vacationing! in patagonia

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When my friend Melinda asked me to take her bike-packing, and suggested Patagonia, one of my favorite parts of the world, l immediately said yes. And suggested the Carretera Austral. Which is the southernmost extension of Chilean highway 7. It is largely gravel, and dead-ends into a lake — meaning that the further south you ride, the less traveled it is. The road is well graded, the surroundings beyond spectacular, the water drinkable and the towns well spaced — pretty much a perfect route for bike touring. As such we had ridden while RidingTheSpine.

So l felt confident recommending this stretch of road as an ideal place to try out bike travel. When other cyclists we met along the way discovered Melinda had never even ridden a loaded bike before, the were uniformly shocked (and awed). But the truth is, as spectacular and remote as it is, the Carretera Austral is a highway. Which means it’s nearly impossible to get lost, and busses and other such emergency/bail-out help are readily available. In addition to the aforementioned perks, the climbs are not particularly steep, and this time of year there is 14 hours of daylight — so no need to hurry or ride fast. Hard find a better spot to tour most anywhere in the world. I’m happy to say she loved it, and is now a confirmed bike-tourist.


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australia beachcombing

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Taiwan seemed so ‘close’ to austrailia that it just made sense to head there with Matt after our business tour. So we flew to sydney for a bit – and couch surfed his moms house while gearing up for a little surf tour up the coast towards byron, and meeting up with two new friends who were joining us for the mish — Amanda and Lara. Amanda is a friend of matts (from austin) who happened to be visiting australia, who rather adventurously borrowed a bike to try her hand at rough road surf/bike touring (her first tour). And Lara, planned this trip with Matt through instagram — and this was her first surf/tour (though she wasn’t new to bike touring).

We spent a month or so winding our way north. On and off road. Wild camping on the beach, and surfing when ever possible. Lots of sand, lots of fun. My bike (ScapeGoat prototype) was the only rig fully equipped for sandriding — (fat-tired and trailer-less) so ditched the others to explore sandy single track (and no track) as well as just riding up the beach.

All in all a sweet intro to australia — far too short — I’ll be back…

more pics @crustbikes @afewsketchymoments @strayfox @larabuelow

it begins — again

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Here we go…
Matt and I are in Taiwan. To do some factory touring and assorted business for Crust Bikes. And since we’re here, a little tour round the island. I arrived on Monday (somehow lost Sunday somewhere during the flight) and spent the better part of the day in the baggage claim room at Tayouan International airport unboxing and building up my bike.

I had been so busy doing things for and with various friends in the days leading up to this trip, that l didn’t get around to packing or getting my bike ready till the day of the flight — which meant that it didn’t come out of the box quite ready to roll.
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unknown celebrity

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flat lands and boundless hospitality in Assam

Littered across the landscape of northern India are literally thousands of photos of me.  With or without my ‘cycle’ as they call it here ( the pronunciation sounding something more like “sickle”), and often in poses of great familiarity with complete strangers.  The images are mostly blurry and pixilated camera-phone ‘snaps’ —  indifferently composed and poorly lit.  None the less, the photographers seem universally thrilled with their work — insisting on showing me the pics (expecting  interest/admiration).  Sometimes, when a crowd gathers and everyone gets excited, — people start taking pictures of people they don’t know posed with me. And other times, particularly in rural areas, large groups of people — presumably without cellphones — will line up to be photographed (one at a time) by a friend or acquaintance so equipped — though it is unclear how or when they will ever see the photos.

If properly curated, a collection of the work of this informal paparazzi would be a fascinating socio-cultural document.  I’ve traveled in other places where cell-phones were relatively new and high status. Places where my long hair, skin color, style of dress, or mode of transport stood out as much as they do here.  But never before has the mere fact of my being, been enough to elevate me to celebrity status.  For the record l have only been asked for my auto graph once, but the crowds that gather to watch with keen interest the banal trivialities of my day to day life surely put me in at least the same universe as brad and angelena and company (right?).  A relatively quiet and shy person,  l find the attention overwhelming at times ( especially when l am calorie deficient and accordingly ‘hangry’), but l have long since resigned myself to it, and do my best to receive it in the spirit with which it is given.

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hillcountry hospitality

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On this side of the border — due to comparative affluence, population dynamics, or the vagaries of history — the roads are paved, and there is a relative dearth of trails tempting me with the unknown. The hills are just as steep and (at lower elevations) covered with strangely mown looking tea bushes, here in the region the British called (quite rightly) the hill country. I’m wandering in Sikim (and Darjeeling): the northernmost bit of India which is sandwiched between Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal. Not surprisingly it is more culturally related to these neighbors, than to mainland India — they even speak Nepali here — the main difference being, the British. They conquered this bit of the himalaya despite resistance by the famous gorka fighters, whereas in what we call nepal today, the gorka managed to keep the mountains to themselves.

