Slovenia Part 1:. The West and Lubljana

I remember distinctly when we crossed the border into Slovenia for the first time. We were on a dirt road cutting through a corn field and figured it out when the road signs were no longer in Italian. I also remember not realizing we passed back and forth between Italy and Slovenia three times until we looked at the map later. Our worries about an immigration checkpoint were unecessary.

We first read about Slovenia (and honestly discovered that it existed) a few years ago in an issue of Adventure Cycling magazine. I remember dreaming about the possibility of spending two weeks exploring another country on a bicycle and how impossible that sounded. Now here we were, over a month into a three month trip and finally crossing into the unfamiliar land we longed to see for so long.

We started the route by joining a published bikepacking route that Cass Gilbert, one of my favorite bikepacking bloggers created. We rode up steep hills and passed mountain vinyards with spectacular views. The excitement of finally getting into the backwoods and mountains and doing some real off-road bikepacking was exhilerating. We stuck with Cass’ route for a few days then eventually branched off and got back onto our own track. It never fails that when we try to follow someone else’s published route, we end up miserable becuase we’ve got our own style and no one else seems to plan the way we do. The route was great, but included a lot of unnecessary climbs.  That is fine if you are on a loop for a few days trying to maximize scenic views and exercise, we however were trying to get somewhere.  I’m writing this in Slovakia and at this point as a grizzled veteran of this trip, I barely plan a day ahead most of the time because our mood that day and seeing the actual mountains in person instead of on a map determines where we go a lot of the time. I’ll get around to writing a “Plan on the go” guide someday but for now, back to Slovenia.

As I said, we knew next to nothing about this country with such a rich heritage. It didn’t even exist until 1991 when Yugoslavia broke up and I got the sense they were still carving out their identity. Initally, the Western mountains felt a lot like Italy. There were vinyards everywhere and the architecture looked very similar. It was so interesting riding a bicycle and every day noticing the subtle changes in everything from the houses to the way roads were maintained and built. We stopped at a few landmarks, there was a WWI monument that turned out to be in Italy and we didn’t know until we read some plaques in Italian. It was sobering to see all the names of soldiers who died on the walls and think of all the lives impacted.

We had a helluva climb up to a church and cemetary on top of a mountain which drained us both physically. We celebrated our victory with boiled potatoes and a zooming downhill ride afterwards. Our legs and lungs certainly took a beating after the flat farmlands that is Northern Italy. The mountains kicked our asses! Our average distance was cut by two thirds and my arthritis in my knees started rearing its ugly head. This sent me down the rabbit hole (Remember I was reading Alice in Wonderland?) of saddle adjustments which is about as fun as trying to get a piece of popcorn out of your teeth with no toothpick.

The scenery was gorgeous and we gradually got our mountain legs up to snuff. We met so many lovely friendly people and enjoyed camping in the forest again. Our path took us East until we finally hit the Capital city of Lubjliana. As far as cities go, this one was like hitting the easy button!  We rolled into the outskirts following farm roads and Lauren took the chance to befriend some four legged comrads.  

Once we neared the metro area there was an endless bikelane. It eventually turned into an intricate system of bike highways that sprawled all over the city like arteries and veins. Every car was aware of and followed the right of way rules with bikes. It was brilliant!

Yep, a vending machine for bike tubes!

We had a few maintenance issues with the bikes so we tried to find a shop to remedy them and also kept up our tradition of drinking the local brews. In this case that meant Lasko, a beer named for the town it was made in, but more on that later. 

 To make a long story longer, we ended up staying in the center of the city because the campground wanted 37 Euros a night to tent cap.  I wanted to say, “Lady, you realize we are in a tent right? All we need is 10 square feet of grass and a cold shower.”  Instead I said I was going to go check with my wife, then we rode back into the city.  For nearly the same price we found a nice hostel in the center of the city.  The next few days were grand.  There were burgers, beers, chinese food, and me performing noisy bike maintenence in the basement of the hostel much to the chagrin of the counterperson who no one told I was down there. 

During our celebration of my 1 year anniversary of leaving the Air Force, we were startled by an impromptu firewords celebration coming from the castle just for me. I didn’t remember sending the email to the chamber of commerce but was glad they remembered. Obviously we celebrated with drinks and great food.

Yes, I was that idiot taking pictures of fireworks.

That evening we coordinated to meet with the crazy Scotsman Graeme that we met in Italy and we ended up shutting down several pubs with his Slovenian friend.  We sampled local beers and viljamovka (pear brandy) and learned a bit more Slovenian from his friend and our waitress.  We found out later that Graeme got lost on the way home when his phone battery died and rode about aimlessly unitl 4:30 AM until he found his camping spot.  I’m sure the viljamovka had nothing to do with it.

After a prolonged wandering session looking for a reputable bike shop, I got my cassette fixed and we headed East the next day to find more mountains. On the way out of the city, we climbed the hill to check out the castle and were not diappointed. Lubjliana was without a doubt, the best city we had seen. We both remarked about how we would love to live there sometime and try out “city life”. There was just the right amount of modern city with history and culture. The locals were friendly and the food was amazing. It is absolutely a place you must visit if you come to Europe and want to get off the beaten path. Lubjliana is a truly magical place.

Life on Koh Tao

Definitely not our dog… or our bike!

“Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.”  -Mark Twain

Trying to decide what to name this post, it occured to me that we’ve been here for four months!  What a ride it’s been (or lack thereof concerning the bicycles).  I rode my bike once on the island which amounted to pushing up ridiculously steep paths and carrying the bike up the hill.  At the top, I blew out a sidewall on my tire and pushed back home.  Lauren was kind enough to send me this meme to cheer me up. Other than that it has been scooters that get us around the island.  Sometimes we even get a random island dog who wants to hitch a ride.  

