Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rising Happiness

Day 154
Sukhothai to Sukhothai Historical Park
Time: 1:31:00
Distance: 25.39 km
Avg Speed: 16.7 kph
Terrain: Flat

Despite the Singha beer from last night’s dinner and show, we were up early again this morning. We figure we’re going to have to get back to our usual operating hours – early to bed, early to rise. The heat is just too much to take in the afternoons. Our goal for the day was to do some sightseeing at a nearby archaeological site. We had coffee and rolls at the gas station café and then rolled west out of town. Gas station food? Yes, and it was good.
Thirty minutes later we arrived in the old town, the original site of Sukhothai which means “rising happiness”. The town was founded in the middle of the 13th century and saw the emergence of the Thai nation in the 14th century. During its heyday, the military influence stretched as far as Vientiane, Laos. Art, architecture and the Thai alphabet were also developed during this important time. As different rulers aged and new dynasties were created, Sukhothai handed over power and influence to the town of Ayutthaya, just north of Bangkok.
Our visit started out a bit wet. Soon after we bought our tickets, the skies opened up and the rain didn’t stop for two hours. We spent part of the time near one of the Khmer style temples and the rest of the time in the nearby market. We purchased plastic rain ponchos (pink for me and blue for Chris) to avoid being totally soaked. The time passed quickly as we were thoroughly entertained by the comings and goings of various locals and tourists.
Finally the deluge subsided and we made a go of it. The ruins were really fascinating and the surviving temples are beautiful reminders of a golden era in Thailand. It was fun and challenging to try to image what each site may have looked like in the 14th century. What remains today is a mix of brick and plaster buddhas, chedis and stupas. Some sites had all three components while others only had one or two. Since we are new to eastern philosophy and culture we don’t know all of the details about what was present and what may have been missing. I’m sure we’ll acquire a lot of information as we go - stay tuned. We’ll be living it and learning it together.
Khawp khun kha (thank you in Thai),

Ten Foot Shoulder and Rice Paddies

Day 153
Phitsanulok to Suhkothai
Time: 3:36
Distance: 58.02 km
Avg Speed: 16.2 kph
Terrain: flat

10 Foot Shoulder and Rice Paddies

We really started the Asia leg of our trip today. The day started early to beat the heat. We missed our free breakfast at the guest house we were staying at so we settled on a brekkie at 7-11. The same 7-11 that is all over the US is even more so here in Thailand. The food is a little different, but they still have slurpees. The city of Phitsanulok took a little while to get out of, but once we reached the city limits we had our very own lane to cruise in all the way to Sukhothai. We were even able to ride side by side for parts of the ride and the cars still gave us a little berth. The landscape was flat as can be. The flat terrain must be quite suitable to rice growing, because there were paddies after paddies of rice in all stages of development. We were able to witness the flattening of the paddies, the seeding of the rice, the various stages of growth, the harvest and the drying of the rice. It was neat to see a whole season within a distance of 58 km.
We finally found a place to stay after running into the hotel’s bar singer in an alley while looking for a different place. She took us over to the hotel and Leslie set about checking it out. The room has two pluses with it: Air Conditioning and a hot water shower. Last nights accommodations only had a fan and a cold water squat shower. The cold shower is still a shocker no matter how hot it is.
We will have to get used to the traffic (lots of it, but polite), the roadside toilets (squat toilets with a bucket flusher) and the heat (hot). That being said, this is where we wanted to be and we feel that all of our past experiences have prepared us for this.
Talk to you in a few.
Remember I mentioned that the girl who showed us the room was a bar singer? We just spent two hours in the hotel restaurant watching two acts, eating some mighty fine rice and drinking too many Singha beers. We both had ordered curry for dinner, and were promptly told ‘No’. We ended up with rice dishes. I think I mentioned that they grow a lot of rice in this area. During our dinner we enjoyed some interesting American covers by ‘Jackey’. This Thai artist took the stage wearing way too tight jeans, Doc Martins with elevator soles and a white cowboy hat with a giant blue sparkly star on it. He covered such artists as The Beetles, Bryan Adams, Eric Clapton, John Denver, Wings, plus many more. Jackey has a lot of material. Our gal then took the stage just as desert arrived along with another round of Singha beers. Oh (that is her name, not an exclamation) took the stage wearing a traditional costume of the mountain people around Chiang Mai. She sang several traditional songs with an upbeat tempo rocking in the background. She managed to get us to participate in a song and after her fourth song gave the stage back to Jackey. We visited for a little while, but when Jackey busted out some Alabama, I flagged down the check, paid the bill, left some money in the stage jar and made a break for it. It was one of those nights that you wouldn’t trade for anything, but you had to wonder at the time if you were going to make it through. All in all it was a lot of fun. Did I mention that Leslie and I were the only two diners in the restaurant tonight?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Two People, Two Bicycles, Two Trains

