Thailand Summary

Day 1 : March 8

  • Chiang Mai — Mae Kuang Dam
  • 50 km

Read blog post 1 for details.


Day 2 : March 9

  • Mae Kuang Dam — Maejo
  • 15 km

I woke up in the morning after my wild first day. I hadn’t slept much, as expected, and my phone was still dead. I decided that finding the major road and hoping that I was heading North was a good start! So I got on my bike and pedaled hard for an hour or two until I saw the Thai version of a strip mall. I asked them if they sold phone chargers for iphones. They gave me a funny look and a Thai woman turned around and got in her car. “Rude..” I thought to myself, distressed and not up for anymore setbacks. She returned 5 minutes later with a brand new charger and handed it over. “Gift” she said. I charged my phone for a bit and realized I was going the wrong way and that I was nearly back in Chiang Mai. “Oh, Nicole..” I stopped in Maejo for the night after seeking out a bike shop to check over my bike after my mini crash a day ago. The people there were insanely lovely. They gave me some water, sodas and electrolytes AND a giant bushel of bananas. They get me.


Day 3 March 10

  • Maejo — Past Mae Taeng
  • ~50 km

In the morning, I woke up early and packed my things. I was feeling a really let down from the past two days but I put on Zoe’s playlist that she made for my trip and ended up riding two hours past my destination!! I was on a total high. SUCCESS!!! Nothing of consequence really happened that day. Beautiful landscapes and pushing my boundaries were the theme. I rested well that night in a motel on the side of the road.


Day 4 : March 11

  • Past Mae Taeng – Chiang Dao
  • ~ 40 km

Because I had over shot my destination the night prior, I got to Chiang Dao pretty quickly. I was there in the early afternoon and checked into the Chiang Dao Country Retreat. It was a sanctuary. I put my things in my personal bungalow and wrapped myself in a eucalyptus infused towel after a hot shower. For less than 10 USD, I was in heaven and was finally able to process the first three days of my journey. Other than stuffing my face with delicious Thai food, the day was mostly relaxed. I did some laundry (much needed) and tried out my camping stove. The stove spit gasoline and black smoke billowed.. I decided to try it again another time.


Day 5 : March 12

REST DAY CHIANG DAO

How could I leave?! The nature was so peaceful and my poor body wasn’t sure how it felt about sitting on a bike and pedaling. So I rested. I rested real hard. When I think about to my day in Chiang Dao, I think the only energy that I exerted, was to get up and eat.. A rest day properly spent.


Day 6 : March 13

  • Chiang Dao — Fang
  • ~ 111 km

What a day this was! I had two options for the day: Follow the 107 to Fang, shaving off km and miles and the option of getting lost, or heading a bit North West to the Burmese border and then looping my way back East to Fang. I chose the latter. This route took me through tiny Thai, Burmese and Chinese villages. The landscapes changed and the elevation grew. The earth turned bright clay red. At some point, I became aware that my pace was too slow. I was worried I wouldn’t make it to Fang before nightfall. So, I stuck out my thumb and within minutes a white pickup truck, driven by a 19 year-old Thai boy and his mother, pulled over. They happily helped me load my bike into their car and drove me to their village, which was on the way to Fang. We tried so hard to communicate but ended up just laughing at ourselves and our silly hand gestures in the end. They left me in their town, and I rode for 3 more hours, getting into the city just before dark. Tired doesn’t even begin to describe my state of being. Think, too tired to eat noodles… something is very wrong with that.


Day 7 : March 14

  • Fang — Tha Ton (73 km) — Chiang Rai 53.9 km
  • Total 126 km

“This was supposed to be my easy day!” I Thought to myself one hour outside of Tha Ton, the town that was meant to be my stopping point for the day. Yet, there I was, pedalling in the heat of the day, watching a blip of a person riding off ahead of me. “How is he so fit…?” I met Jeroen inside a coffee shop in Tha Ton after completing an easy, flat, morning ride. I spotted a bike with bags on the bag and went inside to have a coffee and investigate. After mustering some courage I decided to approach him and see where he was going and within 15 minutes, we were headed towards Chiang Rai together. Would I have agreed, knowing that the entire day would be ups and downs? Honestly, yes. Riding with Jeroen was such a gift. As he glided and I trudged my way up hills, he’d be waiting patiently at the top with encouraging words. After a few hours of riding and a small hitchhike, we ended up in Chiang Rai. We dove into the backpacker life, staying in a hostel called Sook Jai, swinging in hammocks, and partying the night away– beer was well-deserved!