Where to begin?  Reading the last post from February just now was strange.  It feels almost like we were different people then.  I’m looking at the pictures, and half the people in them have left the island.  We’ve since been to Malaysia, may or may not have 2 brand new tattoos and made some amazing new friends as well as continued the metamorphisis into the people we really are meant to be. 

At the beginning of February, we had the most amazing day and night of our lives!  It was Goodtime’s 10 year anniversery extravaganza and what a party it was.  It started with climbing and abseiling on the mountain.  Lauren was on duty showing the guests her stuff while I was dangling 20 meters up hanging from a rope and looking out at the most spectacular view of Sairee beach.  Next was rock climbing.  I got to see what Lauren does everyday and was humbled and impressed even on the “beginner wall.”  The afternoon moved down the hill to the full size flying trapeze setup.  We both climbed up the platform (Lauren for the second time) and wow, what a rush!  The very first swing, you are upside down hanging from your knees with no hands 30 feet in the air and backflipping to dismount.  It was a blast and the instructor Jemma was phenomenal.  The daytime activities were only the beginning though.  When the sun went down, the party started.  There was awesome live music all night and we nearly collapsed the deck at the bar due to the jumping and dancing.  There were goodtime tattoos for 500 Baht in the bar…  Who were we to pass up a deal like that?  

The official party ended, but we were on a roll so we kept it going.  There was more dancing and late night swimming in the ocean.  We went to bed with the sun and walked away with some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for.  Our place on this island was solidified and we decided that we are staying here.  You can call it a home if you like, but we are thinking of it more as a base…  A jumping off point for future travels and a place to store scuba and climbing gear.  

Living on Koh Tao is wonderful, but one unavoidable aspect of life here is the visa situation, which took us to yet another country.  If our trip to Myanmar for visas was interesting, the most recent trip to Panang Malaysia was eye opening to say the least.  Without getting into too many details, we need to leave Thailand periodically in order to renew our visas due to weird government tourism policies.  The reason we went to Panang this time was because there is a proper Thai embassy and you can get a 2 month extension instead of 30 days.  In true Orlosky fashion, we waited until the last minute and rushed to get a joint boat/bus ticket since the train we wanted to take was out of service.  The trip began on another night boat and in the morning, we arrived in Surat Thani, Thailand and were shuffled about onto a “Mini Bus” which is basically the Asian equivalent to a church van.  Thus began the all day trip through the South of Thailand into Malaysia.  

At one point we were told to get out of the van in a city called Hat Yai in Southern Thailand and we waited in an open air room for 2 hours.  No one told us what was going on, but we deduced that we were switching vans for the next leg.  We wandered around a bit and had some great Thai food for lunch.  We didn’t eat anything too adventurous since we still had hours in a van with no idea when the next stop would be.  The border crossing into Malaysia was pretty benign and we learned that US citizens get an automatic 90 day visa for free which is good to know for future travels.  The difference between Thailand and Malaysia was a lot bigger than we expected.  Everything felt a lot more Western except for the calls to prayer on the loud speakers.  The cars and the clothes were more familiar and the road signs were in English as well as Malay which uses latin characters.  

As we rolled into Panang we laughed at how excited everyone was to see a Pizza Hut.  Living on a 21 km sq (13 mile) island makes you forget about a lot of “normal” things.  We were told to get out on some street in Panang and pointed towards Jim’s which was our travel agency.  It amounted to two guys, a computer and a couch, but they knew their stuff.  We had little more than our passports in hand and Jim took care of all the rest.  We stayed at a recommended place called Chulia Mansion which was a bit pricey at about 45 USD per night, but there was a rooftop wine bar with a free happy hour every night.

We met some interesting folks on the roof.  There was Paul, from the UK who volunteered at the animal shelter on Phuket, and also Peter.  He was in his 70’s and expatriated from the US to retire in Chang Mai.  He had an amazingly interesting life, serving in Vietnam, driving long haul trucks across the US, and traveling the world.  We learned a lot from one another, for some reason our tendency to gravitate towards older folks continues.  Maybe it’s their wisdom, or perspective, or maybe it’s ours.  

We spent time in Panang doing the requisite dumb tourist stuff like taking an elevator to the lookout on the tallest building which turned out to be hilarious.  We were shuffled around and made to stand in queues even though we were the only ones there.  At the top, after looking at the view, we decied to have a drink.  The bar was very swanky and I hadn’t had a proper martini in ages so I ordered one since it was on the menu.  After watching a conference of four employees and a manager trying to make the drink I realized I should have ordered a beer.  What they presented was brilliant.  It amounted to a glass of spoiled vermouth, a splash of gin, and a handful of black olives and a lemon twist!  Lauren and I split her beer and thanked them with a smile.

The rest of the trip was a lot of fun.  We went to a mall to get Lauren some climbing clothes and a few other little things and boy were we ever lucky.  There was a giant video arcade on the top floor.  We raced motorcycles, shot zombies, played drums, danced and flew fighter jets all afternoon.  It was good clean family fun!  

We ate amazing food the entire trip.  From schwarma to Indian to traditional Malay cuisine,  it was all so full of flavor.  We had such a good time that we stayed an extra day and can’t wait to go back. Duty was calling back on Koh Tao though.