Day 152
Bangkok to Phitsanulok (by train)
Time: 4:30:00 + 25:00 across Bangkok by bike
Distance: Halfway to Chiang Mai
Avg Speed: Train Speed
Terrain: Flat with rice
Location: 100˚ 15’ 44”, 16˚ 48’ 25”

Where do I start?

With our rest period complete, we got back in the swing of things by riding to the Bangkok train station this morning. Even with the combination of being in a completely foreign country and in a city of 7.5 million, we were pretty excited to get back on the road. For the first time in a week, we read the map correctly and found our way to the train station in about 25 minutes. The ride wasn’t horrifying at all – bicycles are part of the transit system here and we just fit right in. I did my best to look around and soak it in. It was hard to believe I was riding in Bangkok. The air was so thick that you could see it and the city was bustling with all sorts of activities.
The train station was very organized and a nice girl helped us find our platform. We pushed our bikes down to a bench and waited. About 45 minutes later the train rolled in and we queued up like everyone else. There were many farang (slang for foreigners) but we still looked out of place with our bicycles. I started to chat with a fellow who noticed my panniers. He had cycled something like 20,000+ kilometers from Korea to Portugal. Wow. Anyhow, he wondered if we’d be able to take our bikes on the train. We both shrugged and said “we think so”. Turns out we thought wrong.
Soon after our chat with Boston (didn’t catch his name, just his city) we got the shake down from the platform guard. We weren’t allowed to take bikes on the express train. He told us what train we could take and we wheeled our circus back into the station. Chris got a workout for the next half hour as he went from window to desk to window to figure out what we would do. The next train turned out to be third class, not such a problem unless you’re up for nine hours with no a/c. So, the solution was for us to get on the express and our bikes to go on the slow train. In a very organized fashion, we checked in our bikes, received our claim ticket and walked away. Let me tell you, it was a strange feeling…
It’s a funny thing to be separated from your bike. I think it could be difficult to understand if you’ve never toured. This little machine has taken me everywhere and hauled my gear as well. I didn’t have time to dwell too much because we were in such a hurry to make everything happen.
The train ride was rather uneventful and we arrived 40 minutes late in Phitsanulok. We saw Boston again and he wondered about our rigs. We told him the story and he just smiled. In our previous meeting with him he told us how he had lived in Phitsanulok for a few years way back when. We inquired if he knew any good guesthouses and the next thing we knew he was speaking to a taxi driver in fluent Thai. In a matter of minutes we were being driven to the international youth hostel to find some budget accommodation. Boston decided to join us and check the place out. He was our translator as we checked out a few different rooms. We have no idea what he was saying but we ended up with something basic for $10. Not bad for a decent sized room with a bathroom. The only drawback is that there is only half of a toilet seat, but who’s complaining?
Here’s to being back on the road,
ps – the slow train was an hour and a half late, but the bikes did make it.

Hot Time in the City

Day: 151
Bangkok Day 6

We spent the day hanging out and getting things in order for the train ride tomorrow. We spent this morning talking to some family and catching up on emails and computer business.
The panniers are packed the money is stashed and the tires are aired up. Tomorrow we roll.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reclining Buddha

Day 150

Today we visited the oldest and the largest temple in Bangkok; Wat Pho (pronounced “poe”). Instead of haggling for a taxi or a tuk-tuk, we had a 30 minute walk to the grounds. Once again, we found ourselves walking through another market area. This one, called Wat Mahathat, was selling various amulets. These good luck charms are a traditional part of Thai Buddhism and are worn as protection from evil spirits and bad luck.
From the market we passed the Grand Palace and then followed the long train of tour buses to the entrance of Wat Pho. We paid our 50 baht each (about $1.5) to get in, and then walked the grounds to start. Throughout the courtyard we found several smaller temples, different gardens and some very interesting statues. These granite sculptures were brought from China as ballast on empty sailing vessels. We were really captivated by the different depictions of warriors and philosophers.
Finally, we made our way around to the main temple where the Reclining Buddha is housed. The figure is 46 meters long by 16 meters high and is covered in gold leaf. Dating back to the 16th century, the Reclining Buddha predates the city of Bangkok. Its laid out position symbolizes Buddha’s death and passage into nirvana. The size of the figure was actually quite incredible.
By 11:30 we had trekked back to our ‘hood. We found some lunch and enjoyed watching the various activities going on in the street. It’s all about tourism here. Now we’ve taken refuge for the afternoon while the hot and sultry part of the day passes. In a few hours we’ll venture out to find our favorite noodle cart and observe the evening’s events. I’m going to soak it up because in a couple of days we’ll be back on the road. We’re really looking forward to it.

