Happy New Year Gang! I hope this finds everyone making new years resolutions to travel more and do more of what makes you happy. Life is short.
Ville and I are in Spain, riding our bikes and in our happy place. The last time I wrote to you, we were just beginning to climb and by golly, climb is what we did! For three days we climbed over 1297 meters (2,992 feet), which doesn't sound like much after the Peruvian Andes, but it ended up including a lot of disappearing roads where we pushed our fully loaded bikes up washed-out ravines, canyons and mountainsides. We purposefully chose 'mountain bike routes' on our GPS and Maps.me, but the routes that were marked were for downhill riders, not uphill and we did not realize it until we were deep in it and headed uphill. As exhausting, thrilling, maddening and wild as the routes were, it made for a fantastic adventure and that is always what we are after. As Ville likes to remind me, no one becomes a good captain without navigating through many rough seas.
On the way up, we also got food poisoning and each spent a night sick as dogs in Guadix, followed by a day of riding on empty energy tanks. We did have some spectacular scenery and it made it all worth while when we reached the Puerto De Los Blancares Summit and dropped down into the city of Granada. Since everything was closed down because of the holiday, we spent Christmas there and were able to see the La Alhambra (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and walk all over the narrow cobblestone streets. Before leaving Granada, we met a super friendly guy from South Africa, Johan and his wife who invited us to their house for tapas and a chat by the fire. It was really nice to make some friends!
While in Granada, we learned that Ville's brother, wife and two kids would be flying into Alicante, Spain (a town along the coast we had passed through soon after leaving Valencia) and changed our plans a bit to make a trip back to see them. To do so, we rented a car (trains and buses do not allow bikes on them in Spain) and drove west to the port town of Cadiz. From there, we rode northeast to Seville, and had a very eventful couple days to get there. We met a very sweet old man on a bike who led us to a hotel in Lebrija, which was an unplanned stop but ended up being one of our favorite towns because it was full of the friendliest people. Up until then, we had traveled along the coast and through more touristy areas where Spaniards were not as thrilled to meet two touring cyclists and where we had met very few friendly people. Lebrija was a surprising exception. People came up to us in the town square to talk to us, an old lady came up to me to tell a joke while I waited outside the post office and people even waived to us! It felt really nice to meet kind, friendly people.
With only 35 miles left to ride into Seville, we were sure it was going to be a fun, easy day. Oh how wrong we were. After a week of rain AND the fact that we had chosen to ride farm roads through an estuary called Brazo del Este Natural Area (didn't know it was a flooded plain until we were, again, deep in it and our bicycle tires were covered in mud.) It felt like riding in glue and Ville's clearance between his tire and bike frame did not accommodate all the mud that was sticking to his tires and he continually had to get off the bike and carry it, digging out the mud with sticks repeatedly along the way. Let's just say, he was not a happy camper and nor was I. We decided to detour into headwinds far off our route to get onto a paved road and then head back north on a highway into Seville.
Once we arrived in the city, Ville booked us a really nice hotel in the downtown with a balcony overlooking the cathedral for my birthday! What a guy. We spent my birthday walking around the city, not getting into any of the sites because you had to plan ahead (which we do not do) and book tickets into everything and went ice tubing in the Winter Park instead. It was a blast! See the videos below.
After New Years, we rode to Cordoba. It took us two long, boring days along a highway and we had an excellent night camping in the backyard of a truck stop, sandwiched between the train tracks of the bullet train (which travels at 180 miles per hour) and a bunch of parked road construction equipment. The nicest lady working there gave us the OK to camp. In the morning, we watched car loads of farm workers gather and carpool to work, many of them African immigrants. We had a typical Spanish breakfast of pork leg and tomato puree on a white bread roll and shoved off towards Cordoba. We arrived by the end of the day in the city and have spent the last two days exploring the Alcazar De Los Reyes Cristianos (Castle or Fortress of the Christian Monarchs) and walking along the Guadalquivir River.
Tomorrow we will head to Madrid, then take a train back to Alicante to see Ville's family. Really excited we get to see Ville's family on this trip to Europe. I will try and post again soon, thanks everyone for emailing us and following along. Have a fantastic beginning to this new year and we hope to see you all soon. Until then, keep on keepin' on ya'll.
Back on the road and looking for adventure...
After a 10 day rest in Valencia, Spain to let my broken foot heal, we were ready, more than ready to get back out on the road. We decided to head south along the coast with a little mountain climbing mixed in. Our original route we had planned would take us high up into the mountains, but as we realized on the first go, it is quite cold in the mountains in Spain, especially this year and almost all the small villages we planned to resupply in, were closed down for winter. So we took the coast.
The first stretch leaving Valencia and headed to the city of Gandia, was beautiful with a winding path right along the ocean front of the Mediterranean. From Gandia, we took a hiking/mountain biking route up into the mountains called Via Verde del Serpis, all the way to Cocentaina. We passed an incredible amount of unfriendly middle-aged-men riding down the hill past us and collected all their valuables they dropped on the trail behind them; a cell phone, headphones and money. It was an eventful day with spectacular scenery. We did have to work for it, however and after riding the following day into the town of Ibi, we were at over 3,000ft in elevation and it was freezing.
Riding out of Ibi, we dropped all the way back down to the coast to the big coast town of Alicante and took a day off to see the city and walk along the malecon. The following day we rode to the outskirts of Torrevieja, where we stayed a night with Ville's good friend from Finland's parents, Hessu and Sirkkis, who were renting a place for a couple months to soak up the sun and golf every day. Sorry Jazzy J we didn't get to see you, but we enjoyed hitting the nightclub with your Mom and Dad. The following morning, we scored some goodies in a Finnish market in downtown Torrevieja and had a pretty crappy ride through a bunch of greenhouses to the next big coastal city of Cartagena (we chose the 'car route' instead of 'biking route' on the GPS and learned the hard way that the slower route was far better even if it was slower, interesting and quite often took us to places fit more for hikers than fully loaded mountain bikes). We took a day off in Cartagena to walk around the city, see the ruins and drink our Lonkero drinks (Finnish beverages of gin and grapefruit juice) on the oceanfront.
The next morning, we climbed up out of Cartagena and things became more interesting. It was a long, slow climb over the coastal mountains and when we dropped back to the coast at the town of Isla Plana, the weather was much warmer, the town's architecture was more beautiful and expats from Central Europe were everywhere. Until then, the winds we battled everyday were fairly fierce and we had been riding in two layers of clothes to stay warm, even climbing! And the architecture of apartments, storefronts and buildings were not what I had pictured Spanish architecture to look like, we had been passing more skyscrapers that were all shuttered and looked abandoned. Every town, village and city we had passed though looked apocalyptic. This being our first time to Spain, we were not quite sure if it was because of COVID and the lack of tourism or if it was normally like this in the winter, but we have been told it is a bit of both. Once, we arrived in Isla Plana and headed south, we found the tourists, en masse. Lots of German and French license plates passing us and we hear there are lots of Central Europeans that live along the Spanish coast in the winter.
For those who don't know, Spain is one of those "siesta countries" and for those that didn't follow along on our ride through Argentina (another "siesta country"), we are not the biggest fans of them. For a touring cyclist who needs to stick to the riding schedule of daylight hours, it is a nightmare. There do not appear to be regular scheduled business or working hours here, one day a cafe will be open at 9am and the next day, maybe noon? Siesta is from around 3 pm until 8 or 9pm, so you better not show up at that time and expect to find anything open to get food. What is siesta you might ask? Siesta is time for everyone to go home and eat lunch and take a long nap. We say "Buenos Dias" to all the people we pass, some say it back, others do not. Since this is a more touristy coastline and not more of a remote route, we don't find the same friendliness from the locals we might if we were off the beaten path. But we can understand that, it must be hard for the local Spaniards to have an overwhelming amount of tourists descend on these small villages, wanted or not.
