Blog45-Pan-eurasia completed

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Lisbon, let me say. Is not a city that you easily roll into. Its hilly, its extremely narrow in street width, once you get into the older portions of Lisbon you contend with cobbles and tram tracks as well as cars which really aren’t that polite. In reflection, China as it turns out has been one of the easiest countries to ride a bike in, and as far as individual cities, then I think Florence was maybe the easiest to simply ride thru. But lets not get to far ahead of ourselves, we left off with all of Portugal layed out in front of Jeremiah and his Surly bike. While Jeremiah may be a little sore in joint and tendon, we have however concluded the pan-eurasian portion of the round the world bicycle journey. Following this we will be riding on US soil and happy for it. Some will ask, what is this RTW thing I am seeing. Simply a well known acronym for – round the world, and apply it to whatever means of travel you have chosen.

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As stated many times now, I pick my own route, no mapped out routes provided by other previous adventure cyclists. Very simply, I look over my Google maps, try to find the smallest roads I can ride which lead me in a general direction that I want to go. It should’nt be so simple you may say, but indeed it is. My route is my route, I remain flexible to any and all advice from the road as I ride. I have on occassions, found sites along the way that appeal to me, these will get marked on the map and if it works out, we take them in.

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Crossing into Portugal due south of Ciudad Rodrigo, I then turned due west and made a long arching route to Subragal. Rolling countryside swept past the wheels of my Surly, it was easy on the eyes of the rider as well. Very pretty the eastern edge of Portugal. Now I had thought that the Brits and the Croates stacked alot of rock, but here, along the eastern frontera, there is a massive amount of rock stacked. Its not simply the miles of wall that you see, nor number of complete barns made of stacked rock. Its more than that. I was caught by the sheer immencity of some of the rocks that have been stacked, adding all the more to that sense of amazement. Portugal is a wet piece of Gods Creation, with abundant rain and fog. So trees, if older, are festooned with long tendrils of Spanish Moss, rock walls will be covered with a vibrant green carpet of moss in time, all of which adds to the photographic allure of the tiny villages the Surly rolls thru. My friend Buddy Goodman ( Warthan Canyon rock stacking champion in 1987 and again in 2007) would fit right in with these folks.

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There are plenty of fields where it is now obvious to me that hogs are being raised for the Iberico style hams, many fields of cattle are passed, not all are fighting type cattle, but certainly many are. Subragal, a city built around a hilltop fort which looks down at the banks of a passing river, dating back to its 1465 birth. Subragal, lay draped around the hillside, like the folds of a blanket, wrippling around the edges with the undulations of the Portugese countryside. Supragal is also the first place where I witnessed a truck load of cork bark being hauled in for its production. The whole cork thing is very interesting to me, yet I never did get to see it being harvested, nor did I fjnd anyone to talk about its harvest and production. Not for lack of trying, all I managed to find out is tbat you need a license to be a harvestor, and trees are protected. The bark is peeled away in large sheets from the trunk of the tree, leaving a vibrant red coloration to those trees that are freshly peeled. The trees are then given a number, the number tells inspectors how many years have passed since it was last harvested. There is an lbvious point atwhich the harvestors must quit or they stand to have damaged the tree, but on some trees they harvest up onto the lowest branches and on some not. Questions I would like to ask, but found no one to pose the question to.

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I mentioned clear cut logging as well taking place on the red sandy soil of Portugal, indeed there is much of it taking place. Having been a logger in my own past, I find it interesting and as such parked my Surly and took a walk out thru several logged areas. Trees cut at very small diameters, down to as small as 4″, moist red sand soil, they used feller bunchers and grapple type skidders……..I could tell, there tracks were still warm………ha,ha, just kidding. What I did witness as it pertains to the Cork Oak, and place there was ANY size of this Oak growing, the loggers worked all around it without disturbing it. Within less than a year the whole area has been terraced on steep hillsides, and trees are once again planted covering and protecting the soil from erosion. And the cycle begins yet again.

