Monday, February 24, 2014

A Milestone: Six Months on the Road

My fellow CC Gracia members who rode with me on the first day-August 23, 2013

Six months ago today, I set off  from the Gracia neighborhood in Barcelona, where I religiously met my bike club every Saturday morning for that past 4 years for the weekly group ride.  This time, however, it was a Friday morning, and I wasn’t going to return home to Barcelona, I was going to keep riding to my other home, Eugene, Oregon, 14 months and 30,000 kilometers down the road.

The last breakfast I had with them on the Maresme

Today, February 23, 2014, it marked the sixth month anniversary of my trip.  It’s hard to believe I’ve been on my bike for six months.  In a way it feels like I just set off yesterday, but on the other hand, I feel like I’ve been living on my bike for the past 6 years!  I can’t believe I’m not even at the halfway time milestone yet- I’ve got 8 months to go, at least that is the plan!  Distance wise, I am a bit further along than I anticipated, just shy of 16,000 kilometers.  I haven’t gone six months without having an official job since I was a teenager and although I know many of you think that I am on one big vacation, bike touring can be hard work! 

Six months ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I had an image of myself riding my bike day in and day out, but I didn’t really know that meant as a lifestyle, nor the stories and experience it would bring.  I was excited but nervous, stressed and worried.   Had I done enough preparation? Was I ready?  The thing is, you can never be prepared enough to embark on a journey like this, you just have to throw yourself into it and start pedaling and you figure out a lot as you go.  Today, I’m  euphoric about my trip.  I don’t think I’ve ever been happier or known myself better as a person than now.  Each day is filled with surprises and adventures that continue to make this trip amazing.

What a fun last night I had with friends on the Costa Brava, Spain

Today as I often do on the road, I played a little memory game.  I tried to recall where I was a year ago and what I was doing.  Ironically at this time last year, February of 2013, when The Loong Way Home became a reality, I was at a major turning point in my life. I knew I had reached a time in my life when I needed to shake things up.  I always said I would leave Barcelona when I got bored.  That wasn’t the case, because “bored” just doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.  However, I could slowly see my motivation and ambition disappear the longer I stayed in Barcelona.  I needed to change something, but I couldn’t identify exactly what that was.  I asked to switch grade levels and started teaching fifth grade rather than second at BFIS.  Although I enjoyed the older students, it wasn’t the change I was looking for. I spent my February break at home in Oregon as I do every year, only this year I was also there for a job interview. The principal at a “dream school” on my list in Portland invited me to apply for a primary Spanish teaching position.  The job really excited me, but my bike trip was also equally present in my mind. 

It was hard for me to justify taking a year off from my job to foolishly cycle around the world.  It wasn’t the “normal” thing to do.  Maybe it would be a valid excuse if I were 10 years younger, but I was at a stage in my life when I was suppose to be 100% devoted to my career.  Deep down inside I knew exactly what I wanted, I longed to do the bike trip, but I looked for every excuse to follow the “normal” path.

I had prepared an engaging demo lesson and knew I’d be perfect for the Spanish job.  The thought of teaching Spanish really did excite me and giving Portland, Oregon a try sounded enticing. However, I walked out of the job interview knowing that it wasn’t the best representation of my teaching.  I had a big “what if” in my mind for weeks, What if I got the job,….Was I going to take it or do my bike trip?  You see, the previous year I had applied to a third grade homeroom position at the same school and was beat out by another teacher.  I was devastated.  This year, when I got the email that they gave the Spanish position to the other candidate I started jumping up and down.  I was ecstatic, relieved…..I had no excuses for not doing my trip, it had been decided. And so The Loong Way Home was born.

A lot of people ask me how I decided to do my trip and what is the hardest part?  To their surprise, I tell them it isn’t the consecutive days pedaling my bike, rather the actual decision to do this trip.  I am passionate about my career.  I LOVE being in the classroom, I LOVE teaching.  I am excited to grow as a teacher and l explore different pedagogies and collaborate with my colleagues.  I didn’t want to be disconnected from the classroom and the world I love.  Normally you don’t give up a job, especially at a time of an economic crisis in a city that I, as well as many others, consider paradise.  I LOVE living in Barcelona.  The sun shines year round.  In fact, it is rare not to be able to go for a bike ride due to bad weather.  There are plenty of places to run and hike in the foothills, beaches and boardwalks.  Winter sports are plentiful in the mountains, water sports are popular on the beach, and Barcelona is a city that invites you to wander, explore, and discover new places even after living there for 10 years. 

My second year teaching Grade 2 at BFIS

The decision to leave all of this wasn’t easy, but I knew I had to do my trip because even with the wonderful life I had made for myself in Barcelona, I wasn’t completely happy or fulfilled.  I knew I wouldn’t be happy until I finally gave in and listened to my heart and took the plunge.  Upon being denied the position, I was overcome with relief and a feeling of freedom.  All of a sudden I was confident and reassured that The Loong Way Home was soon to become a reality.  Had I been offered the job in Portland, I still don’t know if I would have accepted.  I like to think I wouldn’t have; that I would have had the courage to follow my dreams rather than what society says we should do….Doing what I want to do has always been a challenge for me.  Instead I do what I think I should do, or do something to please others.

My first flat tire on the trip.  No I didn't hav ea smile on my face changing the 5 to follow....

Ironically, the school contacted me 3 weeks after they gave the job to another person to offer me a fifth grade position.  I denied this opportunity, explaining to the head of school that I was adamant now about following my dream of cycling and she seemed to understand.  However, it didn’t stop her from offering me another position a month later, to cover a last minute sabbatical. Proudly, and to her surprise, I stood my ground.  There was no turning back.  I had made up my mind to do my trip and there was no turning back!

My happy pose-high on life

Click here to see just how happy I am on the road, it's a downhill.....

