Thailand islands, beaches, and parks part 2

After a short break in Surat Thani, we headed out at sunrise towards the Ko Samui ferry, aiming to catch the 11am one. It was a stunning quiet ride through palm groves and marshland. A few muddy dirt tracks after the recent rain, but all good. Some of the local dogs chased us a bit, but we’ve found that our super loud horns we picked up in India seem to give them pause, and so far none have gotten anywhere near enough to feel threatening.

Ko Samui

We waffled about whether we should even go to Ko Samui at all because it’s super touristy and more expensive, but we finally decided to give it a few days so we could chill on the beach some more and also we needed to get our visa extended, and Ko Samui has one of the better immigration office to get this done at.

We made great time on our ride and got to the ferry before 10am. We said Ko Samui at the ticket booth, and they rushed us onto a boat (“2 minutes!” they said). Only after we got onboard did we realize it was going to the wrong port on Samui, so we ended up having to cycle 25km more through another rain storm once we arrived. But, we made it and got a decent last-minute deal on a bungalow on the beach and enjoyed some more leisure time.

I probably had too much beer…

More fire shows on the beach.

Busy beach at sunset…

Ran into a friend and her wife on their honeymoon who I met on the AIDS/LifeCycle bicycle ride over 7 years ago! So random and awesome! The love bubble continues worldwide!

It’s that kind of place, I guess. Who washes their feet in the toilet??? Gross!

This kitty is living the island life.

We actually had an amazing hamburger on Samui. I almost always eat local food when I travel, but Samui is so touristy anyway, it’s hard to find the really local stuff, though we did find a food steamed pork bun for breakfast and a decent night food market.

Who wants a rainbow unicorn pool floaty?

Thailand’s visa system is so complicated and always changing. Here’s the latest on the allowed extensions. They walked us through the forms, photos, and passport copies needed.

We also applied for and received our Myanmar e-Visa! It’s much easier crossing from Thailand to Myanmar than from India.

Gulf Coast

After Samui, we cycled north up the Gulf of Thailand coast, roughly following the same route that I rode with an organized ride over two years ago, but stopping to smell the roses much more.

The view from our great homestay in Prachuap Khiri Khan, run by a really friendly and interesting French/Thai couple.

We cycle by temples all day long and decided to check out this reclining Buddha.

This bridge looked impassable until we watched a tuk tuk drive over it. We walked, thank you very much…

Stunningly beautiful teak temple with intricate woodworking.

Can you get tired of cycling by views like this all day?

One of our funky little guesthouses had weird themed table and chairs. Nice cheap bungalows right on the beach but with grumpy staff and stand-offish European guests, though we met four Germans staying there who are doing their own two-week cycle tour along the coast.

I was going to go swimming until I saw this bad boy… I think that skull pattern indicates that this is a box jellyfish, one of the most deadly creatures around, killing swimmers every year. Many of the local hotels have warnings up about jellyfish here. No swimming for me, thanks!

Friendly kitty watching our bikes for us.

I was crazy enough to let Steve rent a scooter so we could drive out to a national park to do some hiking. Scared me to death! I was a horrible back seat driver too… Steve loved it.

It’s quite a hike to this cave, is it worth it?

Sweating like crazy!

Yeah, totally worth it. Damn!! I can’t understand how they built this temple inside this cave. You have to hike over two huge rocky hills (1400ft tall) and then down into this cave, which has no way out except the hole above the temple. So everything was carried in. For scale, you can barely make out a few tourists in the bottom right.

We cheated on the way back and hired a long tail boat to save us the last small climb.

And next we continue north away from the coast and towards the Myanmar border crossing, which we should reach in a couple of weeks.

Thank YOU India 🇮🇳

As we left India several weeks ago, I was filled with many different emotions as our driver was taking us to the Chennai airport. It was bittersweet after 11 weeks of immersing ourselves into an amazing culture that most and some people are hesitant to even consider. Before we left the states and told friends and family we were planning on cyclying in India, all we heard was “good luck”. I sat in the backseat of the SUV that was transporting us to the airport with our bikes packed away in boxes, and felt THANKFUL for what India had taught me in such a short amount of time.

