Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thailand's Main Highway: The Road Less Traveled By Cyclists

Usually cyclist avoid the main highways, as they are an artery with dense traffic, dust, noise pollution, and less scenic. Just that very morning I cam across two French cyclist pedaling in the opposite direction who came from Lampang, my destination in a couple of days. They told me about a beautiful scenic route, which like most scenic routes included a very steep climb for about 20 kilometers. Really, on any other occasion, this climb wouldn't have deterred me, but I was beat. After cycling Northern Thailand's mountains, also known as a relentless roller coaster, my legs were shattered. I was embarrassed to admit to them, but even the label of “very scenic” couldn't convince me. I was going to opt for the Thailand's main highway, route 1.

Highway 1 continually surprised me for a good 120 km.  No traffic, and more scenic than I imagined

Route 1 in Thailand goes all the way from the southern tip of the country on Malaysia's border to the northern border town of Mae Sai. I have ridden it before for short sections, and didn't find it that unbearable. After all, I was more than satisfied with all the scenery I had taken in up north, and it was only a 100 kilometer stretch. If there were mountains, the grade would be less steep, hopefully there would be a wide shoulder, and an occasional petrol station en route to stock up on sugary snacks and cold refreshments. The map for this 100 kilometer stretch however, only showed one town, Ngao, pronounced “Now” and that would be my overnight stop. As in the case during The Loong Way Home, I found that things always seemed to happen for a reason, and choosing Route 1 was no different!

One city was on the map, but there must have been about 10.  These signs always warned me.

Like I said, on my map, it looked as if there were no towns along this highway, as if it were located in the middle of nowhere according to my map because it was the flattest and most direct route to travel north to south. Yet, for the first 20 kilometers, no sooner did I pass through a town, there were signs for the next upcoming village cautioning traffic to reduce speed due to city limits. I didn't need any services in a town, I just thought it was fascinating that these small populations didn't show up on my map. That thought came too quickly as I pedaled out of a thriving town and started up a hill and I felt as if my bike tire was melting into the pavement, the sensation that all of a sudden your bike starts to bounce a bit.....yes, you guessed it, a flat tire.

I've been struggling with repetitive flat tires on my back wheel, although my tires are brand new, well, okay, with only 2,000 kilometers at most. It was my 4th puncture and never have I found the cause after a lot of probing, feeling, and trials. Upon, this flat, I decided to rotate my tires, and give the back tire a break. I knew this would take some time, so I pedaled back into town and looked for a motorcycle shop which are usually plentiful with the amount of scooters in Thailand. This time, I couldn't find a shop, but a shiny new Bianchi road bike caught my eye, on display it seemed in the window of a downstairs apartment. In front of the apartment was a small table in the shade, a perfect place to change a flat and surely the Bianchi owner would have a nice foot pump, making it more comfortable to swap out my tires.

Tony, the owner of the beautiful Bianchi, who lent me a foot pump making rotating my tires soooo much easier!

To my luck, the owner of the Bianchi spoke perfect English and was delighted to help me, although all I asked for was a foot pump, I could manage the rest! Wouldn't you know he had studied in Long Beach, California and was so thoughtful he checked in on me and brought me a couple of cold refreshments. I was thankful I got this puncture on the main highway rather than the small scenic route. I was I spoiled! I could see the puncture was yet again on the inside, the rim side, and by process of elimination and desperation, I figured my rim tape needed to be replaced. Although he told me there was a good shop in town, I thought I'd wait for one more puncture to confirm my hypothesis, and continued pedaling to Ngao. The road was curvy but flat and traffic was less to none, a true delight on a major thoroughfare!

I arrived in Ngao and pedaled through the main drag looking for a hotel. I've gotten really good at spotting the Thai sign for guesthouse. The government charges money for hotels to advertise in English, so I've found the establishments that only have Thai signage are cheaper. Together with the word hotel is the word 24 hours, no need for explaining that part, you can backtrack and read my posts on hotels in Vietnam when I discovered the world of hourly hotels.

