Q & A

Has your bike broken very often?

Nope! Not once! The Surly LHT has been incredibly good to me. My racks on the other hand broke in the middle of nowhere which could have been a disaster! Ive since switched to Tubus racks and they are really great.

How many times have you cried on the side of the road?

More than a few haha! Most of those were in the Mongolian steppe when my racks kept snapping and everything seemed to be going wrong.

How did you choose routes?

I don’t really plan much ahead of time. I’ll take a look at the map the night before and draw out a route on MapOut or ask other cyclists which way they liked.

How old are you?

Turning 26 on December 16

How awesome have your travels been on a scale of 1-10?

10!!!!

Whats the weight of your bike fully loaded?

With food and water it can be up to 40kg

Whats the most unnecessary thing you carry?

My ukulele, but I’m so happy I have it.

Whats your budget for this trip?

I started with around $3,500. At about 8 months in I have around $60 left of it haha.

When do you think you’ll reach Spain?

Summer 2019 is the most specific I can get right now.

Whats your favorite meal thats easy to cook while traveling?

Pasta with lentils and tomato sauce

What is the Happy Kids Center and why are you fundraising for it?

Learn more about HKC here!

What the one food you miss the most?

Bagels

Whats your plans for the winter season in Georgia?

I’m renting an apartment on AirBnb. I plan on teaching English and getting back into rock climbing.

Whats first shower or food when you reach a town?

Food.

Will you ever live a normal life?

Mmmm. Not sure!

Any ideas for the next big trip after reaching the Atlantic?

I have a few ideas stirring. The pack raft+bike packing combo is really intriguing, as is traveling by van, horse or something of the same spirit.

Do you cowboy camp or do you use your tent?

Usually in my tent but I think I’ll try sleeping out under the stars when its becomes warm again.

Favorite piece of gear?

Either my kindle or my sleeping bag.. Tough call.

Did you skip parts of the way or did you really cycle every meter?

Definitely got rides. Sometimes for visa reasons or broken gear or just because its too hard to pass up the offer.

How many hours would you cycle on an average day?

5-6 hours on the saddle. A lot of cycle touring is just packing and unpacking our damn tents and stuff!

Are you scared sometimes to get your bags or bike stolen? Is there a risk?

I lock the bike up every night but its not out of real concern, just good habit.

From Georgia are you riding through Turkey or taking the ferry across the Black Sea?

Not sure yet! We’ll see how I feel about it after winter.

How has the more traditional touring set up been on the more off road sections?

Difficult. Often, I have to get off and push but for the kind of trip that i’m doing I wouldn’t change a thing with my set up.

Any dog bites?

No, but we get chased quite often!

Do you have a daily budget?

Not really, because it will very country to country and whether i’m in a remote area or in cities.

Will you got to Latin America by bicycle?

Its not in the plan now but you never know. 🙂

What uni did you go to?

Penn State University!!

Will you go to Iran?

Unfortunately not. Its not currently possible for US citizens to get visas to Iran, though its a shame because its supposed to be an incredibly beautiful country.

What has been the most surprising thing on your journey thus far?

Probably just how normal its become. Before I started, I was terrified! I couldn’t have imagined such a journey become normalized but its just a lifestyle now!

How can I get a sticker?

I don’t have any stickers currently but if you want a t-shirt you can contact me here!

How are you able to post?

I just wait until I’m somewhere with wifi.

Strange Sleeps in Xinjiang

In my last post “Alone In China” I mentioned being ushered from foreign hotel to foreign hotel. In Xinjiang Province, there are certain hotels specifically for foreigners. They are a rare find, however.

One afternoon, for example, I was taken in a police van for 200 km, past four different cities, in search of a foreign hotel. Once we finally reached the intended city, the border patrol told us that, in fact, there was no foreign hotel here, either. It was 11 pm at this time and I actually started laughing out loud. “HAHA Why did you take me here!!!?” They were just doing their job, I understood that, but REALLY?! Isn’t that something that you’d check before driving for hours?!! It was a bit comical, but I had a situation on my hands. Camping is forbidden, but there is no foreign hotel. What to do?

