Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Floating into Vang Vieng

is what we did today. After riding about 50k, we hopped into river kayaks and meandered down the gentle river for a couple of hours, arriving just before 5 pm. It was fun, even when the Japanese tourists in another boat overturned our kayak, putting Dan and me into the river. Ooopsie. Today is the first day in four days that I feel normal, at about 80 percent for riding strength. What a relief! What fun to enjoy eating again! I celebrated with a chocolatey pancake thingie covered in condensed milk.

To backtrack, we rode out of Luang Prabang on the 29th and had a hard day's ride with two large mountain passes with many ripply hills in between. About 50 miles total, over 6000 feet of climbing, including a 15 and 25 k climb and comparably long descents. I was still feeling rather poorly, but did the ride, going unbelievably slowly. It was so gorgeous, photos to come. One of the most lovely days of riding I've done in a long time. We spent the night at Kiu Kachan, a truck stop town on top of the mountain. The views were amazing, but the facilitieswere a bit limited. My tummy troubles reactivated during the night and I did not enjoy leaving the room with a flashlight to use shared rural toilets!!! Multiple times! Ughhhh!

The next day was another hard day and I was not in a happy place. I did most of the ride, but skipped one of the climbs, electing to ride in our truck and nap instead. I did make the most of the super long descents, which had frequent patches of unpaved road which were fun to hammer through on the mountain bike.

OK, must get ready for our New Year's eve dinner. Ben our guide has procured lao lao (rice liquor homebrew) mixed with goat's blood for the festivities. Not sure I'll try this one, but I am hoping Sue will! Dan is still feeling the effects of his cold and may stay in for the night. I'll be having an early night as well!

Happy New Years! And I will post again, probably in a couple of days from Vientiane.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cycling in Laos, wow!

We are in Luang Prabang, the Loas historic capital, a world heritage site, extremely quaint and the first time we've seen significant numbers of European and American tourists since entering Laos 5 days ago. I am uploading some photos taken each day. In sum, we crossed into Laos on small boats, had a wonderful slow boat trip from Chaing Khong to Pakbeng, rode about 50 miles to a small village, Ban Faen, about 60 miles to Oudomxay , another 60 in the rain (including a 18 mile descent in clouds, brrrr) to Pakmong, then another 60 to Luang Prabang, which I skipped since I have food poisoning, instead riding in a "taxi", actually a small truck, where I sat up near the stick shift crammed in with the driver and another sick trip mate (with about 10 additional passengers behind in the truck bed). More on food poisoning in a bit.

Riding in Laos is an incredible way to see the countryside. The rural villagers are incredibly friendly, and little kids line the street yelling ("sabaidee!") and demanding high-fives as we ride through the villages. I've tried to capture this on a video with limited success. It is simply extraordinary to ride into a town and be greeted by screaming children! Wow!

Not to mention that the village life is conducted largely in their yards or under their stilted houses. Limited electricity, reserved only for the nights, means that folks are outside their homes during daylight. So it's a bit like riding through their living room. Folks are eating, cutting/braiding hair, bathing and working-- threshing, weaving, chopping wood, preparing food, spinning, basket weaving and the like. We even had a couple of rest stops inside Hmong village houses (memories of west Philadelphia, of all things, where significant numbers of Hmong refugees were resettled in the late 70s).

So, the food poisoning. Pretty mild as these things go, but enough to get me off of the bike and into a taxi for the 100 k to Luang Prabang). This took over three hours due to poor road conditions -- k after k of single lane mud, there were some incredible truck truck passes, sliding tractor trailers passing within a foot of our small truck, passing kids, dogs, motor bikes and the like. Driving within the lane is optional, and the driver tended to stay right in the middle unless passing or yielding to larger oncoming traffic. I was cracking up the driver when I involuntarily gasped at several near misses (mostly animals, sometimes motorbikes).

I feel a lot better today, though still not eating much, and I plan to ride tomorrow, but may not make it through the entire day which features a 3000 foot vertical climb at the end of nearly 50 miles of hilly riding. Dan has a mild cold, and is quite fatigued but has been riding. Quite a lot of the group has caught this cold, one guy opting to fly out early today rather than continue.

OK, here are some photos. The computer is slow so I've only uploaded a couple of shots.

Map of our trip, prepared by Peter.


Our first rest stop in Thailand was at a gorgeous temple complex up on a hill over looking the river. there were dozens of these statues, and several wat as well.



Dan and Sue on the prow of the boat. The pilot of the boat let us sit out there, even though it is apparently less than legal. It was a terrific view! The slow boat was really scenic, and we passed numerous villages, observing fishing, farming, washing and other village activities on the shore. I spent most of the 7 hour trip looking at the view.


Kids running to see us in Ban Faen. Our tour company has provided charitable support to this village,including aid in building the school structure in the rear of the photo. We were treated to some Lao dancing by adorable little girls and given flowers.


Kids at the school.

Young monks cycling. The monk on the right was leaping aside to avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic, but the the left hand monk hung in for the photos. They spoke decent English and we chatted a bit.

Getting warm during a long rest stop in the rain. We had quite a wait for the slower riders and for our support truck, so joined these villagers around their fire. Peter in our group helped saw some wood.

Bamboo bridge across one of the two rivers that surround Luang Prabang. It seemed terribly fragile and I tried to keep my feet over the supporting bamboo bits.

Dan in the day market. He bought a big bag of what he thought was persimmons (orange things) but turned out to be something inedible and hard that is meant to use to brew a medicinal tonic. As he was crunching into the first one, a women advised us that they were inedible. ooop!

OK, must have dinner. next post possibly in Vientiane.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mekong river boat trip

We crossed into Lao on small boats (1 just for the bikes!) and
transferred to the "slow boat" for a seven hour ride down the river.
The bikes are on top (pictured)!

Cycling to the Laos border

I just wrote a long post which vaporized. No energy to repeat that so
this will be short. We are in Chiang Khong across the border with
Laos (pictured, Laos is, as seen from our hotel room). We'll cross
into Laos tomorrow and take a boat ride down the Mekong.
First full day of riding today. It was fun, hot, mostly gentle
rolling with a couple of short steep hills. Traffic was limited to
mostly motorbikes with smiling people shouting hello to the riders.
More detail from Internet cafe, probably in two days.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cycling in Chiang Rae

We traveled from Bangkok to Chiang Rae in northern Thailand this morning, about a 90 minute
flight. After lunch, which included some yummy gelatinous desserts, we picked up the bikes. Sue and I elected to rent mountain bikes which were deemed by the tour group to be more suitable for rough roads in Laos. Dan brought along his Ritchey breakaway road bike.

After a bike fit mini-drama, with Sue's first bike being teensy and some fit tweaking for me, we set off on a little ride. Once again, we gravitated to the food (local market, pictured), tasting tamarinds, sticky rice prepared in sugar cane leaves, and gawking at the insects and larvae (pictured, lower). After a visit to a local temple, we managed to get totally lost as it was getting dark. We asked for directions a couple of times (Dan cleverly showed photos of our destination to bridge the language barrier) and made it back ok. A fun shake-down ride! Ok, time to eat roasted chestnuts from the market.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wat Arun

Temple of the dawn. It's by the river and you are allowed to climb up two of the staircases. The steps are super tall and very narrow and I felt a bit of vertigo especially on the way down. I can't imagine getting up on the stairs without the assistance of the railing, which is a modern addition. The details on the carving are incredible. And we had a decent view over the river and the smoggy skyline.

Bangkok

Well I just noticed that I have a data signal so here's a quick update. We've been in Bangkok for about three day and it's been a frenzy of fantastic street food dining. The vendors are incredible, preparing full meals at tiny tables right on the street or grungy alleys. Can't say enough about how phenomenal the eating is.

We've also done some exploring, along with Sue who also arrived on Thursday. Friday was a veritable templefest- Wat Pho, Wat Aran, and the royal palace (photo is from one of the dozens of structures in the palace). We could climb up Wat Aran which was wildly exciting! Bad photo from this in the next post. We recovered from temple overload by riding river ferries and taking a dragon boat ride in the canals.

Saturday we went to the incredible Chatachak market- 8000+ vendors in an outdoor market selling anything and everything. Plus thousands and thousands of shoppers. Really cool and I wish I had a photo of some of the stalls to share. Then to Lampini Park where we found an international street performance festival attended mostly by locals. Today, we join the bike tour and fly off to northern Thailand to start riding towards Laos. More later if I have internet access.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Taipei

We made it on our flight despite some excitement on tuesday when I
realized at three pm that our flight was that night, not Wednesday
night! D'oh!
The flight was otherwise uneventful and we are laying over here en
route to Bangkok. More interesting photos to come

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This and that II

A blog update in two parts:
Cyclocross
The cross season was really fun and way too short, especially because I missed a ton of the early races because I was sick. I ended up doing 5 races- 3 super prestige and 2 of the Livermore series.

Livermore cyclocross-- love that series! Photo: flickr.com/photos/liveplayride

One theme this season-- no man's land. I'd end up riding essentially alone after about the first lap, stronger women ahead and out of sight and folks I passed behind me, often out of sight as well. I often found myself really holding back after the first lap, just maintaining my position relative to the riders who were behind. Not really pushing as hard as I could push for sure. Actually smiling for the photographers (see above).

Coyote Point

I tried something different at the last BASP race at Coyote Point- pushed hard in the first lap to stay with riders who were going pretty hard, and rode much of the race with folks in view (ahead or behind) to keep me motivated. I went a lot harder and was really happy with the race.

Overall, I had a good time, overcame some of my pre-race apprehension (last year I dreaded racing, though loved it once I got going. This year, I looked forward to racing much more) and generally had greater confidence. Technical stuff seemed easier and my mounts/dismounts were smoother, though I was still covered with mystery bruises after every race from smashing into the bike while racing. Things to do differently next year-- more intensity training prior to the season for sure. I'll need all the help I can get in the Bs (or possibly masters) next year.

Riding generally
This was a strange year for me, with shifting plans and goals. I started the year with a road race, felt it went rather poorly and launched on an organized training program, my first ever in my life. While I enjoyed this a LOT (I love having a plan, and especially loved weight lifting), I really really missed my long and/or fast group rides with friends (which didn't fit well in the training plan, or were not so much fun due to tired legs from the training plan, etc). I also didn't start mountain biking. Generally, failed miserably to balance the training and the fun part of riding. And I didn't do any racing all summer long, which sort of negated the hard work I had been doing. All in all, a little unsatisfying and I hope to do a bit of thinking about my goals and plans next year before embarking on a similar training effort. For now, I'm planning to do some of the early birds and start mountain biking in January. And yes, probably some weight lifting as well because I really love it. And more riding with friends this year for sure.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

This and that


I've received a complaint from my blog readership (n=1?) that an update is long overdue. I've got one coming, but in the meantime, please amuse yourself with this photo (credit: Dan, of course. Who else would photoshop a face and a quad???).