Day Twenty-nine, in Which We are Really, Truly ALMOST THERE

Some notes about today:
1. The hotel we stayed in last night had to be one of the single worst hotels I’ve had the misfortune of patronizing in about eighteen years of very frequent travel. I won’t go into boring detail, but after we had already been waiting for over thirty minutes to check out (mainly to get our deposit back) I finally got the hotel’s proprietor on the phone only to be informed that she was “in the bathroom” and needed some more time. Lady, I feel you, and we’ve all been there, but there is a line that exists between professionalism and the toilet, and that line is there for a reason.
2. We cycled 151 kilometers with an average speed of 28km/hour. I became firmly convinced that my badassery knew no bounds.
3. We checked into our hotel this evening exactly 21 kilometers (13 miles) from Singapore. Unless we both break both of our legs and also get our bikes stolen again, it seems extremely likely we will reach Singapore tomorrow. By pure coincidence, it will be the thirtieth day of our trip and also Dave’s (not thirtieth) birthday.
4. We had the best dinner we’ve had since we’ve been in Asia. It was at an outdoor Thai restaurant between our hotel and the mall. They made us vegetarian food and it was spicy and delicious; we would have hugged them if it wouldn’t have been awkward.

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5. Whilst pondering the intolerable inferno through which I was pedaling this afternoon, I became curious about how far away I was from the actual equator. The answer turned out to be less than 100 miles.
6. Tomorrow morning we have an easy 41 kilometers from our hotel here in Skudai door-to-door to our hostel in Singapore’s Little India. Even accounting for a holdup on both sides of the border, we should be sitting pretty with a Singapore Sling by early afternoon. If a Singapore Sling were a beverage I desired in any way. If, in fact, I even knew the ingredients of a Singapore Sling.

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7. I’m going to bed now. This may be the last night for a while that my physical exhaustion takes precedence over any and all other factors, and that I don’t feel apologetic for this shortcoming whatsoever. I may or may not find a way to slowly acclimate back to “normal” society in days to come. Jury’s still out.

8. In closing: Dave changing what is hopefully our last flat tire on the side of the highway. Also: an awesome Christmas display at the local mall here in Skudai.

 

 

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Day Twenty-Eight, in Which We Pass the 2,000-mile Mark and Strangers Are Nice and Everything Makes Me a Bit Teary

One of my favorite parts of cycling through Southeast Asia is the unique experience one has in comparison to your average tourist. I’ve been that average tourist on several past trips to Asia, so I’m particularly struck by the curiosity, friendly overtures, and willingness to go out of their way we’ve encountered from locals in every country we’ve visited on this trip.
From the people who let us sleep on their floor that one night in Vietnam to the stranger at the gas station this morning in Malaysia who bought us two bottles of water when he paid for his gas, we’ve been endowed with kindness along every segment of our journey.
Truck drivers slow down and yell, “Hello!”
Cashiers at stores and servers at restaurants want to know our story—where we’ve come from, where we’re heading. Without exception, they are flabbergasted but pleased with the response. A man rolled down his window today just to shout “Welcome to Malaysia!” at me today as I pedaled by drenched in sweat. I couldn’t help but beam right back at him.
Other than our rest day on Koh Tao, we haven’t spent a single night in a “touristy” town on our whole bike ride since that first night in Tam Coc, Vietnam. Sometimes it’s been hard to find food or accommodation (or both) but the inconveniences have been heavily outweighed by the outpouring of hospitality we’ve received in some of the rural little towns in which we’ve laid our heads.
I remember one small and isolated guesthouse in Thailand where we were most assuredly the sole guests. When we were eating our instant noodle dinner at the outside table, the grandfatherly patriarch of the family who ran the place brought us over a bunch of apple bananas. Then he came back with fried dough and little guava cookies. His third trip he brought boiled peanuts. He clearly took such pleasure in our genuine delight at the receipt of each round of treats; we’re perpetually hungry and we happily devoured everything he brought, thanking him again and again.
Today we rode just over 100 miles, surpassing the 2,000-mile mark for our trip totals. We have one more long day tomorrow of just over 150 kilometers to Skudai, a town in southern Malaysia just north of where we’ll cross the border the following day into Singapore. That’s right, the day after tomorrow we will arrive at our destination.

