Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Breaking Covid Confinement

Posted: July 4, 2020 in Uncategorized
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Our new rig so we can reduce the weight on the tandem frame – my old shoulders will be happier.

Our answer to “Covid Confinement”, the closing of the Portuguese Consulate – which dashed our plans to move to Portugal in June, and now the EU’s decision to bar US citizens from traveling to any country in their club, was to plan a bike tour in the US.

Our first thought was “Hey, we can ride from here to Seattle and then down the coast to Mexico.”  Then we did the math.  At our current ability and our estimated mph while riding uphill and against the wind, we figured we’d be in Seattle by mid-August.  It would be a beautiful trip through the historic west; we could follow portions of the Lewis and Clark trail, stop in the Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, suffer mental and physical breakdowns from the endless 35 mph headwinds we’d encounter, and count Trump/Pence bumper stickers most of the way.  If we did survive the heat, sun, wind, bear attacks, rattlesnake bites and unmasked rednecks, we’d get to the coast just in time to enjoy the start of rainy season in Washington and Oregon and we could add crotch rot and fungal infections to our list of medical concerns.

Thankfully, we came to our senses and checked to see what it would cost to fly to Seattle and start there.  Holy Covid Silver Lining – flights started at $79 and we upgraded to Delta, who has one of the safest Covid policies going – for $100 and change.  (As a little plug here – check out Delta’s moral compass for the last few years – when the rest go low, they go high – just what I want in an airline.)

New Burley Rig

Shake down cruise to test new gear and to see how much fitness we lost during Covid Confinement

While we’re well outfitted with rain gear and well stocked on mosquito repellant, Cathy and I are woefully unprepared to bike tour the USA.  We’re old, we’re lame, we like Grey Poupon on our sandwiches just like Obama.  Unlike most of Europe, this country evolved during the industrial revolution – as in, with cars, trucks and Winnebagels.  In Europe towns are spaced at the distance someone could walk in a day – or at most, could ride a mule.  In the western US, towns are spaced at the distance a car can drive – not to say it’s bad, it’s just a matter of evolution – but it makes bike touring just a wee bit more difficult.  In Asia, there’s inexpensive food everywhere – you never have to pack supplies because even in the most rural of settings there’s some granny with a soup stand – and the food is good, and inexpensive.  Here, it’s a half a tank between gas station hotdogs – and the cute little mom and pop restaurants have become quaint farm to table dining experiences that you need to mortgage your house for.  It’s just a different environment – but we’ve decided we’ll take on the task and will venture off in search of those quirky relics of Americana that might still exist.

Most importantly, we feel we can do this safely – social distancing is pretty darned easy while bike touring and we’ll mask up whenever we’re going to be around people.

Our intention is to stay in the traditional “hike and bike campgrounds” that are setup along this route, use the Warmshowers network (https://www.warmshowers.org/) from Washington thru California, and whenever possible visit old friends along the way – many of which we haven’t seen since 2008.  When we do see friends or visit Warmshower hosts, we plan to set up our tent, clothesline and kitchen in their back yards and hope for social distanced evenings under dry western skies.   Masked or not, I think it’ll be easy to see the joy in our eyes as we pedal to the Portuguese Consulate in San Francisco (which will hopefully be open by then).  Our hope is that the Portuguese will be so impressed with our tenacity and safe travel method that they’ll give us our residency visas.

New Burley Rig 1

Overlooking Boulder – It will be back to sea level soon…..

Our thanks to everyone who has helped us since we flew in from Malaysia thinking that we’d only be in the USA for a few weeks while we got our Portuguese visa sorted out – our kids who put us up in the beginning, our friends who housed us as we went through travel withdrawals (Robin, Zach, Amina and Vince you so are sooo amazing) and Dave and Cindy who fortunately have 2 houses so let us use one in exchange for a bit of upkeep labor – and who incidentally helped us launch Thirst-Aid so many years ago.

Looking forward, we’ll be staying with Paula and Tao in Seattle who also were instrumental in the launch of Thirst-Aid and many more friends from Seattle south who we have been anxious to see but probably never would have were it not for Covid and Trump’s inability to deal with anything beyond his own fortune and popularity.  Conrads, we just might get to see you yet!

If the Portuguese Consulate thing doesn’t work out, Plan B is to keep riding toward Mexico and if necessary, break through the wall and keep pedaling.

CoronaThon

Posted: May 4, 2020 in Uncategorized

On March 9th we left Malaysia.  We arrived on our tandem at the very empty airport in Kuala Lumpur to depart for the US.  The few passengers milling about were masked and everyone else was military and had a gun.

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We flew on empty planes from KL to Tokyo, and Tokyo to Houston, each of us sleeping stretched out on four center seats in the economy section.  In Houston, immigration was a breeze, with no lines, no questions and no health checks.  The airport was busy, restaurants were serving, no one was masked and our flight to Denver was FULL.  We arrived in Denver on Tuesday the 10th got our bags and caught a shuttle to our youngest daughters, she was still teaching when we arrived.  We moved into their guest Tipi and borrowed our old car.

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There was talk that things were going to get strange but they hadn’t.  At that time the virus was still a Chinese thing the CDC and WHO both said masks weren’t necessary but hand washing was critical to stem the transmission.

Malaysia was not our favorite place on the planet.  It is a noisy traffic, not bike friendly, dour country.  I thought Malaysian was dystopian with the hijabed women and young girls and no laid-back cafes, bathing suit volleyball games, music or pubs on the beaches, but then we arrived to the beginning of the Coronathon.

