Italy: Friends in unexpected places

As I sit here on my second beer that I literaly ordered by saying “Una Birra per favore” (I have no clue what kind it is) I am reminded of why we are on this trip…  Not just this trip, but why we are living this life.  There are two old Italian gentlemen trying to catch quick stares at me when I’m not looking wondering why the hell this American guy with long hair and a crazy looking bicycle is doing his laundry and drinking beer in their town.  To be honest, I had to look at google to see what the name of the town is.  It’s called Ostiglia, a place that wouldn’t be marked on any map you might find at the tourist bureau or on lonely planet.  These are the places we love the most and we only find them because we are on bicycles.  They are genuine towns with real people who are not dependent on tourists to make a living.  

We’re staying at one of two hotels in town and the short ride I took to find the laundromat led me down gorgeous cobblestone streets and buildings that pre-date anything you might find in North America by several centuries.  I tried google maps to find the laundromat but it failed miserably so I had to do it the old fashioned way.  I stopped in a shop and asked for directions.  The shopkeeper gave me directions in Italian which I tried to follow then said “Via Italia” (Italy street) and I was on my way.  It took me 20 minutes to find it as I rode in circles but I made it eventually.

I’m flying solo today, as Lauren is sick in the hotel room.  I’m out running errands, doing laundry and of course drinking beer.  It’s been close to a month on the road and it is setting in that this is a very different lifestyle from bumming around on a tropical island in Thailand scuba diving and partying all the time.  It is certainly more stressful day to day.  However, the problems we deal with on a daily basis are so basic it is almost primal.  Where are we going to sleep?  Where are we going to find food for the day?  Where are we heading next?  The last question is my favorite to answer.  I’ve stopped planning the route more than a day ahead becuase we are always hearing about a new awesome place that we should check out on the way and there is no reason not to.  The unexpected detours are what lead to the best stories.  

The first day in Italy started off as a standard day of bicycle travel.  The train we took out of Switzerland (We told ourselves we took the train less because of the alps and more because of our budget) was out of service for the last several stops.  We planned to arrive in Domodossola but instead were dropped off in some random town in the Alps across the border.  They were bussing people to the final stop but the Italian Customs agents suggested that we just ride our bikes.  We came to that conclusion on our own a few minutes prior when we saw how packed the busses were.  I can only imagine the reception we would have received loading our giant fully loaded bikes onto a bus full of people who had been on a train all day.  

We began riding towards Domodossola and after a harrowing experince in a high speed tunnel that ended with a U turn we ended up there eventually.  We stayed at a charming little hotel in town and started off the next morning.  Our first Italian meal was of course pizza.  After ordering, I sat in the shop wondering if the cook was actually making my pizza or just ignoring me.  Twenty minutes later he motioned for me to come to the counter, presented two gargantuan pizzas and smiled as he offered me two free beers.  We were off to a good start.

We had a destination of “maybe Venice” along with a planned stop in a random town I’d decided to send myself a package to.  Besides that, we had little in the way of plans.  The first few days were like something out of a storybook.  We passed through tiny hamlets with cobblestone streets and people sitting outdoors in patio furniture in the town square.  More than once we remarked to each other that this is exactly like you see Italy in the movies. We passed gorgeous mountain lakes and mixed in a bit of singletrack on our way as we randomly rode from town to town.  One afternoon we found ourselves leaving a castle and picking up a dirt doubletrack road where I wouldn’t have been surprised to run into Arya Stark and The Hound on horseback.  

There was a little cross on the Open Source map and we decided that a church in the middle of the forest would be a nice place for lunch.  Several wrong turns and a few hours later, we made it and it was worth every pedal stroke.  On the way we took a detour through a vineyard and ended up at San Michele.  It was a ruined church first built in the tenth century, but a site that had been used as highground since the Bronze Age!  It was a shame not to camp there, but our arrival was too early to stop for the day so we ate a picnic lunch and pressed on.  That evening we camped at a campground and watched the latest Star Wars movie at a theatre in Italian with no subtitles I think it was good?

