SE Asia Days 13-14: Luang Prabang to Tad Kuang Si 

Jan. 7, 2017

Ride map.

We woke up relatively early this morning; we had a date with some waterfalls 30km outside of town today, so we had to pack up all of our stuff. This posed just a bit of problem, because the clothes we washed two nights ago when we arrived were still damp. Humidity. It’s a kick in the hotel-bathroom-sink-laundry pants.

So we decided to wrap up the damp clothes and hope for the best. We left our bags and bikes with Eric, the delightful owner of our guesthouse. Since the ride was only 30k, we decided to take off in the afternoon, and first thing in the morning was a slow boat up the Mekong to the Pak Ou caves.

We thought about getting coffee at the shop right across from the dock, but there were no chocolate croissants there, so…yeah. After a quick jog we were back at the pier on time and ready to get on the boat.

It was really a fleet of small boats with six passengers on each. The boats had what seemed to be minivan-style bucket seats, and they were comfy and roomy.

  
Travelling upriver, we were treated to wonderful greenery on either side of the river (which, by the way, is enormous). Rolling hillsides, small villages, buffalo that somehow ended up on an island in the middle of the river. All of the sights.

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   After an hour or so, we stopped for fifteen minutes at “whiskey village,” a little market aimed solely at tourists on these boats. We tried a few types of locally made rice whiskey, marveled at the “medicine” whiskey (which was infused with snakes, scorpions, and all matter of yuck), and passed judgment on the tourist who threw a small fit about having to pay a quarter to use the restroom. Entitled jerk.

   
    Back in the boats, we made it up to Pak Ou. There were two caves completely full of little Buddha statues. Back when the main Laos religion was a form of nature worship, the caves were thought to house a river spirit. After converting to Buddhism centuries and centuries ago, the caves became part of the royal family’s new year ceremonies. And people still visit the caves to place new Buddha statues.

   
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After exploring the caves, we got back on the boat and headed back to town. As soon as we got to town, we walked to our new favorite noodle soup place for lunch. The proprietor recognized us gave us a big smile for being repeat customers.

Then after lunch we suited up and got back on the bikes to ride out to Tad Kuang Si. It was a beautiful ride; I might even go as far as to say it was the prettiest ride of our trip. Verdant mountains and lovely quaint villages.

   
 It’s true that there was a significant amount of traffic (renting a motorbike or booking a van are the most popular ways to visit the falls), but it came in waves and we had stretches of time to relax and enjoy the road.

The ride had two main climbs, one in the middle and one to get up to the falls, but they weren’t too bad. It was in many ways the perfect type of ride: rolling hills with slightly more up than down every time the hills rolled (can I use the expression like that?) so we were steadily climbing but it felt like we were going as much or more down than up.

I’m not sure that made any sense at all, but if not, the main take away is that it was a pleasant ride. Except for the fact that Dani’s bike was having shifting problems and she was forced to ride up some of those hills in a harder gear than she would have liked.

We made it to the town just before the waterfall and after some confusion stemming from a complete lack of signage, we found our home for the next two nights: Vanvisa at the Falls.

   
 Vanvisa was . . . mixed. The grounds were absolutely beautiful; it sat right on a miniature version of the gorgeous waterfall we came to see. The owner was an adorably gregarious Lao woman who was friendly and charming and cooked traditional Lao family meals for all of the guests every night.

The downsides were that it was by far the most expensive guesthouse of the trip and the room was not wonderful. The whole room was damp and mildewy, there were bloodstains on the sheets, no wifi, dirt and the poop of some small animal (?) falling from the ceiling, and the temperamental shower liked to switch from freezing to scalding without any notice.

We immediately changed to go swimming, but by the time we made it down to the falls there were: (1) a family having a picnic playing loud, bad music and throwing trash into the river, and (2) four small naked Lao boys running around and jumping into the water.

I like swimming though. So I jumped in and swam around for a bit before we headed back to the room.

We had family dinner (which we found out later was also absurdly expensive), and it was decent. There wasn’t a lot of food to go around. Some so so chicken wings, beans with an egg topping, soup, and sticky rice.

After dinner, we went to bed.

Jan. 8, 2017

Today was waterfall day!

We woke up and ate a pretty good breakfast (homemade passion fruit jam!) and then we walked to the waterfall.

Kuang Si is a series of falls over limestone rocks. The water picks up calcium carbonate from the limestone, which gives the water a stunning blue color. The local story of the falls is that a wise old man dug a cave and beckoned the Earth’s water to come forth. When the water started to flow, a golden deer came and took up residence under the falls, giving the water it’s color.  Kuang Si means “deer dig.”

On the walk to the falls we went through a moon bear sanctuary. Moon bears are endangered because Chinese traditional medicine thinks that bear bile gives strength. There were some pretty terrible pictures of bile farms where bears are keep in tiny cages for years and years and harvested for bile every day.

People can be terrible.

Anyway, the falls were beautiful. A series of smaller cascades leading up to the main falls.

         Then we climbed up the top of the falls (a steep, slippery trail) and saw an amazing view of the surrounding area.