My guesthouse for the night, conveniently located across the street from Aneh
I thought I spotted a hotel sign, but I continued on to see if there was a market, hungry at that moment took precedence over an accommodation. Indeed I found the night market and a sausage stand which hit the spot! For 30 cents you get a tasty protein bomb and some bitter cabbage to accompany. It was there that Aneh found me, an older Thai fellow on a motor scooter whose front was covered in plastic bags. There were plastic bags hanging off the handlebars, mirrors, in his front basket, everywhere! But more importantly Aneh spoke pretty good English and wanted to know where I was from. I always hesitate with this question.....Where is home anyways anymore? I answered with my revised version, I'm American but live in Spain,, which I follow up and say add Barcelona, you know Messi? Messi is like a universal word, everyone knows who he is and his football team. Aneh replied, ahhhh, España!!! Hola! Hola! Then he told me he went to Sevilla and Cordoba last year and then Portugal. Bingo, we had an instant connection! He knew a hotel in town and escorted me there, which just so happened to be hidden off the main drag in a small neighborhood and he lived across the street. Sure enough there was a sign, “Rooms for Rent” and I had my safe haven for the night! I asked the owner of the hotel, who also spoke good English if he could recommend a restaurant in town that would cook my up some vegetables, as I had a craving. I understood he'd be back in 30 minutes to take me, so I quickly showered and waited.

Agnao at night, the streets are pretty quite.  The new bridge is next to the old one, which was built by the Germans in WW11

He arrived with a bag of stir fried veggies for me, dinner was served! Aneh came over with sticky rice, small taro, an ice cream sandwich, and a bag of fruit. He told me repeatedly that he wanted me to tell all my friends that “Thailand is very hospitable!”, something I already knew! I was forced to eat desert first so it wouldn't melt everywhere and Aneh told me a bit more about himself and I also shared some of my background. It turns out we had a lot in common, both teachers, although he was a secondary social studies teacher, and now retired after 37 years. He invited me to accompany him the following morning to the market in the morning, his temple, and his former school. Of course I accepted, and so I went to bed early to be well rested for my 7am sightseeing in Ngao.

Agnao and the million of bags on his motor scooter

I was up with the first rooster calls, and got ready for my visit. Fog hovered in the village and the temperature was quite cool. Temperatures double during the day, soaring to about 30C, but the morning air is frigid and damp, about 12C. I hopped on the back of his motorbike, nearly doubling the weight of his bike (in addition to all the bags which were still hanging off his motor scooter like a christmas tree), we sputtered off to the lively morning market.

The bustling morning market
One of Aneh's friends.  This is a thai wheelchair, a neat contraption

I'm proud of myself if I make it on the road by 8am these days, so it's no wonder I miss the morning markets. They start at about 3am and finish by 8 or 8:30 at the latest. The tiny “sois” back alleys and pathways in Ngao were filled with vendors from fish, meat, prepared meals, sweet and savory. There were vegetables stalls and tables stacked with fruits, and people were with their bags, baskets, and carts shopping galore as if they hadn't been shopping for months. But that is the interesting phenomenon, they do this every morning, day in and day out, buying their daily groceries. Why stock up? Why buy massive quantities when a fresh market with goods picked the day before are available every single morning. These markets put farmers markets to shame in the states, and wouldn't compete even with neighborhood markets in Europe.

Every street had stalls selling things

I imagine this herb was picked yesterday evening 

These monks are quite sharp, asking for a lottery ticket and getting their offerings at the local market

Aneh guided me through parts of the market, proud to introduce the pharang (foreigner) to everyone and anyone who stared, which was basically everyone. I can make out a few words, like pharang and Sa-pain, (Thai pronunciation of Spain) he really fixated on this country rather than the United States. He sent me off to wander on my own, knowing that I couldn't get lost or go astray because everyone was tracking my location.