I’m THANKFUL for seeing a culture that works so hard for food, shelter, and everyday life in the paddy fields, hauling hay or timber on a cart, carrying laundry on their heads, or selling snacks and/or drinks at a roadside or storefront in a town or bazaar.

I’m THANKFUL for the food that I tried and stepping outside my comfort zone of a pizza or meat not attached to a bone. I loved the chicken or veg briyana, paneer (cheese) butter masala, chicken tikka masala, prawns malvani, roti, chapati, parotta, and tandoor dishes with butter, cheese, or garlic naan. In Goa or Kerala it was easy to go back to our Western roots and have a pizza or a burger that was most likely water buffalo. In Marherassta, after we left Mumbai, I fell in love with all the veg thalis that were usually unlimited all you could eat and as cheap as 80 rupees ($1.25USD). If there is any place in the world that I’ve traveled thus far and had to be/or wanted to be a vegetarian, India is it.

Happy Cows come from India, unlike I was led to believe when I moved to California in 2000. They are everywhere from the beaches, walking down or across the highway, and also just chilling on a bridge or in the middle of a busy street in Mumbai. In Hinduism, the cow is regarded as a symbol of ahimsa (non-violence), mother goddess and bringer of good fortune and wealth. For this reason, cows are revered in Hindu culture and feeding a cow is seen as an act of worship. This is why beef remains a taboo food in mainstream Hindu and most states throughout India.

I’m THANKFUL for the children putting the big and beautiful smiles on our faces as we pedaled by their schoolyard or through their small village. They would yell “hello”, “where are you from”, laugh sometimes, and if they happened to be on a bike as well, they would pedal faster and try to stay pace with us and sometimes even pass us. We will treasure this experience forever, as the kids reminded us of the innocence and simplicity surrounding us with their LOVE.

I’m THANKFUL (I think) for the local men that would make me feel old when we would stop to refill our water bottles and get more cashew butter cookies at roadside stalls. Some would be so blatent to ask my age or if Tim and I were father and son. I would say instantly….NO I’m 49 and he’s 42. 🙄

I’m THANKFUL that it wasn’t malaria and only the flu bug that I caught as we went through different climates and being able to see two doctors and order a blood test to test for malaria all for under $10 USD. When we started cyclying in India, at the beginning of November, it was as warm as 42 Celcius (114 F approx.), and when we pedaled up to Madekeri and Mysore, the temperatures got as low as 20 Celcius (70 F approx). We never accumulated to the intense humidity either, as we are spoiled being California boys now with very low humidity.

I’m THANKFUL for seeing another beautiful religious culture in our travels and the stunning craftsmanship of the Hindu temples and statues.

I’m THANKFUL for the fellow cycle enthusiast’s that we met it the state of Tamil Nadu that were from Maduri, and landed us a newspaper interview with The Hindu, the second most circulated English-language newspaper in India. We now have new cycle friends following us on Strava and Instagram and hope to see them again one day and maybe even host them in the states when we return.

We spent our Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays all in India, which were interesting to say the least. It was my first vegetarian Thanksgiving and Fall Season without pumpkin everything from Trader Joe’s. We missed being with our family and friends for Turkey and Casserole day back in the USA. Christmas was uneventful but we enjoyed great buffet dinners at the hotel we splurged for in Maduri, and I loved being out of the madness and commercialism of the holiday in the states once again. New Year’s was fun in the French Colony city of Pondicherry where we definitely stood out as Westerners and loved every minute of it. I remember people watching and the locals coming up to us and other Westerners and shaking our hands or giving us a hug……which reminded me once again of “What the World needs now is Love Sweet Love” 💛💙♥️ (a song I like to sing as we’ve pedaled along our journey the last 10 months).

If you ever travel to India, DO NOT try to have a package shipped to you. If you want to send items out of the country, the receiver will most definitely receive them within 2-3 weeks, but if you have a care package of cycling clothes and other goodies, they will still be in customs 3 months later. A lesson we learned the hard way as it tested the paitience of our dear friend Shannon who didnt want me go without pumpkin and tried to send us a FedEx package at the beginning of November.

