Bikemind does linked-in.

Given I have now been riding my bike around various parts of the globe for the past 15 months or so I decided it may finally be time to update my linked-in profile. So,  while I still follow the worlds of social enterprise and waste and recycling, my online networking profile now reads as that of blogger and biker. Here then is my spoof CV for such an intrepid traveller.

Key statement
With over 20, 000km now cycled on both road and off road tracks Naomi is an accomplished rider and has fallen off only once in the part two years. A chief planner extraordinaire she has negotiated numerous border changes, cast her eye over various maps and guide books and assessed key climatic zones. With that in mind she was confidently able to promise sunshine every day to her cycle buddy John. While long gloves, leg warmers and rain jackets have been required on a few occasions she continues to smile, laugh and sing…..probably all to the annoyance of others!

1. Hated sport at school though before team games and competition were introduced I quite enjoyed riding my bike in the summer holidays.
2. Following teenage years and that rebellious stage of drinking and smoking which continued on a little longer than it should, Naomi purchased her next bike, aged 21, with the help of good friend fuzzy Jim.
3. In her mid twenties a different Jim ( boyfriend at that time) would “encourage” her to cycle the vast distance between Bristol and Bath and up hills which quite frankly she often grumbled through. Both Jim’s were responsible for leading Naomi up really muddy paths, though rivers and riding in the pitch black by moonlight alone.
4. Single and desperate for a holiday she signed up to ride on an organised tour through Vietnam in her late twenties much to the amazement of her friends. She was even found training on an exercise bike before work!
5. A holiday romance, on said trip, with a guy who had also cycled Lands End to John O’Groats, led Naomi to think that it was a good idea. It was and a year later, 2005, saw her complete that trip with Daisy Tom.
6. Arran, Islay and Yorkshire would all feature as trips with the girls where Naomi was the only one who could fix a puncture and carried spares. She was also the only one who liked single malt whisky on the Islay tour.
7. Jim 2 became her accomplice on a ride through the Outer Hebrides and this time he was at the back despite the fact that Naomi was carrying more kit!
8. She successfully completed a tour of Sri Lanka in December 2011 during which her fate to cycle the globe was sealed. Training then began in earnest with ten or so spin classes a week and rides out trying to keep up with her friend Darren on his carbon racer.

In addition to riding she had undertaken a few independent trips to far away places. With that had come a reputation for setting off earthquakes and trying to pack in far too much to the itinerary. (Remember the Barcelona trip Maz?)

Key achievements
1. Still riding the globe with a complete stranger after 15 months. Pretty amazing.
2. Summiting the Thorong-la pass in Nepal, passing landfalls, rivers, cliff edges and precarious bridges.
3. Remaining on the Cairo to Capetown tour despite hating the initial experience and going on to ride over 40km naked through Namibia. (trust me that was a miracle!)
4. Riding Alpe d’huez and some other Cols with full touring kit – the boys were impressed.
5. Setting off in the first place and just deciding to go for it.

Naomi is looking to continue her journey, write a book, share her experiences and encourage others to live their dream. She hopes she may eventually drop a few pounds and get rid of her silly tan lines.

Crossing borders

So, here we are in Lak Sao, 32km from the Laos/Vietnam border. Better still, we have also found WiFi and in looking to write a new update I thought I may reflect for a moment. Border crossing days always set the mind thinking of what has passed and  what will lay ahead.  While never really needing to worry, a sense of trepedation at the form filling and acceptance required to push ahead there are, nevertheless, always slight fears of being stuck in no mans land. Despite this we have never yet had a problem.

I get excited every time we are set to enter a new country. I enjoy noting the differences in buildings and landscape, tasting different food and saying hello in another language. We are fortunate of course to have this ability to travel. For many people borders may mark a sense of what is not available, both flippantly in terms of say alcohol given a difference in law and maybe much more in terms of lifestyle and opportunity.

Border crossings are often hectic places….a real mix of paperwork and efficiency with the hustle and bustle of money changers, queues of lorries transporting various goods, bus and taxi drivers getting people to their destinations and shopkeepers selling all manner of goods and services. As we crossed from alcohol free Sudan into Ethiopia we were soon grabbing a cold beer and it seems with the numerous brothels also in that particular Ethiopian border town alcohol was not the only prohibition. Leaving Nepal quickly moved from well, relatively calm to the mayhem that is India and as we travelled through from France to Italy the long tough climb changed to the most fabulous downhill hairpin bends instead. I sense tomorrow will be much the same…..mountains do tend to form quite a good natural border!

