Remember that one time we met a Polish Soldier on the side of the highway? And he insisted you hold his gun?
Hey Hey Hey! Welcome back friends. You give up or are you thirsty for more?
Sorry for the long delay good people, but we had a lot to pack in and little time to stop and write. And now I have a lot to catch you up on so bear with me. Maybe take breaks :) Last post I left off nestled in bed writing in Lomza while stuffing my pretty little face with pierogis and ice cream. Pierogis are a steamed pastry stuffed with all kinds of good stuff; meat, potatoes, spinach or fruit and can be found all over Poland, Russia, and many other European countries and the origin is greatly disputed (as is with all good foods). Thanks to the ridiculous number of cows all over Poland, there is more ice-cream (lody) shops than coffee shops so we are not going hungry. Although most of our meals between town stops are cold sandwiches made out of grocery stores.
Riding out of Lomza (pronounced Womza), we decided to follow a route recommended by Szymon, a Warmshowers host in Warsaw who allowed us to leave bikes in his place while we flew to Prague. But I'll get to that. We had about two and a half days ride, zig-zagging a bunch of slow back roads to get to Warsaw and found a place in the woods to camp a night and then found a shockingly not booked single bed in a hotel about 28 miles outside Warsaw on the second night. As romantic as spooning with your honey in a single bed sounds, the reality is not quite so Hollywood. We later learned from Szymon, that camping in Poland in the woods is illegal, so hopefully we don't get arrested. Our mug shots are probably posted all over police stations, "Wanted for Illegal Camping: Long Haired Swede and Stinky Tanned American Woman. Last seen with rifle, may be armed and dangerous" (I'll get to that too).
Nowy Dwor Mazowiecki (say that 10x fast), Warsaw, where we crammed into the single bed, had the best designated bike route from there about 28 miles south all the way into Warsaw. It wound through towns, forest, and even in along the giant Vistula River that runs through Warsaw. As soon as we left town, we passed a guy fully dressed in a WWI Polish Military Uniform. Ville stopped to find out the scoop, and as it turns out he happened to speak enough English to tell us he walked over two days from Warsaw fully dressed, heading to the town we had just left to do a War Reenactment. When Ville asked if he could take a picture with him, he insisted Ville hold his gun. The rest of the ride into town was really pleasant being separated from traffic. And as we rode into Warsaw along the promenade boarding the Vistula River, it was the first time since entering Poland that we saw Polish people out on bikes, scooters, roller blades, etc. and it was really cool! And Warsaw had excellent bicycle routes that ran all over the City as well.
Ville had booked us a room online (he found some deal) where it actually turned out to be one of the most plush rooms we will likely ever stay; river-front with views of a bridge and the PGE National Stadium. When we were biking through the pouring rain in Chile, Ville had asked to camp in a farmer's barn and the man actually said, "No, it's not hygienic" and Ville, stressed that we would be turned away, argued that it was just fine for his wife before the man insisted we camp in his clean shed. After that experience in Chile, we hysterically reference it in how low the bar is set for what Ville deems acceptable for his bride to sleep in. Animal feces you say? No problem! She's a champ! My wife will sleep anywhere. Needless to say this place was on the far opposite spectrum of the animal barn and pretty dang pimp!
We spent a day walking all around Warsaw; the Old Town, Mila 18 (bunker where 51 Jewish resistance fighters had died), History of Polish Jews Museum, and The University Library, one of my favorite buildings with a giant garden with lots of little spaces to explore on it's rooftop. We tried to go to a football (soccer) game, but didn't know until we got there we needed passports to get in, so walked along the miles of riverfront promenade and snacked at food carts instead. We biked south of the city the following day to meet Szymon who bought us lunch, stored our bikes, and even drove us to the airport to fly to Prague for four nights. Thanks Szymon!
Prague was a dream! A massive city not bombed to the ground in WW2 and most of the city preserved by the Czech Republic so lots to explore. We left the biking clothes behind with the bikes and I was able to wear non-sweaty clothes for 5 glorious days while using our legs to walk to all corners of the city. We took an Alternative Walking Tour of Prague, focused on graffiti, art, random sights, and the non-touristy sights of the City. We walked across the City up to the Zizkov Television Tower, built by the Czechs under Soviet rule, and had lunch with some of the best 360 degree views of the City. We even stayed in a giant purple room with a kitchen and washing machine. If you have noticed I mention washing machines often as a highlight, it's from spending over 2 years now hand washing sweaty bicycling clothes in sinks when I am exhausted at the end of a bunch of consecutive camping days. A washing machine is a massive perk.
After four nights/ five days in Prague, we flew back to Warsaw and stayed a night in Szymon's home (they were out of town) and headed out the next day south. A massive Thank You to Szymon for your hospitality! Although we had the best intentions of meandering slowly and taking our sweet time to make it to Krakow, the sweltering heat was making me sweat buckets, causing issues with chafing, and leaving me with migraines every evening in the tent. I just couldn't drink enough liquids to stay hydrated and so popped migraine pills like candy each day and used Baby Wipes to sop up all the salt on my skin by night. It took us three and a half days to get to Krakow and I really can't remember many highlights through my delirium.
On day four of biking from Warsaw, we dropped down a small hill (I really think our first since we started this bike tour in Eastern Europe) and into Krakow and found our weird little apartment. With all the best intentions of seeing the sights, we got up early to wander around the City and were back in our room early to crank the A/C and sit in temps under 100' with 80+ percent humidity. Neither of us grew up with A/C and almost never use it, but unfortunately, the temps are just too hot to be in. I keep asking people, "Is this normal?" thinking it's just a heat wave, but the answer is sadly, YES. The planet is warming up. Bend, Oregon use to be 70-80 degrees in the summers when I was a kid, now it is 90-100 degrees every summer. More people need A/C units. This sadly is the new normal. But trying to be proactive, Ville and I are cutting way back on meat, but mainly dairy/beef. Cows will soon pass oil/gas in greenhouse gas emissions and so eating less helps. So does not using plastic bags, these also have been found to emit methane when exposed to light. The small things, when everyone joins in, become big solutions!