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On Thursday the 12th things were still mostly normal; so we went and had a fun lunch with our youngest granddaughter at her elementary school.  And then we went to Denver and had our finger prints taken for our FBI background checks for our Portuguese visas.  We still thought we just might get to move to Portugal in June.

On Friday the 13th teachers, students and parents were told schools would close and to bring everything home for online learning/teaching.  The ski resorts closed.  We were suddenly asked to stay home unless we absolutely had to leave.  Only essential businesses were open. On Saturday we were told the liquor and pot stores were not essential.  On Sunday the liquor and pot stores were told that they were most definitely essential and to please stay open.  We could hear the sigh of relief from all of the shuttered Coloradans.   Then the hoarding began.

Our eldest granddaughter’s 16 birthday party, drivers test and shopping spree were canceled.  We let her drive us around town, past all of her friend’s homes and favorite haunts, she honked and waved as music blared from the car speakers and we hid our tears behind birthday smiles.  Our youngest granddaughter’s 8th birthday party was canceled and some of the presents we thought we’d have time to buy didn’t get bought.  She didn’t notice the lack as we shot hoops, played board games and a couple of her friends rode their bikes over and they all had a birthday bike parade.  Despite the lack of normal her birthday was celebrated.

We moved in to our eldest daughter’s camping trailer.  Curt became the designated shopper as she has a compromised immune system.  When he left the house for food or wine he did some wahla wahlas and washed his hands before, during and after every encounter.  Our daughter and son-in-law were working fulltime from home.  We stepped in to help where we could in exchange for a place to stay, use of their kitchen and access to their daughter and pets.

We visited a couple essential friends for outdoor, 6 foot social distancing socials.  We visited our shed to pick-up warm clothes, talk to our tenants from a safe 6 feet and gather our mail. The Portuguese embassy closed and our visa appointment was canceled.   The Leprechaun and Easter Bunny evaded the traps and dropped off some goodies.

Winter returned.  We filled the gas tank on the car for 79 cents a gallon.  Most of Europe and Asia shutdown.  Masks became essential.  We Whatsapped our overseas friends. Our eldest granddaughter was diagnosed with pneumonia, but did not get tested for Covid as there were not enough tests.  Winter left and winter returned and then it left again, all in the space of a few weeks.  The weather was almost as schizophrenic as the advice coming out of the White House briefings.

I began online 2nd grade with our youngest granddaughter only to discover there is nothing fun about “fundations” and that the new new math makes less sense than the old new math did.   We both enjoy writing, reading, social studies, STEM and art projects, music and granny math lessons (which include playing poker). During our sequestered school days Curt painted their basement and fixed the irrigation system, did bike maintenance and planted gardens.  He and I took turns doing recess and PE, which includes jumping on the trampoline, shooting hoops, scooting, soccer, running, chase and assorted other exhaustive games.

We looked forward to moving back to the Tipi, but tragedy struck when there was an unexpected death (not from Covid) in our son-in-laws family.  There would be no celebration of health or laughter for Bree and family, the Coronathon continued.  Our middle granddaughter is considering getting a microwave and mini-fridge for her room so she doesn’t have to come out until life is teenage normal.

The weather niced up a bit and we started cycling.  We biked and picnicked.  We biked against the spring winds.  We biked the empty roads and busy bike trails.  And like people all over the world we waited.  We waited for good news and were afraid that what we might hear wouldn’t be.  We wondered, like most, if we’d had covid or if we might yet contract it.

Now we wait for an antibody test.  We wait for the Portuguese embassy to reopen. We wait for a vaccine.  We wait for good news.  We wait for November.  We wait for a plan.  And while waiting we are grateful that our children and grandchildren are healthy, our family and friends are surviving, we have food, shelter and each other to share these most interesting times with.

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Sending good thoughts, laughter and health your way,

c

Tour Interrupted

Posted: March 21, 2020 in Uncategorized

Covid-19

We were in Malaysia, just enjoying the last sips of our “escape winter tour”, making lists of all the things we had to do while in the States getting our residency visas for Portugal, our planned destination for much of 2020.

The list looked pretty fun because it included hanging out with our kids for a couple of weeks while we were in Colorado – then visiting some other friends, then flying to San Francisco for our visa interviews at the Portuguese consulate, then bike touring the west coast and visiting other friends while our visas got approved.  Sort of the “back home sampler tour.”

We’d been hearing bits and pieces of news about Corona as we traveled, but having been in Asia for the SARS scare and seeing how it was way more hype than reality, we honestly didn’t give much credence to “Corona.” However, as our departure date grew closer, we did start to get the feeling that perhaps there was cause for alarm, but still, it looked like it might just be a minor inconvenience.  Trump said it was nothing to worry about (Feb. 27th“It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.”), Fox News backed him – we felt ever so much better.

By the time we hit the airport in Kuala Lumpur it was pretty obvious this was seriously affecting travel – the place was dead.

Usually, when we roll into the Check-In lobby with a tandem bike, sleeping bags and a tent strapped on the racks, loaded panniers dangling from the sides and a Burley trailer being pulled behind, we get a lot of stares and questions, not to mention some close attention from security.  This time there was nothing but eerie silence, even the lighting was dim.  The security guards said nothing, the airports help staff was just shuffling around as if they were dosed on Quaaludes.

We stripped the bike, took it apart and packaged it for the flight before anyone came to make an inquiry – it was a couple who had traveled overland from Germany to Malaysia on BMW motorcycles.  They also had planned their trip back to Germany weeks ago and were in a bit of shock as to the empty airport.  We drank coffee at an empty McDonalds and swapped travel stories and hoped our flights would not be canceled.