After returning to Thailand via van we had a nice dinner at the pier market in Surat Thani.  Next we boarded the boat which had side by side mattresses covering the entire floor with no aisles.  It was not what I would call a modern vessel.  The constant creaking and groaning of the hull made for less than stellar sleep.  In order to use the bathroom at night you had to step over sleeping people in the aisles.  Oh well, just another night in Thailand.  We made it though and were welcomed back to the island by our amazing friends!  

The next few weeks were the definition of amazing and we’ve been the happiest we’ve ever been in our lives.  There is something special about this island. It is not the beautiful beaches and mountains, although they are gorgeous.  It is something deeper than that.  It’s in the people, it’s an attitude that nearly everyone shares.  The people who don’t share it don’t stay more than a day or two.  No one here seems to care about trivial stuff.  Of course there is some gossip and occasional drama.  We’ve been robbed while swimming late night, but the thief left our phones, wallets and bank cards.  It might sound weird but I wasn’t even mad.  

My arthritis has even improved here.  It may be the climate or my diet, but I can’t help but think the lack of stress in my life has helped immensly.  Not every day is perfect, and we still have problems, but by and large, life is the best it’s ever been.  Also, I just finished my training to be a divemaster.

Happy birthday Nate!

In a flying squadron in the Air Force, there is a right of passage known as the 
“naming”.  Once you achieve a certain level of experience and acceptedness, the boys deem you worthy and are given a callsign. (ie. Maverick/Goose) You spend some time in front of the crowd whilst being berated and demeaned for all the stupid things you’ve done since being in the squadron.  At the end, you drink a shot in some ludicrous way and are given your callsign.  Needless to say, the night involves heavy drinking and no one I know remembers much from their naming.  Little did I know when starting this new venture that the diving community has a similar tradition.

The dreaded snorkel test is not meant for the pleasure of the person experiencing it.  It is purely for the entertainment of everyone else.  My test was at Goodtime’s bar with a select group of dive pros and some local friends.  It started with myself and my fellow DMT (Dive master trainee) Polina, being dressed in ridiculous outfits and paraded in front of everyone while they cheered.  Next, we were subjected to dive trivia like converting metric depths to standard while drinking and other questions we clearly would not know.  Things are a bit foggy in my memory, but there were charades to act out different fish, being dunked in a bucket of ice water with a scuba regulator in and having to fill up a mask and clear it.  There was also a scuba strip tease  for our lovely spouses.  All the while, our performance was being evaluated and a concoction of booze and disgusting mixers were being poured into buckets conveniently placed behind us.  

The coup de gras was the actual snorkel test.  I was given a specially modified mask and snorkel with a giant funnel atached to the top and just for fun the mask had prescription glass suited for someone with 20/500 vision so I could not see anything.  There was a countdown, then the bucket was poured into my funnel and I had to chug it as fast as possible before drowning in booze!  I remember thinking, “I’m 32 years old, what the hell am I doing?”  The Blue Curacao, gin, vodka, and tequila were not the problem.  It was the Baily’s Irish Cream mixed with lime juice!  For all of you scientists out there, dairy curdles when mixed with citrus…  Surprisingly I got the whole thing down, I didn’t realize this at the time becuase once I finished it, they poured the remainder of my partner’s bucket in mine which included among other yummy treats,  spicy Thai rice soup from a styrofoam carton, M150 which is Thai Redbull on steroids and more lime juice.  Once that hit my throat my literal gut reaction was instantanious and I gagged and spit up all over my wetsuit…  Which by the way had the sleeves and pantlegs taped shut.  During this whole ordeal, I also had a giant bucket of ice water dumped down into the wetsuit which was now completely sealed.  Thinking I failed miserably, I took my mask off and was greeted with two dozen cheering laughing faces!  I was presented with my professional diver certification and could not have been happier.  Somehow I managed to continue the night and though the details are hazy, I’m pretty sure I had a great time!

Lauren is about to finish her rock master course also and our next adventure is starting soon.  What started as a two week break from cycling on has turned into an incredible life changing experience.  We’ve got amazing new friends, a new place to call home, new careers suitable to traveling and genuine happiness.

* Thanks to Charly for the awesome snorkel party photos!

So, I guess we kinda live here now.

“Some people never find it. Some only pretend. But I just want to live happily ever after, now and then.” – Jimmy Buffett

The plan was to stop on Koh Tao (a very small island in the Gulf of Thailand) for a week or two. We were going to try scuba diving, enjoy the beach, then get back on the road heading North for Chiang Mai. That did not happen.

Instead, our week or two is now at about six and we don’t have any plans for leaving any time soon. When we started the trip we always talked about scouting out places we really liked for when we wanted to take a break from traveling for a few months. We didn’t think we would end up staying on an island and training for new careers… sort of.

The first two weeks here were great. The weather was beautiful and the beach was fantastic. We swam and enjoyed all the Western and Thai food on the island. I got my open water scuba certification and we were just hanging out with no cares. We stayed up late, woke up whenever we wanted and generally relaxed. Lauren got food poisoning which was not fun at all, and the weather turned bad for about 5 days due to the remnants of a typhoon, but we were really enjoying it here. Our Visas were going to expire and we debated on what to do.

We considered a standard boat/van visa run to leave the country then come right back or maybe taking a boat to the mainland and riding the bikes to Burma and back. We thought about riding to Burma then just continuing up the Eastern coast. Finally we thought about just heading up to Cambodia. We debated for days and ultimately decided to just do a visa run and stay on the island.

We had an interesting mini-adventure for the visa run. We took the night ferry from Koh Tao to Chumpon and slept in bunks on the boat.