Bangkok Bingo

Day: 149
Hotel to Clinic to Embassy to Hotel
Time: ‘til Noon

No it isn’t one of the ‘shows’ that you can see in the city. It is merely the dance that one does in the city day to day. We got our second round of rabies shots today. We grabbed a cab from the hotel to take us over to the clinic. We overpaid for the cab, which is mainly due to me not bargaining over the price. Everything is negotiable here, and I keep forgetting that the price they give is way high. The vaccinations were not negotiable, but it was one of the nicest clinics around. We had our tea, had our shots and paid a grand total of $60 for the office visits and the two shots. We hiked down to the embassy to register our presence in Thailand with the US only to stand in line and find out that we can do that online. It was nice to see the Stars and Stripes flying. Our taxi back was much better, but I still think that we overpaid.
Our dinner hour has become one of our favorite parts of the day. The street takes on the scene straight out of a movie. The street carts start hopping, the live music start flowing and people start coming out of the woodwork. We have naturally found a favorite cart for dinner and desert. We get our pad thai with spring rolls, sit on the steps behind the cart to eat them and people watch. The best site is the cart next to our pad thai gal. This cart has fried insects of all types. I thought I could eat a bug, but after seeing a pile of fried crickets and grubs I changed my mind. The bug gal gets quite a few lookers though and Leslie and I have a good time filling in the dialogue between the lookers and their friends. Leslie likes pineapple for desert, whereas I have found banana pancakes with sweetened condensed milk drizzled on top. It is more of a fried dough with bananas inside of it rather than a pancake like we know. Leave it to me to find desert.
All this entertainment in a 20’ radius, and it is all ours for 105 β ($3 and some change). For the overpricing of the cabs we took it is all resolved at dinner time.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Commerce on the Water: Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

Day: 148

Today we ventured out for the first time beyond Bangkok. Our friend, an enterprising fellow named Bird, drove us to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. We arrived after an hour and a half drive and were waved in by the eager people giving boat tours of the market.
Initially when Chris booked the trip, he thought that the price included the boat tour. We soon came to find that the cost was just for our private taxi. Live and learn and welcome to a new country with a different language.
Anyway, we settled the bill on stepped onto our own private longboat. The vessel was approximately 20 feet long by 3 feet wide. The motor was a straight V8 with an eight foot shafted propeller. The captain steered with one hand and worked the throttle with the other. I’m pretty sure the engine was a bit big for the boat.
Off we went down the canal system. Without knowing what lay ahead, we had no expectations. Not surprisingly we stopped at a few souvenir stands and were implored to buy some goods. I bought a package of postcards and we continued on. Soon we began to see other boats; some similar to ours and others with no engine that were being paddled. The water was definitely getting more crowded. As we turned the next corner our eyes got big like saucers. This was it – the floating market. In the water and on the docks, goods were being sold. From soup to nuts you could watch your food being prepared and buy the bowl you were eating from. At first glance it was total chaos – too many boats and not enough room. Upon further review, you could see that the boat captains did have some organized system. Once you settled into the madness you were captivated by all of the activity. It’s was definitely a tourist oriented market, but you did get some sense of what life was like here years ago.
In actuality, the canal system was very important to central Thais in the days before automobiles. The only transport a family owned was the dugout boat that transported goods and people from point to point. The market we visited today is the most famous survivor of days past. And, if you looked closely, you could catch a glimpse of present day Thai life - a house on stilts and laundry hanging from the line.

