Today we had a tough morning.
Everything started well, we left Monterey and managed to find our way back onto the One, the coast highway that has been a freeway for the last 100kms (making it a bit of an extra challenge to find the right roads and make the right turns).
Despite this challenge, thanks to some great navigating from Shanna we had found our way back onto the highway when it had turned back into the cycle route, somewhere in-between Monterey and Carmel. Patting ourselves on the back we rode into Carmel to look for a gas canister for our stove.
After riding around the entire town, checking seven different shops and having no luck, and in the process being told to f-off by a few tough guys driving massive 'cool' trucks we decided to cut our losses and get back on the road to Big Sur. After buying some supplies (apparently there isn't another super-market for 100 miles), we got back onto Highway One.
And then bang. The wind hit us like a sledge hammer. It became so strong that at times it was a struggle to stay on the road, which was I found pretty scary when there was a sheer cliff down to the ocean and no barrier to stop you from falling down there. Luckily though the sun was still out, so at least we weren't being rained on at the same time.
A couple of minutes of forcing our way through the wind and Shanna got another flat tire. By now we were wondering if we'd walked under a ladder or something.
Over the next four hours we pushed at the pedals as hard as we could and managed to cover another 40km. It was tough going, but whilst we were going slow we somehow managed to pass a few other friendly cycle tourists who seemed to be having as much trouble in the wind as us.
When we arrived at Big Sur we bought delicious (but expensive) burritos and sat by the river and ate them. An hour later, after meeting a massive team of road cyclists riding from San Fran to LA, and some other friendly people we rode off into the Big Sur woods where we found a fantastic camp site right by a river.
After a tough day, in more ways than one, we took off our shoes and crossed the river (I managed to drop/throw one of mine in). We laid awake in our tent that we'd set up right next to two huge Red-wood trees, listening to the soothing sounds of water rushing over rock.
San Fran is nothing new to most people, but when I cycled into the city for my first ever visit I was blown away. The fog rolling in over the Golden Gate bridge and then billowing over the high city hills above the water beneath was bordering on majestic.
The sheer number of homeless people in this city is startling, and Brooke told us the fascinating and bizarre story of why there are so many of them here.
We spent a few days staying with Brooke and Dave while we explored the city, bought a new camera (an amazing Sony Nex5, review will come shortly), picked up Shanna's new wheelset, cassette and chain, and a front wheel for my bike, and then we spent a day servicing our bikes. That night we went to the movies with our new friends and saw 'The Social Network.'
The morning we left Brooke and Dave's I walked down to Golden Gate Park and found some homeless people who I gave Shanna's 'ex' wheelset to. I wrote down for them the details (Spinergy Xyclone Race and Deore XT cassette so that if they didn't want to recycle them they could sell them on ebay or something- they still work great so I hope they can get some use from them.
Thanks again guys, most of what we were able to do over the last couple of days was only possible because of you!
We woke up freezing cold, but relieved that we'd survived another night in the Oregon wilderness (just past Florence) without being attacked by a ferocious wild bear.
Back on the road riding through a beautiful forest the sun is up but its not penetrating through the tall pines, and even though I've got two shirts, a long sleeve shirt and a big jacket on it's freezing.
A couple of hours later and we pass a couple of cyclists, the wind is in our back, the sun is shining and it feels great. For a while, the wind is perfectly behind us, and we're going around 35kms an hour on a flat road, barely even trying. Amazing!
The wind still behind us, smiles on our faces we ride up a beautiful old bridge. Riding down the other side someone coming in the opposite direction yells out at us and then, hocking, a burst of spittle comes shooting towards me. Fortunately I manage to miss most of it. A moment later someone behind beeps their truck horn (who has a truck horn in a car!?!?), and then, thirty seconds after that we get a 'f*%# off' blasted into our ears.
Not a moment too soon and a massive nail lurches into Shanna's tire, going all the way through to the other side. Sitting on the side of the road I figure things are looking up, they could only get better from here... right?