So here I am on the road, just about a year after making the decision to set out on The Loong Way Home.  Never once have I regretted my decision.  Never once have I looked back, in fact, I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner!
Here's to 6 months on the road and the random acts of kindness by strangers (who are no longer strangers)
Did I celebrate my 6 months on the road?  You betcha! That is a whole other story....I ended up meeting some lovely tourists from the Bay Area who invited me to dinner before I could even wash-up and change.  I ate with them in my sweaty bike clothes, and didn’t make it to the campsite until 11pm.  What a fun celebration!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Right Place at the Right Time

You hear a lot of people say, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but there is the flip side to that expression which is the RIGHT place at the RIGHT time and that is what happened to me at the New World supermarket in Hokitika, New Zealand.  I only needed apples....and to tell you the truth, I didn’t even really need them, but I had gone 4 days without seeing a proper supermarket and eating fresh fruit.  For me, that is enough to justify a stop at the supermarket.  However, I knew very well, that I wouldn’t come out with just apples, especially with the hunger I’ve had recently and entering right at suppertime.

Front row parking.....

I parked my bike outside New World, one of the 3 chains of supermarkets I’ve encountered here in New Zealand.  I like this chain because they have a fabulous bulk section, specials on their artisan breads (if you hit the bakery after 5pm), and free wifi…and I mean free as in you wouldn’t have to purchase anything nor ask for a little voucher card like at other places.  Really, you could, and I have, just stand outside and use their wireless.  Having said that, it is no surprise these supermarkets are hit heavily by backpackers, buying their dinners for the night, and stocking up on groceries for the following days.  Inside, it is common to see tour cyclists leaning against the pastry windows on their smart phones, backpackers on the bench by the carts checking emails…It is quite a sight to see! These places are happening, yet I didn’t expect to have such an eventful trip to the supermarket when I first pulled into town early this evening.  

I was due at my host’s house in Hokitika, friends-of-friends from Oregon, the Zuckerman’s.  In fact, I had called from a local gallery to say that I was heading up. Their house was 20 km from town, due east of my route and I had told them I would be there in about an hour.  I passed the supermarket at first and didn’t stop, but at the following round about I turned around.  I have very little self-control these days….

I didn’t even make it into the supermarket before my first encounter.  I parked my bike outside next to two other loaded touring bikes.  Coming towards me was a young lady.  I asked her if she was traveling alone and indeed she was.  She was young solo tour cyclist number three for me.  After going 4 years without ever encountering one, she was my third in 3 days.  Johanna, 21, was Swedish touring the south island on her own although she had just the other guy with her and they were going to head over a mountain pass together.  Impressive.  Of course, we got a picture together.  She hadn’t ever seen another solo woman touring and I told her about the other two I had recently encountered. 

They set off, and I connected to the wifi.  My phone started making all sorts of crazy sounds as I entered New World.  Of course from the moment I set foot inside, I forgot all about what I had come to buy.  In the last 4 days, the only fruit I had was from a can, except for some overripe bananas at lunch that day.  I know I say it a lot, but I do miss SE Asia, A LOT!  Food here is expensive and the cheaper items aren’t really nutritious.  I find myself eating the worst food possible for fuel in New Zealand.  In Asia I had loads of fruit, veggies, soy protein, and legumes,….Here that has all been replaced by chocolate, cookies, bread, trail mix, and canned foods.  I’m working on changing that even if it means breaking my daily budget for a few months!

So back to my story,….I did end up getting the apples, had my choice of cheese scones or garlic rolls on special (I chose garlic bread and ate half while wondering the aisles), raisins for my trail mix, and bar of chocolate to gift to my hosts.  I put back some other items I had in my hands after I asked a local about the super markets in the upcoming towns.  There was one in each “big” town.

I went to check out and I saw two cyclists behind me.  I asked them where they were from and it turns out they were on a group tour with a company from the states and in day one of their riding week.  They were buying wine and ground coffee,….It’s a whole other world when a SAG van follows you and carries your bags!  My last pit stop was meant to be the toilet.  It made my evening to find hand sanitizer in the dispenser of the bathroom.  I was in need of a refill since Singapore (hey, no judging with this gesture,.. a post is soon to come about the tricks of the trade with tour cycling). 

Topped off the hand sanitizer
I had my items in my bags, kickstands were up and I was ready to go.  But wouldn’t you know, up came a young gentleman asking me where I was coming from.  I told him where I started and of course that led us into a conversation about bike touring, which it seemed he had done plenty of.  We talked and talked and shared stories about biking.  He was also a runner, hiker, kayaker, and worked as a fire fighter.  From his accent I thought he was Kiwi, but it turns out Clinton was from Sydney and on holiday exploring the South Island, a place he visits often for all the outdoor activities.  He was on his way to a trail running race tomorrow, which got us into talking about marathons, triathlons, bike races,….you name it.  Every time we went to say good-bye, a new topic of conversation arose and we continued to chat. 

In the mean time, the group of Czech cyclists in a guided tour rolled up with their guide. I’d seen for the past four days (ever since my night at in the camper van) and shared 2 campsites with them.  I never see the riders actually riding, but the driver honks at me with a van full of cyclists at different places on the main road.  We are like good old friends by this point and so I interrupted my conversation with Clinton to greet them!  Afterwards, we picked up our conversation again.  This time he was giving me ideas for cycling in Australia and my route in Tasmania when my friends Coen and Oliver rolled up (from my previous post).  I had seen them the previous night in Hari Hari at the campsite, but I had stayed with a Warm Showers host, so I hadn’t caught up with them about their ride for the day.  We said our good-bye’s for good this time as they were headed back to Christchurch tomorrow and I was going north.  These two and Oliver’s dad were good fun, always with a smile on their face and cracking jokes.  What fun!

My loyal Czech cycle guide, I've been with them 5 days on the road now

They went in to do their grocery shopping and Clinton and I continued to talk. By now, almost 2 hours had passed since I had called my hosts to let them know I was coming.  Clinton nicely offered to take me up to their house, even though it was in the complete opposite direction for him.  I wasn’t going to accept, not because I don’t take rides from strangers, but I don’t go in cars.  However, since my hosts lived totally off my route by 20 kilometers, I thought that justified the car ride.  He wasn’t helping me progress on my route, rather it was more like a wee detour!  Poor guy had never entered the supermarket to buy what he needed, so while he did, I unloaded the bike and tried to get it in the car he had rented.  It wasn’t easy, but when he came out, with two people and both the wheels removed, it fit!   

I had a map to guide us, but of course with all the talking in the car, I navigated us poorly and we took a few wrong turns.  Eventually we made it and I was thankful that I had chosen the car.  Tomorrow I have a big day and I was fine getting in as much “rest” as possible today. Besides, as you know, I always enjoy good company, especially someone with similar interests. 

