Keeping up


Some folks are trying to escape from technology while on holiday or vacation, whereas we embrace it.  For example, it’s great to be hooked up with Dragonfly and watch her transit the “Big Ditch”. Or learn exactly where Mike Taylor and John Lawson are laying over on their winter adventure down the Colorado in the Grand Canyon. We even view the webcam at 8th and Main in Durango regularly to see how little snow has fallen in town, or the temp in our condo and the solar gain on our PV system.  Not to mention keeping up with the Durango Herald cover to cover if we choose.  We’re current with all three of our magazine subscriptions – The New Yorker, The Economist and The Atlantic. Plus the TED talks, This American Life, Planet Money, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Car Talk and Weaving podcasts. Hardly a day goes by without an email or text message and at least once a week we are viewing friends and family on FaceTime (Apple iOS’s Skype).  Reviewing all this reminds me of that perennial question we were asked while we were cruising: “What do you do all day?”



Following Dragonfly thru the canal this week was pretty unusual in our daily routine, in fact it wasn’t even in our day. We learned of the transit time via email and then iMessage, we set an alarm and then watched diligently until we saw DF enter the locks. (The Panama Canal Authority has several 24/7 Cam’s.) We managed a number of screen captures on our iPads to send to DF while they were enroute as all their hands were busy.IMG_0452


Even with the graininess, Dragonfly is very distinctive coming into the Miraflores locks (about 2:30 AM for us).  For those who’ve never seen a small boat IMG_0472transit the canal, rising up the smaller craft follow a big ship and going down they preceed a ship.  This can be very intimidating when the crew chances to glance back over the stern and see what’s looming directly overhead.  We also watched DF’s progress on their Spot Locator which was turned on to the Tracking feature so we knew where they were every 10 minutes of the cross-country passage.


Speaking of Spot Tracking we’re also following our whitewater rafting buddies in the Grand Canyon as they progress down the Colorado River.  Daily Spot “check-in” shows their location, and if they layover and day-hike we see the track for that particular hike. I suspect these unusually warm temperatures in the southwest are making this winter rafting trip much more enjoyable.

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Another event we caught on a webcam was the annual Durango Snowdown Parade.  The 7th and Main webcam showed every float that passed by, albeit the parade was only street light lit, except when the balloon basket heaters fired up casting light for a hundred feet in all directions.


I also mentioned monitoring the condo with several apps.  The Nest app shows us thermostat setting, current temp and energy history, plus we can change the settings and schedule anytime we choose.

Yes, we do miss our condo and our Tempurpedic bed, but mostly we miss hearing from you and what you’re up to.  Drop us an email or send us a photo so we can keep up with you, too.

What can I say?

touring bannerBeen doing a lot of “touring” with the English cyclists and very little time for blogging.

Maybe  “Having a wonderful time wish you were here” would suffice. Visiting many of the spots we’ve already blogged about so photos are a little sparse. What is special about riding with this group has been the ability to talk and share the things we’ve learned about Thailand and the area we live in.  As you might imagine I don’t have much conversation when cycling with all my Thai buddies. Their English is enough to keep me out of trouble “Turn Right” and they know all of the 12 words of vocabulary I can understand, like the question “[you want] Khoa man kai?”.  With the English I can actually suggest “Would you like Chicken on Rice?” and they seem to understand my Yank accent just fine.


IMG_5766Thanks again to Chris, the tour leader, who allowed Stanna and me to accompany the group on most of the cycling legs of their tour around Trang. I’d sure like to show some Durango cyclists and friends this same area they enjoyed.  Let’s think about a couple weeks next year to get you all out here in the warm weather next winter.

The last day TigerSong led the group in a slow tour on the “back roads” right around Trang.  Mileage was short but the sights were great as he knew of sights we’d never seen within 5 km of our apartment.  One place was a shed we pass twice a day every day that forges agricultural knives.  We thought they were making charcoal but when TigerSong had us stop and dismount we could see and hear the “cling cling” of the

IMG_5769sledgehammers pounding and shaping out the bright orange steel into hooked knives.