2017 Touring Stats
3 Continents (Europe, Africa, Asia)
17 Countries (Portugal, Spain, Morroco, France, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, India)
10 different curriences
13,761 kilometers
8,551 miles
366,142 feet elevation gain

PS….follow me on Instagram at scubastevecyclist. I like to photo blog more than I write.

Thailand islands, beaches, and parks, part 1

It has been such a huge contrast riding in Thailand after nearly three months in India. Suddenly there are cycle lanes on many of the roads, well-paved shoulders, quiet country lanes with no traffic, no honking, and only a few motor bikes riding the wrong way against traffic. Life on the road seems amazingly civilized here, and yet I remember how chaotic I thought it was last time I cycled here over two years ago. Perspective is a funny thing.

Phuket Town

Before getting back on our bicycles, we had one more day in Phuket Town, where a friend from California joined us.

We hiked up “Monkey Hill” to get up and close with the nearly-domesticated monkeys that locals and tourists have been feeding for years. Steve loves them, but I keep reminding him that the wild monkeys we see elsewhere can be mean and bite and steal water bottles and other food. A monkey bite means two weeks in the hospital getting rabies shots. But these guys were super sweet and tame, spoiled by endless bananas and peanuts.

Our wonderful hosts at In Phuket House, a budget hotel in Phuket Town, this sister and brother couple went out of their way to make sure we had everything we needed.

Phuket Town is full of Sino-Portuguese architecture.

Also some beautiful temples with crazy intricate carvings.

Chinese red lanterns are a sign of prosperous business; here is one of the more fancy ones in the Chinatown of Phuket Town.

The sun glints off the golden outcroppings on the temples. Buddhist temples feel very approachable and welcoming, very peaceful, clean, and open. We’ve been told that many temples will allow cyclists to camp on the grounds if you ask nicely. We are regretting a bit sending our tents home, as it’s becoming clear that Thailand has some fantastic camping opportunities in temples, parks, and beaches.

On the road to Khao Sok National Park

In Khao Lak is this police boat, a monument to the tsunami of 2004 that killed hundreds of thousands in Thailand, India, and throughout Asia. The movie about the tsunami, The Impossible, was based and filmed in Khao Lak.

Randomly on the side of the road are piles of discarded spirit houses, known as spirit house graveyards. Doing some reading and asking around, what we can figure out is this… When Thais build a house on some land, they also build an elaborate miniature house called a spirit house, to appease the spirits whom they are displacing from the property. The spirits take up residence in this house and don’t bother the people living in the main house. When you need to discard a spirit house, there’s a very complicated and elaborate ritual that has to take place to keep the spirits happy (usually involving building the spirits an even nicer spirit house to inhabit). But some people ignore that ritual and discard of the old house in these spirit house graveyards. These graveyards are seen by many as haunted because the very unhappy spirits living in the houses have been forcibly relocated. Spooky!

We didn’t see any elephants…

Our adorable bungalow in the middle of Khao Sok national park.

We did a little hiking on the trails.

Lots of bamboo. There’s lots to see in the park, waterfalls and streams, but it was too late in the afternoon to start a serious trek.

The landscapes through the park are stunning.

Rubber is a big product of this area, and we rode through endless rubber tree farms.

A huge dam in the park and the hydro-electric generator. A lot of people hire a long tail boat to tour the lake, but it was too late and too hazy/rainy to make it worthwhile.

Dam selfies!

This year will mark Steve’s 50th in July!

Finally we are starting to meet other cycle tourists. This is Tim from Florida, also on a long-term tour.

And a woman from Germany who started at home 9 months ago.

We spent a rest day in Surat Thani, where we relaxed and enjoyed the night market and waited out the rain before catching the ferry to Ko Samui. More about that in the next blog!

I was told there would be cake… (Bike stomach, Thailand edition)

Okay it’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I’m going to start with the good stuff, the food!

Aside from the one order of larb moo (spicy grilled ground pork) that ended up having pig entrails grilled in with it, and aside from the challenge of a farang trying to get spicy food, the food has been unquestionably amazing. From night markets, to side-of-the-road holes in the wall, to street vendors, to fancy places, we’ve been in foodie heaven.