Sites and Smells

Day: 147
Bangkok Day 2
Terrain: Big City
Location: Banglamphu District

We spent today laying out a plan for our travels in Southeast Asia. We needed to do this for two reasons. The first was to figure out when and where we would be during certain stages. The second was to figure out how much money we need to carry with us. ATM’s haven’t caught on in Laos and Cambodia like they have here in Thailand and Vietnam. Luckily Laos will trade in their currency, the Kip, as well as the US Dollar and the Thai Baht. We will end up carrying all the money we need as we roll through Laos in a few weeks time. We shall see how that unfolds.
We are watching BBC news right now and they reported a 7.6 magnitude earthquake near Sumatra. The local news hasn’t reported anything yet.
We were requested to report on the sights and smells in Bangkok. The sights are best left to pictures, but if you can imagine the sidewalks in the town you live in with little tarp tents set up and taken down every night that line all the paths you might get an idea. The interesting thing is we are in a city of 6 million people. The little booths are set up in front of store fronts in the buildings. The store fronts range from jewelry to groceries to a five story department store. The booths have all kinds of things from food to prepare at home, food to eat there, sweets, every item of clothing you can imagine and all the trinkets under the stars.
To imagine the smells you need to take all the sights you have imagined and add a scent to them. Cooking oil, fish, sugary syrups, curries, breads, diesel and 2-cycle engines, sewer, sweat, flowers, tea and coffee, new clothes. It is all there and all at once. It sounds crazy, but you get the scents all at once, yet when you are in the vicinity of a particular scent you are ensconced with that smell. All the others just live as background. The booths block out the street smells when you are inside them, and when you are on the street you are blocked from the booth smells. It isn’t overwhelming, but it is intense.
lah gòrn (good bye in thai)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Big Mango

We're in Bangkok!
We arrived last evening and found our way to the Banglamphu neighborhood. We made it easy for ourselves and got a taxi from the airport. I'm not sure we'll be practicing our urban riding skills in this city.
This morning we set out on foot but soon found ourselves in a tuk-tuk. We probably fell prey to the tuk-tuk shopping scheme as we visited a mix of temples and retail stores. We did walk away with a few souvenirs.
We're not even through the first day and our minds are blown. Southeast Asia is going to be a fun and wild ride.
Stay tuned for pictures. We hope everyone is well at home.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Market Day

Day 143

If it’s Saturday, it must be Salamanca. The market takes place every weekend throughout the year. You can get just about anything you want or need from over 300 vendors. The area was very lively by the time we arrived this morning. We worked our way passed fresh produce, Tasmanian handicrafts and coffee carts. Chris couldn’t resist the apple turnovers or the Dutch doughnuts – not surprising. I really enjoyed all of the live music. The melodies wafted through the air like the smell of a nice hot mug of cappucino. The people who provide the entertainment are called “buskers”. One “busker” in particular caught my attention. He was a boy of no more than 12 or 13. He was getting crazy on his acoustic guitar while playing The Knack’s “My Sharona”. His performance definitely had some passion. It was great to see a young person developing a talent rather than hanging out at McDonald’s and talking on a cell phone…
The rest of the day has been spent getting the bikes cleaned and packed. We normally have limited area, cleaning supplies and tools to do a proper job. Not this time – Tildy gave us full run of “Beruit” and furnished soap, rags and a hose. We’ll be sending a whole case of Twinkies to our host when we return home.
We’re only two days away from our next country. The excitement has been building for awhile. I’ve definitely felt nervous but now I’m just psyched. New languages, new food, and new cultures. It sounds thrilling and daunting at the same time. At least we’ve got the riding part down so far. This is actually the part of the world that I have been most eager to travel to. Thinking ahead also makes me think back to the initial planning stages for this trip. One reason we chose to bicycle tour was due to a book I purchased a few years ago. I used to buy guidebooks at the Eagle Library periodically; hardbacks for a buck and paperbacks for a quarter. I suppose I was always in the process of getting travel ideas. One day I found “Cycling Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam” and a light bulb went on. Hmmm…I guess the rest is history.