Guest Ride-a-long

IMG_5693It’s been a pleasure the last couple days riding as a guest with an English Cycing Tour group. Actually, I’m more of a shadow rider with the Thai Cycling Club hosts who’ve been lucky to escort this tour group for the last several years here on their home turf.  Not having been on a cycling tour since the Eurtrip days of the 70’s in Germany, it’s been fun riding with a small touring group again.

Chris Ellison, who has been running a cycle tour thru and around Trang for the last eight years, among the many other cycle tours he leads out of England, has been gracious to let me ride along. His group this year numbers 13, and they started in Bangkok with a 16-hour overnight train ride to Phatthalung (65 km and one mountain range east of Trang). We met their train, and with the help of the Phatthalung Cycling Club escorted them over the hills and into Trang for their first day’s adventure.

IMG_5669Since the train was late, a couple of the Trang Club members took me to the house of a friend in the Phatthalung Club, which was actually a bakery for Thai pastries.  It was only after consuming three different Thai sweet treats did I realize there was a pork vegetable rice soup served followed by a pineapple and kale soup.  Top that off with chestnuts and sweet sticky coconut balls and I was happy the train was still delayed another hour.  Mr Yao and I took a 25km ride out to the lake front and toured a popular waterside temple long before opening time, which helped to dissipate the fullness.

IMG_5680After off-loading the 12 bikes (Chris leaves a bike here, like me) and securing a breakfast for the group, we headed for the hills, stopping to view still another cave Wat (temple) I hadn’t seen before.


This one’s just off the main highway and must get bus-loads of tourists because every inch of the cave was “paved” with paving stones and featured lots of very narrow lighted passages to various chambers and shrines.


Our group easily got spread out in all the caverns.  The climb over the hill was hot (93°) and tiresome for the travelers, who’d managed very little sleep on the train, but a short rest at the hilltop shrine and a long downhill made the climb only a past memory.

IMG_5689IMG_5697The next day Stanna and I accompanied the group to the west coast, about a 45-km ride, where they embarked on a two-day trip to Libong Island, where they’ll visit the famous IMG_5717Emerald Cave we swam into several years back.  I’ll cycle with them tomorrow back to Trang and then next week Stanna and I will get to ride with them out onto Sukorn Island, which I described in a post from several years’ back as a cyclists’ paradise.


Smaller group…


Smaller group, longer ride. This Sunday’s riders were pared down to just six, due to several conflicts. The Trang Cycle Club acts as riding “marshals” to all the local foot-races and fun runs so many members helped with that pre-dawn start. I’m guessing that the announced biking destination to Yong Star Cape on the coast convinced several more riders that the distance and destination was too far off, perhaps. Or maybe it was IMG_5612the route and 95° temps scheduled for the day.  I logged 140 km door-to-door and counted only 5 food stops in the 9 hour ride. The first stop was a favorite of the Club (I’d been there twice in years past) famous for it’s noodles. What I’d never noticed was this narrow diner just off the main highway was also famous for it’s flooding. Flood level markers on the walls go all the way back to 2518 or maybe 2418 on the Buddhist calendar


(either 39 or 139 years ago). No matter how long, this place gets flushed by the rising river quite often. The noodles were delicious – A Roi – as well.
The primarily agricultural product in this region was overwhelmingly rubber “water”. Rolling hills of rubber tree plantations, each with a collection shed for transferring the liquid from pails to 5 gallon jugs to 50 gallon barrels and eventually into 500 gallon tanks in pickup beds. Not many of these highway-accessible groves processed their own rubber into mats, they take advantage of easy transport to larger co-ops I’m guessing.  As we neared the coast we crossed over several rivers which sheltered the local fishing fleets.  Once we reached the coast, even with a thick “marine layer” of haze over the water you could see tens of island karsts lurking 2, 5 and 10 km off the coast. In the past we’ve visited at least two of those islands for overnight rides with the club.

Khoa Pat (fried rice with seafood) at the shoreside restaurant took about an hour and then it was back to Trang on a circuitous route which included ice cream of course.


At 72 miles the group leader Mr. Ban wanted to show me another karst top Wat and the other riders opted out.  Fortunately this road was paved but still it was a first-gear out-of-the-saddle climb for a half-mile at least.  The views were great, as long as you weren’t trying to photograph Trang to the west and there was a very interesting religious boat float docked in a shed IMG_5641half way up the hill which I didn’t notice until the downhill leg. I’ll have to ask when they break out these treasures and probably place the Wat’s prize sculpture inside the square IMG_5629cupola. This photo of “tins” storing cookies, crackers and sugary snacks is a common site in many of the rural community family stores.  If memory serves me this is/was an archaic method of storing and transporting over oceans and in humid countries. Obviously this technique still has it’s place.