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While Jermiah, and his Surly bike rolled thru eastern Portugal, south of Subragal, it became very evident that the hills were getting far larger, far steeper, and poochy maggie there are a bunch of them to contend with. After Subragal, the open fields, stacked rock and farming give way to quite heavy forest cover. The forest looks to be mostly planted Pine and Eucalyptus. Huge stands of it ranging over hill after hill. It appears to be harvested at a very young age, the trees are maybe 8-12 inch diameter when you see them being hauled. It would be my guess that they go into paper production, since they are so small and cut in what looks to be 6 foot lengths.

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Quite a bit of the ride was over this rather hilly tree covered countryside, so it was not all that scenenic since immature forests are hardly magnificent. topped off with heavy fog till 10 or later in the morning and you are left with nothing to do but peddle. The hills of Portugal, while nothing in height nor magnitude when  compared to the mountains that Pine and I have conquered earlier in our RTW journey, were non-the-less almost my undoing. I would guess its the combination of steepness along with the sheer number of climbs all stacked onto rather tired legs. I would place the day before Lisbon’s entry as one of the toughest 5 days of the trip thus far, yet I know that there are many more that lay ahead in crossing USA.

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Second from last day, and near the end of the day. I took a turn into Salvatorre da Magos, not even sure why except maybe to take abreak. Idling down the main street of this small village, at town center stands a huge bronze which lionizes the art of Portugese Bull Fighting heritage. A magnificent piece by a talented artist, fully capturing that tension between the tip of the piquet which is centered on the bulls shoulders, and the fierce look in the eye of the bull in his determination to win his way thru in this fight for life.  It’s a great bronze too walk around, you can almost hear the crowd cheering, sense the intermingling odors of sweat, sand and blood as the epic battle takes it’s course. Somewhere to the far end of the main street I pass a small store front with a SADDLE………. I said a saddle. Yes indeed, sitting out front the store. Naturally, Jeremiah had to go in and check things out. Its contains some really classy leather as well as clothing items, all of which invoke the Portugese style of horsemanship and horse culture. The smells of leather and fine woolen wear greet me as I enter thru the doorway, a firm handshake and an amiable smile, again of the Portugese manner. Hooks on the walls hold handmade bridle headstalls, handmade half leggings etc, and mannequins sport all manner of traditional rider accutrements made of wool and leather. The saddler, Marco Pimental, the store is “EquiUSA”, Marco is an acfable fellow who does really fine work, I invite you to check him out on Facebook.

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Its my guess the word was out, theres a biker in town. Only a few minutes into my visit with Marco, and an excited, fit, elderly fellow shows up, speaking rather rapidly to Marco about something but I know not what. Marco then explains to me after Senior Oliviera takes his leave, that Senior Oliviera is plus 80, and rides 30km everyday. I am impressed without knowing anymore, but I would later meet him again on the street before I got out of town. He wanted to show me the carbon fiber steed ( a beautiful Orbea cycle) that he rides each day, and to have a picture with me and my all steel ashphalt tractor. Just a few miles from Salvatorre, I pulled over for the night to make camp. The next day would see Jeremiah and the heavily loaded Surly roll into downtown Lisbon. It seemed that it took forever to get into town, heavy fog till well after 12, busy roads, and essentially flat till you roll into oldtown. I have an apartment in very traditional San Bento district in Lisbon. Very narrow streets, all cobble and super steep streets. My family arrives late the evening of the 23rd, we will celebrate Christmas in Lisbon and Morroco. I look forward to riding thru southern USA and on to home. My thanks too all of you for your constant Prayers during this portion of the RTW thru Gods Creation cycle trip, and I would ask for your continued support thru our America’s till we can wrap this entire trip up.

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Blog44-Burgos, fighting bulls and pigs.

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Seems like ages since this guy has been alongside of me, its good to see him.