Day 8 : March 15

Chiang Rai — Waterfalls

On our rest day we rented scooters and swam in waterfalls. Bliss.


Day 9 : March 16

Chiang Rai — pool day

This day was luxury. We went to see the famous blue temple in the morning and spent the rest of the day at a resort. We had asked to use their pool and for a few USD we were granted permission. We had the whole place to ourselves. I felt incredibly spoiled and ready to ride again the next day.


Day 10 : March 17

  • Chiang Rai – Chiang Khong
  • 111 km

Jeroen and I parted ways in the mornings. I put in my headphones and headed for the border of Thailand and Laos. It was a big day with only 1 break for noodle soup. The landscape was pretty flat and uninteresting, which allowed me to push a lot of kilometers and just zone into my music. I stayed at the Hub Funk Box Hostel for the night and slept like an angel.


Day 11 : March 18

  • Chiang Khong – Huay Xai
  • 24.4 km

I woke up early and did the immigration run-around. It was about 12 km to the border, then a bus to cross the friendship bridge, and then cycling another 12 km to Huay Xai. I got my first taste of Lao hills… oof…. I’m in for a journey. In Huay Xai I stayed in Little Hostel and rested.


 

Points of Unlearning

‘”In our culture,” teaches Dr. Brené Brown, ‘we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.'”

In Thailand, I unlearned that vulnerability is a negative state of being. The myth, is that the world is bad and scary and people are not to be trusted. It’s that being alone in the world, especially as a woman, will bring you trouble and threat. My experience, which is not to be generalized to everyone, of course, has showed me the opposite. It has given me rich and deep connections to the land and the people i’ve crossed paths with.

In Thailand, I set off alone. Everything went wrong. I fell, lost my ability to search my maps or communicate with people, got lost, became exhausted and felt immensely scared and alone. This all happened on the road, exposed to the world, and in response, the world showed up for me.

In the stories that I have shared above, the overall takeaway was that amidst the loneliness and fear and wrong-goings, there was always someone to give me bananas, hand me a bottle of water, cycle along side me or even give me a lift.

Vulnerability is a gift and a power. It’s given me the opportunity to share myself authentically and to be seen. I have been able to see human nature at its finest. It’s given people the opportunity to be compassionate, and its given me the sense of community and belonging in a foreign country.

My First Day: Chiang Mai to Mae Kuang Dam

My first day, I set off from Chiang Mai around 11 am headed for Chiang Dao, a place I had camped two years ago during the Shamballah in your Heart festival. It only took my a few hours by motorbike so I figured it would not be so bad by bicycle. Well, my body told me otherwise.

I messaged a friend who own a houseboat, Om Waters, at Mae Ngat Dam and asked him if I could crash there for the night and continue my journey to Chiang Dao in the morning. He, like the amazing human he is, said yes! I was on my way, excited for the relaxing oasis that is Om Waters.

I pedaled, trying to find my rhythm on this bicycle, weighed down by 5 bags. It was my first day ever to cycle with this much weight. Pedal after pedal, leaving the city I felt empowered, strong and on top of the world. “I’m doing this!!!” After a year of planning it felt to real, so alive.

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Not even an hour into the journey, I totally ate shit. While looking lovingly at the rice paddy fields to my right, I swerved left and right off the road. No, i’m not joking. After dusting myself off and pouring water over my scraped up knee and elbow, I pedaled on, hoping not too many people saw, what they would probably think was, the lamest crash ever.

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After about an hour or so, I realized that my phone charger had broken inside my phone, and that said phone was now dead. Again, not joking. I pulled over and asked around for “the dam” and eventually arrived at something that looked exactly right! “Hooray!!” I thought, patting myself on the back and doing a little dance.