There were about 20 face masked people on the flight to Japan – which was originally scheduled for Hong Kong (ha ha!) and then maybe 50 face masked people on the flight from Japan to Dallas.  We all got to sleep on full beds made by folding down the arm rests in the middle rows, the face masked flight staff poured generous portions of whatever beverage you preferred.  They spoke nervously about their futures – most were resigned to the fact they wouldn’t be working much longer.

Then we hit Dallas and the airport was vibrant – packed!  No face masks, our flight was overbooked, it seemed just like any other day at the airport.  This was March 10th.

Today is March 20th.  In 10 days we’ve gone from thinking we’d still be able to get out and see some friends in western Colorado to, “Well, maybe we can go bike in Moab,” to, “Wow, they’ve even closed the National and State Parks,” to “WTF, are people really hording toilet paper????”

And lastly to, “SOB, Trump and Fox News had it wrong, how can that be?”

Of course, none of us knows where this is going.  I would really like to think that we’ll all self-quarantine and then in a few months life will resume to the old normal – restaurants will re-open, the government will figure out some sort of economic stimulus, the stock market will start to recover, debts will be temporarily forgiven for those who lost their jobs as a result of this, new business will start, kids will be able to go back to school, and we’ll get our visas for Portugal.

However, just for grins – here’s my prediction for how this will play out – I’d love it if a few other people wrote and gave their predictions – it will be fun to look back on this time and be able to laugh.

My Predictions:

  • 10 months from now the maternity wards in many hospitals will experience a noticeable increase in deliveries – this baby boom will be named the “Covid Kids.”
  • The presidential election will not be between two old white guys who have no business running for president because the three current likely candidates will have contracted Covid and, being old, succumbed to the illness.
  • We will therefore have some youth and fresh perspectives to choose from – thank you Covid!
  • Everyone in America will gain an average of 6 pounds.
  • The dramatic improvements on the environment caused by the reduction of people jumping in their cars for every little thing will inspire a worldwide movement of carpooling, public transportation, and cycling.
  • This movement will last 2 days.
  • We will never again, or at least for the next few months, take for granted how valuable social interaction is.
  • We will all own bidets and never need toilet paper again

 

Bicycle Touring in the Digital Age

Posted: February 13, 2020 in Uncategorized
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GPS?  Who needs it?

I’ll admit that I’m a Luddite when it comes to the digital age.  I was probably one of the last people on earth to start using a GPS for bike touring – or for driving for that matter.

I like maps – the paper kind.  They give a big picture, not some Zoom on a tiny screen.

I know, they don’t talk to me – that’s a plus.

I reluctantly bought a GPS only because it was getting impossible to find good paper maps.  Now, I have to say, I sort of like the damned thing.

Previously, one of the most difficult things about cycle touring was the uncertainty you had to face on a daily basis.  Looking at a common map, made for cars as most are – it was difficult to really know much about the route you were going to bike due to the maps scale and topographic limitations.  How many hills, total altitude gain or loss, true distances, scenic or not – were usually just guesses.  In countries like China we always had to buy and carry several maps because no two maps ever agreed on routes and distance – plus nothing was in English, so we’d write down the characters for the next towns we were biking towards in order to show them to people on the road and ask if we were still going in the correct direction – road signs were rare, and as we learned, many people in China were illiterate.  We got lost often, and sometimes we got really lost.  Bike touring was edgy, and I liked that.

In the digital age, I just load a map on the GPS (they’re free from Open Street Maps and cover just about any place you could want to go), turn it on, the device finds me and shows me where I am on the map. Then I can tell it where I want to go, and it’ll just map the route no problem.  Most GPS apps will tell how many feet of climb or descent I have in front of me (and even graph it out so I know where the climbs will be), how much of the route is paved, unpaved, national road, etc.  About the only variable is which way the wind will be blowing – but of course there’s another app for that.

Previously, we also never knew where we’d be sleeping.  Asia was pretty easy as any town of any size always had a cheap hotel or guest house – but, at the end of the day, you still had to find one and negotiate a price and use a bit of travel wisdom to avoid scams.  You learned that there would always be cheap places to eat and sleep near train stations, that in the center of most large towns you could find good clean lodging.  Hotels didn’t always say “Hotel” on the outside so we learned to look into the reception areas and if they had 4 or 5 clocks with different time zones you could be sure it was a hotel.  We learned to read the word for “Hotel” in many different languages and scripts.

Now, I just Google “Hotels – Some City, Some Country” and I get “Top Ten Hotels in Where-ever-ville.”  I can pick a hotel, put in the GPS coordinates, and bike right to the door without all the hassle of going from one hotel to another at the end of 120-kilometer day, usually in the pouring rain, generally hungry, after being lost for a few hours.  I have to admit, that part I really like.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is how bicycle touring makes me feel.  I may now know exactly where I am at all times, and I may know that there will be someplace to sleep at the end of the day – but I still get a big rush when Cathy and I hit our first pedal stroke and head off to a new destination.  Gliding through farm land on back country roads, through newly planted rice paddies that are literally screaming green, with snowy white egrets perched on the backs of water buffalo who are wallowing in a nice black puddle of mud, scaring up flocks of Asian Openbills that fill the sky when they take flight, and being hypnotized by the cloud shadows that sweep along the horizon.

I love the look on people’s faces when the two of us pull into some small village that rarely gets a western visitor, and here we are on a crazy looking bike with bulging panniers, pulling a bright yellow Burley trailer with a Colorado flag bringing up the rear.  Some look shocked, some show fear, some smile, most wave.