Water is of course another of those natural boundaries and very sadly, while we’ve been away we have also seen many people die in a desperate bid to leave their own place of birth. Running from war, persecution and poverty the chance for a better life far outweighing the risks that lay ahead. I read stories of tunnels built in a bid to reach supplies, again past borders they are not allowed to cross and, in what is perhaps a reversal of not been allowed to travel far or at all, recently read a blog through facebook telling the story of a man it seemed who had been to too many different places, too many times and was now deemed with suspicion when crossing the USA. He was “returned” to Canadian soil.

For now it seems our only concern is the occasional bribe request and the need to find a pen that works as we trot out passport details, destination information and the inevitable dollars required. As we tour we often note that trips like this act as very valuable reminders of our relative fortune. Access to water and electricity while often the most critical we should also be reminded that travel itself is a huge privilege and despite the occasional moan about form filling we must not forget that many people cannot cross borders quite so easily.

Flexibility and freedom

One of the things I have always said I love about riding is the flexibility and freedom of being on a bike, with all you need to hand. Sadly, the news of being granted just a 15 day visa for Thailand would scupper this somewhat and as we set off from the ferry port at Satun, Southern Thailand. We knew we would have to cut short our time or aim for a Visa extension. Having just ridden through Malaysia were looking forward to completing the full ride from Singapore to Bangkok. Despite the other backpackers coming in from Langkawi thinking we were slightly nuts we were excited. There’s something about riding into a really big city I rather like – though we now needed to make some decisions on priorities given we still had the rest of South East Asia to discover and a flight booked from Bangkok on December 7th.

After much congitation and deliberation we made the decision that given we would be returning to Thailand before heading home for now we were going to leg it. We would ride to Krabi and then look at all means possible to enable us to arrive in Vientiane, Laos, from there. Riding into Bangkok was still something we wanted to attempt so how our journey would commence was now down to careful logistics. Time for me to pour over maps, investigate public transport and read about what we still may not want to miss despite having to leave Thailand sooner than originally anticipated. Eventually we decided to get the bus to Surathani and from there we would get the train to  Hua Hin, a couple of days ride South of Bangkok, before a final overnight train to Laos.

It’s funny how quickly freedom and flexibility turn into nooses and complications. Pedals and handlebars turned, wheels removed and we were soon loaded into a 4 x 4, heading for the bus. The coach would then take us, bikes and luggage to the train station where we would learn quickly how bikes and trains work in Thailand – web research seemed ok, we just needed it to be reality.

The coach left an hour late only to soon break down. We were sitting at the front watching the driver get more agitated as things didn’t quite work as they should. While anxious regarding delays and missing our train, I was pleased we would not do the whole journey behind an uptight guy with phone in one hand and a fag in the other! At least on my bike I’m a bit more in control. Eventually we swapped coaches, once more moving bikes, wheels and luggage from one vehicle to another. We were dropped off around 100 metres from the station entrance with an hour or so before our departure. Wheels re-attached, pedals and handlebars turned… it was time to find the luggage office. Right now the bikes were definitely nooses.

Fortunately it would not be this way for long. Loading a bike is as simple as completing a form and paying a small cargo fee  – if only we had proper luggage carriages like this back home. We arrived in Hua Hin, rested and did the tourist thing and then set off for Bangkok. It was great to be back on the bike though we would be in Laos when we finally found that sense of freedom again. The ride into Bangkok was amazingly straightforward and we would have just one night there before we would leave for Laos.

A new sense of calm actually started in Nong Khai. We stayed at a relaxed small guest house, the Mut Mee where we met two other cyclists. They talked highly of Laos, as had friends back home….there was now just the Mekong between us and..well, it. And  “it ” would not disappoint.

In our original route plan we would spend just a week or so there. Following a few days in Vientiane we would ride to Vinh, just over the border in Vietnam. However, freedom and flexibility were back and this time I would be pouring over maps and itineraries to see how we could spend more time here rather than less. So, we’re in Luang Prabang right now ( temporarily minus the bikes) and will call into Vang Vien before returning and continuing our original route. We will still ride parts of Vietnam but instead will return to Southern Laos, entering Cambodia from there before our final entry into Thailand.

At least that’s the plan for now –
and that’s what I love about this flexibility and freedom.