Prisons and Tessellated Pavement

Day: 142
Hobart to Port Arthur to Hobart
Time: 10 hours or so
Distance: 372 km
Avg Speed: 110
Terrain: Didn’t Matter

We broke our streak and rented a car for a tour of Port Arthur and the surrounding area. We did it right though and got a big land yacht with bad mileage.
We cruised out to Port Arthur south of Hobart to check out the old prison they had there. The prison was one of many set up in Tasmania for people coming from the British empire as well as Canada and America. I figured that this is where people who had performed horrible crimes against humanity came. I was quite surprised to find out that people were sent here for as little as stealing a shirt. When you enter the site you are assigned a prisoner whom you are to follow around the introductory area. My prisoner was sent here for the theft of £5 worth of drugs from a pharmacy. I really didn’t see the logic of sending someone halfway around the world for a crime of that sort, but I guess the government operated on the ‘one bad apple’ ideal of population management. The Port Arthur prison was chosen for its geographic isolation as well as its location near a bay. The prisoners all had work detail that ranged for cobbling, and tailoring to ship building and road construction. The site also housed a boy’s prison that was isolated from the main men’s prison. The boys were usually 14-17 years old, but there was evidence of boys as young as 9 being sent there. Back then an 8 year old could be tried as an adult and a 9 year old sentenced to death. Times were certainly different. The boy’s prison got off to a bad start though, with the first 68 boys showing up dead drunk, having consumed six dozen stolen bottles of wine on the ship journey down.
The waters surrounding the prison were rumored to be filled with man eating sharks and the alternative route of escape through the forest offered very little hope as well. The peninsula that Port Arthur is located on is attached by a narrow isthmus called Eagle Hawk Neck. Here there were more guards stationed as well as a line of dogs chained up at intervals across the land and on platforms off the shore.
We also visited some geological areas of interest like arches, blow holes and the geometric tessellated pavement. Here horizontal stone had cracked into squares and was regularly being worn down by the sea water and salt crystals.
We felt a little guilty about renting a car to go see these sights, but soon got over it when we covered 100 km in just over an hour. You can see the sights quite well from a car, but on a bike you can feel the sights and the land around you. That is an essence of bicycle riding that is hard to describe and forget.
Vroom, Vroom

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Needles and Pills and Doctors, Oh My!

Day 141

Today reminded me of a MasterCard commercial -

Travel Consultation: $185
Rabies Shots: $200
Typhoid Booster: $40
Malaria Pills (all 214): $150
Giardia Pills: $52
Mosquito Net: $55
Water Purification Tablets: $30
Protecting our health while traveling through Southeast Asia: PRICELESS

You can’t really be a cheap bastard when it comes to your health.

Here’s to lollies and bandaids,

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hobart Town

Day 138 and 139
Location: 42˚ 52’ 50” S, 147˚ 19’ 30” E

Day 2 in Hobart. So far we’ve done laundry and gone shopping. Not very productive for the Kehmeiers, but we’re resting. Tomorrow we may actually go sightseeing depending on the weather.
Since there is not much to report, we can share a bit of information regarding the city of Hobart and the state of Tasmania.
Separated by Bass Straight, Tasmania is the island state of Australia. Tassie, as it’s affectionately known, is recognized for natural beauty. In fact, over 20% of the 68,000 sq kilometers it covers is protected as World Heritage Area. In addition to magnificent scenery, Tasmania also boasts a range of good food and drink. We’ve sampled everything including mouth-watering dairy products from King Island and enjoyable wines from the Tamar Valley. After seeing just a glimpse of Tasmania, Chris and I both know that this area of the world deserves a return visit.
Lying on the shores of the Derwent River, Hobart was founded in 1803. Originally a penal colony, the city is now the administrative and financial heart of Tasmania. It is the eleventh most populous city in Australia with just about 200,000 people. Hobart is an important sea port and is the base of operations for the Antarctic operations of Australia and France. The city has a beautiful backdrop of green hills and historic buildings. We look forward to exploring all the nooks and crannies in the coming days.
Here’s to today’s geography lesson,

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Getting Down to H-Town

Day 137
Bicheno to Hobart
Time: Three Hours
Distance: 179 kilometers
Avg Speed: As fast as you can go in a coach on winding roads
Terrain: Duh, hills!
Location: 42° 54' S, 147° 18' E