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While in Burgos, laying in a dry bed and thinking of what lay beyond in Gods creation, trying to decide a route and permitting sleep too overtake my eyelids. It wasn’t until the following morning while Jeremiah sat astraddle his Surly bikes crossbar that an escape route was actually formulated. Small roads, almost impossible to see on Google maps due to the poorly chosen color scheme they use, would wind there way south towards Salamanca and beyond. My only real Prayer that previous night was, Dear Lord, if yer really there and listening, then please put all these rain clouds over California and give me a little sunshine!

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I should explain this image, no ticket, just that every person in the station came to my aid in finding a car wash to clean my pedals. The young lady, Patricia, walked me around the town.

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I would be remiss to say that I woke to  beam of sunshine poking thru the hostel window. quite to the contrary, it was foggy, dull and ominous looking. I was dressed to get wet, and mentally prepared for the worst. Burgos, lay along the banks of a slow meandering river, skeleton trees lacking the splendor of autumn leaves,  brush, wild berry vines line the rivers banks. Forming a near impenatrable wall along the cold unwelcoming waters edge. My Surly bike, is pointed almost due south, taking me up and over the first major ridge. Churning thru the thick grey mire of fog, Jeremiah began to see a certain brightness under the cloud in front. Funny how a little Godly optimisim can give one extra pedaling strength. The fog soon lifted, and by 10am and just a few ridges I was stripping off Showers Pass gear to ride in a wind breaker and my cycle shorts. It was glorious to have sun washing over me rather than rain. My mood was ebulient.

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Noon on days such as this, will find Jeremiah pulled over, among young olive trees,grapevines, or grazing pasture, making a cup of tea and enjoying a cheese sandwich and my favorite rich Spanish Chorizo. The vista before me is huge blue sky vault and beautiful Spanish countryside. I realize that much of what is the beauty of Spain has slipped past me, shrouded in the fog that is Spanish winter. Its a beautiful country, with splendid huge vistas, and rich ranching and farm ground in every direction. For the next 3 full days I would be given sunny clear skies underwhich to ride and enjoy Spain. Somewhere along in this row of undulating hills there is a wine growing region that encapsulates the city of Villadolid. I was enjoying the crisp clear morning aire while churning the cranks of my Surly, noticing to my left a vehichle much to nice to be field hand, obviously an owner out checking his vineyard. Well, me and my big mouth and small brain, as I ride by I see tbe vehicle owner walking up to his car……..I holler “Drink California Wine” as loud as I can. The recipient of my misplaced humour, yells right back “Alto mi Amigo”. Now surely after yelling something like that to a total stranger, he deserves a chance to defend himself eye to eye with his eristic assalant.

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Would he understand if I told him that I was simply giving him the advice of close friends Walter and Jim…….both producers of fine California wines…..no, I doubt it. So, taking my lumps is in order and I turn around to face the fellow. As I roll up and even before I can tender an apology, he (Valantin Daniel Olariu), offers me 2 bottles of HIS wine from his back seat, and kindly recommends I try this before shouting California obscenities. What can I do, or say, he is so gracious in defeat. Turns out my new friend whom I know will someday drive into my yard, is a wine grape specialist from Romania. He is one of only 3 people in the world who is licensed to perform a very special type of grafting procedure. I think the most ironic twist in the whole story is when with a huge smile he tells me, “you are partially correct about one point concerning California wine, this grafting procedure was developed in California and is indeed revolutionary within the wine industry”. I leave thankful,”burdened and blessed” with 2 bottles of wine to carry to Lisbon and enjoy over the Christmas Season with my family. Burden, is wieght. Blessing, is a gift.

