Video: “Bikepacking Southeast Asia Packing List”

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 New York State of Mind

After a glorious sendoff dinner at a Thai restaurant in Pittsburgh, we said goodbye to our friends and family and prepared for the next morning’s departure.  Morning?!?!  I don’t know who we thought we thought we were kidding, we didn’t get out of town until 4:20 PM.  It started with the bikes.  I finally got a response from Qatar Airways informing me that we did indeed need to pack the bikes in cardboard instead of bags which required making custom cardboard boxes from leftovers provided by a local bodyshop. (Thanks Dad).  Then we had to transfer the truck title to my dad so he could sell it for us.  We had trouble again at the car rental agency who said the car wasn’t ready even though we showed up the afternoon to pick up a car that was supposed to be ready at 8AM.  We had one last teary goodbye after lunch with my parents, then my dad held up traffic as he insisted on getting a video of us pulling out of the Bob Evan’s parking lot.

Finally, we were on our way, six hours behind schedule, but on our way to the Big Apple to see our Island Daddy!  I originally planned to stop in Princeton to show Lauren around the beautiful campus but our late schedule led us to a random Holiday Inn in New Jersey instead.  We sampled some exquisite NJ breakfast including pork roll at a diner then set off to drive into midtown Manhatten in a rented minivan like a couple of idiots.

We found our hotel and pulled over on the side of 10th Avenue to unload our bikes and luggage to meet a bellhop who was not amused.  We got checked in and returned the rental car then looked up Jefferey, our long lost friend who became family when we were married in St. Croix.  Thus started a weekend of glorious cuisine and time with a wonderful friend.

To kick things off, we had rum punch at Jeffrey’s and caught up on the latest news.  Next we were off to Greenwich villiage to see some sights that included Washington Square Park.  We happened to pass the Comedy Cellar which I recognized from the intro to Louie.  Finally we stopped for some incredible Italian food at La Carbonera.  On the way home, we got off the subway early to check out the capital of capitalism, Times Square…  5 minutes was plenty.

Sunday morning, we went for a stroll to grab breakfast and saw some of the crowd from the NYC marathon, we avoided them and headed back to Hell’s Kitchen for a drink.  We stopped at a place called Mr. Biggs not paying much mind to the rainbow flags out front.  We walked in to “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls blasting and the NFL on TV.  $4 for a Stella Artois draft seemed like a hot ticket so we figured, what the hell and stayed for a beer.  That night, it was dinner at Pio Pio on 10th Ave.  Holy shit was it delicious!  We started with pisco sours and ceviche, then dinner was a peruvian smorgasbord of a whole chicken, beans, potatoes, sausages, rice etc.   The food was phenomenal and we left very happy.  After dinner Lauren and I found a cool taproom called Kiabacca and had a few IPAs to end the night.  We noticed a few Japanese tourists who were using charades to talk to the bartender and realized, oh shit, that’s about to be us.

Monday we hooked up with Alex’s brother Simon in the villiage for lunch and chatted over some amazing falafel.  It was great to meet a fellow bike tourer and make another contact for the next time we are in NYC.

Monday night it was back to the villiage for Spanish paella with Jeffrey at Sevilla which opened in 1941.  The sangria was flowing and the food was spectacular.  The whole NYC trip revolved around food and did not disappoint.  The dinner, service, and company were top notch and we left satisfied.  We dropped Jeffery off and hit up Kiabacca again.  When it was winding down we started chatting with another Jeff who was bartending.  We hit it off and he loved our story so much that he hooked us up with some awesome pint glasses and a couple of tee-shirts.  We talked life philosophies and left the bar charged and ready to fly to Bangkok…  At 9PM the next night.  

Monday we met Jeffrey for brunch and said our goodbyes with a few tears, but happy for the wonderful time we were able to spend together.  Sometimes, a person walks into your life and changes everything.  We’ve been lucky enough to have this happen twice.  Once with each other, and again with such a loving, kind, funny and honest friend.  It’s a rare thing to keep a friendship going over such a distance and such a long period of time then come together and pick up right where you left off.  We are so lucky to have Jeffrey in our lives and are proud to call him family.

We spent the rest of that afternoon rounding up materials and packing our bags.  We caught an Uber to the airport with Raphael from the Dominican Republic and were treated to an entertaining ride filled with stories of his family and how he once hit a guy on a bike.  He was a great guy and we wished him the best as we were dropped off at JFK.