This ride went quicker than most Sundays, so I veered down the Trang
commercial strip and picked up a couple snacks for my Monday day off. We’ve tried to avoid popcorn in Durango lately, but I’m thinking I can afford the carbs here in Thailand.

Scooter Time


“Our other car is a …” scooter and we took advantage of it to do some exploring of tourist spots we’d been before on our previous visits. The impetus was to take Rik and Louisa, Belgian friends we’d met here at Ban Wassana in Trang several years back, to some places they’d not seen.  They’ve made at least 7 or 8 trips to Thailand and like us, now always include a lengthy stay in Trang.  RikLouisaSince we both lease scooters while in Trang we’re free to travel wherever and whenever we choose.  These automatic transmission versions are a joy to ride and they get 55 km to the liter, or 157 MPG (more than we thought after doing the math).  With 32.5 Baht to the Dollar that’s $1.00 for 33 miles, making even a Prius profligate.

Thom Le Khao Kob, a water-only accessible cave system was our destination this week. Definitely a “tourist” attraction with the requisite hawkers, photographers and predators hanging out trying to interest you


in all manner of pitches. For 300 Baht ($10) you can rent a low profile skiff with four bench seats and probably room for 8 Thai’s.  Also included in the bargain are two paddlers, one in the bow paddling like the Cuban marine officials coming to visit your boat, a couple of strokes on each side of the bow, the other paddler in the rear providing the power and steering. They work hard to get us down the canal circling the limestone karst, but once we slip under the water entrance to the cave they spend more time “walking” the skiff hand-over-hand on the cave ceiling or back. We hired a boat all to ourselves, save the fore and aft minions.

IMG_5589Very quickly we’re told to lie back so that our bodies don’t protrude above the gunnels. And “watch hands” or “no hands”, rings out often in the Thai English that is about 20% of


their foreign vocabulary.  Photography is more than problematic laying supine and nothing can rise above your flat profile. Peeking up garners a scolding in the tight places so snapshots are a minimum enroute. One ponders, as you see the nascent or fractured stalactites in close proximity to your proboscis, if they can operate the excursion during or after heavy rains.

IMG_5569We’d done this tour before so it was fun to see our friends’ reaction as we got into tight spots and then broke into lighted caverns.  Once inside it’s possible to walk a 20-minute circuit thru colored lit chambers featuring limestone drip sculptures from different eras of the past. Thai culture often deems these caves or geological architecture as scared and decorates it appropriately.  Many chambers were festooned with buddhist trappings on prominent perches.  Just down the road, that is if you don’t miss the turn like we did (thanks once again to google maps and the iPad), is another ancient cave well above


ground level, in fact it has 7 levels all accessible via crude whitewashed concrete stairs.  This Wat is famous for a past visit by the King Rama the 7th, and has concrete statuary at the various levels which would have to have been built in place, carrying sacks of cement way up into the nooks, niches and window overlooks of the cave network.

We finished the day’s outing visiting the windmill competition site I’d seem on Sunday. I had to ask about the collection I’d seen in the rice fields east of Trang near the Lost Elephant cave. This specific site is situated in the Venturi between two moderate karsts and must produce amplified wind currents to power these Rube-Golberg contraptions.  Click & wait to see & hear windmillsound

windmillcroppedThey are as colorful as they are capricious, causing the viewer to stand askew of the propellers.  It wasn’t until I’d called my Thai friend SunSern, that we learned the perpendicular tubes at the outer points of the propellers are hollowed-out bamboo tuned to impress the judges. The dangling cups complete the cacophony prized by the competitors.  I thought they were solely to keep the birds away from the ripening rice in the fields.  SunSern said, “Maybe that[‘s] how it started”.