We arrived bright and early on a seemingly abandoned port at 5:30 AM and looked around confused. We waited with the other westerners and eventually a guy in a van showed up and started coralling us around. We ended up in a van, then switched to another van, then finally got on the road. What a road it was! The drive took us up and over the mountains toward Ranong. It was the same highway we had so desparately avoided on the bikes on the way down. Being in a car in and of itself was novel and the driver was downright insane. The road was a series of windy blind curves for miles. We spent at least 30% of the time on the wrong side of the road. Basically, there are lines painted on the road in Thailand, but they are purely for decoration. The other side of the road and both shoulders are all fair game. Passing on a blind curve just requires a simple toot of the horn and off you go.

It was about a two or three hour trip before we arrived at Ranong. We were shuffled to a place that copied our passports then stood in line to get exit stamps. We jumped on a boat that could only be boarded with crisp new ten dollar bills from the US for some reason.

The boat was a traditional longtail and we thought we had made it to Burma after a short trip. It turned out, this was the immigration checkpoint #1 of 3. The next thing we knew they were handing us life jackets as we laughed until we realized why. We had to cross a big gap of no-shit ocean to get to Burma. The boat was maybe 25 feet long and the waves were not small. We were splashed and rocked around for 40 minutes as we crossed the sea to Burma. “You may know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.”

We spent a grand total of 20 minutes getting our passports stamped, then immediately left to come back to Thailand. The return journey was just as fun and re-entering was pretty easy. One gal in our group had a bit of trouble, she had done this several times before and the immigration officials basically told her she couldn’t come back into Thailand. Our guide stepped up and had some words with them and somehow it was magically resolved in ten minutes. +1 for booking through an agency and not trying to do it yourself. On the ride back, we got to know Cecilia from Argentina and had wonderful conversation about the island, diving, travelling and life in general. After the van ride for some reason we stopped to swap vehicles again and another gal in our group became beligerant. “If she missed the ferry, she was going to flip her shit!” she informed everyone over and over. We, along with Cecilia thought it was amusing and were glad that “shit flipper” ended up in a different van for the remainder of the trip. During the last leg which was a high speed chase to catch the ferry that involved dropping off a random Thai lady at a restaurant we chatted about how nice it feels to leave emotions like that behind. I proclaimed that if we missed the ferry the first round was on me and I knew a great seafood place at the pier. We laughed and decided we didn’t really care if we made it or not.

As luck would have it we showed up a few minutes late and they hadn’t even started boarding. That didn’t stop old shit flipper from cutting the line and ensuring she was among the first to be on the ferry so she could wait 30 minutes for everyone else to board. The whole thing was a great lesson in how far attitude can get you in life. Here is one person who is worried so much about something she has absolutely no control over. Additionally, the worst case scenario was that we miss a boat and take the next one. She was worried sick, embarassing herselft as she acted like an asshole. She was verbally abusive to the driver who was just doing his job and stressing out about missing a fricken boat! So much for the island attitude! On the other hand, Cecilia, Lauren, and I, took the oportunity to make new friends. We shared stories about how we might have reacted similarly in our previous lives, but have since learned that most of the time, it’s not worth it to get upset. The whole experience was a great reinforcement of all the decisions we made that brought us to that point.

When we got back we tried a new scuba shop called Goodtime Adventures, they also do rock climbing and flying trapeeze. The vibe at this place was exactly what we were looking for: stress free, laid back and focused on fun. I decided to keep pushing further with scuba and started my training to become a professional divemaster. I’d always thought scuba diving would be a great second career (if you can call it that) and Koh Tao is known for being one of the most beautiful (and cheapest) scuba destinations in the world. Lauren gave scuba a few more tries and decided it really wasn’t her thing so she started a climbing course to become a rockmaster. Like me with scuba, it is something she has always wanted to learn. She has fallen in love with climbing and comes back every day covered in bruises, calluses and smiles.

We’ve made such great new friends on the island, and it’s starting to feel like home. It feels good to have a purpose for awhile. We are absolutely going to get on the road again at some point, but for now we are living cheap and doing what we love on a tropical island… Why would we leave?

The last few weeks have been interesting. We’ve settled into a bit of a routine and our training kinda feels like work… But in a good way. Lauren is already guiding beginner climbers and I’m close to finishing up my divemaster training. She’s seen some amazing views from atop the island and I’ve dove with whale sharks twice! The bonus is once we complete our training we might even be able to make some extra money doing something we and a lot of other people are paying to do for fun.

I’ve fallen in love with the underwater world in the same way I love flying. The silence and serenity are unexplainable unless you’ve done it. I’ve blown a fair amount of money on scuba gear and training, but somehow justified it by the fact that I will be able to work anywhere in the tropics forever if I so choose. The long hair, no shirt and wearing flip flops to work style is fitting me a little better than a buzzcut and a prompt military schedule. The best part is that Lauren is climbing out of the same shop I’m diving at. We share lunch most days and go out to dinner every evening. It’s been busy, but once we finish the training we plan on settling into a part time work schedule and slowing down again.

I think we’re “supposed” to be on a bicycle trip, but I guess this chapter is a little more spontaneous and a little less spinning. In the meantime, we’ve got the two most expensive clothes hangers in all of Asia!

*Underwater photos courtesy of Logan Brown.

*Whale shark videos courtesy of some girl with a go pro who was on the same boat as me.

