Life behind bars, a solo cyclist wanders, but not searching for himself . Not some deeper meaning to life itself, rather it’s to experience the world and all that it has to offer for those willing to get out and look. A life experience, with its warts and all, as seen from the seat of a bicycle at 10 miles an hour. A God experience, I admit the world is too large for me to explain in any other way. Read more
We are adventuring south, and battling the backroads of the Balkans, where bumps are plentiful and wifi is almost nonexistant. Have we been having fun, without any doubt. Am I a happy man to be able to share some time with my wife, Colleen…..indeed Iam. I would prefer to have my entire family along, and maybe the good company of say Darren to round out the conversations and help fill the car properly. But, such is not the case this time around.
Where have we been you ask, well, ae traveled the coast of Croatia south as far as Split. From there we turned inland so that we could take in Krka’s Natkonal Park. We then headed still further south, all by the smallest most obscure backroads of the type that you would cycle on. These are time consuming roads to drive, average daily is maybe 40km per hour. We entered into Montenegro so we could aim our ashphalt missle at Mostar and take in the famous bridge. What you say, a famous bridge. Why yes, built in 1475 for Suliman the Magnificent. From there we headed east to Blagaj, where we took in a Dervish House which is a Muslim Holy Prayer house. The dervish house sits right beside a 1000 foot rock cliff, actually built partially into the limestone rock face. At the base there is a gaping black hole, maybe 50 feet diameter out from which spills the coldest, clearest water that you can imagine. Millions of gallons a day spue forth, to turn further east, and join yet another river.
From Mostar we head up, which is officially a direction over in this region and it is used very frequently. I mentioned that Croatia should be marketing ROCKS, and I think that Herzghovina spent alot of money before the war investing in the CROATIAN ROCK market, they have alot. Our road took us up, very long grades where you wind your way around for mile upon mile of sparcely vegetated terrain and there are limestone rocks out the “wazoo”. For those who hail from the east coast or “fouren”shores, a wazoo is a tiny orifice that god gave cowboys but nobody else…..so, if ya dont wear a hat, dont even botber lookin to see if you have one. The side of the mountain range that faces the adriatic coast is dryer than a pop-corn fart. Very little but sparce grass and short brush grow here. Once you pass over the crest or divide, then you hit a rainfall rich piece of country where trees (that they log) are abundant. Along with better grass and more livestock.
Within only a short distance you pass out of Herzeghovina and back into Bosnia, which wraps around the latter as if hugging it. As does Croatia to the greater Bosnia. Croatia wraps almost 3/4 the way around Bosnia. So, after the war, these are just the hugginest countries you have ever seen. And after another short drive and some very steep grades full of switchbacks, we find ourselves entering Montenegro. Montenegro is for sure on my bucket list to see again, and a little more in depth. It is stunningly beautiful, rich in remote natural landscapes. I have told both my kids to throw out the old worn out honeymoon favorites like Hawaii or Carlin Nevada. Instead be bold, and take in Croatia and Montenegro. We really wanted to get into Albania this trip as I have been told several times it is very beautiful. Sadly, they turned us back at the border. They told us our rental car is to ugly to steal,……aparantly car theft is the number one GDP product. Following that are prostitution and drugs, they do make some honey, olives and push-brooms.
Montenegro, we drove plenty. All on the most obscure back roads we could find. WOW, WOW, WOW, we done the Komarnice canyon as well as the Tara river gorge, and the National Park. This is a phenominal piece of Gods awesome hand at work. This is not the result of some accidental collision of gas balls 400 years ago. Pretty sure the Angels were standing akimbo, sort of half teasing God (you know how youngsters can be), asking him if he has ever made a gorge or a mountain, while another asked about making blue water rather than muddy brown water. Finally God grew tired of the Angels good natured ribbing and stuck his hand into the creation quagmire, that mirey primordial ooze, stirred it violently lifting his hand out forming both peaks and valleys, blew his soft breath over it bringing forth clear cold blue water, winked once at the nearest angel standing in disbelief as they watched trees and grass carpet his creation. It has remained that way up until the time of man’s enlightenment and Charles Darwin…….and so shall it remain till the end. Darwin is but a blip on Gods radar screen, an anomoly of no significance over the long haul. If by chance you are a hiker, mountain biker, kayaker or just plain fresh air breathing nature lover, the Montenegro would be your spot.