We could both eat shrimp pad Thai every single day, but we are doing our best to branch out and try new things.

We rotate through the various curries, red, yellow, green, and panang. There’s also a jungle curry but we haven’t tried that one yet. Always ordered phet mak mak krap (very very spicy), but usually received phet nit noi (a little spicy)… Luckily for spice lovers in Thailand, every place has “plic nam pah”, a mixture of Thai (birdseye) chiles and fish sauce, and you are expected to doctor up your dish to your preferred level of saltiness and spiciness.

Adding a fried egg on top of your Thai food is a real thing here, and you have to try it!

Every region of Thailand has their local specialties that you can’t find easily outside. In Phuket Town, they are known for their Malaysian-inspired (formerly Chinese-inspired) noodle dishes like the Hokkien noodles at this local place, Mee Ton Poe. And of course, you can add an egg on top, and you should. The noodles didn’t blow me away but were full of flavor and really cheap.

As we were cycling near Khao Sok National Park, a woman with a small pond-side restaurant called out to us, “hello!” I asked Steve, “are you hungry?” “I could eat,” he said. So we turned around and pulled up a plastic chair. It was a small place across the street from a construction zone and several locals stopped by for a quick bite while we were there. They didn’t speak a lot of English but were all smiles and seemed tickled that we’d come back to eat with them. They had a pot of broth boiling, so I pointed at that and said, “soup?” The chef nodded and then pointed at some noodles, three different kinds. We chose the wide ones and then she motioned for us to sit. She poured the hot broth over the noodles and then added chunks of grilled sliced chicken, sliced fish cake, meat balls, and something that was either bone marrow or chicken liver. For condiments, we had bean sprouts, green onions, cucumbers, cabbage, chili flakes, and chili paste (like Sriracha). It was a perfect lunch for 30฿ per bowl ($1).

Another chance delicious road-side meal, we were leaving Surat Thani early in the morning to make the ferry to Ko Samui. There were shops and stalls everywhere with all kinds of food. In this area, it seems to have a lot of Chinese influence, and so there were lots of dim sum places. We stopped at one and the lady there waved us inside and spoke quite good English and explained we should pick out several dishes (all raw, under a glass deli case). I picked these three, pork balls with mushrooms, pork ball in fish cake with carrots, and my favorite dim sum item of all time, a pork bun! The dishes are then put in these bamboo containers and steamed. The pork bun, for me, was better than the ones you pay $5+ each at Yank Sing in San Francisco. (The other two dishes didn’t knock my socks off but were tasty enough for 50c.)

I had this whole “white snapper” deep fried with spicy sauce, and it was delicious! We’ll be leaving the Gulf of Thailand soon, so I wanted to make sure to try some of the fish while I can.

Street food

Surat Thani has an excellent night market, so we visited twice on the two nights we stayed there.

These little dough balls of octopus or shrimp are cooked through and then covered with spices and seaweed.

Skewers of meat, fish and meatballs are everywhere. You can choose a sauce to put on top.

Tasty small grilled veggie cakes. Some may have had fish or meat, not sure! You kind of just have to go with the flow and point at whatever looks good unless you can read Thai! I think this would be a lot more difficult for anyone with dietary restrictions.

Seasoned fish cakes on a spit. This time, I know it was fish because I saw “ปลา” on the sign along with a dozen other Thai letters and know that’s “plah”, the word for fish. One woman mixed and formed the fish balls, and the guy (off-picture) furiously spun and moved around the skewers over hot coals to get exactly the right level of doneness, even snipping off bits of char to keep it from burning. We waited 10 minutes for ours, and they were worth it.

The classic mango sticky rice but with colored rice was delicious but a bit pricey at 50฿. Look at us complaining about $1.65 dessert.

Convenience store food

I always like to see what’s for sale in the convenience stores. It’s usually a weird mix of local favorites plus what they think foreigners miss from home.

Sorry but no… We had some amazing cuttlefish pintchos in Spain, but these don’t look good.

I don’t think this packaging would fly in the US. A bit explicit, I think? Maybe it’s just me.

Is it going in or out of his mouth? Either way, is this appetizing to anyone? I do like roasted seaweed though.