We wild camped and stopped at campgrounds on the way until we hit a crossroads decision point…  To go to Milan or not to go to Milan?  We debated for a while and eventually decided to leave it up to fate.  We sent out a few warmshowers requests and got a reply from a longshot.  We camped in the woods that night and headed into the city the next day to meet our host.  Before this day, all I knew of Milan was that it was usually included with New York and Paris when discussing places that high fashion was important.  (Not exactly Evan and Lauren’s fortè)

We rolled into town and ate an awesome lunch at a restaurant which proved to be exactly what we wanted.  The proprietor was so proud to show off his food and hospitality to a couple foreigners.  We practiced our Italian and learned a new phrase or two as we enjoyed a simple lunch of fresh roast beef, bread, and delicious pasta which we justified because we are technically working out for 8-10 hours a day.  Next we killed some time by searching for a bookstore to trade in our spent supply for a little Keroac and Alice in Wonderland because, why not?  After that was a bike shop/bar where we had a beer that turned into three because of a rain shower.  We sampled local brews and answered questions about our bizarre bikes and our adventures.  It was a lovely afternoon.  

When the rain stopped we headed towards a spot on the map where all the currency exhcanges seemed to be concentrated.  As we rounded a corner we were hit right in the face with the most spectacular Cathedral either of us had ever seen in our lives.  We had hit the city center without realizing it.  In the eye of the storm in Milan we were surrounded by tourists and scammers.  A quiet square with patio furniture this was not…  We grabbed a few photos then got the fuck out of there as soon as we could!

We decided to head to the East side of town towards our host’s place to be a bit closer as we waited for him to get off work.  We waited at… wait for it… a bar!  We sampled some local craft brews which were quite good then rode a few blocks to meet Michele, a stranger who would soon become a friend.

We planned to do a bit of laundry, get a shower, enjoy a nice dinner and then be on the way in the morning.  Instead we stayed for three days!  Michele was a phenomenal host, he took time to get to know us and made us feel at home.  On the second night, he invited us to “Critical Mass”.  Something we had never heard of, but will never miss the opportunity to attend again.  It goes something like this.  Gather as many cyclists, and other crazy folks on weird human powerd vehicles as possible, meet at a predetermined location, then proceed to ride through the city at night blocking traffic, making noise and having as much fun as possible…  All with the ultimate goal of raising awareness for cyclists in the city.  We shared beers and smokes with our host and his friend Angelo as we rode along with a crowd of a few hundred other people on bikes for two hours.  Aside from chasing the clouds in a jet, this was the closest I’ve ever come to heaven!  There was a crazy man on roller skates blocking traffic and shouting at drivers explaining the situation to the upset folks we stopped and thanking the kind ones.  Also we had a fantastic lunatic on a giant adult sizes bigwheel powersliding around roundabouts, and endless bicycle bell ringing everytime someone had the audacity to honk at us.  We even saw a man on a skateboard skating in a crowd of people and rolling a joint at the same time, it was truly impressive.  It lasted for hours and by the end of it my face hurt from smiling so much.  If you live near a major city and have an old bike in the garage, do yourself a favor, check facebook to see if your town has “Critical Mass”, pump up your tires and go.  It was truly one of the greatest nights of my entire life!

Afterwards, we hit up a local craft brew pub where I was ecstatic to find Stone IPA on tap for one last brew before we headed home.  The next day, Michele showed us around a bit more as we looked at cache barns from the middle ages, watched bicycles on TV and generally had a beautiful effortless time.  In the morning Lauren cooked a proper Southern American breakfast including biscuits and gravy which we all loved.  We said our goodbyes and headed off like Willy on the road again.  

The next stop was a random bit of serendipitous chance.  While in Switzerland, I finally got around to ordering a replacement for my phone case which I ruined by swimming in pools and the ocean all day during the Songkran festival for the Thai New Year.  

We left Milan and passed through so many remarkable small towns on the way that you could spend a month in each getting to know the story of the people living there and the history.  Instead, we usually grabbed some food and a beer and were on our way.  I had the package sent to a random reasonably sized town that was along our route and that is what brought us to Cremona.  As we rolled into town, we commented on how the tower was pretty big, not knowing it was the largest brick bell tower in Europe.  We had a bit of a rest in the central square in front of the beautiful cathedral and sipped prosecco and ate paninis at a cafe.  Once our bellys were full and spirits lifted we headed off towards a campground on the south side of town.  We set up shop and then were delighted as cyclist after cyclist came in after us.  At the end of the day, there were 12 bicycle travellers who camped at the spot we chose at random.  We met a few of them and good times ensued.