Then, I saw him. A tall, lanky, string bean of a man with white hair, sun tanned skin and micro mini pink short-shorts. I probably scared him half to death when I ran over screaming “HELLO! WHERE ARE YOU FROM? YOU’RE THE FIRST FOREIGNER I’VE SEEN IN DAYS! WHEN DID YOU GET HERE?” It was a bit much. But I was so unreasonably excited to speak to someone and have a big ole laugh about what we were going through separately but together.

His name is Marcel, or something like that. He’s an adventurer from Belgium that was traveling by tricle (trycle?) The point was to race other Europeans to Beijing using only solar power and human power.

Anyway, overwhelmed by my energetic presence or not, Marcel and I decided to persuade the guards to let us pitch our tents at the border where they could see us and we’d be on our way early morning. They reluctantly agreed and we started unloading our things.

Marcel didn’t have a free-standing tent so I offered for him to share my tent. He looked trustworthy enough. We spent the night sharing tales of the road and about our lives before this adventure and at some point in the conversation we drifted to sleep. Thank the universe he wasn’t a creep or a snorer. We slept well, despite the occasional truck headlights illuminating the tent and were both up at 7 am saying our goodbyes and riding our separate ways.

 

I had many a strange sleep in Xinjiang Province, the last, however, was probably amongst the strangest. It was my last day in the province and I had spent that day zooming downhill through a lush gorge with waterfalls, horses and small yurts tucked between rock walls. Finally arriving to the border town, Khorgas, I searched for a foreign hotel to sleep. It was near nightfall and I had been to about 15 hotels which had all rejected me. “No foreigners allowed” they said. Strange for a border town. So, I went to the one place that I had been avoiding for the past week– the police station, to ask for help. They accompanied me to 3 or 4 more hotels until eventually, they also gave up. I was nearly in tears, exhausted from the day and from the constant rejection.

A woman who worked in the last hotel was watching and listening as the police officers tried to decide what to do with me. Eventually, she approached. She spoke to them in Chinese, left, spoke to her boss and returned. They chatted some more amongst themselves until eventually, they told me she’d let me sleep in her room beneath the hotel. “Is that okay?” They police asked me through their phone translators. “Yes, thank you!!! Any bed at this point is fine!!”

The woman led the police officers and me to the back of the hotel through an alley way that smelled of piss and cigarettes. Rats scurried from behind boxes when they heard our footsteps approaching the backdoor. It creaked open with difficulty and we proceeded down the dark steps and into a hallway lit with flourecent flickering lights and finally into her bedroom. There was a single bed with colorful bedsheets and a dresser with photos of her friends and family, a hairbrush and some make up. In the corner of the room were a couple of pairs of clothing and her uniforms.

 

She told me I could stay for free and that she would go to a friends house for the night. “The shower’s just there” She pointed to the room next door. “Sorry about the smell.” It was, indeed, repulsive. But I hadn’t showered in a few days so I held my breath and made it a quick one.

I slept well that night, got up in the morning, and got the hell out of China.

Alone in China

On the 23rd of July 2018 I wrote

“I’m doing it! I’ve been cycling since 10 am. Its now 3 pm. Four scorching hours on the highways are starting to get to me but I’m listening to Eye in The Sky by Radio Lab and that helps. I still have 45 km to go today but this break in the shade of a bus stop is more than needed. I’m going to let my phone charge but then I’ll be ready to go again. My feelings are overall great toward my first riding day solo since partnering up with Jerry a few months ago. Hopefully, I can find a nice camp somewhere tonight. I’m feeling up for it, for sure. I only have a bit of petrol but these veggies need cooking! Ah, I wish it wasn’t so damn hot on this highway.”

Life was moving along and all of my fears about continuing without Jerry were starting to roll off of me with each turn of the wheel. “I can do this. I am doing this. Everything is fine- more than fine!”

Little did I expect that by the time the day was done, I’d be taken to two different police stations and escorted in two police cars to unknown destinations, sans passport nor any idea of what in the world was going on.

My happy-sweaty-full-face rode off from my slice of shade on the side of the highway for about 20 kilometers before I arrived at my very first police checkpoint. These checkpoints, as far as I was aware, were set up to monitor movement and “control” the Uygher people, an ethnic minority primarily living in XinJiang Autonomous region of China. They wouldn’t care about a random American cycle tourist, I ignorantly thought as I strode in to give my passport to the desk clerk. She looked at my face, and then at my passport and then at my face again and starting rattling off a multitude of sentences in Chinese. “So sorry” I said. “I don’t actually speak Chinese!” With a subtle look of confusion she turned to her partner who barked “Where from?”

“Wo she Meguo ren” I replied in crumpled Chinese before repeating it in English. “I’m American.”
Both faces lit up “AH! MEGUO!” they exclaimed with great surprise. “Tu-rump-uh!” The two began discussing with each other at length about, what I assume, was what to do about me. They spoke, sent some messages on WeChat and told me to sit down. Happy to be inside a semi-cool and shaded building, I sat and accepted the hang up as a chance to relax and cool down before continuing the ride. I waited for one hour, and then two, being fed watermelons and gifted ice cold bottles of water the entire time, when eventually the desk clerk said “come.” I stood up, thanking everyone for their generosity and headed out the back door. A big police van was outside with the back door slid open.

“Oh no..” I thought to myself.

I unpacked my bags from my bike. Sweat started beading all over my face both from the heat and a new pang of nervousness. “Where are we going?” “Why would it be a problem for an American cycle tourer to pass these parts?” “Is this for my safety or for theirs?” Questions began circling around my brain. My VPN wasn’t working in this region which meant Google was off limits, as was Facebook, Instagram or any other western apps that filled my color coordinated iphones folders. I was left to my imagination.

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“Come” They said, mostly expressionless. Two men got in the front and my bike, my bags and I were put in the back behind a barred gate— not the most comforting ride I’ve ever taken. We drove for a few minutes in silence and then they pulled off at a shop. The driver got out and in a couple minutes returned with an ice cream and two bottles of water for me. “Okay? They wouldn’t give me ice cream and all of these gifts if I were in any real trouble.” I thought, delighted with my new coconut flavored ice cream. I sat in peace for the rest of the ride to, what turned out to be, the second police station. I was held there for three hours, ate 5 more slices of free watermelon and practiced English with one of the officers. They looked at my passport again, called some people, asked me questions and eventually ushered me into another police van.

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“Carry you to Hotel” were the words on the screen of the Chinese version of Google Translate. Finally, some answers. “They’re taking me to a hotel! Great!” I got into the front seat of this police car. The driver was an older man– much more stern then the two Chinese officers who escorted me on the last ride. He was intimidating but kind. We didn’t speak much. Until, we stopped… on the side of the highway… at around 8 pm. He got out of the car. I stayed in. When he motioned me to get out, I was quite confused. “They said you were taking me to a hotel!” I wrote in a translator. “Bu ren” he replied. I was to get out and cycle as the sun was setting. On a highway. And I had no idea where I was. I quickly checked my map and saw there was a city about 8 km away. If I really rushed, I would make it before sundown. So, not so cheerfully, I repacked my bike, got on and pedaled hard in the golden light of the day toward a city.

I found a hotel that accepted foreigners, which was a big surprise and success, as most do not, took a glorious shower and fell asleep chuckling. “What a day… what a life…”

This day was to be repeated throughout my time in Xinjiang Province of China. I would cycle in the morning, feeling strong and empowered until about midday were I would be “escorted”, sometimes by 5 different police cars in one day, to checkpoint after checkpoint, foreign hotel after foreign hotel. A 10 day ride turned into 3 as they ushered me toward the border as quickly as possible. But why?

Since 2016, hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs have been subjected to imprisonment, torture and death. Xinjiangs “reeducation camps” or rather internment camps operate secretly and outside the law and can detain anyone without any trial. The United Nations and other human rights organizations claim that there are an estimated 1 million people in these camps being “reeducated” as a means of stopping extremism and terrorism.

The Uyghurs who are not imprisoned, essentially live in an open air prison, as well. They are monitored severely and have had their passports taken from them. They are not allowed to leave their province, let alone the country. What does this have to do with a young American girl cycling through? I’m not entirely sure, but I assume that the Chinese government would be very displeased if a foreigner were to see these camps or converse with locals and spreading “Western Ideologies.” Just an assumption.

When traveling slow through the world, you pick up on the subtleties. You see things you shouldn’t see, go to places that the government doesn’t necessarily want you to go. On a bicycle you are kind of free. You get to see things as they are– really are, in that present moment in time and space, instead of being ushered in tourist buses to the pretty faces of a country. After two months and a half cycling in various parts of China, I have seen many faces of the country. Some so beautiful you feel like its otherworldly and an example to other nations, some that confuse me, and some that make my stomach turn.

