Tag Archives: BIKING

Petroglyphs, Volcanoes and the Bosque – playing outside in Albuquerque

Looking for something to do outside in Albuquerque? There’s no end to the options! How about a trek through a boulder-strewn canyon decorated 400-700 years ago by American Indians and Spanish settlers? Or consider strolling around the Three Sisters, a collection of volcanoes on the West Mesa. Both sites are part of the Petroglyph National Monument, a wonderful collection of trails managed by the National Park Service. Bike enthusiasts will find a 16-mile trail through the “bosque” (pronounced BOSS-key), a cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande River.

Tony and I started each day in Albuquerque with a hike or bike ride (after eating a ridiculously indulgent breakfast at our B&B, that is), and we truly loved being outdoors under that vast blue sky.

Rinconada Canyon
For our first outing, we headed to Rinconada Canyon. This description comes from the National Park Service website:

Rinconada Canyon offers an insight into the geologic, cultural, and natural resources of this region. From the parking lot a sandy path follows the northern escarpment, carrying you over sand dunes. As you walk into the canyon, the sounds and sights of the city fade away and may be replaced with the coo of a mourning dove or a collared lizard sunning itself on a basalt boulder. Here you see prehistoric and historic petroglyphs, rock wall alignments and shelters, and wildlife living in the vegetation growing throughout the canyon.
The geology of the area shows the remnants of volcanic eruptions of 200,000 years ago. The basalt from these flows caps the sandstone of the Santa Fe Formation. As the softer sandstone erodes away, the basalt breaks off and tumbles down the hillside. This action provided the escarpment where the petroglyphs were carved.

Archeologists believe most of the 1,200 petroglyphs in this canyon were pecked into the basalt boulders using a hammerstone to remove the dark color on the surface and reveal a lighter color underneath. Pueblo Indians use the images to pass on stories about history, culture and spiritual beliefs.

Checking out some petroglyphs.
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Unfortunately, some relatively modern visitors felt compelled to carve their own petroglyphs. This guy visited Rinconada Canyon on my birthday in 1919!
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Some petroglyphs and rock formations hint at what life was like for the Spanish explorers and Mexicans who arrived here in 1540. We saw petroglyphs of Catholic crosses and what archeologists think could be livestock brands.

We had just started out on this trail, when a snake crossed the path. He took his sweet time, but Tony and I were too slow getting out our cameras, so we missed his face. Beautiful!
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The canyon is ringed with boulders, but the center is sandy with clumps of scrubby plants and lots of scrambling lizards.
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The Volcanoes
Here’s the scoop from NPS:

Known locally as the Albuquerque Volcanoes or the Three Sisters, they are a classic and rare example of a fissure eruption. In fissure eruptions magma rises along thin cracks in the Earth’s crust unlike most volcanoes in which magma rises through a vertical central vent. Here the fissure is over 5 miles (8km) long. Very long cracks like these may result in a row of aligned eruption craters—all active at the same time. Such eruptions create “curtains of fire” like those that occur today at Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

According the the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, all volcanoes in the state are “probably” extinct, meaning they are “unlikely” to erupt again. I guess I prefer a little more certainty about such things. Still, it was fun to walk around the volcanoes. We climbed up two of them, only to learn later that doing so was insensitive to the Pueblo Indians, who “believe the volcanoes and the petroglyphs pecked into the volcanic boulders provide a direct spiritual connection both to their ancestors and to the Spirit World, the place where time began,” according to NPS literature. Brochures urge visitors not to hike to the peaks. Dang.

Tony with the JA Volcano in the background.
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On the top, overlooking ABQ.
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Too late to pretend we were culturally sensitive at the volcanoes. The big rocks are light because they’re filled with air! Tony looks so virile, eh?
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On top of the Vulcan Volcano, you can see forever.
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Walking back to the car. I love this landscape!
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Tiny cactus flowers.
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Biking the Bosque
Albuquerque’s Paseo del Bosque recently made Sunset magazine’s list of the 20 best bike paths in the West. We concur. It’s pretty fantastic.