On our second day in Krakow, we were picked up by a van early for a tour to Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II - Birkenau, and the Wieliczka Salt Mine. World War II had been briefly touched on in my American Education (I remember reading Anne Frank), but after asking Ville so many questions as we biked past lots of museums, concentration camps turned sights of remembrance, all over Eastern Europe, I spent a day reading up on WW I and WWII to familiarize myself with Eastern Europe's very distant past. A past that ended in only 1945, less than one person's lifetime away. If you haven't spent the time, I highly recommend doing so as well. "Those who do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana
Auschwitz was really, really heavy and very surreal to be inside of. I actually felt the weight of it once we walked in under the ARBEIT MACHT FREI archway into the barbed wired compound. We went building by building with a guide explaining the horrific details of what happened to real people there. If you have not been to this place, again, I recommend going. It is something that words cannot describe. We saw massive rooms stacked to the ceilings with shoes, eyeglasses, clothing, suitcases (having been brought by people all believing they were being relocated to a better place to work and live). Their families were separated immediately after unloading from the packed cattle train cars and put into two separate lines: those that could work and those that could not. Those that could not were led to underground enormous rooms and told they would strip naked and get showers. Even the rooms were outfitted with fake shower heads. Here they were gassed with poison used for rodents and their bodies burned in incinerators by those that could work. The gas chambers could hold up to 2,000 people and 12,000 could be gassed and incinerated each day. The image that sticks in my mind the most is one of the massive rooms full to the ceiling and walled behind glass: human hair. It was used by the Germans to weave into rope and clothe after shaving it from all those that arrived, used for army blankets and socks for U-Boat Crews.
Auschwitz II - Birkenau was built after Auschwitz I became too small and was about 450 acres of barracks surrounded by electric barbed wire fencing. Each barrack had shelving/bunks three compartments high packed in with starving people, those deemed able to work. Just for a minute think about that number for this is only ONE of 20 large concentration camps, with thousands of sub-camps, built by the Germans for the sole purpose of killing people, mainly Jews, but also Romas (Gypsies), Slavs, homosexuals, mentally challenged, and others: 450 acres of barracks, each one packed full of people working without food until they were too weak and then were gassed. The size of this place is what stuck with me the most. Before WWII, there were about 11 million Jews living in Europe. During the Nazi Party's rise to power in Germany , the German take-over of surrounding countries during WWII and the Holocaust, 6 million Jews and millions of others were killed.
After Auschwitz, we rode in the van about an hour just south of Krakow to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Having biked over the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and visited the Maras Salt Mine in Peru, I expected just to get out of the van and look at a lake bed of salt. The Wieliczka Salt Mine was incredible! We walked down 400 spiraling wooden steps and walked 1.8 miles through caverns and hallways of chilly salt, only a glimpse of the 180 miles of tunnels. As you can see in the photos, there are statues, carvings, salt pools and even multiple churches where everything inside; floors, walls, ceiling, statues and even chandeliers are all carved salt. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place absolutely worth seeing.
After our very full day, we had a nights sleep before we headed south out of Krakow towards the border of Slovakia and into the foothills of the Tatar Mountains. As we began climbing the temps began to slowly decline. We found a Homestay at a small farm in the foothills called Na Zagrodzie and were treated very warmly by Anna and her family. Riding up and out from their place, we climbed along the river about 40 miles, many of the climbs 9-12 percent inclines very reminiscent of Guatemalan hill climbs. By the time we crossed the Slovakian boarder and dropped into Sucha Hora (oh yes, it is really called that!) and got a hotel, we were both beat. And as my luck seems to go with technology on this trip, my brand new cell phone decided not to turn on for no reason. Even after trying all the YouTube video tricks. Ville is still working on finding a place to try and fix it. We both rolled out our aching muscles on a little ball of magic I'm packing called The Orb (you can use a lacrosse ball) and were able to get up, a little less muscle tight in the morning, inhale some more pierogis and head out with more climbing into the Slavakian mountains.
We had two decent steep climbs for the day, over 2000 ft elevation (after over 16,000 ft in Peru this is child's play) but found a place open for lunch and thoroughly enjoyed the views! We both agreed we would rather climb all day long to have beautiful views and speedy downhills in our days. And there are cyclists everywhere, cars drive slower and make room as they go around us, the air is cleaner, ski resorts everywhere, and the Slovakian people are super friendly! A stark difference from our experiences of the people in Poland. Although we met a few very kind people, Polish people felt more reserved, didn't return our smiles, hellos, or go out of their way to help us. Many actually turned us away when we asked to camp, written note asking in Polish or not. Language was a huge barrier for us, not speaking any Polish, and maybe our trip through would have been far different if we spoke Polish. Very few Polish speak English from our experiences, including the youth, and so many places we asked if someone spoke English we just got a hard, "No." I think maybe those in Poland that think Polish speak English are not speaking English to other Polish people. But knowing more about the history in Poland; invaded, again and again, the majority of the concentration camps from WWII all around Poland bringing tourism hugely for that purpose, I understand where maybe it's not the friendliest of places. I can understand having reservations about strangers. And we travel to experience all people and cultures with all their differences.