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We continued about 3km uphill to the source of the falls and the fabled deer cave. The cave was enormous, and we were the only two people to go in so early. The man gave us a flashlights to help explore. There were beautiful sparkly stalactites and more buddhas sprinkled throughout. We went in bit by bit, but we didn’t make it the whole 100m to the back because I got claustrophobic and begged Dani to leave. I just can’t think of something more terrifying than somehow getting trapped in a cave forever.

  
Then we visited the source of the spring, which conveniently had a restaurant right next to it. The guy running the restaurant had a challenge for me: walk across the river on a log without falling in (I got two tries) and he would buy me a beer. If I fell in, I owed him a beer. I didn’t even WANT a beer, but I couldn’t turn down the challenge. He showed me how it was done and made it look so so easy. I took my turn, and it didn’t go as well.

  
Since I was already in the river, Dani joined me (she was smart enough to have her swimsuit on before she got in though) we swam for a bit. We had the whole place to ourselves and it was lovely. They even had a rope swing into the river that I used again and again and again.

   
 Then other people started showing up (I’m glad we got such an early start!), so we got out of the water, shared a plate of fried rice, and started back down.

We took a wrong turn on the way back and ended up walking to the village and not to the falls. On the way, we heard a loud, close gunshot. Dani squealed, ducked, and covered; I looked around confused. Then I almost got hit in the head by a couple of dead birds falling from the sky. A few seconds later, a smiling Lao man walked out of the woods with a shotgun and picked up his kill. So that happened.

After we got back to town, we relaxed at the hotel for a bit and then went to town where we got barbequed chicken, spicy papaya salad, and some fresh coconut juice.

Then we walked back into the park to sit and gaze at the beautiful waterfalls, which were a deeper shade of aqua in the late afternoon. 

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 Later we ate another family dinner, with salad (with an amazing dressing), soup, and fried noodles. They brought out some offals, too, and we each took a bite expecting meat and Dani almost vomited because of the surprise of chomping into a chalky, gamey organ. Again, our most expensive dinner of the trip, and half as filling and delicious and four times the price of our favorite noodle place back in Luang Prabang. Now we know to always ask the price (and not to eat unidentified meat products)!

Tomorrow we bike back to Luang Prabang for another day before we head off to Thailand!

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SE Asia Day 9: Thateng to Tad Lo

January 3rd, 2017

Ride map.

If there was ever a time we needed a short, no-wind, downhill day, today was that time. Dani ended up following me down the food-poisoning path last night, so we weren’t in the best of moods when we woke up.

We started very slowly. We didn’t seem to be actively suffering as much this morning (i.e., we weren’t making frequent trips to the restroom), but our bodies seriously ached. We both felt lethargic and struggled to get moving.  Doing small tasks to prepare to go was exhausting and required many breaks of lying down completely still. We had also completely lost our appetites, something that anyone who knows us knows is as common as Halley’s Comet, but forced ourselves to eat a tiny banana to have some small amount of energy for the ride.

Eventually we got ourselves out of bed and packed our things. We left around 11am, or about 3 hours later than normal.

But we were fortunate. Today was always going to be a short day, just 20 miles, and knowing that was a big reason we were able to convince ourselves to get on our bikes. But what we didn’t know is that pretty much the entire ride was downhill. Good steep downhill too. We covered the first fifteen miles in about 50 minutes, and for long stretches, we didn’t even have to pedal.

Which was a good thing, because when we DID have to pedal, my legs felt like they were about to fall off. Maybe that had something to do with throwing up (or otherwise expelling) everything I had eaten in the previous 24-48 hours.

   In any case, we made great time to Tad Lo, getting here around 12:20p. We had to find a place to sleep, and we were quickly sold on a guesthouse with cute rooms and a PORCH with HAMMOCKS for $8.50.

Then we lay in the hammocks for an hour or so.

  

At this point we felt like we had to go exploring, both because we came here to check out the waterfalls in town and because no matter how we were feeling, we really had to eat something.

So we decided that if we were leaving our happy place, we might as well see some of the waterfalls the town is named for (I might be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure “Tad” means waterfall Lao). We crawled out of the hammocks, got ourselves together, and walked for about twenty minutes to the southern Tad Lo falls. Longest twenty minutes ever. They were nice, and to our chagrin, they were swimmable. It looked like nice swimming too. But neither of us had our suits (Dani asked if we should wear them, and I confidently said no), and even if we did, I don’t think we would have felt up for swimming anyway.

 So we walked down a little path from the falls that let us out at Tad Lo Lodge, the swankiest place in town. We didn’t really enjoy the milieu, but we liked the deck overlooking the river, and we were wary of food in general, so we thought swanky was a safe bet. Also, pro tip: we saw this in Costa Rica too, but if you go to a touristy-type swanky place in foreign country and then order traditional food of said country, the price is actually pretty reasonable. So our meals were about a third as expensive as the western food on the menu.

But, we were both feeling so queasy that, for the first time in my memory, neither of us finished our food. Dani has instilled in me a strong “clean plate club” ethic. But today we just couldn’t. Ugh.