Roasted chetntuts, the first I have seen in N. Thailand


by 8:30 everything was already shut down and clean, no sign of a market 

After the market, even more bags were hanging off Aneh's moto

After the market we hopped back on his motor scooter and whizzed off to the school. We arrived just as the morning assembly was gathering on the field, something I have seen all over Asia. Students gather on the field in front of the school in the morning as the head master or teachers make announcements, and the kids sometimes break into a song or chant. Schools in Asia are on par with school facilities in suburban North American, a sprawling campus and lots green space with various buildings. Again, Aneh was eager to introduce me to all the staff. He had now invented a nickname for me, “daughter of bull”, symbolic of my strength and bravery perhaps for cycling alone on a bike around the world. He brought me to the staff room where the English teachers were running off copies of the daily lessons. He showed me a copy and my jaw dropped. What???? What kinds of worksheets and questions are these? Being a native speaker, I don't think I would have answered even one of the questions correctly. And why on earth would students be motivated to learn about the color of guppies? I picked up the next xerox, even more mind blowing- a Charlie Brown comic that was far beyond any beginning level of English I had heard on the streets of rural Thailand. I started having flashback to the public school I visited in rural China where the students only knew the names of British food and drink when I asked them their favorite food. Ridiculous!

Students walking back from the morning assembly

Aneh introduced me to the head of the English Department. Her English was quite good. To my surprise she told me she has two American teachers on staff. Again, my mouth dropped. Where were these American teachers, I wanted to meet them. Aneh took me to the English language office. The sign above the door made me crack up, and pretty much sums up the teaching of English in public schools in Thailand: random unpractical vocabulary, route memorization, meaningless exercises and worksheets, useless......

No comment,......this is a school.  Are these signs suppose to inspire learning?

I feel dumb trying to answer this question

Really, do you think a 10th grader can answer this or even use this knowledge if they have the opportunity to speak English?

Then I met Caroline and her partner LJ, working as English teachers stationed in Ngao for a semester. Caroline was shortly going back to school in social work and had never taught before, but LJ was keen on pursuing a Master's in Education after getting his certificate from a university in Wisconsin, their home turf. I had so many questions for Caroline who was on her break and she gave me a lot of insight into the Thai education system. It was eye-opening for me to hear, followed by another insightful experience observing LJ teaching a class of the brightest students in high school. Thai schools group their students by levels, that is their academic levels in Math and Science. The top of the class in Math and Science are grouped together, then the next strongest group of students and so on until you move down to the bottom of the class. Their levels are based on Math and Science, which in no way depicts their English ability, as if to condone heterogenous grouping in the first place. Talk about a lack of motivation for students to achieve if you have been and always will be labeled according to your ability when it was measured for the initial grouping. Shocking! 

The school hallways on the 3rd floor.  There were about 2,000 students from grades 6 to 12th

LJ's English class I observed

Caroline told me they had quite a bit of freedom with the curriculum and could basically teach anything they wanted. They had take a course to receive their TOEFL certification, but since the student's level of English was no where near the most basic level of English in the TOEFL system, it wasn't applicable. Caroline told me her highest level students in high school still couldn't tell the difference between the questions “How are you?” and “What is that?” and here I had seen the xerox of the guppies and Charlie Brown. Thankfully they have each other at the end of the day to reflect upon their experience and take it with a grain of salt. They also blog about their experience in Thailand and travel on the weekend, Caroline enjoys running, which was quite funny to hear about how they stare at her as she runs on the streets, something very rare in Thailand. Caroline and LJ aren't going to change the Thai education system, they know that, but I must commend them on digging in and getting first hand exposure to an education system that is completely different to that of the western world. What a unique experience they are having, especially considering they are in rural northern Thailand with virtually no other westerners in town. Aneh loves to visit with them and chat and each time he brings photo albums of his travels for them to look at, showing how proud he is of his global exposure.

Some department head, myself, Aneh, and Caroline 

I left Aneh's school feeling somewhat shameful and resentful, comparing my international teaching experience to that I would have at a rural public school in a developing nation. I left the school I visited in China feeling the same. Observing a school like that where the system makes no sense and with evidence that it isn't effective makes me want to work there, a system I'd like to challenge and test my own ability as an effective teacher. Where would I even begin? How would I motivate the students or communicate with them? It kept my mind whirling and whirling as I set off pedaling to Lampang, my destination for the day, again following the busy freeway, highway 1. Only to my surprise, there was hardly any traffic and a wide shoulder all to myself. So you see, in the end, taking the road less traveled by cyclists proved to be just like any other day on my bike. Filled with a lot of unexpected, yet gratifying and memorable experiences.   