After a full day with our two climbs, we dropped down out of the mountains, pedaled around the shores of one of the few lakes in Slovakia, and made it to our pension in Ruzomberok. We took a day off here today, taking a short walk through town, but mainly hunkering down as after a handful of days dodging all the large thunderheads, today it actually poured rain (what timing!) and worked on writing all of you. I wanted to thank you all for continuing to follow us, for taking the time to read our Blog, for writing us emails and comments below, and supporting our continued travel. It is a lot of work to take a day to put this all together on the road, but knowing you read it, makes it worth it for me. I know this last post had some heavy material in it, but there is kindness everywhere and I hope this continues to inspire others to get out there in the world! The more friends we make all over, makes this planet smaller, minimizes our differences and reminds us how similar we are. Thanks Everyone!
Until the next stop, keep on keepin' on...
Eastern European T-Shirt Sayings Continued: "Hidden Jungle", "NASA" (we see tons of these with no idea why?), "No One Knows I Care Nothing", "Brave Mind", "Speed Xtreme", "Running Sucks", "Youth Has No Age", and "Peak Performance Extreme"
Howdy Ho Good People!
Back for another update of life in the slow lane, huh? Well, we left off last in the capitol of Latvia, Riga. On our last biking adventure we made no plans, booked nothing in advance, and were full-on wingin' it. But unfortunately, this adventure has posed more challenges to that lifestyle we are discovering as we bike around Eastern Europe during everyone's summer holidays over here. Completely forgot that our European bothers and sisters have the luxury of five (that's right 5) weeks of paid vacation a year to go take time off and travel and they actually use it! So a few times now we have ridden into town after a few days of camping with the plan of a hot shower, bed, and a need to clean clothes to find everything booked solid. Riga was no different. We hit the town right before a Rammstein concert and were able to squeeze in one night before hoping back on bikes and heading out of Dodge. At least we biked all over the City running errands so were able to take in quite a bit, but it was the whirlwind tour of Riga.
As we pedaled south out of Riga, crossing a windy bridge over the Daugava River, we quickly found ourselves on the "wrong side of the tracks." As we continued south it slowly got worse and worse. Not dangerous by any means, but poorer and poorer. After about 15 miles out we stopped at a grocery store to stock up on food supplies right smack in the middle of giant concrete run-down six-story projects, remains from the former Soviet Union. And not a few of them, but towering dilapidated buildings, rows, upon rows and stretching for a few miles. It was pretty depressing. And this is the REAL Latvia. When Ville and I take a backpacking trip, we hop on a plane or bus and arrive in a town. Walking around in the Capitol of Riga or the Old Town is romantic and with lots of history, but we are really drawn to bike touring to get outside the destinations and see the in-between. Even and especially if it looks like the former Soviet Union was here yesterday.
We stopped for a quick lunch stop in a tiny roadside town and happened upon the local hangout for elderly ladies drinking vodka shots and wine with lunch. Even though they were Russian speaking and we couldn't speak a word, we pointed at plates and got meat patties with ketchup, buttered noodles and veggies. With a glass of juice. All for $3. I was very tempted to down a vodka with them if I wasn't worried about weaving and getting killed on the highway after. They were so excited to talk at us, even though we didn't understand a word and threw up a "cheers" as we thanked them and walked out. Ah nice people everywhere.
As we continued south, Ville found us a Motel on a fairly clean river in the town of Jelgava. When we biked through the dirt streets winding through the outskirts of town to get to the motel I was a bit skeptical, but when we arrived at this completely locked-in-time Soviet era Motel, complete with dark pink wallpaper (even on the ceiling), sparkly pink thick drapes, a dark felt couch in the room and very questionable plumbing, I was pumped. The dream of the 80's is still very much alive here! Even the lady that worked there had pastel eye-shadow, outlined pink lips and a wicked teased perm. In the morning, we found a cafeteria style cafe and loaded up on some savory and sweet blinis (think crepes stuffed with all kinds of goodness) before hitting the road.
Unfortunately, the roads in Latvia were pretty sub-par. The only road with pavement was the Via Baltica (think I-5 of the Baltics) osculating between little to no shoulder. As soon as we crossed into Latvia, we opted for a side road that took us onto an at-best ATV trail and then bailed back to the chaotic Via Baltica. Once heading south from Riga, thought to gamble and try our luck at back-roads again. Of course it started out promising, with paved roads through little towns, but then we noticed a giant dust cloud in the distance. As we pedaled closer, we realized it was because the pavement turned to dusty gravel and giant farm equipment was ripping down it as if they were in the Indy 500. You can imagine how excited we were, having to suck air through our neck Buffs and then, it started raining. Pouring really. And the road had taken us 15 extra miles out of the way to finally dump us onto a paved road that we took all the way back to Via Baltica, the lesser of the two evils.
Once we hit Via Baltica, it was a section with no shoulder, and by this time it's really pouring rain, and the giant semi-trucks and cars are spraying us with all kinds of nasty water as they fly right next to our faces. We both were so taxed. We crossed into Lithuania, snapped a quick pic trying not to look as pissy-pony as I felt, and pushed onto the next town. When we hit the next town, Jelgava, we found a decent little pastel pink motel with a bubbly, short, stalky little lady who spoke broken English and checked in. The shower was magical. We ate some dinner out of the grocery store and organized with the lady how to get a bus to the next big town, Kaunas. We had put in our time biking the entire Americas and this was suppose to be a ride for fun. If we weren't having fun on a major highway in pouring rain with no shoulder, we agreed we didn't have to do it. We found a bus in the morning that we were able to load bikes in cargo and had an enjoyable ride to Kaunas as we watched the bike lane disappear from the window of the bus.
When we arrived at the bus terminal in Kaunas, we headed out to ride around the town and find a hotel. Again, after lots of "booked" places, we managed to find WiFi and booked a couple nights at a nice place with even a washing machine (major score to not have to hand wash all my clothes in a sink for once), and took a whole day off our really sore butts and legs. Kaunas has a neat Old City, very similar to all the other Baltic countries and it rained almost the entire day off so I was happy to not be riding. What was really strange about Latvia and Lithuania, that I am still very perplexed about, is lots of people drive really new, fast, expensive cars in countries with actually no roads. Who the hell buys a Maserati, Bentley or Audi A8 and then drives it on the Via Baltica? I mean, there is no way they are cruising the cars up and down dusty, cinder roads! WHY? Please someone tell me why they have these cars?
After riding south out of Kaunas, we wound on dirt roads through farmlands and eventually made it close to the Polish Boarder where we found a really cheery farmer out working to ask to camp. He spoke a little German and since my Scandinavian Stallion of a husband took classes in High School, they were able to talk. He was really happy to let us camp anywhere and we pitched our tent next to his massive combine he used on his soybean farm. We made him a sandwich for dinner and he brought us out some tomatoes he had grown. In the morning, he brought us out coffee and a charcuterie board; complete with bread, meats and even chocolate! What a guy.
As we rode on in the morning into the mist, the dirt roads winding through more wheat and soybean fields, we came upon our first set of actual hills right at the Poland Boarder. Until now, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had all been as flat as a pancake. As we crossed into Poland, the roads were paved and the grass fields turned into thick wooded greenery everywhere. We stopped by a church to spread out and dry our wet tent and eat some lunch. The road continued on through hills, finally opening expansive views to us, and by late afternoon we rode into a larger city Suwalki. We agreed that cold and wet after more rain, we should look for a cheap place to stay and was again really disheartened when, yet again, everything was full. We ate kebabs and headed on our way planning to camp just outside town.
Oh so quickly did we realize that asking to camp in yards in Poland was not going to be so easy. We came to farm after farm where it was apparent no one spoke a word of English. Nor did they grant us permission to camp. We found a nice guy in some small town who pointed us to a hotel and they were also booked. Now we were getting really bummed. We were over 50 miles in, tired, wet, and done. Ville saw a farmer and said, "I promise, this is the last one I'll ask" and although he didn't speak any English, he shook his head yes that we could camp out in his field. I wanted to hug him, although completely inappropriate and so I didn't. But I wanted to. And it poured rain all night and as we packed up and rode away, his wife leaned out the window and I yelled "thank you" as we waved and blew kisses at each other. Universal language, blowing kisses.
The scenery biking through Poland is beautiful. Wide open fields of grass and littered with black and white spotted cows. You know what comes with cows? Cow poop. Lots and lots of smelly cow poop. Although beautiful, and with nice little narrow paved roads, Poland smells of overwhelmingly rank cow sh*t. And on the little narrow paved roads, the Polish love to drive cars fast. And by fast, I mean around 60 mph on single lane roads full of blind corners (Ville's and my guesses differ because I think they drive at 110 mph) and if you aren't on the alert at all times, you might end up a stylish hood ornament. After many miles of winding farm roads, we had about 15 miles forced onto a busy highway into Grajewo, cow milk processing capitol of Poland, where we stopped for lunch. We had a really nice chat with a guy named, Pawel outside petting his dog. We stopped to resupply at the grocery store and as we were riding away, Pawel, drove up in his car and jumped out to give us a gift. He had brought us a big cellophane wrapped sweet candy called an anthill. Thanks Pawel!
We biked south from town another 10ish miles and found a nice thick wooded area to camp in the trees. And proceeded to stuff our faces with anthill. The next morning, we planned to stop and get a lunch before we would arrive in Lomza. Unfortunately, nothing seems to be open during the day in most towns we ride through and so it was a long 35 miles without food before we arrived in Lomza, cranky, wet from more rains, and in desperate need of showers and rest. We booked two nights where I am sitting in bed and writing this after a long shower and good nights sleep. Tomorrow, we will head towards Warsaw. On wards and upwards! Until next time, keep on keepin' on!
More cool Eastern European T-shirt logos continued: "Good Girls, Bad Girls Everywhere", "Illegal", "Just Do Nothing", "Turn Up" and my personal favorite "Enjoy" (I think it was in reference to her chest)
Ville riding a statue of Baron Münchhausen, best known for his adventures riding atop a cannon ball.
Just rolled into Riga, the capitol coastal city of Latvia today after a packed full week of remembering what it feels like to ride bikes. Luckily, the saying "it's like riding a bike" is actually true. Once you know how, you kinda should always know how. It's just that, well, it's been a year since we were in the saddles for longer than a spin around town and we both were a bit out of shape and pretty rusty. But dang girl it felt goooooood!
After spending a few days in Helsinki trying to cram in seeing as many friends in town and not on summer holidays, we boarded a giant ferry headed for Tallinn, Estonia. Having lived in Finland a while and never having made the trip over, we planned ahead and booked a couple nights in Tallinn to see the sights. Having grown up in Finland, Ville had remembered coming to Tallinn in the 90's, having only come out from under Soviet Union rule in 1988. According to Ville, it was stepping back in time to a country still playing the Soviet Union part, had a lot of shady areas young Ville was told not to go, and was recommended to travel with a guide. The country has developed leaps and bounds beyond what Ville said it was like.
Tallinn is a bustling and hip little capitol; full of cobblestone streets, three-storied old stone buildings, decadent inexpensive food joints, breweries, bakeries, creperies, and cheap booze, all surrounding an old giant fortress up on the hill. It was cool! After two full days of walking all over so we could justify stuffing our faces, we got on our bikes and pedaled west to near Paldiski on the coast. We camped with a great new friend we met on the ferry from, where else, but Portland, Oregon. Small world we live in. Meghan had only a handful of days to bike, but we ended up getting to meet up a few nights to hang together. From there we biked to Haapsalu, another cute little Estonian town on the coast with a fortress and a handful of lakes. We took a day off already (thanks to the massive heat wave in Europe, our butts were not loving it) and ate too much good food with Meghan.
While in Haapsalu, it finally rained and cooled down from high 90's to 60's and we were so pumped. I had worn biking shorts most of the Alaska to Argentina ride, but had only really used chafing cream in the Central American heat. It had been so long, I hadn't even brought cream along and was a bit stranded without it. It really is a miracle I can even feel from the waist down anymore. I know you are probably thinking that is the REAL reason we don't have kids :) From Haapsalu it was a day and a half ride to Parnu. Along the way we camped in a super nice lady's yard. Lucky for us she was voted one of The Most Beautiful Homes in Estonia 2005 & 2007, so her outhouse was the nicest one I have ever seen (it even had a sink with running water).
Parnu, another large coastal Estonian city, we rode in early and decided to only stop for lunch and make a few more miles down the road. The road dumped us onto Via Baltica, the I-5 of the Baltics where the shoulder all but disappeared and giant semis careened past our faces and and we actually had countries with worse roads to compare it to, such as Honduras. Although longer, we opted off the road to some side roads as soon as possible and met the sweetest little old lady, Tiiu, who was so excited we asked to camp in her yard. Actually, there has been a bit of a language barrier since entering Estonia, because although the language is similar to Finnish, most Estonians speak Estonian or Russian, a product of their checkered past. So Tiiu called her son and he translated for her and she was still very excited to have us camp, hugged us profusely, and even made us some coffee before sending us on our way in the morning.
The next day we were able to stay on side-roads all the way until we entered Latvia, and then we ended up on a side-road into a massive forest that turned into a bit of a sand pit and we opted for the crappy Via Baltica highway instead of risking pushing bikes through sand. The shoulder was hit or miss, but the landscape was pretty, flat, lots of trees and pretty much the same as Estonia. By end of day we ended at a really swanky resort that we contemplated staying at because we could (it was in the budget), but after walking in and seeing the fine linen table clothes and super quiet dining guests, we opted for the wacky campground nearby instead. Empty, quiet, with a working shower and random cartoon painted RV trailers scattered in the yard to rent. We slept in our tent and met a really nice Dutch bike-touring couple that showed up and another very different Russian family who stayed in a trailer.
Now the Dutch couple were really nice, but wanted to ask me a bunch of questions about Trump and, well, why? I completely understand why travelers ask me, but I always get so bummed because I wish they could go ask him themselves why he doesn't care about the planet, tweet terrible things about other countries and basically be the opposite of a diplomat. I can't answer them, but I realize why they are upset. Wish I knew how to make it better. As for the Russian family, they were super nice, just a little different. Odd. I was sure I would find a dead horse head in my sleeping quilt, but in the morning, they packed up, and as they pulled out, stopped, rolled down the window, and with a thick Russian accent that sounded just like Bulrat, said, "Have a nice journey."
We had a full day of biking on and off the highway, had an unexpected mouth-watering burger stop, and when we arrived at a hotel on a lake we thought might pan out to stay, they were booked for a work event and we opted to stay at the hotel next door. Of course the restaurant was also closed and the one time we don't hit up the grocery store in the last town, there is no dinner. So we opted to drop panniers and bike without bags three and a half miles back to town to get dinner and man it was probably one of the best meals we have had! Mussels, salmon and jambalaya all better than some of the nicest restaurants in Bend. We stocked up on candy at the gas station and pedaled back to our hotel. There was some partying festivities from next door well into the early morning that could be heard through the walls, but we did get some sleep before the cannons (yes, literal cannons) started going off this morning. Turns out there was a military base on the lake and who knew there would be rounds of gun fire and cannons all morning. That and some pretty cool wasted Latvians and Estonians stumbling around. After breakfast, we had only 30 miles into downtown Riga and most of them winding through little towns on back roads.
There was a really nice bike path this afternoon winding us into the capitol, Riga, and we fairly easily found our hotel. The afternoon was spent walking all over the Old Town area, which is so similar to all the old towns of the Baltic region. But outside the Old Town was a much more run-down and sadder looking city where you can almost see the corruption. Ville left me sitting outside a few stores to go find me headphones, and it was some pretty spectacular people watching in Eastern Europe. Not that I am the poster child for fashion, but the outfits and t-shirt sayings are just too much. The roads in Latvia off the Via Baltica are really bad and as we rode through so many seaside towns with gigantic houses, we would joke that the Head of Transportation must live in them. Latvia is like the US, and so many other countries where there is a big divide between the haves and have-nots.
We tried to book a second night for a day off the legs, but no go and so we are back in the saddle tomorrow and heading south. No set plan in place, Ville mentioned a quirky motel in 30 miles that gets great reviews. I hope they have a work party and cannons. Until next time ya'll, keep on keepin' on!
"What do you guys do for fun?" a question from our young friend Torin at one of our presentations about our 2 year Bike Ride
This last year has been one crazy roller coaster folks, with some pretty steep ups and downs. With all the best intentions of continuing to write on the Blog, we both just got lost in the storm of "life." Looking back, a very slow return to Bend after finishing our Ride (Alaska to Argentina by bicycle) was the best decision we made for re-entry. Somewhere in Peru, maybe miles before, we both came to the same conclusion that we loved our tent house and life on the road far better than our giant five bedroom house attached to jobs and bills. We agreed it was a good time to sell, except for day ONE of re-entry the roller coaster plunged as it hit us that after our renter friends moved out, our house would need a ton of work to be show ready. It was a massive blow to our unattached biking lifestyle that we needed to paint, finish remodeling the kitchen, install a bathroom, etc etc. We owe a depth of gratitude to my parents who rolled up their sleeves, persuaded us that it could be done, and dug in with us. True parental love is when my parents helped every single day for 3 months to remodel a house, knowing we would be selling it to be disappearing into the travel void, only to be an occasional phone call on WhatsApp to check in. Even if they don't say it, that is how I know my parents really love and support what we do.
