Monthly Archives: December 2014

Looking Back on 2014

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Climbing Hai Van Pass, Vietnam, a beautiful ride.

Here are some things that occurred this year relating to cycling:

Joined Warmshowers www.warmshowers.org and began hosting cyclists from around the word – Ireland, England, Australia, France, Germany Holland, China, Malaysia and Singapore.

Participated in several community bicycle rides in Malaysia including the fellowship ride in Lumut, a cycle around Penang and a night ride in Ipoh.

Took a long weekend ride from Johor Bahru, Malaysia through Singapore and around Bintam Island, Indonesia.

Trained with 5:00 am bicycle rides 4-5 days per week and longer weekend riders around Lumut, Malaysia.

Retired (Eric after 40 years) on September 30, 2014.

Started cycling on October 1, 2014.

Rode 4698 kilometers through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

Slept in approximately 70 different hotel beds.

Met lots of new people including several dozen cycle tourists.

Tried lots of new food.

Got lost.

Got found

Been exhausted.

Been amazed.

Learned new things.

Challenged ourselves.

Had fun.

Laughed a lot.

Cried a little.

But, above all, we’ve been very THANKFUL for the opportunity and experience of a lifetime.

Can a Mosquito in Your Soup Give You Dengue Fever?

After today’s long, rainy ride, laundry and a hot shower we were famished.

Luckily, the restaurant next door to our hotel, looked clean and inviting with bright red table clothes and Vietnamese families sipping some alcohol from tiny porcelain tea cups and munching dinner plate-sized rice crackers.

The owner greeted us with a smile and a menu that I eagerly opened  and scanned the first page.  I saw only Vietnamese words typed in black. The second page was the same – big letters, small letters, bold and italicized letters with a white margin. Pages three through five were identical. There were no pictures. There was no English translation. There was no way I could tell whether I was ordering drinks, food, or dessert.

I closed the menu and smiled at the owner. Eric didn’t miss a beat.

Eric: Beer La Rue.

He held up his pointer finger to indicate ” one” and continued.
What’s your speciality? The speciality of the house? What’s the best thing to eat?

Realizing this man doesn’t speak of word of English, I knew “speciality” would be too hard to understand, so I jumped in with my famous sign language:

Me: Holding two thumbs up and rubbing my stomach to illustrate the word “delicious” or “hungry”.
Good food. Best food.
Then I put my hands under my armpits and clucked like a chicken. (Seriously… I did that….I’ll blame it on my hunger.)

Manager: Fried chicken?

Us: OK, Yes, Good!

Then we pointed at our neighbor’s table and and rubbed our stomachs because their meal looked good, too.

A few minutes later a waiter brought a can of warm beer.

Eric: Can I have a cold beer? This beer is warm.

He held the can and shivered to show “cold.”

The waiter returned with a bucket of ice water and put our can in. But, we were impatient, thirsty and hunger so we fished the can out of the water, grabbed one of the ice cubes and plunked it in our glass. We then poured the beer over the ice cube and took a swig. Lovely, I thought, ignoring the slightly soapy aftertaste.

I was feeling pretty content but Eric was making faces of discomfort. The mosquitos, which I should point out ONLY like Eric, were buzzing around his face and sucking on his ankles. (No, he didn’t wear socks.)

Me: Did you bring your mosquito repellant?
Eric: No. I didn’t think there would be mosquitos.
Me: Duh. We’re in a tropical climate. There are always mosquitos. Do you want to wear my socks?

With his grumpy face on, he got up and closed the window near our table.

Me: What good is that going to do? All the windows are open. Plus there are only three walls. The mosquitos will choose a different flight path.

Eric: No, they’re not that smart. They won’t come in a different window.

Me: Does he seriously believe that? I started laughing.

Some food arrived and interrupted my laughter. We think it was sliced beef (edible) with some other white gristly stuff (un-edible). We were still hungry and wondering if my “clucking” like a chicken had communicated my point. I was unsure because I never “mooed” like a cow.

As if reading our minds, just then the waiter brought us each a bowl of thick, warm, chicken rice soup. I love this soup better than fried chicken and dug right in. Eric on the other hand was still being disturbed by mosquitoes.

Eric: Do you see anything buzzing around my face?

Me: Yes, I do.

I reached across the table, slapped his left cheek, and watched a tiny black dot fall into his warm soup.

Got it!

Eric rubbed his cheek and did not notice that the mosquito had fallen into his steaming bowl of soup.

It wasn’t until I read this blog post to Eric that he learned about his extra protein for dinner. “What if I get dengue fever?” he exclaimed.

I don’t know the answer to his question, but it did seem like a catchy title for a post.

Finding Solitude

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Check out the rhinestone flip-flops. I can only find cool things like these when I’m alone.

One of the realities of living on a bicycle and in hotel rooms as a couple is the challenge of finding solitude. And I say this is a challenge but it’s probably only a challenge for me as I seem to thirst for some alone time more than Eric.