From Isla Plana to Puntas de Calnegre, about 18 miles, the road and Eurovelo 8 biking route we have been following, hugged the coastline, was sheltered from wind, nice and warm, packed full of playas, tourists, bars and restaurants. It also had long sections of hillsides covered with greenhouses and long stretches of beach with German vans and RVs, similar to the beaches we passed in Baja California full of Canadian and American snowbirds. After Puntas de Calnegre, things got REALLY interesting! We climbed up into the coastal mountains again through the Cabo Cope and Puntas de Calnegre Nataional Park, however, the trail we were riding on became a goat trail and then that even disappeared. We spent five miles, pushing bikes up and down steep washes and ravines wondering why had challenged maps that had said our chosen route was 'hikeable', but not 'bikeable.' Well, it sure was an adventure!
By the time we reached the town of Aguilas, we were sweaty, battered and bruised and stopped at a restaurant where we ordered so much food, even the waiter reigned us in. From Aguilas to Garrucha, for about 40 miles, the road hugged the coastline which was packed full of warm sunny beaches , bars, restaurants and tons of tourists. While we were riding along the sea cliffs in the morning, we passed an older Spanish man on an electric bike, who after a few leapfrogs, asked us to pull over at a lookout. When we stopped, he told us about a town nearby that was a good spot for food and beer. When Ville, being polite, said, "Oh, nice. Food and beer." The man replied, "Oh! You want to go get a beer, huh? OK! Let's go have a beer." And off we went, following him a few miles down the road to a small cafe in the center of the town of Villa Ricos. If anyone knows how to find the characters along the way, it is us.
After leaving Garrucha, we climbed steeply up and over more coastal mountains into the town of Carboneras back on the coast and there we were back in the wind and cold weather. We did get to see a family of mountain goats on the side of the hill and when I startled them, they ran stright up the side of the mountain. That was last night. Today, we climbed through Cabo de Gata National Park and it was beautiful! We climbed through dry, grassy hills of small estancias (farms), past cactus and wildflowers and then dropped down a dry wash of bright red and white rock until we came to San Jose, the small town we are currently staying in. Tomorrow, we plan to ride to the outskirts of Almeria, where we plan to begin a long, slow climb up to Granada.
Thanks everyone for writing us, commenting and following along. Without you, I would ditch the laptop that weighs more than a brick and lighten my load, but since you keep reading, I will keep writing. As for the foot, it is slowly healing. It has posed some challenges on this last leg of the journey, but I don't want my life to get too boring :) I have been taping it every day and Ville helps me sometimes with the bike when it is pushing it up or down major stuff. What a guy. And last but not least, the book is coming along with the editor. I am hoping to be close to getting it ready to print in about a month when we return to Oregon. Stay tuned! Until then, keep on keepin' on ya'll...
And we're off! But...wait...
We started off on our Spain Bicycle Adventure really well! Roy, Ville and I had a few days off to put our bicycles together, run a few errands and see a few of the sights in Valencia. I assumed I broke my foot before we left (because I ran it into our dresser, my little toe went sideways and I promptly popped it back into place before pretending it simply hadn't happened) and without seeing a doctor, I taped it, rested and we flew to Valencia. I was unable to walk more than hobble through the airports, but riding my bicycle seemed reasonable and so we set off into the mountains, Tres Amigos!
The riding went well, the scenery was spectacular and the weather was stellar. Ville and I met a local farmer, Miguel, in a small cafe who took us to his orchard and filled a bag of clementines for us to take along on our journey. What a guy! The route was great, easy climbing, back roads most of the way and our new bicycles were a dream! It was all the other things I had not taken into account that were not, shall we say, optimal with a broken foot: squatting to pee, putting my foot down when stopping the bike and climbing in and out of the tent. On the first night camping in an abandoned olive orchard, I fell on my foot climbing out of the tent and reinjured it. Ville made the call that we would return to Valencia the next day and see a doctor to get a proper x-ray and our buddy, Roy, decided to continue on south without us. We were really sad to part ways and bummed we don't get to travel together, but we were happy he decided to keep going because once we got to Valencia, saw an ER doctor and confirmed a broken toe, we were grounded for a minimum of two more weeks with a total healing time of 6 weeks! No bueno.
The silver lining, is that Ville and I were able to enjoy more of Valencia than we had planned and as it turns out, it is actually a pretty cool city! For a week, I sat in our vacation rental and finished a bunch of online continuing ed courses to keep my Real Estate License active (I work as a real estate agent in Bend and Portland, Oregon, when I am not riding bikes OR writing a book) and I used crutches to get out and about for breaks. No better time to be couch bound. We connected with a local Warmshowers' dude, Alex, and his girlfriend, Alex, and we met for lunch and shared some travel stories. After sending x-rays to my good friend, Sara, in Bend (who also happens to be a Physician's Assistant), I was given the OK to do "light" riding with my taped foot and we ventured out into the city. We rode through a green space, that runs through the length of the city and all the way out to the beach, almost daily. We ingested lots of paella, seafood, pork, goat cheese, pastries and coffee. For those who have not made it to Spain yet, we highly recommend a stopover. The food is tasty, the wine is fabulous, climate is moderate and the architecture is a beautiful blend of old and new.
Tomorrow, we are planning to leave Valencia and head south down the coast. The plan is to, as per usual, not make a plan and ride until we get hungry or tired. We will likely stay in a hotel until I can walk gingerly on my foot. We will talk to strangers, take risks and enjoy life. We hope you will come along with us. Until next time, keep on keepin' on ya'll!
P.S. A BIG Thank You to everyone that wrote us about The Book! It has been the biggest undertaking of my life. It turns out, writing a Blog while doing a two-year bicycle journey was fairly easy compared to sitting at a computer (while in Buenos Aires, Helsinki and Portland, Oregon) and trying to write a book about the ride. Sharing all the stories of kindness from strangers all along the way, was my driving force in doing so and it is our way of giving back. There are so many great people in this world! If you have not already, sign up for The Newsletter and I will let you know when the book is ready to be released and how you can order your copy. Thanks again for your continued love and support.
The time it took Ville and I to ride bicycles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Bahia Lapataia AND the time it took for me to write a book about it. Who knew writing a book would be so difficult, time-consuming and vastly different than riding a bicycle? Surely, not me! But guess what friends? The writing is complete! I know, I can hardly believe it either. But first, here is a brief update:
The last post I wrote was from Finland, just after Ville's father passed away and we found ourselves moving there to help out his Mom at the same time a global pandemic shut down the entire world economy. After six months of Ville living with his Mother in Lahti and I living in Helsinki, an hour south of them, we got a flight back to Oregon, where we found ourselves in a completely changed place. My hometown of Bend, Oregon had already been one of the most popular cities to move to in the United States pre-pandemic, but COVID refugees fleeing big city life only worsened the situation. And if Ville and I have learned nothing else, it is BE THE FISH THAT GO AGAINST THE FLOW. So we rented an apartment in downtown Portland, Oregon, a place with a mass exodus of people and also home to my siblings and our niece and nephew, and settled in to finish The Book and The Documentary.
Somehow, a year passed.
A year is 12 months, 48 weeks, 365 days. A year is an exorbitant amount of time. Plenty of time to write a book and complete a documentary, right? Well, yes and no. We are the coolest Aunt and Uncle and wanted to spend time with the kids; playing at the beach, rock climbing, critter hunting and obviously riding bikes. I also continued to work as a real estate broker in Bend and with the surplus of sales due in large part to those moving in partnered with extremely low interest rates, I spent many weeks driving back and forth between Bend and Portland, a nearly four hour drive each way. We also happen to love the outdoors and the Pacific Northwest is full of beautiful places to explore. Although we were grateful to stay employed and busy, non of those helped in book writing or documentary building. So it took a bit longer. Like, a year longer.