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Spain is gradually flattening out under my Schwalbe tires as I roll south towards Salamanca. The day I actually arrive in this small Spanish city on the countries western edge, it is raining once again. Cathedrals and interesting town squares make up the center most region of the city. Salamanca, resides along one of the Pilgrim routes to Santiago de Campostella. The Gothic Cathedrals within Salamanca are quite simply huge and grand, but not a single one was open for me to view insice. This is a pnenomenon that I have found within Spain almost everywhere, the churches are closed up…..period. My camp for the evening was at the outer footings of one of the Cathedrals that lay along the rivers edge, tucked between a hedge and 800 year old rockwork, I would make a simple supper and then go for a walk up among the Cathedrals in the evening. Feeling pretty safe to leave my camp for an hour unattended since i could barely refind it myself upon my return.

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From Salamanca south towards Portugal lies the the country most known for producing Spanish fighting bulls and the black pigs known for producing thier local favorite “Pata Negra Jambon”, ham made from the leg of a black pig…….not just any pig mind you. Just this one special Iberico breed of pig. It was along this trek thru the countryside that I sought to learn a little more about the pig since there seemed to be a ham producer in almost every village. These oinkers, are raised much like cattle, meaning that they run outside year around. They live in fields that look manicured with lush green grass and well groomed Oaks overhead. The Oaks are important within the whole storyline, as they play heavily into the flavor of the pigs meat. The heavily groomed or pruned Oaks produce abundant numbers of acorns due to the pruning. The only other food given the pigs, is a warm mash made of locally grown garbonzo beans. The sows, during farrowing season, are run in lots with large doghouse looking affairs. Each sow takes on one house, has her piglets and raises them till weaning time. The odd looking solid black pigs, with thier very small snouts and huge rear ends, still graze as a pack undisturbed for a full year before the “Grim Reaper” comes to call.

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Here is where it all got much more interesting for me. The hams seem to range from expensive to costly, yet every family has one thru this festive season. The simple family hams (jambons hung for approx. 6 months) are about $40.00 € euro per kilo. The hams are hung, only lightly salted, in special underground rock rooms where they can slowly dry for as long as 20 years. Those hams that hang for multiple years are the premium jambons and only procured by the wealthy. They are collected and sought after very much like aged wines, with certain ham producers conditions allowing better drying and flavor, as well as color and texture. Nothing is wasted from these pigs and thier production. At one stop, I had a local favorite, which consists of pig snout and lips in a stew looking consistancy made of local red peppers. It was indeed good, once you got past the rather rubbery, squishy texture. At yet another little village cafe, I had a small plate of deep fried bacon and jambon ends, these were especially good with a local hard sheeps milk cheese and a piece of bread. Spain came to and end under an umbrella of puffy cumulus clouds enveloped in azure skies and sunshine. The open road west now leads me into the eastern frontera of Portugal.

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Blog43- Ice challenge gone wrong

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The “Ice Challenge”, it seems to be the latest cause du jour, and for that purpose it has done well. My own ice challenge has gone on for now…..5, maybe 6 days. No, not the usual 3-10 seconds of cascading ice over the head. This is pretty much an all day affair, no kidding. You can say that the fun has wore off completely. Some of you will notice that there seems to be about a week of Jeremiahs life missing since he arrived in Bilbao. The reason is, I was back in China doing a little work that had to get done or else we would have bigger issues to slay when I finally do get home.

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Ever since we climbed out of Bilbao on those steep roads which take you further west, it has been very heavy overcast and dreary. First day out was 3 hours of heavy rain and the higher I climbed it turned into ice pellets as they pinged off my steel framed Surly bicycle. Somewhere along the route I had to stop and buy some food for that evening camp. I took advantage of being able to buy a newspaper and got some extra plastic bags for my feet. By the time I got moving again, well everything was trying to sieze up, no joint wanted to move. Just too darn cold. All totaled that day we hit 61 miles and were on our way towards Parc de Europa. Camp that night was by God cold. REI, states quite clearly…..NEVER LIGHT A FIRE INSIDE YOUR TENT. I understood the dangers, and did it any how.