Mango lovin’!

Two aisles of ramen and cup o’ noodles, but they don’t have any Snickers bars.

I hope you are enjoying my food posts, I’ll write about our recent travels soon!

Sabai sabai

Ever since I visited Thailand two years ago, I’ve been eager to return, and it has proven to be everything I’ve remembered. It is so good to be back!

Our flight was uneventful, despite leaving from India at 1:30 in the morning, so we got almost no sleep. Again, we swore off red eye flights for good. The good news is, we shouldn’t have to set foot in the airport for at least another 6 months, as we cycle across the land borders in Southeast Asia.

Our bicycles were not on our plane when we landed, but the excellent Thai Airways staff immediately flagged us down with a sign with our names on it, so we didn’t even have to wait around. They had us fill out a form, and then delivered it for free to our hotel 6 hours later, completely unharmed. It actually worked out perfectly because we didn’t need to find a big taxi, and we took a nap to catch up on sleep in the meantime.

Our first hotel was nearby a bicycle shop for a tour company that I used two years ago to do a 10-day supported cycling tour of Thailand. It was that tour that prompted me to plan this around-the-world trip, so I was happy to do some shopping there, replacing my torn and worn out cycling jersey, helmet, and gloves. In India, we wore cargo shorts and a sports tee shirt because we didn’t want to offend local sensibilities against wearing tight fitting clothes, but in Thailand I think we’ll be okay again to wear our more comfortable Spandex cycling clothing.

We then embarked on an amazing relaxing 10 days of island exploration and vacationing, using up the rewards points that we’ve been accumulating on our travel credit card for this trip. We did three very small bicycle rides around Phuket and discovered that the hills in Phuket are stupid steep and the humidity (due to the out-of-season rain we were also getting) is intense. I did get Steve to agree with me though that cycling in tropical rain is super fun, so I think we’re going to do just fine as we get more towards rainy season around May/June.

We ran into two cycle tourists from China on one of our short rides around Phuket. They were also hating the steep hills and were adjusting their derailleur to better shift to their granny gear.

Amazing views near Kata Beach.

Kata Beach Viewpoint

At the Big Buddha there were many monkeys. They were fearless and would try to open purses and even bit a woman. One made a lunge at Steve while he was taking a photo. But yet, he still thinks he wants one!

Next, we visited an orchid garden and fed some birds. This stuff is super touristy, but it’s really hard to avoid the tourist trap places in Phuket, which is incredibly built up and has a huge well-oiled tourist industry, so we just went with it. We will get away from this stuff once we leave the island.

Elephant statues at Promthep Cape Viewpoint.

Wat Chalong Temple at sunset.

We also reconnected with some friends who live here and met some of their friends.

And got a little crazy for a few days on Phi Phi Island.

The drinks come in buckets on Phi Phi. Yikes!

Thai food is my favorite cuisine of all time, and it hasn’t disappointed. Even the mediocre Thai food we’ve had has been yummy.

Som tum, Papaya salad

Pad Thai may be basic, but it’s still amazing, and we eat it quite often.

On Patong Beach (of all places), there’s a beachside restaurant with some of the best squid dishes. I remembered it from last time and returned, and it’s still amazing. We asked for it spicy and it was like a cozy campfire in my mouth, so good.

The crab curry was super tasty but so much work cracking those claws.

Tom yum flavored EVERYTHING!!

Okay, so now we are itching to get back on our bikes. Our clothes are starting to get too tight. One more day visiting with a friend from California who happens to be in Thailand, and then we hit the road towards Myanmar!

Our last few days in India

Well the bikes are boxed up, we have our flight booked, and a driver to the airport, and now all we have to do is wait. And quite a lot of waiting, we have. Our flight leaves very late at night, so we will need to stay up the entire day, try to nap on the short flight, and then get to our hotel in Thailand the next morning, and probably crash for a proper nap in the hotel. These red eye flights suck, but always seem to be the best bang for your buck.

We’ve been making the best of our free time, though.