No matter, it is done! I had set a deadline for myself a month prior, to take a much needed work break during the holidays and we booked airline tickets for Nov. 17th to go to Valencia, Spain to begin a short bicycle tour. After booking flights, Ville went to hang out with my Dad in the woods and I broke my foot! As you can imagine, it put a bit of a damper on things, but I kept furiously writing. At least I hadn't broken a finger I rationalized. Then, on the evening of Nov. 16th, I completed the writing of the book! I sent all of it to my editing friend, Alison (a saint who has stood by me through the entire process) and a finish editor (Chuck) and we hopped a plane to Spain early the following morning. Phew! What a rush!
How does one do a bicycle tour in Spain with a broken foot you ask? No idea! But, if I can ride a bike from Peru to the bottom of Argentina with a broken tailbone, then I imagine I can figure out how to do it with a broken foot. Positive thinking is at the very least, a fabulous start. :) As I write to you now, Ville and our good friend, Roy, whom we met while biking in Chile, are out fixing Roy's front tire while I am catching up with you good people. Because I hadn't written enough over the last five years, I figured I would haul this brick of a laptop with me on this adventure and keep you all updated.
What is the plan, you ask? As per usual, no plans. We are going to head towards the mountains and see where the trails take us. So stay tuned. We have a tentative plan to fly back to Oregon mid-January because I will need to design the cover and layout of the book and get it printed once the edits have been completed. We are very close to getting a completed book in your hot little hands, so sign up for the Newsletter if you have not already, and I will be releasing the book title as well as announcing Pre-Sales shortly.
We pulled our new bikes from the bike boxes yesterday, put them together and will take them for a short little lap around the town this afternoon, just to make sure nothing falls off, before our planned departure tomorrow morning. I am planning to carry our camera, a couple lenses and a laptop to keep the Blog going. Although it is a lot of work, I just plain miss you all and want to stay connected. I will try and get an update every week or so as WiFi permits, so stay tuned. If you want to connect with us, we would love to hear from you, click on the CONTACT button above or email us at email@example.com. Wish us luck! Until next time, keep on keepin' on...
Hey all you cool cats and kittens! Long time no hear from. Ya, sorry about that, it was quite the year, right? Ya. About that.
Sorry for the massive delay in posting a new update. I just felt like there was not a whole lot to say. Plus, we were all on standby, waiting to see what was going to shake out from this Global Pandemic, and things only seemed to get worse. Before they got better. At least in Finland where Ville and I were. But then we flew back to the good old United States and immediately they were worse again. Like, WAY worse. And then there was the mess of it being an election year. Glad that is over.
So what happened to us? Well, Ville's Dad died suddenly last time I checked in, (last post). Ville and I flew to Helsinki, where he moved in with his Mom an hour north of the capitol on a lake (where they lived) and I moved into an apartment in downtown Helsinki so I could keep working ( I work as a real estate agent in Bend, Oregon and am also writing a book about our long bike tour). While there, the Finnish government locked down the capitol in an effort to quarantine the virus. And because Finland is small, people follow directions and everyone gets 5 weeks paid vacation time a year (that they used some of during the quarantine), IT WORKED!! And things re-opened. And no one had to wear masks. And borders were closed so no more virus coming in. Life was good.
Although, life wasn't really that great. To be completely honest, it was probably the most depressed I have ever been in my life. Why? Because my husband's father died, he and his Mom were seriously grieving and I was isolated and alone, far from friends or family for support, and felt like I lost my partner too. But, what was hard for me, was a hundred times worse for Ville, his brother and their Mom. We tried to focus on the positive, because life can always be worse we reminded ourselves every day. And I know that many of my closest friends had it far worse than I did. But, it didn't make it less hard. I am whole-heartedly grateful to my Finnish friends that made an effort to visit me, go for walks, bike rides, etc. to get me out of the apartment. Huge thanks to Johanna and Julia in particular.
We did get to spend a lot of time with our friends in Finland, I was able to play football/ soccer for a women's team in Helsinki every week, we spent Ville's 40th Birthday in Tallin, Estonia and then made a short trip to see our friend JBro and Linda in Germany when borders opened for a minute. After five months, we were able to get Ville's Mom moved to a new apartment where she is now living on a bus line, near town, in a neighborhood with new friends and is thriving. Ville's brother and his wife flew from Norway, where they live, to Finland during their vacation time to help with her move. On top of grieving, COVID posed many challenges along the way, closing down all meetings, in-person counseling, stores and any way to get out and focus on anything but grief.
Ville and his Mom championed through it and have come a long way in a year. Although, as anyone out there knows better than I, grief goes in stages and does not just end one day, it lingers, it flows just under the surface, it comes to you at night when you lie quietly waiting for sleep, it appears during holidays or moments when the loved one would normally be there. It just plain sucks. But, both of them are doing really well and continue to be the positive people they are and move forwards while holding onto the happy memories of Veikko.
Ville and I flew back to Portland, Oregon mid-August of 2020 and spent quite a bit of time catching up with my family. My sister, her husband and kids, brother and his girlfriend all live in Portland, while my parents live in Bend. We sold our house in Bend in 2019 and when we came back in August, COVID had turned it into a haven for those fleeing the pandemic. Although, Bend is a small town with not enough room for all those trying to flee and it has become a bit of a housing nightmare. I am back working as a real estate broker (actually never stopped, I continued to work the entire time from Helsinki with the help from colleagues and my Principal Broker), but trying to help people buy in this market has been rough. Great time to be selling your house, a horrible time to be trying to buy. Inventory is at an all-time low, still have a crazy amount of buyers on the market (OK all you economists out there, what can you tell us about supply and demand?), it has made for some ridiculous bidding wars and high prices.
Although Bend has been a bit messy, Portland is where we have been spending a lot of time enjoying my siblings and our niece and nephew. One of the fall-outs of COVID and school closures, is that kids have been stuck trying to learn from online school at home, on a laptop, for the last year. My nephew is 5 and in preschool. Anyone out there know what it is like trying to keep the focus and attention of a hyper-active 5-year-old in the classroom setting? Now, try doing it on a laptop with mute buttons, a virtual classroom full of kids and Mom (my sister) still trying to keep her own job on track as a manager of an accounting department. We felt like we could be of some help in Portland. Not a ton, but every little bit helps. And luckily, Braydon and Skylar are really dang cute and we love spending time with them.
We have been to the beach, parks, back to the beach and then a few other parks. Because, after all, it is a global pandemic, most places have been closed all year and there are limitations with all the rain that falls in Portland. I wouldn't trade all the time with the kids for anything. We have caught a lot of bugs, worms, beetles, salamanders, spiders and, yes, a few squirrels. He is 5 and she is 2. Hunting outside never gets old.
I am still writing the Book and Ville is still working on the Documentary. It is slow going, but we are both making a lot of progress. I am hoping to get to a point of Final Edit for my Book in a few months time, after that it will be ready to publish! And I am really happy with it so far, it has been a massive undertaking, far greater than I ever realized. Who knew writing a book about a two-year bicycle adventure would be so much harder than the physical part of riding it for two years. But I am grateful to my editor, Ali, for sticking with me and working so hard to get where we are. Thanks Ali! And Ville will be right behind me with the Documentary to release.
If you want to be informed about when either the Book or Documentary will be released, for pre-sale or purchase, please sign up for the Newsletter (this is only managed by me, personally, and WILL NOT be sold! Plus, I couldn't figure out how to do that anyways). Thanks so much everyone for sticking with us, we are all in this crazy, wild ride together and hope to be soon out there hugging, eating, beer drinking and traveling with all of you SOON!!! Until next time, keep on, keepin' on...
Where we are, is where we are meant to be...
I'm sorry friends, for such a long hiatus in writing everyone with an update. Our last post was written in Buenos Aires, Argentina over the Christmas holiday. A place so far away, literally and figuratively, to where we are today. I'll try and catch you up.