Highway 1, quiet and beautiful, just delightful! 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sawadee Ka

Greetings from the land of the jack fruit

Where in the world is Melissa?  Great question! After my last blog post, I left it clear that I wasn't in Oregon anymore. I was enjoying being home, but usually my visits are about 3 weeks in length and during the summer. I had been at home since my birthday and the winter rain had settled in and despite having the company of my family, I have a hard time coping with the grey weather. I made the most of my time at home to visit family and friends. I went back and forth between Portland and Eugene spending time with my niece and nephews and fixing up my bike with a friend. In Eugene, I cooked up a storm for my parents, my mom and I worked on a few sewing projects, and I plugged away at the job applications. My days were long tackling a loong list of "things to do" and my bike trip seemed to be something of the far off past.

The bike getting a complete makeover

Sewing projects with Mom.  I design and she executes it with the sewing machine

I knew I wasn't going to last long at home. After having so much independence and being used to living far from home and in a sunny climate, I needed to make plans to do something besides sit around at home! I'm sure I could have landed a job working at a restaurant or cafe, but instead I decided to take advantage of my freedom, having two months free before I needed to be in France.

Christmas morning, nothing beats opening presents when you are a kid!

Gwyneth and Peter demonstrating self control with the empanadillas as a Christmas dinner appetizer
Spanish Tapas feast on Christmas Eve with the family

Ringing in the New Year with Mom and Dad and a Vietnamese Salad Roll feast along with Dim Sum

I left just after the New Year and headed to Bangkok, a ticket I purchased back when I thought there was a chance I still might get in to the job fair for international teachers at the start of January or at least be in the same location during the exact dates to meet with schools anyways. This seemed to make the most sense to me. In an ideal world, I would have landed a job prior to arriving in Bangkok and therefore I would be able to travel freely around SE Asia with plenty of destinations left to explore on bike. I was really counting on GEMS World Academy to offer me a job, and thankfully they did, giving me two months to travel. I had taken care of most of the footwork prior in order to start gathering paperwork for a swiss work visa, this just goes without say when you work in the international circuit: background checks, official transcripts, notarized diplomas, I had collected all the necessary paperwork and had it organized at home waiting to send off.

Never flew from the US to SE Asia, always from Europe, that is one (three actually) LOONG flight!
I found myself in Bangkok on January 6th, with my bike bike plus the rest of my luggage that needed to go to Lyon in March. Thankfully, I was able to stay with the same host I had met last year and left my luggage at their house while I traveled. Originally the plan was to explore Northern Thailand and Myanmar. Antsy, I didn't want to wait around for my Burma visa, nor deal with a country that has been cut off to tourism for many centuries, I set off pedaling north, thinking I would instead explore northwest Laos in addition to Thailand's mountainous region. Thailand is a welcoming country for tourists, especially bike tourism. They have an unbelievable network of roads and even the smallest rural roads have decent surfaces. Food is in an abundance, and not just your “run-of-the-mill” staples, we are talking amazing curries, stir fries, soups, meats, vegetarian dishes, salads, sweets, and of course my favorites, iced coffees and exotic fruit. It took me a whole hour after I built my bike to find jack fruit as I wandered the streets of Bangkok. I was so excited to get on my bike again, I flew in on a Tuesday morning and left the following morning, pedaling out of Bangkok, headed to the northwest.

Couldn't have asked for a more peaceful first night's rest in the raft house

My first stop a small town 60 kilometers, from the bustling city, the perfect distance for my first day on the road, where I stayed with a Warmshowers host Chris and his thai wife Karina, who run a guesthouse called “The Hidden Holiday House. Chris is an avid tour cyclist and had an abundance of route suggestions and maps to study. Not having studied my route much prior, my stay there was a key part of my trip planning. Not to mention, I got more insight into the Thai culture, reviewed my Thai and made my language cheat sheet, and enjoyed a night's rest in their raft house on the river in their backyard. I don't think I have ever seen a river quite like the Tha Chin that flows so heavily with the tides. When I arrived the current was moving from right to left, and later in the afternoon, I thought I was going crazy when the water all of a sudden had changed direction and was flowing left to right. The current of the river rocked me to bed that night, along with the accumulated jet lag, and I felt quite refreshed in the morning as I set out for my first real day of touring.

This was the section of pineapples on the side of the road, cut, peeled, and ready to eat!

Cha.......How I missed you so and my carnation condensed milk!