After lunch, we walked back to our hotel and got back into the hammocks, lazily looking out on a field where a family herded their cattle.

After a few more hours, we felt a little better, so we decide to venture out once again. We walked across the river, checked out the northern falls, and stopped in at a cute little guesthouse for a fruit smoothie and an vegetable omelet sandwich.

 Then we made it back to the hotel for the night, watched a movie on our laptop (sick day! And Dani let me choose, so obviously it was a Disney movie), and hunkered down for bed just before 9p.

Tomorrow is a long day for us. 55 miles, and I don’t think we’ll have the same downhill luck.  But we have a plane to catch the next day, so we don’t really have any option except to make it. So hopefully a few meals and another good night of sleep will carry us through.

Day 52: The day we turned three

Day 52, 8/4, Wadhams, MI to New Glasgow, ON, CA: 93.4 miles, 763 ft elevation gain, 13 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 3,323.9 miles (73.9 mile daily average), 129,877 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

One day behind schedule.

Happy third anniversary to us! We like to be on vacation during our anniversary, so it’s nice timing to be on a 9-week vacation, I suppose.

We started out the day right with McDonald’s for first breakfast because it was close to our kampground. Right after we sat down with our food, a 69-year-old local man sat down at the table next to us and said, “do you know that TV movie series on Hallmark with Tom Selleck called Jesse Stone?” We, of course, told him we had not heard of this obscure TV movie series, and he replied, “Oh, well I’m a movie and TV freak so I know all of these things. Anyway, there’s a girl on there, she plays a secretary, and you’re the spitting image of her!” Thus began a long conversation about TV, little league, eavsdropping on conversations at McDonald’s, and bike riding. I love meeting people on this trip–it’s probably my favorite part–but sometimes you just want to eat in peace, and that’s what I wanted to do today. Pro tip: if you want to eat in peace, McDonald’s is not the place to dine. We’ve gone to McDonald’s six times now and only once has no one struck up a conversation.

This man was waiting for his friends that he meets there daily, and he said he likes to get there before everyone else to listen to people’s conversations and talk to travelers. Every time we’ve eaten breakfast at McDonald’s, there has been a retired folks’ breakfast club and every time we’ve gotten there before the meeting began, there’s been one guy who is always the first one there and he has always started talking to us. It’s really fun to experience the early morning McDonald’s culture across America.

Anyway, we hit the road and found ourselves moving very slowly. We were facing a bit of a wind, but we were also just generally pooped from our long day yesterday. We got on a bike trail a few miles down the road called the Bay to Bridges trail, and it was the worst trail of the trip. It was as if the city thought, “boy, there sure are a lot of bikes on the road. I wonder what’s the best way to get them off?” Then they decided to build the absolute cheapest bike trail possible and do nothing to maintain it. There were enormous crevices between the asphalt trail and the non-graded curbs and deep potholes that were so frequent that they were difficult to avoid. I felt like I was mountain biking on a stiff road bike frame. But we’ve found that drivers are exceptionally rude when you ride on the road if there’s a bike trail nearby, so we stuck with it.


When we got to the ferry port in Marine City, we decided to delay our trip to Canada a bit and stop at the fancy coffee shop in town to cheer ourselves (or maybe just me) up. I got the best iced dirty chai of the trip, Ted got a bottomless cup of delicious Kona coffee, and we both got another breakfast sandwich (because on your anniversary, you get to eat two breakfast sandwiches). There was a retired women’s breakfast club at this coffee shop and their conversation ran the gamut from whether the Confederate flag is racist or represents southern heritage (the club was split on this and neither side was making a strong argument) to their favorite shows on HGTV (no one said Rehab Addict, which means they’re all wrong). I had an urge to crash their club and share my strong opinions on these matters, but I resisted.


   We headed to the ferry, refreshed and excited to enter Canada. We met a retired American woman living in Canada while waiting to board the ferry who was good company for the ride. Her sons both served in Peace Corps and her daughter works for the state department, so she had plenty of interesting stories to tell.


     The Bluewater ferry is a relatively small car-carrying ferry that crosses the beautiful St. Clair river into Canada in less than 10 minutes. It’s run efficiently, making round trips all day every day every 20 minutes. The ferry has three rows for 4-5 cars each in the center and a small standing area on the port side at the stern. We got to watch a semi-truck carrying oil board a narrow bit of the ferry with some of the most impressive driving skills I’ve ever seen.

When we entered the border patrol station the officer asked the expected litany of questions, but the final question was directed at Ted: “where will you attend school this fall?” When Ted answered, the officer perked up and said, “oh! Well have a fun time then, kids!” I guess one benefit of Ted going to such a well-known school is credibility with border patrol agents.


Anyway, now we’re on an international bike tour! We began our time in Canada tracing the river on a dedicated bike path. The riverfront homes were on the opposite side of the road, and each house had a dock / beach area on the river. This is the ideal set up for biking down a residential waterfront road, but we rarely saw such a set up in Michigan, so we were pretty pleased.