Ville and I flew down and lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina for two months, mid-November to mid-January, so that I could work on writing a book and Ville could work on the documentary he is making. After completing a bike ride from Alaska to Argentina, I was so inspired by all the kindness of those we met along the way, those that helped us, let us camp in their yards, stay in their homes, use their showers and spent time with us, to write about it. Without all the kindness of so many, our adventure would have been so very boring. We also learned so much along the way. Enough to fill the pages of a book and to try and share it with others.
Because I have a job, I work as a real estate agent/broker in Bend, Oregon, and also keep a packed social calendar, Ville suggested we move to somewhere outside Bend so we can both focus on our personal projects. Why Buenos Aires? Because it was the place we flew after we completed our Ride, made friends there, enjoyed the City and it would be an affordable place for us to rent and live for a couple months. We had a great time there (scroll down to see the last blog post for Argentina), went to horse races, football games, horse polo matches, visited friends and most importantly, completed about 1/3 of the Book and a good portion of the Documentary!
When our two months time was up, Ville and I flew back to Portland, Oregon and had some quality time with my Brother, Sister, her Husband and our Niece and Nephew. Braydon is a fantastic climber and Skylar is a wild and sassy girl. Ville drove me to Bend, where I continued my work on the book, while house sitting for a friend, and resumed helping friends buy or sell their houses. I also managed a trip up to Mt. Baker with my friend, Sara, to take an avalanche training course (I thoroughly enjoy snowboarding and want to get more into the back country and an AVI course is a must). Ville flew to Finland, where he is originally from, and spent some quality time with his Mom, Dad and friends. A week of the time he spent sick as a dog, visiting the hospital twice, and had to cancel a planned trip to Spain with his Brother, his Wife and our Nephew. After he felt better, he booked a weekend trip to Prague, Czech Republic with his Mom and Dad. Returning to Lahti, Finland to ice fish with his Dad and to Helsinki to visit a bunch of his childhood friends, he was able to get a lot of time with everyone.
He flew back to Portland, after almost a month abroad, where we spent a week with my parents in Portland and again, all my siblings. Back to Bend we went and both of us went back to work. We moved into a temporary furnished rental while we sorted out our next plan. Just a few days later, we got the tragic news that Ville's Dad passed away. Ville's Mom and Dad have lived over twenty years on a fairly remote lake in Lahti, a city an hour north of the capitol, Helsinki. His Mom is a fierce knitter and his Dad loved to fish and chop wood. His Dad was out ice fishing, as he did for years alone, but fell through the ice crossing an unseen crack in the ice, and drown. His Mom was the one who found him after he did not return, and luckily his Brother and his family was able to fly to Finland from Norway, that same day to be there with her.
My amazing parents helped us to book last minute flights to Finland a week later, so many of our friends brought us cards, food and called to check on us. For all of you we are so very grateful. After we landed in Iceland, we received news that the USA had locked down it's borders. We arrived in Finland on Thursday, the funeral was Saturday, and Sunday Ville's Brother and his family had to fly back to Norway early because they were closing Norway's border. It has been a very difficult time, but COVID-19 has really complicated things further. Ville and I spent a week in Lahti at his Mother's house, being there for her and trying to help with everything. We were unable to get out of the house other than short walks and all businesses have closed here as well. I feel so sorry for Ville and his Brother trying to sort through all the paperwork and banking issues right now, with everything closed. As you can imagine, this is a very challenging time for Ville's Mom and any prayers, healing energy, cards or messages you can send would be so greatly appreciated.
Because his Mom has a modest sized one-bedroom house, I am renting an apartment in downtown Helsinki so that I can continue on my quest to finish writing this book. Ville has stayed at his Mom's house to help her. And then, three days after I came to Helsinki, the government shut all entry and exit from the city to keep the spread of the virus contained. Although I completely agree with the closure, Ville and I have not seen or hugged each other in three weeks. And I will tell you, it has been one of the most challenging times we have been through. Loss and grief are difficult enough, but being apart is a whole other level of difficulty right now. I am always thinking of those so much less fortunate than us, those losing loved ones they cannot be there with, those struggling to put food on the table and pay bills. I am grateful we have each other, even separated.
While alone here in Helsinki, I have met with a few friends to go for walks, while social distancing, borrowed a bicycle from a friend and even got to play soccer/football with two kids I use to work with when Ville and I lived here 9 years ago. Thank you to all our friends who have reached out to me and us. I am so grateful for all of you. Word on the street is that, because of the lock down, the numbers of cases has decreased enough to re-open the border of Helsinki soon. If this happens, Ville is going to come spend a few days with me here in the City. I really hope so, I could really use a big hug from him. Until then, I find solace in knowing that nothing is permanent and this too shall pass. Challenges are always great learning lessons and we will grow stronger on the other side of all this. Reach out to those you love, tell them you love them and appreciate them. No better time than now. And until next time, hopefully when I am reunited with Ville, keep on keepin' on!
Howdy Ho Good People! Hope this update finds everyone well and excited to dig into loads of food and family for the holidays. Last update came from Ville, my good man stepped in to tell you about his adventures with Mango, my Dad, circling around through Utah on a quest to see as many National Parks, debauchery in Vegas and loads of male bonding time packed into two weeks. It has been a Bucket List for my Dad and I am really grateful that Ville was able to go and that they like each other enough to spend two weeks together. If you missed that post, scroll down the page, you will find it. And so, here is where I was when they were off playing, I was playing Best Auntie by watching our niece, Skylar, and nephew, Braydon, for over a week while my sister and her husband went to Mexico. Ville and I are travelers, and we miss out on a lot of precious family and friend time. So I was really excited I was offered the job and had absolutely the best time doing it. Here is a few pics from my week:
I like to think of myself as the "fun" Auntie, probably because I get really excited taking Braydon to the local climbing gym by their house. He is obsessed with Spiderman and Tarzan and everything a four-year-old is usually into and he is a natural! The other dude in the pics is Jordan, my brother, who is a crazy good climber and also a major inspiration to Braydon. I took him downtown Portland, Oregon for a day to climb with Jordan on the big walls and you can see how fearless he was climbing all the way to the top and even bounced himself back down like a boss without us even showing him. He will be the next adventurer for sure, sorry Lisa and Sean, but it's true.
We also grocery shopped with a giant car. For those of you with kids, you know how fun this is. I had forgotten that I made a promise the grocery run before that they could have the big car the next time, and then had to pony up some follow through the next run. As you can see, Skylar drove, and Braydon checked us out. A great success. Although exhausting, I loved every single minute and can't wait to get back for more! After my week was up, I got a ride back to Bend from a friend, Nate, where I met up with Ville back from his Two Bros Adventure and we crammed in catch-up, saw a few friends, some work and back to Portland for my cousin, Sara, to fly in for her 40th Birthday Celebration.
My cousin Sara, my sister Lisa and I fabulous time together in Portland - my brother Jordan gave us his apartment for four days so we could party, his girlfriend, Ami, took him in and gave us supplies and my parents and Ville came up to help watch the kids - and the ladies went wild. You will notice we made Sara a cake decorated in penises, because I mean, what forty year old woman doesn't want a penis cake? We hiked up to the Pittock Mansion, got pedicures, walked through haunted cemeteries, hit up happy hours, and stuff. On Saturday, my other cousin , Carrie, drove down from Washington with her son Cade to join in the fun. A great time had by all! And Ville, you can see, is an excellent Uncle. And after Sara flew home to Cali, Carrie left, my parents drove back to Bend, Ville and I jumped on a plane and flew to...Buenos Aires, Argentina!