Video: Bikepacking Southern Thailand Part 1

1:  Samut Songkhram to Prachuap Khiri Khan

We are finally riding!  The trip from Bangkok to Samut Songkhram was very interesting.  We caught the train from the station in Bangkok and loaded the bikes right onto the car with us.  The train was an old noisy diesel train from the 1950’s, complete with antique fans on the ceiling, that felt like it was going to derail any minute.  The route was just as unique. We left Bangkok and rode to Samut Sakhon for 10 baht a piece plus 20 baht for the bikes.  We got off the train and had to catch a ferry to cross the river to the next train which was over a kilometer away and leaving in 20 minutes.  Apparently the train system used to be privately owned to transport goods and was later purchased by the Thai government, but they never built a bridge over the Chao Phraya river.  I’m sure there were easy- to-follow directions that led you to the ferry and the next train, but we sure as hell couldn’t read them.  Instead we followed the crowd to the ferry and made the universal sign for train (Choo Choo) and somehow found our way.  The next train was also an old diesel and just as rickety.  Towards the end of the trip, the conductor motioned us towards the back door of the train for what we assumed was the last stop.  Instead we found we were riding right through a market.  No literally, people were folding up their awnings and sliding their stations back off the tracks by way of their own perpendicular tracks to make way for the train, then sliding them back on once we passed.  The word was out about this unique market, and we ended up taking pictures of a bunch of tourists who were taking pictures of us.  It was still pretty cool.

We disembarked awkwardly with the bikes and rode a short distance to the Hometown Hostel which was a great place.  We met MJ and Paul from Canada and Ireland respectively, who were also on a bike tour.  They had been on the road for a while, so we were asking all sorts of questions.  We had a great night of beers and stories and also shared Thanksgiving dinner in the hostel with a group of English teachers from the US, Canada and Spain.  Pizza and beer for Thanksgiving suited us just fine.

The next morning we got a late start as usual and planned a pretty easy day.  Getting out of town proved interesting since we had to cross a divided highway, but we eventually made our way by picking through the side streets.  Thus began the day of the dogs.  We must have seen a hundred dogs in the first several miles, and most of them were either pregnant or about to be.  The vast majority of the strays were harmless and seemed terrified of humans.  We ran into a few that barked and gave a slight chase but no close calls, which is good since our rabies vaccines need a booster before they are effective.  It was heartbreaking, but things are just different here.  The silver lining was that most of them were well fed and seemed to be getting along just fine.

We ran into a roadblock along the way in the form of a small pond in the middle of the road that smelled like the bottom of a dumpster behind a seafood restaurant, so we elected to take a detour.  Hooray for highway 4, a massive 6 lane interstate type highway that we had to parallel for a few miles to get back on course.  We made a pit stop for snacks and met a sweet woman who was so happy we stopped in to her shop.  We had aloe vera juice, Pepsi, strawberry milk candy, and dried magoes and agave which we stashed on the bike and are dealing with the wrath of the ants everywhere in our hostel right now!

We got back on track and the roads were not great for the rest of the day: semi-fast 2 lane roads with the occasional bike lane but not the dirt paths we were seeking.  We got to that stuff pretty soon though.  Along said road we saw what we thought might be a crocodile but turned out to be a giant monitor lizard (about a 4 footer) and our first glimpse of monkeys.  (Not Davey Jones, actual frickin monkeys!)  They were 3 feet off the shoulder and we heard they were aggressive and carry rabies so we had to keep rolling.  Lunch was at a seafood place on the side of the road where the lady showed me how to peel the giant 6 inch prawns.  They were delicious!

Our destination for the day was a supposed resort which turned out not to exist.  As we stopped on the side of the road to figure out our next move, an old man walked up to us and started speaking in Thai.  We managed to get the word for hotel figured out, but he just stared at us and smiled.  We elected to turn back to the last town and found a “resort” which is a term used very liberally here.  In reality we stayed in a spare room at a family’s small restaurant/fishing/lodging compound.  We were the only patrons and were treated to beer on ice while they got the room ready.  That night we had some fabulous giant prawns, crab meat curry, and deep fried seaweed.

The next morning we were off again.  After a few more miles on the double lane road, we hit the ocean and had an awesome beach- side ride for a few miles.  We elected to take a path I’d planned out into the country to get off the busier roads and the trip really started!  Within a few kilometers, we were in a different world.  There were rice paddies, farmers, cattle in the middle of the street and gorgeous views of the near vertical mountains in the distance.  The highlight was when we took a wrong turn and ended up in a tiny villiage.  We pedaled through what was essentially a driveway for a group of houses with people going about their business for the day.  The elders were relaxing in the shade, and we looked equally confused to see each other in the middle of nowhere. In typical Thai fashion, they flashed us with big smiles and warm hellos (sawadee’s), and when we stopped to check the map, a nice young man appeared from nowhere smiling and pointing us toward the canal path.  We thanked him and rode on.  Once we were out of earshot, we stopped and just looked at each other.  With giant smiles on our faces, we took in this awesome experience. We must have stood there for 20 minutes just grinning like a couple of idiots in the middle of the path reflecting on the moment and feeling grateful.  Our trip had truly started, and we were right in the thick of things.  Give me a dirt road over pavement any day of the week.  All the research we did spoke of constant 7-11s and people everywhere.  With just a few kilometer detour we wandered into another world and decided that big tires, no plans, and a slow pace is the way to do this.

We made our way back to the coast to find some lunch and had some incredible seafood once again.  We ended the day in Had Chao Sam Ran with seafood at a restaurant 5 feet away from where the fishermen were hanging out with their families cooking dinner and having beers. Smiles were abundant, there were no cell phones or TVs, and the whole extended family worked, ate, and played together.  We wandered back to our hotel along the beach and fell asleep to the echoes of karaoke from the beach-front stage.