There was the Swiss couple who gave us tons of suggestions of places to explore and new cycling apps we should try.  Then there was Graeme, the wild Scottsman who we ended up spending a few days with us exploring the city.  He had an interesting story and the most insane touring bike setup I’ve seen.  He must have had 100 lbs. of gear including a full Scottish formal kilt regalia piled up on the back of a carbon framed fatbike with bungee cords and rope everywhere.  It’s always interesting to compare and contrast how people can be doing the same activity and do it so differently.  It is kind of fun that bike touring is still in it’s corporate infancy and has not been standardized in any way.  We see recumbant bikes, panniers, bike packers, jerry rigged thrift shop bikes and everything in between.  We hung with Graeme and chatted over beers, and wine which turned into a wild midnight ride in sandals through a field of 3 ft. tall weeds into the town square where the ominous cathedral reigned supreme.  

We stood there in the square on our bikes and discussed our theories about it’s origins at length.  The grandiose Milan speciman this was not. It was clear that it was built and rebuilt several times and you could actually see the different ages of humanity in the construction.  There were pre-christian influences at the bottom, bricks of all different colors and you could actually see where the renaissance happened in the construciton!  The next day we met David who was Graeme’s waiter the night before and he took us inside where the art and craftsmanship was even more spectacular.  Also while waiting out a rainstorm at a cafe we met Derek from Liverpool who happened to be at the same spot on his tour of Italy.  We made a ragtag group and stuck together for the rest of the evening.  Maybe it’s the fact that everyone is traveling alone and longs for company, but I like to think that this hobby and/or lifestyle attracts a certain kind of person and it is easy to get along with folks who think the same as you…

We planned to leave the next day but my package was late and Lauren needed a dentist so we stayed one more day and meet up with David again and met his lovely girlfriend.  We shared a cup of wine sitting on the ground near our tent and felt like the hosts for once, albeit our furniture was made of good old fashioned terra firma and we had no roof.  

This lifestyle is wonderful, but it weighs heavy on the heart.  In the year since we said goodbye to our former existence, we’ve met some of the most extraordinary people you could ever hope to encounter.  Our circle of friends we had in Tucson was so hard to say goodbye to.  They were the first group of folks since leaving our families and childhood friends that we felt a connection with that can’t really be described.  Then on Koh Tao we formed relationships in a few months that felt like they had been forged a lifetime ago.  Now, on the road we continue to meet these incredibly amazing people who change our lives and have such an impact in such a short amount of time.  It is a catch 22 though.  You can’t expose yourself to enough likeminded people if you don’t travel, but you meet them when traveling so you can’t settle down to have them in your life permanently.  It’s almost like you go through the full friendship in a matter of days and come out the other side wondering how the hell you are going to go on without these amazing new people in your life.  I have a habit of always trying to find solutions to problems, but I don’t think this one is really a problem.  It’s just the way it is.  We’ve got a growing list of friends all over the world.  With a quick message, we’ve got a local contact and if they are not around, they can hook us up with the right kind of people.  If we ever decide to slow down for awhile, (unlikely) they’ve got the same!

 In the meantime, we’re going to continue this adventure and embrace every new place and experience because after all, being happy is the only thing that matters, and if you are not happy, is your own damn fault!

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.

Prachuap Khiri Khan to Koh Tao

“Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him.  We, the people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them.  We speak of them only to children.  Later, we simply let life proceed, in it’s own direction, toward it’s own fate.  But unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them – the path to their personal legends, and to happiness.  Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out indeed to be a threatening place.”

– Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist”

Our stay in Prachuap Khiri Khan (PKK) was relaxing and we had some good times taking a load off on the coast.  As beautiful as the beachside view was, we learned that it was not swimable.  Our first hint should have been the fact that no one else was walking on the beach or swimming.  We were wondering why for a few days and figured it out when walking the beach with Betty and Mark.  All of the sudden, the water felt really warm and smelled horrible, then a quick look to the left revealed the secret of PKK’s beach.  The sewers were draining right into the ocean!  Not THOSE kind of sewers, but it was definitely run-off from the streets and not pleasant.  When we got home, we thouroughly washed our legs and decided we’d stick to the sidewalk that ran along the water.