Oh, Southeast Asia, how I missed you, and Thailand especially where you have an amazing network of roads, the people are trustworthy you can leave your bike fully loaded and unattended just about anywhere and not have to worry, and the people constantly honk at you, smile, and give you a thumbs up! I forgot how much I have to exercise self-control and actually pedal before looking for the next little roadside stall to stop for a treat. What a sucker I am for all their little treats wrapped in banana leaves. I'm able to discern whether the contents are sweet or savory, and that is just about it, which makes eating such an adventure because you never know what to expect! Fruit galore lines the streets even out in the middle of nowhere, and you can easily eat your heart out and spend under 5 dollars a day! It seems surreal that 4 months ago I was pedaling in Alaska and found a bowling ball size watermelon selling for eight dollars. Here, the same size melon is priced just under a dollar and ever so sweet and fresh. You go through different regions while biking, for 10 to 20 kilometers all the roadside stands will be selling pomelo's, then the next strip of road has watermelons for sale. Then there might be a pause, and it is pineapple territory. It seems to me that if a roadside vendor wanted to really strike it rich, they'd drive 50 kilometers where everyone is selling tamarinds, and set up a stall to sell tangerines. But that is just it! Fruit and produce is so fresh here in Thailand, chances are you look around and just beyond the roadside stall is the farm crop where it grew.

I can easily justify carrying one of these guys on the back of my bike

Maybe this is where the watermelons in Alasaka came from.  The smallest start at 30 cents and the largest $1.20

Papaya salad or "Som Tom" a go to meal for 90 cents

I didn't say I necessarily eat all the food I see.....

Something else I missed about Southeast Asia are people's pleasant demeanors. I have yet to find an angry, ornery, or upset person. Regardless of their age, they all seem to have a smile on their face and are keen on acknowledging your presence. The people here in Thailand work hard. They have long days all thriving around the hours of sunlight. In fact, most people and places start surfacing at the crack of dawn. How can you not wake up with what seems like a procession of roosters coming through town in the morning. Regardless of the size of town I end up finding an accommodation, I never have to use my alarm in the morning. It is impossible not to hear the roosters crowing in the morning, but likewise, in the evening, when the sun goes goes and it gets dark, towns pretty much shut down. Sometimes it can be hard to find a restaurant or food stall open beyond 8pm, but then again, you are in the land of the 7-Eleven's and there is one on every street corner, open 24 hours a day in every decent-sized town.

Road markers every kilometer so you know when you hit the next town, although you might not know the name of it....

Bike stores are everywhere too with an abundance of stock!

I'm not the only one who has realized Thailand is a cycling paradise. It seems everyday I run into at least one other tour cyclist, and many times they are Thai's themselves on shorter week or two week-long tours. In the late afternoon, when I approach a town, there are usually a handful of cyclists on the road, out for what seems to be their daily ride, dressed to a “T” in cycling gear, covered from head to toe, protecting themselves from the sun. Which also makes me laugh. January, it is the dry season here in Thailand and one of the coldest months. Mornings are pleasantly chilly hovering around 12C to 17C, (55F to 60F) but come 11am, the sun has warmed everything up and temperatures soar into the mid-twenties, and even low 30C's (low 90F's). I smirk every time a motor scooter passes me and the driver is wearing a down jacket and long pants, or a knit hat. I'm in t-shirts and shorts, lathered in sunscreen no less, but pleasantly warm pedaling along. At night kids are commonly wearing fleece pijama, which goes to show you just how hot this country can be during the summer months!

Top notch bike with all the gear, this thai cyclist helped me locate a place to sleep in a town without any hotels

The down coats just crack me up, a bit extreme

They even bundle their dogs in winter gear.  Poor guy, I think he's overheating!

I was excited to cycle in Southeast Asia again, now that I have more confidence from my previous trip. I hadn't done much wild camping when I hit Southeast Asia last year and found myself staying at simple guesthouses. My intention this time was to do more camping, especially in temples. With my funds running low, I thought this made sense, but now that I know I will shortly have an income once again, I've gotten a bit lazy and seem to be staying primarily at those basic guesthouses once again. For just under ten dollars you have a simple room with clean sheets, hot water, and a fan, which serve a dual purpose in drying my clothes I wash each night and keeping the mosquitoes from buzzing. I have camped a handful of times when prices soared at guesthouses, but I'm embarrassed to admit, it has been in the lawns of guesthouses, where I was able to use their toilet and shower facilities, and was even served breakfast and coffee in the morning!

