Bikes, Boats, Battlestar Galactica

So, two months before my initiation into the life of the chronically under-employed, I was lucky enough to visit Myanmar for a couple of weeks. It was beautiful, friendly and full of pagodas. And hot like you might imagine it is on the surface of the sun (I mean, I’m no scientist, but I’m just saying).

We took an over-night bus from Yangon to Nyaungshwe (which turned into an over-night/over-day bus due to the unfortunate breakdown in the mountains). Even though it was a gazillion degrees outside I somehow managed to convince my travel companion to rent a couple of bikes and take a tour across/around Inle Lake the next day. So, equipped with a little hand-drawn map from our guesthouse, and all the water we could carry, we set out in search of the lake, a vineyard, and those wild local fishermen who paddle with oars attached to their feet.

inle2
If you biked fast enough, you created a breeze and sweat a little less. No joke.

We did the whole Myanmar thing and stopped at every pagoda and lookout point that we stumbled across. At least at first. I mean, after the first several dozen the heat starts to win out and there’s this little part of you that dies while screaming DEARGAWDNONOTANOTHERPAGODAPLEASE.

inle3
This is where I dropped my phone and then proceeded to run over it with my bike.

Eventually we made it to a little village where we ate lunch in a local restaurant (which may or may not have been the culprit in the violent food poisoning we contracted later that evening). Despite the fact that Myanmar only opened to tourism a few years back, the locals are already pretty tourist savvy and wasted no time to offer us a boat ride across the lake. Obviously we were all HELL YEAH because we were hot and tired of pedaling and boats.

inle7
All aboard.

We threw our bikes on the back and gave our driver about the equivalent of $8 US and he took us through a winding maze of houses on stilts and water gardens. I was pretty convinced that with all of our weight (which felt much too high as the driver had us sitting on chairs he had brought aboard) we were going to topple over at any of the sharp turns. But we didn’t.

inle6
Bikes, boats and breeze. OMG.

As our luck had it, the boat broke down in the middle of the lake and i got the privilege of helping our driving get it running again by handing him tools and holding random pieces of equipment. We were stationary long enough for Andre to snap this:

inle
A most precarious melange of fishing and ballet.

Once on the other side of the lake, we hoisted our bikes up onto a dock taller than my head and somehow managed to climb up without incident. Guys, it was really beautiful, all the houses on stilts and water gardens and lo and behold, only a few more kilometers down the road we found a vinyard with reasonably priced Myanmar wine (much better than the even more reasonably priced Myanmar whisky) and a view.

inle9
The view from the dock nomnomnom

 We watched the sun set, but amidst all the magic we forgot that we needed to cycle back, and then it got dark. So we teamed up with some other wheely tourists and cycled home in a pack with our cellphone lights to guide us through the Myanmar countryside. That night we proceeded to get my first bout of food poisoning in over six months of travel, and the magic stopped abruptly for a couple of days (but returned in the form of an e-bike through old Bagan. Seriously. Google it).

Stay tuned as we continue to travel back in time to the Himalayas where I wander around with a bag on my back through the mountains like it’s a great idea!

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England by pedal bike: The trip where despite the hills and rain, nobody cried (and we considered that a success). Part One!

Last summer my little sis and I did something pretty cool. It was one of those last minute here-goes-nothing kinda things, and for me, the wicked result of a series of disappointments interesting life hiccups.

So we meet at the Montreal airport and have to face the typical shit-storm labyrinth associated with bringing a bicycle on an airplane. Like seriously airport guys, with the exception of Porter Airlines (who seem to have a well oiled system and an endless supply of Steam Whistle) this is not brain surgery: Bike goes in bag, bag goes on plane, everyone is kind to one another. /Rant.

Alright, REWIND a moment and let me provide a little context. This happened to be my first ever overseas bicycle trip. This also happened to be Sis’s first ever bike trip. I was recovering from a broken foot. Sis hadn’t owned a bicycle since training-wheel days. And we hadn’t traveled together since we were shit-disturbing children. Context is everything.

Ready for take-off.
Ready for take-off.

ANYWAY, since flying to England means time-travelling into the future, we arrived there at 6am (or 1am our stupid sleepy time). Also, since a good night’s rest is for the weak, we had planned to reassemble our bikes and make the 60km ride to Reading that day. Nothing a couple of dozen coffees can’t fix.

Unanticipated Challenge #1? Finding our way out of Heathrow Airport. Since there is only one way out and it’s designed for those fast moving vehicles with motors, Sis and I played chicken with the cars until some nice airport employees threw our bikes into the back of a truck and drove us out of the compound and into freedom.

A cheater start, but then we were off- wobbly and powered by cheap caffeine, we were off.