At the end of the day I usually pull out whatever large-scale map we’re carrying (we can still find country maps on paper) and mark the day’s route – it feels good to look at it and know we did all on our own power.  Here I find the GPS unit an asset again as now, not only can I say “we rode XX kilometers today”, but I also get to say “With XX meters of climb – and a high speed of XX, and we burnt 2800 calories, and (very cool) we avoided XX amount of carbon emissions.”  I’ve learned the taste of a cold beer improves exponentially based on the amount of energy exerted on a day’s ride and that “hunger makes a great sauce” even when you’re staring at a plate of food you wouldn’t normally get excited about.

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The best perk of our GPS is that we have incredibly detailed maps of every region we care to bicycle and this allows to go way off the beaten path.  Twenty years ago, there is no way that I could have purchased maps with this sort of intricate detail in someplace like Malaysia, and no way that I would have had the patience to string together a series of off-piste trails and goat paths that Cathy and I often find ourselves on.  The GPS app does it all in 2.5 seconds and then it’s up to us to make a few adjustments for our own personal tastes – more climb, less climb, more miles with more coastline, or a faster route without coastline.

Right now we’re retracing a route we did 21 years ago – down the southeastern coast of Thailand and into Malaysia and we’re going to out of the way places we for sure missed on the previous trip because even today, they’re pretty much off the map.  The below picture gives some clue as to why they’re off the map!

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But my GPS says there is a road here – really!!!!

Even the best of plans can hit a snag.

The one thing that I’m not really all that fond about with GPS navigation is that it is sooooo good, that we don’t interact with people like we used to.  As mentioned, before we got lost a lot, and as such, learned something about humility and humbleness.  We learned more of every language of every country we passed through because we had to be able to understand some basic directions – “left, right, go straight, bridge, in front of” – we learned not to be afraid to ask for help, and then to be able to accept it graciously when offered.  We learned that most of the world is full of good people who want to help, actually like to help.

Mixing the good parts with the bad parts, life is easier with the GPS and search abilities, but we have to work a bit harder at cultural immersion – definitely a first world problem that we can probably overcome 🙂

 

Thailand

Posted: January 30, 2020 in Uncategorized

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Riding into Thailand was like visiting an old friend.  I know her.  When we crossed the border I was instantly comforted by her sounds and sights and even her smells.  Curt called her personality, organized chaos.  I thought of it more as disorganized chaos that miraculously works.

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We rode across the border from Malaysia and voluntarily stopped at the dilapidated, sort of functioning, Thai immigration department, to ask for three month visas.  After much discussion, in Thaiglish, we were granted two month visas, with the option of extended them for another month.   We rode the tandem into the rustic, dusty border town and stopped to change our Malaysian currency into Thai Baht and get a new sim card for the phone.  We were politely honked at, welcomed and stormed with requests to buy things from every nong.  We were back in the embrace of a familiar language, customs and people.  We knew which food stall to stop at for som tam and khao neow or kway teow and that a chicken hanging by its feet means they’re serving khao mon gai.  We stopped at fruit stalls and bought sliced pineapple with small bags of prik kab kluai to dip the fresh slices in, before slurping them down on the side of the road.   To quench our thirst we drank the water from just picked coconut that was macheted opened before our eyes.  It was fun to join the cars and trucks honking at the top of every hill by ringing the bike bell and wa’ing the good luck Buddhist monuments.  I waved at the monkeys on the coconut trucks, the children squished between mom and dad on the seat of a Honda 150 and the teens, three on a scooter talking and texting as they’d zoom by smiling and helloing.    We stopped to smell the flowers planted along the roadways and to take photos of anything of interest.   We visited old friends and familiar places. We walked the beaches and clapped at the sunsets.

And then the magic started to wear a little thin.  Had we stayed too long?  Instead of an old friend, Thailand was becoming more like an annoying roommate.   The air pollution from the burning of sugar cane and rice fields and the burning of plastic garbage along the road turned our eyes red and our lungs black.  The piles of trash along every road was deep enough to hide a water buffalo.  Watching adults, teens and children throw trash from the car window, the windows of the trains, busses or while walking down the street made me want to stop and give them all a good shaking.  The noise from the motorcycles that the young men had retooled so they’d make an ear shattering roar as they’d gun them, rattled our calm and made my pacifist husband sing about a rocket launchers.  The mechanical “you’re welcome” greeting that blares every time the door opens at a 7-11 was worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.  Loud speakers blaring in the open shops, truck drivers honking for no good reason and televisions turned on full loud in every cafe was the opposite of white noise, it was teeth gritting, walk fast, never relax annoying.  And just when I’d think that my senses couldn’t take another assault, I’d get a nose full of sewer gas coming up from the sidewalk grates, that was so odiferous it could gag an elephant.  But it wasn’t just my senses it was also my wa.  There were soi dogs who have been trained or allowed to chase bikes.  These snarling, mangy, teeth gnashing mutts would often invite their friends to join them in a game of chase the farang, that would get me off the bike and into frightened tears of panic.

And then there was acceptance of what Thailand was and the changes she is trying to make.  Everyday I’d meditate on her beauty instead of her faults as we’d ride her coastal roads weaving through farms, fields, up jungle hills and along beautiful beaches.  I marveled at the friendly, helpful people who were often so delighted when I gave them a personal greeting.  I re-embraced her and she rewarded me with bird song in the mornings.  She made me laugh as I’d try to interpret the silly signage that dotted the roads, and made me smile as I tried to categorize and color code all the flowing trees and bushes. She tantalized my taste buds with street food prepared perfectly by talented wok wizards.  And the colors, she showed me all the shades of green in a rice field, the blues in her seas, and the fishing boats, birds and flowers that were so bright I needed my shades.

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It was good that we resolved our differences.  When I left Thailand, I left her as an old and valued friend, who I can’t wait to visit again.