    After a few miles, we turned inland and traded the bike path for a shoulderless country road. That melancholic tandem couple we met in Wisconsin had me dreading Ontario drivers on narrow roads, but the drivers have been the best we’ve experienced all trip, with few exceptions. People have been getting all the way into the other lane or, when there’s oncoming traffic or a blind corner, using that passing option that most American drivers don’t seem to think exists: slowing down until it is safe to pass.

The scenery in southwest Ontario is very similar to Michigan scenery, as one might expect, but it felt cleaner and better maintained than most of the places we’ve ridden on our trip. There was almost no trash on the sides of the road, the grass on every bit of public or private land was recently cut, and the homes and other buildings were not quite so dilapidated. There also weren’t many houses with random large objects (broken swing sets, rusty car parts, old furniture, etc.) strewn about in the lawn. On one stretch of road, the soft shoulder had recently been combed and cleaned, like a baseball diamond. And the roads themselves have improved dramatically.

  

  

  

We stopped in a convenience store and bought roast chicken-flavored Lays potato chips, which we haven’t had since Zambia, and bonafide seltzer water, which we haven’t had since the Qdoba in North Dakota. Canada is treating us well so far! We talked to a couple friendly people outside of the store while we ate, then headed out.

Thanks to flats and a slight tailwind, we quickly reached Dresden, a small town that was the home of Reverend Josiah Henson, a remarkable man who escaped slavery in Kentucky, settled in southwest Ontario, became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and wrote an autobiography that informed Harriet Beecher Stowe’s pivotal 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. We visited the Uncle Tom’s Cabin historic site and learned that after Beecher Stowe’s novel, which was the first widely distributed book that described the horrific practice of American slavery, gained popularity, many supporters of slavery insisted that it was a novel that had no basis in fact and that slavery was perfectly humane. Beecher Stowe then published a new book that revealed all of the nonfiction sources that informed her novel, and the main character was primarily based on Josiah Henson.

After settling in Dresden, Henson founded the Dawn settlement, a community of blacks who fled to Canada to build new lives as free men and women. Henson co-founded the British-American Institute in 1841 to build literacy in the community and facilitate the exchange of trade knowledge. After Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852, word spread that Canada was a haven for blacks and the Dawn settlement, and southwest Ontario, in general, became a popular destination for escaped slaves.

The historical site was very cool. They had Henson’s last residence, a church, a typical residence, two graveyards, and a large interpretive center / museum. It was refreshing to see such a well-maintained, elaborate historical site honoring a black historical figure. It was the first recognition of black history on the trip and the tone of the site was strong pride in the role Canada played in providing freedom for American blacks. Canada’s looking nicer and nicer every second!

  

  

  

 

After lingering there for too long, we continued on. We decided we would stop in Ridgetown for an anniversary dinner out. There weren’t many options, so we went with a Chinese / Canadian restaurant that was empty, but pretty good. I really enjoyed my black pepper beef, but Ted was less thrilled with his chicken and veggie stir fry.

We decided to bike as far as we could and just pitch a tent somewhere because there weren’t many campgrounds on this leg of the trip and the campsites we did find were very expensive and several miles off the main road. We passed by some of the most beautiful old architecture in Talbot, including a very cool school that I did not take a picture of (we had a tailwind and it was flat so I was going too fast). There were also a few first glimpses of Lake Erie and lots of wind turbines. It was pretty riding, even though it was that same sort of farm land we’ve been riding through for weeks. I’m not sure what made it feel different. Maybe the cleanliness and nice building and lawn maintenance?

  

  

  

 

The wind suddenly turned from a tailwind to a headwind–we could actually feel it turn–so we stopped in New Glasgow, a small farming community, for the night. We have run into a several bike tourists who stealth camp, meaning that they set up their tent someplace discreet without asking for permission. And we originally decided that we would try it out tonight. We found a restaurant that was permanently closed and that had a great back yard. We walked around to the back and hung out there for a while, waiting until it got dark so we could set up our tent without being seen. We sat around for probably about 15 minutes until we decided that stealth camping wasn’t for us, not on private land, at least. We like to have permission and it doesn’t seem worth the risk. So we decided to head down to one of the official, expensive, off-route campsites. We rode about 100 feet before we saw someone mowing his lawn next to a beautiful old church and asked him if he thought the church would mind if we camped in their yard. He said that the church was no longer owned by the Presbyterian community so he couldn’t see why not. Permission! I set up the tent while Ted cleaned the bikes, and we went to bed stinky and sweaty.


 We have a big day tomorrow. Two days until a break!

Day 51: The day we Kamped

Day 51, 8/1, Bay City, MI to Wadhams, MI: 118.7 miles, 2,008 ft elevation gain, 12.8 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 3,230.5 miles (73.4 mile daily average), 129,114 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

One day behind schedule.

When you’re bike touring, hotels and motels are fantastic in the evening but less great in the morning. In the evening you’re spoiled by electricity, showers, TV, internet, a refrigerator, and sometimes even an indoor pool! But then these luxuries keep you up way later than your 10:00p bedtime and then the alarm goes off way too early in the morning.