And here is why, I AM FINALLY WRITING THE BOOK!!! For those of us that followed our two year bicycle journey of the Americas and those who have come to one or many of our presentations, knows it has been a goal to finish. While biking recently through Eastern Europe, I was very inspired to get the book done. Ville had a great idea, that if I wanted to be able to actually find the time to write, I would need to leave the distractions of home to do so. Best idea so far, because write, write, write, see some sights, and write some more is all I've been up to the last month. And I am making great progress, almost six chapters deep. And I promise everyone in wait, the book is coming...
Ville, is here making a full documentary of the Ride. He made two short films, for the Bend Bike Film Festival and also for the presentations we have done, mostly voluntary, in and around Bend. But we can't always be there to tell and retell the story, and so he is building a full film, so hang tight, that will be out soon as well!
As for our side adventures, here is a little look at what we have been up to. Ville and I both played football/soccer growing up and are big fans of the sport. Buenos Aires produces lots of world-class players and has numerious stadiums to see some thrilling games. A bucket list for us, we made it to a Boca Juniors Game! We also went to a Argentina Juniors Game. Big fans of both. We have watched horse races, horse polo, concerts, eaten lots of empanadas and spent some fun time with friends, Felix and Babun. They hosted us in the city right after our ride ended and are great resources for all the cool stuff to do in BA. We watched the parties when the new president of Argentina was sworn into office this last week: Alberto Fernandez. We hope the best for the country moving forwards. And Ville and I have also become excellent photographers assistants (Felix is a photographer and has pulled us in to help out on some fun shoots). It's been a blast. A LOT of work (Book and Film), but a good time. SOOOOOoooo we have a month left. I will keep you posted. Please do check back. I recommend, if you have not already, sign up for the Newsletter. I will be writing everyone once the Book and Film are ready.
Want to get in touch? Write us firstname.lastname@example.org. Are you a teacher, have a group, organization, class, book club, whatever that you think would really benefit from a presentation about how amazing people are in the world and inspire others to get out there and travel??? Write us, we love to give back. And until next time, keep on keepin' on...
Hey Party People, this is Ville here. Taking you on the next part of the adventure...
K.G. and I took a long flight from Croatia, after boxing bikes and going through the hell of trying to check them on an airline that one week prior had gone bankrupt. From Portland, Oregon, K.G. stayed there getting picked up by her sister to help watch the niece and nephew for a week while the parents went to Mexico. I hoped the next plane to Bend and arrived late at night getting picked up by my good buddy and father-in-law, Mango. The very next day after landing in the good old US and A, I was back on the plane heading to Las Vegas. The next 11 days I spent touring the National Parks in Utah, Colorado and Arizona with Mango. This was going to be a Dude's Only trip and we were both pretty excited!
This was my third time visiting Las Vegas and to be honest, I wasn't too excited about it. One time in Vegas is enough. Luckily we were there only because it was the cheapest place to fly to, rent a car, and get cheap drugs. Just kidding about the drugs. After our flight we picked up our rental car, found our hotel and went to bed. No partying for these two hombres.
The next day after grabbing breakfast we started driving towards Utah, we had no plans or reservations but were wanting to land somewhere close to Zion National Park. After 4 hours of driving in the boring desert we arrived to St George, Utah. Luckily for the boring drive we had a lot to catch up after I had been gone biking in Europe for the last 3 months. In St George we booked a room and checked out some local sights before hitting the beds anxious to visit Zion the next day.
Next day we hit the breakfast early so we could get to the park about when it opened, we did good but the problem wasn't we weren't the only ones with that idea. We had a hard time finding parking and ended up parking a half mile from the visitor center and taking a bus to the park. This was my second time visiting Zion, it never disappoints though. At lot has changed in 10 years though, the country is not in recession anymore and the hordes are out and hitting the bucket list with a passion.
To me the best part was seeing how much Mango enjoyed seeing the park, it was his first time there. After hiking few of the shorter trails and feeling like we had seen enough we took the bus back to the car and hit the road again. After leaving the National Park we still got to enjoy some stunning scenery for the next 20 to 30 miles. On our way to our next lodging we stopped at a roadside saloon full of cowboy memorabilia. Mango got to grill his own steak on a massive grill in the main room. In my opinion a smart move from the owner to save on labor cost and make it a unique experience for the clientele. That night we stayed in a motel near Bryce Canyon National Park, just outside the park opting not to pay the $200/night inside the Park Lodge.
Bryce Canyon is another cool park featuring red rocks that look like massive termite hills/towers. We started at the main sights, did a couple of small hikes and chatted with some nice folks from Sweden that were on a road trip through US. Again the ride outside Bryce was beautiful and we stopped multiple times to take some pictures. One of the stops was at a lookout point overlooking a valley full of small canyons and boulders. We read from one of the signs how much dynamite was used to built the road, the amount was astronomical and it sounded almost like the engineers had a fetish on blowing things up. Night was spent in a town that had two motels, gas stations and one restaurant. The restaurant was Subway which made it easier to choose where to eat our dinner and we were able to skip reading Yelp reviews. The guy working at the Subway was a character who entertained us with some crazy fishing stories.
The next day was spent driving to reach Moab and Arches National Park. The drive itself was boring but Mango and I kept the party going on in the car with some good music and Podcasts, that's how old we are. Arches NP again was pretty well stocked with tourists, mainly gray haired ones. Mango and I were able to squeeze in a pretty arduous hike to one of the arches that is located far enough from the trail head that the crowds were minimal. Extremely proud of Mango for pushing and not bitching about it, some of the parts of the trail were pretty sketchy even for me. Staying in Moab was a bit disappointing for what you got for your bucks when it came to lodging. Maybe it's the fact that the mountain biking crowds are there too, adding to the need for lodging with the people visiting the National Park. In Moab I took us to get the Impossible Burger at Burger King, those of you who have never heard of it it's a completely plant based burger patty made so well that it tastes just like meat. After trying it we both agreed that it did taste just like meat, which was a miracle considering that the people who cooked it were having yelling matches in front of the customers and storming out the restaurant. Oh boy!
A visit to Mesa Verde in Colorado was in the plans for the next day after leaving Moab. Mesa Verde NP is a place where the Native Americans who settled the area built their dwellings underneath the cliffs of the canyons, where they were hidden from the enemies above on the plateaus and protected from the elements. We weren't able to visit the ruins since all the tours were booked for the day. For those going to visit, know that you should get there at least a day earlier to book a tour for the next day because it has to be done in person. Luckily, Mango had brought his binoculars and so we were able to inspect the dwellings from the cliffs on the other side of the canyon. That night was spent in the nearby town of Cortez, where we saw multiple trucks full of hunting gear. This made us a bit jealous since Mango and I took this trip since we didn't get any tags for the second year in a row.
The next day we drove through the Monument Valley with a plan to get as close to Grand Canyon when coming from the East. We got as far as Tuba City, located inside a Native American reservation and called it good.
Grand Canyon never disappoints, the sheer size is just absolutely humbling! Our first stop at The Canyon coming from the East was the Grand Canyon Tower. Mango really enjoyed and admired the architecture and building technique that was used to erect this structure that blended well with the scenery. At Grand Canyon we kept our hiking game strong by doing some hikes halfway down to the canyon, the biggest struggle being the relentless sun and limited spots for shade. Again Mango was a trooper even though he threatened before one of the hikes that I might have to carry him back up. I made sure to tell him that I would leave him down there on his own and that I would have no trouble calling his wife and telling her that, "The Grand Canyon has him now". All the hiking made us thirsty and as soon as we arrived in Flagstaff we made a beeline to a local brewery for some well deserved beers. That night we slept like a teething baby thanks to the people partying next door to our room at the motel. We woke up early next day and made sure they woke up early too to face the hangover they well deserved...
