Category Archives: News

Tour both the Wisconsin coulee's and some of Minnesota's Driftless Area at the LaCrosse Area Bike Festival.

Enjoy a holiday bike Festival pedaling through the scenic Driftless Area

For eight years, the La Crosse Area Labor Day Bike Festival has hosted all kinds of rides, for all kinds of riders. This year, along with the: family-friendly neighborhood tours, ice-cream rides, mountain biking, live music, challenging road rides, are two new event options.

Family fun for everyone at the LaCrosse Area Bicycle Festival.

New on the 2018 schedule are the Gran Fondo and Gravel Enduro Series, both optional fee-based events. These are collections of fun rides exploring gravel and road routes in the Driftless region. “Enduro” and “Gran Fondo” means that riders leave together on a neutral start, with several sections timed along the way. The Gravel Enduro Series includes two rides over Labor Day weekend and a bonus recovery ride on Labor Day. The Gran Fondo will have two different rides on two days, with varying distances from 30-75 miles. Take your pick — join them on all of the rides, or pick just of one.

Sign-up for the La Crosse Area Labor Day Bike Festival

The Festival registration, most in-town rides, the Open Streets fair, and live music are all complimentary. However, premium festival registration will give you many additional benefits including: text-based weather updates; t-shirts and a special bag of goodies. The Gravel Enduro Series and Gran Fondo are also optional fee-based events with timing and added benefits.

In-town Bike Festival rides

Family fun for everyone on the La Crosse Area Bicycle Festival ice cream tour.

Family fun for everyone on the La Crosse Area Bicycle Festival ice cream tour.

Most in town guided rides are free, except money for cool treats, and are suitable for families, kids, and are easy. They leave from Riverside Park at the designated time, make frequent stops,

Pump track fun at the LaCrosse Area Bicycle Festival is easy and will help you improve your mountain bike skills.

Pump track fun at the LaCrosse Area Bicycle Festival is easy and will help you improve your mountain bike skills.

and have a leader and volunteers to shepherd the ride through the city.

Bike Festival self-guided bike routes

The Bike festival team have designed these countryside routes to be ridden self-supported. Ride your bike alone or in small groups, without the need of a tour guide or ride leader. All mapped routes are designed loops, leaving from public parks or parking lots. Wherever possible, you’ll travel on low-traffic rural roads, or at least on roads with bike facilities. To help you stay self-sufficient, maps show optional stops every 25-30 miles at convenience stores or public parks.

The Bike Festivals Grand Fondo and Gravel series

Join the Gran Fondo Series

Two days with two different distances in two states to choose from each day. Explore road routes through the Driftless region on the Grand Fondo. This type of event will have riders leave together and have three timed sections for the longer route and two timed sections for the shorter route each day. It’s all for fun! Competition is based on your time to complete the sections; your finish order compared to other riders doesn’t matter. Timed segments start outside of cities and villages on low-traffic roads, and end before reentering them. This allows for a great warm-up and cool-down, while encouraging riders to take a break and visit local businesses as they ride through towns. Riders are required to obey traffic laws at all times.

Join the brand-new Gravel Enduro Series

Starting with the Hoka Hilly Hundreds August 19th, this is a collection of fun gravel rides and events explores several gravel and mixed gravel/road routes in the Driftless region. Enduro-style means that riders leave together on a neutral start, with several sections (either gravel or hill climbs) timed along the way.

It’s all for fun! Competition is based on your time to complete the sections; your finish order compared to other riders doesn’t matter. Timed segments start outside of cities and villages on low-traffic roads, and end before reentering them

The Gravel Enduro Series features five events on three weekends and a bonus recovery ride on Labor Day. Take your pick —join old and new friends on the gravel this summer!

Time to make plans now!

Register today for the La Crosse Area Labor Day Bike Festival. Win a Wyatt’s fat bike at the LaCrosse Area Bicycle Festival by registering before August

For lodging options see: Destination La Crosse

Is your calendar is still open for riding this weekend? There is still time to experience riding your bike across the tallest bridge in Minnesota. This Saturday, August 4th, consider the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour.

Still time, ride across MN’s tallest bridge on the Mesabi Trail this weekend

Is your calendar open for a bike adventure this weekend? There is still time to experience riding your bike across the tallest bridge in Minnesota. This Saturday, August 4th, consider the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour. They offer four memorable route options to choose from, all crossing this new bridge with breath taking scenery.

Still time to ride across Minnesota’s tallest bridge

The 2018 Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour has a route for riders of any level and every year the tour routes change to highlight over 20 wonderful communities along the trail. This year all four routes will lead to a slam bang finish at Mesabi Station in Eveleth.

Trail Route Options:

  • Just eight miles from Grand Rapids, take the 71 mile route from Bovey and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the picture Grace.
  • 52 miles from the finish join the tour in Nashwauk, and enjoy the first of 5 rest stops with snacks and entertainment.
  • Buhl is the 3rd start location, with 25 miles to go to finish line outdoor concert and BBQ lunch. Don’t miss out on some of the Finest Water in America, in Buhl.
  • The shortest route, great for all the kids in the family, is just 11 miles from Virginia.  And just a couple of miles away from the tallest bridge in Minnesota!

Spectacular views await you on the states tallest bridge

The Mesabi Trail now crosses over Minnesota's tallest bridge.

The Mesabi Bike Trail now crosses over Minnesota’s tallest bridge.

The new Highway 53 bridge and bike trail on the Mesabi Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota is worth checking out. After two years of construction you can now ride your bicycle, walk or even snowmobile across the tallest multi modal bridge in Minnesota. Now complete, this year the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour will include this section of the 135 mile trail system on their route.

The scenery is stunning crossing the bridge and exploring the trail towns along the way!

The views are stunning as you cross over the Rouchleau Mine Pit on the new bridge. The contrast between the aqua blue water and the red cliffs below are breathtaking. Something you will want to see along with the unique points of interest each trail town offers along the way.

Still time to register, sign up today!

Giving back to your cycling community you can enjoy some great ways to stockpile some good karma and it’s fun!

How to fix a flat tire on a bike is a skill every rider should have

by John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com

One inevitability of riding a bicycle is that you will get a flat tire. With a little practice and planning, you will be able to fix a flat tire and finish your ride, without a problem. To be prepared, you will need a few tools and to practice how to fix a flat on your bicycle a few times to get it down. Read below for a step by step on how to change your first flat.

Learning how to fix a flat tire is a part of bicycling.  With a little practice and planning, you too can fix a tire and finish your ride.

Needed items to fix a flat tire

To easily fix a flat tire be sure to carry the following items:

Pump

fix a flat pump

Pumps come in many shapes and sizes. Most are portable in a jersey pocket or on the bike. Be sure to look for a pump that is capable of meeting your tires pressure.

Tube

Fix a Flat tire tire size

Tubes are sized specifically to tires. Find the right size tube for your bike by looking on the sidewall of your tire. Common sizes are 700×23 and 26×2.1″. Tire sizes above are underlined in red. Tires size may also be molded into the sidewall of the tire.

Patch kit

Fixing a flat patch kit

Patches seal small holes in innertubes. There are glueless versions and versions that require glue.

Tire lever

fix a flat tire levers

Tire levers come in many shapes and colors, but almost all of them include the same features – A shovel shaped end to scoop the tire bead off the rim, and a hooked end to secure the lever onto the wheel.

FIX A FLAT: Getting Started

The first step to fix a flat is to remove the wheel from your bike. Consult your bicycles owner’s manual for the proper way to remove the wheels.

Begin by removing all the remaining air from the tire. Depress the valve while squeezing the tire until all remaining air is out. Also try to push the bead of the tire into the rim well, doing this will make it easier to remove the tire from the rim.

Taking the Punctured Tube Out

Fixing a flat terminology

Tire, Rim, and Tire Lever Terminology

With the wheel in one hand and the tire lever in the other, try to position the shovel end of the tire lever under the bead of the tire. (see picture below)

fix a flat tire lever in action

Once the lever is positioned beneath the tires bead, push the hook side of the lever down (using the rim as the fulcrum) and lift the tires bead. Once you have lifted the bead with the tire lever, you should be able to push the lever around the perimeter of the rim, freeing one bead from within the rim. (See Video)

 

Some tire and rim combinations are too tight to allow this method. If you can’t make headway pushing the tire lever around the rim, use the hook side of the tire lever to capture a spoke. Use a second tire lever a few inches away from the first to remove the bead, the bead should be loose enough to remove easily at this time (see pictures below).

Remove the innertube and either patch it or take out a new one. Before installing a new innertube, run your fingers along the inside of the tire while inspecting an area a few inches in front of your fingers.(See Video)

You are looking for the object that caused the flat. You won’t always find something in the tire, either it fell out, or stayed in the road.