We woke up, reluctantly, around 5:45 this morning. We laid around for a while before we pulled ourselves out of bed, and then we went straight to the hotel’s breakfast, which was surprisingly delicious, especially because Dani has taken to toting her favorite salsa around with her everywhere she goes. After breakfast we threw all of our bags on our bikes and headed out the door. Sounds simple, but somehow close to two hours passed between waking up and starting the day’s ride.

We then promptly got lost navigating our way back to the ACA route. It was my fault. I’m just not used to cities with multiple bike paths. I figured that any green line I saw on my Google maps app was the one we were supposed to be on. It wasn’t.

In any case, we didn’t really get lost as much as took the scenic route through the industrial part of the city before we managed to find the route again. The first half of the morning was mostly southerly with a few short jaunts east. The ACA route/US Bike Route 20 was a little wacky again today, taking us southeast for a while, northeast for a while, and then back southeast again before finally turning primarily eastward.

  

I think the reason for that detour southwards was that the powers that be wanted us to visit Frankenmuth. Frankenmuth is a lovely little Bavarian-themed tourist town that looks like it was plucked straight out of Germany (says a guy who’s never actually been to Germany). We stopped at the Frankenmuth Kaffee Haus on the main street for second breakfast and a mid-morning pick-me-up. I had coffee and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and Dani had a cinnamon roll and an amazing drink called the “Reese’s Revenge,” which included espresso, whole milk, peanut butter, Giardelli chocolate syrup, and whipped cream. The people working here were incredibly friendly, and came over to chat with us about our trip and New York, and to offer Dani a fresh round of whipped cream for her drink.

   

  

  

  

  
 
After Frankenmuth, we headed back northeast, enjoying a direct tailwind and speeding through Vassar and to Otter Lake, where we met Dan and Tom, two gentlemen who were touring around Michigan for a few days. Tom was a tour leader for Bike Centennial, the cross-country trip in 1976 that begot the Adventure Cycling Association, and when he retired at 65, he biked a loop around the U.S., then up through Canada to Alaska. This man’s got at least 39 years of bike touring under his belt, and he told us that he won’t let his age get him down. 

We keep meeting people in their 40s and 50s who say things like, “if only I were younger, then I’d do a trip like you guys, but I’m too old now.” Dan and Tom, and all of the other 65+ folks we’ve met on this trip (which is the majority of other bike tourists we’ve met, by the way), go to show that this perception isn’t necessarily accurate. Cycling is a low-impact activity with tremendous health benefits. You don’t have to be young or particularly fit to do it; it keeps you young and gets you fit. 

  
All along the trip today, we saw broken branches and other debris strewn along and next to the road. We also learned that the power went out in all of the small towns surrounding Bay City and saw lots of utility trucks working on power lines. We didn’t really need any convincing that staying in a hotel last night was the right decision, but it did make us grateful that we made the right decision.

From Otter Lake, we pedaled to North Branch, where we bought cold drinks at a gas station next to the library and then sat on a bench outside the library to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on pretzel buns. The library was closed due to power issues (from the storm), and a veritable parade of people drove up and started walking toward the door only to stop short in surprise and walk confusedly away. It was nice to see that the public library in this small town gets such regular use.

The wind was on our side after lunch and we cruised down the road, averaging 18-19 mph for an hour and a half until it was time to turn south again, and head toward Yale. A few miles away from Yale, we were sprinkled on for less than 10 minutes. I feel almost sinful for how fortunate we’ve been with weather this trip. Our luck is bound to change eventually, but this was the second time in 52 days that we’ve felt raindrops while riding our bikes. And both times have been light sprinkles for just a few minutes.

  
By the time we made it to Yale, the drizzle had stopped completely. We quickly ran into the grocery store to pick up canned soup for dinner (it was a long day, and we didn’t have energy for anything more complicated), orange juice, and some clearance-priced chocolate milk, which turned out to be above average.

Then we packed up the groceries and pushed on. We were feeling pretty good after 95 miles, but we still had 20 more miles to make it to our campground. Round about mile 108, our energy levels tanked. It was also around this time that we realized that the first campground on the map didn’t accept tent campers, and we had an extra three miles to bike. Three miles has never seemed like such an insurmountable task. And why would a campground not allow tent campers? Is there really that much money in seasonal RV campers that you can turn your nose up at a few bucks every now and again at a tent? I guess so.

Anyway, we pushed through our jelly legs to make it to the campground that would let us sleep there. Oh. Excuse me. Kampground. That’s right. We spent the night at a KOA. And not just any KOA, but a KOA resort. That means there was a pool, sports courts, an exercise room, a big inflated rubber jumpy thing for kids, and several different levels of fanciness for RV campsites. What it meant for us is that they wanted us to pay $34 to sleep on the ground in a big, treeless field next to some mosquito breeding grounds wetlands on the outskirts of the resort. At least we were able to talk them into giving us a $5 discount.