Over the mountain ridges we roll, where rocky gorges line our path, the stirrings and ruminations of an approaching fall have begun to make themselves visible. With golds and crimsons, along with purples and the rust brown ferns adding color to the seasons palette. Rocky white cliffs once besieged by the verdant green of summer grass and leaves, not are mantled in those colors that bedeck all falls in alpine regions of the world. Summer meadows stand golden with the last of the grass waving at the passing season, leaves of festive coloration now blow and gather in collective wreaths at tree lines and ditches. The men with scythes have been busy from valley fold on up to very near the mountains peak, as loose hay is staked high and plentiful in the tradtional beehive forms. Sheep dot the golden landscape, thier white wool Is thickening for yet another winter which will follow on the heels of a beautiful autumn. The quaintest little red roofed houses, repleat with tiny chicken coops and sheep folds, barns that lay under the house which house the cows and pigs, lay anchored to the rocky soil by faith and hardwork knowing they will see another winters gale pass, and another season of promising blossoms……just as has happened in this rugged country for several hundred years.
As we top a ridge, trees are thick and plentiful, the mountain sides so steep that each man brings along a small piece of flat ground just to relax and stand on. So steep are the sides that as you pass thru this country it seems even the trees lean back away from the edge as if they too sense the steepness of the grade that they find anchorage on. Mom and I are blazing along at nearly 20km an hour. Hey look at that……..7 guys sit under trees………….and 4 yoked pair of oxen stand idly by, while everyone takes a break. This is one of my bucket list items, to see men work oxen and do the heavy work that they had been known for. We stop and visit, take a few pictures and have simple conversation for awhile. Then work has to get started once again……so, we ask if we can join them and watch. To thier great amazement and considerable laughter, they agree and away we go some half mile deep into the bush (growing up in Canada it was always called the “bush”, and never forest, that was a term used by city kids) the slopes are steep, the ground is festooned with moss covered limestone rocks, ferns grow in tiny private forests where ever sunshine pentrates the tree canopy and warms the ground. Men talk and bellow to thier horned charges. Chain links clink out that logging song melody to the swing and sway of the heavy yoke bar that captures each steers neck. A small hand whip is whirled around the animals heads to encourage, to show direction changes and otherwise annoy flys. The talk seems loud, as steers must be inherently hard of hearing, except for the black Angus I think. Have you ever noticed how they always show up first to the supper table!. A heavy hammer adorns each yoke, and with it the handler then drives a pinch link into the bottom or first hooked log. The handler can sidepass his steers, he can back them, not real great on the piaffes but basically put his steers anywhere he wants so that all logs can be hooked up. Each pair of “OXEN” are capable of pulling 3 or 4, full length hardwood logs at one time. The forest floor looks like nobody had even been there after they are done, no tire tracks, no ruts, it was really pretty amazing too watch. We are blessed everyday in so many ways, and for me this little piece of time travel was indeed special. We hope your day was the same or better. Good night and may God Bless.
Are we well fed, yes. Are we worried about having enough water to make it thru the day. No, not really we are beyond that part of the journey inwhich those dangers lie. Like much of eastern USA, when horse drawn vehichles ruled the day, you end up with towns or villages that as close together as you could travel by horse in one day. Such is the case here where we are in central Romania. We are on a Castle, Cathedral and Cabbage Roll tour. Our biggest concerns these days is not that of water or shelter, but rather how steep will the hills be, and how busy will the roads be.
When we were up north, within the Carpathian mountain range the churches are almost all Orthodox Christian churches. We toured many of them, and I even stood in for most of a service in one of them. There different because the Priest sings the incantation, a choir then responds, and it is all quite beautiful. There are no Pews, you can stand, or take a kneeling mat. You place yourself randomely, if you need spiritual attention, then put youself close to the Priest. We are now in Evangelical Christiandom, we have left Orthodox Monestaries behind, and we now see Cathedrals. The first thing of note, is the cross style on top of the Church, and seats inside. The evangelical churches will all have a standard crucifix, while the Orthodox will always have the cross of Lorraine, which has 2 cross bars with the lowest bar both shorter and slanted.
