Strokes to Spokes – Week One


Early morning mist across the rice fields and palm trees near Skun, Cambodia.

Early morning view from my guesthouse near Skun Cambodia

Every journey starts with a single step. This week I began a huge step in my life and the first week has come and gone without a hitch. Strokes to Spokes began seven days ago. I rode five of the first seven days for a total of 309 miles. I planned a day off in Phnom Penh to look for a tripod head which was hard to find but I was successful. As I neared the southern part of Cambodia I kept thinking about the excellent food at Ciao! in Kampot so I headed that way and spent an extra day in one of my favorite Cambodian cities.

This is the rainy season in Cambodia and I expect to ride in rain from time to time. On the second day I had to get out my rain jacket for about twenty minutes of rain on my way into Skun. Riding into Kampot was a day full of rain in addition to a stiff headwind most of the day. Thoughts of the ravioli dinner waiting for me kept me focused on the road.

Most of Cambodia is flat. While it may seem that flat is good for riding a bicycle flat means you have to pedal all the time. If there are no uphills there are no downhills. This leaves no opportunity to coast. Constant pedaling. Stop pedaling, fall down.

Traffic in a city along a two lane road in Cambodia on my Strokes to Spokes bicycle ride

Good size cities are never too far apart.

Most of the first week I had to ride on busy two-lane roads. Cambodia does not have a lot of alternate routes and those that may seem to be a better choice can turn nasty in the rainy season. Other than a one hour stretch all of the roads I took I have ridden on before but starting with week two all of the roads will be new to me. And I really love being on a road I have never been on before!

It is easy in this part of the world to make it from one guesthouse to the next. I have a tent and sleeping bag with me for those times when I just can’t make it to the next town but I think camping will be in the minority – at least for now. Normally I would always want air conditioning in my room but I am changing my ways and opting for rooms with fans only. Sometimes a fan room is half the cost of an air conditioned room here in Cambodia.

My guesthouse in Skun was a few miles past the town itself. There weren’t many options for dinner and I found myself walking down the nearest road to see what I could find. It looked promising from a distance but as I walked along all the lights that I thought might signal food were signs for other businesses. I finally found a family stall that sold fried chicken with a bunch of locals eating there,. The teenage daughter spoke some English which made her mother and father proud. They looked on with gratifying smiles as she interpreted my needs and their questions.

Water filled farmland with a basic hand tractor with Bokor Mountain in the distance. Strokes to Spokes bicycle ride

Farmland near Kampot with Bokor Mountain in the distance

Phnom Penh kept up to its reputation as a big, chaotic city. I have ridden there a number of times on bicycle and motorcycle. I think I have become somewhat numb to what many westerners consider bad driving. The best thing is to go with the flow and just keep your eyes open. Riding on a bicycle is slower so it is easier to avoid mishaps and if something does happen any injury would hopefully be minimized.

My loaded bicycle leans against an ice cream truck parked outside a factory in Cambodia.

Anytime is the right time for ice cream!

I was going to head straight to Ha Tien Vietnam from Phnom Penh. This would be a two day ride for me. But on the way I was thinking about an Italian restaurant in Kampot that I really like. Since I had time to make a decision, and I am not constrained by time (how cool is that!?) i took some time to make up my mind. After thinking it through I decided to head west and spend two days in Kampot.

I battled wind and rain on the way to Kampot but thoughts of my dinner kept me going. When I finally made it to town I checked in to my guesthouse, took a shower and walked to the restaurant.

Gone. Disappeared. Kaput in Kampot!  As they say in Italy – Ciao!

What a letdown. There was nothing here but a huge construction site. I was too physically exhausted to be pissed off. Maybe if I walked around the neighborhood I would walk past their new location – not that I knew there was one.

Instead I opted for a Margherita Pizza at another Italian place in town and drowned my sorrows in an Angkor draft. I asked for the wifi password and defiantly searched for any presence of Ciao! in Kampot. I found one post that listed a location about six miles outside of town. It said that they now open at 12:30 – good for someone on a bicycle that doesn’t want to ride back to Kampot in the dark tomorrow evening.

A sign leads the way down a dirt path for Ciao!, an Italian restaurant near Kampot, Cambodia

Now Ciao! is nowhere near the crowds of Kampot

The next afternoon with dark rain-filled clouds looming in every direction I headed west to get some Italian food. It is a little out of the way, down a dirt road and then down a dirt path to what turned out to be the owners home. When the new construction booted him from his old location he decided to change around his home and started cooking there. It is low season here so it seemed to be a perfect time.

The food was as good as I remembered making the effort to get here worth it. I had pesto ravioli –  made by hand right there by one Italian chef and his Khmer wife. I was joined by a young German couple who just started their one year journey to see as much of the world as they can before they think about working. University is over for them and they didn’t want to be stuck in the corporate rut that traps so many. They are starting in Cambodia and then on to Vietnam with no plans after that. How fun is that?

Tomorrow I head into Vietnam. Luckily the prevailing wind will be at my back for a short thirty mile ride bringing me to country number two. I have a one year visa for Vietnam which runs out in April of 2019. That gives me plenty of time to explore and eat my way up the country. My thoughts at the moment have me spending one to two months in Vietnam before crossing over into Laos.

Everything is decided as I go. I look forward to learning new things about Vietnam and eating new foods. Between Vietnam,Thailand, Cambodia Vietnamese food is my favorite.

I am going to be a happy man.

Strokes to Spokes
Around the world bicycle ride

Help Keep Me On the Road
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Random Acts of Kindness

I will try to write about those little things that make life fun and make me smile. On a trip like this they are a reminder that most of the people in the world are good and those with bad intentions are far outnumbered. It is because of these people that I know if I were ever to come across a bad situation there will always be someone to help me.

On the second day of riding a moto pulled up next to me to start a conversation as we were rolling along National Road 6. Him and his friend were from Vietnam and they were on their way home from a trip Angkor Wat. He asked me if I was hot – and I told him I was. He pulled a bag with a bottle of cold water from the handlebar and handed it to me and then they zoomed off towards Vietnam.

On the second day as I was downing my second can of some sort of drink the lady who owned the shop I stopped at handed me a free bottle of water. Either she knew I was still thirsty or she knew water was better for for me, or both!

I was riding into Tani in the dark on the fourth day of my trip. I knew the small village I was staying in had limited places to eat once the sun went down so when I passed a Cambodian BBQ restaurant about a mile outside of town I stopped to fill up for the night. The young waitress pulled me into the restaurant and into the kitchen to pick out the food I wanted. She proceeded to cook my food for me at my table (for those who don’t know these are cook-it-yourself restaurants).

She cut up my meat and fed it to me, scooped up some rice and fed it to me, peeled my shrimp dipped it in the sauce and then hand fed it to me. I have to say I felt a little funny about this but then I began to wonder. If this is what being in an old folks home is like sign me up!

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