Installing a New Tube

When putting the innertube back in the tire, inflating it a little helps. Add enough air to give the tube shape, but not so much that it doesn’t fit into the tire

 

Start by putting the valve through the valve hole in the rim, then feed the rest of the tube into the tire.

Once the tube is in the tire, begin moving the tube into the rim well.

Begin at the valve, and feed the tire bead back into the rim well. It will be easy to get the bead moved over the edge of the rim initially, but will get progressively more difficult as you get farther away from the valve. It is normal for the last few inches of bead to be the most difficult to seat, don’t get discouraged and don’t attempt to use a tire lever to put the bead back. Tire levers can pinch and puncture innertubes. Instead of a tire lever, use your thumbs and the heel of your palm to force the bead back onto the rim. (See Video)

 

Once the tire and new innertub are reinstalled begin airing the tire up. Once there is a small amount of pressure in the tire, check to see if it is seated properly. A quick spin usually tells you visually if everything is even. (See Video)

If you are sure the tire is seated evenly, bring the tire up to pressure completely. Tire pressures are usually marked on the sidewall of the tire if you aren’t sure of how much to put in. Put the wheel back into the bike, reengage the brake, and you are off.

Summer fun for you and the kids is two wheels away. Here are the best ways to keep your kid's bike working well and operating safely.

Tips and tricks for keeping your kid’s bike running smooth and safe

by John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com

Summer fun for you and the kids is two wheels away.  It a time to bond, explore a new area of the neiborhood and maybe share some life lessons? Sadly, that fun can come to a premature end if your bike breaks down, or worse, you crash. Here are the best ways to keep your kid’s bike working well and operating safely.

How much air should you put in kid’s bike tires

Nothing will spoil a fun ride faster than a flat tire, and most flats are due to low tire pressure. Take a few minutes before your kids ride to help them check the tire pressure. If your kids don’t know how to use your pump, checking pressure is a great way to teach them. When considering a pump, remember you kid’ bike tires work best around 35psi so make sure your pump can easily hit that pressure.

Adjusting your kid’s bike brakes

The biggest key to control is braking. Adjusting brakes for children is a little different than for adults. Due to children’s small and relatively weak hands it is important to focus on the brake lever position before adjusting the brake. Ensure the lever is as close to the bar as possible (see image) and the spring tension on the brakes are as low as possible. You have it right if your kids can easily reach and squeeze the brake levers.

Lubing their chain

A dry chain will wear faster than one that is properly lubricated. Additionally, a dry and worn chain can break under stress. To avoid excess wear, be sure to lube the chain periodically in dry conditions and immediately after wet rides.

Inspect you kid’s bike for bent or broken parts

Every year, bike makers change bike designs to make them indestructible for kids. The following year, kids find new and interesting ways to destroy those bikes. Pay close attention to your kid’s bike for bent or broken parts. The most common parts that get bent are rear wheels, seats, handlebars, and rear derailleurs. The parts that most frequently get broken are brake levers, shifters, pedals, and reflectors (reflectors leave sharp sections of plastic behind). If anything is bent or broken, replace it immediately.

Also inspect tires for wear

Tires are more susceptible to flats when worn. The normal wear indicator for a tire is when the tread goes bald. Beyond tread wear there are a host of other indicators. Look for cracks in the tread or sidewall, threads coming loose, or bubbles in the tire. Worn tires should be replaced immediately.

Are the handlebar grips tight?

As rubber wears and ages, it becomes harder and less elastic. For grips, the softness and elasticity is what keeps the grips in place. Put your hands around the grip and twist hard. If the grip can rotate or move, get them replaced. Also, when a bike gets dropped on the ground the end of the grip can get torn. Once torn, that grip will leave the sharp end of the bar exposed with the potential to cut small riders in the event of a crash.

Is the seat adjusted and tight?

When riding, a stable seat allows your child to control the bike with their hips. If that saddle is loose, it can be difficult to control the bike. Check the saddle by grabbing it firmly, flexing up and down, and twisting. Be sure to tighten it if there is any movement.

How to bike fit your kid’s bike

Kids grow so quickly that it’s important to constantly check their fit in the bike.  Be sure they can easily pedal without their knees going to high. Also ensure that they aren’t reaching too low for the bars.

Proper helmet fit

The final bit of safety for riding is probably the most important. A helmet needs to fit properly to work well. If the straps are too tight or the shell is too small, it will be painful to wear and your child will try not to wear it. Additionally, always check for dents or cracks in helmets. It is possible to break a helmet without crashing on it. Most helmets are relatively inexpensive, so making sure they are comfortable enough for your kids to want to wear them is a small investment to keep them safe.

My second Southeast Asian solo bike tour saw me again crossing the border to bicycle Cambodia. After my first trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2014, I promised myself a return for an extended tour. Fortune smiled upon me and I returned for a 16-day solo tour.

A promised return for a solo bike tour to Cambodia and Vietnam

by Chris Olson

My second Southeast Asian solo bike tour saw me again crossing the border to bicycle Cambodia. After my first trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2014, I promised myself a return for an extended tour. Fortune (and a little savings) smiled upon me and I returned for a 16-day solo tour.

Setting up the Trucker

Setting up the Trucker

Solo bike tour preparations upon my arrival

On this trip, late in November, I enjoyed  one day in Ho Chi Minh City. This allowed me a chance to overcome jet-lag and tweaking my Surly Trucker DeLuxe for the 16-days ahead. I landed in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Many residents continue to use the city’s former name and that use is reflected in signs throughout town. I stayed outside the tourist area, in a neighborhood northwest of downtown.

Attempting to synch my body clock with the time change and 22-hour flight, I drank plenty of coffee and assembled my bike. My Surly frame splits into two separate pieces, equipped with S&S couplers, that makes it easy to pack into an S&S suitcase. With this set up the bike can be checked as regular airline luggage with no additional cost. I spent the remainder of my first day taking in the smells and scenery of the neighborhoods, eating and most importantly acclimating to the heat humidity.

A slow start to my solo bike tour and it was a holiday at home

The morning of November 23rd, Thanksgiving Day, I was on my bike early. It wasn’t long before the heat and humidity began partnering with the jet lag for a troublesome first day. On my previous visit to Vietnam, I had four days of heat and humidity acclimation and conquered my jet lag before I began that seven-day tour.

This trip I had only 18 waking hours before pedaling.  Shortly after I merged onto the busy street winding my way out of Saigon, I was joined by a young girl, about 16 years old, who rode up alongside me and wanted to practice her English. In her school uniform, with badminton racket sticking out of her backpack, we conversed for the next four miles while weaving through the morning rush hour traffic. After 36-miles of extreme heat, traffic congestion and many 30 to 60 minute rests, I realized I needed to stop for the day.

Ba Den mountain at a Mekong tributary

Ba Den mountain at a Mekong tributary

My first night

In the city of Go Dau, I found a guesthouse, registered and slept for 2 hours with the fan set on high. After I woke, the owner’s brother took me by car to his favorite pho restaurant. Virtually all restaurants are family run, this one no exception. I watched as the cook dipped the noodles, beef and veggies in broth for the perfect amount of time before serving. I happened to be the only one currently eating in the tiny restaurant and all seven family members gathered around to watch me savor a unique Thanksgiving dinner.

Hello Cambodia on my 16-day solo bike tour!

Trucker waiting outside the Cambodian customs

Trucker waiting outside the Cambodian customs

Today the air was thick with humidity from last evening’s torrential downpour. After a light breakfast, filling my water bottles and checking my map I was off for a full day in the saddle. Crossing the river and leaving out of town I suddenly braked when I saw waffles, my favorite treat from the last trip to Vietnam.

I brake for all roadside Asian waffle stands

I brake for all roadside Asian waffle stands

One of my favorite carbs

The young man making the waffles made me five and then invited me to join him at a “coffee klatch” down the hill. The two of us were the only men in a group of twelve, enjoying the famous Vietnamese drip coffee for a onetime price of 35 cents. With Google translate as our aid, we carried on for almost two hours before I was on the road again. I still had eight miles to ride to the Cambodia border.

Border crossing at Xa Mat Vietnam

Border crossing at Xa Mat Vietnam

The border crossing at Moc Bai, Vietnam and Bavet, Cambodia was not as busy as anticipated for the largest crossing between the two nations. Alerted to the various border scams by travel journals on “Crazy Guy on a Bike,” I ignored the money changers and visa “helpers.” The entire boarder process took only 30 minutes, leaving Vietnam and entering Cambodia.