AuroVelo Bike shop

Our water bottles were getting pretty disgusting. We’ve been able to clean them, but I think we’ve gotten a good life out of them, and they are starting to leak as well. We found a bike shop in Auroville called AuroVelo that agreed to box up our bikes for us. On the way to the shop, Steve mentioned it would be nice to find some new bottles, but that we doubted we could find this French brand, which we’ve been very happy with. Lo and behold, we arrive at AuroVelo, and not only do they have these bottles, but they have exactly 4, two of the same color Steve had, and two of the black ones I had. It’s fate!

AuroVelo did a great job with some minor maintenance (finally got my wheel properly trued after the problem in Mangalore) and also was a life saver boxing up the bikes. We had little hope of finding bike boxes in Tamil Nadu that would fit our bikes, but Sukrit at AuroVelo said no problem.

In case you don’t know, Auroville is an experimental community formed by hippies in the 60s who claimed the desert land as property of the world and converted it to forest over the next few decades. Everyone who lives there commits all of their belongings to the community and everything thereafter is free within the town. I wish we had had more time to explore and understand this unique place.

Thanjavur palace and temple

We took a day to tour the famous palace and ancient temple at Thanjavur, very interesting stuff.

On the way towards Pondicherry, we stopped at Kumbakonam to see the many distinctive temples, which were everywhere throughout the city.

Our driver’s dashboard.

New Years in Pondicherry

We spent our New Year’s relaxing in Pondicherry, an interesting, but very stinky (even by Indian standards), former French colony. It was strange to be speaking and hearing French in India, but it was also amazing to have croissants, croque monsieurs, and other European food on the menu again!

The ocean promenade on NYE was packed with maybe 100,000 people, playing music, games, and enjoying the ocean air. At midnight there was quite a nice fireworks show that lasted over 30 minutes.

We found a new years day unlimited BBQ; you get this personal BBQ on your table and enjoy prawns, chicken, and fish. It was quite a gut buster but delicious.

My birthday

Another year older, and another international birthday. Our hotel surprised me with a cake, and we met a local cyclist from England and his parents for dinner. Nick is here with an NGO Engineers Without Borders, working on technology to improve infrastructure in India.

Mahabalipuram ancient temples

Our final stop in India is at the ancient temple town of Mahabalipuram. There’s a small section popular with Western tourists with nice beach side restaurants and bars, and the 1400 year old temples are quite a sight. We hired a tour guide for a really affordable price and he taught us a lot about the history and Hindu religion.

Butterball Rock, hasn’t moved in thousands of years!

Amazing carvings in the cave temples here.

One of the master sculptors created this life-like life-size cow.

Meditation nook. OM…. The echo inside is very pleasant.

Other stuff

We are really ready to be cycling again. Having to use drivers is a real bummer for us. We get car sick easily and miss being on our own on the road. The trains are all booked up for the holidays, and the bus drivers are on strike in Tamil Nadu, so we have to hire private drivers with big cars that can hold our bikes, so it’s also been quite expensive. Cycling really is the best way to travel!

My Thai practice is going well. I can recognize almost every letter now, though I can’t figure out these damn tones! Still, I can pronounce many words in Thai script, and that already goes a long way, as my primary map OsmAnd is almost completely in Thai!

Delicious cashews we found on the side of the road on our last day of cycling. Each cashew stand had a small crew of people taking fresh cashew fruit, pulling out the seeds, roasting them, and bagging them for sale. Interesting to see the process right there!

Sometimes there is only one socket in our hotel room. I bought a 3-way splitter on Crete in Greece, and it really comes in handy!

I will miss the Indian food, including these Mexican-Indian fusion chips!

Lessons learned from cycling 17 countries in ’17

As we rest and reflect on an amazing year gone by, most of it cycle touring, I started to think about the many lessons we have learned along the way. It was one of the goals of this trip to open our minds to other cultures and different kinds of thinking, and it has. We still have a lot to learn, but here’s a start…

First, pizza is an international food. Get over it, Italy! Yes the pizzas in Italy are often profound, but pizza anywhere is good, whether paneer tikka pizza in India, quatro stagioni in Italy, or feta and olive in Greece.