It’s official – we’re tired. The second bus ride in four days is a sure sign that four and a half months on the road have caught up with us. Rather than continue on and risk potential meltdown, we decided to get a room in Hobart for the week. Our host at the Bicheno Backpackers was kind enough to help us with our search for accommodation and had a roomed booked for us before we hopped on the bus. If you ever find yourself on the east coast of Tassie, be sure to stay with Hannah and Matt! They are lovely people and made our short stay very enjoyable.
The bus ride seemed to pass quickly and we reached Hobart by early evening. Within a few minutes we had our bikes and panniers ready to roll. We have become well practiced with the bus routine. With an address in hand, we began to plot our route through the city. A woman standing near us jumped into the conversation and gave us first hand directions by memory. Thanks to all of the friendly Aussies, we have had little need to read maps during our stay. Ten minutes later we rolled up in front of the Astor Hotel.
Chris waited with the bikes while I climbed up the red carpeted stairs. I found my way to the reception desk, picked up the phone and waited. An animated voice answered on the other end and quickly said “wait right there”. A few seconds later our host, Tildy, came down the stairs.
I don’t think I can actually describe our host to do her justice. She is, to say the least, unique. Tildy, you see, is no ordinary hotel owner. She is quick witted and full of energy. She is vibrant and full of life. Tildy fires off the questions in rapid succession and is on to the next thought before you have a chance to even think about an answer. You can tell she is a very good egg and we are really looking forward to our stay here. She even has our itinerary planned for the week. Night one: a glass of wine and a movie that’s artsy but still understandable. Night two: Dominoe’s pizza and Bridget Jones’ Diary on the portable DVD player. Night three…

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Wineglass Bay

Day: 136
Bicheno to Coles Bay to Bicheno
Time: All Day
Terrain: Rocky and Sandy

We found a nice place to rest our heads in Bicheno so we decided to take a shuttle down to Freycinet National Park. The park is on the Freycinet Peninsula on the east coast of Tasmania. It is home to a great little range of granite peaks called the Hazards along with one of the most beautiful beaches around. Wineglass Bay and Wineglass Beach see over 140,000 visitors per year. Most of them come in on the foot track, but some do sail into the bay to enjoy the scenery. The water was too rough for commercial boat tours today so we had the beach to ourselves and only 50-60 other people. The beach itself is quite large so we were all spread out and had a little patch of sand to ourselves. The hike to the beach is about 1 hour long so most people hike it as an out and back. We had all day so we decided to do the hike as a loop and cross the isthmus to Hazards Beach and out along Great Oyster Bay. The rain held off most of the day and we enjoyed dry weather. It was a nice hike, even with dead legs, and we only saw one snake. It was shy and slithered off into the bush before we could get a photo of it. We did manage to get some photos of some nasty little jelly fish here called blue bottles. They were washed up all along Hazards Beach so we took the opportunity to take a few photos. I think they look like a little bubble of blueberry gum on the ground.
The shuttle picked us up at the visitor’s center and we enjoyed one of the more scary rides on a shuttle in a while. The driver insisted on driving as fast as the van could go and still hold the road.
The backpackers we are in has all the double rooms in one building and all the bunk rooms in another. We are in the double room building and found that our new house mates were a family from China. We ended up cooking dinner together and while they were cooking lobster, potatoes, carrots and peas, I was whipping up a Thai soup with rice noodles. The matriarch of the family took great interest in what I was cooking and remarked that it looked delicious. It was a good little meal, but if I had my choice I think I would have liked to have the lobster.
We are fading fast with our legs right now, so we are catching a bus to Hobart tomorrow. 4 ½ months riding the road has caught up with us. We don’t really want to miss out on the terrain between here and Hobart, but we don’t really want to get ill or completely blow up either. We are going to treat ourselves right before we head off to Asia where we will take some more time off before getting back on the road.

Chasing Blue Sky

Day 135
St Helens to Bicheno
Time: 4:33:27
Distance: 76.79 km
Avg Speed: 16.8 kph
Terrain: Rolling (as flat as Tassie can get)
Location: 41˚ 52’ 41.5” S, 148˚ 18’ 18.9” E

More rain this morning. According to our fellow bicycle touring friends, the weather required “level 2” rain gear. This translates to rain coat and pants. They go to “level 3” with booties and gloves. I think that would send us right back to bed or to the nearest café.
We started our route south along the east coast today. It wasn’t long before we left St Helens behind and found ourselves right on the ocean. Even on a cloudy day the water was beautiful. We stopped a couple of times to watch the waves and catch a glimpse down the shoreline. In the distance we saw some blue sky and figured by the end of the ride we would be in sunshine. I read in the guidebook that this area of coastline and south is Tassie’s driest, averaging six hours of sunlight a day. We’re already behind on the first day. Hopefully we won’t be making up for all of those clear days at Mt Cook.
This part of the state is home to both land and sea industries. Grazing had a hand in rapid settlement in the early 1800s while whaling and fishing also became important. The early pioneers were even helped by the convicts that had served time in the region.
We were almost to the edge of the clouds when we stopped for lunch at another beach. We said a quick hello to a surfer who was checking out the waves. “Tuesday would have been fun” he remarked. I think I recall hearing about flash floods that day. He drove away as we ate our vegemite sandwiches. As I spread the yeast extract on the roll, I thought it kind of looked like chocolate. Sure doesn’t taste like chocolate.
By 2:30pm we rolled into Bicheno. After getting a room at the backpackers we went straight to the café for some cappuccinos and wireless internet. Our friends had scoped the place out last week and gave us the lowdown. We updated the blog, checked email and downloaded the latest Jack Johnson album.
We never did catch up with the blue sky or the sun today. At least we’ve got some new tunes to give us a bright outlook.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mail Route