The next day was more back roads and beachside riding.  After lunch in Ban Bang Ket, we took a trip past the fishing boats out onto the pier to see the dueling giant squid statues and then continued south.  We rode inches from the beach and made arrangements with Paul and Natt, our Warmshowers hosts for the night.  If you are not familiar, Warmshowers is basically Couchsurfing for bicycle touring.  I highly recommend signing up, even if it’s just to host.

We made it to Paul and Natt’s home with plenty of time to spare.  Their place was right up our alley.  It was a compound of sorts built around 2 shipping containers and an open air living area complete with a guest house and swimming pond.  We got cleaned up and shared a beer while meeting the dogs:  Hans, Wookie, Tiny and Hiccup.  Paul was interested in our bikepacking setup and big tires, and we chatted about everything from Thai culture to cycling and a little bit of politics.  They took us in the truck to the market in Cha Am and we sampled some awesome Thai food, fruit smoothies, banana roti sweet bread, and a unique and delicious ginger soup with some sort of dough (tapioca?) balls.  The company and food were perfect, and we shared another beer and plenty of stories.  People like Paul and Natt are what make these trips so amazing, and we made plans to stop by again on our way back north.

The next morning we were late as usual and decided to have a cup of coffee before we headed out.  Paul decided to join us for a few kilometers and showed us a great dirt road that got us pointed in the right direction.  He was hauling (kicking our) ass on an unloaded skinny tire touring bike so we got a great workout for the first part of the day.  We thanked him again and parted ways.  For some reason, we chose to ride more pavement to get to Hua Hin quickly, and it wasn’t nearly as great.  If you’ve never been on a cycle tour and only read about them, you’d think it is sunshine and rainbows all the time.  In reality, sometimes it sucks and a lot of time is spent on miserable roads trying to get to a town for a desperately needed meal or just hoping you don’t get hit by a car or attacked by a dog!  Most days are great, but not all.  By noon we were both exhausted and the city traffic in Hua Hin was getting to us.  We decided to call it quits early at about noon and settled into a hotel to rest up for the rest of the afternoon.  We almost went to the beach, but instead spent 40 minutes figuring out how to order pizza delivery and ate pizza in bed and relaxed.  This flexibility is great. There is nothing wrong with an 18 mile day.  If things aren’t going well, we just stop and relax.

In the morning we headed out again for a scenic day that consisted of riding right along the beach.  The parts that were not on the water weaved through dirt roads right at the foot of the most beautiful mountains.  We put in our biggest mileage day of this trip which was about 50km (33ish miles) give or take.  I’ve been trying to perfect my route planning, and I think I’ve got the system down now.  It’s a little more challenging to do it all on a mobile phone, but with the right apps I can make it work.  Gaia GPS is by far the best app I’ve found.  I’ll get around to writing a route planning guide soon.  We rolled up to our campsite in the early afternoon and pitched the trusty Mutha Hubba tent right on the sand at San Phraya Beach.  We decided the rainfly was not necessary and spent the day eating the food at the campground kitchen and wandering up and down the beach.  A few hundred yards away from the park was a group shooting a movie and on the other end were fisherman and their families coming and going on their longtail boats all day.  It was a wonderful day, and we had the park practically to ourselves.  We fell asleep a few feet from the waves, and although it was a bit hot, it was nice to stay in a tent again.

The next day started off a bit rough.  We overslept and were both a bit hangry.  It took some thinking before we realized, oh wait, we have no schedule or destination, why are we upset?  The riding started off great through some dirt roads, but after a few hours we ended up a little far out from civilization right about the time we needed to eat.  The best part of the day, picking through dirt paths and riding the canals, was overshadowed by our hunger and exhaustion.  We could have easily stopped and cooked up some rice on the road side, but our stubborness got the best of us. Lesson learned! We tried to press on to the next town which had a restaurant that did not exist.  Then we went to the next town which had a restaurant that didn’t exist.  By the time we got to food we were a couple of deshevled cranky bastards.  We drank some Coca-Colas to get our sugar levels up, and I had some fried mackeral while Lauren had some less than steller crab curry.  At this point, we were only a few miles (Sorry for jumping back and forth between miles and kilometers, we are trying to learn KM since everyone except Americans use them) from Prachuap Khiri Khan which was to be our resting point for a few days.

We ate and rode the last few miles into town.  About 1 mile from the guesthouse where we planned to stay, I pulled a giant shard of glass from my tire, and we sat on the side of the road spinning the tire to get the sealant to seal the hole.  We rolled up to the hotel ready for a shower and a beer.  Out on the porch we met “Betty” and “Matt” from Austria and Germany.  We hit it off immediately and started drinking Singha and telling stories.  We ended up spending the whole evening together and ate dinner and walked the beach, discussing travel and work and a little politics.  I was a few beers in at dinner and feeling adventurous, so I ordered the fermented crab papaya salad.  It was… crabby.  Everyone had a bite and Paul and Betty both fist bumped me and said, “Respect” for eating it all.  I’m glad I tried it, but one fermented (and apparently raw) crab is enough for me for the forseeable future.  It was all great fun, and we hope we can meet up with them soon either in Thailand or Bavaria.

We are taking a few days off here at Maggie’s guesthouse.  We are right on the water and next door to Mr. Bong’s amazing pizza.  The other guests have been great and the weather is fine.  We are going to stay here until Lauren’s birthday in a few days and then decide our next course of action.  We thought we might go south, but apparently it is raining a lot right now so we might flex…  Who knows?!?!