  
We set up our tent and showered, and then it was time to heat up our soup and eat. But holy moly those mosquitoes. They weren’t at all bothered by our bug spray or our long-sleeve shirts. They kept on snacking away. We eventually put on our rain coats and pants, and that kept them mostly at bay. A few of the more persistent buggers kept trying to bite Dani in the eyeball, though.

We gulped down our soup, washed up, brushed teeth, and fled to the sanctuary of our tent as soon as possible. Tomorrow’s another long day, but it’s the day we finally become international touring cyclists! Canada!

Day 41: The day of farmland and flowage

Day 41, 7/24, Cumberland, WI to 16 miles east of Hayward, WI: 72.8 miles, 3,454 ft elevation gain, 13 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,360.9 miles (69.4 daily average), 102,381 ft elevation gain, 12.4 mph overall average speed.


Two days behind schedule.

The alarm went off at 7:00a, but it was raining, so we went back to sleep for a bit. I’m fine with getting rained on, but I struggle to get up, especially out of a comfortable bed, when it’s raining. We didn’t sleep for long, though, because we had a warm showers stay in the evening and our host was planning to meet us on the road to bike with us to his house. 

Jeannie prepared us a wonderful breakfast, which included a hash brown egg bake, zucchini bread, scones, orange juice, and coffee. We said goodbye and rolled out around 9:40a. The morning began with more farmland and rolling hills on pleasant, low-traffic roads. 

   
        We quickly made it to Haugen, a tiny town that has an opera house, but does not have a full grocery store, and stopped in the convenience store. The owner of the store greeted us at the door because he is very interested in bike tourists and wanted to make sure we stopped in. We bought some mediocre chocolate milk and signed his guest book before heading out. It’s fun to meet people who think what we’re doing is cool, rather than a masochistic waste of time. The latter opinion is becoming more prevalent the deeper we get into the Midwest. 

   
 Soon after leaving Haugen, we hit my least favorite type of terrain to ride: short, steep rolling hills. I’m not kidding when I say I’d prefer a mountain pass to this terrain. You are just constantly shifting from your absolute lowest to absolute highest gear, which is frustrating and exhausting. You can never really get into a groove, and every time you crest a hill, you can see two or three more hills ahead of you, just taunting you. At least with a mountain pass I can drop down to my lowest gear, get into a groove, get all of the climbing done at once, know exactly how long I’ll be climbing, and get to go downhill for miles at the end. Ted disagrees with me on this one. 

We entered a touristy area with a lot of resorts on lakes. It seems that fishing, boating, and hunting are the main recreational options at these resorts, all things we’re not interested in doing, so there was no temptation to call it a day and hang out at a resort. It also meant that a whole lot of the vehicles passing us were large pickup trucks towing fishing boats. Luckily, Wisconsin drivers have passed exceedingly carefully, slowing down and driving behind us until they were sure it was safe to pass, which sometimes required a lot of patience on these meandering country roads. 

   

Lunchtime. We purchased drinks at a convenience store in a tiny town called Edgewater and noticed two bike tourists eating lunch in the town park. We chatted with them for a bit. They are a 20-something couple on a tandem riding from Bar Harbor to Portland. They were sort of reticent and did not seem pleased with their trip. They came out of the UP and took the Erie Connector, which is exactly what we plan to do, so their melancholy made us nervous about what’s to come. They also warned us that Ontarian drivers passed them at very close distances, which was interesting because I made the same observation about British Columbian and Albertan drivers back when we were in Washington and Montana. This also made me nervous. 

After lunch, we set out to meet our warm showers host, Gerry, about 10 miles away. He was wearing an American flag jersey, so he was hard to miss. He told us that he figures people will give him a wide berth if he wears an American flag and uses a bright flashing light. Unfortunately, that tactic won’t work in Canada, where it seems like we’ll need it the most. 

Gerry is a retired businessman and former bike racer. He spends his time organizing charity bike rides, Nordic ski races, etc. We chatted for the 30 miles back to his house, and it was nice to have someone new around to help the miles tick by a bit faster. He also took us on the scenic route through the Chippewa Flowage, which was a gorgeous area that we would have missed had we stayed on route. 

              

We arrived around 5:30p to Gerry’s beautiful 5-acre compound, which has a white picket fence out front with a flag on each post for each country and state in which they’ve raced bikes. When coming out to meet us, Gerry met another bike tourist named Meng, so he invited Meng to spend the night at his house, too. Meng was there when we arrived, and is a mechanical engineering grad student from China, studying at the University of Minnesota who is spending a month biking around Lake Michigan. 

Mary, Gerry’s wife who also raced bikes (and canoes!), got home from work while we sat on the porch to rehydrate. 

Gerry has an incredible garage / horse stable / shed in which he has an amazing workout room and an “Italian-style bike shop.” This place was like a toy shop for bike enthusiasts.  Ted quickly took advantage of Gerry’s bike stand to make repairs while I chatted with Mary and Gerry. 

We all showered and then ate a Mexican feast with corn on the cob, beef and chicken fajitas, beef tacos, and enchiladas. So much food! Everything was delicious. 
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We watched a little of the Tour de France and got a little sad about how slowly we ride / a little motivated by how intense those guys are. Gerry couldn’t bear the fact that all three of us were riding bikes wearing t-shirts, so he brought a bunch of his old jerseys out for us to take! I now look like I’m sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, but Ted chose a more understated, ventilated jersey. 

  

Tomorrow we’ll bike to a nature reserve on a lake, which we’re very excited about!

Day 26: The day of Cycling 4 Change

Day 26, Havre, MT to Malta, MT: 90.3 miles, 1,240 ft. elevation gain, 13.2 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 1,202 miles (60.1 daily average), 63,701 ft. elevation gain, 11.5 mph overall average speed

Four days behind schedule.

Some of you might think that our ride recaps can be a little long. For anyone that has that opinion, here is the abbreviated summary of today:

Hot. Long. Hot. Prairie. Hot. Happy ending.

That’s the day in a nutshell. Now for a little more detail.

We’ve been doing much better at getting an early start over the past few days. It’s amazing how willing and eager Dani has been to wake up at 5:00a. It’s way out of character for her, but a few rides in midday heat and the fear of potential headwinds have overcome her fierce desire to sleep in.

All that being said, we got a really late start today. In many ways it was out of our control. Our new tent didn’t arrive when it was supposed to, so we had to wait for the post office to open at 8:30a. But then we slept in a little too late and we didn’t end up getting on the road until a little after 9:00a.

It was already getting uncomfortably warm, and the late start also ended up creating a bit of a psychological challenge as well. We’ve been pushing ourselves to see how many miles we could ride before 9:00a, 9:30a, etc. as a way to keep ourselves motivated. Yesterday, for example, we were stoked to finish the 42 miles between Shelby and Chester before 9:30a. So when started off at 9:00a, it felt like we were already 40 miles off pace and we were intimidated by the prospect of our 90 mile ride for the day. But intimidated or not, we had no choice but to ride, so off we went.

A couple of miles down the road I noticed a truck with flashing lights veer into the shoulder behind us. Before I could even start freaking out properly, the truck started honking. They honked long enough to make it clear that they were honking at us, so I yelled up to Dani and we pulled over.

“I got a 30 ft. load coming up, and y’all aren’t gonna want to be on the road. You better get down into the ditch until it passes.”

Uh, OK. We got off our bikes and headed down into the ditch, and then this passed us.


This was a bit of a continuation of a theme. Yesterday (during the rumble strip shoulder part of the day) we were passed by a couple trucks carrying houses on their beds that were as wide as the entire road. After the second or third time being forced off the road, Dani started (fruitlessly) yelling at the passing trucks, inquiring why people don’t just build their houses where they want to live.

Turns out the Spa/Bar combo isn’t too successful. 

Anyway, we got back on the road and pedaled on. It was approaching 90 by 10:00a, and well beyond by 11:00a. We spent much of the late morning and early afternoon counting down the miles until the next town so we could get (at least two liters of) cold drinks, snacks, and fill up our water bottles with ice at the fountain machine. Those insulated water bottles Dani talked about have been absolute lifesavers. We pack them full of ice and just top them off with water. Then, when we’re riding through the 95 degree heat, we’ll drink the cold water and reuse the ice to chill more water. We generally get 3-4 cold refills out of each bottle of ice. The cold water is manna from heaven. There is nothing worse than having to drink 95 degree water on a 95 degree day.

Cold drinks were our main focus as we pushed through the prairie past Chinook and Harlem. The drivers this morning weren’t the friendliest and the shoulder wasn’t the widest, so Dani took a break and took a picture of this whimsical sign to cheer herself up.


Past Harlem but before Malta we ran into a group of cyclists operating out of an RV and we stopped to say hi.

The group is called Cycling 4 Change. Two brothers and their families started a nonprofit and are riding across the country to raise money to fight human trafficking. The families consist of a mom, dad, and four kids each (four boys and four girls), and they have two unrelated college students riding with them. Three people are cycling the entire route, and everyone else is biking sections. They gave us cantaloupe, chocolate milk, sports drinks, and bananas as we chatted, a welcome treat with 10 miles to go! They are wonderfully generous and kind people who believe deeply in their cause. It was wonderful to meet them and we wish them the best of luck in their endeavor.


  After we said goodbye to the Cycling 4 Change folks, we finished the last 10 or so miles into Malta, where we are staying with a couchsurfing host. More kindness. More generosity. Terry welcomed us into her home and had lemonade waiting for us. And puppies. The cutest Boston terrier siblings who cuddle like they’re posing for a puppy calendar. We jumped through the shower, and then we feasted.

Steak, baked potatoes, asparagus, grilled mushrooms and onions, macaroni salad, green salad… so much amazing food!! We ate until we thought we would burst, and then we headed off to sleep in a super comfortable bed.


 What a way to end a day.

Day 25: The day of the rumble strip

Day 25, Shelby, MT to Havre, MT: 107.8 miles, 2,385 ft. elevation gain, 14 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 1,112 miles (58.5 daily average), 62,461 ft. elevation gain, 11.4 mph overall average speed

 Four days behind schedule.