Day: 135
Scottsdale to St. Helens
Time: All Day
Distance: Not Sure
Avg Speed: Pretty Quick
Terrain: HILLY

We decided to get a little ahead of the curve today and took a series of mail vans for 100km or so. We were glad that we opted for the mail route since it rained all day and the terrain was hilly on the ridiculous side. The rural bus route here uses rural mail carriers to shuttle both parcels and people. The first bus was the Scottsdale to Derby, and included a trailer full of packages and 3 other passengers. We swung off the highway to the little towns and post offices to pick up and drop off mail. We got into Derby around 11:30 and waited around until 12:15 for the Derby to St. Helens leg. This is where the trip really got interesting. We were guests of the rural mail carrying couple Bob and Shirley. They had been doing the mail game since May 1998. That is when Bob had stopped hauling logs. They knew the route, the people and all the good stops. We ran up to little farm houses to deliver mail to old ladies and they even dropped us off for 10 minutes at a cheese factory and café while they ran out on a little loop. I couldn’t quite bring myself to pay $10 for a 250 gm chunk of cheddar, but we did manage to have a milkshake and a couple of kiss biscuit (little jam filled cookies). The highlight of the trip was our fellow passenger, Richard. He was from Sydney, and had recently moved down here to start a Chinese museum with antiques found in the barn of his father’s.
During the 1800’s Chinese immigrants had come over to this area to mine. The head of the Chinese community was a wealthy mandarin man and his wife. She had spoken both French and English along with her Chinese. This mandarin couple had befriended his great grandfather, who also spoke Chinese, and used his barn to store some things. The mining eventually petered out and the Chinese workers and the community as a whole had gone back to China. They left all their things in the barn and never returned for them. Richard had wanted to start a museum with these goods and was having trouble getting his idea off the ground.
He had no car and caught a ride with Bob and Shirley once a week for groceries. He had taught art at the art school in Sydney, and after he left the car Shirley told us that he had paintings he had done hanging all over his house. She also added that he had paintings hanging in studios in Sydney and Hobart. He was a very interesting and eccentric person. The bus ride was a kind of a shortcut for us, but the people that we met and the little places we saw were just magic.
Here’s to mail buses and the people that we meet along the way!!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday

Day 133
Lilydale to Scottsdale
Time: 3:05:22
Distance: 26.57
Avg Speed: 8.56
Terrain: Rolling
Location: 41˚ 09’ 36.2” S, 147˚ 31’ 7.1” E

It’s Wednesday here but still the day before in Colorado and there’s a lot going on. As you know, it’s an election year and I think it will prove to be an important one. Don’t worry; I’m not going to share my political opinions or aspirations. What I will say is that we’ve been able to follow the news at home in detail throughout our trip. The amount of information has surprised me and I believe that the US news agencies don’t reciprocate. It just goes to show how much influence the United States has throughout the world.
We stopped early again today. The weather front to the northeast was expected to bring more rain this afternoon. We rolled into Scottsdale around lunch and started working on a plan to get to move a bit faster. We booked a bus ticket for tomorrow to get us closer to some of places of interest on the east coast. It should be interesting; part of the trip will be on the mail run to St Helens.
On a trip like this, we are constantly thinking about what to see and what not to see. Time, finances and transportation are all part of the equation. We’ve come to realize that it’s best to think that we may never return again to visit. If it costs a little more and we have the time and the legs we usually go for it. In this case, we need a little more time so we accept having to take a bus to get to the highlights.
We’re on night two of the pub accommodation tour. We’re not so interested in the tent right now; especially with the rain we’ve seen the last couple of days. Hopefully the weather will clear up soon and we can get in a few more nights on the ground before we send the tent home.
Take good care,