Sedona was on our list for the next stop, for me it was a huge disappointment. Rich hippies searching for the vortex in yoga pants and every corner has a store selling crystals and other new age must have items. Best part of Sedona for me was when I went swimming in the river 10 miles before the town. After Sedona we had some miles to do to get to Kingman for the night. The drive was nothing special except for the town of Jerome that both of us found extremely cool. Wish we had spent more time there than Sedona...Kingman was a city that is far past it's glory days, but nevertheless still has some character left in it. We chose to stay there only so we could visit Hoover Dam early the next day. Mango is a huge fan of massive buildings and you could describe him as a self taught engineer so the vist to Hoover Dam was a big hit on our trip. We spent a few hours reading all the signs depicting the stories of building the dam plus some interesting numbers of the amounts of concrete and re bar used to build this massive structure.
After Hoover Dam we drove back to Vegas to return the rental car and we spent a day sight seeing the craziness known as Vegas. I had been to Vegas twice but it was my first time visiting the infamous Fremont Street. Oh boy, I've been to a lot of crazy places but this one deserves a spot in the top 3 for sure. Entertaining and sad at the same time. I'm not going to describe it here too much since there might be kids reading this. Go see it for yourself. Well that's it folks! I feel privileged to be able to do a trip like this with my father in law. Mango is an excellent buddy to have on a road trip and he and I had multiple great conversations about life and even more time was spent joking & laughing. He came up with the idea for doing this because we weren't able to go hunting this year due to not getting any tags. I'm glad we didn't get any, this trip was a blast! Stay tuned and keep on keeping on as my bottle rocket of a wife says.
Hey Friends!! Now that I have your attention with a cute Scandinavian sex symbol holding a puppy, let's get on with the show!
Last I wrote, Ville and I were holed up in Keszthely, Hungary on the western shore of Lake Balaton just in time for all the tourists to head home. It was awesome! Our ride south from the Lake towards the border of Croatia was gorgeous. Oscillating hills, really green countryside, and always the occasional small town or village to ride through to get food and snacks. Traffic was kind and manageable. Once we crossed the boarder into Croatia, there was absolutely no difference other than I got a stamp in my passport on the way in because, although part of the EU, Croatia is not a part of the Schengen Zone. And we found this insanely cute puppy at a hotel near the boarder Ville named Davor Suker (one of the best Croatian soccer players). He would name a dog after a football player.
The ride to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia, was really pleasant, only gradually became more mountainous. Zagreb was absolutely nothing to write home about, one of the more boring capitols after going to Prague and Budapest. Even though most of the Baltic Countries had atrocious roads, they all miraculously had decent bike paths that wove through their capitols. Not Zagreb, horrific highway into the City with no shoulder and no bike lanes. After leaving, we had a plan to head southwest towards the coast just narrowly brushing the boarder of Slovenia, but not crossing over. As we neared the coast, we began to climb. Climb and climb and climb some of the steepest graded roads since Guatemala and Slovakia. And of course is started pouring rain and we were soaked by the time we made it to the top of our climb in the Dinaric Alps and luckily a roadside motel with a vacant room.
The following day we had a big drop before climbing again over the next range, on small back roads with very little traffic. Possibly because the grades were 8-15% and no cars wanted to chug up them, but at least it was scenic. Large pondorosa pines mixed in with an array of deciduous trees and towering dark grey rock. By the end of the day we made it over the last climb and had our first expansive view of the Adriatic Sea. The drop down to the coast would have been a little more fun and less stressful if the road wasn't 15% graded on the downhill and we had to stop to cool the brakes a few times while giving our hands a rest from gripping the handlebars and brakes so tightly. More cute little European towns perched in the hillside we streaked past on our speedy decent into Rijeka.
Rijeka is the principal port town of Croatia, and on the northern coast tucked inside a large inlet looking out on a few large islands reachable by ferry. We rented an apartment a couple nights and wandered around the "old town" and ate far too many pastries. On the following day when we planned to get back on the road, I woke up to my neck completely locked up and Ville found me a savior; a chiropractor who would see me just as a walk-in. After cracking and popping me back into place, we headed northwest along the coastline, turning out to be one of the nicest stretches of road we have biked so far on this trip! The road wound right along the waters edge, passing through a handful of touristy towns full of pastries, gellato and overrun with German tourists. So much so that we saw more German license plates than Croatian ones cycling through the country. We dubbed Croatia, "Little Germany."
After stopping to swim in the crystal clear ocean somewhere along the way, we changed and biked around the point to Brsec; a tiny village perched up on the cliffs looking northeast back at Rijeka and the islands. Scoring a great deal on an apartment in the off-season, we booked a couple nights and the couple who owned the place were cyclists who were nice enough to let us use their private beach, lent us snorkeling gear and a kayak! It was one of our favorite days spent out of the saddle relaxing, snorkeling with thousands of colorful fish and soaking up some sun. The next morning we road down to Brestova where we caught the ferry full of German RVs to the island of Cres. As soon as all the RVs unloaded and took off, we had the whole road to ourselves for the long climb up and away from the shore to the spine of the island. We had some stunning 360 degree views of the islands and sea on both sides and made our way to a hidden point overlooking the next ferry terminal in a sheep pasture to camp.
Both Ville and I love to camp. However, cycling through Eastern Europe has posed a lot less easy to camp as it was in the Ride through the Americas. Mexico south was less developed and people were so kind and open to us for camping on their properties, churches, rodeo grounds, etc. Our experiences on this journey have taken us through a much more developed part of the world, much of Eastern Europe is in the European Union. We observed that where people have more, nice houses, cars and toys, they feel that they have more to lose. They are less interested in talking to us, learning about adventuring by bike, and sharing their yard. It was our same experience biking through the United States. Made us miss biking through Mexico and Latin American countries.
It looked like we had just a short distance to the ferry in the morning, however, it was actually on a very steep goat trail littered with giant boulders and was a bit shady to ascend. Once we made it to Merag, we took the half-hour ferry to Krk Island where we waited and caught the next hour and a half ferry to Rab Island. Just for fun, those of you following this on a map, email me what you think the island of Rab looks like (email@example.com) or write it in the comments below. Those of you that do, I will mail you a We Lost The Map sticker. :)
On the ferry we met a super nice guy, Mark, who is a gym teacher from Switzerland on a sabbatical touring by bike also. When we arrived on Rab, we all biked together to the town of Rab and had lunch. Mark rode on to find some camping and we found a place to stay in Rab so we could wander around the small historic town and check it out. Wandering the small narrow walkways of Rab was very reminiscent of small villages in Italy. We understood why it was packed with tourists and because of that, expensive. That night in Rab, there was a good band that played on a big stage erected in the town's square. The next morning at breakfast, we recognized the musicians from the band all staying at our hotel and had a good chat before heading out. From there we rode south on the island to the southern tip, Misnjak, where we caught another ferry to Stinica on the mainland. From there we climbed up to the coastal road, E65, and rode south.
The E65 road south along the coast was another big highlight of this ride. Stunning views similar to the infamous Highway 1 south of San Francisco, but with almost none of the traffic, save for those pesky Germans (just teasing, we love the Germans). We stopped for the night in Karlobag and scored a cheap night in a really nice hotel, dinner and breakfast included, even with an oceanfront room and balcony! Off season in Croatia is the way to go. The kid at the desk organized a driver to pick us up the next day and drive us with our bikes 10 miles up the hill so we could go on a long hike in the hills and ride back down to town. Well, that was the plan anyways. What actually happened is the bean bag chair that showed up in a clown car to pick us up was shocked that our bikes were "full sized." When he put his hands out about 3-4 feet apart demonstrating the size he thought our bikes were, I wanted to ask him if that was the size of his bike at home. OH, so you have a kids tricycle at home do you sir? Ah, what is lost in translation I guess. So we bagged the ride and climbed on the bikes minus bags and rode up the hill anyways and just had a much shorter hike once we got up there. The views were still spectacular and the ride down a total blast.