Driving a bicycle in Vietnam vs. Cambodia

The traffic differences from Vietnam were immediately noticeable with many more SUV’s and large trucks on the road. The motto ruling Cambodian roads is “might makes right” and cycling in Cambodia is not for the fainthearted. I also witnessed a greater military presence than the last trip. This was prevalent throughout my trip due to political unrest building before the July 2018 Cambodia elections. The sky threatened rain for the last half of my ride and the clouds were welcome friends as they blocked the sun. Not knowing where I was exactly staying each night, I missed my destination town of Prasat. Continuing on I finished my 59-mile day ride in tiny Kampong Trabek.

Motorbike ramp leading to dirty rooms but good food

Motorbike ramp leading to dirty rooms but good food

 

Rats lurking near my room

Here, there were no clearly marked guesthouses, so by asking those in town I found a small bar and restaurant with rooms in the back to rent. The room I checked into had not been cleaned from the last guests so I laid my hammock across the bed. The bedding was used to plug the large gap at the door bottom. I convinced myself, this would keep the rats I had seen earlier out of the room. The proprietors made me dinner and after visiting with them and their two daughters, I retired for the evening.

Onto Phnom Penh with fewer smiles

The next morning, waking to the faithful’s call to prayer, I began riding toward my goal of Phnom Penh. Searching for food and coffee I remembered Cambodia coffee is usually in small cans of Nescafe, thick with sugar and milk. So, Nescafe it was, when I stopped at a bakery for breakfast. As I ate, I reserved a hotel in the heart of Phnom Penh, through Booking.com. Having clean bedding and air conditioning would be a welcome luxury.

35 K to my hotel

35 K to my hotel

The children along the way were always entertaining to watch

Pedaling through the countryside I stopped and watched as three young children herded a flock of goats across the busy highway. Further along roadside vendors began selling interesting foods including: bowls of chicken heads; piles of deep fried frogs; and beautiful fruits. Fruits we could only hope to see in grocery stores in the U.S. Sadly, the most noticeable difference as I came closer to Phnom Penh were fewer smiles, waves and “hellos” from people along the road.

Cambodian Family maneuvering the highway

Cambodian Family maneuvering the highway

Mid-afternoon with 55-miles pedaled I arrived at my hotel. In the luxury of air conditioning I immediately researched the locations of the Cambodian Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. These were my two must-see memorials of this trip. I discovered the museum was only a mile walk from my hotel and the Killing Fields about ten miles. After laying the groundwork for a Sunday in Phnom Penh, I ventured away from the hotel and took in many sights. Along the way I found a tiny coffee shop making lattes that I could enjoy while watching the activities in the neighborhood!

An to get some valuable travel advice

I had also arranged to meet a fellow Warmshowers host from New Zealand that evening. She has been living in Cambodia for four years while completing her Doctorate in pediatric dentistry. Her bicycling and travel advice was invaluable as was her insight of the current political unrest. Knowing tomorrow would be extremely difficult day emotionally, I returned to the hotel to organize my panniers and get to bed early.

Bearing witness to genocide and the need to stay an extra day

This Sunday morning I walked a mile to the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum. A former Phnom Penh High School, the campus was used to imprison, torture and kill those who were perceived as threats to the Khmer Rouge regime. Between 1975 and 1979, over 17,000 Cambodians passed through Tuol Sleng Prison, also known as Security Prison 21.

Approximately 525 non-Cambodians were also tortured and killed here, including two Americans victims, one born in Minnesota. Of the seven people known to have survived this prison, two were on site. Selling their autobiographies, recounting the few stories they wish to share with visitors and urging all to never let this happen again.

Vietnamese roadside cuisine

Cambodian roadside cuisine

Advice on renting a tuk tuk

After spending over three hours at the museum, a solemn walk brought me to a small café for lunch. While dining, I met two European travelers visiting family. They advised me on costs of renting a tuk-tuk, a motorbike pulling a small cart to transport  people. This is the equivalent of an American taxi. Returning to the hotel, I rented a Tuk-tuk to take me to the Killing Fields, also known as Choeung Ek, southwest of Phnom Penh.

It was here the Khmer rouge murdered 8,900 of their fellow Cambodians. This site is now home to a Buddhist Stupa containing over 5,000 of the victim’s skulls. Total, the Khmer Rouge were responsible for a genocide claiming the lives of one in four Cambodians, or 2.2 million between 1975 -79.

Stephan, Soporn and me at Vicious Cycle in Phenom Penh

Stephan, Soporn and me at Vicious Cycle in Phenom Penh

 

A needed one more day in Phnom Penh

As I headed back to the hotel I realized I needed one more day in Phnom Penh to uplift my spirits.  A day riding free of panniers and discovering the city. I returned to the hotel, then rode my bike and rode along the  waterfront. Entering a vibrant market district, I discovered my destination – Vicious Cycle– a bike repair, rental and organized tour shop. Owner Stephen and head mechanic Soporn, both of Phnom Penh, welcomed me and insisted on a photo. They had not seen an S & S coupler before and thought the engineering was significant. From here I rode to the French Alley Cafe’ where I had agreed to meet the European couple for dinner.

Monday’s city ride and Tiny Toones

Inspirational mural at Tiny Toones

Inspirational mural at Tiny Toones

Planning for my boat ride up the river

My second day in Phnom Penh began hot, humid and sunny as usual. Strolling through the neighborhood I had to sample a few different lattes then back to the hotel where I arranged a Tuesday morning boat transport. This would be a full day, eight hour, speed boat ride up the Tonle Sap River, then across the lake of the same name. With the passage for tomorrow’s journey reserved I grabbed my trusty steed and I decided to try to get good and lost for a couple hours. I saw a fair portion of the city this way. Then, with the help of Google maps I was able to wind my way through the Phnom Penh traffic back to my hotel.

Classroom at Tiny Toones

Classroom at Tiny Toones

In the afternoon, I hired a tuk tuk to bring me to Tiny Toones. This is a school for homeless and at-risk children in a “more difficult” area of the city. Yesterday, when I shared with the European couple where I planned on going, they advised caution. The tuk tuk driver raised his eyebrows as I showed him on my map. The “roads” in this section of Phnon Penh were mere alleyways and it took over 40 minutes of searching, along with a phone call to the administrator of the school to finally pinpoint the entrance.

More on Tiny Toones

Shhort the school’s Administrator, along with K.K. the schools founder met each other as kids in Kentucky. Their families resettled there after fleeing the Khmer Rouge. They returned to Cambodia to help the children in Cambodia who, most likely, were not going to be as fortunate as them. Tiny Toones uses dance, music and visual arts as the common learning thread throughout the school. In Cambodia, families pay for schooling and often cannot afford to send or bribe school administrations for a much sought-after education.

Shhort and myself at Tiny Toones

Shhort and myself at Tiny Toones

Returning to the hotel, I picked up my fresh laundry and met the European couple at the rooftop restaurant of their hotel. Five hours of stories and contemplating the future of Cambodia found me arriving to bed late, with great anticipation for tomorrow.                                     –

A day on the Tonle Sap River

One slip and "tour over"

One slip and “tour over”

Leaving Phnom Penh, Tuesday morning, I aged a year watching the deckhand cautiously nudge my fully loaded bike along the edge of the boat. I took one photo of what I thought may be the last time I see my Trucker. I then turned my back and knew if I heard a splash it was “tour over.” Settling in for a look back upon a unique city I may never see again, I breathed a sigh of relief as the boat (with my bike) left promptly, 20 minutes late.

Floating villages along the Tonle Sap River

We passed three floating villages along the way to Chong Knaes , our destination. These villages are populated by people who fish for a living or transport goods along the river and its tributaries. While occasionally getting fresh air, I did use the opportunity to catch some needed sleep and prepare for the days ahead. Arriving at Chong Knaes, I relived the anxiety of the morning as they successfully unloaded my bike.

Floating village on the Tonle Sap River

A Floating village on the Tonle Sap River

A low tire in a small town

As I wheeled up the boat landing I noticed the front tire was extremely low. Luckily, most Cambodian towns, no matter the size, (throughout Southeast Asia as well) have at least one motorbike repair shop.  The mechanics, boys no older than 12 years of age, filled my tire and sent me on my way after refusing an offer of payment. Chong Knaes is the gateway to Siem Reap and the Ankgor Wat temple complex. The small village is located 16-miles south of Ankgor Wat. I had reserved a room at a “boutique hotel” run by an Australian couple and their French Chef.

Cambodian school on stilts over water

Here I repaired my flat and was directed to the non-tourist area of town where I found dinner, again beef and rice. Watching a soccer match between local schools proved to be the highlight of the evening. I then wound my way through the maze of streets to the hotel for conversation and advice on how to experience Siem Reap tomorrow.