2 Weeks in Bangkok

We originally planned to stay for one week but if you’ve read this blog at all, by now you know that we don’t follow our plans and we are always late!  One of my biggest concerns about arriving here was the airport and how we would get to the hotel.  This turned out to be one of the simplest things with only a few hiccups.  We started by going to the wrong line in customs and filling out a bunch of paperwork before realizing that Americans do not have to do any of that stuff.  We found the right line, waited 5 minutes and made it through with no issues even though we only had half of the actual paperwork filled out.  They didn’t look through our bags and didn’t seem to care about the bike box.  Only one bike arrived with us, but the other one was delivered the next morning.  
Qatar airways made 25 hours of travel with two flights and tons of issues that we caused a relative pleasure.  These were credit card points well spent and if they fly to where we are going in the future, we will not hesitate to book with them again!  
We grabbed an Uber which was cheaper than expected and were treated to our first glimpse of Bangkok traffic.  The best way of describing it is courteous chaos.  Lane markings are merely a suggestion and scooters routinely drive on the wrong side of the road, on the sidewalk and between cars at ludicrous speeds.  Sometimes there is a passenger sitting side saddle, sometimes 3 or four people on one bike, and once I saw a mother holding an infant side saddle on a scooter whipping between cars in traffic.  Speaking of sidewalks, apparently there are no wet cement signs because there are constantly scooter tracks, human footprints, and I’ve even seen a few paw prints in the dried cement on the sidewalk!  It is chaotic, but the people are courteous and it somehow works.

We arrived at True Siam Rangnam Hotel in the Sukhumvit district near the “Victory Monument.”  The hotel was very nice, and had a rooftop pool.  Not bad for 40 USD a night.  

At this point, we both had colds and were very jet lagged so we spent most of our time in the room sleeping and resting for a few days.  Before we left the States, we debated on where we wanted to stay in Bangkok.  We chose the area we did because it was away from major tourist areas while still being safe with lots of options for food.  We made a good choice.  The street food was phenomenal and hardly anyone at the markets spoke English so we had to work hard to accomplish the simplest tasks.  It motivated us to learn some basic Thai quickly just so we could get water and food.  Most backpackers tend to gravitate towards Khaosan Road which is basically Bangkok Bourbon Street.  We went out once which was plenty.  If you want to drink, eat a fried scorpion and buy souvenirs from The Hangover movie then this is the spot for you.  I recommend checking it out just to see it, but I don’t think I’d stay here unless I was a freshman in college.  

Santiphap Park

Khaosan Road
That’s not Nirvana!

One interesting thing we found about Bangkok was the complete lack of pad thai anywhere.  The only places we found pad thai were on Khaosan Road and at the restaurants near the malls that catered to westerners.  More common was crispy pork, salt fish, duck soup, fish balls, chicken satay, roasted chicken with rice, and a myriad of things we could not identify.  There are usually 2 menus, one in Thai, and one with pictures for dumbasses like us who came to Thailand and can’t speak Thai.  Nothing made us feel worse than someone apologizing for not speaking English.  We are the ones who came to your country, why are you apologizing?  Can you imagine that happening in America?  It was different around Khaosan though, they spoke enough English to do business and had no qualms about ripping off tourists.  I can’t say I blame them based on some if the westerners we saw.  We did miss out on an amazing opportunity when we were sat next to a kind old man drinking a glass of Chang beer on ice at a food stand in a gas station parking lot.  He smiled at us and knew enough to introduce himself in English.  We wanted so badly to communicate and learn from him, but instead just pointed and smiled a lot.  This was motivation to practice our phrases in Thai.  At one market, Lauren was so excited to try out her new phrase.  She walked up to a lady and said, “Hong naam yu nai kha” to ask where the bathroom was.  The lady responded in Thai.  Having no clue what the directions were but being so excited she understood, Lauren forgot how to say thank you.  Instead she grunted, nodded, turned around and walked away in the wrong direction smiling with no clue where the bathroom was.  We eventually found it a few minutes later and realized these signs we had been ignoring were for the bathroom.  I’ll give them points for accuracy.

The first few days were a challenge but it got easier.  A lot of the stress came not from being in a foreign country, but rather just big city life in general.  Neither of us are city folk so we had some adjusting to do.  As concerned as everyone at home was for our safety, we actually felt way safer in Bangkok than we did in New York!  Eventually we got over our colds and started venturing into other districts.  It is crazy how you can go from the street where a meal is less than 1 USD and walk through a door into a mall selling Rolex watches and Gucci clothes.  They even had restaurants in the mall selling “Thai street food” for 10x the price…  we passed.  

We did more shopping here in the first few days than we have done in the last several years at home.  I was on a quest to find a folding bluetooth keyboard to type this blog on the bike and we ended up at a bunch of different malls selling everything from electronics to used clothing and silverware.  We quickly got used to the pace, although having no kitchen meant going out to eat for every single meal, which sounds awesome until it is raining or you are tired and want to stay in the room.  Poor us, having to walk 50 yards to eat amazing authentic Thai food for next to nothing.