On the last afternoon, we took a trip to the Thai Air Force Base that was in PKK to check out the swimming beach and the monkeys.  Unfortunately the monkeys were sleeping so we hit the beach and while it was beautiful, there were a lot of people there.  Once we got in the water, it was wonderful and we played like a couple of kids splashing and jumping in the waves.  We drank a few beers on the beach and were entertained by a little girl who was rolling around in the wet sand and surf and giggling like a literal schoolgirl.  We and her parents were very entertained.  During lunch we met Gerhardt, a cyclist from Austria who was riding a KTM bicyle.  We chatted for awhile and recommended our guest house to him.

​​We met Gerhardt again that evening and talked bicycles for hours.  We shared some pizza from Mr. Bong’s and had a lovely evening.  Sometimes it is easy to forget just how much of a niche we are a part of when it comes to cycling.  Gerhardt was very much an athlete.  He rode long days to cover tons of distance and stuck to the highways in order to take the most direct route possible.  He was travelling on roads we wouldn’t even consdier taking unless we had an emergency and needed to get to a town ASAP.  The world of bike touring has so many varieties even in such a small niche.  There are skinny tires, fat tires, paniers, bikepacks, athletic achievers, trail blazers, racers, challenge seekers and tons more.  I haden’t thought much about where we fall on the spectrum until we met someone who is doing essentially the same thing as us but in such a dramatically different fashion.  Neither is right or wrong, just different.  First there are cyclists, then touring cyclists, then bikepackers, then fat tires, then finally (and we may be the only ones) cyclists who ride less than 50km per day and don’t plan their trip, stop all the time for afternoon beers on the road and wander about on back roads taking the most inefficient route possible for the sake of exploring the tracks that everyone else doesn’t see.  Right now we are sitting on Koh Tao, an island off the Eastern Coast of Thailand and are considering staying here for a few weeks, or maybe a month, or maybe six.  

The luxury of time and no possesions at home is awesome.  We realize at least once a week that wherever we are is our home and everything we’ve got fits on our bikes!  Also, we’ve been compiling a list of problems that we face day to day.  Here are a few from the list:

Deciding which island we should visit.
Having to constantly clean my sunglasses because of the sea spray.
And the greatest problem in the world to have…  What day is it?  Oh wait, it doesn’t matter!

We took off from PKK on our way to Chumpon and the first day started off great.  We were greeted by kids on the backs of scooters smiling and yelling HAALOW all morning.  A few kilometers in we hit a roadbloack.  The detour took us past an aquarium, and as we rode past the gates, the guard smiled and motioned us in.  Who were we to argue?  We rode up to the front and as we were locking the bikes up a swarm of people started forming around us.  It was a man with a bunch of kids and they all wanted to practice their English.  We smiled a lot and tried to explain our trip.  Lauren was able to practice some Thai with them as well. They asked for pictures so we all posed together in front of the bikes and snapped a few for ourselves.  It was a charming experience and we were very glad we stopped.  We said our goodbyes and made our way into the aquarium.  The A/C felt great and it was the perfect afternoon stop.  The translations for the fish were amusing and we had a nice little tour.  

One afternoon, we passed a place called “Rocky Point,” which was the same name for the beach we visited in Mexico with friends last summer, so naturally we had to stop for a beer.  It felt good to get out of the sun and we took a bit of an afternoon break.  We used the wifi to do some research on possible islands to visit and I somehow ended up on the lonely planet forums…  Don’t go there!  It’s a combination of everything wrong with the backpacker community plus the internet.

