Archive for the ‘Road Buddies’ Category

eddy

Years before Thirst-Aid (our non-profit organization) was born we met Eddy in a campground in Bilbao, Spain.  Eddy was headed towards Lisbon. Portugal for the 1998 World’s Fair on a motorcycle, Cathy and I were on a 1 year bike tour that ultimately took us to Mae Sot, Thailand and the life changing experiences that laid the foundation for Thirst-Aid.

We spent the evening talking with Eddy and his friend Remco swapping travel stories and drinking Pernod and Coke, something Eddy guaranteed us would be ill-advised if we were in a French café unless we wanted the waiter to spit in our drinks.  The next day we traded email addresses (something that was actually sort of new back then) and went our separate ways.

Over the years Cathy and I have found that chance meetings are often not so much chance as destiny.  We kept in contact with Eddy and he became one of our best friends, best supporters, and above all an inspiration to us to do the best we could with Thirst-Aid.

Eddy put up our first web page.  At the time we were flattered but didn’t really think much about it because we were so busy getting muddy in the refugee camps along the Thai/Myanmar border, but as we found later, it suddenly gave us legitimacy, it gave the cause we were working for a face, it gave people around the world a way to connect with us, to support us – in short, Eddy’s simple gesture helped to move us from a “mom and pop do-gooder project” to Thirst-Aid, the program that would ultimately bring over a million impoverished people in Myanmar sustainable, clean drinking water.  Because of Eddy, we began believing not only in our cause, but in ourselves and what we could accomplish.

Eddy passed away quite unexpectedly on the 14th of July, 2013 – just before midnight, the victim of a severe bacterial infection that was unfortunately misdiagnosed by his doctors.  I really don’t know exactly how old Eddy was, only that he was considerably younger than myself.  What I do know about Eddy is that while he was alive he lived a life of dignity, a life of quality based on morals and integrity.  Eddy was a man of humble means, but always found a way to give to those in need.  Eddy used to joke that he was “not a true Dutchman” by physical stature, but large or small, his passing has left a huge hole in our world.  We will miss him dearly.

With our greatest respect,

Curt, Cathy, the crew from Mae Sot and all of the Thirst-Aid staff

Wrap up for Europe

Posted: September 24, 2015 in Detours, Road Buddies

I’ve been sitting here in Peru trying to write the final chapter to the European leg of our trip and feeling like everything I’ve written so far has been pretty boring – certainly guaranteed to make it so that no one would ever want to visit our blog again.

Truth is, I think we were just spoiled by the beauty of Northern Spain and the cycling of La Loire A Velo.  Also, we hit Portugal at the end of “Season”, which means the campgrounds and beaches are only about 10% full, employees of the tourist industry are burnt out and ready to pack up their belongings and move on, the ice cream is stale, and the weather is turning cold.   Portugal is a really fun country with lots of great “old world” qualities, it didn’t really get a fair shake.

That said, highlights of the country were Porto – truly one of the most beautiful and playful cities we’ve visited, the great bikeways surrounding Porto, some wild kitesurfing on the beaches, good food, the Roca Toilet Museum in Lisboa (really!) and a great bike shop that made us a new rear axle for our bike because we couldn’t get on shipped in time.

Here’s a few pics and a wrap-up of the trip!

Au revoir, Adios, Adeus to France, Spain, and Portugal.

France: La Loire a Velo, bike friends, some old castle in every other town, civilized camping, bad burn but some wonderful medical assistance.  The greatest abundance of quiet, peaceful backroads.

Spain: The Basque Country, the best beaches, three hour lunches, good friends, massive climbs from the Pyrenees to the coastal roads to the beautiful Picos de Europa.  The Peligrinos (pilgrims) and Santiago. Some very wet days in Galacia.

Portugal: Old world, cork trees, cobble stones everywhere, some of the best sailboarding and surf beaches in Europe, very inexpensive camping, fish, fishing villages, fishing boats, and more fish.  Women in black, more Peligrinos, some great bike shops, and a lot of windmills.

Best bike routes: France, but Portugal surprised us with some nice coastal routes.

Most helpful people: Spain

Best cuisine: The Basque Country

Best camping for cyclists: Loire Valley (special prices and areas for cyclists)

Best beaches: Spain

Best surf and sailboarding: Portugal

Most beautiful: the Basque Country, Costa Verde and the Picos de Europa – all in Spain.

Least expensive: Portugal

Best wine: France, but then again…….the Basque have some great whites – in particular one that’s called Txocoli or (something like that)

Best wine for the money: Portugal

Cheapest beer: Spain (and good beer too!)

Best place to be a dog: France

Best place to be a kid: Basque Country

Best place to bring your raincoats and umbrellas to: Galicia, Spain

Easiest city to bike through: Porto

Best surprise: Getting a free apartment in Zarautz

Best bookstore: Fnac in Lisboa

Best bike shop: Loja de Bicicleta in Lisboa (they actually made us a new axle for our rear hub!)