We took a day trip to the “Government Complex” which is a massive building that houses dozens of government agencies in order to get extensions on our Visas.  We could have done this in the states but big surprise…  we didn’t.  It wasn’t too difficult of a process and had we not arrived right around the lunch break it would have only taken about an hour.  The lunch break was not so bad though because the food there was fantastic.  For US citizens, you can extend your visa for a fee.  You just need to fill out some paperwork, attach a photo to said paper and wait in line.  If you need to go through the process, check out the state department website or this blog.  While in the building, Lauren had a bit of trouble in the bathroom.  I waited outside the ladies room for 15 minutes wondering if everything was ok to find her walk out soaking wet and laughing hysterically.  She tried to flush the toilet, but instead hit the pedal for the bidet which proceeded to spray all over the place!  She tried to stop it with her hands like a cartoon character which clearly did not work and the result was a soaking wet Lauren.  To make matters worse, they don’t use paper towels or hand dryers here so options were limited.  So there she was, at the immigration officer’s desk soaking wet and hoping no one noticed.  We did get our extensions though so we were happy about that.

We also delayed our immunizations and were not planning on getting them at all until Lauren decided to at least get the Hepatitis A vaccine.  We went to the tropical disease clinic and the doctor suggested she get several more based on the nature and length of our trip.  She got a little bit of a flu for a day or so from the vaccines so we decided to extend our time in Bangkok by a few days.  I had most of mine up to date from the Air Force, but decided to get a few additional ones:

Hepatits A – Not super common but can be transmitted by people not washing their hands which is not as normal of a practice here.

Japanese Encephalitis – Only prevalent in rural areas, it is transmitted by mosquito bites so we figured this one was worth it.

Tetanus – Can be transmitted by a wound so we went for it as well.

Typhoid –  We passed on this one because the vaccine was only 60% effective.  It’s passed through food/water so we are just going to be careful

Rabies – Dogs are not vaccinated here so we elected to go for this since we are on bikes. 

We should have taken care of these in the states but we didn’t so we ended up spending some extra time in the city.  The good news was the price.  Mine were about 60 USD and Lauren’s were 90 USD since she got the hepatitis shot as well.  It is a pretty cheap and painless process overall if you decide to get them here and have the time.

We decided to move to another part of Bangkok to granny bike.bed which is a little guest house hostel that caters to bike travelers.  Parn and Neemo, our hosts are two of the kindest people we’ve ever met and their home is a great clean and quiet place to stay and assemble your bike.  Our private room was cozy and reminded us of our tiny house.  The room had AC and the showers were open air.  We put our bikes together and spent some time wandering about learning a new area of the city.

On the cab ride from the hotel to the hostel we had a very interesting experience.  We thought we would be better off calling the cab through the hotel since we needed a van to hold the bikes.  He showed up in a small van and it was entertaining to say the least to watch the driver and the bellhops playing tetris to get our giant bicycles and luggage into the back of the vehicle.  Eventually it sort of worked and Lauren was tucked into the back with the bikes quite cozily.  Then the real madness ensued.  The hotel gave the driver the wrong address.  He was headed to “Bangkok bike and bed” while we were supposed to be going to “Granny bike.bed”.  They are literally 2 blocks from one another but explaining that proved impossible.  We tried google translate but were failing on an epic level.  The next thing we knew the driver was calling his relative to put us up in his house for 250 baht a night.  We kept trying to explain we wanted to go to the hostel but he was insisting it is bunk beds and we do not want to stay there.  Keep in mind, all of this is being done very poorly on google translate.  The word confused came up at least a dozen times!  I kept trying to show him the map on my phone but after awhile it became apparent that he was trying to give us the runaround.  Eventually we got the point across and he got us where we needed to go, but the last 15 minutes was a very awkward silence with a pissed off cab driver.  Oh well, we got there and were met by Parn and Neemo who were fantastic!

We finally put the bikes together and found out Lauren had a bent spoke and a wheel that needed trued up.  Why not another 2 days in Bangkok?  We went on another scavenger hunt to find a wheelbuilder who fixed the wheel.  He dropped it off the next day, but the tire was no longer mounted and all the sealant I had just put in was gone.  Thus began the quest to find a compressor and more Stan’s sealant.  We went all over Bangkok and eventually got everything squared away right about the time the last train out of the city was departing for the day.
We stayed one more day and were not upset that we did.  We meet Arne, from Germany, at the hostel and spent a nice evening with him.  He was also cycling and had been all over the world.  We picked his brain and shared stories and explained several of the dumb phrases that I use without thinking like “hauling ass” and “knock yourself out” which I said while offering him beer which confused him.  It was a nice evening.  The next morning, we procrastinated again and missed our intended train in the morning.  We caught the next one though and it was quite an experience!

Parn gave me directions and said that it would not be a bad ride… only a few kilometers.  We got a grand total of 20 feet from the door and had to stop to adjust straps and a rubbing brake pad.  Then we tried to go the wrong way down a one way street and had to turn around.  Next we found an impossible intersection and had to push across a roundabout up a 1 foot curb to get on our bridge which was actually quite nice.  Finally we got off the bridge and merged onto the next road.  We went under a tunnel and popped out onto a 10 lane circus of soot spitting busses from the 1960’s, taxi cabs, cars, and scooters flying by us on both sides with no shoulder on either side and no other choice but to press on.  It felt like the New Jersey Turnpike and LA freeway combined and we were on 70 lb bicycles on the first mile of our trip!  I have no footage of this portion because I was task saturated and in survival mode however this scene is an accurate reenactment…

Our plight must have been obvious because some good samaritans gave us a break and allowed us to change lanes 4 times to get to the outside and eventually into a scooter lane.  We crossed through the worlds largest roundabout and somehow made it to the train station.  It was the most insane 2 miles of my life on a bicyle and I’ve been T-boned by a crazy lady pulling into a trailer park in Mississippi!  What a start to the trip and what a ride!

 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.