Going from place to place while ever heading south further and further from home gave us a whole new appreciation for family and friends once we were back rooted. Having friends just pop by for a beer, gathering friends together for impromptu soccer matches in the park, snowboarding with my ride buddy all week before work, dinners with Mom and Dad, gatherings by our fireplace, and the love that is friendship was such a needed addition to our lives as the roller coaster climbed. We slept in the same soft bed, showers were always hot and at the ready anytime of day, mornings we walked to coffee together and saw the same crew who gave us hugs every day, the toilet flushed, when it rained we went indoors, life became over-regulated and beyond safe again.
But now living in our house, that also needed lots of work, we needed jobs to pay for it all and the roller coaster plunged. I re-hung my Real Estate license at a new office, Alpine. Ville had been a financial analyst in his former working life, but took up multiple short-term jobs with the plan that our house would sell and we would be back on the road. I spent every single weekend holding Open Houses to meet new clients. I became busier than I had ever imagined thanks to living in a beautiful town every single person and their brother wants to live in. I worked days, nights, weekends. Ville and I passed in the night. We made money again. I became one of the top producing Brokers in my company, was proud to be good at not just biking but helping people achieve buying and selling homes. We both now served a purpose in a community. But for us, this was not us living, just maintaining.
We volunteered a bunch of time to do presentations about The Ride in all the local schools, Rotary, Newcomers Groups, library, college, etc. We had been blessed by so many kind people along our journey, it was necessary for us to tell about it and inspire others to travel and spread kindness. It is how kindness spreads. And it was some of our highest points over the last year getting to talk about The Ride and pay it forward.
Rarely will one ever get to experience life so carefree and void of stress as riding bicycles for two years straight. At first I would watch my mileage tick by, continually check my watch, notice all the aches and pains, get really excited for lunch break and bummed when it's over and back in the saddle. But really quickly my focus shifted to the landscape, the smiles of people we rode by, the towns, my breathe, pedaling. It was a mediation on a bike that lasted all day every single day. The moments of stress happened when they were humanly necessary; facing a mother bear and cubs, being attacked by rabid packs of dogs, weaving in and out of daytime traffic in massive cities. Majority of the time our lives were stress-free and we slept better than we had ever slept before.
Coming back to Bend Life, I was overwhelmed by actually how stressed out everyone around me was for reasons we have created: the printer was jammed, WiFi was down, traffic when I'm already late, "what do you mean you ran out of that?", "I need to have a massive house to accommodate my family AND two giant cars" all with payments attached. I was driving to get to an appointment after working on the house for a few weeks straight already, got stuck in a long line of traffic, and just started sobbing. Uncontrollably crying, tears streaming down my face and I wanted out. I felt that I was being choked by all the stress around me and I wanted back on my bike.
The Bend real estate market has it's fairly predictable yearly cycle: hot in the spring and cool in the fall and winter. As many hours as we put in on the house, it just wasn't finished until Fall of 2018. Since the markets prices rose so quickly, it was hard to predict price and we shot too high out the gate. Always a challenge in this game, we dropped price quickly but too late into winter so we were stuck in the waiting game. And impatiently waited as Buyer after interested Buyer had not sold their homes either to buy our house. So we continued to work, save money, and remind each other how fortunate we are to have a roof over our head. Life, as both of us had seen daily and experienced, was so much worse for so many others. This was a mere storm and the sun would eventually come out.
And then, we were under contract with a Buyer! We were over the moon excited. We could almost taste the exit point. And then after two months, his own house sale fell apart taking ours down with it. I believe this was when the roller coaster hit the bottom. We had to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and climb back in the saddle. I put the house back on the market and asked the Universe to show us what to do next. That day, in our first Open House, the coolest couple (she has my same name and he has my birthday!) came in the door and put in an offer on our house. Ville and I ran to my 20-year high school reunion and by that evening papers were signed and we were closing in 2 weeks!
We bought a shipping container, dropped it on the lot we own adjoining the house we are selling, filled it with our measly possessions, Ville flew to Finland to be with family the week before close, and I stayed to clean and be there when the house closed. In the Real Estate game, no one gets to choose their Buyers. Since we would eventually be neighbors we hoped the Buyer would be great, especially because we love our home and put our heart into it when we fixed it to keep. But Karma gave us the best Buyers we could have asked for. They love our home, they are excited to be neighbors, and we will be having a beer with them on our old porch when we get back.
I had a month of transactions I had to stay in Bend to see to the close, and then loaded my trusty steed (YES, the same old Blue Bullet I rode the Americas on) into a bike box, and flew to Finland. It had been seven years since I was able to come to Finland. Always super budget travelers, we could never afford tickets, house and bills to visit Finland together, and so it was so over the top magical to be finally in Ville's home country together. I really had missed friends and family. Over a weeks time, I met our nephew for the first time, took spins on our bikes through our old neighborhood, rode rides at the amusement park with friends, caught up on all the years.
This morning in Helsinki, Ville and I climbed on our loaded bikes, and headed off to catch the ferry headed to Tallinn, Estonia. With no plan, a couple months time, a veracious drive to steer south, and no map. Roller coaster up, wind in my hair, listening to my breathe and pedaling. I'm back where I was meant to be. In the saddle with Ville by my side.
Keep On Keepin' On!