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Like most everynight this last week, I have been in the sleeping bag by 6pm…….and shivering. No sitting outside by the campfire cause there ain’t one to sit by. I use an alchohol stove to cook with, it is very efficient for a one burner affair, but thats the extent of it. My day starts and ends pretty much the same way, wrap the feet in newspaper…..I try to find pages of Obama news, wrap my feet with 2 or 3 sheets and slip on my socks, followed by a plastic bag or 2, followed by my rain sodden cycle shoes. Long johns and my Showers pass rain suit and then hit the open road with a seriously forced smile. Yes, I know, there are things called hostels and hotels, but some of this trip has to have an edge to it. I used to put all my riding clothes down inside my sleeping bag on just cold dry days, but now that the clothes are soaked thats a different story. I know just enough about cold weather survival to know, you do not want a damp, wet sleeping bag. So I came up with a different alternative, its does nothing for drying anything out, it just leaves you with clothes a little warmed up. I use my compression sack for the sleeping bag filled with the wet clotbes as my pillow. They are a little bit warm when you put them back on with great reluctance in the morning. I am so glad I finally decided to bring my pistol along after all, cause I dont think I could/would put those clothes on without holding that gun to my head.

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Not alot of stops being made thru the day, my photo count has dropped right off for instance. Couple of reasons, the sky is so low and so heavy that it renders most images pretty useless. But to a greater extent, my darn fingers are so cold I just dont want to bother with getting it all out waiting for fogging to quit, wipe the lense, keep it away from your face because the diopter will fog……..OMG, by then the fingers are really shaking. I also dont stop very often thru the day for coffee or to talk, for the very same reasons, plus if you step inside and have coffee…..at least for me, I am about done. Everything just comes to a halt when the body is allowed to cool. Starting back up can be a real struggle.

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As you read this blog, understand 3 things…….yes, first off I am complaining……I signed up for a bike ride……no where in the tour literature did it mention an uncomfortable bike ride. Lesson two, you will look at the images and say to yourself……..what the heck is he talking about……..the sun is always present. Correct, in the images it is,  but over this however many days, I really doubt there have been 4 hours of sunshine/bluesky total. Every other moment is iether dark of night, or foggy rain soaked days with strong winds to make it all the more pleasant. And third, there is no place flat in Spain…….and that came as a surprise to me, also not mentioned in the tour the world literature.

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This is what it looks like warming wet feet over stove.

My route to Parc de Europa, which is a must see…….some other time for me unfortunatley, the park is a jewel among the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain. It is the home to the Basque people, they were the first people group to make a stand against the Muslim hoarde’s invasion. From this region and its strong will to fight, it was passed onto other regions to do the same ( only Obama seemed to miss the message) but that momentum began right here where I am. “Sorry Senior, but dee park is no bueno for jew I tink. To mucho mas cloud and too mucho dee snow, plus dee hills Senior are mui more dificile”. This was a real common piece of advice that I was hearing as I asked about my route in that direction, several people told me the same basic thing, and combine that with a ten day forecast showing heavy rain and snow as what I had to look forward to…..gott’a rethink things. Somewhere north of a Soncillo, I climbed one ridge at 17%, and when I topped out I could not see more than 100 feet in any direction……thats it, I lost it officially. No, no, not that bad. I didn’t break the tissue out or nothing. I just made the choice that with the current weather scenario, I could ride right thru and yet not see a thing. I rode right back down that same steep SOB and never thought twice about it……once my mind is made up, not much alters me from my course.

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With my Surly LHT, pointed south by south west I fairly flew…….till the next hill, which wasn’t very far away. It has been a steady routine of climb and coast,climb and coast. The coasting, because you just can’t take all the cold air coming at you right after a climb, at least I sure can’t. And my climbs now are broken up, I climb for a while, then get off and push. We changed things up so as to keep the hands and feet warmer, its the only way I can figure to keep enough blood moving to make everything else work as it should. In the end it still comes down to one simple fact. You can ride as hard you wish, you can boast of conquering a very steep grade the likes of which we never see at home. But within 2 days, everything you own is soaked, and you have no way of drying anything out……..none, zip, zero, na’da…….and you are done. That simple, the body will not work frozen.