Best campground: Luarca, Spain (stunningly beautiful)

Best meal(s): Miren’s lunch, Mikel’s dinner at the “club” – oh, and Urko’s barbeque!  All in the Basque Country

Cheerful Sculpture

Cheerful Sculpture

Porto Bikeway Humor

Bikeway Humor in Porto

typical portugal coastline

Classic Portugal Costline

backside

Backside

Coimbra Street

Coimbra Street

coimbra

Coimbra Intersection

front side

Frontside

Really - this is Portugal

Honest – this is in Portugal!

Roca Toilet Museum

From the Rico Toilet Museum – this uses the grey water from the washbasin to flush the toilet – very nice concept!

What is it?

What is it?

Basque Country!

Posted: August 8, 2015 in Road Buddies
Urko's Family and Us 26 years of friendship!

26 years of friendship!

We pulled into Zarautz with the tank on empty.  In the last three days we’d cycled 250 kilometers through the Pyrenees, over more passes than I can remember, in and out and back into Spain, and much of it in the rain.

Today started with us breaking our chain on a steep climb.  I replaced it with a new one that didn’t quite jive with the old gears on the cassette, however, it worked well enough provided we stayed away from the smallest cogs. This proved no problem as the climbs were steep and because we couldn’t descend at any great speed due to near zero visibility in the rain and the fact that the road was covered in goat poop which made it extremely slippery.

Fixing a broken chain

Fixing a broken chain

Mts meet the Sea

Basque Country – Where the mountains meet the sea

“Why didn’t we bring the fenders?” I asked as goat-poop water sprayed up in my face.

“Because you thought antibiotics weighed less,” Cathy replied.

“Very funny.”

1 st pass of the day

1 st pass of the day

We had a friend in Zarautz. I had his address and tried to plug it into my phone and use the GPS to find his apartment.  My hands were shaking and water kept dripping off my helmet onto the phone.  I couldn’t get the GPS to work.  I tried calling him on another phone but it had a French Sim card and wouldn’t connect.  It was 5:30 and Cathy and I had just about enough energy to find a hostel for the night.  Suddenly the phone lit up and I had a connection – I guess the French sim card just needed some time to sort things out.

“Urko, we made it to town but I can’t find your apartment – can you give me some directions?  I’m at the gas station on the southeast side of town.”

Urko is Basque – 100% Basque.  He’s a tall, lumberjack sort of guy who can shave in the morning and have a full beard by 4:00 PM.  He also has a heart of gold.

“Give me 5 minutes and I will come pick you up.”

Urko arrived on the same bike he had the last time I saw him – 17 years ago, only now it had a child seat on the back.  We followed him through town to his apartment – when we got there my GPS finally kicked in and told me we had arrived at our destination.  You have to love technology!

We really had planned on only staying a night or two, but with Basque hospitality you don’t get off like that.  There’s family and fiestas and such abundant culture. Urko had taken time off from work for our arrival and we had also come just in time for an annual BBQ he puts on up at his cabin in the mountains.

The next three days were spent refilling the tank.  All of the weight we had lost in the 31 days of cycling to get here was put back on our bodies.  The first day we had lunch with Urko’s family – it was brief – only three hours.

The second day Urko’s mom made lunch for us – we had a nice relaxing 4 hour meal before we waddled off for a siesta and then tapas in the town square and then Urko’s wife Nerea made us dinner at 9:00 PM.  Urko’s 2 year old son Ekhi was still going strong when Cathy and I fell asleep.

By the third day we were starting to get in sync with the rhythm of the Basque culture.  The BBQ in the mountains started around 1:00 and we ate and drank until 6:00, then packed and went back to Urko’s house where Nerea cooked us another dinner.  Nerea is a great cook, we just couldn’t say no.

“We have to leave here while I can still swing my leg over the bike,” I said to Cathy when we finally fell into bed.

The next day we told Urko it was time for us to leave.

“You can’t go yet,” he said.  “There is so much more for you to see – plus Nerea and her sisters have an apartment near to the beach that is empty until September.  Just take another day to think about it.”

What do you say when someone offers you a free apartment in one of the most hip beach towns in Spain during high season?  I’m a diehard cyclo-tourist and we’ve got a tentative plan to make it to the south of Portugal before the 90 days the EU allows us to have fun in their region allows us, but hey, if there’s one thing Cathy and I know how to do, it’s change plans and take advantage of a great opportunity!

We’re now going on day 9 in Zarautz.  I haven’t shaven for 5 days and my beard is still nothing compared to Urko’s 5 o’clock shadow.

It’s been really great to wake up someplace other than our tent – to have a refrigerator, electricity, we got a Spanish sim card for the phone, a Spanish dictionary and phrase book, bicycled some beautiful mountain routes that we would never have otherwise had an opportunity to experience, and walked along the beach and played in the ocean to our hearts content.

But it’s time to go.  I would love to live here forever if I had more to do than just play – or perhaps if we’d been cycling for a year or so and had more to write about – but that wanderlust tug has begun and I know my heart and feet will obey.  I will truly miss Zarautz, Urko, his family, and of course the Basque way of life!

My cycling sandals still smell vaguely of goat poop (they absolutely reeked until I gave them a good scrubbing).  We have an important ceremony to perform in Bilbao – two days ride from here, or I suppose one if we want to rush things.  And from Bilbao…..who knows!

