Monthly Archives: December 2013

A month of cruisers: borrowed bikes in Laos

As you may know, I’ve been in SE Asia for much of the last month (which explains my absence from this blog;) It wasn’t a biking trip–that is, I didn’t go there for purposes of bike tourism or anything–but there was certainly a fair amount of biking that transpired.

Most of it was on rented or borrowed single-speed cruisers like this one:

Nong Khiaw biking(though this one was much fancier–i.e. newer–than many. And check out how it matches my sweatshirt! :)

It seems like most of Laos is single speed country–which at first doesn’t seem to make sense (there are so many hills! don’t people want gears?), but it does mean fewer moving parts. Which I think is clutch, ultimately: Functionality, not performance, is the key word here.

And it’s a pretty big word. Everyone rides bikes in Laos. (Okay, maybe not everyone, but a huge huge number). Check out what the school in Nong Khiaw looked like:

Nong Khiaw school(And that’s not even all of them!)

Every day, four times a day, the streets would be mobbed with kiddos of all ages riding to school, home for lunch, back to school, and home again. Seriously, mobbed. Often they’d ride two to a bike, which James and Sarah did a nice job of demonstrating on our super shitty rental bikes in Vieng Xai:

Vieng Xai tandem(though generally the back person would ride sidesaddle)

But seriously, bikes and motorbikes were by far the dominant means of transportation.

biking home(and when the hill got too steep, everyone would push)

Of course, transportation is a much different thing in Laos than it is in the US. In many places, there’s just the one road, often not even wide enough for two big cars, much less a bike lane. Traffic “laws” are more like an unspoken understanding that people (and livestock) might be anywhere on any road moving in any direction. And I don’t think that most people go all that far. In general, the roads aren’t that great, and I got the sense that most people stick close to home.

Vieng Xai biking(not the main road in Vieng Xai, but not atypical, either)

We weren’t biking much for real transportation either, but I had a fantastic time riding around as often as I could, rocking the single speeds. When we first got to Laos, Sarah reminded me of something I’d written earlier this year about how the kind of bike I have, especially when I’m somewhere new to me, is less important than the fact that I have a bike at all. (You can read that initial post here if you’re interested.) That’s definitely how it felt in Laos. The bikes were, on the whole, pretty rinkety, but it was so rad to be able to ride around and take everything in. Even more than that, it was awesome to ride around on the kind of bike that basically everyone else in the whole country was riding.

I’m super thankful to James and Sarah for hooking us up with loaner bikes in Phonsavan and then being willing to rent bikes with us through the rest of the country. Laos is definitely a place I could imagine going back to with a slightly more tricked-out (with gears!) bike for some super beautiful touring.

(Okay, one last Lao bike picture because I can’t resist. This may be my favorite picture ever, from a school we stumbled across in Vieng Xai.

Vieng Xai school bikies(I also have many more pictures, not all of which are bikey, that you can see here.)

When I got back on my real bike in Portland a few days ago, it felt so big after a month of cruisers, like I almost couldn’t reach the pedals. Of course, it took all of about 2 minutes for it to settle in and feel just right again. I loved the Lao cruisers, but it sure is nice to be back on my own bike too:)

 

Biking in Laos?

Yes, please!

Phonsavang

Just another day in Phonsavan! :)

Little commute things

When I bike home from work, it is often dark. I don’t mean dark merely in the sense that the sun has set (which happens so early these days!). I mean dark, like no streetlights, no reflective paint on the road, no indication of where the road is, no light but whatever I have on my bike: dark, dark, dark.

There is another way I can take, I don’t think much longer, that goes through a residential neighborhood with streetlights and sidewalks and cars–the more urban way, I suppose.

But in all of my time of working at the zoo, I think I’ve taken that way about–oh, 3?–times.

It turns out that I like the dark way. I like the eerie quiet of the woods and the feeling that I’m far, far away from civilization, even just for 10 minutes. I like how my focus zooms in 100% on finding my way, on the experience of biking. I like how every so often, I will come across another cyclist on his or her way up, and almost all of them will say hi back to me even though all we are to each other is a bright pinprick of bike-light zooming past.

I’m certainly glad for civilization and infrastructure and safety–but I’m glad there are still dark places in the world, too. And I’m glad one of them happens to be my commute.

Love letter

Wow. I’ve been all over the place lately, it seems. Not physically, although I have been all over Portland, but mentally. My brother’s been here; my mom came up for a while; the Portland-Corvallis cultural exchange continued; we hosted a massive number of awesome people for a vegan post-Thanksgiving feast. It’s continued to be mostly sunny. I spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone to distant people I love. I’ve run and biked all over this city.

I’ve been so in love with life and Portland and friends and family, and so concurrently scattered all over, so bursting with enthusiasm and energy and so clueless as to how to let it all out in any productive way other than periodically erupting into cartwheels or song or hula hooping (really!) or enthusastic letter-writing or a random run down the block like an un-self-conscious little kid.

In a few short days, James and I make our way to Bangkok and then Laos for three weeks.

Life is so lovely and I am so, so thankful.