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The climb out or over the Cantabrian range going south takes me into a deep gorge, imposing rock walls corridor me towards a tiny village called Villarcado. Home to maybe 300, and as I go thru I realize, YUP, you done it again JW, left it till to late in the day and nothing is open in this sleepy little town. Its not like other days inwhich I literally had nothing including water. But I was low on a few things essential to make a meal, apart from tea, water and sugar and a half a stale loaf of bread and half jar peanut butter……..so, now you also know what supper consisted of as well. The climb out of this berg was a beast, partly because I was cold, but also its just a long steep slog. As I ride the last few ridges, it is apparant that the trees faded away several miles ago and have been replaced by thick manzanita and a little sage in spots. The wind is howling, I can see snow on the very top of my hill I have to get over. I make the climb, nothing pretty, no pro-teams have tried to sign me up, but I did make it without the aid of any drugs as well……more than alot of them can say.

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“What the heck……..did you see that………..can’t be……..those are only in the remote parts of USA.”, I even rode back to make sure it was what I read. Sure enough it said “next services 61km”. Well, on I go for the briefest moment actually down a gentle grade, but am soon climbing again after having topped the pass. As I will soon come to know, its is a huge treeless mesa, undulating at times thru deep gorges. But nonetheless a huge plateau. The wind is fairly ripping across from my right to my left on the diagonal, the clouds are heavy and dense with …….snow…….theres some more. Its builds up to maybe 1/4 to 1/2 inch on the ground but is melting equally as fast……it is snow though. Let me see……..treeless……..windy……..wet………cold………dang, a person will have to pay attention to his dwelling place or one could end up in trouble. Not sure, but maybe a little over 5 miles later I ride past a small old rock barn right beside the road and decide I had better check that out. Upon doing so it does not take long to figure out that God himself put this thing here just for me. After clearing aside alot of plain junk, then a couple inches of sheep dung aside I had a resonable place to throw down for the night. Just a mat and the bag was all there was room for, I was in the bag by about 4:15 and shivering. Sure enough, about 9pm it really started to pour rain and I found my roof had a few……many, leaks. So, I dug out my rain fly and threw it over my sleeping bag.

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Up and riding by barely 7am, almost too dark but couldnt sit any longer…..or lay any longer for that matter. Official sunrise here is 8:10am. Real steady diet of decent and climb, just not as steep as the mountains I had come from a few days past. To the south, I can see brightness within the heavy cloud convincing me that maybe the sun lives down that way, we shall see. Onward thru a tiny Spanish ghost town, repleat with an old church and many stone houses and barns. Nothing stirring but dust from the frigid wind sweeping thru vacant windows and doors. Rolled into Burgos about 2:15pm, hit a store and bought a few groceries for the evening. There is an outstanding Cathedral in town, I seen its beautiful Gothic Steeple on the ride in. I took in the cathedral and left to the west on a tiny road. Right along side my road was a park of sorts with many benches. The sun had just broken thru for the very first time this day. Nothing like a little sunshine to dry things out, so I took everything I had and tossed it over benches to let sunshine and wind do thier job. Heavy cloud threatened to close down my drying episode, that was easy to see. I was just trying to time things to get maximum exposure and drying, the rain began and with it so did my race to get it all packed back up.  All in all, I was doing pretty good really…….or thought I was. I began with my tent parts to my right, not knowing that the wind had whipped my sleeping bag off the back of the bench……..MURPHYS LAW # 212 came into effect. There I was, rolling my tent ground cloth up, and looked to my left to see my bag, upside down in a dang puddle……soaked. I mean really soaked.

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As I type this, the sleeping bag hangs over a vent on the room heater in the Hostel. For $18.00, yes, I will splurge and take a room. We can conquer the beasts of cold weather and solo cycle travel on another day, for now I have a dry room and better yet a dry bed for the night. Good night to you all and may God indeed Bless those less fortunate.

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