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Zigging and Zagging

Day: 132
Greens Beach to Lilydale
Time: 4:33
Distance: 68.01 km
Avg Speed: 14.9 kph
Terrain: Rolling

We jumped out of the comfort of our nest this morning. It was difficult to leave a familiar face behind and head off into the unknown. Our goal is to head over to the east coast and roll on south to Hobart. We were trying to get another 40 km further this afternoon, but after riding in the rain for an hour we decided to hole up at the pub in Lilydale. Before you start thinking that we were drinking the afternoon away, you should know that here you can generally rent a room to stay in at the local pub. We rolled our bikes into the overhang by our room and the skies absolutely opened up for a solid hour. We were glad that we grabbed some lodging and didn’t try and press forward.
We both had a wonderful time hanging out and visiting with friends from the valley. It was nice to catch up on the gossip and happenings in the Eagle County. Whether it was sailing, hiking, flying kites, cooking, eating (lots of that), wine tasting, cocktail hour, or just visiting we had a great time being a tourist local.
The riding today wasn’t overly difficult or very busy. It just involved a bit of route finding and map reading. We managed to stay away from the logging trucks and toured charming farm land. Leslie had to cajole me at a rest stop to get moving because I was busy picking blackberries on a bush hanging over a fence row. She had to give it a go as well and we had a little snack of fresh berries along the road.
Tomorrow will be different from what we had planned. We shall see if we can get the show back on schedule since it flew off the first day.
How about those Giants?!?!

Goodbye Victoria, Hello Tassie

Days 128-131
Devenport Ferry Dock to Greens Beach

We had an early arrival in Devenport, Tasmania a few days ago. The ferry wasn’t too bad, but who can really sleep in a half reclined chair with fifty people snoring around you. Thank goodness for earplugs. We rolled our bikes of the cargo deck, called our friends and found the nearest café. Three days later we are feeling like locals after a weekend of food, fun and plenty of sleep in a real bed. Here are some of the highlights from the last few days:

-Sunbathing and kite flying at a beautiful (and deserted) beach
-Hanging on the trapeze while sailing on a catamaran
-Hiking along the beach for a mug of cappuccino
-Happy Hour whenever we felt like it
-Watching Chris dunk chips (fries) in a seafood pastry
-Catching up with news from home
-Getting to know new friends

We’d like to thank our hosts, Louise and Clive, for opening their home to us. We enjoyed their hospitality and company more than anyone could imagine. They have been around the block a few times (including a few trips on bicycles) and were kind enough to share some wonderful stories and many bits of useful information. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

CK and LK

Messenger Mode

Day 127
Torquay to Geelong (then to Melbourne via train)
Time: 2:52:00
Distance: 38.8 km
Avg Speed: 13.5 kph
Terrain: Flat

I got my first taste of city riding in San Francisco. I was visiting a friend and we rode what I like to call “messenger style” throughout the streets. What I remember most was being able to get across town faster than any car, train or bus. What I really liked was the fast pace of riding through traffic and split second decisions to keep moving. Hmm, perhaps I’m just an adrenaline junkie…

Today we found ourselves back in Melbourne. We rode to Geelong from Torquay and got on a train back to the city. The end of the line was Southern Cross Station, familiar territory. We had some time to kill before our ferry to Tasmania departed so we stored our gear and set off through downtown on our bikes. I have come to love riding through cities and find myself in full-on “messenger style” every time we hit the urban jungles. I was like a dog with a new haircut without the weight of my panniers. Chris was content to play follow the leader as I traversed my way toward the lunch stop. Our touring rigs aren’t as chic as the single-speed fixies that passed us, but at least we were turning the pedals, hanging it all out there.
We went to the Carlton neighborhood for lunch. A friend back home mentioned that the area was great for Italian food. She was correct as we had a couple of very tasty pizzas followed by our new favorite treat, gelato. I keep thinking we’ll run out of sweet treats to sample but so far we’ve always come up with something new. My mom thinks we look pretty thin in our photos…if she only knew what we were eating everyday.
We’re on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry tonight. We arrive very early tomorrow morning in Devenport and then will ride to Greens Beach to visit some friends. We’re looking forward to another few days of rest after a couple of good weeks of touring in Victoria. We’ll be riding from north to south through Tasmania. They say there are many hills in “Tassie”, but I’m more interested in what the riding is like in Hobart.
So long for now,