Along the road we saw a few signs that were anti-European Union and the locals definitely were not fans of Westerners.  I couldn’t blame them at all.  There were resorts everywhere catering to rich retired Europeans and they were pushing the fishermen out of their villages and taking over the coast.  We felt guilty and frustrated.  At the risk of sounding like a bleeding heart hippie, I started thinking about our trip and our motives.  On the spectrum of travelers I like to think we fall somewhere far from the condescending self-righteous douchebags who are wearing rice paddy style hats walking around town insulting locals and acting like drunk idiots.  On the other end are the rich tourists who are pampered at a resort they never leave. We genuinely want to spend time getting to know the places we travel and interact with the people.  To each his own I suppose.

In a serindipidous turn of events, as soon as we left the town we were hungry and decided to stop at a shack at an intersection on the road for some lunch.  Under the roof was a middle aged Thai Woman cooking on a propane stove with no electricity.  Also, there were two young guys enjoying their lunch.  We rode by and decided to immediately turn around for some lunch.  The looks on their faces were priceless.  We had a short conversation introducing ourselves and ordered via the tried and true, “I’ll have what he’s having” method.  We were treated to rice and pork “Mu pad prik” as we were instructed.  We were thankful for our language practice because “Mai pet krap” (Not spicy please) definitely came in handy when I saw the heaping spoonfull of chili powder she was about to dump in the dish.  The food was delicious and the company was great.  A few giant gusts of wind came by and it felt like the shack might blow away, we were all laughing and playing charades to talk about the wind.  When we got up to pay we couldn’t believe it was only 60 baht for both of us. (about 2 USD)  We thanked her profusely and jumped back on the bikes.  We never have pictures from these kinds of stories because pulling a camera out just feels wrong. Instead, here is a picture of a cow.

With about 8 km to go that afternoon, we decided to add a little adventure to the route.  The open source map we use has tons of dotted lines that represent dirt roads and paths.  I spotted a small two mile loop that was generally heading in our direction so we checked it out.  Finally, a little bit of mountain biking!  We started up a steep sloped washed out path and before long found ourselves in a thick jungle.  The path was rough and sloppy and we had a blast.  The navigation was a lot of guessing and turning around but we felt like we were deep in the jungle on an expedition of sorts.  In reality we were probably never more than a few km from the road.  The small detour was worth it and we felt like we were properly on our way.  

That night things took a turn.  I paid the price for the roadside shack pork.  I woke up in the middle of the night and let’s just say food poisoning sucks.  I was violently ill for several hours and the evening was not fun.  To top it off, the bathroom in our hotel had a strange odor when we checked in that later turned into an intolerable sewer stench.  Not a good thing when you are spending the entire night in said bathroom.  We decided to check out the next day.  Getting the bikes down the stairs with the strength of an infant was a challenge and the 2 km ride felt like the tour de France.  Somehow we made it to another hotel and I spent the next day recovering and waiting to be able to eat something.  We stayed 2 days just to make sure I was back in good shape then hit the road again.  The ride in the morning was incredible!  The road was right along the beach with hardly any traffic.  We chatted merrily and solved all the world’s problems as we rode.  As we ventured further, the local attitude changed again.  We saw a bunch more anti-EU signs and no one seemed to smile or even acknowledge our presence.  We concluded that someone was buying up all the land in the town and forcing the fishermen out.  We kept pedaling and tried to avoid feeling guilty.

That afternoon, we took a slight detour to Ban Saphon Noi, a small inland town.  We were looking for some AC and a spot for lunch.  Riding through the small town was a cool experience and it was obvious that not many cyclists come this way.  We had chips and Pepsi in the park and decided on our lodging for the evening.  We were off again and made it to a charming B&B on the coast.

The B&B seemed like it’s glory days were a decade ago and we felt like we had the place to ourselves.  There was a young Thai couple that did the cooking and upkeep and did not speak a word of English.  We took a dip in the ocean with no other people on the beach for literally as far as the eye could see.  Dinner was good and we met another cycling couple from Germany.  Ironically, they had spent the previous night at the same hotel as us.  We chatted them up and were inspired to find out they were 69 years old!  Their recurring holiday was to cycle Thailand for a month every year.  We felt empowered and excited, realizing this is only the beginning and we’ve got decades of traveling the world ahead of us!