Over the next 10 kilometers on a wide four lane road with plenty of room for everyone the story doesn't change much. But, when we leave the towns and head into the forest once again, to our great relief it all stops.
Things really do start getting better when we meet a really nice English couple, who we ride with until we get to a campsite just off the coast in Bandon. Open fires burning, dogs barking, massive bus like campervans lurking in the shadows, and while the sun sets we put up our tent on a delicious piece of grass that looks like it was made just for us.
Riding off in the rain we were wondering the last time we'd felt so cold. Maybe it was in Scotland or the Netherlands, I'm not really sure, but whatever the case, it was freezing.
The rain began at a slow drizzle, slowly and steadily increasing to a heavy downpour. By this time we decided enough was enough, and soaking wet we pulled into a fudge and ice-cream shop.
As we scooped icecream out of the thick chocolate milkshake the rain began to ease. Back on the road we quickly warmed up and soon the sun was shining through the clouds. Oregonians keep warning us that 'the rains' are due any day... but looks like we've avoided them for another day.
Up and down the mountains we rode. On one mountain Sam noticed my bike was making a strange sound - the wheel rubbing on the brake perhaps - so next time there was a place to pull over we stopped. It wasn't the brake rubbing, rather, it was air slowly leaking from the tube. A check of the tyre revealed there were quite a few holes - it was an old tyre, bought in Indonesia - so we decided to fit the replacement tyre Sam has been carrying the whole way.
Near the top of another mountain there was a crowd of people looking down to the rocks below - sea lions were splashing in rock pools and sun bathing on rocks. With the sun shining they looked happy in their little cove, protected from the cold wind.
The sofa bed was so comfortable... we slept longer than planned. We said bye to another great set of hosts (and a terrific dog!) and headed to the bike shop to buy Sam a new tyre and get a puncture repair kit that actually worked!
A long, late lunch was enjoyed... and then it was time to head out of Portland. Despite a wrong turn early on, we were soon on the 99W road towards the coast.
But it wasn't the glorious return to biking I'd expected. The bike seemed so much heavier, my legs so much weaker and the hills so much harder... two and half weeks without touring was a long time! It felt like riding through mud, it was so hard to get any rhythm.
As the time to camp came upon us, I felt like crying. I wanted a shower, but there wouldn't be one tonight. I needed a bathroom, but a group of shrubs under the cover of darkness would be my bathroom.
Luckily Sam was better able to readjust to the nomadic lifestyle, and he found us a perfect camping spot amongst some trees next to a hospital. It was our first night camping in America and, unsure of what to expect, we reassured ourselves that we couldn't have picked a better place in case of attack from bears or people with guns.
Distance- Hilly 45kms
We left what could be the most expensive campsite in the world this morning- at 20 pounds it cost the same amount as a fancy hotel in Bangkok!
I'd like to say bright and early but it wasn't, we were both tired and our stuff was wet, so we took out time waiting for it to dry, before packing and vowing never again to stay at a caravan park that cost more than $20 australian dollars.
Before I forget I want to use this space for a plug- if you get the time have a look at Jesse's (the guy who invited us to stay at his house in Newcastle England) website www.livingexposed.com.
It's fantastic- hopefully one day he might get the chance to create a similar program in Australia, which would be great for some aspiring photog's (there are far to many wannabes on facebook...) to get some proper advice and training.
If you like photography, and especially if you're based in the UK check it out.
While I'm looking around at an intersection, trying to figure our where to go, I hear Shanna yell out hysterically, 'my derailleurs at a sickening angle, I think its broken!'
'Hang on,' I say, 'I'll have a look.'
It's the front derailleur, and it looks broken. 'Damn,' I say to myself, there's no bike shops for miles. Amazed that it has bent so badly and wondering how this has happened I pull out some tools to see if it's fixable.
An hour later and we're on the road again- everything seems fine, touch wood. And a few hours after this at around 6pm we see a camp site in the quaint historic Scottish town of Peebles that lies upon the River Tweed.