My husband, Ville, and I, Kristen, completed a bicycle journey lasting 20 months and over 18,215 miles before returning to Bend, Oregon, the place we started from. We flew with bikes up to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska (the northernmost point of the Americas with a road) June 25, 2016 and rode into Bahia Lapataia, Argentina (the very end of the road) Feb. 17, 2018. We had everything from close encounters with bears, dog attacks, a bought with dengue fever, and more wild adventures! We biked from 300 ft up to over 16,000 ft crossing the Andes 6 times in Peru alone. And we are back! Ready to share our stories and harrowing tales with you. Please join us this Saturday, (tomorrow) Sept. 29th at The Deschutes Public Library (downtown Bend) at 1pm for an hour-long presentation with pics/stories/film and Q&A. Free admission, donations gladly accepted. Please help us to get the word out and bring friends. See you there!
Finally, an update! Sorry guys, both Ville and I have been a bit busy. Not necessarily with fun things, but the transition back to real life. And we have been going down kicking and screaming.
First, we have finally finished our beloved house remodel! It took far longer than we would have liked and with a lot of love and help from friends and family. Lots of late nights, and working through weekends, up on ladders painting and repainting, but it's finished. And we have it on the market and are really hoping to find a great buyer, who will love and cherish it as much as we do. It's a fantastic house, in the best neighborhood walking distance to everything, and for those that know us, know we went all out. Planning to have a potluck soon with all our pals to celebrate!
I made this fun little before/after slideshow to see just how far we have come, enjoy!
Second, we are both now back working. I worked as a real estate broker a few years and as a teacher for many years before that, before pulling the plug on work and heading off on our 2 year bicycle jaunt. Somewhere in Southern Argentina, I was able to update my real estate license so as soon as we came back to Bend I was able to begin working right away. Thanks to my long history in Bend, born and raised, with a giant social network that's far reaching, I have been able to remain busy helping to sell and helping those looking to buy. A giant THANK YOU to all of you that have sent me referrals, contacted me for work and allowed me to be a part of your housing adventure!
Ville just started last week at Market of Choice in Bend. He is a jack-of-all trades there. Having injured his already bad knee helping a friend frame houses for a week after his return from Finland, we both realized how important a job with health insurance is. Thanks to him, we both now have health insurance. It's not his forever job, but will get us by for the moment.
As for our promised Book, I'm sorry to say we are really trying to tread water while our house sells and I haven't had much time to break back into it. This makes me really sad and I am trying to remain driven to finish, but until our house sells, it just has to be on the back burner. However, we did just order a new computer that will allow me to organize and finish the book a lot easier than a little Chromebook. And Ville is beginning work on a documentary of the ride! It's been in his plans most of the journey, he will now have the time to compile all the video footage we shot along the way. So stay tuned...
For those of you in Bend, Ville's second segment, The Right Side Of Normal, was selected for the Bend Bike Film Festival. The festival will be tomorrow, Friday Sept. 7th at 6pm at the Tower Theater. Last year, Ville's first segment of the film also made the film festival, but we were unfortunately already back on bikes heading south through Columbia and my parents went in our place. So we are pumped to be able to attend this year. So come one, come all, and celebrate how cool bikes are with us!
Check out this great article we are in that just came out in B.C. about Bike Touring and Bike Packing...
Thanks so much everyone for following and continuing to follow our journey! Your love and support means a lot to us. If you enjoy these, please let us know. And feel free to share. Just click the paper airplane in the top right corner and send. Thanks!
Following My Wife 2 (the second half of our ride) is now complete and ready to view and share! Sign up for our Newsletter and I'll send you the link. Otherwise, you need to wait until my Scandinavian Stallion gets back to share it with you here on our blog.
Sorry friends, Ville and I have been buried deep in house projects with no room to come up for air. When we were nearing the end of our ride, we spoke fondly of going back home, being back in our bed again, back with a kitchen, numerous pots and pans to choose from, a hot shower anytime of day, relaxing and seeing friends. Having them just pop in, not having to tell them your life story before parting ways to likely never see each other again, but friends who really know you. Family that has missed you so much and is excited to have you around again. Time to write the book. Put all our thoughts and reflections down on paper. Share our story.
And it has been those things, just slightly off from our expectations. Back two years ago, when we pulled the plug on our house remodel and peaced out to head off on our bicycle journey of the Americas, we left the house in a livable state, rented it to friends and didn't look back. Until the day we walked in the door. And with a hot real estate market and a solidified desire to see and experience more of the world than just Bend, we realized we needed to tackle the remaining house projects, finish it all at once, divide off the second lot we own attached to the property, and sell our beloved home. And it hasn't been easy. This last couple months has been a very emotional and hard road to ride. Ville and I bought this house and tore into it when it made more sense to bulldoze it. But there was history here in this old 1935 Old Mill house. That and we just didn't have the funds to completely start over. So we dug in. With help from friends and family, we made it ours. So finally coming to an end in the journey of this old house and knowing that we will let go of all of what we have done is hard. As hard as letting go of a two year bicycle journey.
To move back in, we had to paint first. To unpack dishes and use the kitchen we had to tear it out first and rebuild it. We spent over a month and a half with our kitchen sink in the side yard and no counters. To get the tub refinished and tile work fixed without our added bathroom quite finished, we relied on our amazing neighbors for showers. Having our plumber, electrician, drywaller and roofers actually show up in this feeding frenzy of building boom in Bend has been a blessing, but has consumed all our early mornings, weekends, and holidays. And the day they finished, is the day the City showed up right outside to tear out the entire water line down the street at 7am every morning with jackhammers. Our home was not little projects either, but big projects. Finishing our kitchen, installing granite, a new sink, lights, adding a whole new bathroom, ripping out and redoing the wood flooring upstairs, trimming half the house, fixing tile, cleaning the stone fireplace, building decks, rebuilding our back porch, painting and installing all our doors, adding doors, insulating, updating electrical, tearing off and re-roofing our entire house, painting, painting again, and painting some more. It's been no joke. And every single step of the way my parents have been here helping. Helping us do it all. I will never be able to thank them enough for all their help! And as our house is FINALLY starting to look like a finished house, and we sit in the backyard under our big apple trees to eat lunch, it saddens both of us to let it go when we will never enjoy it completed.