My experience in Xin Jiang Province was a bit of a mix. At a time where I was finally alone again, feeling free and empowered, I had the juxtaposition of being controlled and man-handled by Big Brother China. I was experiencing great kindness from the police officers who were just doing their job but also feeling contempt for the same structure that was responsible for oppressing so many people. However many contradictions I felt leaving China, I am grateful that I have the option to move fluidly from country to country and to continue to learn and unlearn through experience. Onwards to Kazakhstan.

 

 

Seeing In Silence

.mongolia.

We set up camp a few kilometers outside of Dasichilen, where we had resupplied earlier that day. The smell of onions, garlic and cabbage wafted from a sizzling pot that sat expectedly, under Olivers care. Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” mixed harmoniously with the crackling fire and the sound of an air mattress being inflated, as if they were born from the same star, cut from the same cloth, birds of the same feather or what have you. Everything felt in its right place, and I, the observer and participant sat still and absorbed it all. I sat still, and the bread i’d kneaded a few minutes prior rose, slowly, like the yellow/white moon above. The sky began to change color, as did the song. Geese began to make their way home and the horses have all cleared out of the pastures. As if right on queue, we turned our faces toward the sound of a motor in the near distance. “They’ve found us.” Claudia stated, slightly disheartened.

Its tempting to feel alone in the Mongolian countryside— to set up camp “stealthily” looking down the meadows seeing no one in sight for miles. Almost always, the nomads know we are there. Almost always, right as dinner is nearly ready, someone arrives. So he did. The Mongolian man rode over on his motorbike, dressed in traditional nomadic horse riding clothes. Essentially, its a really big coat with a sash around the waist and homemade leather boots. With no emotions, he comfortably walks over to us and squats, just watching, as our Mongolian visitors seemed to do. Claudia, Oliver, Jerry and I, being used to these visits by now, assumed our normal roles in the interaction. They all kept to their tasks and I made a fool out of myself, pantomiming, showing pictures, playing ukulele and throwing up nonsensical hand gestures to try to explain whatever it was that I was talking about. In the end, I was pretty much having a conversation with myself. He didn’t even crack a smile. So, giving up, I, too, tended to my task of baking bread. It had fully risen by now and was ready to be put on the dying out campfire. Finally, the stone man moved. He walked over to my bread, gave a nod, got on his bike and road away.

This isn’t “not normal.” In fact, this kind of interaction was a daily occurrence. Mongolia’s nomadic people remain a mystery to me. After two months in the country I’m still unsure. “Are we friends?” “Are you mad?” “Are you okay?” Back home in the States we have a way of expressing ourselves so outwardly and loudly and energetically that anything less than that feels dull, angry or sad. Maybe, the magic in Mongolia lies in its subtleties and nuances. Maybe, it was a positioning of the feet, the amount of blinks of his eyes, or his passiveness that communicated what, back home, would normally manifest as “WOW! This is so cool! Soooooo nice to meet you!” Or maybe not. Maybe, he truly didn’t care. I, however, like to play with the idea that, in a place so remote as Mongolia, the mere act of coming over, and sharing company, in the silence and stoicism of a sacred ritual, is simply enough. It is enough to communicate the “I see you.” Not just physically acknowledging our existence, but “I see you” as in “I listen. I smell. I see. I hear. I understand.” I think of my role in the interaction, how conditioned I am to try to create a sense of jubilance, of animation and energy—that extra layer, if you will. I think of how unnecessary and probably foolish I seemed, trying to kick up dust in the silence, when the silence held everything already, and more.

Lost in Mongolia

In the sandy distance, I saw Oliver crouched down next to, what looked like, a dog. As I approached, I saw the lone, baby cow. It was shaking and weak and sniffing the air for milk and familiarity. Somehow, the babe had lost its way and became separated from its herd. Slowly, it wobbled over to each of our bikes, searching for an udder and the possibility of staying alive. Alone on the steppe, this little cows fate would be the same as numerous animals we found sunken, and half eaten on the side of the road.