Pedaling the world’s 7th wonder

7th wonder of the world

Main Temple and entrance to the Ankgor Wat

I found my breakfast ready and in the fridge near the hotel desk. The chef had prepared it to take with me today as I planned to leave before dawn. Leaving the hotel I rode through the maze of dark alleyway streets to the main road through Siem Reap. Last evening’s advice included directions to the only building where $36 tickets are sold to enter the Ankgor Wat complex.

A huge area with only six gated entrances

Imagine an area many miles square with only six gated entrances where tickets/passes are checked – I think you have a rough idea of the complex. The entire archeological area set aside by the Cambodian government encompasses 154 square miles that includes forests and small villages. The area is home to both the famed Ankgor Wat and Ankgor Thom temples built in the 12th century by the Khmer King Suryyavarman.

Dieity  statue in Ankgor Wat

The day was cloudy so hopes of a brilliant sunrise over the temples were not realized. The silver lining was arriving before the throngs of tourists to this seventh wonder of the world. These grand temples and stone carvings built with ancient engineering mesmerized me. Here were many tourists on bikes; there are bike rental shops in Siem Reap and no lack of bicycle racks at either complex.

Trees growing throughout the temples remains

I rode the “ring” roads around each complex entering at the main walkway at Ankgor Wat while riding to different ruin access points in Ankgor Thom. Thom looked much more ancient with its iconic trees growing through, around and over the remains of temples, walls and walkways. The vendors here were more aggressive than other areas I encountered along this journey. Most bicycle tourers, I know, travel to meet people and experience cultures. Purchasing souvenirs can become problematic while touring. I did purchase a $1 coffee, the most expensive coffee of the entire trip.

A close shave

After lunch I scouted the non-tourist area of Siem Reap for a barber shop. After making a shaving motion with my hands, a young lady kindly pointed to a shop down the alley. My beard was the longest ever and I had not shaved my head for almost two weeks. The young barber, under tutelage of his father, produced a straight-razor in which he slid a new, long blade. Now I became nervous. The young man proceeded to give a fine shave and really got enjoyment from people crowded around him as he shaved the “barang.” I spent the final two hours of sunlight mailing postcards and meandering through the city markets tasting different foods.

Cambodian version of Danish Abelskiver

I came upon what some westerners would believe to be Danish Abelskiver. Not being able to pass on this tasty treat, made with rice and coconut milk, I bought four. To my surprise each contained either a small piece of green onion or single kernel of corn.

Sweet taste treat - Cambodian abelskivers

Sweet taste treat – Cambodian abelskivers

With approximately 30-miles on my tires, viewing the 7th architectural wonder of the world, receiving a fine shave and enjoying Cambodian taste treats, it was a fulfilling day!

Into the countryside with several coconut stops

Every morning on this trip I have woke to a rooster crowing, even in the hearts of Phnom Penh and Saigon. This Thursday was no exception, though I managed a little more sleep before my tires hit the pavement again. My goal was to be in Stoung , about 61-miles away, this evening. The earlier starts had an enormous impact on my daily riding. The cooler sometimes cloudy mornings allowed me to stay a step ahead of the humidity as it mixed with a high sun later in the day. I also could allow longer, shaded breaks to enjoy a full coconut.

I found, after drinking an entire coconut full of juice, heat and humidity had no effect on me for the next couple hours.

Coconut break at rural Cambodian market

Coconut break at rural countryside market

Another joy of bicycling through Southeast Asia is seeing uniformed children biking to and from school. This morning, I saw hundreds of children riding along the highway waving and shouting “hello!” Early on I attempted to be one of the friendliest tourers on the road, but I stopped waving. During my first three days of riding I came upon the scenes of two fatal accidents that may have been avoided if those poor souls had paid more attention.

Playing it safe around the kids

The distraction of waving and the careless drivers, coupled with no enforcement of traffic laws brings danger to these children. The children are packed together in their own unique peloton, many giving rides to other siblings or friends.

I did not want to see children losing control and creating an accident with highway drivers who do not care. It was along this stretch of road I experienced an oncoming tour bus passing a semi-truck, which was passing another tour bus. I of course, found myself far in the ditch as I saw this happening before my eyes.

Another coconut before finding breakfast

Out of town I realized I had not eaten yet. The coconuts being very filling, I rode to the next town, Dam Daek where I stopped for breakfast. Though I could not communicate through words, the chef made me the most delicious and welcoming meal of the trip. Here the custom of cooks and restaurant owners serving you. Then sitting across from you and watching you eat is a little unnerving and takes some getting used to! Though the friendliness is enjoyable!

Beautiful presentation & delicious breakfast Cambodia style

Beautiful presentation & delicious breakfast Cambodia style

I stopped later on this leg of my journey to enjoy another coconut. Encouraged by two young children, with their waves and shouts I surprised them by my highway U-turn. They could not hide their excitement of this foreigner at their mother’s roadside stand. Though we could not communicate through words, when prompted by their mom, they began to sing the children’s song “Head, shoulders knees and toes!”  This “concert” was captured on my phone and continues to be one of the trip’s highlights.

Trying to avoid the trinkets

Riding into Stoung, I took the first guesthouse available. It was first and foremost a restaurant for Ankgor Wat tour buses. Tourists could purchase items to remember their travels without the bicycle’s conditions of limited space or weight. At this inn, $15 got me a clean room with air conditioning and a fan, though the fan proved more effective. Stoung’s roadside vendors primarily sold dried fish hung on roadside racks.

Riding through the town, I found an unmemorable dinner, passed a group of young monks on their walk back to the Wat and stopped to get a bottled tea for my morning ride. The girl selling beverages from her cooler reminded me of a lemonade stand back home; as she opened the cooler to display her wares I saw a mix of bottled teas, pop and beer. After purchasing a tea and a 10 ounce Black Panther stout from the 8 year old, I made my way back to the guesthouse. After journaling my day, I slept well.

Cultural differences and travel warnings on my solo bike tour      

The guesthouse owner had opened the gate early since I had said I was leaving by 6 a.m. Riding through town, children were already on their bikes heading to school. I made 20-miles on one bottle of tea and a Cliff bar which propelled me to the town of San Kor. Here I ate breakfast at a communal table outside a busy market. Though I am open to trying most any food, the meat in this morning’s soup consisted entirely of intestines. I savored the noodles, veggies and broth and managed to let the intestines fall from my chopsticks to the dirt under the table. Here the town dogs lounged waiting for a morning snack.

Dealing with dogs on my journey

As a cyclist, I noticed dogs along the roads in towns and cities posed no threat but dogs in the countryside would snarl and give chase in an instant. From other cycling travel journals, I knew to be cautious of the Cambodian canines. Travel warnings from the U.S. State Department make it clear. If a person is to travel in the countryside, remote areas or spending a large amount of time outside, getting the rabies vaccine before your trip is wise.

In 2017, Cambodia saw the largest increase in rabies cases ever and the vaccine can only be found in the three largest cities. It was also in San Kor where I witnessed a dog get hit by a truck and just left in the road. I did not witness anyone come to the dog’s aid and it continued to get hit by subsequent vehicles. I can understand a person not wanting to risk their life in these dangerous roadways for an animal that may most likely die; there is a different value and perception placed on animals in Cambodia, than in the U.S.

Smiling stone Buddhas at Ankgor WAt

Smiling stone Buddhas at Ankgor Wat

 

 

 The luxury resort & spa that was erie and virtually deserted

I managed to book a room at a resort four miles outside the town of Kampong Thnor, arriving about 1 o’clock with 60-miles ridden for the day. The pictures of the resort betrayed what truly laid in wait for me. I arrived at an almost vacant, eerie and vast lodge complex. The 200 plus hotel was more of an abandoned office building. I was one of the two rooms booked for the evening.

This building I was in was a half mile from the main office and restaurant. The immense concrete parking lot was covered with weeds and looked like it had not seen a vehicle in years. I told the manager I would not stay here and asked for an alternative. Costing $10 more I was reissued a small cabin that was much closer to the restaurant/office and had wi-fi. I showered away the daily dirt, napped then decided to get an early dinner. Being the only patron in this vast dining hall, the best part of my stay was the food. The feast included a fresh salad with beef and salted crab.

I planned to leave early again in the morning, so lights out at 8 p.m.

Dangerous roads and the bamboo bridge on this solo bike tour

Bamboo bridge from my 2014 bike tour

The bamboo bridge (photo from my 2014 bike tour)

This Saturday morning found me packed and leaving the most bizarre excuse for a resort/hotel ever imagined. I rode around the maze of empty cabins to the cavern of a restaurant. The door was open so I walked in, said “hello” a few times loudly and received no response. Setting the key on the reception desk, I left. A mile away, through the small village and almost to the main road, a motorbike pulled alongside. It was the young manager from the hotel accusing me of leaving without paying.