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Beach Time

Posted: December 6, 2019 in Uncategorized

Cathy and I just spent 8 days in one place, I think that’s a record for this trip.

We found this nice beach – we’d actually been searching for a nice beach since Malaysia.  We would try each one on like Goldilocks tried out rocking chairs and porridge.  Some beaches were beautiful, but totally empty – devoid of life except for a few beach dogs and perhaps some fishing boats.  Sounds like paradise but it’s actually not all that fun, beaches are supposed to be fun and we all know from sex that fun is better when you’re not doing it by yourself.  Plus, empty beaches are usually a long way from food sources.

Some of the beaches were the opposite – just too crowded – like Krabi/Ao Nang.  We both remembered this place as paradise – we’d been here 21 years ago.  We rented a bamboo hut on the beach for $4 a night and ate Thai food at local restaurants every night – there were a few westerners there but not many.  Today it’s busier than LAX during Christmas season.

We were so depressed after Krabi that we were going to just skip Phuket – it is after all the largest tourist destination in Thailand, but it is also a damn big island – so we biked there, and skipped all the beaches of memory, going to one we didn’t know about and got no press at all.  Turned out to be a good hit!  The other beaches are like fly paper, and this one just exists.

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We scored a private bungalow for $15 a night.  Dialed in our favorite Thai food stalls, recharged our batteries for the upcoming 500 kilometers of headwinds and hills.  For fun we stacked beach stones, played in tide pools and hiked the coast.  The pictures tell the rest.

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Getting ready to go catch dinner

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Our private island .

Bike Seat On Ocean Trip

Bike seat on the beach – dedicated to Dave Mo at Rock and Roll Sports – Gunnison, CO

Cathy's Sundial

Cathy’s Sundial – and it works too!

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Waiting for the storm – my favorite so far.

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Cathy’s sunstones

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Leaning tower of Phuket

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More sunstones

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Dr. Suess’s Who’s from Whosville

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And a good night to all.

Peditation

Posted: November 22, 2019 in Uncategorized

Mind set

I often forget how small and insignificant I am until I walk a deserted beach on a clear, moonless night with a billion stars above me and the ocean spilling over the horizon to my side. I am nothing more than a spec of dust hurtling through space on a slightly larger spec of dust, into a universe that goes on forever.

I’m always grateful for this feeling because my normal-self has a tendency to get all spun out about climate change and injustice and my brain goes to work on overtime trying to connect the dots.  How can people elect a gameshow host as the president of the United States and believe him instead of climate scientists?  Is air really odorless or is it just the odor that we’re used to?  And why do we have to wash our towels if we only use them to dry our clean bodies?  These things really bug me – especially the first one.

But when I’m out looking up at all those stars, all that noise goes away, and I think that’s why I like bike touring, and Cathy.

Bike touring is like Christmas every day.  You go to sleep at night in anticipation of tomorrow – tomorrow is a package that you get to unwrap slowly – first you sort of shake it – looking at the map you get a feel for its size and shape.  Then you start taking the layers off – a few miles in and the tape starts coming off, a few more and you’re tugging at the wrapping paper.  Then you pry off the lid and get to have a look inside.  Sometimes you get a lump of coal.  Sometimes you get the really cool shape-changing atomizer you’ve been dreaming about.  Bike touring takes me to the craziest places – places busses and trains don’t bother stopping at – places that will never have airports, places where people have never seen a couple of westerners pedaling a tandem bike with things strapped to all parts of it and pulling a Burley trailer.  Bike touring keeps you outside – when it rains you get wet, when it’s hot you sweat, when it’s cold you pile on layers and sometimes you freeze to death.  Climate is damned hard to ignore when you bike tour.

Off piste

Cathy is like Christmas every day too but I’m not going to get into the unwrapping bit because we’re both old and my granddaughters would go “Ewwwwwww!” if I told the story.  But Cathy takes me to uncharted beaches and even the occasional mountain top as well and if it wasn’t for her I’d have been locked up in a mental institution for the tragically sane long ago.

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We all need someone who keeps us crazy – and in lieu of that, something, and when we’re really lucky, we get both.

Galileo was another person who was taken by the stars. Roughly 420 years ago the crazy fool presented the concept that the earth revolved around the sun, not, that the sun and the rest of the universe revolved around the earth as the catholic church proclaimed.  Despite some pretty convincing evidence to support this theory, the church denounced him, put him under house arrest where he remained until his death, and banned the publication of all of his past and future works.  Not unlike the gameshow host’s demand to remove all mention of climate change from all government websites within his first month in office.  Over 400 years and we homo sapiens really haven’t changed much.  Evolution is a slow process.  Galileo had a Cathy in his life too.

Time

Bike touring gives a person a lot of time to think – to ponder some of life’s questions, like “What is Martinizing and why do people wear clothes that require such a thing?” and “If I am just a spec of dust on a larger spec of dust in a very dusty universe, why does it still matter so much to me that so many of my peers are unable (or unwilling) to perceive the fact that they are in fact financing the denial of climate change?  That even if 99% of the climate scientists currently alive are incorrect, and that climate change is in fact some extremely well manipulated hoax (getting the ice caps to melt must be the most difficult part) what’s wrong with weaning ourselves from fossil fuels and shifting to renewable energy?  What’s wrong with carbon offsetting?” and of course my favorite, “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?”

Best friends

Tonight we’re on Issara Beach in Sichon, Thailand. The ocean stretches to a horizon that only a few hundred years ago was believed to be the edge of the earth.  I guess we all make mistakes sometimes.