I’m not sure if we have bad luck or good luck, karma, or it’s just a byproduct of our complete lack of planning, but somehow things just seem to work out for us.  We call this phenomenon “Traveling Orlosky style”.  We sent so much time worrying about the way the bikes were packed that we neglected the bags full of gear.  Our IKEA storage bags had not stood up to the test.  One had a giant rip in it so we needed a replacement.  I ran around looking for a cardboard box, then the check in manager Kevan suggested I check the lost baggage office.  There in the corner were 2 glorious abandoned suitcases eminating rays of light and choir music.  The lady said they were mine so I grabbed them and we scrambled to repack all of our stuff.  To cap it off, they didn’t charge us for the extra baggage and it was only $65 a piece to ship the bikes.  FedEx was going to charge $900!  With our luck running high, I figured I’d ask for an upgrade to first class.  It was $1200 a seat, but Kevan said, “How about an exit row?”  Umm… ok.  The pictures​ speak for themselves.  Qatar Airlines wins.

What a ride!  It’s been four and a half months since my last day in the Air Force.  15 states, one eclipse, two families, a few great close friends and selling or giving away everything that doesn’t fit on our bicycles.  We keep looking at each other and saying, “It’s really happening!”  

Get busy living, or get busy dying…  We’ll take the former.

Crashes, Beers, Cougars and What Not

Laramie was pretty uneventful.  We took a rest day and mostly hung out in the hotel.  The next day we found some railroad tracks leading out of town and followed them off and on for the whole day.  Railroads with a nice access road are a really great bikepacking tool.  We never ran into any issues with the railroad employees.  We did hit a few spots where the road stopped and we had to improvise either riding on the rocks supporting the tracks or detours on some ranch roads.

We had proper food now and finally found a groove with eating healthy on the road.  Nuts, jerky, and dried fruit are an awesome combo.  Also we took some fresh produce that lasted a day or two.  One of the big goals of this trip was a shakedown of our gear to see what we needed and didn’t need.  Also trying to figue out food etc. along the way.  We learned that rice and canned meat is ok, but cleaning burnt rice off of a stainless steel pot is a giant pain in the ass and uses a lot of water.  Our MSR Whisperlite stove is awesome, but it has one heat setting… Really frickin hot!  It’s awesome for boiling water, but actual cooking can be a challenge.  I’ll do a full post on gear and cooking in the near future and hopefully remember to link it to this post.

Anyway, we found a pulloff on the railroad and set up the tent.  Dinner was beef jerkey and raw broccoli.  As we waited for it to get dark, a train decided to stop on the tracks which were about 20 yards away from us behind some trees.  It just hung out there for about 40 minutes while we tried to figure out what it was doing and if someone saw us.  Our best guess was that it was waiting for another train that was utilizing one of the many switches up ahead.

The train moved on and we set up camp.  Right before bed as Lauren was getting her toothbrush out of her bags, I spotted a set of eyes in the bushes and said, “Oh look honey a critter.”  Lauren replied, “Umm that’s not a critter that looks like a cat!”  We both started staring at the two giant glowing dots with our headlamps trying to see what it was.  Being the adventurous (idiotic) folks that we are, we moved a bit closer to get a better look.  A silouhette soon emerged and started doing a telltale horizontal move like a cat following a laser pointer.  Holy shit, it’s a mountain lion!  We stopped, but the cat started creeping forward.  We spoke loudly and backed away slowly.  I had the Ruger LCP .380 in my hand and backed right into a tree.  We shuffled quickly into the tent and hoped like hell that the thin layer of nylon would protect us.  After sitting there indian style looking at each other with a gun on my lap for half an hour, we had to get out to pee before bed.  We carefully climbed out of the tent and covered one another Navy SEAL style while we took care of business then scrambled back inside the relative safety of the tent.

Aside from the trains coming by every few hours 20 yards from our heads, we slept surprisingly well and did not see anymore of our feline friend.  In the morning, I stood where the cat was and Lauren paced out the distance.  It was 10 yards away from us!  We’ve always wanted to see a mountain lion, but I imagined it from a few hundred yards away, not right in front of us!

See video below for an artist’s interpretation of the event.

The next day included more than a few verses from “The guy on a buffalo”.  And lot’s of “Geet outta here KittyKat!”