Clinton probably regretted offering to take me to my host's house, took awhile to get the bike in his hired car.

I laugh now as I write this blog with the biggest smile on my face.  No two days are ever the same for me.  Just this morning a student at the South Westland Primary School asked me if I ever get bored or lonely.  How can I possibly have time to get bored or lonely on this trip, my days are so entertaining! The strange thing is, had I really decided not to go to the supermarket and instead headed straight up to my host’s house, my evening would have unfolded in a completely different way.  Sadly, I probably won’t ever see any of the people mentioned in this blog ever again.  But for me, my night of meeting the third solo female cyclists out on the road, greeting my Czech friends, wishing my French/Dutch guys good-bye, and meeting a nice Ozzy was memorable.  Not to mentioned I arrived at my host’s place on cloud nine, full of adrenaline, to find out that they themselves are also really fun, lively people! Together, we enjoyed a delicious meal and great conversation and stories.   

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Memorable Moments: When it Rains it Pours

My company for 120km in the rain
Every now and again I have some really memorable moments that make certain days stand out more than others.  Recently however, I’ve had a lot of them so when I say “when it rains, it ours”, I mean that in the literary sense rather than literally, but actually one of my most memorable days recently was a 120 kilometer day in the pouring rain.  Okay, maybe it was only 118 kilometers because when I set out it was dry, but 2 kilometers down the road it started to drizzle.  The drizzle turned to light rain, then showers, then dissipated. At which time I sang “Mr. Golden Sun” trying to work my magic on New Zealand’s storms, which unfortunately have a mind of their own - completely oblivious to the positive talking and singing.

It spit down the entire day and never let up, but you know, I have to say 120 kilometers in the rain wasn’t that bad.  First of all, it wasn’t cold.  Not like the day I cycled for 60 kilometers in the downpour in Bosnia and couldn’t feel my fingers because the temperatures were down around 4 or 5C. On this day, I did the whole stretch before lunch in a short sleeve wool shirt and a wind vest and shorts.  Why didn’t I wear rain gear?  The more gear you wear in the rain the more you have to dry out at the end of the day! 

They set off optimistically as well!  Rain??? NO!!!

The previous night I had also met Oliver, his father, and Coen, his friend and business partner at my campsite.  They were really nice young men, who had gotten an earlier start to the morning.  I kept motivated that day hoping that I would find them along the way.  I knew my services were limited, in fact in 120 kilometers, I was told there was only one restaurant at a salmon farm.  My GPS was inside my handle bar bag, so I had no idea how far I had gone or the time, but eventually I came across the restaurant.  I didn’t see their bikes from a distance and I admired their toughness for continuing to pedal. Even though I had food for a picnic, I decided to stop and treat myself to a meal.  I parked my bike in the car park and walked down the covered walkway dripping as I went.  To I my surprise, I found their bikes parked under the covering.  We all had the same idea…take cover, have a quick break, and keep pedaling to Fox Glacier, the next town with services along the road.  I luckily had a host waiting for me, the Thomson Bike Tour mechanic I had met previously by Mt. Cook.  They were set on getting a cabin or hostel for the night rather than camping in the rain.  Oliver, Coen, and I rode together for the next 60 kilometers.  It wasn’t as if we could talk a lot riding as a group of three.  There was poor visibility in the rain and we had to go single file.  However, it was nice to be in their company and I put myself behind their wheel and let them do the harder work! 

I never usually go 60 or 70 kilometers without eating and when we arrived in Fox, I was famished!  I couldn’t even make it to the picnic table on the porch at the information booth.  I collapsed on the steps and eat anything and everything I had in my panniers in order to be able to think straight again.  And wouldn’t you know it had stopped raining when we arrived?  We took a few photos, said our good-byes, and hoped we would see each other the following day on the road as they were all headed north!  I went to find my host, and was well looked after for the night.  I was in the company of a bunch of Glacier guides who gave me all sorts of camping tips and how to pack light for trips. I am determined to get the weight down on my bike, I am struggling with the added gear I shipped to New Zealand from SE Asia.  I’m used to it now, but an extra 10 kilos makes me so much hungrier throughout the day, or at least I think that is what is contributing to the ferocious appetite I’ve developed.

February 18, 2014- 15,000 kilometers on The Loong Way Home

Click here to see a short video clip of my celebration/Cliqeu aqui per a veure un petit video de la meva celebració

The day before the rainstorm was also quite memorable, not only because it was sunny, but because I hit a landmark distance of 15,000 kilometers on the road.  This happened just shy of being on the road for 6 months on my way over the Haast Pass crossing over to the West Coast of New Zealand. I was in the middle of nowhere and so I took advantage to make a fool of myself and do a little dance and celebration on the road.  I can’t believe I have made it 15,000 kilometers in under 6 months, and have another 8 months to go.  If you do the math, that means 30,000 kilometers might be an underestimation of my total route.  I might have to cycle past Eugene, then come back north to still arrive punctually on my birthday in October!  I have a great route planned for the west coast of the United States and Canada and I’ve added every detour imaginable, and it still only comes to about 10,000 kilometers.

Kara Froese, Canadian, 21 years old, clcying New Zealand solo for 3 months

On the same day I hit 15,000 kilometers, the longawaited day to meet another solo female cyclist came!   I had just told the students at a local school in Queenstown, New Zealand that I was hoping to find another solo female tour cyclist on the road, and two days later in happened.  I saw a lookout ahead and another cyclist pulled over.  They had all yellow bags like myself, the same set-up with three on the back and two in the front.  As I got closer, I could see it looked like a young lady.  In shock, I foolishly asked, “Are you a lady?  A solo female cyclist?”  She said yes in a similar tone I have when I answer the questions, “Are you traveling alone?”  Of course I can tell the difference between a man and a woman but I was so surprised to see a lady on her own.  I had been waiting my entire cycling lifetime to encounter her and here she was!!! A Canadian, Kara Froese, who I thought was more or less my age.  Later on, I found out she was 13 years younger! I couldn’t believe it! A 21 year-old solo female cyclist.  What an inspiration! If only I had discovered this passion earlier.  She was on her first tour ever, spending 3 months riding around both of New Zealand’s islands.  She had more time and more manageable daily distances than me and had done crazy things like sky diving.  She didn’t have funny stories to tell about the men she’d encountered, but rather with wild animals like opossums that had attacked in the middle of the night; they frighten me more than the men!