This is the fortified Church region of Romania. So while touring you see what looks like a fortress on a hill top, and sometimes indeed it is just that, a fortress. More often though, you will find a Church at its center. This is the tri-cornered Saxon region. The Saxons lasted till McDonalds put in there first franchise, then they to finally fell. The Tuetons came thru, wiped out many when they came, built castles both large and small. And we have seen them all I think. Pretty sure I have an ash tray from everyone…..and I dont even smoke. We rode thru Rupea, a huge fortification on a very steep sided hill top. Pine and I, both found this place to be of amazing interest, but for different reasons than you may be thinking. Rupea, is the most westerly edge of the invasion by Mighty Ghengis Khan of Mongolia ( consider thatfora moment, he wouldbe approx 6000 miles from home at this point ) He conquered the fortification, history has it, that his army hspent the winter and moved on. So, what the heck is so amazing bout that JW. Just stop and think about that whole scenario for a minute. The only evidence we have is that old word of mouth history, and thats not to say that I dispute the claim. Its just that the Mongols may well be the only invading force that never left behind so much as a foot print. Every other empire that invades, leaves behind genetic traces within the indigenece populace. Religious traces, architechtural influence, even changes to local food or dietary traditions. Not the Mongols, at least from what I have seen.
Sarmale, served with sour cream and usually polenta and sour kraut. My dear Mom always insisted that cabbage rolls were called “Hollopchi’s”….you all probably realize the same thing as I do now. Moms infinite wisdom was robbed from her by Google. Here in Romania, Sarmale or cabbage rolls as they are known locally, are really good and really common. If I had gripe about Hungary, they could sure stand to heat the food up. It comes to the table about as warm as a bleacher seat. You may have guessed, that we have been on a bit of a cabbage roll kick.
We took in Castle Peles, which highly recommend should any of you be over this way. For me it equals the Palace of Versaille for oppulence, but certainly not for size. The castles is decorated in a thematic regimen, with rooms echoing great cultures and artistic influences from around the globe. The central reception hall is just stunning, with a stained glass cieling hanging some 65 feet above the viewer, and the entire ceiling is mounted on tracks allowing it to be rolled open for sunshine and air movement. Never mind wowing your guests. The central room has some of the most beautifull wood work I have seen within castle construction. And the details go right down to the most minut, mundane items within the room. Thats not to say that this is the only fantastic room, because certainly its not. The rest of the rooms are quite exquisite to be sure. The whole castle is worth a visit, and the drive up is beautiful for sure. From thier we climbed over Receda pass and down into Rasnov. This was a bit of a let down to me, there is a fantastic image of the castle that comes up on Google images……it is stunning……..it may well be the only good view of the castle. Its mostly in ruins today, with just the outer walls standing. And by the way,it is on top of a steep hill. We took our look around, loaded up the bikes and rolled out for Bran Castle to end the day.
Time for alternative history. Bran Castle, famous for being the castle of Dracula in Irish born writer Bram Stokers novel of the same title. The charcter Dracula was fabricated over or off of the real life person known as Vlad Dracul……or as I knew him thru school history…….Vlad the Impaler. Its this last title that I want to dispute or offer an alternative history on. The story I was told, is that he was so ruthless a tyrant, that he just loved to create agony and aguish within his people. They will respect me out of fear sort of theory, was what I was taught. Here in Romania, he is considered to be one of the good guys, a true warrior, a defender of the people if you will. He was a tactical genius, fearless in battle…….and yes, ruthless in victory. They have a saying here, that every inch of Romania is fertilized with Turkish blood…..thanks to Vlad Dracul. He kept the invading horde from the south at bay. Those captured in battle where impaled alive on wooden stakes to make a point to the enemy……..that Romania is a nation covered in wooden stakes. No, sorry, that was my thinking. The point being, dont mess with Romania. The Bran Castle was Vlad,s residence for about 3 days according to history. Most of his time was spent within the walls of yet another castle that lays much further south and west of Bran…….but then again, why ruin a good story with fact.
This will be the 3rd night that we got very soaked with rain showers along the mountain edge where we are currently riding. Several weeks ago, I took an afternoon and washed my tent well,soaked it in salt&lemon concoction to kill the mildew and that odor. It did stop that bout. But it has been wet and rolled up and getting pretty ripe all over again. We do our best to stop when we have bright sunshine during the day, we lay out our gear to dry and air out.we traveled some very pretty backroads avter leaving Bran, and made our way over to Sibiu which willbe ourmost westerly destination while in Romania.