We rented high-quality mountain bikes from Routes Rentals & Tours. The bikes were a bit small for us, but they did the trick. We picked up the trail very close to our wonderful B&B and rode north to the Alameda trail head (for a roundtrip total of about 17 miles). Paved, flat and quiet, the trail never crosses roads or encounters motorized vehicles. We saw about 20 hot-air balloons rising into the early morning sky. Stunning!
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Here’s more info on the Paseo del Bosque, aka Riverside Trail. This article describes a fire that broke out while we were there, and we’ve heard they since closed the trail until the “fire season” ends.

There is WAY more to do in Albuquerque if you love being outdoors. We look forward to exploring other trails on our next visit.

Countryside Cycling

We had such a great day yesterday with the guys from Phat Tire that we decided to hang out with them again today!

Despite our sore muscles from Marble Mountain, we hopped on bikes and hit the road bright and early with Khanh and Thao (who, coincidentally, was the smart-ass who made the “piece of cake” comment at the rock wall yesterday!). They were fantastic guides and showed us “real Vietnam” away from all the touristy attractions.

We caught a ferry, along with many other commuters, and crossed the river to the village of Nhon Boi.
Standing on the ferry with Thao.
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Disembarking at the village.
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We pedaled through villages and past vast rice fields.
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Rice plants turn the most gorgeous shades of green and yellow.
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We watched people drying peanuts on the road,
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walking a pig,
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and hanging up fishing nets.
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Pausing for a snack, we played with this little cutie.
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Khanh and Thao cuddled and coddled him, begging for kisses before giving him cookies. I commented about how we are so overprotective of children in North America. Khanh laughed and said our little friend probably wanders into all the neighbors’ houses and throughout the village, and his mother can be assured that he is safe and well fed.
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Khanh demonstrated how to walk from land to the boat on the bamboo pole. “Easy!” he said.
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Soon after our snack break, we came to a rickety bamboo bridge. Thao rode ahead with my camera to take shots of Tony and me. But once I got on the bridge, I chickened out. I jumped off the bike and walked it about half way. Thao chided me and suggested I switch to low gear, so I bravely and tensely cycled the second half. I asked if anyone ever falls off. “Sometimes,” he said. “when they have too much beer.”

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After awhile, we stopped at a home to see women weaving traditional mats from coconut fronds. They peel the fronds into strips, dry them, dye them with natural and chemical pigments, and then weave them on this traditional loom. The warp “threads” were thin fibers from a coconut tree trunk.

One jovial young woman twisted a strip of coconut frond onto a shuttle and then whipped it through the loom. An older woman used a wooden beater to push the strip tight and then knotted the loose end. They worked quickly and cheerfully, and I couldn’t even tell what their hands were doing.
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Of course, they encouraged me to give it a go, and I was completely idiotic. I slammed the beater too hard. I didn’t tie the knots properly. The old woman kept swatting my hand, as though that would remind me of the proper way to tie a coconut frond knot. A little crowd of villagers gathered to watch me mangle the mat. We all got a good laugh out of it.
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The rest of the bike ride was rich with scenery and smiles. Highlights included villagers who shouted “hello!” as we passed, school kids heading home for lunch, a palm farm, a chat with a mama water buffalo and her baby, an organic farm (where they fertilize with seaweed), a Viet Cong cemetery, a duck crossing, another ferry ride and many fishing traps and nets.

Ducks out for a bike ride of their own.
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Tony, Khanh and Thao on the ferry back to Hoi An.
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Viet Cong village cemetery.
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Palm tree fronds drying in the sun.
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Fish traps.
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Traffic jam.
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Waterfront property.
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“Take your bike over by the buffalo, and I’ll take a picture,” said Thao. Then she charged me. Baby nearby. Duh. Wish I could say that was the first time I’d made THAT mistake.

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Warning: I brake for coffee

When I was training with Team Dai last year, our weekly “city loop” took us past a billboard advertising Café Sinouk and promising a coffee factory and gardens. I always thought a rest stop for coffee sounded perfect, but the team disagreed in their competitive zeal to finish the route. Now that my power-cycling days are over, I recently recruited Carol and Tony for a leisurely ride to Café Sinouk.

