Monday, January 31, 2011

What a Difference a Year Makes

Last December we spent 2 weeks in Cairo. We enjoyed our time there, even though (because?) we quit being tourists and just tried to live in the city. Of course we went to Giza, the Egyptian museum and some other key tourists attractions. We've talked since about how we enjoyed our stay and remember the time fondly. But that's about it.

The events of the last week in Egypt have made me realize how travelling has opened my eyes to the greater global community. Hmm, let me unpack that claim. When I read something in the newspaper, whether it be war, genocide, natural disaster, there is an immense disconnect between myself and those being reported on. Only with great difficulty can I muster empathy for the situation.

The protests in Cairo have made me realize that I feel deeply connected to the places we traveled to. It may seem strange that it would take an event like the Cairo protests to wake me up to this fact, but its not as if we spent a long period of time in Cairo, or made local friends, or learned the language. Every interaction we had with an Egyptian involved the exchange of money. Even so, it feels like I am in some way part of the community there. Just saying that makes me feel like a poser. In no way am I saying I am part of the Cairo community, just that it feels that way.

Here's an image of protest spots in Cairo. We lived in Zamalek (the island in the middle of the Nile) just north of the 15 May Bridge. We drove through and walked around the places you can see in the images daily. It's just crazy to think about.

Saturday morning we just sat watching an al-jazeera collection of amateur video from Cairo (scroll down a little). We could recognize the landmarks and districts, and some of the images are just chilling (the third video, for example).

The good news is that with the army stepping in to replace the police, things seem to have gotten better for the protesters. Friday was scary business: the video of crowds of praying Egyptians being sprayed with a water cannon did not boost Mubarak in the opinion polls.

I won't try to replace all the quality news service out there, but if you haven't read up or been following what's happening, I suggest you do. It is truly incredible. It makes me want to travel more so that when things happen, I will have a context for which to understand it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Prunus persica, or how I acquired and used 40 pounds of peaches

While Tommy had his heart set on biking all the way to Wilbur over Washington Pass, my one desire was to buy peaches (prunus persica) during our Eastern Washington Excursion. Before leaving home, I researched all of the little orchards and farmstands from Twisp to Omak. I took orders from family and friends, promising a box of joy on my return.


After stopping at 4 roadside stands, we learned that freestone peaches were not ready yet and that the early redhaven variety was not as prized for canning. Oh well, I had my heart set on peaches and if I needed to freeze them all then I would!

Hoping that Wenatchee might be just far enough south to have the freestone peaches in season, we took Hwy 2 home instead of Hwy 20. At the Wenatchee farmer's market, we scored. A very friendly lady was selling 20 pounds of organic peaches for $1/lb. Good price. The question was, did I want one box or two? I ended up buying 5 boxes of peaches: 2.25 boxes for me, 1 box for Alex, 1 box for Beth, .5 box for Shari, .25 box for Jessica. I also bought 10 pounds of cherries because they were so good.

What did I do with my treasures?


Rum Soaked Cherries - 16, 4 oz jars
Amaretto Soaked Cherries and Peaches - 6, 8oz jars
Boozy Cherry Molasses with Rum & Kirsch (3), with Amaretto (4) - 7, 4 oz jars
Sweetheart Cherry Peach Jam - 5, 8 oz jars
Rainier Cherry Peach Jam - 6, 16 oz jars
Hibiscus Peaches - 16, 16 oz jars
Frozen Peaches - 10 lbs
Peach Cherry Rustic Rye Tart - 1, 9-in tart; 8, 3-in tartlettes
Crunchy Top Peach Pie - 1, 9-in pie (Received Honorable Mention at my Neighborhood Association Picnic Dessert Competition!)
Eating - 6 peaches (If I were Lynn, this number would be much higher - to the tune of at least one full box of peaches just for eating.); 3 pounds cherries - Tommy ate about 2 pounds on the way home from Wenatchee.


Could I have used more? Of course! I have already got my eye on this Peach Butter and this Peach Chocolate Dessert Sauce. Next year.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


After a couple days of recuperation at Roger and Ellen's, I was ready to try my legs again. The blazing hot finish to my adventure on Tuesday had convinced me that riding in Eastern Washington in July was insane. Nevertheless, as I sat looked out over Lake Roosevelt and contemplated riding over the mountainous Manila Creek road, I became more and more restless. I had my bike in a place I've never been able to ride in, and the riding should be excellent. The plan was to catch the first ferry (a free state ferry connects WA-21) across the lake at 6am. Then I would stand a good chance of getting the biggest climb of the day done before the sun hit me.