My emotions must be running high because I’m tearing up again just thinking of that old man giving us the peanuts and cookies.
This bike ride has been one of the hardest things I’ve done thus far in my life, and yet the thought of it ending causes this painful little twist in my chest. It’s as ephemeral as any other journey, but I feel like I want to transform the entire experience into a soft, silky sheet and wrap myself in it. Eating boiled peanuts with Dave and being tired and sore yet so full of gratitude and love it hurts.

Biking Toward Empowerment

Day Twenty-seven, in Which Tires Deflate but Never Spirits

Man, you want to do something that’ll really make you feel alive? Try crossing over a couple of lanes of traffic on a bicycle on the E1 freeway by Kuala Lumpur during rush hour. I think my adrenaline is still elevated, and I’m lying in bed in my hotel room five hours later.
I liked today. It had nuances; it had twists and turns. It could have been divided into several chapters, each with a different mood, sub-plot, and supporting cast.
The day opened innocuously enough at the Weng Kong Hotel in the sleepy hamlet of Slim River, 100 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur. We came to find out later that Slim River is notable for its white water rafting, an activity that was unfortunately not on our agenda for this week.
We had our usual convenience store morning meeting over coffee and snacks to discuss our short and long term goals for the day’s ride. We’d hit Kuala Lumpur by late afternoon, but we weren’t sure how much further we’d make it past the capital depending on weather and elevation changes.
Having come to an agreement to challenge the Malaysian authorities and take to the freeway once more, we took off this morning like gangbusters down the AH2. You’d have thought we were trying to cover as much distance as possible before getting kicked off the highway again, and you would be correct in that assumption. I was in the lead and my legs were churning away like pistons for almost two hours. I was mostly diligent about making sure Dave was keeping up, but I slacked off a little and suddenly realized he was nowhere in sight. Just when I was getting ready to turn back, I saw him trudging toward me on the shoulder of the highway with a flat back tire. He was able to change it quickly and we got rolling again with the intention of getting to a gas station to get some more air in the tire—our hand pump only gets the tire rideable, not to optimal pressure.
We had been back in business for less than fifteen minutes when I felt the telltale sluggish drag of a flat in my own back tire, my first on the new bike. We had purchased backup tubes at the bike shop in Alor Setar, but had neglected to notice the wheel wasn’t quick release and we would require a particular wrench to change a flat.
We were now faced with the decision of walking 1.5 miles to a gas station in the opposite direction in the heat of high noon or trying to hail a truck from the shoulder of the road to take us to a service station further down the AH2.   Having spent a lot of my twenties hitchhiking my way through several continents, I felt reasonably confident in my ability to secure us a ride down the road.
It was the fourth or fifth pickup driver toward whom I’d gestured a “please pull over” arm wave combined with sheepish smile that actually stopped. Dave was struggling to use our multipurpose tool to try loosening the wheel on my bike when I realized the truck had actually stopped and was backing up toward us.

The driver spoke perfect English and asked if we would prefer that he take us to the service station we mentioned or straight to a nearby bike shop he knew. We were thrilled and beyond grateful, of course, and he drove us right to the bike shop. His name is Artchan, he’s a climbing guide and takes people up peaks all over Asia. He’s rad and we’re Instagram friends now.
After we parted ways with Artchan, we got the tools we needed from the bike shop, also making friends with the bike shop guys who were also incredibly kind and friendly and mentioned they didn’t get too many foreigners coming by.

We grabbed lunch nearby to wait out the storm that was just beginning to climax, and hit the road again once the downpour downgraded to a sprinkle.
The sprinkle, however, soon turned into a shower that turned into a heavy rain and eventually back into a monsoon downpour. We’ve spent enough time riding in the rain now that we just plastic-bagged our phones and passports, covered the rest as best we could, and continued riding.
We completed another marathon on the AH2, this one not fueled as much by fear of being busted for riding on the freeway as it was by just wanting to get the hell out of the neverending rain, for goodness sake.

When we finally pulled into a rest stop a couple of waterlogged hours later, we had added another 50 km to our day’s total, putting us at 126 kilometers at about 5:30PM. We would have happily chosen a nearby hotel, but unfortunately a nearby hotel wasn’t in existence, so we hopped back on the dripping bikes once more to tackle the last 30 kilometers to the quirkily-named New Wave Hotel Nilai 1/19.
This last 30 kilometers was one of the plot twists I mentioned earlier; I dreaded it and expected to hate it, but it was the best section of cycling the whole day. The climbs were a little draining, but the downhills were gloriously satisfying and even seemed longer than the ascents (typically the exact opposite is true). The weaving through traffic at high speed was more exciting than terrifying, though it encompassed a little of both. We flew through the last 30 km in a little over an hour, and despite its awkward sobriquet the New Wave actually turned out to be pretty nice, and clean, and located within a few hundred feet of a cheap Indian restaurant. All in all, it was a heartwarming and delicious ending to our novella of a day.
Totals today include 156 kilometers (97 miles), two flat tires, three new friends, a lot of dahl and chapatis, and zero times getting kicked off the highway. I’d call it a success.

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The One and Only Picture I Took Today 

Biking Toward Empowerment

Day Twenty-six, in Which I Crack Myself, and Only Myself, Up

One thing about a long cycling trip, especially when you and your partner are both wearing headphones most of the time, is that there are a lot of missed opportunities for humor. Time after time I’ve found myself chuckling to myself about some perceived hilarity only to find it didn’t quite translate hours later out of context. I’ve come up with some really good quality material that’s been wasted for lack of an audience.
Today while I was pedaling up a flooded hill in the Cameroon Highlands in the midst of a monsoon, I thought to myself:
“This must be what salmon feel like when they have to swim upstream to spawn.”
I started snickering to myself even as passing trucks doused me from head to toe with tsunami-height backwash. I wondered if the trucks would bother a salmon.
This triggered another train of thought in which I had a recollection of some book I read years ago (no idea of title or author) in which the author describes a woman wearing a feminist t-shirt that reads “A Woman Needs a Man Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle”. Of course this made me start picturing myself as a fish on my bike in the pouring rain, some sort of purple tropical fish because it was hot and I was wearing a purple poncho. More chuckling ensued even as the miles crept by at a snail’s pace and the cycling was, to be perfectly frank, utterly miserable.
I made myself remember the salmon spawning reference until hours later when Dave and I had a chance to converse again. Barely a smirk. I’m telling you, when it comes to humor and getting through monsoon season in Malaysia, timing truly is everything.
Other than the monsoon today wasn’t bad. I would have quite enjoyed the lush scenery of the highlands had I not been squinting at it through the torrential precipitation—the heavy raindrops actually slamming into my eyeballs made sightseeing a bit of a challenge.
We did have one other minor incident today, and unfortunately it may have provided Dave some future “I told you so” material. You’d never know it to look at us, but I am far more the push-the-boundaries type than Dave. Despite his gruff demeanor and head-to-toe tattoos, David Hunter is strictly a play by the rules type of man.
As for myself, I’m a limit-tester by nature. It’s not necessarily something I can help; I think it’s in my blood. This dichotomy in our way of approaching situations has occasionally caused some headbutting, and this cycling trip has not proved to be an exception.
He wants to take the path of least resistance; I want to take the one that looks the most interesting. He wants to book ahead; I typically prefer to wing it. He wants to avoid the highway because it’s illegal for cyclists; I figure that’s just some archaic rule sure to be impossible to enforce in these evolving times.
It was just this type of envelope-pushing, presumptuous behavior that got us personally escorted off the AH2 today by the Malaysian police. They were pretty nice about the whole thing actually. They simply told us to get off the highway, be safe, and not to come back. To his credit, Dave hardly gloated at all.
The unfortunate aftermath of this incident is that we may have to avoid the AH2 entirely for the rest of the trip, a route change which could tack on another 100 kilometers if we can’t sort out a few shortcuts. I may still push for some renegade highway stints after dark. I can work on some comedic material, perhaps involving a rebellious fish riding a bicycle in the dark which no one other than me will ever appreciate.

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Support for my cause (and my stupid jokes) is always greatly appreciated.

Biking Toward Empowerment

Day Twenty-Five, in Which We Feel Grateful

Although we awoke this morning on the island of Penang in the city of Georgetown, known in the culinary world as arguably one of the best food destinations in Asia, we ate our hotel’s slightly bizarre smorgasbord of tiny chutney toasts, miniature coconut pancakes, and other seemingly random tidbits because, well, it was the free included breakfast. It wasn’t bad, actually, and in the face of recent hardships it seemed a feast fit for kings.
We had sort of a lazy morning and just made the 11:20 ferry that crosses the one kilometer back across the Malacca Strait to Butterworth.

 

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Throughout our first couple of hours we tried first to outrun and then to wait out the ever present heavy rains, not without some success. When we realized the day was slipping away from us we poured on a late-game burst of energy and speed and finished our last 50 kilometers in under two hours.
There were some hills that felt pretty tough on my new gear-less bike, but the light weight does help to make up for the lack of gears.
We’re sleeping tonight in Kuala Kangsar, a small town nestled between two stretches of forested peaks. We’re 238 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur, so we should arrive there at some point the day after tomorrow.

I can’t believe how close we are. I can’t believe we’ve been riding for 25 days. I still can’t believe my goddamned bike got stolen, but I’m dealing with it. Luckily our hotel tonight has a hairdryer, so we were able to wash the single set of clothing each of us still possesses and we’ve been taking turns drying them with the hairdryer. So there’s that. We also found a grocery store that takes credit cards, has a good selection of vegetarian instant noodles, and some new spicy snacks and chocolate cookies we’ve yet to try. This also pleases us to no end.

Five days to go.
596 more kilometers.
370 more miles.
My Gofundme hit my “$2,000 by December 1st” goal and then comfortably glided by that number, so I’d like to take the time to send my sincerest thanks to all those who have contributed, both financially and in helping to network and spread the word. Thank you so, so much.

We’re nearly there now. We may pedal into Singapore naked on two children’s tricycles, but we’ll get there. Mark my words.

Biking Toward Empowerment

Day Twenty-Four, in Which We Attempt a Comeback From Disaster

This is a tough post to write. I haven’t felt as low as I did yesterday for quite some time.
Things started out well. We put a quick 50 kilometers behind us before even stopping for coffee and pedaled down the last of southern Thailand in a state of cheerful anticipation, pausing to photograph nearly every wat and temple and Buddhist image we passed. Wats became scarcer and mosques more frequent, the saffron robes of Buddhist monks turned to jewel-toned hijabs, spicy curry to spicy laksa. We crossed the border to Malaysia with greater ease than crossing a busy intersection; immigration on both sides was a breeze and a free three-month visa was issued immediately. Including exit stamps on the Thai side, cycling to the Malaysian side and getting stamped in, the entire process took about fifteen minutes erring on the conservative side.

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Once we were in Malaysia we pointed our bikes in the usual southerly direction with the usual vague plan to pedal until exhaustion and check for accommodation at that point.
We hit one big storm which we waited out under a bridge for a bit chatting with some locals who were also trying to escape the downpour, but other than that the ride was uneventful. Dave mentioned a couple of times that he had seen a few signs suggesting bicycles weren’t welcome on the highway, but I decided to eschew those suggestions and keep on keeping on.

I had the region of Kedah in mind as a first-night destination because it was about 50 kilometers south of the border; combined with the 85 we had completed before crossing to Malaysia it made for a good resting place before pushing on toward Penang. The city of Alor Setar sparkled on the horizon as we were coasting out the last of the storm (it’s monsoon season in Malaysia, turns out) so we headed into the city to find a room.
In a manner that was not wildly out-of-character for us, we had neglected to purchase a Malaysian Sim card or even exchange money, so we were already a few steps behind when we arrived in Alor Setar. We found a well-lit spot by a central mall and locked the bikes to a metal gate before going on a search for a money exchange and a Sim card.
About twenty minutes passed. We traded some baht for ringgits, bought a couple of  Sim cards and this crazily delicious thing that was kind of like a creme bruleé baked in phyllo pastry, and departed the mall.
As we were walking back toward where we had parked the bikes, something looked wrong immediately. I heard Dave say, “Holy shit, I think our bags are gone”.

I responded, “Yup, and even more importantly one of the bikes.”
One bike was left, a chopped bike lock, a raincoat and a shredded bungy cord. I started pacing in a small circle like a caged animal, as if my constant motion would unearth some clue to the whereabouts of our vanished belongings.
I screamed the “F” word, and then I screamed it a few more times for emphasis. I cried in anger, and then I cried in sadness and then I cried because I couldn’t think of anything better to do.

I thought about the last three weeks on that bike, muscling up mountains and flying down hills and drifting through wildflower-strewn valleys. I wrestled that bike into elevators and over steep, narrow concrete overpasses on highways. I poured sweat and blood and yes, even tears on that bike.
And then I started thinking about the rest of my stuff and unfortunately that didn’t brighten my perspective all that much. See, the thing about only carrying a 15-pound (7 kilo) bag is that nothing in it is expendable. I don’t own much that is expensive or luxurious, but everything in that bag was special to me. If you only pack fifteen pounds of everything you own, that fifteen pounds is bound to be made up of your favorites. There were t-shirts I bought in Nepal and Laos and who-knows-where-else over the years, jewelry that wasn’t valuable but meant the world to me, a Kindle loaded with books and photographs and things I’ve written. Dave lost a shirt someone he loves gave him over twenty years ago.
When we checked into our hotel in Alor Setar last night I was having a really tough time regrouping. The theft still didn’t seem real, and although this is an oft-overused writing cliché in response to crappy situations, I truly did long to wake up from what seemed to be a particularly malevolent dream. We ate some food. We went to sleep. We woke up. Our stuff was still gone.
At this point further ruminations on what could or could not have been done differently begun to seem pointless and irrelevant. The only thing to do was move forward, and the item that would make moving forward easiest would be a new bike. So I found a bike shop, bought a new bike, and we got back on the road.

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Of course, a few other things were involved, like buying a few items of clothing, a $5 backpack on clearance at the mall, and tying several items to the one remaining bike rack, but the bike was the main order of business.
Now here we are tonight in Georgetown on the island of Penang. Rather shockingly, this is exactly where I had hoped and planned to be tonight before my bike was stolen yesterday. Other than the fact that we rode in monsoon downpours almost the entire day and I spent a lot of money I didn’t really want to spend, today really wasn’t all that bad. It was an absolute picnic compared with yesterday’s abject emotional turmoil.
We have about 750 kilometers left to ride, a current total of one old bike, one new bike, two pairs of shorts, three t-shirts, one pair of sunglasses, two hats, four ATM/credit cards, and, most importantly, two passports and a whole lotta love.

Tomorrow we’ll be traveling lighter than ever toward Singapore. I’ll close with some photographs from Day Twenty-three, in Which Said Disaster Occurred and I Didn’t Feel Like Writing a Blog Post. They took my bike, they took all my clothes, but this stoic golden Buddha doesn’t need that stuff, and he seems to be doing just fine.

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Post Script:

Several people have contacted me upon learning of our misfortune wanting to help. This is incredibly kind and generous, and I am beyond thankful to have so many amazing humans in my life. However, I am fortunately able to cover my own losses as far as the bike and the contents of the stolen bags. If anyone wants to contribute, please give to the Women’s Empowerment Fund here:

Biking Toward Empowerment

Day Twenty-two, in Which We Sleep Our Last Night on Thai Soil

It’s nearly midnight so I won’t be able to write much tonight. I really can’t emphasize enough the emotional rollercoaster a trip like this creates; the side by side comparison of yesterday and today is a perfect illustration of my point.
Where yesterday was sweaty uphill struggles, today was coasting downhill past lush greenery, the lightest drizzle hitting my face and Wyclef in my headphones. Where yesterday we hit obstacle after obstacle, today everything we needed seemed to just land in our laps. Where yesterday we started early and still only ended up 101 kilometers closer to Singapore (pedaled 117, but 16 were utterly futile), today we had a relaxed late start and still completed over 150 kilometers, 94 miles.
There was a point where we were really hungry and Google maps indicated that the next rest stop was 17 kilometers away; no sooner had we resigned ourselves to this then a mysterious non-mapped rest stop with food appeared about one minute later.
Tonight when we were searching for accommodation and the hotel we were seeking no longer seemed to be in existence, a teenage boy with braces appeared seemingly out of nowhere and walked us right to a clean and reasonably priced guesthouse that also wasn’t on the map. He even spoke English, which is definitely rare in the smaller towns.
Despite all our good fortune, tonight still has a bittersweet taste for me as it will be our final night in Thailand. From where we crossed from Laos into northern Thailand at Sakon Nakhon just over two weeks ago to where we will cross the border to Malaysia tomorrow we’ve cycled 1,672 kilometers—1,039 miles.
This is my fifth time in this incredible country. After all the twelve-hour bus and train rides I’ve taken throughout Thailand over the years it’s such an amazing feeling to know that I’ve nearly cycled the length of the country. From the first time I visited here in 2008 with two girlfriends, to the time I traveled here on my own in 2009, to when I took Dave here as a birthday present in 2010, to the time I backpacked here in 2016 with Dave and my best friend, to this journey on two wheels—Thailand holds a tapestry of memories for me woven in infinite colors and infinite patterns. I have a love for this place that goes beyond delicious food and beautiful beaches; this country is tattooed on my soul.
Tomorrow we’ll spend our last baht, say our last sawadee kah and kop koon kah, maybe eat a last papaya salad and pad thai before we cross over to Malaysia. It will be my fourth time in Malaysia, another wonderful place, so of course there’s plenty of good things hovering on the horizon.

I never really experience sadness when I leave Thailand or Greece, because those are two countries to which I return again and again. They are countries that get in my blood, places where the patterns of memory never stop weaving, their threading becoming ever more intricate and even more beautiful with every stitch.

Day Twenty-one, in Which Everything that Can Go Wrong Does, and Somehow a Few Other Things Also Go Wrong

Look, it’s not necessarily that I forgot to write a blog post yesterday, it’s more that absolutely nothing, and I do mean nothing, noteworthy occurred.
We rode 135 kilometers (our running standard), it was hot, we went to several Seven Elevens, we found and slept in a perfectly nice but utterly forgettable hotel in a perfectly nice but utterly forgettable little town, and that was Friday, Day Twenty of our long journey south.
I could have pontificated upon some random and likely irrelevant subject or posted some artistic photographs of me drenched in sweat in front of a convenience store, or me drenched in sweat in front of a rubber factory (I do recall passing several), or, just to keep things interesting, Dave drenched in sweat in front of a pile of cow dung. However, I prefer not to waste your time or mine, and I also had a 9PM Skype meeting with my new job during my prime (and pretty much only available) blogging period. The meeting went well, incidentally.
Today, however, did not go quite so well. I wouldn’t so much say that the temperature increased as I would that the entire world transmogrified into molten flowing lava. The sweat was pouring from my body in rivers, even in places where raging rivers of perspiration don’t typically form, like wrists and elbows and ankles.
Again and again I pushed my sunglasses back up my nose as they threatened to get caught in the torrents and get swept into my wake, which, as I mentioned, was now pure lava.
It was difficult even to keep my hands on the rubber grips; I found myself trying and failing to locate a dry spot anywhere on my clothing to absorb enough sweat so I could even grasp the handlebars.
Even as I write this I started questioning whether perhaps I was exaggerating the situation or being melodramatic, so in the name of accuracy I checked the stats for today: 34° Celsius, 93° Farenheit, 93% humidity. Yup, it was a sweat fest.
Anyway, whatever, it was hot and we were uncomfortable, but all one can do is keep chugging water, try not to look at the sun, and seek air conditioning as a moth does a flame.
Our real problems began when Dave got a flat around 2:30 this afternoon. We’ve been pretty responsible about keeping extra tubes on hand, but as luck would have it we used our last tube a few days ago in Chumphon. We’d been keeping an eye out to restock, but we hadn’t passed a bike shop since the flat leaving Koh Tao.

We did a quick search on Google maps and found a bike shop ten kilometers south of our location (of course) at a Seven Eleven. I hailed an exiting pickup truck of two kind Thai women, explained the situation via gesturing at the flat tire and Google translate, and Dave hopped in the back with his bike.
Here’s where we made our fatal error. We both forgot we had crossed the highway to access the air-conditioned oasis of Seven Eleven, so Dave (in the truck) and I (on my bike) were both now heading due north in the exact opposite direction of both the bike shop and our intended destination. By the time I received Dave’s text that we were going the wrong way and he was now stranded ten kilometers north, I had already ridden at least seven kilometers in the wrong direction myself, which by Murphy’s Law just happened to be the seven hilliest, toughest kilometers of the entire day.

Imagine my delight when I realized I had to turn back and ride those same hills in the opposite direction. Against traffic. Into the headwind. Into the sun.
My next project was to find the bike shop (now 17 kilometers away). I conquered the hills for a second time, followed the directions meticulously to the place where the bike shop, Google maps assured me, was supposed to be located, but all to no avail. I did several slow drive-by’s in the tiny, rural off-highway neighborhood (inviting some serious stares), but there wasn’t anything even faintly resembling a bike shop in the vicinity.
Riding back to Route 41 in frustration, I met back up with Dave a little down the road, who’d ridden his own extra 20 kilometers on a hastily patched tube with which some kind passing cyclists had lent a hand. His back wheel was now seizing because of the bearings in the back hub, helpfully exacerbating the rest of the problems, so he now had to pedal standing up almost constantly.

At this point we’d all but given up on achieving anything close to our normal mileage, so we just pointed our bikes and our sweat-drenched bodies toward Thung Song, a town just over twenty kilometers south which we were reasonably confident contained both a bike shop and a hotel or two.
Now. At the risk of being indelicate but with a commitment to both accuracy and honesty, I have to make a brief note here about chafing.
I’ve heard about chafing, I’ve read about chafing, I knew it was a thing, but up until this trip, this week even, I’ve never personally experienced it. Again, this is a public forum so I’ll try not to overshare, but in addition to all the other issues of the afternoon I was in a position of pure agony due to the extreme heat and extended repetitive motion. I almost cried from the pain when I had to get back on the bike.
We made our way oh-so-slowly the last 23 kilometers to where the Thung Song Bike Shop should have been located, and wonder of wonders, it wasn’t there. At this point we drank a beer, booked a $14 room online, and called it a night. Tomorrow shall be another day, likely our last night in Thailand, and we shall move forward from the heat and useless exertion and agonizing chafing that encompassed today. Of this I feel the utmost confidence. I really do.

Day Nineteen, in Which We Get Back on the Road and Nothing Bad Happens, and This is Nice

Nuki, the kind woman from our hotel in Koh Tao, comes out to say goodbye this morning, addressing us both by name and giving us extra water to take back with us to the bikes. The sun peeks out from behind the lingering storm clouds of the previous evening, and the morning looks good as we walk from our guesthouse on Sairee Beach back to the pier.

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My body feels notably less decrepit. My knees appear to be operating normally, my head feels clear and if I weren’t just the tiniest bit hungover from the previous evening (There’s wine on Koh Tao! Actual wine!) there might even be a spring in my step. Oh, there were also fire dancers. With audience participation.

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We board the Lomprayah fast boat at 10:00AM and make our way to some of the few remaining unoccupied seats. The boat is significantly fuller than the one we took out to the island, and as lightning flashes outside, indicating a change in weather, I peer around uneasily to see if any of our youthful elephant-panted seat mates look particularly under the weather.
My fears turn out to be justified. The seas begin to froth and churn about thirty minutes into the boat ride, and several pairs of elephant pants go sprinting toward the back deck as attendees thoughtfully hand out vomit bags and rush out with mops to assist one or two unfortunate souls who couldn’t quite make it to the toilet.

I glance at Dave, who has been known to get seasick in a kayak on glassy water, but he’s engrossed in a movie and seems unaffected. My own stomach is rolling a little from the smell in the cabin, but I make it to Chumphon without incident.
My next focus of anxiety is the fervent hope that the bikes will be fully intact where we locked them two days ago. We alight at the pier in Chumphon just before noon and the rain is coming down in buckets; it’s the first time we’ve seen real rain since we arrived in Asia three weeks ago. We rush under the cover of the harbor restaurant and check on the bikes—they are just as we left them, except much wetter and with one flat tire. We grab some pad thai and curried tofu in the restaurant and Dave uses the last of our tubes to change my tire while I look over the map.
We wait out the rain for an hour or so as torrential downpours come in several escalating waves, and we use the time to rewrap our bags in black plastic trash bags. Wrapped, poncho-ed and raincoat-ed we hit the road once more.
In an afternoon’s mellow cycling made easier by the noted absence of the relentless blazing hot sun, we complete 90 kilometers in 3.5 hours.
It’s now 7:45PM, we found a decent hotel easily, and this entry will surely be dull to the reader. Once in awhile though  it’s pretty damn nice to have a day bereft of calamity or undue hardship. It may not make for much of a story, but it was a pleasant transition from our blissed-out rest day to life back on the road. All in all, it’s good to be rolling south again, 90 kilometers closer to Singapore.

We’re only $55 shy of my $2000 goal for December 1st, so if anyone knows anyone who might be willing to contribute, here’s the link:

Biking Toward Empowerment

Day Eighteen, in Which I Move Very Little, in Fact Almost Not at All

It was so strange to wake up this morning and not pack up and get back on my bike. We’ve done exactly the same thing for seventeen mornings in a row, with so little variation in our routine that we leave at almost exactly the same time every day. 7:30 came and went this morning, then 8:30. Sometime around 9:30 I managed to drag myself to a semi-seated position and work on a few projects I’ve needed to get done, like making sure to thank every single person who has been kind enough to donate to Biking Toward Empowerment.

The total today is $1945, just a hair under the $2000 goal I have for the 1st of December. This gratifies me to no end.
When I finally managed to extricate myself from the folds of soft, clean white hotel sheets, I put on some clothing that did not involve bike shorts or a sports bra (also for the first time in seventeen days), grabbed an iced coffee, and found a half-sunny, half-shady spot on the powdery sand of Sairee Beach under a coconut palm.

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The ocean has always been my solace, and today it did not disappoint. At 84° this morning (29°C), it’s warm enough that even the initial immersion is more soothing than shocking, and some float therapy was well received by my sore, bruised, burned and battered body. I thought about renting a motorbike to see more of the island. I thought about doing some yoga. I planned on taking a walk to a nearby viewpoint that supposedly offers a stunning vista of this side of the island.

I did none of these things.

I did make it about thirty feet away from the shady coconut palm for lunch with Dave (still on the sand) involving roast pumpkin and falafel and french fries and white wine, luxuries that would have seemed beyond the scope of the imagination just 24 hours prior, when we ate a dinner of instant noodles and water from the plastic counter of a Seven Eleven just off the highway somewhere north of Chumphon. Tomorrow night, dinner will most likely be something similar as we make our way south once more.
But today, our sole full rest day on the beautiful island of Koh Tao, I am more aware than ever of our incredibly, stupendously privileged lives. We feel as though we’ve endured hardship, but we’ve never worried about having a roof over our heads. We’ve felt ravenous and underfed scrounging for vegetarian food in rural Southeast Asia, but we’ve never known the feeling of being truly hungry. It doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy my white wine and falafel with my toes in the sand on Koh Tao. It means I will enjoy it more than I would have ever thought possible, and that I will be so grateful, so incredibly, stupendously grateful for everything I have. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting this cause.

Biking Toward Empowerment

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