We started on a quiet, meandering dirt road that runs along the Mekong River. I’ve visited this temple many times on my bike rides, but Tony had never seen it. (You can read more details about this temple at my old blog post, Highway to Hell.)
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Tony’s thinking Hell doesn’t look so bad, actually.
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We left the river road and pedaled alongside cars, motorbikes and tuk tuks on Vientiane’s version of a major thoroughfare for 11 kilometers until we reached the aforementioned billboard. At the end of the long driveway, we found a little coffee shop, where the owner sat with some friends.

“I’m sorry, we’re closed!” he said but then kindly offered to serve us some coffee. He and his companions even shared their little tea-time cakes.

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Even the dogs were enjoying an afternoon break.
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Mr. Sinouk invited us to return on a weekday afternoon, which sounds good to us!

Biking to Breakfast in Thailand

What a busy week! The weekend’s already here, and I still haven’t posted anything from LAST weekend.

Last Sunday, I cycled to Thailand with a group to cheer for a few Team Dai members who were participating in a triathlon. The Thai-Lao border is only 16 kilometers from my house in Vientiane. At the border crossing, we filled out customs paperwork, got our passports stamped and pedaled across the Friendship Bridge, which spans the Mekong River. On the other side, we filled out more paperwork to enter Thailand and got another passport stamp.
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We could see the triathlon venue from the bridge, so we cycled along till we found the transition staging area. From there, we watched our friends swim by in the strong Mekong current. We cheered loud enough that Eelco actually stopped, looked up and waved! He competed in the race with his son JJ, along with another father-son team, Maurice Sr. and Jr. When they got out of the water and jumped on their bikes, we hollered some more, and Eelco’s wife Nicolette actually stopped them for a quick chat.

Standing on the banks of the Mekong in Thailand, we looked across at Laos and down at our friends swimming in the triathlon.
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Maurice and Maurice pull their bikes out of the transition area.
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Eelco comes out with a borrowed helmet. He and JJ had forgotten theirs and almost got disqualified. Luckily our friends were standing by with their own bike helmets!
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Nicolette has a quick chat with her two boys before they tackle the cycling leg of the race.
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After the competitors took off on their bikes, we cheerleaders walked the short distance to Mut Mee Guesthouse for a nice breakfast and later cycled back to Laos. How often can you ride your bike to another country and be home in time for lunch?

Team Dai 2010 – Day THREE – Are We There Yet?

Day Three
Despite my muscles screaming in protest, I somehow mustered enthusiasm comparable to our first day’s adrenaline rush. Maybe it was the knowledge that it would all be over soon. Maybe it was the promise that the last 35 kilometers would be flat (which turned out to be a massive lie). Maybe it was the chocolate. For whatever reason, this was an awesome day.

The highlight was an extremely long downhill switchback (reported to be around 20+ kilometers/12+ miles) through lush forest and flowering trees. Few vehicles invaded my zen, but I did freak myself out when I looked down at my bike computer to realize I was zooming along at 53 kmh (32 mph) just before a sharp gravelly bend in the road. Reality check. Brakes. All was good.

The hills never really stopped, but we had a tailwind most of the time, and I felt re-energized every time I crested the top and sped back down.

We broke for lunch at the only restaurant around, but unfortunately it had closed. We sat on its shady deck overlooking a murky pond. More fruit. More chocolate. More granola bars. More motivation to get to the end of this day and eat a real meal. At the end of our break, I headed to the restroom, and when I emerged everyone was gone. I took up the rear with Wil, our wonderful coach and organizer, who always hung back to make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind. I rode hard to try to catch up, but I didn’t reach the team till the next rest stop. I wasn’t the only one who’d been ditched during bathroom breaks, so I didn’t take it personally. The end was in sight, and we were all very excited.

After another 15 kilometers, we regrouped to ride the last stretch together. The van led for a while, blasting “Eye of the Tiger” from the stereo. Finally, we arrived in Phonsavanh! Just a bit further, and we stopped at an ice cream shop (owned by a rider’s colleague’s family) for hugs of jubilation, as well as ice cream, French fries and beer.