A storm is blowing in. Lightning cracks the sky as crashing waves compete with the thunder.  I’m taken back to when the tsunami that hit the other side of this peninsula 15 years ago and washed away 230,000 lives and thousands more livelihoods; to the cyclone in Myanmar that killed 140,000 in one day.  Nature is a force to be reckoned with, as humans we and everything we do is so impermanent.  I need to remember that.  I need to be that.

As the wind howls, a few stars manage to punch holes in the clouds – and I am dust again.

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Editors note:  Follow this URL ( https://harpers.org/archive/2015/04/rotten-ice/ ) for the article that helped inspire the above – but I will warn you – don’t read it if you don’t want to get pissed off and do something about climate change – and no, it’s not too late.

Thwarted in Malaysia

Posted: November 15, 2019 in Uncategorized

Malaysia is a country of smiles, diversity, temples, mosques, art, jungle, beaches, birds, lizards, monkeys, holidays and food.

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From the minute we entered, Malaysia thwarted all of our efforts to travel slowly.  Our intention was to sample both coasts of the peninsula and then choose some favorite spots to hunker down in.   But we’re on a bike and weather matters.  We didn’t want to be influenced by monsoonal days and nights we wanted to see Malaysia with a medium lens, not too bright but also not through a sheet of water.

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[And, interrupting the flow, here’s a side rant, who came up with left hand traffic circulation?  It’s frightening from the back of a tandem when Curt accidently forgets and turns into the wrong lane and I have to scream “Wrong way,” while leaning away from certain death.]

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On our first ride, from our budget airport hotel to our friend’s house in Kaula Lumpur, we were “Garmined”.   The tricky GPS unit lead us to a muddy two track through stealth garbage dumps, cows and giant polluted puddles before directing us to a paved road that took us on the left side of the road into the city.  At least on the two track there was no worry about what side of the road we were on.  Even when we met the random motorcycle, we would both take the safest, driest available track we could get to, sides didn’t matter.

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We arrived at our friends five minutes before the Kuala Lumpur 4 o’clock deluge.  Our friends were loaning us their 3 bedroom apartment, it came complete with a kitchen, a covered deck and within walking distance of almost everything.  They told us that the only downside was that we had to be home or under some covered space from 4 to 6 PM for the daily deluge.  Only problem was, after they left us, the deluge changed schedule.  It became unpredictable, catching us out and about without umbrellas.  We bought umbrellas and checked the forecast hourly.  Despite our preparations the rain found us on our way home with two bags of groceries.  We trudged up the hill hiding under our umbrellas as the wind blew the rain at our sides, then our fronts, the water in the street rose, we trudged against the current trying to walk lightly to avoid the holes and hidden curbs.  To add to our indignity the passing cars threw the dank water up, over and under our umbrellas.  We arrived home gritty with a couple of dry spots on the top of our heads.  It was time to get out of KL and its crazy climate.  We re-researched the Malaysian weather.  The only place not experiencing monsoonal weather was the northern west coast.  The rest of the country would be wet until the end of February.

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We left KL a day earlier than planned, as the town was mostly shut for Diwli (an Indian holiday). We headed north toward the west coast on the motorway.  It’s a beautiful, dedicated motorcycle lane that was probably as deadly as any major highway during rush hour.  I dared not wave to all of the friendly riders shouting hello and giving us the thumbs up as I feared I’d knock them off of their cycle or I’d get mangled and crushed.

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From KL we spent a couple of days riding flat tropical roads next to date palm plantations.  We saw hornbills,  IMG_3968kingfishers, and sea eagles.  We ate at small open roadside restrons (yup, that’s how you spell restaurant in Malaysia),

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drank gallons of water, slept in small budget hotels in tiny towns and at the end of every ride day we found expensive cold beer at the local 7-11.   What we didn’t find for days and days was an open post office.  We had decided to mail all of our warm weather gear including our sleeping bags to our Thai daughter.  The combined weight was 14 pounds and needed 2 boxes.  We were in Kuala Lumpur during Diwali, an Indian holiday that the Malaysians feel they should honor by closing stuff.  Next time we found an open P.O we were only able to mail one box as the post office clerk finished work at 4 o’clock and didn’t want to process our 2nd box.  In the next town it was an important dead person’s birthday and things were closed. We hit the fourth P.O on the right day and time and the sleeping bags were on their way.  We were riding between Kuala Lumpur and George Town, two of the hippest places in Malaysia.  They are so hip that we were able to get away with riding in bike shorts the entire time without getting stared at, abused or yelled at.

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Malaysians are so friendly and helpful be they Chinese, Muslim, Indian or migrants, if we stopped for more than 5 minutes or opened a map or looked in a pannier someone would stop to make sure we were okay.  We had people buy us breakfast on more than one occasion, a couple stop and give us gator aid, we were offered rides, help and advice.

The tropical flat terrain was nice and without the winter weight we were putting on some kilometers.  And then we hit some hills, beautiful, jungle, limestone cliff hills with monkeys.  We went from riding 100-kilometer days to 60 and drinking a couple of liters of water to a gallon each.  Every day we passed Mosques, Hindi and Chinese temples and occasionally a church or a Buddhist monastery.

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Curt was navigating, steering us safely through Ipoh to our hotel.  I rode sitting upright, snapping photos from the back of the tandem, trying to capture the beauty of the city surrounded by cliffs and the jungle hills.  We had read about the street art of Ipoh and heard about the food from our KL friends.  However, I didn’t understand that I’d get to be a part of the art.  We spent a couple of days playing with and on and photographing the street art while sampling as much of the street food as our bellies could hold.

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From Ipoh we rode and stopped and stayed in small towns on our way to the island of Penang.  We queued at the ferry jetty and rode onto the barge with 100’s of other riders on their Honda 150’s to George Town.