We started riding in the morning and a few miles in the day got interesting yet again.  I was cruising down a hill on the access road and my side of the road started to get a bit rutted.  I moved towards the center but there was a giant baby-head sized rock sitting in the middle of the road.  Like an idiot I stared at it going about 20-25 MPH and BAM!  The next thing I new I was laying in the dirt with the wind knocked out of me and pain all up my left side.  Lauren ran back and tried to help.  I bruised my left hip and right knee pretty badly and burped all the air out of my front tire.  Luckily my pride was hurt the most and I was able to ride the rest of the day.  Somehow some rocks managed to get into the bead of my front tire and it wouldn’t hold air for more than 30 minutes.  The rest of the trip included a lot of stopping to pump up the tire and went pretty slow due to my hip.

We pressed on and picked our way down the mountain roads.  We hit a new top speed of 37 MPH and eventually hit Colorado Route 287, also known as the deathtrap with a 70 MPH speed limit and limited shoulder.  We rode it for about 10 miles and found some respite on back roads for the rest of the way to Fort Collins.  The last part of the ride was mostly downhill and fast pavement which made for a nice break.

From the beginning, we had a glorious plan to head straight to a brewery when we got back to town which worked out perfectly.  We booked a tour at New Belgium right as we rolled into town and took a great bikepath to the brewery.  If you are in Northern Colorado and even remotely interested in beer, go to New Belgium and take the tour!  It is 90 minutes of history/science and it’s free.  Oh and free beer…  like a lot of free beer.  We were actually pretty tuned up when it was over with.  The best part was the sour beer room which had giant 15 foot tall oak casks where the sour beer aged.  Our tour guide was great and we had a good group who didn’t seem to mind that we smelled awful and were covered in dirt and blood.

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We left the brewery and headed to the hotel with just enough time to get cleaned up and hit up B-Dubs (Not our normal kind of place but they had the boxing match) for the big Mayweather/Macgregor fight.  It was a cool experience.  We got lucky and a nice guy named Mack let us sit at one of his reserved tables because some friends didn’t show up.  We bought them a round of shots and watched a great fight.

It was a great ending to an amazing trip.  There were a lot of ups and downs (pun intended).  The wind was a bitch in Wyoming but the scenery was fantastic.  What never fails though is the people.  We met some amazing souls who didn’t even think about hesitating to help a couple of strangers on bikes.  I’m convinced that bicycle travel is the best way to travel for this reason.  There is just something about a bike loaded up with camping gear that makes people want to talk to you.  Free food, offers for rides, a quick “You guys ok?” or even just a smile and a thumbs up, give you the energy to keep going when you are facing 30 MPH headwinds on a washboard road, running out of food and just wishing for some shelter.  Hopefully we changed at least one person’s mind about cyclists and they will think twice and slow down the next time they pass some crazy couple on bicycles.

 

The Way Back

Technically, I guess we are on the way to Thailand now.  Once this trip is over, it’s Tucson, then back East!

The next day after the eclipse we stopped by the church camp and thanked Marlon.  We went a bit further up the mountain and then had a marvelous downhill speedfest for 4 miles or so.  The climbing was not over, however. We had some rough mountain roads to contend with but we were having a blast.  We decided we will take hills over wind any day because at least you can see what you are up against!

We were covered in dust from all the traffic coming off the mountain but the scenery was unbelievable.  On the west side of the range, it looked like Rohan from Lord of the Rings!  Wyoming in the mountains is some beautiful country to travel by bike.  We found a beautiful campsite hidden behind some boulders and watched the sun go down with a delicious IPA and some canned chicken and rice.

The next day was a pretty big mileage day with the destination of Rock River, WY (Pop 245).  Our food stores were running a bit slim and the wind in the plains made the going very slow.  Are you sensing a trend yet?

Luckily along the way we met a Wildlife Biologist who stopped to talk.  He was heading home after several days in the field and hooked us up with bagels, chips, cherries and gatorade.  We gladly accepted and housed several plain bagels.  On the road, food becomes fuel and you get to know what your body needs.  Also you can pretty much eat whatever the hell you want and still lose weight.

The road to Rockwater soon turned into a washboard bump fest with blazing hot sun and you guessed it… wind!  We trudged along and eventually rolled into “town”.  The motel said you need to register at the general store across the street so we went over to inquire.  Honestly a room could have been $300 and we would have taken it, luckily $77 was the price.  We dropped our stuff in the room and hit the only restaurant in town (twice).  There was no hot water so we took cold showers.  We spent $55 at the general store on absolute garbage food (Canned beef stew, combos, snickers, etc.)  The next day the owner shut the water off completely to replace the water heater without telling us.  We had to go next door to use the bathroom and brush our teeth, but they agreed to refund us half the price.

