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Back in the Saddle!

Posted by on Mar 30, 06:19 AM
Filed under , | Comment [5]

Rural China

There has been a rather long lapse of time since my last update partly because my former camera ceased to work and partly because I doubted whether the China girlhappenings of the past four months would be of great interest to our dear readers. Therefore, I will breeze over them as a transition back into the cycling adventure that has just been resumed.

I spent two months in Singapore, the first part of which I spent attempting to tutor a young boy who had sadly lost interest in studying. The project failed rapidly. After that, I lent my hands in the sacristy of the priory at which both Randall and I have spent our holidays . This priory is closely connected with the Servi Domini Orphanage and the priests regularly visit, so we have greatly benefited from this Architectureassociation. In the latter half of December I took the three-night train trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to escape the claustrophobia-inducing proximity of the city and for a break from the Singaporean rain showers that were beginning to drive me beyond the bounds of sanity. I was then able to do some serious cycling to get back into shape and also sell a spare bicycle that my friend Jeff had brought over the water several months ago, and this sale allowed me to replace both my expired laptop and camera with models superior to those that I had been traveling with during the former part of the trip.

I didn’t know if I could handle four to five hours of meditation per day…

For Christmastide I was back in Singapore for a week, where the hospitality of our priests is as excellent as the cuisine, and then I was offered the opportunity to Lakeattend the full, thirty-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in the Philippines, an opportunity that an able Catholic would be foolish to refuse. I would not hesitate to say that this was the most significant month of the trip for me, though it was, like all things most beneficial to our nature, trying. Before the beginning I didn’t know if I could handle four to five hours of meditation per day, though I was not overly worried about the nearly perpetual silence that I and my fellow retreatants would be required to practice. I was surprised to find this amount of meditation not incredibly difficult when evenly interspersed, hour-by-hour, throughout the daily schedule.

Alan is the current holder of the Guiness World Record for fastest trip around the world by bicycle (107 days!).

Spiritually refreshed and strengthened, I headed back to Chiang Mai to prepare for the last leg of the trip. A great deal of time was spent radically reducing my luggage. This I accomplished by selling my tent and sleeping bag, sending home my Coal towntrailer, and fabricating replacements from ultralight materials. I had the materials sent over from the USA, then I cut them to size and did all of the preparation I could before bringing them to an expert seamstress to whom I was referred, and now my tent, sleeping bag and rack-top backpack combined weigh less than my former sleeping bag alone had weighed. I now use a cheap aluminum rack with the backpack on top containing my cooking kit, electronic gadgets, clothing, first aid kit and vacuum bottle. On top of that (I was hoping to be able to put everything inside the backpack) is strapped the sleeping bag and tent in a drybag and a cheap, lightweight foam pad that I have purchased in China.

The farmers of northern Thailand burn off all of the rice paddies and undergrowth in the jungles at the end of the dry season and the air of the Chiang Mai Valley becomes more polluted than many can stand, and I developed a sinus infection. I decided not to do any riding until it had been beaten, and I took a bus to the nearest Blood Orangeborder with Laos. In the town of Chiang Khong lives a British man married to a Thai woman along with their children, and his name is Alan Bate. Alan is the current holder of the Guiness World Record for fastest trip around the world by bicycle (107 days!). So, I decided to drop by his house and say hello, and I was delighted to meet an agreeable, amiable fellow. We chatted for a few moments before I took the ferry across the Mekong River. Here I was, probably on one of the slowest bike rides around the world (the three-year anniversary is only a few days away from the date of this posting), face-to-face with the fastest man around the world!

My motivation to bicycle, iced over by the Siberian winds…

The next morning I began the two-day trip that has become a classic for the travelers of Southeast Asia: a slow boat ride down the Mekong River to the old BellaFrench capital of Luang Prabang. The town itself is interesting and lovely but just as the historical places in most of the Communist/Socialist countries that I have visited it has a rather strange, overly veneered feel, as though it’s more of a dead showpiece than a place where society continues to ferment. There is also a decidedly large social chasm between the demographics of the tourists and the locals with very little overlap, whereas in Thailand foreigners and locals shop at the same places and often eat at the same establishments.

I took a 21-hour bus ride to Kunming in China, then a 14-hour train to Guilin, then another to Hong Kong, where I bought a new camera and attended Mass, and then Xingpingreturned to Guilin. The cold, damp weather was a shock to my system and I immediately came down with a cold. My motivation to bicycle, iced over by the Siberian winds (the only explanation for the cold weather in these latitudes not a stone’s throw from those of Hawaii), was gone. It took four days to build up the fortitude to begin again to pedal. I took a muddy shortcut to the historical town of Xingping, where I continued to rest for two or three days and take in the otherworldly karst landscape, and then jumped back into the saddle for the last leg of China: to Shanghai!


  1. Your travel journal makes for fascinating reading. What’s after Shanghai? Stay safe and healthy.

    — Bill Swahlen · Mar 31, 02:10 PM · #

  2. Great photos! Thanks for the update. And yes, your adventures will ALWAYS be interesting! More, please!

    — Rachel W · Apr 1, 05:28 PM · #

  3. As always, wonderful photos. Glad to hear you were able to do a full Ignatian.

    Any photos of the Mekong? Eagerly awaiting your future entries.

    — Jordan Viray · Apr 4, 10:46 PM · #

  4. No, sorry, no Mekong photos. I don’t have a single photo from the four months previous to this post because my camera died shortly after leaving China in the fall and I didn’t get a new one until I visited Hong Kong recently.

    No worries, I’ll try to put another post together soon. I have plenty of photos!

    — Andrew Leese · Apr 4, 11:27 PM · #

  5. Amazing journey and eloquent writing. Thank you for sharing!

    Question: is there a way to view your postings chronologically?

    — Chris Sandvig · Apr 10, 07:00 PM · #

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