I really couldn’t get angry, he was probably fearful of having to cover the costs if I got away. Showing him the receipts from last evening’s dinner and the separate paid receipt for the stay, he was embarrassed. He urged me to return for the breakfast included with my stay. If last evenings dinner was any indication, I wouldn’t be back on the road until after noon so I passed.

LBN Hotel, Kampong Cham overlooking the Mekong River

LBN Hotel, Kampong Cham overlooking the Mekong River

The most dangerous ride of my life

On the return ride through the town of Kampong Thnor (or Thma; Thna depending on which map, website or sign was being read) I found a coffee shop for the earliest caffeine of the trip. Two cliff bars later I was out on Cambodian Provincial Highway 71 experiencing the most dangerous riding of my life. The roads had no shoulders and at least a foot of the road edge was crumbling enough to force me farther into the traffic lane. Here again I witnessed a double pass, drivers having no concern for human life.

Though I love Cambodia, this day I knew if I ever returned, I would not tour by bike on this highway. I believe it needs to be said; if you are planning a trip to a destination where traffic/driving is heavy, research that area. The site Crazyguyonabike.org has incredible firsthand knowledge of riding conditions the world over. From my research I knew this stretch was dangerous. Though I am an experienced urban/highway shoulder rider I did not expect the callous disregard for human life on the roadways.

Cambodia’s 3rd largest city

There were two trip ‘firsts’ today: first a youngster who said “hi” instead of hello; and another wearing a bicycle helmet.  Wheeling through areas of logging and rubber plantations, I entered Kampong Cham, Cambodia’s 3rd largest city, from the west. While here three years ago, I never rode through the city, just along the waterfront.

Hitching a ride through the market

Hitching a ride through the market

The bamboo bridge

One of the most unique tourist attractions in Kampong Cham is the Kaoh Pen Bamboo Bridge from the city to the island of Kaoh Pen in the Mekong. In March of 2014, I rode the bridge to the island and relaxed at Kampong Cham beach. This tour, now early December, I saw the bridge in its annual rebuilding. During the Mekong region’s rainy season the bridge washes down river each year and is rebuilt in a Sisyphus type scenario. Splurging on a room at the new LBN Hotel, five stars by Western standards, I spent $36 dollars. The room had a view overlooking the Mekong and its river walk, plus breakfast was included.

The Riverwalk in Kampong Cham was entertaining, with many dinner options

Saturday night on the Riverwalk offers many food vendors, organized calisthenics, live music, families playing games, strolling monks and only a handful of western tourists. I ate dinner at the Smile Restaurant on the Riverwalk. Smile is a project of the Buddhism for Social Development Action. They train disadvantaged youth in service and tourism industries giving them marketable skills and education.

At dinner I was joined by a 74-year-old Australian of Sri Lankan descent. He assesses Cambodian projects being funded by German banks and reports if the investments are attaining the desired goals. Foreign investment in Cambodia is everywhere. Many corporations and countries are attempting to gain a toehold of influence in this poverty stricken and increasingly graft run country.

Returning to my hotel, my locked bike had been brought inside by the 24 hour hotel guard. Most places I stayed allowed me to bring the Trucker inside for the evening though those that did not had a 24-hour guard watching customer’s motorbikes. It was there the Trucker was snuggled under the watchful eye of the guard on duty.

My last night in Cambodia on my solo bike tour

On my last Sunday in Cambodia, after a delicious omelet in the hotel and a final 40-minute ride through the city, I turned east and rode the Kizuna Bridge over the Mekong River. The Kizuna is one of many bridges funded by Japan. This evening’s destination was Kraek and today I encountered three Khmer weddings.

After inquiring, I understood these Khmer celebrations usually last three to four days with music and food throughout. The music was earsplitting, I could hear noise three miles away before reaching the party. The wedding rental business must be one of the busiest and profitable in Cambodia. The sad reality is the amount of trash generated, abandoned at the roadside with no infrastructure to collect it.

Still noticeable remnants of  the “American” War with Vietnam

The road continued in its narrow and crumbling state, though undulating rollers, which were welcome from the flat terrain so far on this trip. Finding tonight’s guesthouse I unpacked, reorganized and embarked on a ride through the town. This area of Cambodia saw years of conflict during the “American” War with Vietnam and the subsequent invasion and occupation by Vietnam in 1979 to overthrow the Khmer Rouge.

Returning to the hotel room I began noticing what looked to be dark cracks along the walls and floor. Upon closer inspection, it seemed every ant in Kampong Cham Province had found its way to my room lured by a stale piece of baked good I had placed in the wastebasket. Doing my best to secure my remaining food, I brought towels from the guesthouse desk to wipe up and rid the room of what ants I could.

This meal did NOT go to the dogs

This meal did NOT go to the dogs

 

 

 

Dinner with dogs

For dinner, I strolled along the highway to find the only open restaurant.  Inside large tables, with pots placed in the middle, were chunks of burning wood to cook your meal. I was supplied with gray marinated beef and numerous vegetables by the young couple running the place. I was soon joined by the town canines who were not interested in competing with me for the food at my table. They had their dinner from the remains on the table next to me.

It is really an experience to see a dog eating at a table next to you while the proprietors don’t make a move to get them off the table or out of the restaurant. I returned to the hotel by 8, journaled my day and fell asleep.

Crossing back into Vietnam on my solo bike tour

Waking Monday morning I was itching and covered with mosquito bites. I didn’t remember swatting the little buggers during the night, but had the bumps to show for in the morning. The past few days I had noticed more mosquitoes, but this last evening was crazy. I am glad I took the malaria pills and Japanese encephalitis vaccine, before this trip.

Trucker waiting outside the Vietnamese customs

Trucker waiting outside the Vietnamese customs

I love riding in the early mornings here, children going to school, proprietors setting up shop and families sharing breakfasts at small roadside restaurants. My goal this morning was to arrive early at the border crossing as I entered back into Vietnam.

Passing through customs leaving Cambodia

Rolling up to the border I was able to rest the Trucker against a rail and walk to an open customs window. The Cambodian guards were having difficulty with their retina scanner. After 30 minutes of trying one, then another scanner, they finally found one that worked to their satisfaction. I refused to place “extra funds” in my passport receiving a cold stare as I handed it over. Locals lining up behind me had either U.S. dollars or Cambodian Riel peeking out from their passport as a way to ensure their border crossing.

Approaching the Vietnam customs, I locked my bike outside and walked through a huge building; more of symbolic puffed chest toward Cambodia than a practical government building. I took the long walk through this port of entry. Not seeing a soul, I passed the official passport check station and walked right up to the guards at the exit.

These guards panicked, alarmed that I had strolled right through to them, without being stopped by the custom official and having my passport stamped. As one guard escorted me back, the other was yelling for the person responsible for monitoring passports and missing me. Five minutes after handing over my passport, I was back at the exit station. The two guards there scrutinized my passport, since they had nothing better to do.

Back in Vietnam

Returning to the front of the building, I grabbed the Trucker and rode the 100 odd yards to the exit where yet another customs official scrutinized my passport. All cleared and back in Vietnam, I tucked away my Cambodian Riel and American Dollars and returned the Vietnamese Dong currency to my wallet. Though it is illegal for the Vietnamese to accept dollars, when paying for larger ticket items like hotel rooms, they will quietly accept it.

It could have been a marriage with coconuts as the dowry?

Today’s 62-miles were uneventful; keeping an eye on the traffic while dodging puddles from last evening’s rain. I did stop twice for coconuts, I swear they have an ingredient that rejuvenates, like no other. The second stop was run by a mother and her two adult daughters. This mother was very serious about me returning to the states with one of her daughters and hope of an immediate wedding.

After emphatically stating “NO” three-times I was back on the Trucker and gone. Riding through the large city of Tay Ninh, gateway to Ba Den mountain, I pondered whether to stay for the night or keep riding. Ba Den Mountain was used as a signal post by American forces during the war and is now an amusement park complete with vendors, rides and a tram to the top of the mountain.

Setting my sights on a guesthouse I had stayed at 11 days prior

Tay Ninh is also home to the Cao Dai Temple.  This religion was founded here in 1926 and is formally known as “The Great Faith [for the] Third Universal Redemption”. The temple is adorned with paintings of the “Left Eye of God” the symbol of Caodaism. It was still before noon so I set my goal as Go Dau with hopes of staying at the same guesthouse I had 11 days prior.

When I arrived, the owner was very happy to see me and chatted again about his time in the U.S. He rode his bicycle with me to the restaurant.  It was then I learned his brother had taken me to his favorite pho restaurant, not the one having a business arrangement with the guesthouse owner. During my fantastic dinner of shrimp fried rice, we were hit with a sudden severe storm which knocked out power to most of the town. This must be a common occurrence since all along the street generators fired up and it became business as usual.

Returning to the guesthouse (in the dark, rain and without a shoulder against oncoming traffic on the divided highway) I was met by the owners brother in law and a friend from Cambodia.  They proceeded to tell me, as I quietly listened, all the problems with the American government today. After an hour of international insight I called it an evening and retired to my room.

Shopping and breathing in Saigon on the last leg of my solo bike tour

Enjoying acclimation to the heat, humidity and exhaust day 14 was my last planned day to ride. As I repeated the tour’s first day of mileage and divided highway, I happened upon a grand opening. Here at the 7-mile mark a new combination coffee shop/ motorbike/car wash just opened. This idea makes great sense in Vietnam. Ready to pay for my latte, the woman behind the counter thanked me profusely for coming. She insisted my morning caffeine was free as long as I came back some time – I just might!

Vietnamese street vendor making savory omelettes

Vietnamese street vendor making savory omelettes

Closing in on Saigon, I rode past the usual grouped retail shops. A stretch of landscape shops would give way to a mile of woodcarving artisans, then motorbike repair shops followed by pharmacies. No rhyme or reason that I could tell, though it seems to make it easy to negotiate and fix prices. The shops I hated to see were the ones selling caged wild birds sold as pets. It was along this group of shops I saw a man on a bike with a platform on the back selling beautiful birds of prey, each tethered to a board.

Bicyclist with cages mounted on back selling beautiful birds.

Bicyclist with cages mounted on back selling beautiful birds.

The air thickened as I rode into Saigon

Each mile closer to the city center saw the air thickened to the point of being able to grab it, a sickening exhaust-humidity cocktail. The buff across my face was worth its weight in gold.  After a fried rice breakfast in Cu Chi, I stopped for another coffee. It was here the young lady behind the counter brought me three large green teas as I chatted with the owner and drank my coffee. As I said goodbye to them both, she brought me another bagged tea to hang from the handlebars!

With every Vietnamese coffee comes a side of iced green tea

With every Vietnamese coffee comes a side of iced green tea

After checking into my hotel in the early afternoon, I immediately took all my dirty clothes over to the laundry. By the early evening they would be cleaned and folded for $3.50. With time to relax, I walked to a fancy new restaurant serving Vietnamese and Cantonese dishes. The shiitake soup was wonderful and the entire staff was dressed in Santa or elf outfits for the approaching holiday.

Then I returned to Amy’s coffee a short walk from the hotel. The owner seemed surprised to see me again. He immediately brought an iced coffee without asking. Though I paid for it, my system could take no more caffeine today. Instead I ordered apple juice and was very happy with that as my nightcap.

The last two days of my solo bike tour were spent walking Saigon

Leaving the Trucker behind, I put on over nine miles walking on Wednesday as I made my way to Ben Tanh Market and other sites around Saigon. I purchased a few items to bring home, ate well throughout the day and arrived back at the hotel during rush hour. To show others what the road was like at this hour, I donned my helmet and jumped on Trucker to record an 11-minute video. Here I am, with a Go Pro attached to my helmet, riding from the hotel, down the neighborhood street to the main road and around the huge roundabout at rush hour.

Later, I washed the evidence of Cambodia and Vietnam from the Trucker’s frame and let it drip dry overnight. Tomorrow I will take it apart to be packed for my flight back. If the stars align, I will see it in Chicago when I arrive.

Shopping for tea and packing

Thursday morning scouted for various teas to enjoy back home and was pleasantly surprised to find lotus flower tea. Soon after, the bike came apart and the components were smuggled past the front desk and into my room where I could pack without a crowd gathering to watch. Re-wrapping fragile components with bubble wrap and padding the corners of the cloth case with clothing proved again to be a tight fit. Then it happened!

The cloth along one side of the zipper on the top side of the case ripped the entire length. All I could do was finish packing and grab a roll of canary yellow duct tape (it’s in my DNA, I carry duct tape) and proceed to reinforce the case. Now the hope was airport security would not decide they need to open it?

I challenged myself the rest of the day to find different street vendors and sample their foods. One reason being, I may not return to Vietnam for a while and the other is to spend my remaining dong since it won’t go far in the states.

With gear loaded, 22 hours later I was back in the U.S.

With my new Deuter backpack I purchased in Saigon, as my carry on, I went to bed early preparing for a 5:15 a.m. taxi to the airport. Checking in for the flight to Narita Japan, the counter agent did not weigh either my cased bike or my checked bag so no worries there. I also watched security through a propped door as they x-rayed my bag. I believe the protocol here was to wait until a passenger’s luggage was screened and if all was well you could proceed to the gate.

My bags passed and 22 hours later I landed at Chicago ‘s O’Hare for an evening with my daughter and son-in-law. Now for the last leg of my journey, a five hour drive home, from Chicago to Minneapolis for the Holidays.

Practical details and tips for planning a Cambodian journey

Think I travel light? The joke with all my past travel companions is “where is he hiding the kitchen sink?” Being called a pack mule doesn’t begin to describe me; never a boy scout yet always prepared.  This trip I attempted to turn a new leaf by limiting the items I packed.  The following items were not necessarily used, but carried with me.

But first let me start with:

The Trucker crank section nestled in the case

  • The Surly Long Haul Trucker; 26” wheels; outfitted with S & S couplers , Dynamo front hub and Sinewave converter for devices.
  • An S & S carrying case for the bike. So I can check it in as normal airline baggage -using: bubble wrap, pipe insulation and tennis balls to slide over frame ends.
  • Surly Pannier racks; front, rear and handlebar Ortlieb bags.
  • Coupler wrench & thread lube; 3 extra spokes; extra tubes; tire levers; patch kit; mini pump; extra brake and shifter cables; head/tail lights; helmet; bell (a must for answering the school children’s bells); bungee cords. Chain lube; extra chain links; adjustable wrench; spoke wrench; needle nose pliers; swiss army knife; and Allen wrench/screwdriver multi tool.
  • Android Nexus 5; IPhone ; Go Pro Hero and 64 GB SD cards; Charging cords/adapters
  • Keen sandals; pair of Crocs; pair wool ankle socks; 2 pairs padded shorts ; pair no pads; underwear, 1 pair long pants (zip offs); 3 long sleeve shirts , 3 short sleeve; 1 wool beanie; 3 Buffs (can’t live without ‘em); 1 yellow windbreaker.
  • 6 epi-pens; malaria pills; z-pack, ibuprofen; Tylenol arthritis, Pepto Bismal, Neosporin ointment, toothpaste/brush/floss; liquid soap; hand sanitizer; deodorant; Misc. bandages/gauze pads/tape/Q tips; Katadyn Micropur tablets/ 2L Hydrapak container; washcloth/ towel; 50 SPF sunscreen; toilet paper
  • Small mirror; clothesline; spork; ENO hammock; Chimes ginger chews; Nuun electrolyte tablets. Clif bars; G.I. can opener (the same one used on my first tour at 12 years old), hardcover journal/pen; People for Bikes stickers ( given to children in lieu of candy); 5 Sea to Summit various sized dry bags and back pack; Ziploc bags; duct tape; sunglasses and bifocals
  • Passport w/ extra photos; medical information; decoy wallet; waistband pouch for money and passport; 9 million Vietnamese Dong (about $400); $400 U.S. cash

Reservations along the way

The only reservation I made before I left Minneapolis was for the Minh Chau Hotel in District 10 in Saigon. They had done a superb job 3 years prior and though the ownership had changed, the service was wonderful. Not a fancy hotel by any standards but a large room with a queen size bed and full bath was $19 per night.

This was about 3 miles from downtown Ho Chi Minh City where the costs climb slightly but the rooms, beds and baths shrink exponentially. The other plus was the Minh Chau was in the heart of a neighborhood; coffee shops, restaurants, 2 schools, laundries and morning markets made for an authentic, day-to-day vibe. The day after I arrived, I booked my final two nights here and they agreed to store my bike case and packing materials for my return.

Google Maps

I relied on Google maps as I looked ahead each day, searching for guesthouses or if the city was large enough, hotels. In the larger cities, I would scan for the words “guesthouse” or “hotel” as I rode through town. Only once I saw no indication of places to stay on Google maps or Booking.com. Of course, this was also the small town that most people waved me away after my game of charades to find lodging.