As it turned out, my plan worked pretty good at first. Thin morning clouds kept me out of direct sunlight all the way to the summit, 2000 feet up from where I began. From the top I could look down over the Swawilla Basin, the southernmost portion of Lake Roosevelt that ends with the Grand Coulee Dam.


The descent was fast and furious. I was averaging somewhere between 30-35 mph, just flying along, when I saw road construction up ahead. I forced to wait... for 45 minutes. To be honest I really wasn't that frustrated. The clouds were still blocking the sun and I had no agenda for the rest of the day. When we did get going again, I was thankful to be paced. The last few miles of the road, before it hit highway 15, were one of the most ridiculous descents I have ever seen. Sharp corners at a 10% grade with enormous cliffs and no guardrails. The flagger actually told me that there was a pile of cars at the bottom of one cliff, and there was no way to get them up. The construction job was to widen the road so that rails could be put in.


I got going again and cruised through Elmer City. Then it was a short steep climb past the dam itself to the town of Grand Coulee. Time for significant climb #2. I learned that in Eastern Washington, long straight hills are simply referred to as "grades." I was to ride up Coulee Grade and then down Wilbur Grade on WA-174. These grades are my kind of climb. I'm not much of a climber, but because of my build, I really prefer a long, consistent climb to short steep stuff mixed with flat stuff. Above a certain grade and I am in big trouble. Anyway, I found a good steady pace at about 9 mph, and climbed up to the top of Coulee Grade. Near the top, a strong north wind picked up and I finished the climb at 18-20 mph. You can see that I was happy!


The ride down Wilbur Grade is awesome. You can see Wilbur itself 10 miles down the road, 1000 feet lower, and you just go. Even though it was a highway, cars can't pass you very quick when you're going 40!


The 5th and final left turn of the day brough me back to highway 21 and I made the final short climb to what Morgan's family refers to as "The Curves": my reward for the day. Here's a photo from the top of The Curves.


The long, sandy driveway made a fun but challenging finale to a great ride. I made it back to find out that Ellen (Morgan's great aunt) had called people along the road to let them know when I road by. I'll probably be in the Wilbur newspaper... again.


As always, click on any photo to see the rest of them on our flickr page. Click here for my ride details.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Longer a Proponent of 80 Mile Warmups

It's been a wasteland here since March, but I'm going to dive in headlong with the latest Lingbloom summer adventure.

On Tuesday I left Bellingham at precisely 5am. There was just enough light that I only needed a tail light. The goal was to ride over the Cascades via Washington Pass to Winthrop. In one day. The early start was great. I made it to Alger by 6am, and Concrete (49 miles into my ride) by 8am. There I stopped at a road side diner for some breakfast sandwiches, and was whistled at by a couple of country bumpkins. In Bellingham, my response to this kind of behavior would be to wink or blow a kiss in return, but I've seen the movie Deliverance, and decided it was high time to get on with my ride.

When I got to Marblemount a little after 10 am, I had ridden 80 miles. I was pretty tired, and I hadn't even started climbing yet. The highest elevation I had reached on my ride was only about 700 feet, on Lake Samish Drive. Marblemount is at about 300 feet above sea level. Over the next 42 miles, I would gain 5,200 more feet!

I took a break at Colonial Creek, slammed a cliff bar (I was eating constantly all day) and began the 32 mile ride to the summit. Looking down at my speedometer, I was barely able to maintain 8 mph up the steep incline. When I did the math, it was pretty disheartening.

An hour later, I was slogging along when a car came flying by me honking like crazy. It was my only road rage instance of the day... or was it? In fact, it was just a pleasant surprise from three friends returning from Chelan. I talked their ears off for a few minutes and then continued on my way.


As I continued up the pass, I became more and more drained. By 2pm I was stopping every 30 minutes to take a quick break. A little after 3pm the broom wagon caught me (driven by Morgan), and though it sounds ridiculous, I was so tired that I briefly considered catching a lift and skipping the last 2 miles.


Even though it was smoking hot, and even though I was dead tired, and even though 8 mph is not fast enough to ride away from flies, I sucked it up and powered to the finish. I was exhausted, and my knee was killing me. But I made it.


After a nice little photo shoot (you can go to all the photos from this ride on our flickr account by clicking on one of the above photos) I mounted my bike to attempt the descent down to Winthrop. I made it Mazama, and that was it. The 10 minute break, combined with 20 minutes of not pedaling while flying down Washington Pass, had convinced my knee it was finished. Every pedal stroke was agony. It was disappointing not to make it at least to Winthrop, but the hot wind in my face put me over the edge. I called it a day.