We caught Bath Road (appropriately named as technically we were on the way to Bath) and headed West. This took us through places named Slough and Maidenhead. We got caught in rain, got a little turned around and were baptized by fire into the roundabout-heavy, high-hedged and narrow-laned left-sided experience that is cycling across the UK.

Upon arriving to Reading we were so very warmly welcomed by our first host and soon-to-be best mate in all of England. Here we rested our weary jet-lagged bodies for two nights.

“You guys wanna see my swords?” says the strange man we met in a foreign country.

Day #3 saw us leaving Reading and getting hopelessly lost. We took a detour off of our trusty Bath Road to visit Stonehenge and got caught in circles of nameless streets and towering hedges and had our first brush with scary-fast A grade roads. The sun was setting by the time we hit Hannington  (as my sister fondly describes it: The village in the middle of nowhere surrounded by walls of hedges) and we were fall-down happy to find a pub that would meet all of our immediate needs (food, drinks and camping in their back yard).

The next day had us waking up in Hannington to a pot of tea and a parade of hounds.

You thought I was joking.
You thought I was joking.

So we took the next logical step and hitched a ride with our new best mate to Stonehenge. And then proceeded to break into Stonehenge.

We got this close and snapped a pic before we were politely asked to get the fuck out.
We got this close and snapped a pic before we were politely asked to get the fuck out.

 

Our saviors with a motor then kindly dropped us off at our next destination after snooker and a pint. Day 4 and only 2 day of biking (4 days of rain). We were killing it. We crashed in Devizes with a lovely couple from warmshowers and in the morning we were back on the bikes for what we expected to be a leisurely 50km to Bath.

The road to Bath was predictably less leisurely than we had anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, despite the on-and-off rain, it was a beautiful ride following the Avon canal which was full of adorable longboats we can only surmise were full of hobbits. Parts of the route, however, saw us cycling through rubble and fields, particularly tricky for Sis on her shmancy road bike. All that aside, Sis happily remembers this part of our trip as the day with lots of downhill,

So quaint it hurts.
So quaint it hurts.

We made it to Bath with more than enough daylight to spare. Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures, but believe me when I tell you that this city is gorgeous. Like, totally worth the google image search. We crashed with another warmshowers host (who offered us the standard cup of tea upon arrival despite it being a zillion degrees out and him being smack in the middle of carnival prep). Sis and I spent the night consuming the standard unholy amount of pub food and drink. The we helped the carnival folks fasten CD’s to a fishnet until bedtime. Standard Bath experience, I’m sure.

Avon Canal
Avon Canal samsies

 And that concludes part one of our trip. Stay tuned for part two: Bristol, Brigdwater (I know, I know) and beyond!

MuffChuck and ThunderCunt’s Bitch-Hiking Guide to Canada: Part 3

Dear Faithful Follower(s): I am about to hop a train to the west coast to try my luck with Cape Breton Island’s Cabot Trail. As it now stands, I am a chubby driver with no leg muscle and I may need to install some training wheels just to remember how my bicycle moves forward without falling over. I may or may not make it back with everything intact (see: my pride).  In the meantime here, long overdue, is my final installment of last year’s cunt-rocking trip to the opposite side of this drool-worthy county.

 Bitch-Hiking: The art of hitchhiking with bikes.

Bitchhiking.
Bitchhiking expert.

It is now day who-knows-what, sometime in July-August and we are cycling our beautiful butts from lovely Banff to Lake Louise. The 20km ride was a downhill dream and we were instantly drawn into the touristy little spot because of it’s delicious bakery and of course, fantabulous lakeside view. Sadly, this visit was during my phone-less aka camera-less stint (but the pictures are worth a browse: check IT OUT).

Cycling up to the lake turned out to be quite a feat in itself and TC broke a couple of spokes that needed to be repaired before we headed out BC bound. This delayed our departure by a couple of hours so that it was almost supper by the time we jumped back on the highway. Despite being slightly behind schedule, we fist-pumped past the BC boarder that evening and into Yoho National Park before sundown.

So here’s something we didn’t know about BC highways: They’re big, fast and scary. Like, really scary. They rollercoaster up and down and around mountains. And they indiscriminately lose their shoulders, which makes it extra nerve wracking for us cyclists. With darkness on the horizon, we made the responsible decision and bitched a ride with a group of 20-something (year old) dudes on their way back from the rigs to celebrate a belated Canada day in their hometown of Sicamous. (If I remember correctly, the Canada Day festivities were rescheduled due to extreme flooding.) Our car hosts were all sorts of lovely and they dropped us off several bike days away at a campsite in a little town called Revelstoke.

Lounging in Sicamous
Lounging in Sicamous

The next few days were a blur of beautiful weather, beaches, and peddling, peddling, peddling.  We hit some minor bike troubles outside of Vernon and hitched a ride with a creepy (allbeit too-old-to-pull-any-nonsense) gentleman who dropped us just outside of Kelowna.