Go ladies!!!!

We cycled together to the next campsite where I left her off and kept going.  It was a tough stretch of road that we did together with a brutal headwind, but for some reason, it was more manageable in good company.  We rode single file, but of course managed to find a way to talk the entire time to share our experiences and laugh a lot.  It was great to share tips and stories with another lady.  There are certain things you just can’t talk about with guys in the world of cycling and women need each other for a bit of moral support.  I was so excited to have met Kara, I left her feeling inspired and know that is the reason I could make the difficult climb over Haast pass later that afternoon.  Ironically, 2 days later I met another woman on the road, solo.  This time a French lady double my age on a recumbent bicycle, Diana.  It gave me goose bumps when I met her.  When I grow up, I hope I’m like her and still cycling. Like I said, when it rains it pours!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Monkeys and Motor Homes

Me and my camper van for the night

Monkeys and motor homes …….Yep! Those are two things I dreamed about having as a little girl when I grew up.  Not so sure about the monkeys, I think it came from my love to take care of animals and have a pet. I thought a monkey would be the ultimate pet, but later on, growing up, that dream slowly fizzled away and I settled for hamsters, mice, frogs, fish, and turtles.

The motor home, however, has always been in the back of my head.  When I was younger, I wanted a motor home so that I could travel around during the summer from craft fair to craft fair selling my arts and crafts.  At that age, I already knew I had a strong creative side and loved art.  Growing up, my family did a lot of road trips with the five kids, but we never had a camper van. We came across a lot of them on the roads so the idea stayed present in my mind.  However, I didn’t even step foot inside of one, except for maybe at a car lot when they were on display and for sale.  But wouldn’t you know, last night I finally ended up sleeping in one and I was the happiest young lady in the world!

A storm is in the air.....
This trip is always keeping me on my toes.  As I’ve stated many times, I never know what to expect from one day to another.  For the last five days I’ve had the most wonderful time traveling with my parents, staying in nice hotels, eating delicious meals out a restaurants and touring the southern portion of New Zelandand’s South Island by car.  Sadly, I left them yesterday morning, set off for a school visit in Queenstown and then hit the road to ride 70 kilometers to Wanaka.  Rain was hovering in the clouds above me and I kept telling them they could let down as soon as I arrived at my destination.  They listened.  I arrived at Wanaka and not a drop of rain, so of course I pressed my luck. I stocked up on some food at the supermarket and decided to ride just a bit longer to a campground 15 kilometers up the road. If it had been raining I probably would have treated myself to a hostel.  By the time I arrived at the campground, it was almost dark and looked like the storm was just about to come.

I asked the man at the reception who seemed quite friendly for a campsite that was more protected than others. I was ready to accept my fate, well almost….In the past I’ve been lucky to camp under BBQ areas and picnic sights if it was raining, just to keep dry.  There’s nothing I hate more than packing up a wet tent in my bag. He replied by saying “You mean trees? Take your pick there are trees all around!”  I looked at him with a big smile and asked if he was fully booked and pointed up to one of the cabins that looked empty to see if I could possibly pitch my tent under one of the overhanging.  Then I proceeded talking, doing something I never do.  I started smooth talking him, not so much out of pity, but for fun, I could see he was a jolly older fellow in good spirits.  I told him how much more fun it was to camp and stay dry and that I had a long day ahead of me tomorrow.  I told him I had cycled 15,000 kilometers and that I have 15,000 to go!  He replied with the proposal to pay $3 NZD to stay in a motor home.  I didn’t think twice, I took it! In fact I was so thankful, I started to express my gratitude and the young gentleman behind me, a tourist too, became really entertained as well!  I told him he just became the nicest man on all the South I sland and the first to offer me a discount.  I thought I had found the deal of the day earlier when I stopped at a McDonalds for a 60 cent ice cream cone and got 30 minutes of free wifi, but he had just topped that.  I explained to him a bit more about my trip and suddenly Darren, the tourist behind me, and I were the best of friends.  Darren admitted that he wouldn’t sleep soundly if he knew I was out all night in the rainstorm.  I would have settled for just a porch to protect my tent, but with a motor home, I couldn’t complain, it was a dream of mine that was about to come true.

My windows were weatherized with duck tape
I wheeled my bike over to the RV section of the campsite to see what awaited me.  There sat a motor home that was probably older than I was.  A few of the windows had been bashed and taped up with duck tape.  Inside there were 3 single beds and a double with an enticing Speights Beer poster overhanging the headboard.  I had a kitchenette and a mini bedside table. The motor home even had a small skylight above my head and there were windows on every side tinted so that I could enjoy my view but no one could see me!  It was perfect, more than I needed for a good night’s sleep.  In fact, if I were in Vietnam, they probably would have expected that I go out on the town and find people to fill it, and charge me more!

Sweet dreams with my favorite Kiwi beer

Click here to watch the short video tour of my motor home

By the time I got settled, showered, and prepared my dinner in the campground kitchen, a gourmet can of chickpea curry on quinoa, it had started raining, but only a light sprinkle.  To my surprise, the clouds never let go and the entire storm passed with only a few sprinkles.  I was relieved to sleep protected just in case it had rained.  I did sleep pretty soundly, except for the fact that I had an usual dream.  I dreamt that a man kept knocking on the door of my motor home trying to get in.  I kept sending him away but in the end the only way I could escape was to drive away (this camper van wasn’t the driving type in real life, it had to be attached as a trailer, mind you).  So I started driving the motor home all around the lake and town trying to flea.  No, I wasn’t panicked or frantic in my sleep, and I didn’t awake abruptly, …..I guess the dream so closely paralleled my reality, a familiar experience I had back in China, except without a motor home.  Therefore, I couldn’t be bothered to let the dream really disturb my sleep, it just made me think of my young Chinese cyclist friend back in China, Jaume, ha!

My motorhome even had bike parking

Now that I’ve tried out a night in a motor home, I must admit, I’d love to do it again.  In fact, I’m already starting to think about a trip around New Zealand, not on a bike, but in a motor home kayaking and hiking on the tracks in the national parks.  What an adventure that would be! 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Wee Things I Miss....