After celebrating our success, it was painful to get back on the bike for the short ride to our hotel, particularly because our hotel – the lovely Auberge – was perched at the top of a HILL. As usual, I felt no shame walking my bike up the steep path, and I stepped, rather than rode, across the “finish line” with a wave and a whoop.

Thick with pine trees and overlooking the valley, the hotel’s property felt like an upscale campsite. After a decadently long shower, I joined the others for cocktails on the restaurant balcony. Later we enjoyed a three-course French-style dinner and laughed about the funny moments along our journey. All the new riders were given nicknames. Claiming that I always seemed to look clean and rarin’ to go, they dubbed me “Fresh.” What an illusion I pulled off!

Julie and Lieven raked in some donations on a dare: 20 minutes of riding with her in a Borat costume and him in his underpants. What troopers!
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Scenes from today’s ride.
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Peggy (who rode with us on a motorcycle) must have taken this shot when she stopped for gas. I love it!
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This couple from London was staying at our guesthouse in Phou Khoun. They’re riding all over Thailand, Laos and Vietnam WITHOUT support vehicles. Ugh!
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Almost there!
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Mmmmm … beer. And ice cream. And French fries.
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Stretching at the ice-cream shop.
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Our lovely cabin at the Auberge hotel.
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The view from our cabin.
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Our bikes were loaded and ready to head home in the morning.
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Cocktails on the deck, followed by fancy schmancy dinner! The pink flowers came from Maurice, a French rider, in honor of International Women’s Day. He gave them to us in the morning as we were lining up to leave Phou Khoun, and we ladies rode with them all day stuck on our helmets, bikes or jerseys.
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Team Dai 2010 Ride – Day TWO – Hills of Hell

Day Two
I had been dreading this day since I first heard of Team Dai. Riders from the two previous years told horror stories about the road between Vang Vieng and Phou Koun. “Oh sure, you don’t ride as many kilometers that day,” they’d say in hushed voices, “but it’s straight up the whole way. It’s hell. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

No lie.

Although we rode fewer than 100 kilometers (62 miles), we pedaled from an elevation of about 260 meters (850 feet) to an elevation of about 1,300 meters (4,265 feet). These hills didn’t roll. There were no memorable moments of gratitude for the blessed descents. The road just wound up and up and up, and as the day wore on, the temperature did the same.

I cranked my “bike playlist” on my little iPod shuffle, but many times I couldn’t even stay in the saddle for one whole song. I had to stop at the roadside, catch my breath and slam some warm water (enriched with Royal-D, an orange-flavored electrolyte mix that we all grew to despise). With sweat pouring down my limbs (and every crack and crevice on my body), I was exhausted, overheated, chafed, and unbelievably cranky for most of the day.

Already deflated by the endless climb, my spirits took another hit when we rolled through several areas where fires raged on the hillsides. Slash-and-burn agriculture had blackened the mountains and the sad faces of the children lining the roads. Sometimes the flames licked out from the roadside ditches, heating my skin as I choked on the smoke-filled air. At the end of the day, I actually brushed cinders out of my teeth. Maybe I was projecting my own misery, but I felt a palpable desperation in these displaced tribal people.

I only had one reason to live this day: chocolate. Grete, a cyclist from Belgium, runs a catering company, bakery and gourmet food shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Her husband’s work brought them to Laos, where she sells her elegant Belgian chocolates. Grete whipped up a special collection just for Team Dai, and these chocolates were, for much of this agonizing second day, my only motivation to keep moving. At each rest stop, the support crew opened the cooler and pulled out boxes of the most incredible delicacies I’ve ever tasted – candied ginger coated with dark chocolate, crispy balls of milk chocolate with a center of gooey goodness, hard chocolate bars perfectly complemented by a fruity-grainy topping. Grete also donated the white jerseys we wore on this day.

As I neared the end of the day’s torture, I heard cheers from a hilltop restaurant, where faster team members waited for the rest of us. But I had long ago tossed all pride off the side of that mountain. I eagerly hopped off my bike and pushed it for the last 10 minutes. At the restaurant, we stared out over the valley at the winding road that had brought us to the top. “Are we insane?” we asked.

Phou Khoun isn’t a typical stopover for tourists in Laos, so the little town was poorly equipped for our group. We took most of the rooms at local guesthouses and then met for dinner. My roommate for the trip was Tina, a Swede who has a couple kids at our school. We took turns using the one washroom, where the “bath” involved filling a bucket with cold water and dumping it on yourself. The thought of getting up to ride again the next morning nearly brought me to tears.

Posing after a rest break outside of Vang Vieng.
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Scenes along the route.
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Slashing and burning.
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JJ changes a flat tire while the local fan club cheers.
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Pant … pant … pant … rest stop!
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Posing at the top with Grete’s chocolate.
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The restaurant owner at the top of the hill had Team Dai photos from LAST YEAR’S visit!
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Looking back at the godforsaken road we took up the mountain.
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We made it to Phou Koun! Hanging out at the town’s roundabout.
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Chillin’ in our guesthouse “lounge.”
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Team Dai 2010 Ride – Day ONE – Vang Vieng or Bust!

It’s the weekend, and I’m only just starting to feel like myself again. After cycling for three days, my abdominal muscles apparently locked in a crunch position and my hamstrings simply went on strike. We got back to Vientiane Tuesday afternoon, and I spent the rest of my week’s vacation lolling around the house, occasionally getting out of bed or off the sofa to get a snack. A few sun salutations this afternoon stretched out my tortured muscles, and I finally feel ready to revisit the Team Dai ride. So here goes, in bits and pieces.

Day One
Dressed in our orange Team Dai jerseys with the flashy “Ban Cluster Bombs” design, we gathered at 5 a.m. last Saturday near the statue of Fa Ngum. The 14th-century warlord watched us line up in the dark, click on our flashing lights and take off in an adrenalin-pumped pack. Twenty-six riders rolled out of town, followed by a van carrying our overnight bags and a flatbed truck stocked with water and snacks.

Every 25 kilometers or so, we stopped for a short rest break. Our wonderful support crew always waved us over to the side of the road, where they offered cut-up fruit, granola bars, water and other treats.

The first part of today’s ride was flat and cool with scenery typical of our weekend training rides: rice paddies, farms, villages and water buffalo. Then we hit the rolling hills. My body put up a little bit of a fight, but the great thing about rolling hills is they roll up but they also roll down. Every downhill stretch was a little gift, and my excitement to have this long-awaited ride under way kept me going.

A highlight of this first day – and ultimately, the entire trip – was the turnout in the villages. As our group swept through, it seemed everyone came out to greet us. Women sat in clusters, chatting, weaving baskets, pounding rice, feeding babies, always working. Men took a break from building, patching, hauling, digging. Hunched-over elderly villagers shuffled by or crouched in the shade. Everyone waved and laughed with a big, “Sabaidee!” But the children ensured that a smile stayed plastered on my face all day, coating my lips and teeth with dust. The kids, some carrying younger siblings, ran into the road, jumping up and down and screaming with anticipation, holding out their hands for us to slap and cheering as we zipped by.

Just for kicks, I tried to keep track of everything that wandered in to our path, forcing us to slow down: dogs, cats, goats, cows, chickens (one with a whole passel of chicks that zig-zagged erratically, barely escaping with their lives), an enormous hog with several piglets, a guy hauling a thick bundle of long bamboo poles, families of stair-stepped children heading out to work in the rice fields with proportionally sized baskets on their backs, and so on.

Our destination was Vang Vieng, the backpacker Mecca of Laos, on the banks of the Nam Song river. There was no time for kayaking, rafting, tubing or rock climbing, but we did enjoy hot showers, a nice riverside dinner at our hotel and a big western breakfast the next morning.

We racked up about 167 kilometers (103 miles) this day!

* Disclaimer: Most photos I post about our ride were NOT taken by me! I have to credit the other riders and support crew, especially Peggy, a cyclist who fell sick and couldn’t ride so she made the trip by motorcycle.