From Karlobag, we had a scenic ride all the way down to Seline where we got a hotel room to park the bikes and took a day off to hike up into the Mala Paklenica National Park, well known around the climbing world. Of course that day a major weather front pushed in and the wind was howling and making whitecaps on a normally glassy ocean. Hiking was still a blast although by the time we made our way down the really steep switchbacks of a side trail, it was raining and we were grateful to have a nice hot shower to make it back to instead of the tent. On the TV, we noticed there was a big bike race airing live, similar to the Tour de France, but in Croatia called CroRace. Ville looked up the route and turns out they were about 15 miles away from us heading south down the coast. The next day, as we rode south, opting to bypass Zadar and make our way on back-roads back to the coastal road, we passed a giant Astana (World Tour Cycling Team) bus followed by a van loaded with bikes and the driver honked at us while the team waved and cheered for us as we passed them. It was pretty cool!
That night we made our way to Sibenik, another cool Itialian-esk village on the coast with cobblestone streets and narrow walkways. We stayed only the night and then rode south, opting to climb up into the hills with a bunch of little villages and grapevines everywhere instead of the coastal route which was much longer around the point. Since it was "off the beaten path" it was nice to have no cars and absolutely no tourists for a change. We dropped back to the coast and stayed in a tiny hovel of a room in Trogir, a tiny town that had been highly recommended and jam-packed full of tourists about 30 miles up the coast from Split.
The next day we had a short ride into Split, on a side-road full of busy early morning traffic. We passed right by the Split Airport on our way in, where we planned to take a flight in a couple days. We booked an apartment in Split right on the outskirts of the "Old Town" and with the nicest caretaker,Duje, who helped us with tools to get Ville's very stuck pedal off and work out getting bike boxes. We spent a day taking bikes apart, tracking down a cheap dufflebag to check our gear separately, arranging a car big enough to get two giant bike boxes into and walking around the town. It was fine. A lot of the "Old Town" areas of cities of Eastern Europe were blending. They began to all look and feel the same. Except Split was very crowded with tourists; it has an airport AND a giant port for all kinds of ferries and even cruise ships. Packed cities are NOT our bag.
But a good end to a chapter. Not the end of the book, but a pause. A pause before the next chapter. We were picked up by Duje's friend, rode to the airport, dealt with the typical run-around checking bike boxes as one does who booked airline tickets on an airline company that just claimed bankruptcy the week before. At least we were still flying. And then, we had an overnight layover in Frankfurt, Germany, luckily with enough funds to get a hotel and not sleep on the floor or chairs at the airport like we had always done. The next morning at the airport we were randomly asked by a guy if we spoke Spanish. Heck yes we do! And were able to help translate to a woman from Peru stuck at the airport because her flight to Japan was cancelled due to a typhoon. Poor lady, but helped work things out for her before heading on our way to our next long 11+ hour flight. Paying it forwards.
As we began to taxi onto the runway, I stared out the window reflecting on the last few moths of cycling. How being on a bike seat pedaling in high heat and then pouring rain can weigh you down. How the kindness from a woman who does not even share our language, lets us camp in her yard and makes us some coffee in the morning sending us off with a giant bear hug, can make your spirit soar. How simply crossing an imaginary line can change a language, social norms and all the rules. How sharing my meal with cigarette smoke everywhere makes me cranky, but pastries make it all better. How moving far away from your comfort zone brings us closer to truly living. How spending every day in a new adventure with my best friend is the best life I could have ever imagined me living. Over 3,000 miles pedaled, over 23,000 miles total now traveled by bicycle. On to the next chapter...
Until the next post, keep on keepin' on...
Howdy Ho Good People of the World!
Was hoping to get another update out sooner, but it is really quite difficult to ride a bike, put in miles and distance and then get to a hotel and sit all day inside the room while at a computer. I had all the best intentions to write last while in Budapest, but the City was just too cool and we spent the entire time there out walking around. So the update had to wait, I'm sorry.
Last update, Ville and I were in Ruzomberok (say that ten times fast), Slovakia in an absolutely giant apartment waiting out the rain. I think Ville could have led a yoga class of 20 just in the living room the place was so big. Well, if he could sit still long enough to do yoga that is. And we had a fully equipped kitchen for cooking some meals, which sure beats the one titanium pot on our little Snowpeak stove! Riding south we had more excellent bike paths that climbed up into the thick forests of the Lower Tatra Mountains, passing multiple ski resorts along the way. The weather has cooled down, the drivers give us plenty of room while passing slowly (moving further from the Poland border has been a blessing as the Polish drivers lessen) and the people in towns are extremely friendly! We are jazzed.
We dropped down into Banska Bystrica, a cute mountain town with a large central square and walking street, and rode straight to Techie, a fix-it shop Ville found online in Ruzomberok, who felt very confident they could fix my broken phone. After looking it over, they told us they would need to order a screen to fix it, but would then mail my phone onto Budapest once it was repaired. Having nothing but fantastic reviews online, we agreed to give it a go and left the phone to go check into a Hostel. After a sleepless night of street noise, we set out to find another hotel, meeting this super nice girl, Slawuska, who although the hotel she worked at was booked, served us coffee, gave us WiFi and helped us search for another hotel to stay. Thanks a million Slawuska! After another night at a hotel off the Central Square, we pedaled on south and upwards into wide open high plains and grassy fields passing occasionally through small little villages along the way.
Just before dark, we found a gated dirt road, ducked under the gate and rode a ways up to a ridge and camped nestled in the trees with beautiful views of the forested mountains. The next morning, as we were waking up, we heard the grinding of a truck in low gear heading up the road past us. After being told it was illegal to camp in Poland, we were both immediately nervous not knowing if that was the case in Slovakia as well. But when the driver rolled by, leaned out and waved and kept driving, we exhaled a sigh of relief, elated that we were not going to prison. Yet anyways.
After packing up, we had a long hair-flapping-in-the-breeze thrilling decent out of the mountains and straight to the Hungarian border town of Balassagyarmat, where we immediately found a gigantic Tesco Supermarket. For those not having spent much time in Eastern Europe, the countries we have traveled through are a far cry from most of the Latin American ones we last rode through. Many places in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina have large cities and capitols with many of the modern conveniences allotted to the Western World. However, there are many, many areas we spent lots of time that people live more rural, "off-grid" you would call it in the Western World where it is done by choice; no electricity, wells, but no running water in the homes. We loved biking where you saw so many people also biking, walking, waiting for buses, riding a horse drawn cart, pulling donkeys loaded down with supplies, families packed onto mopeds, etc etc. But Eastern Europe is not that. As Ville pointed out, most places have to meet pretty strict guidelines to get into the European Union. So all the towns and villages we ride through are developed with running water, electricity, insulation in the walls of houses, most everyone drives cars, the only cyclists are by choice, you can get a latte or pastry almost anywhere. We are in the developed world folks.
One of the biggest noticeable differences between Eastern Europe and Central Europe, would be nicotine. Oh sweet nicotine. Those of us that live in the US or Central Europe are very educated around the dangers of nicotine. Unless you live in a cave removed from the outside World, we know that smoking is bad. Chewing causes mouth, throat and stomach cancer. Vaping is a good way around trying to pretend you are only sucking down sweet smoke, but it also gives you cancer doctors can't identify yet. But here in Eastern Europe, they don't know. Or, it's so entrenched in their DNA that they just don't care. Smoking of all kinds is EVERYWHERE. You stay in a hotel, open a window and someone will be smoking right outside. Go to a restaurant and choose to sit outside? Expect to share your meal with the next tables second-hand. Probably because most of these countries are in the EU, they cannot (thank God) smoke indoors, but by golly the outdoors are for filling up with nicotine smoke! Ah, Eastern Europe.
We stocked up our food supply at Tesco, and then rode into town to find breakfast. Unfortunately, not being able to read menus, we very often get the opposite of what we are wanting. For example, a veggie sandwich turned out to be a giant block of breaded and deep fried cheese on white bread for breakfast, but at least we are not going hungry so that is a total bonus. Northern Hungary turned out to be also beautiful, green rolling hills with kind drivers, and very friendly people in the grocery stores we pop into. By nightfall we found a field near a forest to camp and had another day riding through countryside and towns before following a zig-zagging bike route into the heart of downtown Budepest.