If I ever do this ride again (and I would love to), I will drive to Marblemount and start from there. Riding 80 miles before a challenging climb is stupid.

If you want to see the route I took, you can click here. Click on the "Summary" tab for the elevation profile (Which I think is always the most interesting part).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

King Konglor

We have been busy busy busy since getting home a week ago, but today I find myself temporarily unemployed. A good time to update, and share about one of the most spectacular places we went in all of our travels.

In going to Laos, I told Morgan that there was only one place on my "must see" list. Konglor Cave (Tham Kong Lo) promised to provide something relatively off the beaten track, yet still well worth the trip.

Seeing the cave is a several day affair. Only local buses make the trip to the nearest village of any size, Ban Khun Kham (Na Hin), on Route 8. It was about a 5 hour trip from Vientiane, and we were the only foreigners on the bus. We left the bus unloading and walked into the town.


The town was basically a single road running parallel to the highway, with a smattering of guest houses, a couple restaurants, and a small local market. We saw a tourist every now and then, but they were few and far between. Because of this people were very friendly and happy to converse if they spoke English.

We found a great restaurant where the locals ate, and our 16 year old waiter was very happy to practice his English with us. We ate their three times in two days! Luckily, we spotted a couple that we had eaten with in Nong Khiaw, and made plans to hire a songthaew and go to the cave the following day (50 km away).

At the end of the road is a large hut full of local boatmen. Each boat carries two boatmen and up to three passengers. Any more will make the boat bottom out too much, and make it too unstable. As it was, we still had to get out and wade several times while the boatmen rug the canoe (sound familiar). One boatmen was in the back of the boat manning the prop, and the other was in the front scouting the river bed. He would signal spots to avoid and where to turn. They both had powerful halogen headlamps.


The cave, 7 km long, was absolutely amazing. It was impossible to take pictures in the dark, so you'll just have to pretend. The river was between 20-50 m wide, and usually very shallow. We could see the cave walls and ceiling from the lights of the boatman, but most of the space in our peripheral vision stayed in the dark. The most incredible part of the experience was emerging into the daylight on the far side. Click to watch.

Need I say more? And that after half an hour in the dark cave. We were very pleased.

On the far side was a group of a dozen plus kids around a couple of small cafes. We sat down at one of the tables and beckoned the children to come over. Warily, but quickly, they came closer. I took off my backpack and we pulled out a special purchase we had made in Luang Prabang: Lao children's books from the organization Big Brother Mouse. Considering how little volunteer we had done in our travels, compared to what our plans had been, this was a great opportunity for us to o something small but significant. The excitement of these kids conveyed the great need of local language reading materials in Laos, and as a bonus, made us feel great. One of our boatmen was very excited and asked us if he could have one for his child. We gave him our extras. Spirits were high as we made our way back own the river for the return trip through the cave!


Sunday, March 7, 2010

All Good Things

Well, I finally found a computer that I'm able to blog from! The flow of information in Vietnam is not quite as free as in other countries, we've found...

So for those of you who haven't already heard, the rumors are true. We're throwing in the towel, and flying home Wednesday. There are many interesting things that have happened to us over past couple of weeks, and I do intend to blog about them. In other words, just because we are coming home does not mean the highly informative travel blogging will stop. Morgan and I both have some mental debriefing to do, and thoughts we'd love to share about our year of travel as a whole. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, let me give you the scoop on how we were pushed over the edge. From Luang Prabang we headed south to Vang Vieng, a backpacker party town that we would normaly have no interest in, but for an organic farm and school we had been hoping to volunteer at. The farm was 4km from town, so we were looking forward to some isolated peace and quiet.

It was not meant to be. 50m down stream from the farm were half a dozen catering to drunk 19 year olds who were tubing down the river. The bars competed to play the loudest music, so we heard three songs at once, so loud you couldn't think, all afternoon and evening.

On top of this, enough English teachers had been procured for the week, and there was very little to make ourselves useful on the farm. Then Morgan came down with some dreadful stomach disease, and I soon followed after. This is not good when you are sleeping in a bamboo hut/furnace with unsantitary bathrooms outside.

We decided to pack up, slam to lopramide, go south to Vientiane, get a room with AC and cable, and not leave until we were better. 150km on a local bus took 5 terrible hours. Running a fever, I could not lean back because the bench seated ended at my mid-back. Despite my repeaed attempts to crush her fingers with my shoulder blades, the woman behind me seemed to think it was ok to use my seat as a headrest, her knuckles digging into my ribs.

