to fix before we were mobile again. Ultimately we patched the inside of the tire with duct tape and a 2000 Kip bill which is the Laotian currency. This kept the second repair going almost all the way to our destination - just 2 miles short of a destination  when Paul's rear tire flatted for the third time that day. At this point we need to replace the tire as it is ready to shred. Thankfully the town we are in tonight is a fairly large town that has a bike shop (so they said - turned out to be a MOTORBIKE ONLY shop). So tomorrow we will get one if not both of Paul's tires replaced plus buy a new pair of inner tubes.

While fighting the road conditions the heat and the flat tires we were also passing through some of the most amazing scenery. We were biking on a very hilly ridge line high up in remote mountains. The people in the occasional villages lived in houses set on stilts such that the snakes and rodents could not get into their dwellings at night. These were very remote villages and usually the people would come out to cheer us when we biked through. The only pavement we have seen in 90 miles has been short stretches of a few hundred meters in these villages. On a few occasions we were able to find something that passed for a store, meaning someone's house that had a refrigerator and some bottles and snacks out front that we could buy. The only thing that we ate today were some bags of salted chips or something that supposed to be chips. We had many, many bottles of water and coconut flavored drink.  There were many comical scenes while we bought these things to the amazement of the on looking villagers. Truly it was like bicycling through a National Geographic article. Unfortunately I was so exhausted and concerned about reaching a real destination for the night that they were a few pictures from today. When I saw the kind of dwellings that the people were living in these villages I was very motivated to make it all the way to the single town that lied at the end of our day so that we would not end up begging to sleep in one of the infested huts on stilts.

This is a shot of one of the more developed villages that we biked through today.  Note the rare stretch of paved road:

This is a shot of Ray working on Paul's second flat tire of the day:

This is Paul's bike rolled into the guesthouse room with the third and final flat still present:

Here is a shot of the map showing our current location:

While getting a beer shortly after arriving here which was after dark I met a Swedish man who lives in Laos country  happens to be from the same town in Sweden (Trelleborg) where my father grew up. Small world!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

PHA OUDOUM Laos mile 291

This post is from February 21, 2017. 

Today started off easy enough with 6 miles on asphalt back to where the Friendship Bridge crosses from Thailand. Then things got difficult as the road changed to dirt for the next 40 miles. This was not simply a case of dirt roads, but washboard with a loose gravel. This went on with undulating hills with a few difficult climbs at about 16% grade for 40 miles.

After about 20 miles on the dirt we reached a location where a tributary of the Mekong river enters from the east. We turned east along the northern bank of that tributary river. During the next 20 miles we encountered a large tractor trailer truck that had slipped off the edge of the road and was on the verge of plunging down the cliff into the river below. It was causing a great deal of commotion and it was such a tight squeeze it was difficult even for us to get our bicycles around this accident.  Many cars and trucks were backed up in both directions and we believed that situation was going to persist for many hours. We felt fortunate to only be stopped for a few minutes.

After a total of about 46 miles we came to a town that we believed was 20 miles short of our final destination which was a guest house that we had seen on Google maps during our trip planning. We have been biking in 100° heat and Paul was very cooked and very tired and was afraid of cramping and bonking. We rested for 15 minutes, refueled with lots of water and iced tea and began to bike again. Two minutes later, just before we left this very small town Paul noticed a sign for the guest house that we believed to be 20 miles ahead on the left-hand side of the road. It turns out the Google maps had misled us into thinking it was another 20 miles and we were very thankful that we were actually already at our destination.

Here are a couple of shots of what it looked like biking south along the east Bank of the Mekong River this morning:

This is the truck accident mentioned above:

These are shots from the inside of my room in the guest house that we reached tonight, showing my hand-washed laundry:

This was the restaurant that we ate in tonight. As you can see conditions here are more primitive then we were experiencing in Thailand:

The blue dot shows where we are tonight:

Monday, February 20, 2017

Houayxai, Laos - mile 245

This post is from February 20, 2017. 

We biked a total of about 72 miles today. We arrived at the Mekong River at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. This is the border between Thailand and Laos. The border crossing process was complicated especially for people traveling on bicycles. First, we had to go through the exit process at the Thai border control on the west bank of the river. Then for some reason we don't fully understand bicyclists may not drive over the bridge over the river but must put their bikes on the passenger bus and ride with pedestrians. The process of putting our mountain bikes on to the bus was difficult. After crossing the river and taking our bikes off we then had to obtain visas for Laos which involves filling out a bunch of paperwork and paying a fee of 350,000 Kip which is about $40. It also required providing a passport-sized photo which thankfully both Ray and I had brought in anticipation of this possible need. We finally started biking again after a total downtime of almost 2 hours due to all of this border crossing. We biked our final 6 miles to this town and are now staying in the Bokeo guesthouse which is basically a small hotel.

This is a shot of us arriving at the Thai border control on the West bank of the river.

This is the view from the bus as we and our bikes were driven across the Mekong from Thailand to Laos:

This is the scene of Ray with our bikes in the back of the pedestrian bus:

This scene welcomed us as we begin to bike in Laos:

This map can help you visualize the progress we made since yesterday: