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.

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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?!?!

Wyoming!

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

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

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

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

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

ARISE

P8040543.JPGWe spontaneously bought tickets for the “Arise” music festival while having our amazing burgers and beers in Boulder when we first showed up.  It wasn’t exactly cheap, but it was worth it.  This was Lauren’s first ever festival and my first in probably 12 years or so.  We packed up camp late as usual and got off to a late start.  We stopped at a wal-mart which was not unintentionally about 100 yards across the county border for Boulder.  We “Rented” an EZ-Up shelter and a few camping chairs and got some supplies for the weekend.  After the festival, the shelter was a mess of twisted metal which we conveniently returned for full price with no questions asked.  I have no guilt taking advantage of wal-mart.

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The festival was a blast, we had great neighbors on both sides.  Chad, Brenda, Rachel and friends were a riot.  On the other side, we had Tom, Laura, Jay and Steph.  We had great times just sitting around talking at the campsites.  The music was initially a bit of a disappointment.  Maybe festivals have changed a lot, or maybe this was more of a hip-hop oriented show, but there was an awful lot of rap and rave music the first two days.  Sunday was outstanding though with The Travelling McCourys and Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band ultimately getting together for “The Grateful Ball” which was hours of bluegrass Dead covers…  Awesome!

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On Saturday afternoon, a huge storm came through the festival and a microburst basically levelled the campground.  There were coleman tents scattered all over the place and we were thankful to have the MSR and have staked it down well.  Our rented EZ-Up on the other hand did not fare so well.  We spent the storm trying to hold it down and lost.  The cheap aluminum bent and broke and it was all but destroyed.  During the storm, Chad was next to us holding his shelter in similar fashion… Laughing maniacally throughout the whole ordeal like Lt. Dan during the Hurricane!

Gorilla tape and ingenuity allowed us to use the shelter for the rest of the weekend and we were able to return it no questions asked.

Another highlight was spending the evening with Rachael who lost her shoes and we started about 50 people chanting for Rachael to put her shoes on.  (She was having a rough time that evening).

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We also met Roxy and Ben at a tent promoting Elevation Outdoors magazine.  We hung out and chatted for an hour about hiking, biking and life.  There was also Summer who was a Pre-K teacher making a little money on the side at the festival.

It continued to rain throughout the weekend, but we had an awesome time.  After packing out of Monday morning, the truck battery was dead and a good Samaritan gave us a jump.  We got back to civilization and spent a few days in a hotel to wait out some weather and get ready for the bikepacking trip.  We planned to leave Thursday but in true Orlosky fashion, we spent 4 hours packing the bikes in a parking garage to get out of the rain.  Then we decided instead of being miserable we’d just get another hotel and leave in the morning.  We decided to celebrate the selling of the kayaks with some steaks and wine/beer which was a good decision.  The next morning, the trip really started.

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