After the question, Are you alone? and Where are you from?, “What do you miss most on your trip?” is one of the more frequently asked questions.  In the first few months, the list was small, actually nil, now 6 months later, it has started to grow.

Yes, there are a ton of restaurants in New Zealand, but I missed cooking, especially my favorite recipes!

I miss some small, insignificant things, such as food that comes in the form of weird cravings.  I didn’t realize how much I missed cottage cheese, for instance, until it caught my eye in the grocery store when I arrived in New Zealand and I had two containers back-to-back for lunch and dinner.  I missed chocolate all throughout SE Asia, but I quickly curbed that craving when I arrived here.  Before coming to New Zealand, I had missed conversations in English (Spanish or Catalan would have done as well) where you could really go more in depth and actually have an interesting or deep conversation without struggling with the language.  I missed seeing outdoorsy people, dressed in their rugged mountain attire wearing hiking boots, driving camper vans or cars with kayaks strapped to the top or bikes hanging off racks on the back.

These guys receive a postcard from me every month, I'm dying to see them in person though.
When I ask kids at schools what they think I miss most they usually say my friends and family.  Yes, they are one of the three things I miss most with my life on the road.  However, I'm used to living far from family and friends, I've been abroad for a little over 10 years, and away from home since college.  Usually I visit twice a year.  However, I worked all through last summer and missed my normal visit, which means February break of 2013 was the last time I had been home.  Since then, there has been a new addition to the family and I’m dying to see Owen, my new little nephew.  I Skype with them frequently, and now that my parents are here, it seems as though I just saw them yesterday!  We’ve been able to catch up, talk, and laugh telling funny stories just like any other one of my visits.  They haven’t changed at all, and neither have I, except for some stronger legs on me. 

Mom and Dad, nothing changes! It made my trip to meet them in New Zealand!

Once I have little Owen in my hands, I don't think I'm going to let go!
I do miss being around people who know me and my history and vice versa.  Sometimes I feel like I’m a broken record repeating my brief introduction when strangers ask about me out on the road. It does feel weird that my friends in Barcelona who were by my side for the past 10 years have suddenly taken on the title of Friends from when I lived in  Barcelona….. Just like the friends I have when I was in York, Alfred, and Oregon…..I do miss my family, but I’m used to being away from home.  I haven’t lived in Oregon for a loong time.  

Never had taught all sweaty in a bike kit before,...the kids didn't care and neither did I, we had a great time.

When I visit schools, I realize how much I miss my students.  After my school visits in Penang, I left with a feeling of longing to be back in the classroom, around those lively active minds all day long!  I would have stayed with the kids at Fairview International School and continued on with their unit in energy, or gladly helped out in Singapore where they had me talking about maintaining a healthy lifestyle looking at physical, mental and social health.  I enjoyed preparing those talks because it made me reflect on my trip in a way I hadn’t before and then I had to figure out how to communicate this to a young primary audience.  It made me eager to be back in the classroom and I started reminiscing about my years at BFIS.  In fact, two weeks ago, I found myself a click away from applying for a job opening at my dream school.  It was a real struggle to refrain and in the end I emailed the principal and luckily it had been filled.  I say “luckily” because if the position was still available, I don’t know if I would have been able to refrain from applying in order to continue my trip until the October 2014.  I have to remind myself that I have the rest of my life to teach, and I can’t say the same about this year.  It might not be possible or as easy to do later on.  

This is my current home

The third and final thing I miss might seem silly, but I’ve just recently started to notice it more and more.  I miss intimacy!  No, not in the sense of a companion or a relationship, per say, but privacy.  I’m constantly out in the public eye and exposed to the world on the road.  I can pull over and rest, stop at a restaurant or café, or find a field where I can camp, but it’s never truly my space to be alone,….somewhere that is mine, a place I’ve created and feels like home.  For the past 6 months, I’ve been portable, constantly on the go, and almost never in the same place two nights in a row.  Home tonight is a motel room, last night it was the guest bedroom at a friend’s relative house, and the night before that in my tiny little tent.  My possessions all fit in my 5 bags on my bike, and that might not seem like much, but right now, I wish I had half that weight as I struggle on this unforgiving terrain on the south island.

Yes I do miss these things, but I know that I won’t spend the rest of my life on my bike (or at least I think I won’t). Thankfully, I'm able to put this experience in perspective.  My day-to-day life on the road is manageable and fun because of my outlook on the whole experience.  I try to think in terms of each day and not always the big picture. One days turns into two, three, then 190, my current day tally, which will soon become 425 days or 14 months.  The Loong Way Home is a once in a lifetime experience, that I cherish each day because of all the experiences it brings.  From the sights I see, to the people I meet, and the different cultures I experience, it is hard for me to dwell on the things I don’t have or miss.  In fact it really amazes me that I can go this long without some of these things and still be happy, fulfilled, and motivated to continue pedaling tomorrow.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

UUhhs and AAhhs of New Zealand

They call it the country of "Long White Clouds", now I understand why

Yes those are the only words coming out of my mouth these first few days in New Zealand as I ride by some incredible sights.  Actually Oh my gosh!!! And Jolin!!! (the Spanish translation for no way) follow all the oohhhs and aahhs.  The scenery blows my mind.  In a way, it’s familiar and reminds me a lot of Oregon.  I started my tour of the south island in Christchurch and headed southwest across the plains over to Mt. Cook.  This area was surprisingly flat and dry.  I could smell the pine trees in the air and the water evaporating on the crops coming from the irrigation sprinklers in the fields.  Again, familiar smells that we also have in Oregon. As soon as I acknowledge the fact that I wasn’t expecting to see so much flat countryside, it started to get hilly.  I looked down at my bike computer expecting to see an absurd amount of climbing, but to my surprise I didn’t.  I realized it was because the hills didn’t last long, they are short and sweet, but, continuous. There was not one flat section of road for at least half of the kilometers I did during day two. 

I feel a bit out of place here, although tour cyclists are a common occurance.  I’ve already seen 5!  In fact they don’t even stop to chat on the road.  I pulled over today as a couple went by and they just kept on pedaling.  The sight of other cyclists for me is still a novelty, I guess not for them!  I feel like I’ve been transplanted to a western developed area where everything runs smoothly and works properly.  My mind (and heart) is still somewhere back west in SE Asia and will shortly catch up to my legs that are pedaling frantically here in New Zealand.