We rode out of Wheatland and followed an access “road” for powerlines.  It was semi-sketchy, running through a lot of ranches, but none of the gates we went through were locked and we never got off the road.  We had a close encounter with a big bull at one point.  The cows in general were not used to people and definitely not bikes.  Instead of running away they would square up and stare us down.  One big ass bull stood up and looked at us menacingly.  We calmly talked to him and backed away and after a tense 30 seconds, he lost interest and wandered off.  After that we were very careful to check for the telltale sign that the male cows were not steers!

The path continued and we saw some thunderstorms forming in the distance.  We kept moving to stay ahead of them and got caught in some serious wind at the top of a ridge.  We kept pressing until the road we planned to take was not there at all.  We jumped a fence only because we had no other choice and basically rode straight through a field until we found another gravel road.  It led to a ranch where we met Kyle who had a strong northern accent.  We asked for directions and he helped us get the bikes over a fence.  He offered us his house to wait out the storm, but we elected to keep moving.

We pressed on toward Laramie and took shelter under a highway underpass waiting for the wind and rain to die down.  Cold beef stew and pedialite was our lunch as we huddled under the bridge like a couple of hobos.  Eventually we got to Laramie and Lyfted from the hotel to a steakhouse/brewery for dinner.

The Eclipse!

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Rolling out of wheatland, we soon got into the plains and dealt with a lot of sun and wind.  The scenery was absolutely stunning.  Once we hit the foot of the mountains the climbing started.  We were wondering why everyone kept offering us a ride when we said where we were going.  The hills were not horrible at the bottom of the hill, but at the summit, it was a different story.  As usual, there were your standard bike hating morons in big trucks intentionally blowing exhaust in our face at stop signs, but they were outnumbered by kind folks offering help or even a simple smile and a thumbs up!

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We took some refuge for the afternoon huddling in the shadow of a snow drift fence planning our next move.  We pressed on up the road and while debating how to get to a stream that was on private property to refill the water bottles, we were greeted by a nice guy who turned out to be an elk hunting guide.  He said we were cool to fill up our water and we should stop by the field where he and his friends were talking.  He also offered us a ride to the top.

We rode up to the group of tractors and trucks and they flagged us down so we turned into the field to say hello.  It was several ranchers and the guide who were collecting hay on a flatbed.  They offered us a beer and we gladly accepted an ice cold Keystone Light which tasted fantastic in the sun!  We stood there and BSed for a beer as they subtly poked fun at how ridiculous they thought our trip was.  We talked about hunting and how beautiful the land was.  Eventually electing not to take a ride in a truck and pressed up the hill.  Our spirits were high and the beer gave us extra carbs to tackle the mountain.

The next few miles were a big climb but do-able. We spotted a prarie rattlesnake under a cattleguard and were feeling good.  We chatted briefly with an older couple from New Mexico who had a badass Eurovan camper and some entertaining bumper stickers.  Our goal was to get to the top of the mountain to camp which was only a few more miles.  Those miles were tough!  The switchbacks started at dusk and were so steep that we couldn’t ride.  The cars that passed us were losing traction on the turns.  Calories got low and so did our spirits.  The hill was so steep we couldn’t stop and decided we did not want to turn back so we trudged along in the dark (With lights of course).  A random pack of starburst got us going again until we finally hit the top of the hill.

We threw up the tent and cooked dinner then passed out promptly afterwards.  The next day, our decision to press to the top paid off!  We met two of the nicest folks of the entire trip.  Bill, who was a game warden from Laramie, stopped by and talked to us for over an hour.  We covered everything from the outdoors to auto-immune diseases and diet.  He was assigned to the Medicine Bow National Forest for the eclipse as reinforcements.  As we parted ways, he insisted on hooking us up with M&Ms, Fig newtons and other goodies.  The best was peach iced tea Snapples which were amazing!  We thanked him profusely and thouroughly enjoyed talking to someone so passionate about his job and his state.

Next we met Marlon, who was the Pastor of Camp Grace.  The camp was a Baptist summer camp which was really nice with cabins and looked like a blast for kids who would visit.  He drove up to us in his polaris and subtely let us know we were technically on church property.  We told him the story of the night before and how we were looking for a spot off the road.  He smiled and said, “Do you have a few minutes?”  Umm, yeah we’ve got time.  We jumped in the Polaris and he took us down a path to a site the church had for campfires.  There were ruins from an old chimney from a homestead, a giant boulder to climb on, and a fresh spring that you could drink straight from the pipe!  Marlon asked if this would do, and we looked at him and smiled.  The spot was perfect!  We had piece and quiet and unlimited water, also a flat surface.