Hard to keep up

IMG_5377 Another week of Fahsong pre-dawn rides is still in the routine even though it curtails evening activities except for Saturday and Sunday nights. They don’t ride on Monday and I choose to ride with the “touring” division of the Trang Cycling Club on Sundays, which doesn’t leave until 8 AM.  Good thing because that is an all-day ride and leaving at 5 AM would make it 12 hours of touring and that’s a lot of food to take in.

Speaking of food, the clutter above left is the detritus after one of our Dim Sum breakfasts where at a minimum eight riders crowd a circular table and stuff down Thai treats.  My new nick-name is Kii Tham, which rhymes with Tom. I’ve learned that I can get any quantity of hard boiled eggs each morning and fill up on those before starting on many of the palm-oil-fried delicacies. Not that it’s all unhealthy, they go thru two or three plates of lettuce leaves and sliced cucumbers before the Thai donuts come out of the Wok. Fahsong (pre-dawn in Thai I’m told) bicycle group is a collection of Trang men who take


this early morning ride 5 days a week and they’ve obviously been doing it for many years. I’d label them as Durango’s B or B+ riders who take the hills on the Trang ring road seriously, providing an endless challenge for the Thai testosterone tigers. They don’t rotate the draft line like we might in the States, they just wait until the lead “bonks” and then zip past with not a care for him catching the tail of the peloton. I’ve thought about taking photos but in the pitch dark it would be stupid and at 20+ MPH it would be foolish. The sprint is only about 17 km (11 miles) but enough to leave everyone pumped and hungry for Dim Sum. It takes me 10km to get to the start and the ride home is another 28, so I’m getting in about 55 km (33 miles) by 7:30.

The Trang Cycling Club is a very diverse group, in that some members never seem to ride with others. However they all know each other and the network helped me get my Cannondale mountain bike repaired.
IMG_5393There are probably 5 or 6 bike shops in town, only one of which specializes in high-end bikes exclusively and another that carries a full range.  The other four deal mostly in kids and cruising style bikes that would compete with the Thai big-box stores called Tesco or BigC.  Many of the Club members are mechanics who handle only scooters and motorcycles, but one member does their high-end bicycle tuning and repair.  Even though it is basically “shade tree” looking, Mr. Piak is great at tuning and troubleshooting problems like I brought: a skipping chain when hitting the pedals with full torque.  We tested, switched-out, replaced, tightened and tuned Pirateverything in the drive train before settling on the solution that the middle chain ring is flexing and pulling the chain off the sprockets.  We probably spent 6 hours altogether running down spares to borrow, new parts to try, and tear-downs of clusters, cranks and chains.  They even figured out what year vintage the chain wheel was as we searched for a replacement.  No luck in Trang however, I’ll just not be able to stand on the pedals in middle front and middle back from now on.  BTW this bike is over 15 years old and has seen lots of miles, it’s the same one on which I did a 500-mile section of the Great Divide. It’s retirement is coming soon.


Behind the travel posters

As headlined in the last Blog: We couldn’t buy some of the behind-the-travel-poster experiences we’re enjoying.  Last Sunday’s ride was another case in point. [Incidentally this was the same day 11% of Thailand was shutout from voting in the latest national referendum. Even in Thailand “all politics are local.” The opposition leader is from a neighboring province, & we were at last to learn our province (state) was one of the two largest provinces in the south to boycott the election. Once we realized there was no political division in Trang, we rested more comfortably.] 

sunday ridersOnly ten riders started out and after the obligatory photo op, the first stop comes quick. Forgetting to take a photo of my new favorite breakfast, I’ll just have to tell you that rice porridge with pork balls and poached eggs with spices and cilantro was A-Roi !


Second stop was dual purpose:  food and culture. One of the regional communities was raising funds to expand their Wat (temple complex).  We rolled in like invited dignitaries, were directed to VIP parking (easy to put 10 bikes directly next to the food tents) and treated to the works: tours of their sacred cave and it’s holdings – Buddhas, a 25′ reclining Buddha, ancient relics, the grounds for monks and existing buildings, dance recitals from pre-teen girls dressed in beaded animal cloaks complete with tails and, yes, all the food you IMG_5410can eat. Pictured is just one of the food lines of 5 or 6 available, all featuring different specialties.  Favorite beverages, bottled waters, sweets and [Hooray!] ice cream cones filled out the fare.  Here’s a photo I asked permission to take, a contrast in traditional and new technology. I’d hoped it was an iPad but it was only a 7″ Samsung tablet that he was using to take photos of the event.