Paany checks off the attendance list as we prepare to head out of Vientiane.
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Paany’s wife, Linda, helped with the support crew the first day and took some photos from the truck.
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I loved riding in the pack!
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Lunch break.
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You know something’s off when you get excited that it’s “only” 96 kilometers to your destination! That’s me and my roommate for the trip, Tina.
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My sporty prescription sunglasses broke a few days before our ride, so I had to wear my fake Chanel glasses from China. I was a little self-conscious till I realized Nicolette’s were even more fabulous. Rhinestones, baby!
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This is Bruno, a serious biker from France who heard about our ride and tagged along “just for fun.”
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Still feeling chipper!
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One of many roadside cheering sections.
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Pulling in to Vang Vieng – we made it! Tina and I sprinted to the front just for the photo. Usually we hung back and took advantage of the draft.
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The view from our hotel’s restaurant deck.
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Team Dai – Success!

This is the distance recorded by my bike computer over the three days that Team Dai rode from Vientiane to Phonsavanh. That’s 420.66 kilometers or 261.38 miles! Woo hoo!
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Here’s a shot of me walking the last few meters to our hotel on a ridge overlooking Phonsavanh. We had stopped in town for ice cream, French fries and beer, so my body apparently figured the hard part was over and the time to celebrate had finally come. There was no way my legs were going to pedal up one more hill.
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We returned to Vientiane yesterday afternoon, and as soon as I can sit upright for longer than 10 minutes, I’ll write more about our exciting journey!

A New Twist on Rivertime Lodge Ride

Remember back in January? When I rode 50 miles? And it was such a big freakin’ deal? Today, I got home from the Team Dai training ride, checked my bike computer’s odometer and felt a wee bit disappointed that we only rode 93 kilometers (almost 58 miles). How crazy is that?

This was my best weekend ride ever. I usually hit the wall toward the end of our long rides and then suffer the last 20 km silently (and not so silently) cursing the headwind, the smoke-belching truck traffic, my low blood sugar, my clunky Chinese bike, the motorbike drivers who zip out of alleys and on to the roadway without noticing the approaching pack of cyclists, my deteriorating knees, my bunched-up underwear, the single hair stuck on the back of my arm that I can’t find but continues to annoy the hell out of me, the potholes, the stop-and-go-and-speed-up-and-slow-down tuk tuks, the sun, whoever is in the lead riding faster than I want to go but I have to keep up or risk losing the “drag,” the dust, and just life in general.

Today there was no cursing! I seriously loved every minute of it. Why? Potential reasons for such a great ride:
* I fueled up with a big breakfast and then did a re-do when we got to Rivertime Lodge.
* Another rider, Lieven, bought ground coffee at a roadside stand and had the lodge brew up a vat of Lao coffee.
* We crowded our bikes on to a little wooden boat to cross the river, which kind of felt like a mini-adventure.
* We rode at a manageable pace and took a route home that we’d never done before.
* Our return ride took us through traffic-free countryside with rubbish-free waterways and rice paddies, which never stop surprising me with their shocking shade of green.
* The cycling chatter was particularly distracting.

This week, we took a different route to Rivertime Lodge, stopped for breakfast, and then crossed the river to a bumpy dirt road, which eventually met up with the paved highway back to Vientiane. This was my third trip to the lodge, so the photos may look familiar!

Cooling off, as per usual.
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The patient waiter at Rivertime Lodge.
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Tina (from Sweden) and me. I’m happily sipping sludge-like Lao coffee.
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Some of the riders headed back to town, but we opted to cross the river and follow a different route back. Too bad we couldn’t find an easier way down to the boat.
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Adam and Christine on the boat.
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Some Lao dude, Paul, Tina and Mark on the boat.
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Nanny and me on the boat.
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Arriving at the other side.
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Boat ‘o’ Bicycles (and one motorbike)
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Off the boat and up a steep hill to the “road.”
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Looking back at the lodge.
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Just a reminder: I’m not doing all this cycling for my health, ya know! We’re trying to raise $20,000 for three Lao organizations. Please consider making a donation via PayPal at the Team Dai website. Thank you so much to those of you who have already done so!