Lodging

Guesthouses and hotels outside the large cities of HCMC, Phnom Penh and the tourist city of Siem Reap are rented by the hour, 2 hour or night.  Most family living is multi-generational in a 2-3 room dwelling with extremely little privacy. These places offer an inexpensive getaway to couples looking to be alone. Sadly, this pricing and availability also enable sex traffickers and tourists to continue victimizing Southeast Asians.

In Phnom Penh

I spent 3 nights at the luxurious Mekong Dragon Boutique Hotel at $39 per night.  This booking.com reservation was made from the road 5 hours ahead of time; they had all my information and an iced mango juice (in a martini glass!) as I walked through the door. This hotel was close to the sites I was to visit the following day and enabled me to experience the true feel of Phnom Penh city life.

Approaching Siem Reap

I made reservations for a small hotel and received the Booking.com confirmation number.  For $16 a night, I stayed 2 nights in the clean and friendly Ankgor Beauty Boutique Hotel, 2 miles south of Siem Reap happily hidden in a maze of alleyways and roads.

The Samrith Hotel outside the small city of Kampong Thnor was questionable?

The booking site sorely misrepresented this location as a luxury resort & spa though it was eerie and virtually deserted. Booking.com also allowed me to make a reservation for a hotel that closed six months earlier. They notified me two hours later to make different plans.

The luxury LBN Hotel to the the Mekong hotel

Three years ago in Kampong Cham, the Mekong hotel was one of a handful of places to stay overlooking the Mekong River. I stayed here and marveled at the large construction project next door. Fast forward to this trip and that project is the luxury LBN Hotel, the tallest building in Kampong Cham. I stayed for one night at $36 with a delicious breakfast included.

If you decide to visit Vietnam or Cambodia, there are plenty of places to stay and sleuthing to discover them takes little effort. You may be surprised at their definition of “clean” but the hospitality more than counters most issues that may arise.

As a cyclist or a safer driver you become aware of what drivers of both bikes and cars are doing and learn how to keep yourself safe - observe and practice.

Being a safer driver is easy with a few lessons learned on your bike

by John Brown, HaveFunBiking

Riding a bike is both a fun sport and mode of transportation if done safely. One of the main concerns while riding your bicycle when traffic is around you is, what to do? As a cyclist, you become aware of what drivers of automobiles are doing and how to keep yourself safe. Now, what happens when you get back in your car? Take some of the lessons you learned while riding your bike and use them to become a safer driver of an automobile.

Know where you are as a safer driver

When you are driving in your car, safety concerns change with the surroundings. Traffic signs like deer crossing, children at play, and school zones offer a great indication that you should be paying close attention to what’s off the road as well as what’s on it. In residential areas, be aware of cyclists on sidewalks, in driveway as well as on the road. Pay particular attention to children as their behavior can be a bit more erratic than an adult.  In the case of adults, look for hand signals to alert you to their changes in direction.

Passing as a safer driver

To be a safer driver pay close attention when passing a cyclist. Take the time to do it right, and by that I mean, literally take the time! Slow down, allow the rider to know you are approaching, ensure that the road ahead is clear for you as well as the cyclist and pass at a safe distance. Even if you need to wait a few minutes to pass safely, be sure not to act too aggressively when the opportunity does arise to pass. See new law revisions when passing a bicyclist in Minnesota.

safer driver

A safe driver when passing gives the bike rider plenty of room and you plenty of time to deal with any oncoming traffic.

safer driver

Too little room can force a rider off the road and into a bad situation.

safer driver

Look down the road and ensure you have ample room and time to pass safely.

Turning as a safer driver

Most cyclist will ride to the right side of the road and in doing this they put themselves in danger for cars turning right. To be a safer driver, pay close attention to bike riders on the shoulder of the road. As you pass them be sure to offer plenty of room before you begin to turn your car in front of them. Sadly, many drivers will look forward for a clear road while turning, but not off to their right. This leads to cyclists possibly impacting the right side of a car.

Give cyclists ample room to stop or slowdown if needed.

Opening Your Door As A Safer Driver

Just like turning, when opening your car door be sure to look behind you. Riders use the right side of the road, so when you park on the street, you can do serious damage to a rider and your vehicle if you accidentally “door” them. A moment to look in the rear view mirror can save you and those around you a lot of pain and trouble.

Pay close attention to what is behind you before opening your car door when parked on the street.

Distractions On Your Bike Or In A Car

We live in a digital world and it is difficult to unplug with all the distraction. Please make the pledge to yourself to use your digital devices as little as possible in the car or on your bike. Other distractions can be music that is too loud, children that are excitable (I struggle with this one) or GPS devices. Try to plan your route in advance, limit the digital distractions, and remind your children of the dangers of distracted driving.

We should all hope that the same care we take while riding on our bike goes into our driving habits and vise-versa. Being more aware of our surroundings, more aware of others, and less distracted goes a long way to make you a safer driver of both your car and your bicycle.

Lets Share the Road!

Shoreview offer miles of paved trail to enjoy

Shoreview’s music will have you dancing on your pedals to natures beat

by Andrew Ellis

The trails here, can be your playground for you and your bike in Shoreview  – there’s no where you can’t go. This Twin Cities Gateway community here offers friendly road routes, trails and sidewalks so you can take another bike journey wherever you wish. The city also offers some off road paved trails to get closer with nature and all the beauty the community has to offer. You may even find some smaller paths worth exploring. It’s your adventure and it all starts as soon as you leave your hotel in the Twin Cities Gateway. And don’t forget Slice of Shoreview Days July 27-29.

A perfect vacation headquarters, the Twin Cities Gateway is a cooperative of nine communities including Shoreview and just a few bike friendly miles north of Minneapolis. Here you can enjoy:

Concerts in the Commons

Shoreview's Concerts in the Commons is the perfect way to get a pedal dancing rhythm for your #NextBikeAdventure.

Shoreview’s Concerts in the Commons is the perfect way to get a pedal dancing rhythm for your #NextBikeAdventure.

This summer features free entertainment outdoors at the Shoreview Community Center concerts, starts in June. Each Wednesday the Center features an outside concert with a different band, starting at 7 pm. It’s free, so steer your bike over and get ready to tap your feet.

Rice Creek North Regional Trail

Get close to nature on all the paved trails winding through Shoreview.

Get close to nature on all the paved trails winding through Shoreview.

With more than 50 miles of paved trail (see map) there’s plenty of riding for several visits. Although it is hard to see some trail markings, especially when connecting from a road route to get to the next section, these trails offer many opportunities to take wildlife pictures, discovering the area’s diverse landscape while catching scents of wildflowers. As you ride you will also see and hear plenty of birds of different kinds chirping away. Every once and a while the the trail crosses over the creek and you may want to consider some fishing.

Other Activities

If you want to take a short bike ride over to nearby Spring Lake Park, you can also enjoy the Shorview Sweetroll Skate Park. The SweetRoll is a tier-one skating facility on the north side of the Community Center. The park here includes a wedge, a spine, a fun box, a quarter pipe, grind rails, and a mini ramp..

If you’re looking for a fun way to cool off, you can bike on over to the Shoreview Community Center for their tropical-themed water park in the Twin Cities Gateway. This three-story water slide equipped park features a one-of-a-kind jukebox with over 100 songs ready to played along with a light show that sliders can enjoy as they twist and turn down to the bottom. At the main pool you can also play volleyball and there is even a adults-only whirlpool and patio area.

Disc golf opportunities are always a highlight in the many parks of the Twin Cities Gateway.

Disc golf opportunities are always a highlight in the many parks of the Twin Cities Gateway.

For those wanting a round of disc golf all you have to do is ride over to Hansen Park in New Brighton. With 12 holes, this disc golf course is complimented by stands mature trees amongst open spaces to skillfully connect with the baskets. It’s a great way to take a break from biking while still enjoying the the amenities of Shoreview.

And don’t forget Slice of Shoreview Days

Consider biking to the Slice of Shoreview for a weekend of fun.

Consider biking to the Slice of Shoreview for a weekend of fun.

If you’re exploring the area in July, from the 27th to the 29th, then you will be in time for the communities annual celebration. Slice of Shoreview Days is packed with fun for the whole family. There is live music, local arts, chalk drawing, a petting zoo, pony rides, a carnival, fireworks, and more.

Visiting shoreview with your bike can be a memorable weekend you won’t soon forget.

The Mesabi Trail now crosses over Minnesota's tallest bridge.

Ride across the highest bridge in Minnesota this summer on the Mesabi Trail

by Ardy Nurmi-Wilberg

Did you know you can ride your bike across the tallest bridge in Minnesota on the Mesabi Trail?  Did you also know that on August 4th, all four routes for the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour will be going across that bridge?