The excitement lasted about 20 minutes, for as I was doing my little dance I saw ahead of me a hill, some nice-looking white buffalo, and a gate. “A GATE OH NOOO!” For some reason that is beyond me, probably dehydration and a lack of food, this gate seemed like the most daunting obstacle for me and my big, heavy bike. It was. I stared at this gate for a while, angry with it for existing. 

“If I was on foot I could just JUMP over this gate and be done with it!” Being that I was not traveling by foot, I began to remove bag after bag, throwing them over the gate in a childish huff. After reloading the bags onto my bike on the other side, I shook off this annoyance and continued riding until, of course, I arrived at yet another barrier. These became a theme for my day.

Under the hot Thai sun, I felt like Sysifus, rolling his ball up the hill day by day only to have to do it again the following day. Except instead of rolling a boulder, I was hauling my bags and bike over barriers every 15 minutes while my legs were being swarmed with giant, red jungle ants. It must have been a scene for the Thai farmers who were looking at me with curiosity and confusion. A foreign girl, alone with a big bike and too many bags, stomping around while scream-crying in front of a car gate. I can’t even imagine their thoughts.

After the last barrier of my day, I still hadn’t found Om Waters and was starting to despair. My chest started closing, my throat had a knot the size of a watermelon and my tears wouldn’t cease flowing. A Thai cyclist had passed by to see if I was alright so I asked to borrow his phone to check the map. To my surprise, I was at the completely wrong dam.DSCF1979 (1)

Instead of Mae Ngat, I was at Mae Kuang… The sun was setting. “I’m sorry!’ said the Thai cyclist. “Me too!” I choked between sobs. There was a flat piece of land on the banks of the dam right by me. “This is it. I’m stopping here.” I clicked together my red shiny poles that gave my tent its dome like structure and went up to find some food. My fork shook in my hand as I forced rice and fish down my throat, wanting the day to be over already. Exhaustion overwhelmed me. Before I was done, a pickup truck pulled up beside me and a man asked if it was my tent down by the water. “Yes, that’s mine.” I said.

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“Be careful! There are wild dogs down there!”
“Ugh.”
I cried the entire walk down to my tent and nearly passed upon entering my tent. You’d think i’d be able to after the day I head but the noises… frogs, crickets, toads–howls of dogs that echoed off the mountains and came back around to haunt me. “I can’t do this.” I kept thinking to myself. “Who was I kidding..” As my heart started to settle and my mind got heavy with sleep, I heard a car pulling up beside my tent.

“THIS IS IT! THIS IS HOW I DIE!” The car door opened and closed. The silhouette of a man outside my tent got larger and I mustered a meek “Sawadee ka?” or “Hello” in Thai language. It was the man from the pickup truck who warned me about the dogs. He had left his money in his fishing boat and came to see if I was alright. He brought me two bottles of water and a Leo beer. I was skeptical at first but after 5 minutes of chatting about life and adventure under the stars, my worries subsided. People are good, I was reminded, and I crawled into bed and attempted to sleep.

I let my body feel heavy, sinking into the Earth and imagined being fully supported and protected in my bubble. My eyes got heavy, my forehead softened, the evil sounds from before started to play a melodious song. And then a flash, and then a bang, and then the storm began. It raged through the night and I finally fell asleep in laughter. It’s all a game anyway. 

What I’ve Been Up To In Nepal

Two years ago, as an English teacher in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I met a woman who introduced me to something that would change the next few years of my life.

I was sitting in a bare, concrete space on the second level of my favorite open mic venue, just finishing up my first enneagram reading with Johanna– a woman with a reputation for instigating transformation.

I sat there on the floor across from this small, cheery blonde woman with deep eyes and my path, indeed, did shift. Happykidscenter_12oct Not only was the enneagram reading a powerful insight, but it was in introduction to the Happy Kids Center, a “peter-pan land,” bamboo structure she, and two othersbuilt in response to the 2015 Nepal earthquake.

We sat across from each other, sharing ideas and plans and inspiration — and a few weeks later my bags were packed, head exploding with naive plans as I boarded the plane for Nepal.