From here in Peebles you can see the Neidpath castle, originally built around 1250ish. Its changed hands a few times since, and at one time Mary Queen of Scots even stayed here, and it's still a fascinating relic of ancient Scottish stone. But the oldest building here is the tower of St Andrews church. Built in 1195, the church surrounding the tower was destroyed in attacks soon after its construction but the tower remains.
During the night the temperature reaches a low of about 1 or 2 degrees. If this is Summer in Scotland Winter must be a challenge. You've gotta give some credit to the Scots, they're a hardy lot.
Wıth ıtems of clothıng blowıng dry off the back of our bıkes, we spent a long day rıdıng the rest of the way to Eceabat, the town closest to the Gallıpolı memorıals.
It was another wındy day wıth rocky roads, but the delcıous foods we ate along the way and the beauty of the Gelıbolu Penınsula made the journey enjoyable. We had a lot of downhıll and flat sectıons where we experıenced our fastest speeds for days. We felt lıke we were flyıng through the brısk, cool aır wıth only goats to share the day wıth us.
Durıng one of our breaks, ın a small town wıth some markets for passıng tour buses, a man motıoned for us to follow hım onto hıs roof, where he showed us the vıew of the surroundıng area.
Just 20km out of the town my chaın broke agaın goıng up a hıll - the thırd tıme my chaın has broken on thıs trıp! Sam ıs quıte profıcıent at fıxıng them now so wıthın half an hour we were back on the road. I have been aware ever sınce that ıf my chaın breaks agaın we're ın trouble - that was our last bıt of spare chaın!
At about 7pm we rolled ınto the small port cıty of Eceabat. We found a hostel that provıded both affordable tours of the Gallıpolı sıtes, and a room for the nıght. Although we'd enjoyed our beach campıng for the past week, the blıss of a hot shower that nıght was beyond words- rıght up there ın the hıghlıghts of our tıme ın Turkey. I washed my offendıng shırt (and all my other clothes) and we went out to eat dınner by the harbour, watchıng another amazıng sunset.
Distance: Various distances riding around the city... Sam more than Shanna
Our second day in Kunming we decided that the boys would go look at bike shops in the morning while Severine and I updated websites and went shopping. Actually, the truth was that Sam's rear bicycle wheel had developed a large crack in the rim, which he had been dangerously riding on since our last day in Lao.
As Sam also discovered after we got off the bus, his front wheel had three large gouges in the brake surface arising from the bumpy bus ride. This meant he would now have to find two new (or used) V'brake wheels before we could leave Kunming and begin riding across China.
At lunch Severine and I ate at a small cafe and sat with two Chinese boys who went to high school across the road, and spoke good English. They told us it was hard to be a student in China. School went from 7am until 6pm and you took 9 classes. We were surprised to hear that everyone learns English from the age of six, as even most young people haven't been able to speak to us very well. They explained that the teachers were terrible - they spoke better English than their teachers. The boys had been practising with foreigners since they were ten and they were determined to study in Hong Kong or Canada - they needed good English if they wanted to go to a good university.
Sam and Francois didn't return until mid-afternoon, having to our amazement not eaten a thing since 8am in there quest to fix our bikes. They had seen cheap parts, frames, wheels and second hand bikes in there search for a solution to our wheel problem and Francois had been lucky enough to convince a bike shop to sell him two wheels from a tandem bicycle they had for sale.
As these where the only two wheels suitable they had found after visiting seven bicycle shops in Kunming Sam decided to put Francois' old wheelset on his bike, solving the problem temporarily. He then took apart his old wheels as the hubs and spokes were still usable to send back to Australia. Afterwards we rode to one of the bicycle shops they had found to find a new axle for Sam's rear wheel (a tandem is wider than a nornal bicycle).
It took two hours in this bike shop and it was dark as we rode to the cafe for dinner. As we zipped through the traffic, sometimes on the road, sometimes on bike lanes they provided and other times on the shared bike/pedestrian path, I had a crash. I didn't see a bollard separating traffic from the bike lane until it was too late. I knew I would hit and probably land on the raised concrete barrier (raised about 30cm). I expected the worst.
