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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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!
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...
K.G. & Ville
Back in Oregon.
“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