We have cycled thru yet another piece of what God has created, mountains with snow capped peaks, valleys lush and green. And people, who have been given the ability to love thier brother as tnemselves and to do good unto others. Some days we witnessed it, and at other points during this ride…..we longed for it. Each day we Pray for safe roads, the strength to make the trip, a chance to mention our saviour Christ in conversation, we would ask that you do the same.
The trip has started, and we are landed in north central China in the coastal city of Qingdao. We will spend a few days assembling the bikes and gear. Hoping to be ready to ride on Monday morning. There will be plenty of work to do, not really a sight seeing trip while Colleen is with us.
What you see above, is in fact Pine’s breakfast on the flight over. It is what is called Congee and it should be said that there are indeed many types and flavours of Congee. It is in essence the Asian version of what a good Scot calls “PORRIDGE”………..although you maynot know i, nor believe me. Congee is made of such grains as Millet,Rice and even beans. To that many things are added depending on region and flavour desired. This is rice Congee with steamed Pork strips, green onions which they eat tons of over here, and a slice of salt cured Tea Egg. Believe me it tastes a lot worse than it looks. I should say that I have had it more often than Pine, and I really dont mind the Congee’s at all, my own favorite is the Pumpkin Congee.
This is taken as we are leaving our home town of Coalinga, we stopped by the Church to get Prayed over and travel mercys. My Pastor is Mike Marley on the left side, Pine, Jeremiah and our youth Pastor Bruce Yeager. Thanks fellows for taking the time to send us off proper in God’s eyes.
So, we began the day with a Durian Pie and coffee, bit of a taste bud assult in my tongues opinion. Let me explain, the pie is a small round pastry covered concoction of maybe 2.5 inch diameter. It arrives to your table with a fruity sweet smell, and combine that with coffee aroma………and your thinking heaven, right. The sweet fades away the instant it is bitten into, and what assails the tongue is a strong Onion/Garlic combined with a course grainy bean curd consistancy. My tongue rolled up like a cheap garage door, knocking solidly up against that punching bag thing at the back of my throat.Those first few words that exited my mouth, were those of a different being or person. Surely, I would not speak insuch phrases………the realization is……..yup,that was me. All this is followed by a distinct gagging reflex,, once that is reswallowed you ask where the nearist confessional is located. And the next bite is worse. Upon recovery you look over at that cup of coffee, it’s enough to cause words of praise to fall from a disbelievers lips……..”thank you God for coffee”.
In China you que/lineup for everything, heck in some ways you even que in your cars while driving in China. So, we are back to getting used to Chinese lineups, thats were you stand in loose assembly waiting to be cut off or be shoved hard enough that nine offenders can slip thru. I really think that queing in China is the birthplace of that now infamous saying- “Stand firm and be a rude American”. A few more days and we will have it mastered me thinks.
Had agreat visit with a computer tech Prof last night on the plane. He was born in Xiamen,China, now teaching at Cal State Northridge. It was interesting to hear his perspective on how US students achieve in comparison to those from out of country. His words not mine, that the more affluent a society becomes the less ambitious each generation becomes. Life eventually becomes so robust and rich within a Nation as a whole that all desire for upward mobility are lost as it pertains to the largest part of the population. Sadly, this has already begun in China.The newer student arrivals do not do so with the same vigor and focus of even just a few short years ago.
It’s now Saturday morning, we will get started putting the bikes together today. Certainly looked like the bike boxes took a severe beating on the trip over. My box was badly torn open so we are all Praying that nothing is missing. There are a fair number of folks who maintain the best method to ship a bike, is within a large clear plastic bag………..seeing the results at hand makes me think I would have had a bag full of bike parts. We might put this notion to the test when Pine ships home frm eastern Europe at the end of the summer. He would like to make it as far as Romania…….we shall see how it all pans out.
Well, we spent the day putting the bikes back together, took a lot longer than we had thought. Several parts got bent and busted during the trip over. We are somewhat jury-rigged as we leave but determined to make it all work. Really un-phappy withthe brand new Son hub and the very questionable wiring method used. It looks to us to be basic poor engineering and not to well thought out – but hey it’s a german manufactured item and they usually excell at well planned items.