Sure, when we’re riding there is the physical distance between us which provides a modicum of solitude. Unfortunately, the distance can get too big if one us gets “in the zone” and forgets to look in her rearview mirror and when she finally realizes it, she must stop and wait for what seems like hours contemplating whether she should extend the effort to start pedaling back up the big hill to see if he is OK. But by then the solitude has been broken and the admonishment to slow down and use the rear view mirror more often makes it harder to get back in that zone. And, the reality is, for our safety – real or perceived – we do like to stay within viewing distance…so there is not as much solitude there as it would seem.

That leaves finding solitude during the non-cycling time in that night’s lodging or outside in the village or town.

Here’s how I find solitude in a hotel room:

For a one-night stay, a tiny room with a hard bed and no chair (or one chair covered with all of Eric’s clothes) is not so noticeable because basically we only have time to shower, eat, sleep and read a book or plan tomorrow’s route. I bury myself in a book and Eric checks elevations and maps on electronic devices and then interrupts me to look at his little elevation maps which is cute but also gives me nightmares worrying about the next day’s hilly ride.

For a longer stay, I look for room size. I’ve even been known to pay a few extra dong (well, like 100,000 extra dong because 20,000 dong is like $1) for an extra 2 or 3 meters of space. For Christmas, we treated ourselves to a bigger-than-usual-room with a lovely river view. The bigger room meant two side chairs and a coffee table where I’s sitting now, a desk with another chair where I often sat because I can almost tune out the TV. I say “almost” because I could hear the inane dialog of Bruce Willis during the “Die Hard” movie marathon on HBO that Eric was using for his “solitude”. I also found solitude in the modern bathroom where I enjoyed several glasses of wine and a book in the large-enough-for-Western-legs bathtub filled with unlimited hot water.

I also find solitude in the dark in the morning at my computer. I’m even getting smarter by going into the bathroom to turn on my laptop so Eric doesn’t hear the MacBook turn-on sound that usually wakes him like an alarm clock. My heart sinks as I hear his loving, “Good morning. Are you going to make coffee?”

Here’s how I find solitude in the city:

I make up an excuse for some shopping…

Me: I need to buy some toothpaste.

Eric: Reading glasses sliding off his nose and his face buried in his cell phone. Just a minute. I’ll go with you.

Me: Knowing that “just a minute” never means 60 seconds and really just wanting an excuse to go outside alone…That’s OK. I’ll be back before you’re even finished. Can I get you anything? I head out the door before I hear any objections.

Breathing in the fresh, almost crisp winter air, I walk to the local Han Market and indulge myself in a new Christmas outfit – foundations, leggings, shirt and, my favorite part of all, rhinestone flip flops. Nothing cost very much and if the ensemble makes my bike too heavy, I’ll look at “downsizing”. But, until then, my outfit feels like a million bucks compared to spandex and hi-vis biking shirts.

Continuing on my journey for solitude – I mean toothpaste – I find the local Kmart, which looks more like a 7-11 which they haven’t got here. There I find the obligatory Christmas stocking stuffers of toothbrushes and paste, top-up cards for our cellphones (they look like lottery tickets) and a 5-liter bottle of water. Well, the water won’t go in the stocking but it will go a long way to quenching my midnight thirst.

My need for solitude is nothing new. For someone who used to ride the bus from Boulder to Denver and back for a 4-hour escape from 40 sorority sisters, I’d say I’m doing pretty well living like this with Eric 24-7. And, we are having a lot of fun and getting along very well and enjoying this cycling experience very much.

And, even though he may not express his need  for solitude like I do, I’m convinced Bruce Willis and the cell phone are his “alone” places.

But now the sun is up, I’ve had my “space” and it’s time to make coffee and pack for today’s ride.

Hai Van Pass – An Early Christmas Present

 

The approach to Hai Van Pass from the north.
The approach to Hai Van Pass from the north.

Spectacular vistas, manageable climbs, minimal traffic, and cool temperatures. Hai Van Pass is now among our favorite bike rides and hill climbs.

This post is an up-to-date guide that will help future cyclists enjoy this particular ride because many of the blogs we found on-line seemed incomplete or out-of-date.

The Hai Van Pass is located between DeNang in the South and Hue’ in the north on Highway 1A and near the coast.The climb to the top is about 9 kilometers and 470 meters gain in elevation at an average grade of 8%. There are plenty of turnouts to take pictures, rest, and enjoy the view. In other words, the climb up this pass is slow but manageable.

The overpass is the new, faster route through the tunnel.
The overpass is the new, faster route through the tunnel.

Because there is now a tunnel under the mountain there is very little of the normal, noisy Hwy 1A traffic. You’ll only see a few motorcycles, tour vans and buses and an occasional oil tanker truck so the road is very peaceful and pleasant. One thing to keep in mind is that the motorcycles turn off their engines going downhill so you can’t hear them, so be careful when crossing the road to snap another pictures.

Here’s are we tackled the kilometers and climb.

The day before we climbed the pass, we rode from Hue’ in the north along Highway 49B near the coast for about 90 kilometers. Then we spent the night in Lang Co Beach. There are plenty of hotels and guest houses in the small town just before the pass which made a great place to rest up for the climb.

Looking back towards Lang Co Beach where there are plenty of lodging options.
Looking back towards Lang Co Beach where there are plenty of lodging options.