Next, nowhere is as scary as you think, and most places are safer than the US. We had scary notions about countries like Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, and India. But the reality is that all of these places are like everywhere else, filled with ordinary peaceful people going about their lives. Nowhere did we feel unsafe besides a few scary moments on the road. Meanwhile in the US, there were countless shootings, my former neighbor was shot and killed in Twin Peaks, San Francisco, and we lost friends and relatives to accidents and illnesses.

When you move to a new place every few days, no one notices if you are wearing the same clothes. Unless it’s been too long since they’ve been washed; then they notice and generously and politely offer the (usually free – hey it benefits everyone) use of their washing machine!

Cycling is the best way to travel everywhere, and we have grown to hate other forms of travel. Cycling is good for your health, the environment, and turns an unpleasant transfer into an interesting adventure. We get sick in cars, anxious and bored on flights, and walking is so slow… I would rather cycle two days than be stuck in a car for 4 hours.

There is one place in my bag, and only one place, for my toothpaste. I once tried another spot, but I didn’t like it.

The “optimal route” is never the best choice. People worry too much about finding the absolute fastest or most optimal way to get somewhere or accomplish something, and they forget that there is value in every second of life. Valuing only the end goal is missing the point. We always have more fun cycling 4 days through country and small towns versus 3 days on the highway.

Bum guns need to be a thing in the Western world! Forget those pretentious bidets and fancy Japanese toilets. Just put a sprayer nozzle on a hose and Bob’s your uncle! Why wipe your ass with dead trees and smear shit all over yourself when you can take a little bath instead? So much nicer!

We receive an automatic, but unachieved, privilege in most parts of the world, simply because of where we were born as well as our apparent gender and race. While we can just show up in Europe and be waved through the immigration line because of our US passports (Bosnia didn’t even open ours), those born in India or Thailand have to prepare an application that can take 6 months before they can get their visa. We like to think in the USA that everyone is equal and it is only because of our hard work that we have these opportunities open to us. But that’s bullshit. It’s only due to a freak chance that we were born where we were and look like we do, and flat out gifted these opportunities. At random. A trip like ours is really only possible for someone with these privileges, but travel is available to everyone to some extent. It’s important to me that we don’t squander this unique situation and instead do what we can to equalize privilege in the world when we can.

Bananas are available everywhere! And cows like to eat them too, peel and all. Monkeys, too, but you already knew that. And forget the genetically troubled Cavendish banana; you need to support genetic diversity and try some others as well.

Most people think we’re crazy for leaving home. Many cultures we cycle through would never dream of a trip like ours, and some have no desire to travel at all. The concept of wanting to travel on vacation to “get away from it all” seems foreign to many people because, why is your life at home so horrible that you have to travel to be happy? And they have a point, don’t they? We like to think we have different motivations, but it’s interesting to learn that many folks simply have no interest in anything outside their own community. But, it’s also nice to see a few people we meet be inspired to start to think about “what could be”.

“Clean enough” hasn’t killed me yet, and is one of the least important things I look for in a place to sleep. All I need is a toilet and a shower and something bed-like to sleep on. India challenged us a bit with the $7 rooms and moldy buckets to wash up in, but like I said, I haven’t died (or gotten sick) yet…

The hospitality of strangers is overwhelming. Americans as a whole don’t understand the true meaning of hospitality, and it’s only through our travels that I’ve seen how important and rewarding it is to take in travelers as if they are your own family. We have been treated so well by strangers along the way, offered beds, food, clothing, transportation, advice, expertise, and more. From now on, I will always offer up space and support to travelers who need it. You should too, but I promise I won’t preach.

Never believe directions given to you by a non-cyclist. “It’s flat” is never a good sign. That usually means that it’s less hilly than the mountain next door, just a few 500 meter foothills into a headwind.

Ignore the top 10! All those places are so overrun with tourists that they won’t give you much more than what you get at home. If you just want to be lazy, see a Disneyland version of a place, and get away from your life (see above), then sure, go there, but then consider a) how much you could have saved with a staycation and all the same comforts, and b) why is your life so miserable that you need to get away in the first place? You should be traveling because you want something different. Skip Venice, go to Chioggia to see the canals and local markets. Skip Dubrovnik, go to Korčula for the crystal clear waters and walled town, or Zagreb for the history and cafe culture. I’m thinking to post a “Tim & Steve’s Destination Underdogs” article, but I don’t want to ruin the places we’ve found. Just don’t pick the “top” spots, and you’ll find them too, and much of the adventure is in finding them anyway.