We spent the next hour, more slowly with filled stomachs, rolling thru rubber plantations and communities, then turned off to a totally isolated waterfall park where we stripped

pooldown to bike shorts and swam in the pools below the falls. Two more hours on paved asphalt roads, where I swear we only saw one pickup and a lorry the whole time.  Marvelous riding in dappled light on curving roads with mild rollers, just enough to break up the daze.


Still another food stop before the grand finale of which I was totally unaware.  Thinking we are going home early because it’s only 4 PM, we come out of the back roads and head down a highway back to Trang.  Wrong again.  With only 12 km on the mile posts to Trang, we veer right on to still another vacant asphalt road, but this one has a dirt intersection with a climb to the top of

IMG_5521 - Version 2 IMG_5428
meala rounded karst.  On top is 5 years’ worth of construction on a 12-level above the mountain-top temple.  We all dismounted for the first 100′ and most walked the remainder. What was so special about this visit was that besides a handful of workers changing scaffolding and two resident monks, we had the entire site to ourselves.  We climbed raw stairways to the main levels, viewing still crated and uncrated antiques and relics right out of the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies; lounged on the monks’ sleeping mats; and totally spontaneously decided to climb the inside scaffolding 8 stories up to the second-from-top level.

I asked about dinner, because last week I’d promised to bring Stanna to dinner, and was told that we’d stay until sundown.  However just before sundown, and after all the inner exploration, we scaled back down to ground level and the construction shacks where we were invited to finish off any and all of the monks’ food tributes. You should know that monks are supported by donations, either their mornings spent traipsing around cities with their begging bowls or for those monks in farther locales by Thai’s seeking scaffoldRotated“merit” by bringing food daily to them.  Monks only eat once a day about 11AM and the rest of the food is for whoever happens by the temple; in this day’s case it was only us.  It’s customary (we’ve partaken at least twice before) to rifle thru whatever is on the tables or benches, and the riders displayed not a timid gesture in pawing thru the bags and stacked Japanese lunch pails. I called Stanna and told her we were supping on the mount, she’d have to fend for herself.



You just can’t buy these experiences!

Just when the routine sets in, we then create more new experiences than we can keep up with, at least in the blog. There’s Chinese New Year, another week of Fahsong pre-dawn rides, repairing the Cannondale mountain bike I brought over, another Sunday adventure ride, wind-mill chime contest, and just yesterday, touring more caves – one with so shallow a roof line we worried our glasses frames would hang up.

Can't BuyIt’s a good thing we’re taking photos of most things we see and experience because it’s getting harder to remember all the things we’ve done between blog entries. Not all the photos are worthy of showing but they are still good for jogging the memory even if they are blurry or have that ubiquitous finger in the corner. What’s even funnier is when we give the iPhone5S to a Thai to take our photo and they hold down the “shutter” button.  The new feature of iPhone5S is that it will take repetitive shots as long as the key is down.  Sometimes we get 48 frames of ourselves, like time lapse or a silent movie. However that feature does allow us to find the frame in which everyone is composed and smiling when it happens.

new years

This was our third Chinese New Year in Trang and each one has been different. They even adjust the stage venue and midway set-up each year. However the lights in the main “square” are always over-the-top in color and quantity. We especially like seeing the pair of LED  “jak ka rans” (bicycles) featured in the center of the displays. We didn’t get to see much of the featured entertainment because we didn’t stay out past 8PM

Jak ka ran

thus only saw the warm-up acts on stage; Thai high school students singing in Chinese, local pop singer lip syncing to her video release, and junior varsity dancers. My 4:30 AM wake-up call for riding requires early bedtimes. It is fun to stroll (or should we say graze) the midway trying all the food stalls we dare. Our current favorite is the chicken on a stick braised in long thin dancersHibachis, with each vendor plying their own family BBQ sauce. A-Roi. Let’s just exaggerate and say there are maybe 250 stalls along the two-sided midway and 95% of these are selling food, drinks, snacks, muslim crepes, sushi, boots of beer, curries, tortes, hard-boiled birds’ eggs, fish, meats, ice cream and popsicles, soups and on and on and on. And this goes on for three nights.