Sunsetty Mushroom Beach.
Sunsetty Mushroom Beach.

Kelowna. We cruised into town late that evening and hooked up with some old highschool friends who put us up (put up with us?) for the next week or so. Yes, we lost our wheels, dug in our heels and hunkered dow for a whole 8 days. This was in part  due to a couple of injuries sustained by TC, Mushroom Beach, late night sing-alongs and pear cider (ogopogo approved).

Oh, and these guys:

There's something about beard rubbing that's just too manly to handle.
Centre of Gravity: Extreme beard rubbing.

Several days and several dozen ciders too late we were back on the road, Vancouver bound, for realsies this time. We followed the steamy Okanagan highway through quaintly named towns like Peachland and Summerland, stuffing our faces with delicious side-of-the-road fruit. Some 70km later, we detoured from the highway onto a beautiful, wilderness-y trail that promised to take us all the way to Princeton.

Intense
Intense

OH BRITISH COLUMBIA, why must you be so stupidly lovely? The trail was littered with free campsites, beautiful swimming holes, trees and rock faces to die for and it was all SO BIG. During this time we were fortunate enough to be smack in the middle of a meteor shower, so our night in the wilderness was spent lying outside our tent watching little shiny dots hurtle through space and trying in vain to identify various constellations (much harder than it looks, I assure you).

Playing my personal favourite game: WILL IT FILTER?
Playing my personal favourite game: WILL IT FILTER?

We were relieved to make it into Princeton because we had a lightening storm hot on our behinds. In classic cycle-trip style, we ended our trek through the wilderness with hard-earned beers, veggie burgers and a cheater night in a motel (omg showers).

Holy crap -going so fast.
Holy crap -going so fast.

The next day we bitchhiked to god knows where, intermittently biking on the highways where shoulders permitted. About half-way through the day, TC’s injuries flared up and, combined with the death traps the west-coasters call highways, that prompted us to pull over and try our luck with our magic thumbs.

Up until this point, we never waited for longer than 10 minutes for a friendly(ish) face to pull over and offer a ride. Here, however, was a different story, We waited, sang, tended to wounds, waited, chest-bumped (motivationally), made a sign, waited, filtered water, got sun burnt, waited and the FINALLY a beautiful family took pity on us and squeezed us and our wheely steeds into their family van. We had found that special gear that allows you to put your feet up and cover kms in no time.

Our rescuers ended up being more than just a lift, as they so sweetly welcomed us into their home outside of Vancouver, fed us, got us a little tipsy, gave us maps, stored our junk and sent us out for a night on the town. Holy effing Christ, we had made it.

It looks as though I might be flashing a breast in this photo but I assure you that it is an ILLUSION.
It looks as though I might be flashing a breast in this photo but I assure you that it is an ILLUSION.

And there you have it -don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t cycle across the country (sorta) with a lack of know-how and bellies full of beer. Stay tuned for this adventure’s epilogue, in which our sweaty cycling superstars continue to rely on the kindness of strangers, sleep in a magic schoolbus and frolic around the big C’s west coast.

Þetta er fallegt.

Last week I was fortunate enough to visit Reykjavic, Iceland for six nights and seven days.  This turned out to be approximately 168 hours of sunlight and 14 hours of darkness.  Among other amazing things, I learned that baby puffins are called pufflings, Bjork lives in a large black box near the coast and hot springs really are hot.  Also, do not call an Icelandic horse a pony because this may cause hurt feelings.

On my tour of the city and outlying area, I saw many dedicated cyclists with rucks full of gear, traveling the island and camping along the way.  Opting instead for the 2.5 hour bike tour of Reykjavic, I was not one of these cyclists.

That said, I can’t think of a better way to see the city.

Reykjavic
Reykjavic by bicycle.
 
We started in the harbour and cycled across the peninsula to the other coast.  It was an easy ride with lots of sites to see and I would highly recommend this tour group if ever you find yourself in Iceland (http://www.icelandbike.com/)
 
 
Reykjavic by bike
Reykjavic by bike

 A North American’s guide to biking in Reykjavic, Iceland:

1. It is breezy.  Not just medium breezy, but heavy winds that sometimes have you biking in one spot.  Wear a windbreaker and expect to work your leg muscles.

2. Cyclists are pedestrians. You heard me.  Because the roads are so narrow, cyclists are accustomed to riding on the sidewalks with pedestrians.  You can imagine how much this can offend the sensibilities of a well-meaning road cyclist from the west, but you get over it surprisingly quickly.

3. There are no bike thieves. Okay, this may be a small exaggeration, but it has some truth.  At least 50% of bicycles are not locked up when not in use.  In fact, both times the tour stopped to check out the inside of a building, we left our bikes unlocked outside, next to the racks of other unlocked bikes.

You can bike
Bike and walking paths