Mt. Cook was my backdrop for a good 50km 
The distances here are incredible because the landscape is vast.  I can’t believe how immense everything feels.  I can ride kilometers and kilometers on the same road and the mountains and hills in the backdrop never seem to change.  Except for the camper vans that whiz by and the rental cars, there is little civilization to be seen here.  In Asia, in the same amount of kilometers, I would have passed 3 small villages, a couple dozen people who all greeted me, and a handful of food stalls.  The kilometers in SE Asia went by quickly because of all these different sights.  Here I’m finding that my days pass by more slowly.  Everything seems so far off in the distance, where as in Asia it was much more intimate and closer.  Although I don’t have the same roadside entertainment as I did in SE Asia, I do have some new distractions.  New Zealand is filled with rugged outdoorsy men and I sure don’t mind keeping an eye out for them as I pedal!  I’m a sucker for that accent as well, they all sound so sophisticated, I love it!

Nuts, cheese, dried fruits, back to the basics in New Zealand

Food stalls, well, they just don’t exist here.  There are several little towns dotting the map, mostly touristy developments with little cafes and pubs.  Therefore, my front left pannier, which I put back on my bike after going without in Asia, is filled with food items.  At $4 a cup of coffee and $20 for a simple lunch (sandwich and drink), I don’t think I will be frequenting many restaurants here in New Zealand. Today I bought powdered milk and instant coffee and I was a sad, reminiscing about the days when I would drink 3 to 4 delicious coffees with condensed milk at 30 cents apiece.  Powered milk just doesn’t compare, not even the full fat version!  I’ve gone back to supermarket picnic lunches, eating all sorts of dried fruit, cheese, and crackers.  I can’t believe I survived off of beverages and fruit during my days cycling in SE Asia.  Here, I find myself eating three or four big meals during my ride, in addition to breakfast and dinner.  I can’t seem to get enough fuel!  Without the heat, my body gets hungry faster.

Love my grocery stores here!

The heat, another thing I miss here in New Zealand.  The weather has also caught me off guard.  My body had acclimated to SE Asia’s weather, which was incredibly humid with temperatures were right around 35 Celsius (95-100 Fahrenheit), never fluctuating more than a few degrees from morning to night.  Here, I’m lucky if the temperatures reach 25oC!  In fact, two nights ago my hosts started a fire in their fireplace and I was dressed in my long underwear leggings and long sleeve wool shirt.  Remind you, it is summer in New Zealand…..My body is in climate shock to say the least and I have a hard time staying warm.  I don’t shed the winter arm warmers and vest until about 1pm, and some days I simply ride with my vest all day long.  I’ve worn it more in the past 3 days than I have on my entire trip!  I’m hoping I will soon adjust but for now, I spend a good part of the day with goose bumps, and try to pedal faster to get warm.  Having said that, the sun is incredibly strong because unfortunately there is a whole in the ozone layer about New Zealand and Australia. The UV rays are very powerful and it is easy to get burned.  I’m coating on the Natura Bisse UPF 50 sunscreen!

Another big change from SE Asia to New Zealand are the prices, I can’t get used to them, I’m appalled!  I knew I was going to be doing a lot of camping and supermarket picnics, but even so, I can’t seem to keep my jaw from dropping when I look at the price tags.  How do people eat healthy here when fruit can cost sometimes 10 New Zealand Dollars a kilogram and vegetables the same?!?  The prices were similar in Malaysia, but there I was dividing the currency by 4 or 5 and in Laos by 10! Here, the New Zealand Dollar is more or less the same as the American Dollar and slightly weaker than the Euro.  I’ll be curious if I can stick to my budget of $17 a day.  I’ve got plenty of time to think about how to get creative and cheap with my diet.  I tend to justify my expenses thinking this is most likely a once in a lifetime trip…however, I say that with a big grin on my face!

I met these British tourists at Lake Pukaki, also cyclists, but this time in a rental car

I forget people speak my language (with a bit of a different accent). On the first day, out of all the cars that passed me, I only got one honk.  In the morning of my second day, I finally got some waves.  I was crossing a bridge and cars could only go in one direction at a time.  I put myself behind a line of traffic and followed.  However, I couldn’t keep up with them, so the cars in the opposite direction waiting on the other side, started to come through.  No problem, the first three were small, and so they passed easily and waved.  I waved back.  My hand was still up as the fourth was about to come, so I proceeded to wave with a big smile on my face.  It was a bigger red sedan with a wide trailer attached to the back.  The man started saying something to me and of course, I assumed he was going to cheer me on, like I was used to in SE Asia.  Well, instead a loud “F*** you biker! Park it!” came out.  I of course, still had a big smile on my face and actually started laughing, being completely off guard by his negativity.  Perhaps all the people were saying the same thing to me in Asia, but I just couldn’t understand them.  However, they all had big smiles on their face and this man was as red as his car in the face.  I don’t understand how one cyclist can make someone so upset, come on!  ¡¡Vaya mala leche tio!!

Sweet Dreams

Don’t get me wrong , I’m not complaining, just taking in my new environment, making observations, and naturally comparisons come about as I try to get my wheels churning here in New Zealand.  It has been a dream of mine to visit New Zealand for a long time.  As a teacher, working during the Kiwi summer, I knew a trip here was going to have to wait until special circumstances, in order to enjoy it during their summer months for an extended period, so that is what I’m doing here in New Zealand on The Loong Way Home! 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Buxum Bike Box: A New Sponsor

My Ventoux Buxum box waiting for me in Singapore
Lots of people ask me if I have sponsors to do this trip.  In the beginning I looked for a few sponsors for some of my gear and materials.  A lot of local companies pulled through from Barcelona to help me prepare my bike and get the correct gear, I even got the support for some special services. However, halfway through my tirp, I never thought that I would land a new sponsor.  Recently Buxum gave me a bike box to use for transporting my bike to complete the rest of my trip.  To remind you, my bike was delayed and hung out in Dubai for a week while I was in Hong Kong.  When it showed up, the box was completely tattered and the front fork slightly bent.

It just so happens that Ed Morris (the same Ed that accompanied me for a week in the Mekong Delta and Cambodia during the holidays and also witnessed the state of my bike’s arrival in Hong Kong) is starting up a bike box business called Buxum.  I will put his bike box to the test for the remaining flights on my trip, and so far, it help up well in the first Trans-Pacific flight from Singapore to New Zealand.  I can’t say I’m surprised; Buxum’s bike suitcases have been brilliantly engineered with the discerning athlete in mind and aimed at matching the highest expectations.

Here's Ed packing up his bike in the Galibier box.
Ed has over 25 years of cycling experience, traveled thousands of miles on planes with his own bike, and he’s an engineer.  He started Buxum after noticing a lack of bike boxes in the market to cater to the various needs of cyclists and different bike frames.  He had purchased a touring bike with couplers so that it could be disassembled and fit into a normal size suitcase.  However, those normal size suitcases on the market were poorly designed and manufactured, so he decided to design one of his own coming up with what he call the Galibier.  A bike box for those cyclists who own a bike with couplers that can be transported as normal checked luggage.  Shortly after the Galibier came the development of two other larger models, the Tourmalet and Ventoux.  The larger the bike box, the less disassembly required.  However, each box is made with aircraft grade aluminum that can be recycled, making it a green product choice.

How does something so big and clunky get in a box that small? Leave it to Buxum.

As you might expect, I have the Ventoux, because for me, it’s a headache to take apart my bike and reassemble.  I prefer minimal work!  My Ventoux bike box was waiting for me in Singapore.  The packing it up and unpacking the bike is suppose to take 5 minutes.  I would say this was wishful thinking for me, as my bike was fully loaded with a front and back rack, 2 mudguards, and a front and rear kickstand.  I also have to admit that I always have a bit of extra help from a friend or a shop at the time of packing up my bike.  So disassembling it to transport using Buxum, was a first-time solo event.  Once the racks and kickstands were removed, it took me about 20 minutes to removes wheels, the seat, and fit it into the box.  It was quite simple as the front and back fork fall into an axel mounting system similar to that of a bike.  The box has four steel twist latches for ultimate security, an anti-crush stacking protection, corners that can take a battering, and a back axel mount that fits varying wheelbases.

Ta Da! Just like that it's ready to travel

My Buxum bike box got quite a few compliments from people who helped in its transport.  The first compliments came from the taxi driver in Singapore who graciously put it in the trunk of his car (it stuck out but was bungee corded down). He admitted he’d transported a lot of suitcases to the airport, but never seen anything quite like this box.  The airline agent was apprehensive about transporting a big box, but he was fascinated by the design and in the end he caressed the box several times before putting it on the belt.  When I got to New Zealand, the customs officers who obviously see a lot of bike boxes also admitted they had never seen anything quite like a Buxum bike box and insisted to open it themselves and test it out.  Building the bike back up in New Zealand was surprisingly more easy than the breaking it down. I’m optimistic that the next time I pack it up, I will be even quicker!

Although the Ventoux model is the largest of the three, the size requirements are still within limits of the airlines.  I filled the box with extra gear and material so the weight went up to 30kg, which caused some problems when flying Etihad.  However, there are airlines out there that allow 32kg. for checked luggage and it is worth doing your research to know who they are to keep costs minimal when flying with a box.  The box and bike alone would have been just below 23kg, and next time I will refrain from filling the bag with all the extra gear.

We are ready to fly!

Nowadays airlines try to complicate flying with a bike, which makes no sense to me.  Cyclists are ideal tourists.  Regardless of the ridiculous charges we can incur flying with a bike, we continue to pack up our bikes and bring them with us around the world to participate in a triathlon, bike race, or tour.  We are passionate about our sport and with a bike box from Buxum, you can be assured that your bike with make it there safely!  Have a look at, I’m sure there is a box model that is suitable for you and your bike!

If there is anyone else out there that would like me to put their products to the test as I make my way home the loong way, I still have 15,000 kilometers plus to do so!  Please feel free to contact me!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

So Long to SE Asia

Unfortunately my time has come to an end in SE Asia.  Everyday was an adventure and my route has left with so many amazing experiences and funny stories.  As crazy and chaotic as this continent can be, it is so dramatically different than Europe and North America, the novelty of traveling here never wore off! No two days were the same, and just when I thought I had figured out how things worked, something would surprise me.  Where else in the world can you see five people squished on a scooter, dogs roasting on an open fire, bikes piled high with all sorts of goods, and farmers taking their cows for a run along the side of the road.  Entertaining only begins to describe the sights I saw from my saddle…..

In the western world, you have a certain amount of control, confidence, and insight into how things work in order to make your day-to-day life predictable and comforting.  In the western world, you know what to expect, but in SE Asia, this all changes.  Here, I learned to forget about any expectations that I might have, be open-minded, never make assumptions, and embrace and cheerish the moment.  

I put together a simple list of the top ten things I will miss the most from SE Asia….. 

Personal space, it just doesn’t exist!
After living in Spain, I thought I was used to having people get up close and personal, but in Asia they come even closer!  A lot of times they will grab you and escort you places, touch you, as if you are some sort of object on display.  There is no boundary as far as personal space is concerned.  I don’t think I ever managed to sit at a cafe or restaurant alone for my entire trip, even though I road alone, people always approached me and got up close and personal!  Lots of the people would even snicker and laugh right in my face, which made me crack up as well and laugh right back at them!

I wasn’t the only one with a loaded vehicle…
You won’t get any sympathy from the people in SE Asia for carrying a heavy load on your bike.  The majority of the people on a bicycle or motor scooter are carrying a load ten times the size and weight of what a tour cyclist carries. Bed mattresses, animal cages, furniture, garbage, two additional kids, gold fish for sale, bamboo shoots, you name the object and you can find it on a bike.  Just when you think you’ve seen the most loaded down bike possible carrying an enormous amount of goods, another bike pedals towards you carrying something even bulkier or heavier.  Cars and trucks also carried a ridiculous amount of goods as well! 
And I thought I had a heavy load....

All on the back of a scooter

Food here, food there, food, food everywhere!
You’ll never go hungry in Asia!  There is some sort of food stall, stand, or store every 5 kilometers along the road. In fact you can be choosy about what you want to eat because the first stand doesn’t look appealing, you can be guaranteed to find something suitable at the second.  And if it looks like something that you have never tried,….just put on a look of curiosity spit out a word or two asking if it is sweet or salty and they will even let you taste it! Rice comes in a variety of shapes, size, and forms.  You have all sorts of sweet food made from rice, breads and crackers, and savory meals with rice.  I stuck primarily to vegetarian options and fish after seeing ever animal imaginable on the back of a motor scooter meeting its fate.  “This little piggy went to market,” took on a whole new meaning in SE Asia! I broke all the rules when it comes to eating in SE Asia.  I ate all sorts of unpeeled fruits and vegetables and hardly ever went to a western restaurant.  Only once did I have stomach problems and ironically it was after taking an anti-parasitic medicine for prevention.
What's for dinner?

Everything is cheap!
You’re lucky to get a cup of coffee for a few dollars in developed countries, but for a couple of bucks I ate my heart out in SE Asia.  A bowl of soup and a beer costs just under $2 in Vietnam and in Malaysia you can get a plate of noodles and a drink for the same amount.  For a dollar, you have a kilo of any fruit from mangoes to pineapple, guava, to jackfruit.  In Cambodia, for $3 you could find a clean basic hotel for the night (other countries were a dollar or two higher).  In Laos, this same amount of money gave you internet for a week on a smartphone!  In Vietnam I bought several winter garments for the colder climate up north and spent no more than $4 on each, including a new balance jacket (the real deal, of course)!  Hence you can see why SE Asia is a paradise for cyclists.
Dinner for $1,60

Communicating was like playing charades or Pictionary.  Although I did miss engaging and thoughtful conversations from time-to-time in my native language, communicating with other people was quite entertaining in SE Asia.  Fingers and hand gestures were by far the most successful means of expressing myself.  When asking a price, 2 fingers always went up and when I handed them the amount, it was never seemed to be correct!

By far the most universal hand gesture was the solo index finger that went up along with raised eyebrows, asking if I was alone.  I had to laugh and look to each side to make sure no one had rolled up when I wasn’t looking.  Men never failed to hold their two index fingers side-by-side, asking if I was married.  Following this question, I was asked if I had kids, a gesture made by embracing their arms and rocking them back and forth.  I had to laugh,…..if I were married, my husband would be with me, not at home, and if I had kids, well, I’d figure out some way to strap them to the bike and bring them with me!! 
I can't remember how many times this many and his friends asked me if I had a boyfriend......
Asian fashion statements
I’ve seen it all when it comes to fashion here in Southeast Asia! My eyes lit up when I spotted a Barça jersey which was by far the most popular football jersey worn all throughout SE Asia.  If I had a dollar for every FC Barçelona jersey I saw, I would be a millionaire!

Women love to wear pajamas in SE Asia, and I’m not talking about little skimpy silky slips.  They wear the full-on long sleeve button down tops and the long pants all day long whether they are going to the market, work, or just hanging out. 

Flip-flops are by far the most popular footwear, even in the colder months.  You see, they’ve invented a special big toe separated sock in order to where them all year round. This sock looks a bit like a foot mitten where the big toe is separated from the rest of the four toes, making it easy to wear flip-flops (unless you have funny toes like me)!

The most practical fashion statement would have to be the backwards jackets on the motor scooters. For an extra layer, drivers put on a jacket, but why bother having to zip it up when you can wear it backwards and leave it open in the back?!?!  What a brilliant invention and a fast way to put on an extra layer! 

Backwards jackets, I get it!

Coffee with condensed milk
My preferred beverage obviously gets a category of its own!  Would I have been able to do the kilometers I did without this sweet caffeinated treat?  I’m not sure.  Whether it be a Café Sua in Vietnam, Kopi Susu in Cambodia or Laos, Iced Kofi in Malaysia, or simply an Iced Coffee in Thailand, I just couldn’t drink enough coffee.  In fact the one and only gift I bought for myself in all of Asia was a small simple coffee filter, Vietnamese style.  I voted Vietnam’s coffee to be the most flavorful and Thailand deserves an honorable mention for their jumbo size bags, that appeals to the tour cyclist.

Better than any sports drink out there on the market

Lack of rules and order
There is no rhyme or reason to the way things are done here and no “norms” what-so-ever.  Anything goes in SE Asia.  From China to Cambodia, men and women of all ages would spit on the ground.  Whether it be in the middle of a conversation, while eating, or walking down the street, people would clear their throats and hock a big loogie. 

When it comes to driving and the rules on the road, it was total chaos, but somehow it worked. Roundabouts are pointless because people don’t actually go all the way around them to make a turn.  They go whichever way is faster. As a cyclist, you share the shoulders of the road with motorized vehicles that are going against traffic for whatever reason. The only two rules that exist I discovered were, 1) never stop and 2) look left.  If you follow those two simple rules, you’ll be set.  Perhaps there are more rules on the road, but since I couldn’t actually read the road signs, I’ll never know!
I actually do know what this is saying!

Feeling Famous
Everywhere I went, people always wanted to take picture with me, even at the most remote little restaurants where I stopped.  Within 5 minutes of my arrival, the local running the joint had called all their friends to come to see for themselves just exactly what had rolled up!  I should have worn a sign that said, Please don’t touch! because they didn’t just want to look, they were fascinated to touch and feel! They were eager to take a picture with me, touch my bike, my bags, my LEGS! A solo female cyclist was such a rare sight for them to see.  In Thailand, I visited a 50 foot horizontal golden Buddha, quite an impressive landmark.  Yet the Indonesian tourists were more excited to see me on my bike than the Buddha!  I was flattered really,… I never would have thought I’d be up there on the list with Buddha for most visited tourist sights!

They were more excited to see me than the Buddha
I didn’t even know what this fruit was before I arrived in Vietnam.  I remember buying it all peeled and ready to eat after a vendor let me try it.  I liked it, but didn’t see it again until S. Laos.  It wasn’t until Cambodia that I saw the actual fruit and how it was prepared.  Sometimes I wish I hadn’t discovered it as it became an obsession for me.  There was something in that fruit that my body craved and needed for all the kilometers that I was doing.  By the end of my route, I had a to impose a daily kilogram limit or else I would have eaten it for three meals a day. Thankfully I didn’t enjoy the durians as much as they were more expensive and smelled strongly.  Whenever possible I stopped for Jackfruits.  It’s no exaggeration when I say half of my food budget probably went to buying kilos of this delicious tropical fruit, that I probably won’t have again until I go back to SE Asia.

Oh, how I love my Jackfruit!