White Out at the top of the last pass -

White Out at the top of the last pass –

Biking Without Bling

Posted: May 8, 2015 in Road Buddies, Road Rants

As a little warm up to the extended tour we have planned I did some biking with an old friend from Germany, who we met on our first European Bike Tour in 1989.

Story is below:

Biking Without Bling

Always Smiling

Always Smiling

Bling and No Bling

Bling and No Bling

Years ago my wife and I were thinking about buying a sailboat and trying to sail around the world – we thought it would be a great adventure until we realized that we’d go absolutely stir crazy spending weeks confined to a deck and a berth surrounded by water.  We decided bicycling around the world would be much more fun – which by the way, it was.

Meanwhile however, the concept did cause us to spend some time on boats and that’s sort of where this story begins – because it was while standing on the deck of a friend’s boat that I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life.

There we were surrounded by chrome and teak and super high tech guidance systems.  We had champagne and caviar below deck. Fully stocked, we could cross the ocean in this vessel in complete comfort and without support – not to mention sell it, purchase a third world country, and have change left over.  A guy couldn’t help but feel smug just being privileged enough to afford the sailing attire required to enter the yacht club.

After a day of sailing, which I do have to say was a bit boring despite the champagne, we were returning to harbor when we got passed by a group of kids all sailing small skiffs. Lean and tan, clad in minimal clothing that wouldn’t get them entry into anything but a Laundromat, these guys were having fun.  The action was intense as they tried to steal the others wind and cut each other off and as they whooped and hollered it dawned on me that they were having way more fun than we were – and that a 35 foot yacht was more anchor than boat – at least for me.

So now it becomes a bicycling story.

I was recently contacted by an old friend from Germany, Manfred – a cyclist among other things, and learned that a cycling trip he’d planned for the east coast of the USA this April wasn’t going to work out due to this year’s rather extended winter in that region.  Being a good friend and thinking Colorado might be just warm enough for a quick bike tour I invited him to ride with me from Grand Junction to the Denver area – 5 days, more or less 60 miles a day, plenty of climb, especially with crossing the continental divide.

Manfred arrived at our house a couple of days early so that I could fit a borrowed bike to his needs and so that we could discuss the route.  I was a bit surprised when I learned that he preferred just plain old platform pedals over clip-ins or even toe clips.  I was further surprised when he chose an upright riding position over drop handlebars or even bar-ends laid out flat. And of course then there was the choice of saddle – rather large and soft over narrow and firm.  But hey, we’ve all got our own styles and preferences right?

So then I quizzed him about gear.  He’d brought some great panniers, and a helmet. So far so good.  But what about shoes?

He’d brought two choices – heavy boots for the cold, and street shoes – loafers to be exact for the warm days.  And for clothing?  Blue jeans of course!  What else would you ride in?

So now I started getting worried that I’d goofed up.  Initially I was a bit concerned about a 62 year old from Ludwigshafen, Germany – elevation 318 ft, cycling 300 miles and 6 passes at Colorado elevations but now I was really concerned.

Using my best diplomacy I offered cycling attire and was at least able to convince Manfred to leave the boots behind in favor of some neoprene booties.

On the first day we met friends in Grand Junction for breakfast.  Hardcore cyclists themselves their eyes grew quite large when they realized Manfred didn’t just show up to eat in blue jeans – that he actually intended on cycling in them.  Polite comments were made – “Hey, we’ve got some bike shorts and tights you can borrow.” Politely refused as well.

Bets were made that he’d be standing up to cycle by the second day – that we’d be stopping in the bike shop in Montrose so that he could buy some proper clothing – that I’d be calling the paramedics from Monarch Pass.  Manfred just smiled and put on his bright orange vest over his flannel shirt, swung a leg over his bike and started pedaling.

And so it went.  Every day Manfred would wake up with a smile, put on his blue jeans and start riding.  It was 24 degrees when we left Gunnison.  It snowed on top of Monarch pass (elevation 11,312’).  We biked through rain on the way down.  We woke up to an inch of fresh snow in Fairplay (elevation 9,953’) and still Manfred just smiled and pedaled on.

Often Manfred would just stop mid-ride – and pull out his camera, which by the way he kept in the pocket of his blue jeans for the entire trip, and take pictures.  At times I have to admit I was a bit annoyed – “Like really Manfred!  It’s a prairie dog for god’s sake – I’ll buy you postcards with pictures of them”.  But at other times I have to admit, Manfred made me stop and take notice of the place that I often just take for granted.

Left to my own devices I would never have taken the bike trip – I’ve ridden the route before – parts of it many times, but Manfred gave me a good reason to do it again, and to see it through a different lens.  And left to my own devices, even if I had chosen to repeat this ride, me and my lycra clad, bad-ass self would have blazed along oblivious to much of the beauty that abounds in this region.

So it all comes back to the lesson I learned on that day of sailing – that you don’t need a lot of bling to have fun and that all so often, less is more.

Which brings it round full circle as to why we all bike tour!

You probably won’t catch me doing a 300 mile ride in blue jeans, but you will find me looking forward to another tour with Manfred.