The babe smacked its lips and nuzzled its wet nose into our panniers. It could barely stand either from its youth or hunger. Having no udder, or means of helping the little thing, we painfully accepted its fate and decided we should just keep moving. But I couldn’t. Oliver, Claudia and Jeremy cycled on and I dismounted my bike and walked slowly away. “How can I just leave it there to die?” With my heart so heavy, I turned back to see the little babe one more time. There she was a couple steps behind me, stumbling along. I stopped and she stopped. I moved and she followed. “Come on little one!” I pleaded. “Just a bit further.”

Up ahead, Oliver, Claudia and Jerry had stopped. I thought they were just waiting for me to catch up. And then I saw them. A big herd of cows just on the other side of the road grazed and munched on grass. “Let’s try it.” We all decided. Jerry, scooped up the calf and carried it over the sandy road that scared the babe so much that it lost its herd because of it. We stood back to watch as the calf approached a cow. It nocked her away with its big head. “You’re not mine, get away!” It seemed to say. Heartbroken and heavy we looked at each other with eyes of resignation. “It was a good effort.”

From a distance, a cow peeped its head up and started charging our way. It’s eyes were locked on the calf. We watched as it tried its luck once more on the new cow’s udder and she accepted. She licked her baby and walked off with the little one at her heels. Claudia and I stood and cried at the beauty of reunion and a death sentence being overturned.

We are quick to give up, us humans. We’re quick to wash our hands and say, “well, nothing can be done.” accepting our fates and the fate of others. As I stood, in a bovine dream with tear stained cheeks I unlearned this truth– sometimes, something can be done. Sometimes, it’s worth it to just try.

Are You Happy?

Ellen Carney, the Director of Youth Programs at the Happy Kids Center, wrote me a Facebook message a few days ago. “Are you happy?” She asked.

I stared at the screen, digesting the question. Swirling it around in my head, letting the urge to intellectualize the question and answer immediately settle down. I let the feelings arise and after settling into the feelings, I answered.

“GOOD QUESTION. There are tough moments for sure, but it really is freedom. Every night that Jeremy and I set up camp we make it into a little home with a kitchen and the “house” and all our stuff spread around and it really makes you feel like you are home everywhere. You become less scared of the world and feel more apart of everything that surrounds you.

That being said, in the tough moments– cycling up hill at a 10% gradient at the end of a very long and hot day, I question why the f*** I’m doing this and a really ugly voice comes out that fills me with a frustration directed at nowhere. But I think the point of a trip like this is to allow that voice to rise, to get to know it, acknowledge it and then let it go. All the pent up anger and frustration that I feel rises from the same point, and at this time in my life, the feeling takes control. However, it doesn’t always have to be that way. Making space and taking time to observe it separates it from ME and just leaves it as just a feeling.

In general, being outside all day every day, cooking my own food, watching the sky change color and spending an hour every night looking at the constellations, has been a huge blessing and a means for me to slow down and really become a part of my surroundings. Whether I was on a bicycle or just walking, or sitting at camp, being outside this much is the most healing thing in the world for me. So, it is a journey, and it is not always pleasant, but it is clearing the algae of the soul away, its letting me slow down, and its DEFINITELY showing me to myself. I think that is happiness and wealth. Having the great privilege of time, and space, nature and healing is a sort of wealth. Going through trials and tribulations and overcoming them, is happiness.”

 

featured photo by Jeremy John

 

 

The Land of In-Betweens

We rode out around 10 am. The sky was blue and filled with clouds that reminded me of my childhood drawings– big, puffy, white and animated. We waved goodbye to Claudia and Oliver, two cycle-tourers we had met in Kunming and had decided to cross paths with as often as possible. Legends, they are. And after a few days of hard resting, we pushed pedals toward the lake, past a plethora of wedding photos and Chinese tourist buses and back into the land of in betweens.

My experience of China has showed me overcrowded cities designed for Chinese tourists, filled to the brim with carbon copy jewelry and clothing shops and souvenirs. Hoards of people arrive on the bus, pour into the city like a flood, consume, take photos and leave. Outside these tourist traps, is the land of in betweens. Its scattered parts of the country where no tourist stops but simply passes by through the window of an air-conditioned tour bus.

