Posted on October 9, 2018
My ‘Strokes to Spokes’ bicycle ride has taken me through three countries in my first one hundred days on the road. Starting in Siem Reap, Cambodia I headed south and crossed into Vietnam at Ha Tien. I made my way north through Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat, Ninh Binh and Hanoi. I turned back south and west to head into the mountains and over the border to Laos. The mountains of Laos were challenging to say the least but the beauty kept me moving forward through Phonsavan, Phou Khoun and south through Veng Vieng, Vientiane and Pakse and down to the 4,000 Islands.
I am about to cross the border to Cambodia to continue west through Thailand, Myanmar, India and beyond. On the road I have a lot of time to think. I have to plan my route both long and short term while gauging my hourly progress to choose a place to end the day as darkness nears. During my hours in the saddle I have thought about the many things I have learned on this trip so far. I have not yet reached an age where I am confident my knowledge is complete. My hope is that never happens as it will mean life would become boring. Nothing new, nothing exciting. Luckily this is a state that no one reaches, except maybe in their own mind.
- Always have enough cash in the proper currency. You never know when you will come across an ATM or a place to exchange money. It could be days. I had to take a local bus thirty-five miles back to Phonsavan, Laos to use the ATM before I headed deeper into the mountains where I knew I wouldn’t find an ATM, bank, or Western Union. Just because you have a lot of bills in your pocket does not necessarily mean you have a lot of money.
- Carry a spare tire. You never know when you might have a catastrophic failure or suffer extreme damage. As I rolled into Vientiane, Laos I noticed the side wall of my rear tire was about to blow. Luckily I made it without a problem but had I been anywhere else I wouldn’t have been able to find a tire. I know – I had been looking for a tire for a week. I always thought about carrying a spare but I thought it would be easy to find one when I needed one. I thought wrong.
- Check your bicycle thoroughly for needed tools. While you may think you have what you need there is always going to be one or two little adjustment screws that need something smaller or bigger than you thought you needed. I thought I was carrying just about everything I might need. I thought wrong. You never know the next place you will be able to find a bicycle mechanic.
- What should be there isn’t always there. Although Google Maps and Maps.me do a great job they are not always accurate. Don’t bet your life that something will be there when you need it or that it will be open when you want it to be. More than once I expected to find a guesthouse and all I saw was jungle. There was no guesthouse there. Never was.
- Your planned distance is never reality. I use a number of apps/programs to map out my routes as well as two bicycle computers when I ride. There has never been a time when all of the distances matched up. On a seventy mile day my computers can show three or four more miles than planned. This may not seem earth shattering but when you have been riding all day finding you are not there when you should be is exhausting just to think about. The mileage posted on roadside markers can never be trusted either.
- When climbing through the mountains and it seems the switchbacks and curves just never end there is always a place where that climbing reaches the summit. At some point you will feel the wind start blowing into your face. Not only is it refreshing but you know you are close to the summit at this point as the wind makes its way over the top of the mountain.
- Riding in the dark is actually peaceful. A few times I found myself running out of daylight with my destination miles ahead. I have good lights on my bicycle, front and back, which allow me to see and be seen. Since most of the areas I ride in are rural people tend to go home and stay home after dark giving me quiet roads to ride on.
- Sometimes I have to be the one to say hello first. When I pass people on the road it is hard for them not to notice me. I can see the fleeting glance and then the death stare straight forward as they try to convince me that they never saw me. While most will smile, wave or say hello there are those that just go on their way and pretend I don’t exist. Often when I am the one initiating a greeting they light up with a beaming smile and say hello. I guess sometimes they just don’t know what to expect from this stranger in their town.
- A rain jacket doesn’t keep you dry when the temperature is in the nineties. It may keep the rain off of you but it does nothing more than increase the amount you sweat. As I ride along in the stifling heat and rain with my rain jacket on I have to regularly stretch out my arms and point them to the ground. This allows the pool of sweat to rush out of the sleeves on my jacket. I sometimes wonder why I even wear my rain jacket – but it does make me feel better.
- Don’t let other people touch your bicycle. A fully loaded bike is not something people really understand and they don’t know how unbalanced and heavy it can be. Although their intentions may be to help it does not always work out that way. I had a couple of things break due to good intentions. Sometimes a stern refusal is needed since there is a language barrier. They key it to get the point across without putting people off.
- Don’t believe anyone when they say the road ahead is flat. Ever. When I left Dalat, Vietnam I had eighty-five miles of riding from five-thousand feet down to sea level. Everyone said I could do it in a day. It’s all downhill they said. Looking at the elevation map it looked like a relatively flat thirty-five miles followed by twenty miles of downhill coasting. I should have looked at the numbers too. I had over fifty-six hundred feet of climbing before I reached the downhill. It took all day just to ride through those hills. I hit the top of the downhill at sunset and coasted the twenty miles downhill in the dark.
- When I can’t find the room key – I need to remember to look by the door. In many hotels/guesthouses you have to insert the key fob into a slot near the door to turn the electricity on. When I get packed up to leave I panic when I can’t find the key. I’m not going to say how many times I had to go through my bags just to find out the key is right where it needed to be. Let’s just say at this point in my life I should know better and move on.
- And most importantly I can’t do this alone. Even though I am riding alone I am supported by many people. Friends, family and strangers. People who send me words of encouragement. People who help me take care of my business back home while I am half a world away. Strangers who give me directions or give me food and water. The people who donate through my blog (link below) or buying through my Amazon Affiliates links. It may be my legs that propel me forward but without all of the support from other people I could never succeed or even attempt a trip like this.
- Thank you to all of you!
Strokes to Spokes
Around the world bicycle ride
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