Like I said, cheap simple accommodation everywhere,....Don't think they realized the bad translation you?

I love my little bungalows!

Thailand, it is pretty hard to beat and easy to get lazy, even while riding 100 plus kilometers (60 miles) a day!

A serene natural paradise......... 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Now What?!?!?

Many of you have inquired as to my recent whereabouts and my life post The Loong Way Home so I thought I'd post an update. Life post-cycle trip has been somewhat of a struggle, although I hesitate to say that. I realize how fortunate I am to have embarked on such an experience, and I truly appreciated and enjoyed my adventure, but the aftermath left me dazed, confused, and out of place.....talking with other cyclists, this is a common occurrence, known as the post-trip blues.  I won't go into details but it is not a pleasant experience.

It's a huge shock on the body and mind to go from pedaling day-in and day-out with an end goal in mind, although every day you fly by the “saddle of your pants” sort to say. As is tour cycling, you never know where you are going to sleep each night, how long it will take to pedal to the next town, or who you will meet along the way. Sadly, you will most likely never see the people who kept you company the previous evening or graciously hosted you the night before. When your trip comes to an end, all of a sudden you wake up in your bed every morning. There is a fridge full of food at your finger tips, anything you crave, basically, any time of day, and you have company galore, living with your retired parents. Indeed I was looking forward to my arrival in Eugene and visiting with family and friends, but it wasn't that easy to transition from a life on the road back into a more conventional lifestyle. I managed to stall returning to a normal life extending my travels by running the New York City marathon in November and visiting friends and family back east. But after that, reality set in, as the winter months approached and the rain poured down outside making me feel somewhat trapped, anxious, and out of sorts with myself.

Prior to my trip, I was told by friends, “Melissa, don't plan so much, live in the moment!” When you are bike touring, well, you can't be any more present in the moment. Will I make it up this climb? How long until the next town? Where will I sleep tonight? These questions were the furthest in advance in the future that I was capable of think on my bike, and frequently they were suddenly interrupted by my immediate surrounding-stunning views, random acts of kindness,....another puncture!

If I would have planned ahead, ideally I should have applied to attend a January job fair for international teachers in Bangkok, one of the biggest and most promising fairs to find work, way back in September.  In September, my body and soul were far from Bangkok, collecting reference letters, writing personal statements, and filling out applications. I was pedaling like crazy to make it to Alaska before winter arrived, so I could catch one of the last ferries down south to mainland Canada. Thoughts of being eaten by a bear and staying warm were at the forefront on my mind.

In the back of my mind, however, I had a list of places I could see myself living after my trip. Yes, I could return to Barcelona, don't get me wrong, I love Barcelona and I consider it home! It is the place where I have my beloved social network, where I started cycling, where I can stroll the streets aimlessly for hours upon hours, day-after-day, week-after-week, and year after year and never get bored! Therefore seeing myself somewhere else was hard.  But after living there for 11 years and working at the same school for 7, I was itching for a change, both professionally and personally.  I am one curious individual and during my trip, I couldn't help ponder living different places. At the top of my list were Switzerland and Hong Kong. The latter being a place I would love to use as a home base to explore Asia in depth, but deep down inside, I knew I wasn't ready to depart Europe.

The French part of  Switzerland
There was something so appealing to Switzerland; the proximity to the mountains, taking up winter sports like snowshoeing and cross country skiing which I've always wanted to improve, and of course the language. There is German Switzerland, Italian Switzerland, and the French part, which is where I was interested in being located.  I used to be quite good at French, before I learned Catalan. With my solid Catalan skills now, I should be easier to tackle French without confusing the two languges, or at least I hope.

When I day dream of Switzerland, this is what comes to mind......

After competing in the NY marathon and visiting friends and family out east, I started the dreaded job hunt. What a shock! Here I'd been pedaling and pedaling endless hours a day without a worry or responsibility in the world and now I was consumed with revising my resume, drafting cover letters, and searching for jobs all over the globe. Each day blended into the next: wake up, sit at the counter with my computer, edit, search, edit, research, apply, print, send, go for a run, edit, research.......

There is nothing I hate more than trying to sell myself in a resume or cover letter.  Here I'd been offered jobs while visiting schools on my trip, had newspaper articles published in the local papers, couldn't I just use that or my website, rather rewrite my resume?I hate hate resume and cover letter writing with a passion.  I wanted to tell the schools, look at my warmshower feedback, have a look at my website, come for a bike ride with me! All of these would be better ways to get to know me than reading my history on two pages of paper.  It was hard to get my head around the fact that I had bonded so easily with random strangers who stopped to chat on the road during my trip and my hosts who were with me for an evening.  Within a matter of minutes, these unknown people understood who I was, my motivation, passion, and drive, without laying eyes on a resume or cover letter!

I honestly thought that a year out of the classroom, two to be precise, would be a set back professionally when I sought a job for the 2015-16 school year. Taking a year off to pedal the globe, doesn't really fit well under the title “professional experience” nor is it a valid part of my “educational experience”. I was worried about how this would look when I did re-enter the professional world, but not enough to let it impede in my travels. Uncharacteristic of my personality, I was overcome with frustration, anxiety, and despair when I sent off my first few resumes, one to France to cover a long term substitution for a maternity leave, one to Switzerland, and another to Hong Kong both for the 2015-16 school year.  To my surprise, within days I had positive responses immediately to all three! WOW!!! YIKES!!! Time to prepare for an interview.

All the educational lingo, the concepts and theories that had driven me so as a teacher seemed to have gotten lost while I was pedaling. I quickly started studying up and looking through my old teaching units. What kind of teacher was it that I aspired to be?  What was my classroom management style? My approach to literacy? Really, Melissa, you didn't think about any of this on your bike,.....?  I used to know all the answers to these questions and I was confident about my outlook on education.  But all that changed during my trip, and that is exactly what every administrator wanted to know when they interviewed me, that and why I took on such an endeavor.

The first interview went so well, with nothing to loose applying for a substitution, I asked my parents if they'd treat me to sushi to celebrate if I got the job. Three days later we were dipping our rolls in soy sauce! If only I kept that deal for the upcoming interviews!

This was not our only sushi dinner, I do admit it was one of many while at home with my parents.

I waited a bit longer and underwent a series of other interviews, but eventually the offer came through for Switzerland and I was delighted, more like disbelief. I had said to myself for many months, “Oh how I'd love to live and work in Switzerland at an IB school!” Sometimes I think the more you repetitively say something, the more likely it is to come true, which is why I back-up the belief that it is important to be positive and optimistic. Or maybe the saying goes, "Good things come for those who pedal 34,000 kilometers!"  I was intrigued by inquiry-based learning before my trip and visited so many IB schools on the road.  Therefore, it was one of the main criteria for my future teaching post, a school with the IB program at the primary level.  

My exact location starting September

A topographical map does it new backyard!

I lucked out with both the International School of Lyon and GEMS World Academy-Etoy being IB schools and willing to train me in the PYP, Primary Years Program.

So there you have it, the short version, with the censorship of a lot of anticipation, stress, and break downs. In March, I will head to Barcelona to pick up some basic belongings, drive to Lyon with my loyal and faithful Tres Amics, Nuri, get settled in Lyon, France and work through the end of the school year as a grade three teacher, then enjoy the summer months, and head over to Etoy, Switzerland (located between Geneva and Lausanne) at the end of August to start the school year as the elementary art teacher at the recently opened GEMS World Academy. I will be joining one of my favorite teaching colleagues from Barcelona, Pat Moore, who I worked with my last year at BFIS. I couldn't be happier.

Pat Moore, one of the world's best teachers and I get to work with her yet again!  Aren't I lucky?!?

With jobs lined up, and soon to receive my first pay check in years and excited to return to the profession that I love, well, I just couldn't sit still any longer. Let's just say I'm not in Oregon anymore.......the bike, the road, the life of a tour cyclist, I couldn't resist the temptation; it was calling me. Before I start, I went for one last little bike trip: The Shoort Way Home! My exact location will soon be disclosed, promise!