First day back: December 10, 2017 – Right out of the cab from the airport.

“One of our girls has been married off in the night. We think she’s in India.”

I was thrust, not so gently, back into the reality of life here in Bhaktapur, a city still crippled by the earthquake. It’s been two-years since I arrived in Bhaktapur in March 2016, becoming the turnover for the Happy Kids Center at age 23. In those two years, I have fallen in love with these kids and started on the journey of understanding and unlearning from this community.

In the month and a half that I’ve been back, my partners Joyce and Ellen, and I have been working tirelessly on our many projects.26942389_1931932553500763_628406574_o

What started as a semi-permanent bamboo space where “ A Child’s Imagination is Endless” has since evolved into a place where journeys begin– a resource that provides outside programming to the families that come to the center who need a little extra help in breaking the cycle of poverty.

For two years we have watched our little ones working in the streets collecting plastics to sell to the government instead of going to school. 19105850_1285753998189572_4832305583694520986_nWe’ve seen our girls getting married, and sat at their weddings as they cried in our laps. We’ve hugged boney bodies with growling tummies.

After two years of watching, we’ve finally been invited to be a partner in solving the problem.

In the past 6 months, in partnership with the mothers of our kids, we have successfully launched a scholarship program, built an anti-child marriage initiative, and started a health fund. Each of these programs takes a great deal of care and hard work to get off the ground and running sustainably.

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The Happy Kids Center was born as a place where aDSCF1040.JPGchild can escape the responsibility of simple survival, and enter the life of a child– the life of play and color. From 4-6 you can find us at play, nearly drowning amongst a sea of jumping children and playing cards.

Outside the center, you can find us riding a local bus to Kathmandu to visit a 16 year-old sister that was married last year who is pregnant, scared and needs a friend. You can find one of us sitting in the hospital waiting to hear back if Krishna can get surgery to fix his degenerative eye disease. You can find us sitting with the principal, discussing strategy for getting more of our kids off the streets and into school.

We have a full and busy life here but an important one. This year, we’ve been able to do what we’ve never done before. We’ve launched projects in collaboration with the parents of the kids we are serving, built a website, received our legal non-profit status in Nepal and continued to unlearn and build relationships with the community.

In the two months that I’ve been back here in Nepal, I have ridden my bike only three times– far less than anticipated. Working with these kids, has prepared me for my journey in another way, however. It has filled me with motivation and purpose. It is my job to keep these dreams alive by fundraising along my journey.

It has given me the motivation to keep pedaling. Because this isn’t just about my dream, but the dream of 80 others– the kids at the Happy Kids Center.

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Let’s do this.

Hello!!

Welcome to Unlearning by Bike!

I’m sitting in Princeton Public Library right now. A stack of nine books sit to my left, a pad and paper on my right and my two back roller Ortlieb bike bags are on the chair next to me. For the past few months I’ve been preparing. I’ve been slowly accumulating gear, doing my research, and building this website amongst other things. The clock is slowly ticking down to the beginning of a journey that I have been dreaming about for over a year now. My feelings generally oscillate between pure excitement and utter fear. Can I do this? Is often the phrase that pops into my head in the still night. Can I do this? I imagine all that can go wrong– all of the things that people have been filling my head with since i’ve been home begin to dance like a personal montage on the backs of my eyes and a list of “I’m not..’s.” sing me a false lullaby. It is a familiar sensation. I felt it before setting off for the 30-day solo journey on the Camino de Santiago in 2014. I felt it when I bought a one way ticket to Thailand after college. I felt it as laid in bed in Pokhara, Nepal the night before I began the 18-day Annapurna Circuit. So, I try, to welcome this familiar fear as a friend-a precursor to a journey that will shape my inner landscape as others have done before. I can. I am. But it wont be easy. I am not a cyclist. I’m not even an athlete of any kind, but I love a challenge and adventure. I love changing my story and being the designer of my fate. So, I sit here in Princeton Public Library with a stack of nine books, my pad of paper and pencil and my bike bags and I continue to move forward and prepare– one day at a time. I can do this.

Cheers,

Nicole