Along with letting go of our home we love, we have been letting go of our Ride as well. It's been very hard to come back. What do you do after The Ride is over? What do you do after two years of our life has been full, on, in it. Deep in it. A cycling meditation. Every day just waking up and pedaling and each pedal stroke just focused. Being in your breathe. Being on the road. And being in nature. And being surrounded by people on the road. Walking, waiting for a bus, pulling a cart, smiling. Buenos Dias. Animals. The wind. The rain. The sun. And then going to sleep your mind is clear. Completely clear. And you don't think about what your going to do tomorrow. Or reflect on everything that needs to be said or unsaid. To be fixed or not fixed. Your list and how you are going to tackle it. Everything that tumbles around in your head like in a dryer every night. You don't have that on the bike, on The Ride and then one day it's just over. We have come back to "reality" and "reality" is where there is noise, and there is traffic, and there is chaos, and there is bills, and there is work, and there is lots of stress. And I lie awake at night thinking about how much of this stress I have created.
I sat in traffic one day and just began crying from the stress. My stress has been for genuine reasons, running from a bear, dodging traffic on a bike to get through a city, but not this. This stress was overwhelming and it surprised me. Was I really once here? Where it felt normal sitting in traffic, always checking my cell phone, running from place to place, always speaking or being spoken to. What happened to silence? Just listening to the wind? I miss the wind.
As busy as we have been, we have had some play time. Our friends Ryan and Lydia (biked Baja Mexico with us) came for a few days to visit us and we hit up a Critical Mass Bend ride together. Our buddy Marc has drug us out of our dungeon to come out to play. Robin and I went kayaking for an evening and even squeezed in a hike one day. Our little friend Torin did Cupping on our backs to help us heal from The Ride and work. And we walk down to our local coffee shop almost every morning to see our good friend Saracha who is always has a big smile and hug to kick off our day. One of the members of our neighboring art studio, Kinker, decided one morning to paint our beloved work-in-progress and left it for us on our porch. And we continue to make time for speaking engagements at a bunch of the local schools. After so many people took care of us, watched out for us, took us in, and so much good came out of our ride, it's our way to give back. We both feel that it is really important. After so much negativity in news, media, online it feels as if everything out there is overwhelming and scary and we know that is so far from the reality in the world. We know that sharing our story will spread the positive and inspire others. We always leave time for questions and it has, by far, been the best part. How curious kids are! We recommend NOT doing a two year bicycle journey, but ask what their goals and dreams are. Where would they like to go?
For a few weeks in a row, we were asked to join a handful of Mountain View High School students every Friday morning at 6am to bike up the local Pilot Butte in town and it has been inspiring to see so many teens commit to do this every week. That was NOT me. We had a community presentation at one of the high schools and we were excited to see so many came to hear our stories and share in the finish of our ride. We packed in a big bar-b-que and bowling party for Ville's birthday, and it was a huge hit! I mean, who doesn't love to Kingpin every now and again? And Ville has a flare for throwing, flinging really, the ball down the lane as if he is having a seizure and somehow manages to strike about every ball. Don't go bowl with Ville unless you want to demolish your self esteem. It was a heck of a good time with great friends!
And now Ville is gone, I drove him to Portland on Monday, where he flew back to Finland for five weeks to spend time with family and friends. At least the toilet seat will never get left up, but it has been two whole years solidly together and an adjustment being apart. I was fortunate enough to have my parents, our friend Robin and my brother come and see us on the journey, as well as a few stops in Bend along the ride, but Ville has not seen anyone from Finland in over two years! And it's been really hard on him. Missing family and friends is our biggest struggle on our adventures. So he has gone back to enjoy time with everyone and once we sell our house and shift our finances, maybe we can both go. Until then, back in the pile.
Along with being a professional house re-modeler, I am also back working as a Real Estate Broker. And as busy on the house as I have been, I have managed to stay busy helping to sell homes and trying to help friends buy. Before I left on The Ride, I was able to help a bunch of great friends get into their first homes. As the market has climbed, I have returned to a more challenging market to continue to help friends buy in, but nonetheless, there are still deals to be found and I enjoy helping friends find them. And after using only my legs for two years, it's fun to get back in the game using my brain :)
Oh, and Following My Wife 2 (the second half of our ride) is now complete and ready to view and share! Sign up for our Newsletter and I'll send you the link. Otherwise, you need to wait until my Scandinavian Stallion gets back to share it with you here on our blog. Thank you all for following along. I hope to have the much awaited and highly anticipated "Before and After" pics of our house! So until next time, keep on keepin' on ya'll...
My husband, Ville, and I, Kristen, just completed a bicycle journey lasting 20 months and over 18,215 miles. We flew with bikes up to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska (the northernmost point of the Americas with a road) June 25, 2016 and rode into Bahia Lapataia, Argentina (the very end of the road) Feb. 17, 2018. We had everything from close encounters with bears, dog attacks, a bought with dengue fever, and more wild adventures! We biked from 300 ft up to over 16,000 ft crossing the Andes 6 times in Peru alone. And we are back! Ready to share our stories and harrowing tales with you. Please join us May 23rd at Mountain View High School Auditorium in beautiful Bend, Oregon, doors at 6pm show at 6:30pm. Free admission, donations gladly accepted. Please help us to get the word out and bring friends. See you there!
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