On a bicycle you have to experience it all. The beautiful, the ugly, the natural and the designed. The only thing constant about the land of in-betweens is that it is always changing. On this mornings ride, we passed the lake after 30 km of lakeside riding and headed into the hills. Up, up and UP we went, panting and hot and covered in sweat. I was tired and starting to go to unpleasant place of “I can’t’s” when we heard a loud “BOOM”

A giant army base appeared seemingly out of nowhere. With no fences or security of any sort, we were able to look over at the barracks, the tanks, the target practice happening before our very eyes. It was surreal, exciting and frightening. We stopped for a few moments, silently watching these incredible and dangerous machines, only feet away from us, practicing to do what they are meant to do– kill.

If that doesn’t shake you out of an internal mental slump, I’m not sure what will. We cycled away discussing our opinions on the army and war and comparing different rhetoric surrounding these subjects in our respective countries. Before we knew it, we had cycled 30 more kilometers and it was time to camp. We usually stop cycling and start looking for a place around 6:30 pm so that we’ll have enough time to set up camp, eat and gaze at the stars.

The camp that evening was glorious. We had pushed our bikes off the road and up a slope to a clearing with flat ground beneath towering wind turbines that spun a whole new evening scene. The sounds were loud, like a never ending crashing ocean– much better than the explosions now heard faintly in the distance. The sky was dense and starry that night. We ate curry in starstruck silence.

This is the land of in-betweens, where the tourist buses pass in a blink of an eye and where we spend most of our days– ears open, eyes open, skin tingling and alive. It takes a while to get used to this life of moving and, seemingly, never arriving. Spending days cycling between cities and watching the land and the architecture change is a whole different way to experience a country and life in general. Not rushing– just moving, observing, becoming as present as you allow yourself to be in there here and now.

Tailwinds,

Nicole

ONE MONTH!

ONE MONTH!!!

We are all connected. I left down a road in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and with fewer turns than you can imagine, I am in Dali, China. The roads may have changed names but they flow into one another, into country after country and after a while this road will bring me all the way to the other side of the world. Let that sink in for a moment. You can leave your front door in Princeton, Denver, Bhaktapur, Changwon– ANYWHERE– and end up on the other side of the world with the push of a bicycle. If that isn’t a unifying and freeing thought, I don’t know what is. It is a thought that has utterly consumed my mind from the commencement of this journey and brought me a sense of connection that startles the soul. It’s journey that allows you to join in on the dance of human spirit.

While all of these roads are connected, they are only mere splices of the countries that I am traveling through. They are glimpses into Thai hippy towns, stilted Laos villages and Chinese cities that seem to be popping up out of nowhere. With slow and sometimes arduous pushes of my bicycle pedals I’ve seen landscapes change under my tires and customs changes across borders. I still miss the Laos children running out into the streets  with a big ‘SABAI DEEEEE!’ with their hands outstretched for a high five.

On these roads that connect us all, I’ve started my days quite similarly. After a terrible instant coffee, I take the few items I own and shove them down my waterproof Ortlieb panniers and open up maps.me to scout out possible stopping destinations and altitude maps for the day. The rest of the day however, I am in the hands of the road. Whether the day is marked by the watermelon truck drivers who pull me over to share some watermelons and selfies or the Laos Gibbons Experience Tour Guides who shared conversations with me before all jumping into a river fully clothed to find relief from the heat of the day, every day has its mark.

Sometimes, the day brings me the most glorious of gifts. New friends from different countries crammed into an abandoned shack in the middle of a rice patty field, surrounded by fireflies and the sound of water making its way through the fields, eating a hodgepodge of sticky rice, tomatoes and mushrooms and laughing at the absurdities of life, comes to mind. Being alone on the road can be difficult sometimes but luckily, when you need it the most, friends appear.

5 months ago, I met Oliver, who had been working in Beijing for three years. He heard about my bike trip and months later, after taking a flight to meet me in Xishuanbanna, we were cycling along side each other en route to Kunming. In Kunming, I met three cyclists in a hostel and nearly one week later, here we are all together in Dali, planning a route out together.

In this month, I have been invited into so many homes, dinner tables, and even given free lifts when the day is heavy with heat and my face, painted with exhaustion. I have been baffled with how much can change in only a few miles and yet how much stays the same. The human spirit– the will to help one another, the innate curiosity for that which is different and the ability to enjoy and bring life to the mundane, is what stays the same.

It’s been a hell of a month full of unlearning and an increased level of curiosity and a trust that everyday has a gem waiting for me somewhere. Let’s see what these next few months have in store..

Tailwinds,

Nicole.

 

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.