Approximately 100 years of british dominion doesn’t seem like much in the face of thousands of years and cultural/religious ties — which isn’t to imply that Sikkim is not its own place, with a long history of conflict with its neighbors — and this chunk of the himalayan foothills is very much a part of the tibetan plateau cultural/geographic region. Asiatic features, buddhist monasteries, precipitous mountains and all. But with a strong venier of British influence (shallow though it may be). Most obvious to my eye at least are the (crumbling) architectural monuments to this regions time as a ‘hill station’ in the days of the British Raj. The major towns especially, such as Darjeeling and Gangtok are dotted with ornate ‘victorian’ structures ranging in size from bungalows to palaces, and marble clad public edifices. In the more rural areas there are clusters of such buildings as well — still serving as the nerve centers of vast tea estates. Continue reading…

Christ mass in Buddhidada

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Pushing my bike in the Himalaya

 

My sense of time/chronology has never been particularly good or accurate.  Especially when traveling, l rarely have any idea what day of the week, month, or sometimes even year it is.  So while l was aware it was winter, it’s not very surprising l had no sense of when the big winter holydays were.  It happened that l was wandering the street (there is only one, but it is long) of Sallerie looking for denatured alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol, methylated spirits, and in latin america simply as alchol (usually not denatured)) to fuel my (homemade) stove on december 25th, when l was alerted to that fact by a hindu shopkeeper’s daughter (complete with thilkia or bhindi on her forehead) who wished me a “happy christmas.”  I smiled and wished her a merry one, before doing a sort of mental double take, and wondering if it was indeed christmas day.

 

My pocket computer concurred, and l was disappointed to realize that being 12 hours off of california time, l had missed my opportunity to phone the family christmas gathering.  So l sent a round of emails and made my way back to my hotel (the town was dry of denatured alcohol) where l  was almost immediately befriended by a group of well-to-do Nepalis, who were three sheets to the wind, drinking gin and hot water.  It turned out that they were doctors at the mission hospital in nearby Okaldunga and were on some sort of christmas holiday vacation (due to the christian nature of their employer).  They were educated (which here also means english speaking) intelligent (drunk) and wanted to talk about religion.  So l spent my christmass drinking (terrible) gin in hot water (which didn’t improve the flavor) and talking about religion, and tolerance, and such until the wee hours of what turned out to christmas eve on the other side of the planet.

 

I knew that were about 12hrs apart, but my concern with/sense of time is such that l neglected to consider, how that affected the date. So when the internet started working around midday, l received a flurry of messages, informing me that ‘l was living in the future’ and today was christmass in california.  Naturally timing was such that l still missed the family gathering, but managed to call and talk to a large percentage of my family — two christmases are better than one anyway. I bought some diesel fuel (for my stove — and a sardine can to use if that worked better) and peanut butter — and rode out of town, pleasantly surprised to find that the first bit was a road (or at least the sort of jeep track that qualifies as a road around here) which turned into a trail when it reached a ridge, both of which were totally rideable.

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traveler of both time and space

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Exploring Pikey Peak

 

I love the mountains.  Perhaps because l was born in the Sierra Nevada of California, or because I’m an avatar of Shiva: as one Sadu type suggested recently — the high country calls to me.  Directs my travels.  So it was only natural that l would return to the solukhumbu after my sojourn in Kathmandu.  With my bike and full compliment of camping gear in search of dirt.  Rideable trails that is.  Ideally any way. Starting with a loop recommended to Matt and l by our friend Mads, Which we had skipped because Matts knees weren’t up to it in the aftermath of hiking to Gokyo.

 

There are no trails designed (or maintained) for biking anywhere in this incredibly steep country, so any ride is going to include some unrideable sections — some pushing or carrying.  This particular route is one Mads does professionally — with paying guests — so l knew there was some good riding to be had.  But those guided trips have a large support team — porters for both bikes and gear.  I’m no stranger to carrying my bike, but the approach to PIkey peak was to be my first experience doing it in the himalaya.  The trip began uneventfully enough — retracing our route to Ringmou.  All rideable (still super steep and muddy in spots) and getting better all the time — in the month or so (l really spent that long in KTM) since we had been on these roads, the road builders had made significant progress in landslide and mud abatement.  About 4 days in the clouds which had been following me all the way from the city reached critical mass — and l was treated to one of the heaviest hail-storms l have ever experienced.

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mate photos and tea gardens

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pocket computer update

Been finding my way east through the himalya — carrying my bike a bit more than l would like.  There has been plenty of snow and tough trails, but no internet — so l’ve a backlog of tales to share. l’m down in the flat-land tea-estate region now, about a days ride from Darjeeling (India). Have found internet and plan to spend the day tomorrow blogging up a storm.  So stay tuned.

But in the mean time, Moy sent me photos from tso moriri, so revisit the tomando mate post if you like — its been updated.

machine shop fun

The cable that holds my handlebar-bag to my bars broke…
l stripped the protective casing off, and spliced loops into the broken ends.
but the ends weren’t quite long enough — so again it broke.
(no pictures , because l always forget to take them)

l took the remnant brass bit to a machine shop to drill out the old cable.
but drilling steel out of brass was too difficult…

so instead they made a new one….
out of re-bar!
(and that’s why l love the ‘developing world’)

Matt gave me a camera
but l forgot to bring it
I’m trying to learn how to take pictures, so l used my pocket computer…