A brief Hiatus

Destination: Singapore
Duration: 5 months

Well after a few months of some excellent riding, finding amazing riding buddies in Chris, Andres and briefly Thomas & Manuela, meeting some amazing people along the way, I decided to hang up the saddle for a short while. Kind of a forced breather of sorts. I am headed home, which is a bit far from the concept of home, to be honest. My home actually takes up 24 sqft, packs into a cubic foot, travels with me and contains the whole wide world.

Well I am going to a home in the normal sense anyway.

After reaching Vientiane, we headed to Jo’s, an amazing host and friend. Time flies in good company and Vientiane is a nice town to be taking a pit stop. The days were spent playing with the 3 little doggies, stuffing my face with food, interesting conversations and learning a thing or two about making some delicious stuff.

Jo taught me to bake a cake, from the basics and shared a variety of tips on making improv. I ain’t going to bake cakes soon, but chocolate truffles, I am going to make a bunch and eat them too :-) And to top all that, I even got Laos stamped on my burgeoning body art collection.

After the nice break in Vientiane, after the hectic ride in south Laos, I headed out on my bike, a last border crossing into Nong Khai, Thailand. It was a painless process as it has been all along and I rode into the railway station to catch a over mightier to Bangkok. The third class tickets were cheap and the train was far from crowded. So I managed to get a bit of shut eye.

Got into BKK in the wee hours and I decided to hang out at the mile map hostel mooching on the wifi and waiting for my cycling buddy, Steve. When Steve dis show up at noon, we swapped stories and I waited till sometime in the evening to head to a bike shop for a box. Pro bike was the place we headed to and though they quoted 100 bhat over the phone, when I got there, they just let me help myself to one of the boxes and provided tape and tools to finish the packing. This is the first time pumpkin is getting boxed and Steve gave some good advice on the packing.

I had picked the biggest box in the pile and it stood at 6ft long. I figured it’d be a bit of a hassle finding a cab willing to take it and I wasn’t surprised when I stood on the streets for nearly 3 hours with no cab able to fit the sucker in. My best bet was a maxi cab and the fellers were quoting me ridiculous rates. I decided to stick around even if took all night long. A few of the locals tried to help me here. One lady walked to the other side of the road and tried to way lay the maxi cabs and at one point, a cabbie drove around to look for one. It was all without fruit though.

At 9:30 or so, one of the guys grabbing a drink came by and asked me where I was going. He said he lived near the airport and decided to give me a lift on his truck. Awesome!

It’s going to be a night at the airport and I’d prefer hanging out here next to the flight rather than have a half hearted sleep in a hostel and risk road closures. Bangkok has been heating up a bit with protests in the past few days.

Well bike in box, bags packed, ticket in hand, I am headed back to the cozy confines of the brick and concrete apartment. The road beckons, but this break is more than just taking rest. Wait up, unexplored roads, I will be right back!

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Day 140: Vientiane, here I am

Up at 6ish again and we packed up and left just at 7. A quick b’fast of omelets and we were on the road heading towards Vientiane. Jo was free when we are in town so it was all about heading to a friends home.

90 km to town and we targeted to get there by lunch. A hard 40 km ride up front set the pace and the weather was perfect for a bike ride, overcast and mild breeze. The wind seemed to have turned a little and I got headwinds going south too. But hey, it’s the home stretch and I can’t complain.

A quick break for coffee and we started on the second leg of 30 km. The roads started to get a bit busy by this time and we had to contend with trucks going both ways. I guess that’s expected when heading to a capital city. There was not much of a store at 30 km mark so we rode in for another 10 km and stopped off just at the outskirts of town. Some ice creams to refresh the body and we rode on.

Chris had to check up on the Chinese embassy and we tried to ride into town looking for a travel agent. As it is with Chinese visas, the policies change pretty rapidly and the travel agents advised him to get his visa directly at the embassy. Well we rode to the embassy, which was obviously not working afternoon, but one of the staff did tell us it was possible to apply in Vientiane (jury is still out though) and he’d have to check in the morning. Ah well.

We headed to Jo’s place. Cam let us in and it was nice to meet her after a month. The doggies went a little berserk and I played with them a bit. Later in the evening, Jo came from her school and we spent the evening catching up with her. Nice to be back!

Route: Thabok to Vientiane
Distance: 104 km
Ascent: 1050 ft
Descent: 950 ft
Time in saddle: 7:00 hrs
Expenses: Sg$
Comments: Ride into Vientiane was flat with a bit of traffic, but the idea of getting some place makes the ride easier.

Day 139: Flat as pancakes ride

We braced ourselves for a long day and that meant we start early and as it is with anything, we split it into bite sized chunks and intermediate targets. Usually my ride is free form, but when we want to move with a clock, the technique of making small targets helps. We were 235 km from Vientiane and one of the things we wanted to do was to get below 100 by the end of he day. My legs were feeling the effort of the past week and it would have to be a mental slog more than anything.

We were up and out at 7 am, that’s a good start. We hopped into a shop for b’fast. They tried to rip us for 25,000 kip for fried rice. We just refused to pay and offered 10,000 and the feller accepted. Bugger. After that, we scouted a town about 42 km away and that was the first target. We rode hard and we got in just before 10:30 am. We wanted 50, but knowing Laos, there might not be any thing to eat in the next 30 km. A shot of soy milk and a little rest later we were off, targeting another town about 55 km away for lunch.

The route was really flat and when we’d turn west, the headwinds were not an issue anymore and the pace was pretty high. We ate the distance before 1 pm and as we reached town, picked up a watermelon and found a restaurant. We had food and they chopped the water melon for us. We decided to take a bit of a rest and a brief nap. There was a bit of pressure build up in my ears and that was irritating. Well at half past 2, we hit the road again. With another 50 or km still to go.

There were few targets in mind, first up was to get to 120 km to Vientiane, that would even out the distance, next was to do 30 km before rest, followed by a hunt for 100 km to VT and then cruise home. After 20 km I spotted a pharmacy and figured I could get some help with the ears. Too bad no one was in. I got a soda and gulped it down. It wasn’t all that helpful. So I just put my head down and rode.

When I passed he 100 mark, that felt good. Means tomorrow would be a chill day. And the last 7 km was a ride in the cool breeze. We got into the town and found a nice wat by the river. Again, the monks were totally accommodating and let us sleep in their hall. Awesome. A quick dinner later, we retired for the night!

Route: Namthong to Thabok
Distance: 142 km
Ascent: 800 ft
Descent: 800 ft
Time in saddle: 10:00 hrs
Expenses: Sg$ 12.67
Comments: the scenery is pretty with lots of hills in view. Route was flat, flat and flat.

Day 138: Another slog into the night

It was a surprisingly disturbed sleep, guess it was he weekend and given that the way was near the Maekhong where the pubs are, it wasn’t surprising. Someone started hitting the bell at 3 am and I couldn’t get much sleep. We packed up at 7 and after b’fast we stopped at a cafe for wifi. Chris had to find some info on Chinese visas and we spent the morning there. It was almost 11 when we decided to get the show on the road.

Another hot day was at hand and I slogged my way thro for the first 40 km. It was 1 pm when we stopped for a break and the store owner invited us to eat some sticky rice. Cool! After that bit of lunch, I decided to take a nap and it was a quick 2 hours. I guess the last few days of riding is getting on my legs and the body took to the rest like fish to water.

We had another 55 km to some town and we targeted that, the roads were rolling, not big hills, but enough to get me working hard. The headwinds were there too, bummer. We did about 30 km or so and stopped for a breather. We were already pushing 5 pm with 25 km more to go. Ouch, looked like another ride in the dark.

The distance was covered slowly and when the sun went down, we slowed a bit more. We reached some village and they told us a wat was probably 3 k’s away. We found the place and once again the monks were nice to let us sleep there. We walked into the shop for dinner, somehow I couldn’t muster an appetite and decided to stick with soy milk.

Guess will do a big b’fast tomorrow and make an early start. We could get to vientiane in 2 days. Whoop whoop.

Route: Thakhek to Namthong
Distance: 107 km
Ascent: 1650 ft
Descent: 1550 ft
Time in saddle: 8:30 hrs
Expenses: Sg$ 7.17
Comments: riding in the night is amost more refreshing than riding in the heat. Luckily dogs in Laos are more sedate than the Thai ones.

Day 137: One pedal stroke after another

I woke up at 6:30 and the entire household seemed to be out and about. Ouch. Anyway, after packing up quick, we were about to leave when they offered us some b’fast of fried egg and sticky rice. We had that and they gave us a few bananas too. Pretty nice for people to share what they have with us hungry and weary travellers.

We hit the road hoping to do some distance today. The countdown to Vientiane is on and we would like to get there in a few days. The first bit was a nice ride in the morning sun. We took a break after hitting 50 km. This was more of a drink stop and after a 15 minute rest, we headed towards lunch.

We managed to chalk up another 40 km before lunch and the sun was starting to get high. We stopped for some noodles and a couple of french cyclists passed us. Chris chased them down and we hung out for a bit swapping stories. They had another 60 km to get to Savannakhet and we had 60 km to Thakhek. We were contemplating a 40 km but were inspired by these tourers and decided to get to Thakhek. As we were leaving, we met another cyclist, also from France. Gosh Laos is filled with tourers.

It was a time trial for the next 40 km and we hit a market just at the end of that ride. It was past 5 pm and the sun was fading fast. I had some coconut and after a brief stop, we decided to do the final 20. It was dark when we got into the ride and it was slower than the daytime pace. But hey, with no sun, it was much easier riding in the cooler weather and we got into town in the dark after 6:30 pm.

We rode around town looking for a monastery and found one just along the Maekhong. The young monks were super friendly and invited us to pitch camp in a big courtyard. They gave us some biscuits to munch too. As we were setting camp, a German couple walked past, curious to see what we were up to. As it turned out, they were cycle tourists too and we hung out a bit having dinner and talking travels.

Guess it was a long hard day of riding, but at least we were in a town with food and just 330 km more to Vientiane!

Route: Some Village before Savannakhet to Thakhek
Distance: 155 km
Ascent: 2050 ft
Descent: 2150 ft
Time in saddle: 11:30 hrs
Expenses: Sg$ 7.50
Comments: Long day on the saddle. Feeling fine but the legs starting to get a bit tired. Roads are getting to be a bit boring, but still good pavement.