Saturday, April 5, 2014

New York, Vermont, Quebec and Ontario Loop

We have been patiently waiting for mother nature to change her mind. Spring is here and we have mapped out the next 5 day trip for June....


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Perfect Roads

Golden Triangle, Northern Thailand
Traveling in North America has provided us with unbelievable experiences. It has also created a perception of distance and conditions that might not be reasonable. Most of our traveling in Asia has been much shorter distances than at home. Hour long flights and couple hundred kilometres on the bike has come to be the norm here.

We have seen some amazing vistas over jungled mountain ranges and smelled tea plantations slated into the hillsides. Skipped through villages that appeared on the crest of berm in a river valley. Potholes, mud, dust and brand new bitumen all in a single ride.

These all became our new perception of what is a perfect road. I searched and searched all over North America for the perfect smooth twisty tarmac. Google Maps the night before a 800 kilometre ride North, South, East and West. Looking for a great route through a National Park or mountain range. Connecting a long Interstate with an exit that would lead me into the hills. This is what I searched for and found time and time again wandering around the States and Canada. I ate a lot of highway doing this over the last five years. What dawned on us after riding through Northern Thailand was that I have been missing out on enjoying the not so perfect. I have come to accept mother nature will not always agree with my wants, but I also need to accept that potholes, mud and dust also offer a different experience.

The variations in a 350 kilometre ride from The Imperial Golden Triangle Resort in Northern Chiang Rai turned out to be incredible. We followed the Mekong River all through the border villages of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The end of the day saw us all caked in mud and dust. Road work along the river provided loose gravel and flying debris. Passing lorries and pickups with the group was fun and a test of ability. As we worked our way back up into the mountains we again had to shift riding patterns. Back to back to back hairpins that rose and fell in and out of valleys and hillsides where littered with potholes and leaves. Never a full line through a turn. Getting upright in the middle of a lean became a stomach lurching process for Laura on almost every corner. The potholes then let up and we found clean road with a nice groove into turn after turn that seemed to go on and on.

Acceptance of what is put in front of us each and every day. That is what we are slowly learning. Enjoy the process and look for the gifts because they are there if you adjust your perception.
Tea Planation Laos Border

Monday, March 17, 2014

Back in the Saddle

North of Chiang Mai, Thailand
Sunday, December 1st was the last time I rode in Toronto. March 7th I lifted my leg over a Kawasaki Versys 650. Laura crawled up behind me and we set off with a group of Australians in Thailand on the wrong side of the street! No problem. It actually felt fantastic and we eased into a groove with no fuss.

Shoulder checks were a little more frequent and came over both directions at every stop and lane change. Arm signals, foot signals and actual signals all used in full force. The thing that I did not expect was that I have now come to believe that all of North America should adopt lane splitting.  Merging, meandering and using every inch of space on the road is normal in South East Asia! This is the most intuitive and considerate city traffic I have ever ridden. Holes in traffic appear that I would never ever imagine using at home that become wide open spaces of dart and pass (this will later become even more pronounced on the highway and passing). Everyone here has grown up on a two wheeled transport. Cage drivers see you! They make space for you and will even pull out on shoulders for oncoming traffic. This is the first part of local custom that I have come to embrace and unfortunately have to forget by the time we return.

Our first day on the bike proved to be without concern and we rolled out of Chiang Mai and up into the local hills to test the bikes on some twists and visit a Hmong Village to the Northwest. It was a perfect way to measure the slick roads and find some comfort in the tight hairpins and freewheeling traffic. All in all a great way to dip my toes into a new continent, bike and group of riders.


ការដឹងគុណ - Gratitude

Just outside Choeung Ek - The Killing Fields
Sitting, having lunch today with our Tuk-Tuk driver Leo, we were attempting to explain one of the reasons why we had come to Phnom Penh. I sponsor a child through World Vision(Cambodia). The organization will arrange a visit with the child and their family as well as a tour of the community they are helping to build. We were in a restaurant that offered free Wifi so Tony used Google Translate. What a great way to help communicate. Five minutes of attempted communication reduced to mere seconds. Leo's younger sister goes to school and he is fully aware of the cost of education and understood the impact of our monthly donation.

It is embarrassing to think about how great an impact a mere $39 a month has elsewhere.  What I do not think twice about spending on a Sunday brunch with the girls (complete with mimosa and latte) can send a child to school and help feed the family as well as purchase clothing. 

Cambodia is the only place I have been that can draw out all emotions in me in five minutes. It is really a love-hate relationship I have with this place.  I love the happy children coming home from school holding hands, hugging each other. Wearing their white and blue uniforms, they see us in the Tuk-Tuk and break out in big smiles and waves with cheerful 'Hellos'.  A young girl on a bicycle coming past and looked up at me with her beautiful smile and holds her hand out and I shake it. This brings tears to my eyes and I comment that this is one of the things I love about here. The next thing I see is land with a skinny cow, a wall less shanty, some chickens, a hammock and garbage. 

I have never encountered such extremes between wealth and poverty as here. In the city Landrovers and other expensive cars are everywhere. There are at least three times the number of four wheeled vehicles on the streets since I was here in 2009. As we drove to Choeung Ek today, I could see that the average Khmer is still not seeing the wealth that appears to have made its way to Phnom Penh since my last visit.  Speaking to my Khmer friend over dinner last night, she tells me that people on average are still only making $50 a month and that the vast wealth is likely due to graft and corruption.

This is a country that is still in its infancy rebuilding itself from the horrors that the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent civil war inflicted. It appears that capitalism is rising from the socialist ashes but I fear it is in the Russian form of extreme capitalism combined with corruption that will take over. In the meantime I will continue to contribute monthly to help build a community and encourage education and retain my sense of gratitude for what I have - for what I work for as well as what seems to come to me merely for having been born a Canadian. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Back to Writing

Chiang Mai Gate Hotel Parking
It is not because we are lazy or lacking in content. We have just not had the time to write with a keyboard. I have been penning in my journal every morning, but have not had the chance to regurgitate for the blog.

This is the first time that we have been riding on another continent and with a group. I would have loved to write and post something each day, but spotty wireless and set meals and itinerary make that a little cumbersome. No complaints though! We have been riding and eating our way through Northern Thailand and it has been wonderful.

Miles and his wife Bpuk did a fantastic job of herding cats for the last 10 days. We had the pleasure of riding alongside a group of seasoned Australians. The 'Shadow Racing Team' from Southern Australia graciously allowed the two fellow Commonwealth travellers into their elite squad (tongue firmly planted in cheek). Our travels include not just amazing roads and spectacular scenery, but great road companions. Always up for a laugh and never a straight answer from the lot. Hairpins and sweepers through the Golden Triangle. Cultural stops along the way broke up intense riding and kept us well fed.

The Shadow Racing Team (SRT)
We will work over the next few days to fill in the blanks as we toured with this rag tag group. It has been a fantastic two weeks and we are now enjoying some time in Cambodia before we head back to Bangkok.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Thailand - Myanmar Ride

Chiang Mai with the SRT

The Shadow Racing Team (SRT)

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Golden Triangle

Golden Triangle

Golden Triangle

Golden Triangle

Myanmar Thailand Border

Myanmar Thailand Border