Learn the local language. Sure, we might be lucky to be native English speakers, which is often the universal langauge, but when we’ve spent some time to learn the local language, it’s opened us up to so many more interesting and local opportunities.

Appreciating natural beauty is more interesting than seeing all the man-built monuments. Marveling at something that humans built is a little like navel-gazing compared to standing in awe in a river valley at the immovable mountains that dwarf us. After the first dozen monuments (whether they be churches, temples, buildings, statues, etc), they all start to look the same. Monuments are nice for understanding history, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they prove anything about us as humans except for a desire to leave a legacy.

Bicycle glove tanlines look ridiculous. Especially when the logo of the gloves gets burned into your skin.

Meeting local people and people watching are my favorite activities in a new place. Rather than going to see the major sights, I prefer to find the best people watching spot and hang out.

It’s none of your business what other people think of you. My friend Colin gave me this advice, but it took experiencing the intense scrutiny we’ve gotten during this tour to really internalize it. People may stare, ask questions, and even confront you, but as long as you are doing positive things and they aren’t bothering you, it’s none of your business what they think.

A smile doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere. In many parts of Europe, if you smile, people think you’re crazy. You just don’t smile at strangers there. Or if you do, it may be a sign of superiority. In India and Thailand, smiles take on totally different meanings. Thais famously have 13 different smiles, all meaning different things. As an American, we smile to indicate openness or friendliness, but it turns out it’s not one of the universal expressions we have as humans.

You can still gain weight even if you are cycling every day! I blame Turkey, Greece, and India. We have both been a bit chubbier since then. Especially Steve.

Convincing other people to hate is an unfortunately effective way to gain power. Only those who crave power will ask others to have hatred. Need I say more? Read the news.

It’s okay if your life doesn’t fit into other people’s rules, in fact it’s preferable.

The best experiences are the ones that make you uncomfortable at first. Restaurants without menus, talking in front of 600 cadets, staying with a stranger on CouchSurfing or WarmShowers. They all challenge our comfort zones but are the most rewarding.

There is something magical about seeing the ocean. It’s something I am drawn to instinctively and makes me most happy, and I don’t know why. I don’t like laying on the beach and don’t swim too often, but I need the ocean to be there.

Aside from technological advances, the relative cheapness and disposability of everything we take for granted (clothing, etc) is only sustainable because of the poverty where these items are created. I feel like there’s a fundamental problem with currency when people make $2/day to make clothing that is then sold for $500 a piece, with 52 seasons of style per year.

Money can buy you comfort, but comfort is temporary and too often overvalued. It doesn’t make for good stories, memories, and teaches you nothing.

I can’t poop without a proper toilet. Those holes in the ground they call toilets in some places just make me constipated for days. I guess I’m getting old! Sorry if TMI!

When you only have a few things, each one becomes special. The idea of disposable things becomes strange, and you learn to repair what you have.

However, the popular concept of minimalism is a bit too hipster for me when we’ve met people in India living rich lives with far less than we or those famous minimalists have. We may be minimal in what we carry, but the idea that we are “living with less” is ludicrous compared to most of the world.

Curious kids always put a smile on my face. Cycling by a schoolyard filled with bicycles where all the kids come running out to wave at us, those are some.of my favorite moments on this trip.

We are unhealthily removed from our food chain in the US. So many Americans only know chicken as those pre-cooked cubes of tasty boneless pre-cooked meat sold wrapped in cellophane, or even as just a slab of protein in a bun. It’s not healthy to have such a disconnect with our food source. As we travel through rural regions, we see live animals for sale, fruits, and vegetables in all of their forms, from farm to vendors, and it has really taught us to respect and understand where our food comes from. I never understood the amount of land and human effort required to produce our food until I cycled through hundreds of miles of farmland filled with workers bent over all day long working on that land. It puts those tasty chicken cubes in perspective.

And finally, cows always have the right of way! There just no other way about it.

Happy Year New, what are your lessons from last year?