We finally got to Vientiane, found a hotel, and collapsed at noon. Three hours later we awoke to bed bugs feasting on us. We left in a hurry, fortunately not having paid yet, and found a nicer hotel. Alas, history was doomed to repeat itself, and Morgan discoverd a second infestation at 1:30 am the next night. Clearly these bugs had been living in the bed frame for quite some time, yet the hotel had the gall to blame us. They also had no other rooms, so Morgan slept the rest of the night on the floor and I just read in a chair. The next morning we booked into the most expensive hotel of our SE Asia trip, following a thorough, headlamp-aided bug sweep.

Eventually we recovered from our stomach ailments (thank you, Ciprofloxacin), but we were at the end of our rope. Both of us had been reduced to tears, and it was clearly time to go home. The reality was, it had been time to go home for some time. When we got to a new place, we were no longer motivated to explore, see the sights, or interact with the people. That being the case, it was ridiculous to continue with the trip. We called United, paid an exhorbitant amont of money, and moved our flight up three weeks. It was the right decision.

It was the worst week of our entire trip, the only positive being that we got to watch some of the Olympics. When watching the winter Olympics from a sub-tropicalcountry is the highlight of your week, you know its bad. That was 10 days ago, and much has hapened since, but we are still ready to be home.

Like I said, I promise to blog about the good stuff too!

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Our plans to volunteer in Vieng Vian, 6 hours south of Luang Prabang, were falling apart. Having no reply from our destination, an organic mulerry farm and school, we decided to scrap our plans to spend two weeks there and head north. But how far? For two days in Luang Prabang, our plans changed constantly.

One hour north on the Mekong is joined by the Nam Ou river. This river flows from the northern most reaches of Laos, and is (usually) passable by boat most of the year. We decided to head up the river, and turn around when we felt like it. Some may think us crazy to get on another boat, but don't worry: this one was smaller and less comfortable!


With 8 other travelers on board, we headed back up the Mekong, turning onto the Nam Ou. 30 more minutes upstream we head our first problem. The river was two shallow, so we had to get out and push! Most of you will not be surprised to hear that I was the first one out of the boat, extremely excited at the prospect of using a little manpower.


The rest of our day was long, and uneventful, but incredibly beauftiful. Packs of naked 3-5 year old boys would run to the riverside and dance, wave, or throw thmselves into the river to say hello! It was quite the spectacle. The mountains began to narrow at several points, and the limestone cliffs were spectacular. We weaved through the rapids and spotted encampments of people fishing, washing, harvesting riverweed, or panning for gold. People would smile and wave, especially children, who would shout "SABAI-DEE!" and wave with both hands.


We arrived in Nong Khiaw and were astounded by the beauty as we walked over the bridge. The "highway" that cuts through town is barely a two lane road, but continues 16 hours (I don't know the conversion in km or miles) to the Vietnamese border. Cars, buses or motorbikes only roll by every 5 or 10 minutes during daylight, then stop altogether when it gets dark. We ate a ig meal, and crwaled into our bungalow wearing all of our clothes to endure a cold night.

In the morning we went to check out the Pathok caves, where the local Lao lived for 6 years during the Vietnam war. Vietnamese soldiers traveled to the south on the Lao side of the border, so the United States basically bombed the country the pieces. Some cities were completely and utterly destroyed. Caves like these exist all over the country, as they provided the only hope of safety for villagers.

At the ticket hut three boys were playing soccer, so I stepped into the goal with a "bring it on" pose, and the kids took shots at me for a while. Then, with a well timed "made you look" ploy, I stole the ball and a game broke out. It was great fun, and we learned how to count to ten in Lao. When we finally walked up to the caves, Morgan noticed a group of 3-5 year olds walking down the path towards us. They walked straight into the fields and started working! It was shocking to us, but in small Lao villages children begin to contribute as soon as they are old enough to swing a machete. Of course, they were not bent over and slaving away, they combined play with their gathering of veggies and fruit, but it was still a crazy site for us.


That afternoon we walked up a bath to a minority village. There are hill tribe villages all over Lao, many of them Hmong, a minority group that helped the Americans during the war, and in turn was greatly persecuted. Things seem to be ok now, though. It was great just to walk around a part of the country that was both beautiful and not overrun with falang (foreigners), though there were still a few of us around.


We had a decsion to make. Continue upstream all the way to Phongsali, taking two more days of boats, or head back down and continue on our path? In the end two factors made up our mind. First we would leave Nong Khiaw with a great memories, not disapointed a bit. Secondly, it was quite cold. We grabbed a bus back to Luang Prabang yesterday.

Tomorrow we head south, but I am on a mission to get off the beaten track again before we leave this country!