The next day we woke up and hung around waiting for the eclipse which was at 11:20 AM.  All I can say about the eclipse is if you missed this one, don’t miss the next one.  It was absolutely phenomenal!  Unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  The coolest part was the temperature dropping 20°F.  During the totality, the mountainside erupted with howls at the moon so we naturally joined in the fun.  What an amazing event!

 

Cheyenne to Wheatland

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The first day back on the bikes was another detour fest which eventually ended on Telephone “road”, a tractor path through some beautiful rolling hills.  We found a random Calf who was stuck on the wrong side of the fence and he was so scared of us that he jumped through a  barbed wire fence to get back on the other side.  Eventually, we decided to camp on the road in some beautiful country and had the howling wind and phenominal stars to keep us company.

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Canned tuna and rice… standard dinner.

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Telephone Road

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The next day was a big day of riding, 69miles total!  We don’t typically do a lot of miles per day, we are more in it for the experiences and serendipitous events like spending the night at a winery.

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After rolling to Chugwater, WY pop 212, we grabbed some chili dogs at the only place in town and met some less than kind locals who made it a point to speak loudly about how people travelling for the eclipse better stay the hell off their land.  We originally planned to stay in Chugwater but instead rode another 30 miles to Wheatland.  Along the way, we finally learned what the mystery fences were… Snowdrift fences.

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The ride from Chugwater to Wheatland was tough, there was some serious wind and not much in the way of scenery.  We passed some interesting compounds that were a mystery.  Originally we thought they were old rodeo rings, but then realized they were old underground bunkers for ICBMs.  There were constant Huey helicopters flying around taking the crews to the remote locations to sit alert waiting​ for WWIII!  We were dead tired and got caught in a big wind storm that knocked Lauren off her bike.  Also it caused a giant coal cloud to blow in front of us from the power plant.

Eventually we rolled into town and had some great dinner and brews at Windy Peaks.  Our bartender Stevie was awesome.  We talked all night and decided to go back the next day to get some more info from her and plan the trip up the mountain.  We camped for free in the local town park which had a few spots for RVs and a couple of tent sites too.  The next day we found out the park was closed for camping so they could charge for the eclipse, but the guy who took care of the park was cool and said we could stay for free.  We hung out in the park and hit up the public pool that was 200 yards away.  We did cannonballs off the high dive and rode the water slides because, why not!?!  It was a pretty relaxing few days.  By the time we left Wheatland, we were the talk of the town.  At breakfast on the way out of town, the waitress asked if we were the folks riding bicycles up to the eclipse.

There were a few bad apples who clearly were not interested in people visiting their town from out of state.  One guy at the liquor store said “I heard folks from Colorado were emailing ranchers saying, we are gonna camp on your land and there is nothing you can do about it!”  No… no that never happened.  There were some dipshits, but we met kind folks as well.  Stevie offered to drive us up the mountain but we politely declined and explained that the whole point of the trip was to ride.  When we got to the summit we realized why she offered.

 

 

 

Wyoming!

P8130664.JPGAfter the run in with the Ranger, we were not in the highest spirits.  The singletrack at red canyon was HARD!  We climbed literally the entire way which included a deep sand arroyo for over a mile and several miles of switchbacks going straight up the side of a mountain.  It was amazing scenery but challenging riding (walking).

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Eventually we made it to some railroad tracks which had an access road running next to them.  We did have to jump a fence that was locked but it was locked to keep people out of where we were so we figured it was ok.  Lauren started talking about hamburgers and we decided a detour to Cheyenne was in order.  We started heading east and discovered what rolling hills in Wyoming really means.

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We learned that railroad tracks are a great option for bikepacking and were not worried about getting yelled at because all of the train engineers tooted the horn and waved at us.  We saw tons of pronghorn and wondered what the hell these giant random 8 foot tall fences were for miles.

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There were ant attacks and debates about the route and it eventually ended with a glorious 8 mile downhill on a calm pavement road straight into Cheyenne. For the first time we spun out our highest gear.  We stopped at a hotel and took a Lyft into town to Sanford’s which had phenominal burgers and some well deserved beers.  We met a nice guy from Ohio who was travelling to Utah to help his son move into his dorm at college and proceeded to solve all the worlds problems right there at the bar.

One rest day turned into two due to an 80% chance of severe thunderstorms and we layed around and watched bad TV, ate at chain restaurants, and lived the American Dream for 48 hours.