We woke up from a deep sleep (beds!) at 5:30a, but couldn’t manage to get as early of a start as we aimed for, leaving around 6:30a. We were greeted by a small hill out of town, but then flats / downhills / small rollers for the next 40 miles into Chester. We beat our previous cycling without stopping record by 10 miles, cycling for 27 miles nonstop. We made it to Chester, 42 miles in and 2/5 of our total ride by 9:45a and decided to treat ourselves to breakfast at Spud’s cafe. I got a delicious, sloppy skillet meal and Ted got the Hungryman breakfast, which included, among other things, a giant ham steak.

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Our waitress was a nine- or ten-year-old girl sucking a lollipop. Sort of disconcerting, but I guess child labor is common at family-owned restaurants in tiny towns in Northern Montana? She probably considers it a fun summer activity.

We met two other bike tourists at the restaurant, two retired guys from Des Moines who were cycling the northern tier to Iowa. Interestingly, more than half of the other cycle tourists we’ve met on this trip are in their 50s and 60s and retired. When else do you have the time to do something like this? They also tend to have higher budgets than the rest of us and stay in motels most, or at least many, nights.


After breakfast we pushed on, determined to break our remaining 61 miles into manageable 20-mile increments. We passed through many grain fields (I had “America the Beautiful” stuck in my head all morning and couldn’t figure out why they weren’t golden waves of grain rather than amber until I finally saw an amber field of grain) and many cute towns with funky signs. We learned today that town=grain elevator. A town might also have a restaurant, car service shop, or convenience store, but not much else and not usually. Towns with grocery stores seem to be about 40-50 miles apart.





We stopped in Rudyard about 20 miles after Chester because the town seemed to have a funny obsession with dinosaurs and it definitely had a Amish deli, where we hoped to get cold drinks. They also had a funny sign that made us think there would be interesting people in the town. Most of the shops on main street were boarded up except for the Amish Deli (which was not only not boarded up, but had a neon sign to ensure folks don’t miss it), a movie theater (playing a mystery movie on Thursday and that was it), and a pristine Wells Fargo bank. Interesting to see the businesses that stick around after the town falls apart.

We walked into the Amish deli and found the lunch rush of farmers. Got some weird looks in there, but proceeded to the ice cream counter. A small boy, possibly 12 years old, peaked over the counter and told us to sit wherever we liked. We ordered milkshakes and they took over 20 minutes to come out because the 12 year old was slow and deliberate in his operation of the ancient milkshake machine. Among other problems with child labor, I’ve found that nine to 12-year-olds are sort of brusque, forgetful, and inefficient. But you can’t fault them for it because they’re children and they haven’t yet learned about Americans’ expectation for fast, error-free, pandering customer service.

After delayed milkshakes, we had to make up time to get to the post office before it closed at 5p. We rushed to Havre without stopping much or for long and got to the post office only to find out that the package that we paid extra to ship express had not arrived. We called REI and they refunded our shipping, but we will have to get a late start tomorrow since we have to go to the post office.

 

We headed to our warm showers host’s house. Lindsay is 26, works in admissions at Montana State University – northern, and is pursuing her MPA at University of Montana. She fed us curry chicken sandwiches and ants on a log! Yay! Lindsay has sort of set her living room up as a hostel and loves hosting travelers and hosts people frequently, which is so nice of her. We hung out with her, her friend John Paul (who is also a warm showers and couch surfing host), and his couchsurfing.com guest, a man from Pakistan who is riding the Empire Builder train across America and wanted to spend a few days in each state he passed through and somehow chose Havre of all places. I suppose it is the biggest town we’ve ridden through in Montana that’s on the train line, but what an odd part of America to see. Cowboys and a few young people who ended up in Havre at the beginning of their careers or to go to school. His next stop is Sandpoint, ID, though, so I think he’ll find that a bit more interesting.

Lindsay attended the University of Miami and when I attempted to bond with her over us both attending Florida schools, she made sure to tell me that Miami was “statistically” a better school. I don’t know what statistics she’s citing, but if she’s referring to US News rankings, UF and UM are tied at 48th so they are “statistically” equal and neither school is great anyway. But the more important point is that US News rankings are not statistics. Anyway, that’s my petty rant for the day.

We had a nice conversation about life in Montana, during which we learned that Lindsay and John Paul are both paying less for a one-bedroom apartment than I paid for my share of a four-bedroom apartment in college, which is less than a quarter of what we pay for a much smaller one-bedroom apartment in NYC. So that was enlightening.

Get to sleep in tomorrow a bit since we can’t start until 8:30!

Edit: I forgot to mention why today was the day of the rumble strip! We rode for about 15 miles with a one-foot shoulder that was entirely rumble stripped, then for 25 miles on a shoulder that had a deep rumble strip at the white line, but the whole rest of the 3-foot shoulder was a less visible, but still very painful rumble strip. The problem with the latter is that cars aren’t as forgiving about bikes on the road when there appears to be a perfectly good shoulder, so we had to ride on that stupid rumble strip every time a car passed, which was often.