Excited to see all the sights, and needing to wait for my cell phone to get fixed and shipped, we booked five nights in an apartment with a balcony and a big kitchen. With all the best intentions to catch up on this Blog, we spent every day walking 10-12 miles all over the City focusing on eating healthy, and taking it all in. We spent a day running in the Central Park when it rained all day, a day lounging in Lukasc Bath House, walked to the top of Buda Castle, Gellert Hill and along the Danube Riverfront. One of the funniest trends right now in Eastern Europe (and quite possibly the rest of the World for all we know) is women of all ages, and sizes, are rocking these jean short cut-offs that expose the bottom quarter to one third of the girls ass. My personal favorite is when I see a young mom pushing a stroller with her ass cheeks jiggling in the breeze. You GO GIRL! I could only imagine what my parents would have said if I came downstairs in a pair of those on my way to school. "What are you wearing?" "Mom, Dad, it's fashion." "Well, you can take that fashionable butt of yours right back upstairs and cover it up with some clothes missy" And that would be the end of that fashion statement. But imagine the traffic I might stop wearing a pair while riding! Would put a whole new spin on my bike-short tan lines.
Both Ville and I were sad to leave Budapest, we thoroughly enjoyed checking out all the different areas and hangouts in the City while having a place to call home for five whole days! My phone even arrived on the last day in town and is, thankfully, working! Hurray! Having connected with our good friend Zoltan (from Hungary and now lives in Bend), while in Budapest, he put us in touch with his cousin Buci who met us at his horse farm on the outskirts of the City. We loaded our bikes in his trailer and drove with him back north to his home in Vacduka. We spent a night at his place eating the biggest sausages I have ever seen, drinking palinka, eating the best deserts in Vac, and hearing stories of his wild life of travel before his year old daughter came along. Buci is a Roma Gypsy and although many were killed along with Jewish people in WWII, they are still severely discriminated against all over Europe. I don't blame him for punctuating most sentences with "shit" and "fucking shit" when discussing everything from the Police to the weather. Thanks a million Buci and Silvia for having us at your place and showing us around! After getting a ride the next day back to their horse barn, we pedaled west through the City, crossing from Pest over to the Buda side of the river and loaded our bikes on a train heading to Lake Balaton.
On our hour train ride out of Budapest, we met two super friendly young guys originally from Teheran, Iran now living in Budapest for college, Amir and Mehrshad. They were also on bikes, heading to the lake to spend the weekend riding around the lake. We spent the train ride and then the ride to their hotel chatting about their country; foods they missed, family that sacrificed for them to study abroad, injustices of government and religion. Now, I don't follow the news as closely as Ville does, but many of you know more than me that the news has been reporting of tensions between the US and Iran right now. Why? I don't really know, and to be honest, I don't all that much care. Because tensions between countries usually means tensions between men sitting behind desks playing a global chess game. Because sitting with these guys we can make jokes about these tensions between our countries, being more alike in the world as any people are. And yet I still felt compelled to say, "I'm sorry for what is happening" and they said, "Us too, but it's not your fault" and really we have nothing to do with any of it anyways. As usually is the unfortunate case. Governments, leaders and Dictators have issues and all us human beings are at the core, just human. We want health and happiness for our families, friends and ourselves. We can talk for hours as our stories carry more similarities than differences, make friendships, stay in touch, maybe even see each other again in each other's home countries. All while our countries decide to be allies or enemies. And the reality is, we are all human. We are all the same. And yes, it really is that simple.
Riding our bikes around Lake Balaton was one of the highlights of the trip so far! A designated bike path around the entire giant lake, riding through small towns, fields of grape vines and grass, restaurants and hotels, beaches and boardwalks. At nightfall we arrived at the boy's hotel and pedaled down the road to find a place to camp. Being college students, they had booked the cheapest place they could find and we figured we would get a better night sleep out in our tent. The next day we pedaled back to the ferry terminal at Szantod and ferried to the north side of the lake, Tihany. On the ferry crossing over, we found ourselves surrounded by sailboats with their multitude of colored spinnakers flying. We think it was either a for-fun race or parade not really sure, but so cool to see so many boats!
Before climbing up the hill to Tihany, we found an excellent swimming spot with a changing room and everything! Ville went to chat with a local guy on a windsurf board and was able to take his board out for a spin. We packed up, rode up through the super-touristy town of Tihany, and took the lake front bike road west. After 20-ish miles, we veered off and climbed up into the hills and away from the lakefront to a small town called Kaptalantoti. There we called another of Zoltan's good friends, Robbie and Silla. They are also world travelers, from Hungary, who have returned to buy a small plot of land in the hills, rich with orchards, grape vines, walnut and plumb trees and are in the process of building a retreat/community center. Robbie and Silla have the cutest little 3 and a half year old boy, Zen, who loved to run around exploring with as much clothes on as you can expect a 3 and a half year old to wear. What a cutie. We camped at their place and spent the next day at a huge Sunday Market in town brimming with locally made everything; honey, cheeses, meats, shoes, sweets, clothes, fruits and veggies.
Another total fail with food, I ordered what I thought was a stew, turned out to be the biggest bowl of liver and onions I have ever seen and I HATE liver. It was everything I could do to choke it down and not have it come back up. I know what you liver lovers are thinking, but it's not the texture or even that I know it's an animal's liver. I loved the brain and cheek tacos in Mexico. I even loved the cow tongue tacos. But liver tastes like iron while chewing on rubber. Not a fan. We then biked down to a swimming spot on the lake, but this one was covered in green algae. Another fail, but we swam anyways and tried to shower off after. We had forgotten sunscreen so ended up pretty red by the time we arrived back up at Robbie and Silla's farm, strike three and your out. Silla had made us some really yummy chilli we ate when we arrived back, but after our three strikes, we both had raging migraines. I have struggled with them for years now, but for Ville to have one too was a first.
That night Robbie played for all of us music on his flute, drum, and citera in their yurt. It was so relaxing we drifted in and out of sleep and barely made it down the hill to our tent. By the next morning, both of us were feeling pretty sick and still with head splitting migraines. We knew they would have been happy to have us stay longer if we asked, but we both felt that we needed to get out of the sun and get some hydrating things in us. We thank you both for such a warm stay and having us at your farm, may your sanctuary grow into everything you dream it to be! We made it back down out of the hills to the Lake and by that time realized going much further would not be a good idea. We ended up finding a hotel to check into, rested while downing gallons of water and electrolytes, and by the evening Ville was totally better (as per usual, he would tell you it's because he is a super human), but I had stomach issues. We found veggies and white rice to eat downstairs, as far as I was willing to travel away from a toilet or bed.
By morning I was feeling a lot better and stomaching a little more food, and we headed out on our trusty steads. We tried to visit Szigliget Castle perched up on the hill overlooking the lake, having rode our bikes all the way up to the top of the hill to find it was closed for construction, but still had a really enjoyable ride on the bike trail circling around the lake. Running out of steam, I am still not feeling 100%, we opted to get a room where we are now in Keszthely so I could get more rest and catch up on this here Blog. Chatting with all of you while just an arms reach from the toilet. Just in case :) Ahhhhh, what fun it is to be sick out traveling. Part of the adventure.
We had originally planned to head south through Serbia and Bosnia, but after chatting with multiple friends about the route, have changed plans to ride through the Croatian Islands next. Not because we don't want to go to those countries, but because of timing and, well, you just can't see everything. But the adventure continues...until next time friends, hug your neighbor, make some friends with those around you, trust others, smile more, and keep on keepin' on!
K.G. & Ville
In Spain, riding our bikes again.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson