Tag Archives: Group Travel

Cycling in Vietnam: Summary & Advice

Our two week tour of Vietnam proved a great experience.  While we only cycled a few hundred kilometers on nine days of cycling, the mix of activities fit the conditions we encountered.  For instance, the two days devoted to Ha Long Bay did not involve cycling, nor did our day in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon.)

Our experience of Vietnam and its people was very positive.  We had three different sets of drivers and guides – for the three separate regions – and all of them were helpful, experienced, interesting, and personable.  All of our hotels were clean, comfortable, and endowed with good breakfasts.  The personnel were courteous and helpful.  The included meals at chosen restaurants were tasty and copious, if sometimes repetitive.  Overall this trip was “two thumbs up.”

So, should you do this trip?  And if so, what might you need to know beforehand?  Here are a few thoughts.  Some we learned ahead of our departure;   some we wished we had.

So many colourful occasions

So many colourful occasions

Should you do this trip?

If this is your first cycle trip overseas, Vietnam may not be the best place to start.  Vietnam’s travel infrastructure is not as well developed as locations like northern Europe.  You’ll be more exposed to traffic with unfamiliar rules.   Our day cycling in Hanoi was not for everyone – although we wouldn’t have missed it.  Language challenges may be greater here – important should you get separated from your group.  The different cuisine could leave you battling a stomach bug on a ride, and facilities are often hard to find.  But if you’ve got a few tours under your belt, and are looking for more culture, history, and different landscapes, then we’d highly recommend the tour we took.

You might meet one of these in the middle of your path. (Photo by Rob Mudie)

You might meet one of these in the middle of your path. (Photo by Rob Mudie)

Best Time to Go

Using climate sites, we determined that February is generally the driest, coolest month of the year, and the average temperature is good for cycling.  However, averages can be deceiving.  On our own tour, it was 60F (16C) in the north, and 95F (35C) in the south.  Most of the time it was cloudy and misty, and in central Vietnam it rained non-stop for two days.  However, two weeks later, some friends enjoyed blue skies all the way.  So, we still think February and March are good bets, as long as you avoid the holiday rush at Tet – usually over by mid-February, occasionally a bit later.

Even rainy days are included in a sunny average.

Even rainy days are included in a sunny average.

Visas, Vaccinations, Medications & Trip Insurance

Finding online information about visas was challenging.  There are a plethora of companies offering to help get you a Vietnam visa for a fee, and it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s legitimate.  In end, Cheryl and I opted to leave our passports at the local Vietnam consulate for a few days.  Others in our group were happy using the services of a local travel company specializing in Vietnam.

Vaccinations were another matter.  This is a complex subject, and a lot comes down to your assessment of the risks versus costs.  We all updated our basic travel inoculations, but we fretted over rabies and Japanese encephalitis.  Different members of our group got different advice from different travel clinics.  How big is the risk?  Frankly, it’s small for both diseases.  Still, losing the gamble would not be fun.  Some in our group opted for both.  Cheryl and I elected just to be cautious about mosquitoes, which can spread more than just encephalitis.  As for rabies, we found a local doctor who offered much cheaper rabies shots provided we came in as a group;  the cost saving came from a technique developed by the WHO.  The lower price tipped the scale for us.  Our decision was reinforced when a friend was bitten by a dog in Cambodia; she underwent the full post-bite inoculation series upon her return to Canada.

Advised by a conservative doctor, we also had prescriptions for anti-malarial drugs and antibiotics, loads of insect repellent, and even a set of clothing impregnated in pyrethrins.  To our surprise, during our two weeks in Vietnam surrounded by flooded rice paddies, we never saw a mosquito, and so left most of our supplies untouched.  We did run out of some common medications like decongestants;  Paul reacted badly to the smoky air that seemed to blanket the country.  However, we easily replenished our supplies locally.

Flooded paddies all around, but no mosquitoes to be found.

Flooded paddies all around, but no mosquitoes to be found.

For the first time, we elected to take the Dukoral oral vaccine against traveler’s diarrhea.  Traveling friends swore by it.  Still, the jury’s out on how effective it was.  We used bottled water, even for teeth-brushing.  We stuck mainly to the tour-sponsored restaurants and didn’t indulge in street food, although we ate salads freely.  Had we slipped up, we were prepared to follow a questionable meal with Pepto-Bismol and a stiff drink – again, as advised by our travel doctor.  But, despite eating a wide variety of dishes from set menus, no one in our group had any problems.  So we didn’t really need that rice wine with snakes in it.

We also bought travelers’ health insurance for our trip.  Since our Vietnam tour was only part of a ten-week away time, we ultimately bought full-year travel coverage, plus a rider for the extended time.  A friend who works as an insurance broker tracked down the best deal for us, which had trip cancelation and lost baggage insurance into the bargain.  Fortunately, we never needed any of it – but we have in the past.

Ate something questionable? Try this! (Photo by Rob Mudie)

Ate something questionable? Try this! (Photo by Rob Mudie)

Clothing

What to take can be a challenge.  We packed largely for biking in the “average” climate.  Turns out we were under-dressed for the cool conditions in the north, and our polyester biking gear was too hot for the steamy heat down south.  Check the temperatures in Hanoi and Saigon.  Cheryl wished she’d brought some compact down, and a couple of extra light pants and long-sleeved tops for the North.  As you may know, the local inhabitants wear long pants and sleeves, even when it gets warm;   tourists are obvious because they wear shorts and singlets, even when it’s chilly.  The cycling rain gear we brought turned out to be too warm; we did better with the semi-disposable ponchos we picked up in Vietnam for a dollar.  After the first day, we eschewed our heavy lace-up shoes in favour of Keen’s sandals;   they were cooler and dried out more quickly after a rain.  Even the locals mostly rode in flip-flops, rain or shine.

Finally, after Cheryl’s run-in with a pickpocket in Hanoi on Day One, we wished we had more clothes with zippered or concealed pockets – anything to make it easy to spread our cards and cash around.

Whenever we stayed two days in the same hotel, we were usually able to wash a few light clothes and have them dry before we checked out.  Laundry prices at the hotels were often fairly high, although at one or two locations that charged by the kilogram instead of per piece, we found them very reasonable.  And the clothes always came back neatly folded, flower scented, and well before the promised time.

Wet-weather riding increases the need for laundry facilities.

Wet-weather riding increases the need for laundry facilities.

Cycling Equipment

Taking your own bike helmets is absolutely necessary.  In some countries, bike tour companies have the odd spare for those without.  In Vietnam, even some of our guides rode without helmets.  Paul had taken a spare to Vietnam and left it with our last guide, who was most appreciative.  Biking gloves were also a good idea, although not essential.  And they did get very sweaty in the steamy south.

Since distances were relatively short, we decided not to take our gel seat covers.  Some of the tour operators supplied bikes with gel covers included.  The bikes themselves were mostly decent Trek mountain bikes; the ones in the hilly north were almost brand new and had disc brakes; in the flat south, they were older and less well equipped.

We had also taken rechargeable blinking lights for front and back, but ended up not using them.  While we use them at home, especially when riding country roads with higher speed limits, we decided not to in Vietnam.  In the traffic conditions we usually encountered, we suspected they might have been more distracting than helpful.  Bright clothing was useful; for one thing, it alerted drivers that we were tourists, unfamiliar with the local driving customs.  It also helped us keep track of our group.

Even with colour, the Mekong Delta trails presented challenges in following.

Even with colour, the Mekong Delta trails presented challenges in following.

Unlike trips in Europe, the bikes did not have carriers or panniers, only a small pouch on the handlebars.  However, the van was seldom far away, so we could generally leave extra clothing there and retrieve it if needed.  However, we were glad we’d brought a couple of small packs to wear.  The operators also supplied water bottles for the rides, but we were glad we’d also brought our own – especially handy on non-ride days.  Given the frequent advice not to drink tap water, we were always buying large bottles of water and refilling our own.  Or drinking the beer, which was often cheaper.

Perhaps the most useful thing we took were rear-view mirrors that attached in seconds with Velcro.  None of the bicycles came with mirrors, but every scooter on the road had two, and we soon knew why.  For about US$4 each, the mirrors were well worth it.  Two per bike wouldn’t have been remiss.

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These paths left little room for passing.

Money, Cards, & Internet

Since almost everything was included on this tour, the money we needed was primarily for drinks, tips, and extras.  Since many of the smaller shops didn’t take cards, a bit of cash was essential and that in Vietnamese Dong.  To keep our wallets filled, we relied on debit cards at ATMs.  We had no trouble finding ATMs, although perhaps only half of them worked with our cards.  One in our group had a “special” card that was non-standard.  She never got it to work, but fortunately she had another.  Advice when traveling: always have more than one type of card, and keep them separate, just in case.  When Cheryl had hers stolen, she still had another – and I had two as well.  The limits on ATM withdrawals were quite low, but then, we didn’t need much money.  Larger hotels and restaurants accepted most credit cards.

The free Internet in every hotel was excellent without exception:  fast, ubiquitous, and reliable – much better than we later experienced in Australia.  We had no problems backing up photos to the cloud – until we left Vietnam.  Reminder:  don’t forget your power-plug adapter.

Water puppets in Hanoi.  (Photo by Rob Mudie)

Water puppets in Hanoi. (Photo by Rob Mudie)

Tips

Tipping provided us with considerable confusion, and our group had several lengthy discussions on what to do.  Tipping porters at hotels and airports was easy enough, usually around US$1.  At meals, we only paid for drinks, and tipped on that amount.  However, all the set meals were included in the tour price, as were hotel stays, but we never figured out how tips should be handled on these items.  Mostly we just muddled through.

The real confusion came with tipping cycle guides and drivers.  We received three different guidelines from the tour operator and the booking company.  Some implied a sliding scale, depending upon the size of the group, others did not.  None were clear on whether the suggested amounts were a total for guides and drivers, or an amount for each.   In the end, our group held lengthy discussions and came up with a per-day per-couple minimum for guides and a smaller minimum for drivers.  Then, at the end of each segment, Rob would collect the amounts in an envelope and present it to the service provider.  Even that didn’t go as smoothly as hoped.  Most of the time – but not always – there were two drivers, one for the van, one for the bike truck.  Drivers sometimes came and went without notice; twice, last minute changes of plan had us miss our farewells with a driver.  The line between drivers and guides was often blurred:  on one leg, our cycle guide spoke little English, so a second attractions guide rode with us, and the first guide doubled as van driver.  One day, our cycle guide was under the weather, so, he brought in cyclist friend and sat the ride out.  In the end, we did the best we could.  We tried to remember that everyone we dealt with worked long and hard, and none were overpaid.  Tips were always welcome, whether in dong or US dollars.

Our guide and drivers make tea, while we admire the view.

Our guide and drivers make tea, while we admire the view.

Cycling Protocol

Finally, it would have helped if we’d reviewed our cycling protocols.  The six of us had often ridden together at home as part of a larger group, and we should have known better.  Somehow, in the excitement of a foreign country, we forgot some of our practices.  Especially in the Mekong Delta, the trails turned and branched endlessly, and it was very easy to miss a turn.  If each of us had stopped at every decision point until we could see the following rider knew where to go, we would never have become separated.  As it was, we lost members twice, both times for more than twenty minutes – which seems like an eternity when you’re listening to crickets.  We will allow that following the protocol can be challenging here, as there are so many decision points.  So, don’t hesitate to ask your guide to slow down, especially if you want to stop to take photos.  At day’s end, we were all reunited, and after unruffling a few feathers, had a good laugh about it all.

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There’s lots to distract an avid photographer. “Which way’d they go?”

Bon Voyage!

We trust you’ve found these thoughts useful in planning your cycle trip to Vietnam.  Have a great time, and let us know how it went.

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Rest stop in a northern village.

Rest stop in a northern village.

Cycling in Vietnam – The North outside Hanoi

Day 4: This morning we are about to leave Hanoi for the countryside to the west. Nam attempts to teach us some important Vietnamese words. The Vietnamese language is tricky. Due to its tonal nature, a single word can have many different meanings, depending on the inflection you put on it.

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Hanoi Morning (Photo by Rob Mudie)

The greeting ‘Xin Chao’ with a downward emphasis on the second word, means “Hello”, but say the same phase with an upward emphasis on the second word and you are begging for rice porridge. We learn the first few numbers, so we can say “one, two, three, cheers” (“mot, hai, ba,Yo” ), how to say “Thank You”, “How much?”, “Too Expensive” “beer (bia)” and “I love you.” We feel we are ready to go out into the world, hopefully without insulting anyone’s mother.

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The Original Water Puppet Theater at Thay

We travel Northwest of Hanoi by van, to visit the ancient town of Thay, and the Tayphuong pagoda (built in the 8th century). The pagoda hosts many Buddha statues, and nearby a market is in progress. We ride a bit further by van to the spot where our bike truck is waiting, and where we begin our 50 km cycle through the countryside. As we pass, young children run out into the roads yelling “Hello, hello!”, looking for high fives and smiles. We dodge lots of dogs, chickens, goats, beautiful cows, and the odd water buffalo. We see surprisingly few cats, and wonder why.

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Cycling with Motorbikes and Buffalo (Photo by Rob Mudie)

Plant stalks for brooms lie drying by the side of the road. Fields of sugar cane and rice paddies surround us. Wet rice is grown in this area, and the inhabitants produce two or three crops a year, depending on the water supply. The plants are in the early stages of growth now. Apparently the seedlings are grown in bulk elsewhere, and when the planting is ready to begin, they are taken from these nursery paddies and planted individually in the paddies where they will mature and ripen.

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A Country Road West of Hanoi

Small towns are dotted with pho (soup) shops, where customers sit on diminutive yet colorful plastic chairs in front of low tables. There are shops with decorated, tall and narrow living quarters built behind them, the sides unfinished as another one will likely be built adjoining. Many shrines surround the homes and fancy temples dot the neighbourhoods. Ancestors are often buried in sepulchers in the family rice field. We stop for jackfruit and coffee towards the end of the day at a nice waterfall, and then cycle to our home for the night.

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Rice Paddy outside Homestay at Mai Chau village

We spend the evening in Mai Chau village, a popular location for homestays, and all sleep in a greatroom on stilts, with bamboo floors, similar to the one we saw in the Ethnology Museum. As we walk on these floors, we feel that the slats could break at any time and send us plummeting to the floor below, but in reality they are sturdy and safe. This picturesque little village is surrounded by rice paddies.

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None the Worse for Wear after the Night of the Rooster

Tossing and turning on board-hard beds under mosquito nets, we are awakened around 1:30 am by a lively rooster right under the floor, whose every ‘cock a doodle do’ is answered by ten others in the neighbouring farms. Some of our group find it a comforting rural lullaby, others not so much. The meals are wonderful – rice, spring rolls, veggies, meat dishes, soup (at the end of the meal) and fruit for dessert. We are still enjoying spring rolls.

In restaurants the local beers are cheaper than bottled water, so we feel compelled to try them all out. (Rob is collecting labels so we feel a duty to contribute to his collection.) The Hanoi brand seems to be the favorite to date, with Saigon next, and 333 (“ba, ba, ba”) at the bottom of the heap. Vietnamese Dalat wine is not great, and is much more expensive than other drinks, so we don’t drink it often.

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Rob Surveys the Market

Day 5: We spend an hour in the morning at the local country market, where live chicks, chickens, pigs, ducks and dogs (yes, they eat dogs in the north) are crammed into in bamboo baskets and available for sale. Live fish swim in bowls to be cut up as required for sale. I find it hard to look at the dogs, as they are so cute.

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Two Pigs in Two Pokes – It’s No Joke

There are oodles of vegetables, some even recognizable: beans, cabbage, bok-choy, spring onions, garlic, ginger, cilantro. There are small tart Vietnam apples, water apples, milk apples, tapioca root, watery dragon fruit, and sweet pineapple. Nam introduces us to jack fruit, which we all really like. Later in the south, we will find the stinky durian fruit, which piques our curiosity.

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On the Buffalo Track in the Hills, the Valley Smoke behind us

We begin our 50 km cycle pushing our mounts up a steep mile-long hill, then enjoy a lovely stretch of downhill cycling on a pleasant but bumpy buffalo track, overlooking beautiful vistas. We experience our first country toilet, making our way through the home and garden at the back of the country store – upsetting the chickens and the huge pig (thankfully penned) en route – to the open shelter with the porcelain hole in the ground and a bucket of water nearby for flushing. It is rustic, but workable.  It also underscores the tough conditions many in the country still face.  We meet a very old bare-footed women on our trail, with teeth blackened to show her married status, and give her some of our snacks, for which she thanks us all profusely. There is little social safety net for the old in Vietnam – the family plays this role.  It seems that little is gratis in “communist” Vietnam.

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Mile after Mile of Peaceful Rice Paddies

We return to Hanoi for another night at the Authentic Hanoi Hotel. About 10 kms out of town we hear a ‘buck buck’ from the back of the van and discover a stowaway chicken, which was purchased by one of our support staff. We decide we need a change from Vietnamese food and go out for pizza. The street has been closed for a weekly festival, and several singing performances are held right across from our tiny table.

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Misty Ha Long Bay often lacks the Blue of Tourist Brochures

Day 6 and 7: We set out from Hanoi again by van, heading Northeast towards Ha Long Bay, where we are to spend the night on a tourist junk. Ha Long means “descending dragon” , and the bay is full of the most interesting natural structures. We climb into small boats and visit a local fishing village, oyster farm, and pearl factory. Back on the junk we receive a lesson in making salad rolls, and after dinner Rob and I do some squid jigging at the side of the boat. We each catch a squid, but mine is more beautiful than his. I’m not certain if they were cast back afterwards, or became part of the next day’s lunch.

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Catch of the Night

The following day we visit a local cave, followed by a beach, but the weather is too cold to swim. It’s back to the boat for brunch, then the return voyage to the mainland, where we are met again by Nam. Continuing to the airport, we take an afternoon flight to Hue, in central Vietnam. Rob travels through airport security with a full bottle of water in his hip pocket, without being arrested. Hoa, our new guide for central Vietnam, meets us at the airport and takes us to the Romantic Hotel, then out for a Central Vietnamese dinner.

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Almost Every Tourist Visits Ha Long Bay

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Spring Roll Presentation in Hue (Photo by Rob Mudie)

 

Going Nomad

Once again, the months have vanished. I’m going to call it a period of consolidation.

Since last summer, we’ve embarked on a series of changes, triggered while Cheryl and I jogged a deserted forest road in the early morning sun. “I think it’s time to retire,” she said.

Within a few days, our plan was hatched. We decided to move out of the city and put almost everything in storage in the small coastal town where we were currently holidaying. That way we could move into temporary digs in our new hometown and scout out the area.

While breakfasting with friends – two local and two from Australia – we hatched a plan to take advantage of our lightened state and travel Down Under. We hadn’t been to Australia since our four-year-stay in the mid-80s, and there was a lot we didn’t see then. Soon, the six of us were planning six weeks in northern New South Wales and Queensland, including time based in our Aussie friends’ “intentional community” and a 2400km AirBnB road-trip down the coast from Cairns.

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Our friends at “Shedders” have sparked considerable media attention.

Our friends’ three-couple home north of Sydney will be fascinating to visit and get to know in some details. As we’ve discussed here, the communal lifestyle has piqued our interest, but we’ve yet to figure out how best to implement it in our new hometown.

Cheryl and I decided to add some other countries before and after Australia, and we soon had a different group of six enrolled in an organized Vietnam cycling adventure including Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City. For a romantic wrap up, the two of us will join a two-week small-group tour of Bali and Lombok in Indonesia.

When we return from this 10-week adventure – our longest trip since Costa Rica – we’ve booked two months of an AirBnB in our new hometown.   Following that, we’ll be doing a local 10-day cycle trip and a weekend kayaking adventure on southern Vancouver Island with our old outdoor club. Hopefully, by June we’ll know where we’re living after that. But in three weeks, after a dozen years at the same address, we’ll officially be nomads.

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We’ll live first in historic Townsite – Sept. 2013 photo by Robert Dall

Since the summer, the days have dissolved into an endless round of decluttering and packing.   We’re finally finishing up the decluttering project begun almost two years ago, having reduced our volume of “stuff” by more than half. I’m looking forward to spending some months with just a few bags and the everyday essentials, although Cheryl and I have had frequent set-tos about what constitutes “essential.”

There’s also been an endless series of tasks involved in severing our ties with our current hometown, where we’ve lived pretty much continuously for 28 years. Earlier on, most of them involved work, but in the past few weeks, more of them have been in the nature of “goodbye dinners” and the like. It’s bittersweet, and reminds us how important it will be to “find our tribes” in our new community come May.

But today, the focus is on our upcoming trip, buying SIM cards, and entering all our trip details in TripCase. Only 20 more sleeps, and only three more work days left for Cheryl.

Cheryl’s anticipated freedom has already had some effects. You may have noticed that my voice has been the dominant one so far on this blog, and that lately it’s been hit and miss. During our upcoming trip, and the new-home adventures after that, we’re planning on returning to more frequent posting and sharing the load more evenly. Let’s see how we can do on collaborative posts.

Cities, Cities, Cities

Much of our travel both past and planned centers around rural adventures: sailing the Cyclades, or cycling Provence or Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands or Vietnam north to south, for example. Visiting cities has often been an afterthought.

Still, besides Vancouver, the beautiful and fascinating city where we’ve lived these past three decades, we have stumbled on some interesting cities in our recent travels. We blogged about one favorite: Ljubljana, Slovenia. On that same Dalmatian cycling trip, we were also surprised at how much we enjoyed wandering around the Croatian capital of Zagreb. When we do visit cities, we prefer to explore them on foot; we greatly enjoyed our pay-what-you-want tours in Paris with Discover Walks. Often we just like to wander.

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While visiting Zagreb, we couldn’t miss the Museum of Broken Relationships

Sometime, though, when a guide is not available, it’s nice to have an alternative. Returning from Buenos Aires, some friends recommended GPSmyCity, which offers over 5000 app-guided walks in over 470 cities worldwide. We will likely try them out during our upcoming travel. Covered cities we will visit include Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Sydney, Cairns, and Brisbane in Australia, and Denpasar in Bali, Indonesia.

Recently the folks at GPSmyCity contacted us with a special offer to our readers. The first 20 readers who comment on this post nominating their favorite city attraction will receive a promo code for one of their full-version city walk apps. Each such code allows a free download of the app, which normally costs US$4.99 at the App Store. So leave a comment with your nominated attraction, and if you qualify, let us know how you enjoy your GPSmyCity tour. (If you nominate an attraction in one of our upcoming destinations, you’ll also win a special place in our hearts.)

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One of the guardians of Ljubljana’s Dragon Bridge.

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Don’t forget to nominate your favorite city attraction below.  First 20 get a free promo code for a GPSmyCity city app of their choice.  In your comment, please also specify: iOS or Android, and your choice of city.  (One code per email address.  Offer expires March 5, 2016.  Codes will be emailed by mid-March.)

Hiking “The Wave” in Arizona

(See Part One of this adventure here.)

Lucky 13

The unfortunate have filed from the lottery room leaving the winners to celebrate.

Having yesterday won the right for today’s hike into “The Wave”, we awoke still lauding our good fortune. From yesterday’s misstep, we could see how easy it would be to get lost for a few hours on a hot afternoon, and run out of water. People die on this hike. Taking the ranger’s advice to heart, we had the “10 essentials,” including almost a gallon of water each, a compass, and a couple of copies of the BLM map. The map shows compass bearings at half a dozen points along the way, as well as photographs taken from each point. Much of the path is unmarked and over bare rock, so it’s important to navigate by the suggested landmarks. Along the way, the route passes from Utah into Arizona, but there’s no sign marking the border.

The Wave Trailhead

Near the trailhead en route to The Wave.  They can always find me from the air with that shirt!

We had a nine AM start from the parking lot that served the North Coyote Buttes. The May air was still brisk, but the sun was already hot. The directions were good, and we had little trouble staying on target for “The Wave”, about 90 minutes distant. From most of the high points along the route, you can see the distinctive cleft in the rocks above the destination. During wetter times, this cleft is apparently a waterfall. It didn’t hurt that Darcy had been there five years before – Marty had unfortunately been Number 11 that day.

Route to The Wave

This is what much of the route to The Wave looks like.

The desert landscape is surreal. The colors of the hills range through every shade of red, yellow and brown. The shapes are equally striking: one set of hills resembled either a row of giant Hershey’s Kisses or perhaps mega-dinosaur coprolites. Although we didn’t see any, there are signs of dinosaurs in the Jurassic era rocks. Looking down, we could see hundreds of fossils; they resemble ancient brain corals, but are probably be something else entirely. In the few areas they could get a foothold, wildflowers were in bloom in pink, yellow, and lavender.

Wild Lavender

Wild lavender grows in a patch of sand showing tracks from the past day or two’s hikes.  The wind will erase them.

Suddenly, we were there.

Arriving at The Wave

Suddenly, without warning, we’re at the entrance to The Wave.

It’s impossible to do “The Wave” justice with either words or pictures. Being in the middle of it is magical. It’s a small smooth-sided twisty gully with undulating stripes of shades of yellow and ochre. By leaving early, we arrived at “The Wave” before the majority of the day’s twenty hikers. Of this we were glad, as being there alone enhanced the visual experience. By the time we left, there were about a dozen people wandering around the area, and it felt almost crowded. But there was a certain camaraderie amongst the lucky few allowed in.

Cheryl in The Wave

Cheryl stands in one of the side channels to The Wave’s main gully.

After eating a quiet lunch while taking in The View – eyed by a cautious raven – we spent an hour or so exploring the area above “The Wave”. While not as stunning as the gully itself, there are plenty of interesting features within a few hundred yards. We were surprised to see a number of small pools of water nearby, and even more surprised to see they were teaming with tadpoles, insect larva, fairy shrimp, and even a few small fishes. We could only imagine that the water table below the now-dry waterfall was sufficiently near the surface to prevent the ponds drying up within hours in the hot sun.

Standing water near The Wave

Teaming with life, a pool of standing water just above The Wave.  The water is very likely brine.

This water is apparently a remnant of the history of the formation. The gully was originally carved out by streams that cascaded down from the cliffs above, but in more recent time, the watercourse has shifted, and the gully has been sculpted by the prevailing winds. During our lunch, there was a good breeze blowing through it. The layered rocks themselves are sandstone laid down over 150 million years ago. At that time, this area was the center of an enormous equatorial desert of reddish sand. Much later, water leaching through the rocks would sometimes bleach iron from alternate layers, resulting in the dramatic stripes.

Proof for Posterity

Our companions and we standing in the main part of The Wave.

Heading back required a similar process using waypoints and compass bearings. The BLM map included photographs and readings for the return journey as well. One would think that retracing one’s steps would be easy, but it’s good not to get too cocky when close to home. The ranger had told us yesterday that more people got off the path on the return journey, especially where the path veers left to go over the saddle near the end of Coyote Buttes. Veering too soon could lead us into a steeper descent than we’d like. Veering too late could have us down in the lowlands where it would be harder to orient ourselves. Or even lead us to the sheer edge of Buckskin Gulch, which would present challenges of its own.

Trekking back from The Wave

Beginning the trek back from The Wave, distracted by visions of cold beer and nachos at Escobar’s.

Sure enough, as we headed up the hill, we began to disagree about the exact route. It’s interesting to see how the brain starts to see patterns and resemblances wherever it looks, and soon each of us was sure of the correct saddle – except there were at least three of them. Soon, two other couples caught up to us and added to the disagreement. I was quite convinced we had gone past the correct saddle, while others thought we needed to go farther still. Six of us eventually continued up the route we were following, and the other two opted for another route. None of us were too concerned about getting lost as we could see the large limestone hills that we knew to be behind the parking lot. Still we knew we could easily spend a couple of hours wandering around in the growing heat.

Death in the Desert

A reminder that not everyone survives out here in the desert.

As we came down the other side, it was clear we had not returned by the same saddle we’d come up. However, by following to the left the small wash at the base of the hill, we soon got back to the trail, which is clear enough at that point. The rest of the trip back to the car was uneventful. But even in hindsight, I doubt we four could all agree on exactly by which route we’d returned.

Flowers in the Sand

Away from the bare rock, more desert flowers blooming in mid-May.

As we left the parking lot, we passed the ranger coming in for the afternoon. Since each car needs to display a copy of its permit, there would be a good indication of who had not returned by nightfall, and in what area they would be. So if you get lost, someone might come looking. However, if you don’t feel comfortable with that possibility, it’s recommended to hire a guide for the hike. And take lots of water.

Celebrating our Luck

Celebrating our luck in winning the chance to hike into The Wave in Arizona.

At the end of the day, we still felt incredibly lucky to have won the lottery to visit “The Wave.” With our chances having been about one in twenty, we hadn’t really expected this outcome. We heard a rumour that if you fail to win a spot, and return to try again each subsequent day, you will be awarded an additional ball each day, up to a maximum of five balls. That would probably give you a fifty-fifty chance of getting in by the fifth day. However, I was not able to find a reference to this online. Another option is to enter the online lottery for one of the other ten spots, something you need to do several months in advance. Good luck!

Cheryl and the Terrain

Cheryl posing in front of the unforgiving terrain that guards The Wave.

On the way back through Las Vegas airport, I finally got to try my luck at the slot machines. Gambled and lost a dollar and that was enough for me! I guess I’d used up all my luck in Kanab.

Notes in the Margin:

A few days before our trip, we received an unusual request through the Couchsurfing site. A young couple in Poland were getting married, and the bride’s brother was creating a video with best wishes from all over the world. We offered to send our greetings from our home town, but thought it would be a nice touch to send personal greetings from Zion and “The Wave” as well. So we had some extra fun putting those together on the hikes.

Unlucky Seven

What?! I knew I should have bet on 13.

Related Posts:

For More Information:

Bye for Now!

Waving from The Wave – all the way to a Polish wedding!

Lucky 13 Wins in Vegas, … er, … Kanab, Utah

We didn’t win in Las Vegas, but we came up lucky while hiking in Utah.

Friends Darcy and Marty had planned a return visit to some of the areas they’d visited years before, and asked us to come along. Since Cheryl had no new contracts pending, we took up their offer at the last minute; one of the perks of the “No Pension Will Travel” lifestyle.

From Observation Point

The expected view from our first destination.

We flew discount airline Allegiant from Bellingham to Las Vegas. Their prices are low, but watch those extras. The default seating arrangement appears to ensure that couples are not together, and there’s an “upgrade” charge to move even one seat over. The rumoured fee to use the toilet was hyperbole.

We arrived in Vegas in the late evening, giving us just enough time for a driving tour of The Strip. This was mainly for my benefit, as the other three had each been to Vegas several times before. I remarked how much Las Vegas resembled a “Disneyland for Adults.” However, I missed my chance to thwart the one-armed bandits; early next day, we headed out for the three-hour drive to Kanab, Utah, planning a stop in Zion National Park for a hike up to Observation Point.

Observation Point

Part way up, Cheryl contemplates the remainder of the ascent to Observation Point.

I’d been wondering what Darcy had in store for us. About my age (and just as young looking), Darcy had recently run the Boston Marathon, and won her age group in a local half-marathon. She isn’t known for shirking a challenge. As a less experienced hiker, I thought I’d check out some of the hazards of hiking in Utah. Rattlesnakes, perhaps? Yes, there are some, but some of the biggest dangers are falls, dehydration, and flash floods. All can be mitigated with careful planning. And, as with most travel, driving is probably the top risk.

Observation Point climb

Much of the ascent to Observation Point looks like this.

I did see that Angels Landing in Zion had made it onto at least one list of “20 Most Dangerous Hikes.” Then I learned that Darcy had done that hike last time. “Observation Point is easy by comparison,” she said, although I wondered about “easy by comparison.” It’s an eight-mile round trip, with 2100 feet of elevation gain, the endpoint looking down on Angels Landing. The footing is smooth, making it doable if you’re used to those kinds of distances; we made the return journey in well under the suggested time of five hours.

Wildflowers in Zion

May was a great time to see wildflowers on all four of our Utah hikes.

This was Cheryl’s first hike since recovering from a running injury, so she was monitoring her body’s reactions to the climb and descent. Happy to say, it went well, although her legs complained to her the next day about the shock therapy.

Happy on Observation Point

Happy on Observation Point

I’m prone to vertigo – it’s a family trait – and there was about 20 minutes of uphill and about 45 on the return, when I found myself hugging the cliff side. The ledge was probably four or five feet wide at this point; most people wouldn’t be bothered. Still, I kept a watchful eye on the weather. I wouldn’t have enjoyed coming down during a blustery rain storm, and the rangers were divided on whether it would rain again before it cleared that evening. Lucky for us, the clouds began to lift, and we had only expansive views to contend with.

Hey, where's the lunch?

This little guy joined us for lunch. We also saw mule deer and wild turkeys in Zion.

Our home base in Kanab was the funky Parry Lodge, on the National Register of Historic Places. The rooms and lobby are plastered with photos of the many stars who came here to film westerns, mostly from the 30s through the 60s. With reasonable prices – about half of those charged in other areas around Zion – the Lodge was fully booked every night. The service was friendly, and even included packing us five-dollar box lunches that were big enough to share. It’s a busy kitchen, so if you have special dietary requirements for your hike, it’s best to write them out beforehand.

Heading down from the Point

Watching our step, heading down from Observation Point.

The next morning, we headed over to the BLM office in Kanab to do some gambling. We really wanted to do the hike into “The Wave”, in the North Coyote Buttes which straddle the Utah-Arizona border. It’s a popular destination, but permits are limited to 20 people a day. Ten of those are awarded via a lottery the day before. With about 200 people a day applying, our odds weren’t good. Our backup plan was to do a hike in Bryce Canyon. On this day, about 45 separate parties entered the draw, from as far away as Germany, China, Saudi Arabia, and Australia. The ranger read out the

Late afternoon sun in Zion

Late afternoon sun illuminates a peak in Zion.

names, origins, and ball assignments. I wished aloud for my lucky number, 13, and we thought it a good omen when we were assigned that ball. The packed hall fell silent as the hopper was spun. I wondered what we’d do if we only won spots for half our party, but Cheryl refused to speculate. Then, the first ball out was lucky 13 and we whooped and hollered like Vegas winners. The ten chosen hikers stayed behind to get maps and detailed instructions on how to find “The Wave” tomorrow. We learned that hikers occasionally failed to find it, and many get off the trail while returning. So, listen up!

Fording Wahweap Wash

These campers returned the next day to find Wahweap Wash dry no more.

For today, with flash floods possible, we decided to avoid Buckskin Gulch, and instead headed out for Wahweap Hoodoos near the tiny town of Bigwater. There we were reminded of the need to stay vigilant. Leaving the parking lot, and crossing Wahweap Wash – now running with snow melt from Bryce Canyon – we thought the instructions and trail map straightforward. But as the morning wore on, we began to wonder if we’d made a wrong turn. Eventually, we reached an abrupt end of the wash – and no hoodoos in sight. Turning around and retracing our steps, we spent much of the time speculating on various places we might have made a wrong turn. We had a good laugh, when, about 100 yards from the trailhead, we saw the signs we’d missed directing hikers up Wahweap Wash. We had, instead, gone up Nipple Creek. It was a good lesson for tomorrow if we weren’t also to miss “The Wave.”

Hoodoo-like Peak near Wahweap

This hoodoo-like peak is as close as we got to the Wahweap Hoodoos.

We consoled ourselves with a stop at the Toadstool Hoodoos, an easy few minutes from the highway. Marty thought there were fewer hoodoos at Toadstool than he’d remembered, and we speculated on whether erosion or human agents were to blame. We later learned there has been vandalism in some of Utah’s hoodoo sites. What a shame!

Toadstool Hoodoos Trail

The approach to Toadstool Hoodoos was picturesque.

We dined that evening at Escobar’s Mexican Restaurant, where copious good food is served with ample good cheer. It’s a small place, and popular, so waits are likely. Bellies stuffed, we returned to Parry’s Lodge to dream of “The Wave” – with the occasional nightmare about failing to find it.

Toadstool Hoodoo

One of the Toadstool Hoodoos looks precarious.

Next up: Hiking “The Wave”

Related Posts:

Wildflowers in the Wash

With so much to see, it was hard to remember to look down, but there were flowers everywhere.

For more information:

Everything in bloom

Almost everything seemed to be in bloom.

Cycling in the southern Dalmatian Islands

“Pshaw!” said Cheryl. “They won’t blame you.” I wasn’t so sure.

Our long-awaited late-September boat and cycle trip through the southern Dalmatian Islands was to begin the next day. After two previous European cycle trips on our own, Cheryl and I had invited members of our outdoor club to join us in Croatia this year. We’d hoped for half a dozen. When the boat sold out 11 months ago, we had 17 in our group. Fantastic.

The southern Dalmatian Islands at dusk as seen from Srđ above Dubrovnik.

The southern Dalmatian Islands at dusk as seen from Srđ above Dubrovnik.

Or was it? What if the trip wasn’t what we’d advertised to our friends? A mismanaged trip, or even a bad guide, and our names could be mud. The weather was threatening as well. We’d arrived in Dubrovnik a few days earlier only to wade through an unseasonal deluge that one fellow-traveler described as “biblical.”

This storm over the Dalmatian Islands later deluged Dubrovnik, turning the stairs to cataracts.

This storm over the Dalmatian Islands later deluged Dubrovnik, turning the stairs to cataracts.

We were also a nervous about the hills. This had been the biggest single topic of discussion among our group during the planning stages. While most of us were cyclists, we did range from late 50s to early 70s, so it made sense to be prepared. Like many in our group, Cheryl and I made sure to get several trips under our belt over the summer in the islands near our home – but they averaged less than half the heights we were expecting here.

Before heading for the ship, Cheryl and I enjoy a final view from the deck of our Airbnb digs

Before heading for the ship, Cheryl and I enjoy a final view from the deck of our Airbnb digs.

Departure day dawned with bright sunshine. Arriving at the Port of Gruž by bus, Cheryl and I were buoyed when we spotted the elegant and modern yacht, the Harmonia, with more than 30 bicycles arrayed out in front of her on the dock. It was time to meet our two guides, the crew of six, and our 30 fellow-travelers. Besides our own group members, arriving in Dubrovnik on various itineraries, there were another 15 from other parties.

Along with a fellow-rider, Cheryl inspects the bicycles.

Along with a fellow-rider, Cheryl inspects the bicycles.

Of the 32 passengers, there was one American, a few each from Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark – and the rest were Canadian. On the previous week’s sailing, the majority had been German-speaking. The crew and the ride-leader guides were from various parts of Croatia, and like many Croatians we met, they all spoke excellent English. A good thing, as we found Croatian impenetrable.

Cheryl and I unpacked in our air-conditioned stateroom, which was bigger and better equipped than some hotel rooms we’ve been in. After that, our guides, Petra and Neven, introduced us to our bikes. While many in our group had brought their own pedals or seats, Cheryl and I decided we would live with whatever we got. After a few test rides around the dock, we were all satisfied: comfortable, easy-shifting, almost new, and well-maintained. Two of our group and a few of the others had elected to reserve e-bikes, and they were promised a complete lesson before the first ride.

Spending a few days in Dubrovnik is well worth it.  Try to avoid the crowds.

Spending a few days in Dubrovnik is well worth it. Try to avoid the crowds.

Our first formal activity was a tour of Dubrovnik with a professional guide. For some on the ship, this was their first visit to the city. Even though others of us had already spent two or three days here, we saw new parts of town and learned more of its thousand-year history. After some free time in town, we enjoyed the first of many tasty shipboard dinners featuring Croatian seafood and other specialties. The first evening also included wine and schnapps on the captain. “Živjeli!”

Captain Josip at the helm of the Harmonia.

Captain Josip at the helm of the Harmonia.

The follow morning Captain Josip set course across an incredibly azure Adriatic towards the first of our island destinations, Šipan. This was our test ride: fairly level and about 45 minutes each way from the harbour to the small town of Suđurađ. Everyone would have a chance to iron out any kinks in their bicycles … or legs.

Neven gives a rider a lesson on the ebike.

Neven gives a rider a lesson on the ebike.

The promise of this ride was encouraging. The bikes performed well. The roads were quiet, and with a few exceptions, well signed and in good repair. Just in case, our guides had provided each of us with maps of the island, with our route hand-traced. Along the way, we passed vineyards and other crops, fascinating churches or occasional ruins, and figs and other fruit growing along the roadside. The quiet coffee stop at the picturesque waterfront town of Suđurađ was an excellent introduction to the many small island villages we would be visiting over the week to come. As we dug into our hot lunch back on the Harmonia, we got under way to our next destination.

Our first kava stop at Suđurađ, on the island of Šipan

Our first kava stop at Suđurađ, on the island of Šipan

About the only thing that had been missing from the Šipan ride were panoramic vistas. On Mljet, that would be remedied. We would pay for it in lengthy hill climbs and “undulating” roads, making it the “hardest ride of the week.” That turned out to be smart strategy on the part of the organizers, although some of the e-bike riders who hadn’t quite got the hang of their rides elected to sun themselves on the Harmonia as she sailed the length of the island to meet us. For the rest of us, as we contemplated the island summits each morning, we could always say, “Well, it can’t be as hard as Mljet!”

Starting up the first hill on Mljet, above Sobra.  Why are we leaving this idyllic spot?

Starting up the first hill on Mljet, above Sobra. Why are we leaving this idyllic spot?

The crew and the guides on these trips work long hours and hard. Yet somehow they manage to remain up-beat and friendly all the while. Besides three hot meals a day and the on-demand bar, great Croatian coffee was always ready before seven, and the last drinks were served after 10 pm. Once and often twice a day, the entire stock of 35 bikes had to be unloaded from the hold and readied for the next ride. (Those e-bikes are heavy.) There was always something interesting for us to do while the staff worked.

Even a boathouse for a PT boat sports that azure water

Even a boathouse for a PT boat sports that azure water

Before our ride on Lastovo, some of us toured decaying Cold War era tunnels on the small connected island of Prežba, until recently an off-limits military base. Others kayaked lazily around the bay, or sunned themselves top side, while taking in the spectacular scenery.

Succulents line this waterfront road on Lastovo.

Succulents line this waterfront road on Lastovo.

On Lastovo, we had another glimpse of the challenging job of ride leaders. As fifteen of us are in the same outdoor association, many of us have had experience leading bike trips of from ten to thirty individuals. We know how challenging it can be to provide suitable guidance, watch out for road safety, and still allow riders to set their own pace and enjoy the ride. When we arrived at the town of Lastovo, it came out during coffee and beer, that one of the riders had continued through town and not returned. His companions had become concerned when he didn’t show up, mentioning that he was “getting on in years.” Petra and Neven managed to spend a couple of hours searching the far end of the island, while coordinating others of us to help, and the rest to get back safely to the Harmonia. In the end, the wayward rider showed up unassisted at the ship, having spent a couple of hours drinking beer and discussing wines with a local farmer in his barn. All in a day’s work for our hard-working guides.

In Lastovo, each chimney is different, and reflected the home's social status

In Lastovo, each chimney is different, and reflected the home’s social status

There was a little bonus from the adventure. While Cheryl and I were out searching Lastovo with a friend of the missing man, we stumbled upon a tiny home-based winery, and were invited in for sampling and a mini-tour. Our companion was happy to buy a very inexpensive bottle of a very local wine. By policy, the tour company does not do winery stops in order to avoid dangerous afternoon riding conditions.

Two of our club members approach the summit of Korčula.

Two of our club members approach the summit of Korčula.

Our next trip was the first of two across the island of Korčula. Although the rides on Korčula were not as long as Mljet, they included some of the biggest hills of the week. A couple of them were more than five kilometers of uninterrupted climb, although never more than a 10 percent grade, and more often six to eight. Not impossible, but definitely a challenge if you aren’t used to hill climbing. Our club members all made it, but some of the other passengers sometimes pushed their rides, or made use of the e-bikes (which often meant they led the pack.) On most days, the guide who was “sweep” at the end of the group would start out with an e-bike so that they could swap if someone tired on their regular bicycle. This was not advertised, but it really showed the effort taken by Petra and Neven to ensure the trip worked for everyone.

How could you resist a swim in the beautiful anchorage at Prigradica

How could you resist a swim in the beautiful anchorage at Prigradica

Hey, did I mention the swimming? Most days, there were one or two opportunities for swimming off shower-equipped back of the Harmonia. It was impossible to resist. The water was stunningly clear, and that distinctive azure blue that characterizes the Adriatic in this area. It was also warm enough to get in and stay in. That despite the late September date following the “worse summer in decades.”

The water's great at Prigradica on Korčula

The water’s great at Prigradica on Korčula

After three days of hilly cycling, some of us were glad of a day off for a side trip to Mostar in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Others might have preferred not to break up the rhythm of the cycling. On the one hand, it was a two-hour bus ride each way, with lengthy stops at both Croatian and Bosnian customs in both directions. Mostar was hot, and rather overrun with tourists. On the other hand, it’s an iconic place, in terms of both its ancient and recent history.

A quiet moment in one of the mosques in Mostar

A quiet moment in one of the mosques in Mostar

Our guide, Senad, was interesting and informed, and I found it engaging to discuss with him some of the aspects of the recent ethnic conflict, together with his hopes for the future. With a little effort, we were able to visit places with fewer tourists, such as the interiors of some of the mosques that dot the city. In the quieter spaces, one could reflect on the significance of the cross upon the hill, or the war-damaged buildings. We could appreciate our return to our peaceful port that evening. “Mi smo tako sretni!” We are so lucky!

A peaceful evening in Gradac on the Makarska Rivijera

A peaceful evening in Gradac on the Makarska Rivijera

The entire tour had a satisfying cultural component. In addition to Dubrovnik and Mostar, we also had a professional guide in the old town of Korčula. For all the other islands and towns we visited, Petra gave an interesting historical or cultural presentation somewhere along the way. Although I’m sure she was well-versed in Croatian culture, it was obvious she put a lot of preparation into her job. Often, the guides went beyond the strict requirements of the job description. One morning, a half-hour Croatian language lesson lasted for 90 minutes; we were such eager students, she said.

"Good Morning!" While under way, Petra (wearing her Croatian flag skirt) leads us in a class in Croatian.

“Good Morning!” While under way, Petra (wearing her Croatian flag skirt) leads us in a class in Croatian.

One evening, as a special treat, Petra spent several hours giving us her personal view of some of the challenges of life in Croatia. The country suffered considerably during the multi-year war that followed its declaration of independence in 1991. Many industries have yet to recover, and the very personal scars of the war run deep. The country was hit hard again in the global crisis of 2008. Unemployment currently sits at over 17%, and the average gross income is less than $18000 per year. Petra had spent several years working as a nanny in the UK and the US before returning to the country she loved. As an independent guide in a seasonal industry, staying employed was always a challenge. Yet, she also knew that she was better off than many of her compatriots who would have to leave Croatia to find work. Croatia’s recent EU membership was not embraced by everyone. There have been some losers.

Like Croatia, Bosnia suffered horribly during its war for independence (photo taken near the bridge at Mostar)

Like Croatia, Bosnia suffered horribly during its war for independence (photo taken near the bridge at Mostar)

It was an engaging evening, and we definitely appreciated Petra’s frank and sometimes emotional delivery. We felt we were getting more than just the canned tourist spiel, and were grateful for it. Perhaps in return, we all opened up a bit more. On this trip, I learned things from some long-time friends that I’d never heard before.

Cycling hundreds of meters above the bay at Pupnatska Luka on Korčula

Cycling hundreds of meters above the bay at Pupnatska Luka on Korčula

Back on Korčula again for one of the longer rides, the hills no longer seemed so forbidding. They were just part of the journey, and we knew that each one led to views more stunning than the previous. At the end of the longest climb, it was a cool delight to encounter a roadside fruit stand, where we quickly demolished more than one juicy watermelon. Riding along the seaside into Korčula town that evening, I felt a little sad knowing we had only one more day of riding.

A leisurely sea-side ride into Korčula town

A leisurely sea-side ride into Korčula town

That last day, for the first time all week, we woke to gray skies and whitecaps on the water. Given all we’d heard about the eastern Adriatic’s “year without a summer,” we thought ourselves lucky to have enjoyed the past six days of blue skies and sun on our shoulders. Our final day of riding took us through the old town of Ston, a salt-drying region since Roman times. The surrounding countryside is protected by a huge wall, second only to the Great Wall of China. Leaving Ston, we had to make a decision on whether to climb the final hill, which, on clear days, would offer “the most spectacular view yet.” Just then, the sky darkened and we heard the rumbling of an approaching storm. Our guides explained that coming down the hill could be dangerous in the rain, and advised that we might do better taking a shortcut down the Split-Dubrovnik highway. What to do?

Thunder rolls ominously overhead as we decide to avoid the final hilltop climb

Thunder rolls ominously overhead as we decide to avoid the final hilltop climb

We broke up into groups of three or four, and cycled down the paved shoulder at two-minute intervals. It was busy, although not as harrowing as I’d expected. In the end, it was almost certainly the better option. The storm broke just as we reached the ship. Had we gone over the hill, we would have found ourselves right at the top just when the deluge hit. Although riding in traffic is something I try to avoid, the last half hour in traffic reminded me that, for the entire rest of the week, we’d had the roads almost to ourselves. We often rode for an hour or more without seeing a single car. I even wondered why they kept such well-maintained roads for so little traffic. Whatever the reason, this was one of the best weeks of cycling I’ve ever enjoyed.

A rider demonstrates her e-bike on one of the many quiet back roads

A rider demonstrates her e-bike on one of the many quiet back roads

I needn’t have worried about letting our group down. Comments ranged from “awesome” to “best trip ever!” September is a great month for riding here, and the best month for swimming. Apparently, this is true even in an off year. This was a well-organized tour; the crew and guides were personable and highly professional. A beautiful part of the world, with history stretching back for millennia, the southern Dalmatian islands are a great place to swim, boat, and cycle. Or just to sit in the sun, watch the world go by, and enjoy a coffee, beer, or ice cream – national favourites, all. Some of us will be back.

"This trip was awesome! When's the next one?" (aboard the Harmonia)

“This trip was awesome! When’s the next one?” (aboard the Harmonia)

Related Posts

If you want to follow in our tracks:

The tour company is Island Hopping, based in Germany. They operate similar tours in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, Turkey, and Vietnam. Others in our club have been on a number of these; all reported great trips. Their organized approach is evident. As with our Dalmatian trip, Island Hopping charters local ships and crews, and contracts independent ride leaders and guides. Their tour list sounds like our bucket list.

Harmonia and friend await us for lunch and a swim

Harmonia and friend await us for lunch and a swim

We booked this trip through BikeTours.com (formerly Bike Tours Direct.) This is the second trip we’ve booked through them. You pay the same rate whether booking directly or through BikeTours.com, but we have done well going through a company we know, and in our time zone. The small team at BikeTours.com are all riders themselves – sometimes they’re spread a little thin when they’re out reviewing rides, but that’s the good news. They know a lot about the tours they sell. Simon & Richie did an excellent job of helping us coordinate the plans of 17 riders. (That may warrant a post of its own!) We look forward to dealing with them again. Meanwhile, here’s the tour: “Dalmatia from Dubrovnik

At the top, a placque commemorates the defence of Korčula from a Turkish attack in 1571.

At the top, a placque commemorates the defence of Korčula from a Turkish attack in 1571.

What Happens While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

A Time Thief is operating in our neighbourhood.

How else to explain that my mid-May promise to supply part two of my decluttering post has been outstanding for over three months?

Fittingly, a large part of the delay came from the very non-physical clutter I had planned to write about. My embarrassment at this irony led to further stalling. Could the death of this blog be far behind?

It took a nudge from this young blogger to get me back at the keyboard. (Thanks, Jen!)

While our decluttering project has inched desultorily forward this summer, we’ve been living the “No Pension, Will Travel” lifestyle on other fronts.

Half-way turn on the cycle leg

Half-way turn on the cycle leg on Cheryl’s new road bike.

We’ve continued with our kedges this summer. On the heels of Cheryl’s first half-marathon in the Spring, I joined her for a “sprint triathlon” in May – her third, my first. I enjoyed it more than I expected, and we both bested our targets. Unlike Cheryl, I’d done relatively little triathlon-specific training this year, but my overall commitment to exercising six days a week really paid off.

Synchronized Diving Event at World Masters.  The geodesic dome in the background is from Montreal's Expo '67.

Synchronized Diving Event at World Masters. Geodesic dome in the background is from Montreal’s Expo ’67.

Later in the summer, Cheryl swam her first three-kilometre open-water swim at the FINA World Masters Games in Montreal, Canada. She was thrilled to do this race for the first time ever, and even more thrilled to beat her target time, coming in 22nd in her age-group in an international competition. Along with about 15,000 other swimmers and supporters, we took the opportunity to sight-see in the second-largest French-speaking city in the world – after Paris. Through AirBnB, four of us arranged to stay in a stylish apartment belonging to a McGill University professor. Luxury digs in a great part of town for about a quarter the price of hotel accommodation.

Outdoor Chess near the Place des Festivals

“Montreal Chic”: Outdoor Chess near the Place des Festivals

Between swimming events, we explored the various parts of the Old Town, shopping districts, parks, squares and museums that Montreal is famous for. With unlimited passes for bus and Metro, it was easy to get around – and we were only a half-hour walk from the City Centre. Montreal in the summer has a vibrant outdoor cultural scene, and we found people friendly wherever we went. Everyone was willing to go along with our attempts at French, or switch to English when we got in over our heads.