We started late the next day due to a laundry miscommunication and paid the price physically.  The mercury was rising high and when the sun was not blocked by the clouds it was like an oven.  We took several pit stops along the road at what turned out to be community pavillions.  They reminded me of the ones you see out behind the American Legion back home.  Visions of high school graduation parties went through my mind as we sipped our water and waited for the clouds.  An interesting conversation came up:  “What would our teenage selves think about what we are doing right now?”  It’s an interesting thought no matter what you are doing with your life.  As I sit here writing this, I’m thinking perhaps the better question is, “What would my 90 year old self think about the life I’ve led?”  

The next part of the trip was a lot of pavement due to the close proximity of the mountains to the sea, and there were not a lot of North-South back roads to choose from.  Our choice to ride along the coast again paid off and we had some beautiful scenery.  In particular, the sand dunes North of Chumpon were beautiful.  If we had known about them ahead of time, we would have stocked up on food and water and stayed a few days.  The road was a fully paved coastal road that was completely abandoned.  We could have stayed for weeks with no one bothering us.  We had islands on our mind though and couldn’t wait to get to Koh Tao.

That evening we stayed at a small guest house.  When we arrived, the power was out so we hung out on the porch with the owners who were enjoying the weather and seeing to their newborn baby.  There was an adorable dog living out back and plenty of geckos in the room to keep us company.  It started pouring down rain and town was at least 1km away so we broke out our trusty camp stove and had rice noodles with chicken bouillon and canned tuna.  It was surprisingly good.  Cooking out of the doorway while it was pouring rain reminded us of camping in Colorado.  It seems like years ago although it’s only been a few short months.

At this point we were roughly 60km from Chumpon where the ferry for the island left from.  We decided we’d ride until we were tired and if made it, great.  If not, that was ok too.  It was a good day for back roads!  We had a blast splashing through puddles and a few flooded stream crossings.  Thank god for fat tires!  The sand was a non-issue for us where regular mountain bike tires would have led to an abrupt stop and two soaking wet Americans.  Once again we were on the inefficient route zig-zagging through coconut and rubber plantations surprising the locals.  We took our time and rode when the clouds were out, stopping for the sun.  It was a wonderful relaxing day and turned out to be our longest distance yet.  At one point we stopped at a small roadside market and woke up a sweet older woman who was having her siesta in the afternoon heat.  She was so happy to see us and insisted we take a load off to enjoy our bottles of water and strange gatorade-like drink.  We quickly exhausted our Thai and sat quietly smiling at each other.  We thanked her and said our goodbyes, happy to be on our way again.  The road we chose turned to follow a river which offered beautiful scenery and plenty of kind faces.  We decided not to eat fish in the area after seeing the water that some of the fishermen were tossing nets into.  We decided to stop for lunch at a small store where we loaded up on cookies, pop and salty treats.  The family who lived there was very nice and we did our best to explain our trip in Thai.  As we were packing up to go, they got a truck stuck in the mud.  We both trotted over and five of us together pushed and rocked the truck to get it out of the hole.  There were smiles all around and as we left the dad joked with the little girl that she should join us on her tricycle.  We waved goodbye and headed off again.

The last several miles were closer to the city and the road was a little busy for our taste.  As we weaved through the market, we got plenty of stares.  One woman yelled “OOOH Strong!”  and there were more than a few thumbs up.  We eventually made our way to the pier where the ferry left and had some delicious Tom Yum Gung soup on the water.  There were fishermen in the water up to their shoulders manually dragging their giant nets scooping up fish for the restaurant that we were eating at.  We found lodging right on the pier and slept well, ready for a bright and early 7 AM departure.

The ferry was relatively busy and filled with backpackers from all over the world.  It was candy bars and beer for breakfast, which suited us just fine.  The water was gorgeous and the sunrise was spectacular.  In a little under three hours, we could see land again!  On the boat ride I finished the book I’d been reading, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.  I don’t think, there is a more fitting read for someone on a journey around the world…  Thanks David!

The first few hours on the island were chaotic.  We were bombarded by taxi drivers and people promoting hotels and selling all kinds of stuff.  We kept our heads down and headed towards the dive shop to schedule our open water SCUBA diving course and find somewhere to stay.  The water is beautiful and the island is just what we needed.  We don’t know how long we’ll be here.  Maybe a week, maybe a few months, we are going to let the wind decide.

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.

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!