The pass begins at just 3 kilometers south of  the town of Lang Co Beach – not a lot of time to warm up your legs – but the scenery looking back towards Lang Co Beach gives you an excuse to stop and take some photos before the long ascent really begins.

We enjoyed a leisurely climb to the top with many stops for photos. We also enjoyed some snacks every 150 meters or so thanks to the advice of a fellow cyclist.

Remains of buildings from the Vietnam War or the American Was as they call it over here.
At the summit you can see remains of buildings from the Vietnam War or the American Was as they call it over here.

At the summit there are many women selling Vietnamese coffee and “handmade” tourist trinkets. These friendly women are avoidable “high-pressure” trinket sellers, but we looked at shopping from them as paying the “view tax” and  supporting the local economy so we joined in the fun and negotiations. I’m now the proud owner of a genuine fake-I’m-sure-although-she tried-to-burn-a-strand-of-hair-on-the- green-stone-to-prove-that-it’s-real” jade bracelet.

One of many waterfalls visible from the ride up.
One of many waterfalls visible from the ride up.

The ride down Hai Van Hill is fantastic. I love speeding down mountains with twisting turns with great views. However, to keep Eric happy,  I restrained myself  more than usual to stop a few times, enjoy the scenery and let Eric snap a few photos.

That tiny streak of road by the clouds is where we road up.
That tiny streak of road by the clouds is where we road up.

We continued our ride into DeNang for a total day’s rides of 42 kilometers. We had plenty of energy left to continue on to Hoi An, the more popular tourist destination, but we’ve enjoyed the bustling, relatively modern city of DeNang  for Christmas.

Coming off the pass we were greeted with beautiful views of the bay.
Coming off the pass we were greeted with beautiful views of the bay.
This temple is at the bottom of the pass on the south side.
This temple is at the bottom of the pass on the south side.

The day’s journey was a gift of beauty and fun riding. Merry Christmas!

Eating Our Way Through a Rainy Afternoon in Hue

Omlette wrapped in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce.
Omlette wrapped in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce.

Today we found a little gem of a restaurant called Nina’s Cafe – thanks Tripadvisor- hidden down a little alleyway and tucked behind an iron gate. The drizzle had just turned to hard core rain which motivated us from “getting a bite to eat” to ordering a full out 4 course lunch with a glass of wine. I guess you could say I’m a “fair weather” tourist because the temptation to sample delicious Vietnamese food far outweighed the photo op of me trying to pose in front of a famous pagoda in the rain. Our decision was a tasty, memorable one.

Here’s what I ate:

I started with a Khoai pancake which looked like an omelet with shrimp, pork and chicken inside. I was then instructed to cut off a piece of the pancake, place it in a thin piece of rice paper with some fresh basil, lettuce, and cucumber and roll all of those things together. Then I dipped the little “roll” in a light peanut sauce. Delicious.

Warm, delicious soup de jour.
Warm, delicious soup de jour.

Next I savored a bowl of “sup dai biet”, the chef’s special soup. It was a rice soup with a rich chicken broth, shrimp, chicken, egg and Vietnamese spices that I think included some lemon grass. A cup was not enough. This soup was delicious.

Looks like stir-fry with a Vietnamese taste.
Looks like stir-fry with a Vietnamese taste.

The main course was Ga Xao Xa Ot, chicken with lemongrass and chili. This is kind of like fajitas, or Chinese stir fry with peppers, onions, meat and lemongrass. I really like the taste.

I almost forgot to take a picture. It was beautiful before I inhaled it.
I almost forgot to take a picture. It was beautiful before I inhaled it.

Dessert, which is not so common at restaurants over here, was a banana pancake (a thin crepe filled with warm sliced bananas.) Eric had a mango pancake with ice cream on top so I stole some of his ice cream to give mine the extra sweet, warm melted ice cream deliciousness.

Here’s what Eric ate:

I prefer these fresh spring rolls to the fried ones.
I prefer these fresh spring rolls to the fried ones.

He started with Nem Ran Hai San Lupe Va Banh Beo (I really didn’t spell these correctly because I don’t know how to make Vietnamese characters). The short form of this long word is “fresh spring rolls”.

This is what Daisy would like like if she were cooked.
This is what Daisy would like like if she were cooked.

He also loves duck and ordered Vit Nau Cam, duck in orange sauce. I, on the other hand, don’t really like duck because I remember my first pets, Daisy and Donald (although they were both girls) and they were white ducks just like the thousands of ducks floating around on the rice paddies, and…well…I just can’t eat a pet.

A couple of glasses of Dalat (region in the south of Vietnam) white wine and we were set for a Sunday afternoon nap. The rain is dripping down the windowpanes, Eric is snoring, and I’m thinking that the rain poncho I just bought get us back on our bicycles tomorrow and keep us from getting too fat.

My new rain poncho is just like the thousands of motorcyclists and bicycle riders here in Vietnam. Rain will not stop me from riding.
My new rain poncho is just like the thousands of motorcyclists and bicycle riders here in Vietnam. Rain will not stop me from riding.

Bon appétit!