Something that that stood out for us was the large number of cyclists in Montreal, both on and off the many dedicated bike lanes. Unlike our home town, helmets were in the minority. Those with helmets were more likely to be cycling up Mount Royal at 6am. Those without – often on shopping trips – were more “Montreal chic” – often on bicycles rented by the hour from the Bixi cycle network. We didn’t try it, but, in the summer, you can borrow a bike for free at some Metro stations. All this got us thinking more about a cycle trip through Quebec some summer. Cycle routes abound, and some say it’s like cycling Europe right here in North America.

"Montreal chic" - a member of Montreal's finest sports pink camouflage pants, a creative protest against changes to their pension plan.

“Montreal chic” – one of Montreal’s Finest sports pink camouflage, a protest against changes to their pension plan.

Our next big kedge comes next month, when we will tackle several of Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands by bicycle. We’ve been told to expect after-breakfast climbs to hilltops as high as 1600 feet above sea level, so we’ve taken every opportunity this summer to work on those leg muscles. With friends, or members of our outdoor club, we’ve tackled a number of areas with challenging hills of their own.

San Juan Island Sculpture Park: over 20 acres of outdoor art.

San Juan Island Sculpture Park: over 20 acres of outdoor art.

We started in June with a great couple of days in Washington’s San Juan Islands. No shortage of hills, but most were manageable. After we were forced to walk a steep hill in Orcas Island’s Enchanted Forest, we decided that Mount Constitution – all 2400 feet of it – would have to wait. We continued throughout the summer with several more island cycling excursions with our club, moving northwards into British Columbia’s Gulf Islands. One of those trips included some kayaking as well.

The beach at Sandwell Park on Gabriola Island, British Columbia.

The beach at Sandwell Park on Gabriola Island, British Columbia.

BC’s Northern Gulf Islands boast one advantage over their more southern cousins. In the summer, the water is often warm enough for swimming, especially after you’ve just cycled over the top of the island.. One thing about island cycling – every side trip down to a beautiful ocean bay necessitates a climb back up a hill. Putting in 1600 feet of vertical in an otherwise lazy day is not that hard to do. We’re feeling pretty confident about the hills of Korčula, Mljet, and Lastovo. I hope we’re not fooling ourselves!

Our annual coastal reunion with the Shedders often includes a forest walk along this peaceful lake.

Our annual coastal reunion with the Shedders often includes a forest walk along this peaceful lake.

We also got in some good visits with friends and family: a trip to the near-desert to visit the new home of friends who will retire this year; a visit from Cheryl’s brother and family on their way home from an Alaskan cruise; and our annual waterfront reunion with our friends from the Shedders. This year, we also got a chance to meet the third Shedder couple, if only for a couple of hours. Can an Australian reunion be far behind?

The gang from Shadowlawn, bracketed by two of the Shedders.  (Photo courtesy of Heather of the Shedders.)

The gang from Shadowlawn, bracketed by two of the Shedders. (Photo courtesy of Heather of the Shedders.)

We also took advantage of some serendipity to bring together three groups for a wonderful evening last month. Our investigation of shared-housing options had led me to discover “Shadowlawn” – the joint Pittsburgh residence of Jean, Karen, & Louise (JKL) featured in “My House, Our House.” I emailed them, and let them know about the Shedders – and vice versa. They must have recognized kindred spirits: before long they were commenting regularly on each others’ blogs. When JKL ended up vacationing in our part of the world at the same time as our friends from the Shedders, they arranged to meet up, and the five of them agreed to present to our “Free at 55” Meetup group at a special “Cohouseholding Corroboree.” It turned out to be one of our best events of the year. You can read Heather’s account of the day on her blog, as well as JKL’s account on theirs.

Equivocation, a play by Bill Cain

Equivocation, a play by Bill Cain (photo: The Bard Brawl)

We finished up that weekend attending a great performance of “Equivocation” by Bill Cain – one of the most engaging plays I’ve ever enjoyed. Heralded as “a play about telling the truth in difficult times,” it is most relevant to the times we find ourselves in this year.

With our weekends so long and full this summer, it was all we could do to pack our regular work schedules into three and four-day weeks in between. Not to mention a challenging one-week course on “interest-based” negotiation, giving our sons some assistance with consolidating their new careers and (for one of them) a new home, and regular chores around our house.

While in Montreal, we ran into this memory of John & Oko's "Bed-in" from the 60s.

While in Montreal, we ran into this memory of John & Oko’s “Bed-in” from the 60s. Still relevant today.

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” – Allen Saunders (via John Lennon)

Reflecting on this summer of friends, family and fun has led me to see something more clearly.

I had viewed our decluttering project as the next step on our full transition to “No Pension, Will Travel.” When it stalled, I began to feel as if nothing was moving forward. My perspective fell into a “holding pattern”, waiting until I had the time to start addressing the “big concerns.” I lost my motivation to keep this blog up to date.

You never know what you might find along the way: road sign on Denman Island, BC

You never know what you might find along the way: road sign on Denman Island, BC

In the meantime, life happened. A life to be grateful for. I need to remember that. By all means, make big plans, always have something new to look forward to. But don’t forget to enjoy the meandering path that life follows all the while. For the river of time keeps flowing.

What are Old People For, by Dr. William "Bill" H. Thomas

What are Old People For, by Bill Thomas

Over the summer, I read a couple of books by Dr. William “Bill” H. Thomas that gave me a new perspective on this ageing journey we’re all on. I first read his recently published “Second Wind”. Finding it both challenging and enlightening, I tracked down a copy of his now out-of-print “What are Old People For”. I enjoyed that one even more. These books alone merit a post of their own, but one important idea was that getting older offers us the opportunity to re-learn living in the present moment. As we plan the coming year – or two, or three – I also plan to heighten my enjoyment of life along the way.

So what’s ahead? What stories do we hope to post in the months to come?.

Later this month we embark on our long-awaited cycling trip in Croatia. It’s been a bit more organizing work than I’d counted on. Even though we’re signing on to a pre-existing tour, coordinating the plans of the 15 friends who are joining us has taken some doing. I’m hoping to share some of our lessons learned in a future post. But now that it’s close, we’re finally feeling the excitement. We plan to start our trip with a few days on our own in Ljubljana, the romantic capital of neighbouring Slovenia.

"Ljubljanica 01" by Mihael Grmek - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Ljubljanica 01” by Mihael Grmek – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Cheryl has been mapping out her schedule of triathlons, open-water swims, and half-marathons for the Fall and Spring. One thing she learned from her Montreal competition is that she enjoys the regular training more than the competition, but somehow enrolling in the competitions keeps the training on track.

We’re also thinking about our longer cycling trips for the coming year or two. Besides Quebec, we’re also considering is a trip across the three Baltic countries, passing through the town where my father was born. This would give us the opportunity to meet some of my second cousins for the first time. The family had been out of touch since WWII, and was only reconnected when I started building my family tree on WikiTree a few years ago.

Trakai Castle in Lithuania, by Marcin Bialek

Trakai Castle in Lithuania, by Marcin Bialek (Own work) [GFDL, or CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, we’re still working towards the next phase of our retirement schedule. This year, we struggled with the timing of quitting our current jobs. Somehow, a joint decision kept eluding us. But in recent months, a new plan is beginning to emerge. Cheryl’s employment situation has improved since June, and she’s more excited about staying on for a while. Since I’m the older one in this relationship, it made sense that I should be the first one to make the transition. While a staggered “retirement” creates a few new challenges, it has a number of advantages. Sounds great to me! Christmas would be a great time to give myself a present.

Echoes from the mysterious "old country": Dad & his family

Echoes from the mysterious “old country”: Dad & his family

As for the challenges – such as decluttering – I imagine they’ll be part of that life that keeps on happening while we’re busy making plans.

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  • What do you do to enjoy the present moment while working towards retirement?