More on the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour

Whether you are an avid cyclist, a casual rider or you’ve got the kids in tow – don’t miss this fun. The ride is filled with many opportunities to experience the Best Rural Bike Trail in Minnesota (according the 2013 Star Tribune).

With kid's in tow the Mesabi trail is always fun!

With kid’s in tow the Mesabi trail is always fun!

The 2018 Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour has a route for riders of any level and every year the tour route is changed to highlight the wonderful communities along the trail. This year all four routes will lead to a slam bang finish at Mesabi Station in Eveleth.

Trail Route Options

Just eight miles from Grand Rapids, take the 71 mile route from Bovey and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the picture Grace.

52 miles from the finish join the tour in Nashwauk, and enjoy the first of 5 rest stops with snacks and entertainment.

Buhl is the 3rd start location, with 25 miles to go to finish line outdoor concert and BBQ lunch. Don’t miss out on some of the Finest Water in America, in Buhl.

The shortest route, great for all the kids in the family, is just 11 miles from Virginia.  And just a couple of miles away from the tallest bridge in Minnesota!

After riding across the tallest bridge have your photo taken at the finish line!

After riding across the tallest bridge have your photo taken at the finish line!

The new Minnesota Bridge

Crossing the bridge, 200 feet above the water’s surface, the $220 million bridge is part of the relocation of Hwy 53. This allowed United Taconite to mine under the old highway. In order to connect Virginia with the reminder of the Mesabi Trail heading towards Ely, a 14 ft wide addition was added to the bridge to accommodate the paved bike trail. In the winter, this also serves as a snowmobile crossing.

The trail stretches over 155 miles

The Mesabi Trail is one of the premier bike trails in Minnesota. Currently over 135 miles of this paved trail is complete, when finished it will stretch over 155 miles and pass through 28 communities in northeast MN.

Stretching from the Mississippi (Grand Rapids) to the Boundary Waters (Ely) you will experience a trail like no other. The trail allows you to pedal past pristine lakes, through woods, over rolling hills, wind through bogs and hey, there’s a taconite mine. It’s a ride you won’t forget, filled with historic sites, not to mention a string of small towns with a TON of charm.

One of the best ways to experience the Mesabi Trail is on the fully supported Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour. At $45 for individuals and $90 for a family (kids 18 & under ride FREE), it’s one of the best deals around. Entry includes transportation for you and your bike, food & entertainment at rest stops, a concert & BBQ at the finish and a commemorative t-shirt.

Register online today https://www.mesabitrail.com/trail-activities/tour/registration, and have the ride of your life!

If you think you will exceeded your planned level of endurance through the summer and are looking for a memorable way to test those glutes, thighs and calf muscles consider 'Ride the Ridges'.

As a seasoned summer rider will you be ready for ‘Ride the Ridges’?

If you think you will exceed your planned level of endurance riding through the summer and looking for a memorable way to test those glutes, thighs and calf muscles, consider ‘Ride the Ridges’. In its sixth year, on Saturday, September 15, 2018, the Winona Rotary Club is expanding its annual road tour event. This ‘Ride the Ridges‘ (RTR) event will take riders through some of the most scenic areas in Southeastern Minnesota.  Participants of RTR will pedal into lush valleys riding alongside cascading streams then up into the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Are you up for the challenge?

Bike Routes on Riding the Ridges

The beautiful scenery and the challenging hills make this ride one to remember.

The beautiful scenery and the challenging hills make this ride one to remember.

Choose one of four RTR routes, each having hills, valleys and spectacular views. All routes have rest stops and SAG support!

Registration

Early registration is through August 31, and includes a pair of RTR socks , meal voucher ($7.50 value), rest stops, SAG support, and after-ride drink token at Island City Brewing Co.

The RTR benefits the Winona Rotary Clubs – Feed My Starving Children program.

Visiting Winona

Check here for places to stay, eating establishments and attractions when visting.

What past riders say about RTR

You have to do this ride if you enjoy biking. Great roads, great event!

You have to do this ride if you enjoy biking. Great roads, great event!

  • The beautiful scenery and the challenging hills make this event one to remember.
  • The ride is beautiful and scenic with long flats and some rolling hills. But what makes this event stand out are the wonderful volunteers along the way. They all had smiles on and each one offered us enthusiastic encouragement. The warm and tasty coffee from Mugby Junction made the event all the more welcoming and memorable.
  • Great ride support. Will do it again.  Hopefully without the rain.
  • Even in the rain, the camaraderie of participants and volunteers was excellent. I would ride definitely ride again.
  • Shower after and a vegan option food truck…what could be better.
  • I have done multiple century rides and the spacing, food quality and staffing of the rest stops is the best I’ve seen. Thank you!
  • Ride The Ridges is as good as it gets when it comes to bike tours. It offers great scenery, safe roads, superb organization, wonderful volunteers, excellent rest stops, mechanical support and a choice of distances…….everything a cyclist could ask for.
  • I have participated in many century rides around Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. This was my first time doing the “Ride The Rides” century and it was a treat! It was challenging, beautiful, fun, great volunteers and in the top 3 of all the century’s I have completed.  If you want an awesome ride come to Winona!
  • This was my first organized cycle event. Being from out of town l was a little nervous but i met some awesome volunteers and local folks that made it a great experience well done.  See you next year.
  • Best organized ride that I did this season. Very scenic and somewhat difficult route.  Just the kind of ride that I want to usher in the end of an awesome road biking season. Thank You All….
  • You have to do this if you enjoy biking. Great roads, great event!
  • This is my third time Riding the Ridges. The route is my favorite among sponsored rides. The signage is always clear and the support along the way is wonderful.  Will definitely do it again!
  • Ride the Ridges had the best rest stops and volunteers. The food selection was excellent. The volunteers were extremely friendly. I also loved the HAM operators supporting the ride.

For more places to ride this Fall

See the Minnesota Bike/Hike Guide and the Iowa Bike/Hike Guide.

In Minnesota, at the confluence of the Rum entering the Mississippi River you will find many beautiful turn-of-the-century homes and gardens to tour.

Anoka’s Heritage Home and Garden Tour is enjoyable by bike

At the confluence of the Rum entering the Mississippi River, you will find many beautiful turn-of-the-century homes and gardens to tour. This coming Sunday, July 15th, by bike, car or on foot explore 13 historic neighborhoods on the Anoka Heritage Home and Garden Tour.

The Big White House is century old home on the garden to tour.

The Big White House is century old home on the garden to tour.

A part of the Twin Cities Gateway communities, Anoka happens to be a very bike friendly town. Biking is the perfect way to travel from one historic home to the next on this tour. The locations are far enough away from each other that you may not want to walk? On the other hand, they are close enough that driving is cumbersome. Biking is an excellent way to justify stopping at one of the many establishments downtown and grabbing a delicious treat after the tour.

The Heritage Home and Garden Tour

This year there are around 18 stops along the tour, showcasing the community’s past while flower gardens are in bloom. Also featured this year is the Federal Cartridge Clubhouse. Along with a special pop-up tornado exhibit and marketplace at the Anoka Armory, that had been destroyed in the 1939 disaster.

The Mad Hatter Restaurant & Tea Room, in the Woodbury House, is another home worth seeing.

The Mad Hatter Restaurant & Tea Room, in the Woodbury House, is another home worth seeing.

As you tour this river community admire some of Minnesota’s most beautiful homes and gardens up close. From the historic neighborhood of Slabtown to Christian Hill, discover how they got their names. Hear the stories of the first occupants who lived there.

One of the homes featured on tour is the Ticknor Hill Bed and Breakfast, built in 1867 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. . Another home The Mad Hatter Restaurant & Tea House, located in the Woodbury House with great gardens, is also listed on the National Registry Historic Places. These are just two of the many homes on this tour that you will enjoy seeing.

All participants receive a tour booklet, which contains a map and addresses for you to easily  find the charming homes and gardens on the tour. Once you have purchase your tour book, with map, look at these locations on the city’s bike map showing connectors trails.

For more bicycle opportunities in the Twin Cities Gateway check out these maps.

The Fridley Historic Home & Garden Tour coming July 22

Downriver from Anoka, enjoy a new tradition with the Fridley Historic Home & Garden Tour. This tour, on Sunday, July 22nd  will ramble back in time  to this community’s most famous era, the 60’s! Enjoy scenic homes and gardens by bike as Fridley is another bike friendly community in the Twin Cities Gateway.

Watch the Fridley Historic Home and Garden tour video on YouTube. (Link opens in new tab) 

See the Fridley Historic Home and Garden Tour Event Tickets site for more information and to purchase tickets!