It all happened quickly - I was on the road on one of the barrier and my bike was on the other. Somehow I had got my feet free in the moment before I hit. The others were ahead of me but they heard the crash and Sam was quickly heading back to me. Luckily, there was no other traffic near us at the time, and within seconds I was on my feet moving myself and the bike to the side of the road. I felt ok. My arm was scraped and I banged my knee, but I didn't really feel any pain. Francois sprayed my grazes with disinfectant and Sam made sure my bike was ok to ride. I assured them all I felt ok and as it was late we should just keep going to the cafe where I would ice my knee.
As we rode the adrenalin wore off and I started to ache. My arm was really stinging and my knee hurt. During another delicious dinner I tried to keep my mind off the pain, but it was hard. I hurried everyone through the meal so I could go back to the hotel and go to bed.
After I'd had a shower, a couple of panadol, and Sam had cleaned and put some antiseptic cream on my scrapes I felt better and was able to get a good night sleep.
In the morning we decided to delay our departure from Kunming for another day so that I could rest some more and hopefully my swollen knee would be ok. It was still very stiff and sore but my scrapes seemed to have scabbed over nicely.
Another day was spent looking at bikes, visiting the beautiful area of Kunming around the lake and university, and eating McDonalds one more time. It had been a restful day and I was hoping I would be ok to leave the following morning.
Distance - 680km on the bus, 28km on the bike
A few hours into the bus trip to Kunming we realised there was a problem. The bus slowed down while going up a hill and then spluttered to a halt. The driver got it moving again amidst a cloud of dark, toxic smoke and we pulled over by the side of the road.
The driver and a few others, including Sam and Francois, got out to have a look. Francois is a mechanic and was keen to have a look to see if he could do anything to get the bus going. After about 15 minutes the bus started again. Francois came back and said he didn't think it was fixed. He said there were problems with the the fuel pump and he thought it needed to be replaced, but all they could do was clean it.
Sure enough, the bus soon stopped again. Another break to have a look and see if it could be fixed. It was the middle of the night and we were all cramped and tired. We just wanted the bus to keep going.
After the third stop Francois stopped getting out to help, and we all became used to the frequent jerks as the bus stopped in the middle of the road and the driver forced it back into action. Progress was slow, as the way to Kunming is uphill (Kunming sits at 1890m altitude). We couldn't sleep very well as each lurch of the bus woke us.
In the morning we stopped for a toilet break and some food while the bus was checked over again. The toilet block looked modern and clean - thank goodness! It had been 9 hours since our last toilet block stop! But as we walked in the smell was overpowering. And inside was the dirtiest bathroom I have ever seen (up until that point). The facilities were modern, but the water had been disconnected. I checked 8 cubicles and couldn't stomach any of them. Then I found a sit-down toilet (as opposed to the squat style the Chinese use) and it was the cleanest of all.
Breakfast was cake and juice from the nearby service station while we watched the driver under the bus. We didn't know how far we were from Kunming, but we knew we should have arrived an hour ago.
The bus started again, sounding the best it had the whole time, and we all reboarded. We soon passed a sign pointing to a town and we eagerly checked our maps to see how close we were. Still about 150km! And although moving a bit faster than it had during the night, the bus still moving slowly.
It was hot, smelly and cramped on the bus to Kunming. We were stopped at one point and police got on - checking IDs and doing bag searches. Many young men were told to leave the bus and taken into a van by the side of the road... they returned looking shaken but relieved. One of the men near us indicated that the police were looking for drugs.
Finally, we reached Kunming. Well, the bus stopped and unloaded us, so we must be in Kunming. And only six hours late.
As we loaded our bikes a crowd gathered to watch us. Severine and Francois attract even more attention, as they have a tandem. Once we loaded we decided to head north, as we hadn't passed a city yet and that must be the direction. After 10 minutes we asked a guy selling drinks which way to Kunming. He drew a little map for us and we headed off. But it was still confusing. How far away was this city?