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George Town is a UNESCO site. We played with more art, met more fun people, drank beer, ate something from every ethnicity, got our visas for Thailand and watched the diverse population interact peacefully despite their religious differences.

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Before leaving the island, we had to experience the beach. We booked a budget motel and rode the 18 kilometers to their most famous beach.  Swimming in the sea was not advised.  It is too close to Indonesia, shipping lanes and the portals of raw sewage that escapes George Town to make swimming attractive or safe.  It’s also known for its jelly fish and the bacteria they carry that causes a severe skin reaction that some people attribute to sea lice.  We also discovered and were reminded that it’s a Malaysian beach.  The women of Malaysia do NOT wear bathing suits nor do most of the children, they swim (despite the smell of the water) and play on the beach fully clothed.  The men however can wear shorts and some even go topless.  Thankfully there were a couple of beach bars with affordable, edible food and beer.

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There was also an eclectic clientele of Singaporeans, Koreans, Japanese, Thais and retired Europeans.  The people watching was most excellent.   There were also monkeys in the jungle hills surrounding the beach and monitor lizards prowling the sand and sea eagles and tropical birds and flowers and tropical smells and fruit.

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So much fruit, every kind of fruit and coconuts, everywhere there were fruit stands and fruit shake stands, and so every day we had to have a shake with breakfast, take a coconut shake break after lunch and have a limeade with dinner.

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We left the island the same way we arrived, queued with the motorcycles waiting for the ferry.  The ferry was free for the trip to the mainland.  We rode toward Thailand.  The Garmin counted the ferry kilometers as part of our ride.  We missed 2nd breakfast and elevensies.  We got to our destination just in time for lunch.  Thanks to booking.com or agoda we always have a budget hotel ready for us at the middle or end of every day.

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The biggest problem has been leaving too early, riding too fast, not stopping enough and not learning and doing it again.

Despite the weather reports we have not experienced any rain while riding.  We’ve had a few crazy rains that have lasted minutes, up to 45 of them, that included thunder, lightening and sheets of no visibility water while checking into hotels, leaving for dinner or sitting in our room looking out, but we have not gotten wet since Kuala Lumpur.

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We’ve put on a couple of the pounds we lost riding in cold, wet, mountainous Spain.  Despite the price of beer and the occasional bottle of wine that we carry we’ve stayed in budget.  We’ve not experienced mosquitoes, bedbugs or any other tropical insect bites or terrors.  Malaysia is a beautiful country, full of kind, thoughtful people.  The food is good, it doesn’t always rain and the sea on the east coast is swimmable.  Despite our like of the place it continues to thwart us from returning.  We had plans to come back and cycle the east coast after the rains had stopped in March and truly ride out our three-month visa, but Ramadan starts in mid-April.  A month of hunger, riding, and no beer will not make the place look better in our eyes or our journals.

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Street Art of Ipoh, Malaysia

Posted: November 3, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

 

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Best of show in our opinion.

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Hard to really capture the beauty of this one.

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Cathy having Kway Teo with some friends.

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Of course I went for the beer 🙂

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Failed to get the big flower in the picture.

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Pretty sure this was the line for the womens toilets.

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What’s real and what’s painted in this picture?

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Where all cars belong.

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Let me guess – snow day and no school?

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Cathy having a cup of tea.

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Lovely lighting and lovely model.

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The “Father” of Ipoh Street Art.

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Me on a bad hair day.

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Another one of our favorites.

Or traveling with the Garmin on approved goat paths.  Or whose idea was this anyway?

I haven’t decided what to call this. It’s been a strange adventure, that was the result of a series of decisions that led us onward to more adventure altering decisions. It began when we decided to stay in Europe after Toph left as we had 60 days left on our visas and if we got south fast enough all would be well.  Like it would be warm, sunny and stop raining.

And then we discovered we couldn’t get as far south as we had hoped from Orleans, France.  We wanted to take a train to Barcelona but we had the tandem.  After some extensive frustration and a little research, we learned we could take a regional train. So, we went as far as the French train system would take an unboxed tandem, which was the city of Pau.

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Pau is at the base of the French Pyrenees. All we had to do to get warm was to ride over the mountains and into Spain and then ride south fast.  The problem we found was that we’re old, we have a lot of shit, and we’re slow.  We persevered.  We rode over the Col du Pourtalet, which was a very beautiful but a slow slog that began in the wet but famous town of Laruns and ended on the other side of the Pyrenees in a Spanish campground.

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From there we changed plans and routes a couple of times and ended up in Jaca.  Jaca is a very cool town with a very unimpressive campground.  From Jaca we could have gone to Pamplona but Pamplona does not have a campground so we decided to head kind of sort of in the general direction of Zaragoza, without actually going there.

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We stopped at the last open campground on our chosen route.  It was a cold, cool, ride that took us through parts of what looked like NM, CO, UT and WY.  Instead of wildlife there was old stuff.  We stayed two days.  We used their internet connection to research weather in southern Spain and the Algarve of Portugal for November and again made a new decision.  We decided it was time to call it over.  We researched and secured flights to Malaysia from Madrid while consuming a few glasses of wine.  We mapped what we thought was the fastest, bestest route to Madrid from wherever it was we were over a couple of more glasses of wine.

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Our route took us through always up, farming, pig raising, fly infested, mostly boring, headwind blowing, no campgrounds Spain.  We figured it would have taken us a month to get to sunny, warm, interesting, beachy, touristed, fun having Spain or eight days to Madrid.   And the days were shortening and weather chilling and the fucking headwinds kept blowing hence all of the windmills dotting every hill we had to climb.

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Thankfully we found amazing wild camps where we enjoyed packs of msg enhanced ramen for dinner and breakfast.  We filled our water bottles and water bladder every evening at the local well/fountain before riding another 5 to 10 kilometers in search of the perfect wild camp.

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When we could we’d buy a couple of beers before leaving the last village on our quest for a secluded pitch so we could celebrate our survival.

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Hmm, missed the “Sin Alcohol” part when I bought this.  Tasted good however!

And in between wild camps or if the weather got too drizzly or we ran into a city with an Inn at the right time we’d rent a simple room for the night.  At the Inns we’d take long long hot hot showers and then we’d wash our cloths and hang them from the curtains.  While the clothes kept vigil we’d wander the town to see the sights, have a glass of wine in the square and find the open grocery to buy a picnic dinner to enjoy in our warm dry room.

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The days passed.  The sun set every night around 8 and started to lighten the sky again around eight.  We slept a lot as every ride day was at least 80 K against the wind, with a couple thousand feet of elevation.  By the time the sun would actually appear around nine as there was always a hill or a mountain that it had to climb over, we’d have already stuffed the damp tent and had our camp coffee and ramen or if we were in a room we’d pack dry and leave after bad café coffee and stale bread made into toast.  We however were alive and living.

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We were out of season, off piste, and riding toward Madrid really slowly.  We changed routes daily as the map or the Garmin or the phone or the police would offer us some new information.  The new information was that we could ride Camino Rurals or gravel goat paths.  These farm lanes make the white roads of France look like super highways.  We double tracked our way across a lot of rural Spain.

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The 30K goat path into Guadalajara followed the expressway. While bouncing over rocks and riding through puddles and ditches we waved to truckers and read the billboards.  The goat paths into Madrid were a different box of frogs.  We had nice gravel and evil large rock strewn double track with off camber shoulders.  We had deep sand and river crossings in which we had to take off our socks, roll up our tights (remember chilly as in low 50’s high 40’s) and carry the Burley over the water.  We walked and pushed and rode and prayed our way to the paved white road that took us outside of the Madrid airport.

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The dark brown cloud we saw hanging over Madrid we learned was not pollution from cars it’s caused by the 80% of the population who are smoking, morning, afternoon, in their sleep, no matter where they are or what they are doing they are smoking.  The city is paved with cigarette butts.

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After viewing the cloud we tunneled our way into Madrid.  On the east side of the airport there is a tunnel, a 2500 kilometer tunnel, under one of the runways.   The sign outside the tunnel advised cyclists to wear vests and turn on their lights. I donned my white vest and we turned on all of our blinkies and rode on in.  We had a dedicated bike lane with barrios every 6 or so feet.  It was a loud, ventilated, lit tunnel.  It was the longest 2500 kilometers we’d ridden on the entire journey, including riding over Col du Pourtalet.

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We followed the Garmins suggested route to the campground we had stayed at 20ish years ago when we began our first about the world adventure.  The campground had not changed or improved during the time we had been gone.

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We put up our tent and our clothes line and started to walk the Garmins suggested route to the grocery.  At the main intersection I looked up and realized I knew where we were.  We had stayed at a hotel in the neighborhood last year on our way home from our tour of Galicia.  We knew where the grocery, metro and cafes were.  We were home.

The next day we woke to almost the worst sound you can hear from your tent, the sound of pouring rain (the worst is hearing someone robbing you while you’re tangled in your sleeping bag, but that’s another story from another time).  We put on our best pout as we had not put up the coffee making tarp.  Thankfully by the time we actually decided we had to get up there was a lull in the rain, we got the tarp up under mostly dry skies.  I set up the tent for dining while Curt brewed up some camp coffee under our wonderful cool tarp.  It was a leisurely morning.

We then decided to rain ride to Terminal 1 of Madrid’s international airport. We needed to test the route before we had to take it for our flight out.  It took us about 15 minutes to ride the 4 kilometers of neighborhood up and down and lost.  The wrap your luggage guys and the dry corner to get the bike together are not far from Saudi Air which is what we’re flying to Malaysia on.

Now we get to spend a couple of days getting our shit together and enjoying Madrid.  We are still woefully out of season and trying desperately to stay warm and dry, but we persevere.

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Things did not improve during our second night in Madrid. We got up for our nightly free-range pee to discover that it was rain dusting, not raining, not fog just wet dust that sometimes got so heavy it would sprinkle.  We crawled back into the tent to burrow into our sleeping bags, we could hear the wind, the pitter patter and feel the darkness before the dawn. After a slow morning waiting for it to clear, we rode into Madrid. It was a busy Friday 10:30ish morning.  The GPS refused to find the route to the sporting goods store we needed so we had to use the phone for navigation.  We needed cheap yoga mats for wrapping the bike for travel and a new sleeping mat as our 23 year old thermarest mat had started to delaminate.  The phone directed us to ride past the Madrid bull ring, through throngs of tourists, through a couple of protests and after an hour it said we had arrived at our destination, which was not our destination, it was a grocery store.  Frustrated with technology and the traffic we decided to have lunch at our favorite Madrid restaurant, which was a Basque tapa bar(we had found it when we were here last year).  While eating Curt reprogramed the phone and after a fun meal we really made it to our destination.  They had everything we needed.  And then the Garmin decided to find its brain and got us home on a great route.  I think the Garmin is a bit competitive and wanted to show the phone how to do things right.

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And now we’re also discovering we’re not only out of season and off piste but some of the stuff we brought is in need of replacement or repair.  We now have a daily mission to replace what we can until it’s time to fly.  Next story from Malaysia.