It was windy and a dust storm seemed to be blowing around us. Many roads were bumpy and as trucks passed dust blew into our faces. We found a sign pointing to the city but it was an expressway and we weren't allowed through. We followed a terribly rocky road in the direction of the city and eventually found a series of highways and interchanges. Finally, two hours after we got off the bus, we were riding down a street in the city and saw McDonalds - time for some food!
The McDonalds tasted good, the ATMs gave us money, and the hostel we checked into had free internet - life was good!
We spent the afternoon riding our bikes around Kunming looking for bikes wheels. This time we followed two uni students who were so helpful in finding shops and talking to the owners. Unfortunately we didn't find what we needed and would need to look again the next day, but the day ended on a high - with delicious pizza, potatoes and cheesecake at a western cafe. It was good to be in Kunming!
We had heard that the Chinese may be the noisiest people on earth, and so far we would have to agree. In the hotel foyer Sam and I had to go outside to hear each other speak, because one man on the phone was speaking (yelling) so loud.
During the night we had to ask to move hotel rooms because we could hear the karaoke two floors down as loud as if we were there. We moved up another two levels but we could still hear it. And it was terrible – they really couldn’t sing.
We also quickly realized that not many people spoke English. The info man became our lifeline – translating for us about food, bike shop locations, laundry prices and bus tickets. His information wasn’t always accurate, but at least it was something to work with.
We were in desperate need of clean clothes so in the morning I set off with Francois and Severene to find a place to get our clothes cleaned. We walked the streets, asked people, showed them pictures of a laundry (from a little book Francois had) and didn’t find one. The info man was little help here – he just offered for his wife to take care of it for us for 100Y ($17) which was way too much. The hotel wanted to charge the same amount. We ended up finding a big metal bucket and clothesline on the 6th floor and did the washing ourselves.
The next task was to find a bike wheel. The first shop we found was no more than a cupboard with a pump and some spare tubes, but some local girls who spoke a little English got us to follow them down the street where there were a couple of bigger shops. Bigger, but still no wheels. Sam and I decided we would need to catch the bus to Kunming to get a new wheel. Severene and Francois decided to come with us, and from there we would all do some rides around Kunming, particularly to a place called the Stone Forest.
At the bus station there were buses leaving that night, but the lady (who spoke little English, mainly about bus times and prices) seemed insistent that we couldn’t take bikes. We had to go to Jinghong if we had bikes. It seemed everyone in this town thought we should go to Jinghong!
I went back again to explain that the bike was broken and we had to catch the bus. She seemed to say ok, but only on the late bus. When I confirmed four people with bikes she changed back to saying no again.
It was all very frustrating. We decided to just turn up an hour before the bus left and see what happened- maybe it would be half empty and so bikes would be no problem.
Talking later with the information guy he said that many foreigners take bikes on the bus to Kunming, so Sam, Francois and I went back over one more time. The info guy followed and proved helpful in translating.
We found out there were five tickets left for Kunming that day – we had to make a decision fast! We went to the bus station down the road (where the buses waited) and checked out the storage area under the bus – there was enough room for our bikes (including Francois and Severene’s tandem) so we went for it.
We ran back to the office, bought the tickets (the last four available) and then packed our things. We took our bikes to the bus station an hour before departure to see about loading them early (to make sure we got the room we needed and packed them the way we wanted). The drivers were not compliant. They tried to get us to leave, told us to wait at the departure area down the road. But we insisted. We tried to give one of the men some money but he wouldn’t take it. Luckily the ticket had the bus number plate on it, so we were able to find our bus and load it up. It took us 40 minutes to pack everything compactly and securely. Different people came to watch but no one stopped us.
Severene and I stayed with the bus, while the boys went to get food and wait at the departure area, in case we had packed the wrong bus. But luckily, we hadn’t. When the driver arrived Severene and I jumped on with him and rode to the departure area.
Our beds (because it was an overnight sleeper bus) were all together up the back of the bus, on the upper level. It was nice to all be together, but very squashy! Especially when the fifth guy up there turned up and had to get on with us.
Despite that, we were in good spirits as the bus departed. We had managed to achieve the impossible – get four people with bikes on a bus to Kunming!
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia