Blog57-RTW gear review

GEAR REVIEW FOR AROUND THE WORLD CYCLING

Jeremiah Watt, an RTW adventure cyclist, says like almost everyone who tackles a long and epic adventure such as around the world by bicycle, will end with an opinion on gear and the needs for a cyclist as he travels. I am then no different than many who have come before me, except that my opinion on gear and camp life nessessities may differ. So, lets get started as Jeremiah lays out his thoughts, the pros and cons of gear, planning, blogging etc.

Informative blogs, as travellers I think its imperative that we read and follow as many as possible. They educate, inform and prepare a would be traveller as too what we may have for expectations with regard to such things as food, money/currency questions, routes, accessories. As far as Jeremiah is concerned, and his opinion, read as many as you can find, that deal with the adventure and route you intend to take.

Smart phones, I dont care who makes them, or what version that you may have……they just ain’t that smart when you are stuck in the middle of Mongolia and no signal……or even no GOOGLE mapping feature. I love mine, and dont want to be without it, but dont place your life in an online mapping service, have some basic paper road maps with you. And do not depend on the translation apps for anything other than single word translations. You could find that trying to translate an entire sentence may have you accidentaly placed in front of a fireing squad LOL. I carried a Samsung S4 phone.

Tablet or small laptop. I chose a 10″ Samsung Galaxy2 tablet and found it perfectly capable for my needs and my many images. Besides all that, I could charge my tablet thru my Shimano front dyno-hub. I found this to be particularily useful.

Cameras, my son carried two Go-pro units and we really liked the video and image quality that we got from the units. These items also returned home with my son when he flew back from Bucharest. Jeremiah, carried his Samsung S4 phone for panoramas, which is does beautiful with. And for digital cameras, he carried a Canon SX50 HS camera. I really like this type camera, its easy to use, plenty of range on the lense, and does not kill batteries quickly. All plusses when traveling. I had downloaded 2 different apps for handling the editing of images as I traveled. Jeremiah uses Pixlr Express for the bulk of the editing, really like this app. I also have Photoshop Touch on my tablet, this is a powerful app, make no mistake, but it is just so much slower than the Pixlr software. All totalled, I filled 3 of the class 10 x 64gig cards, and 2 class 10 cards of 32 gig capacity. Thats alot of images folks, and almost no video was shot on these cards. For storage, we added an external micro SD card of 128gig capacity.

Bike, that Jeremiah rode was a Surly Long Haul Trucker. This has proven to be a bullet-proof all steel frame with nary a failure nor weakness. I love, love, love this bike says Jeremiah.

Racks, I know that the cycling world loves Tubus brand racks and most likely for good reason. With that said, on our 2 bikes, we ran Surly Brand expedition racks both front and back. Put all bolts in with a drop of blue Loc-Tite. Never lost nor broke a bolt, no failures what-so-ever. One thing I really liked about the Surly racks was the racks had a good top base to support added bags and crap that we cyslists tend to carry, Tubus racks to not have this luxury.

Stove, my choice of stove was loved and hated. All due to fuel issues. I had an Esbit brand alchohol fuel stove, from Ukraine and on west it was not much problem finding fuel. It cleaned up well, cooked just fine, was light and efficient for us as we travelled. Once we arrived in USA, it was a piece of cake to travel and use this little stove. The real problem lay within Russia, Mongolia and China…..you will pull your hair out finding fuel in any of these countries and find yourself wishing for a different stove, as we did. Have to be honest here, that had we been using canister fuels, in some pllaces that also would have been a problem. We carried a multi-fuel stove for a while, but got tired of its leaks and everything smelling like fuel in short order along with the ports being plugged up and constant cleaning..maybe, there is no perfect stove?

Seats, at home I ride a Fizik seat and really like it. But on all day tours, I ride a Brooks-B17. This seat is not only comfortable but looks like a million dollars after its broke in. I think it takes close to 1000 miles to actually have the seat breakin and conform JMO.

Wheels/Rims,  Jeremiah chose 26″ wheels after much discussion and advice on blogs. But in retrospect I would say that the 27″ are by far more available in those places such as morthern China, Mongolia and eastern Russia. There were actually several places where we could not find any 26″ wheels, but had choices of several 27″ wheels and tires. My rims, front and backwere Ryno-Lite double walled, with a 40 spoke count, 4 cross pattern x 12ga. spokes front. On the rear wheel I used the same rim brand, but 48 spoke count x 4 cross pattern. Back hub was a Phil Wood hub, fantastic hub. Front hub is a Shimano Dyno hub and it worked flawlessly the whole trip. ( NOTE, my son rode with me on the same bike setup, same wheels and same rims for 4 months. We set his bike up with a Son28 hub, and where always dissappointed. Very miserable wiring connections at the hub itself, always broke loose from brush and or vibration. I have too say, that we sent them 2 emails regarding problems we had been having with this hub, and never heard a word back from them)  Would never place this hub ahead of my Shimano dyno hub.

Tyres/Tires, depending on where you grow up and how it is spelled. Make no mistake about it, if you choose anything other than a Schwalbe brand tire, you are asking for more trouble while touring. Schwalbe brand tires, in my case Marathon Plus version x 1.75 width they proved to be invincible. We met several other long distance tourers and most ran the same tire as what we placed on our bikes. For our choice in tubes, we just ran condoms with a valve stem. The lightest tubes around. We added tire liners inside the Schwalbe tires.

Patch kits, this may sound rather harsh, but you cant take chances on being in the middle of no-where and need a patch kit. So, chose Rema Tip-Top Touring patch kits. You can be assured that the glue is fresh, and patches stick. I equipped my sons bike with Patch kits from Parks Brothers and NONE of the glue was useable PERIOD, bought at 2 different stores and several months apart.

Frame pump, floor pump????. Jeremiah admits that he must be the only idiot who cannot depend on blowing up a tire to full pressure, or without wrecking the valve stem during the process when using the ultra-lite frame style pumps. With that confession made, Jeremiah has never been left sitting on the side of the road cussing at the broken stem on his last danged inner tube iether…..because I always carry a full floor pump. Yes, they are heavier and bulky for sure. When I left, I had a Lenzyne Traveller floor pump……a gorgeous unit and not at all heavy, a perfect full sized travel floor pump. But the constant bump and jar of Chinese and Mongolian roads completely messed the pump up, beyond use. To Lenzyne’s credit, I sent them an email telling them of the state of the pump and they replaced it with a very apologetic letter. The only problem was that the replacement was sent to my home in california, a matter that I dont hold against them, I like the fact they stood behind the product. We replaced this pump with a $1.29 cent floor pump at the black market in Bayan Olgii, Mongolia……it worked flawlessly and was super light. Had this pump till it was taken away from me in Portugal at the Airport when flying home.

Solar charging system. As stated, we had Dyno hubs on both bikes to charge such things as our phones and tablet as we rode. In addition to this charging method, we had a Goal Zero Sherpa battery pack unit along with the Goal Zero 20 panel array. However, this proved to be lacking for rugged use, no matter how we tried to take the harshness and rigors of travel out of the equation. By mid way thru Mongolia, both the panel and the battery units failed completely and were sent home. To the Company’s credit, they fully replaced both units and were very apologetic about it all, but again, the replacements were sent to my house in California.

Tents. For my expedition I chose the REI Quarter Dome tent, which is an ample 2 man tent with a gear shed on both sides, allowing 2 loaded tourers to keep everything out of the rain except for the bikes themselves. My son and I done this on several occassions in blowing sand as well as heavy rain. I really like this tent says Jeremiah, it has a larger floor plan than most 2 man tents, good sized gear sheds leave room for gear or cooking under during pouring rain. The tent proved to be strong and durable for my use. In my opinion, the only fault found with this tent, is its poor wind resistance ability during wind events, in this scenario, it is very poor, and the camper MUST find refuge for the tent or suffer the consequences. Even a little wind will flatten this tent.

Convertors, whether E-Werks brand which is fully adjustable to any/everybattery……or a very simple Sinewave version for half the price or less. We had both and tested both. I will take the consistant simplicity of the Sinewave version hands down says Jeremiah. The other version, while technically a more intuitive and thought out convertor, it proved over and over again to be farless able to place as much charge in any battery as did my Sinewave convertor. Besides that, the user has do pull batteries, do some calculations, turn three times to the left followed by one turn to the right while at the same time sticking his tongue out and you come up with an Amp and Joule setting, of which you need to make both settings correctly……..yes, correct, it comes with 3 feet of chord on it for good reason, that way you can throw it further out into the ditch and never feel like you should go looking for it. Stick with the Sinewave unit and wear a smile.

Sleeping mats, Jeremiah uses a 30″width Luxury Traveller by Thermo-rest and loved it. Not a single issue except that they begin to stink after a while on a long journey. So, I began a habit of giving it a serious scrubbing every couple months, and this helped alot. No holes, no patches, no leaky valves haunted me as I travelled.

Panniers, it goes without saying that the top of the line bags/panniers are those made by Ortlieb. They are not cheap, because they are well made and function everyday in the harshest conditions, dont try to scrimp and save on bags. Just call Wayne at the Tour Store an online provider of Orlieb brand product and you will be set for years.

Sleeping bags, now I had a Moutain Hardware bag, a mummy style, zipper sided and rated to minus 15. The bag proved capable in the temps that I camped in during this trip, and so for that I am happy. BUT, the bag design has one serious flaw that will cause a Pastor to cuss, and a sailor to blush when he hears it. The problem, is the stinkin zipper flap which stops wind blowing thru the zipper when zipped up. The fabric tape used is too short in length for one thing, and also way to flimsy. So as a result, the damn zipper is ALWAYS STUCK. Middle of the night, pitch black, this will really test your patience. By Romania, some 4 months into the trip, Jeremiah had had enough of this hassle. I took out my tiny scizzors, and just hacked the damned little protective flaps off of both sides of the zipper. While not a complete cure, it did help in the bags performance for the rest of the trip.

RTW advice, dont over plan the trip. By doing so, it leaves no room for God to work and reveal himself. Dont over pack clothes, keep it very basic with layers, you can always buy an extra piece of warmer clothing as you go. I for instance rode in 1 pair of Pearl Izumi bib shorts for the entire trip, I think the Pearl brand is the most rugged brand of cycling clothing on the market today. I also think its designed to fit Americans, we tend to be a little larger and carry more wieght than most Europeans or asians for instance.

Blog56-blessed,finished, and glad to be home

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Jeremiah Watt, and his very dependable (RTW) round the world steed, Shirly Surly which is a rim brake, 26″wheeled Long Haul Trucker steel framed bicycle, have officially concluded thier adventure. The cycle tour came to its final conclusion on Wednesday the 25th of March….just 3 days after Jeremiahs 59th birthday. Just want to say a very large thankyou to many family and friends who have Prayed for me, thanks. Several Pastor friends, my hometown pastor, Mike Markley from here in Coalinga, who has lead the saints on several pray for the “spandex cowboy” sessions. And to my adopted Pastor from the Holland, he has been praying for blessings on both Pine and I since we met him and his wife at Voronetz in Romania, thankyou. And to my preaching cowboy Pastor Ted and Linda Wiese for thier constant prayers.To several business associates from here in USA, China and Taiwan, Canada and Russia. To all of them I say thankyou for your patience and tolerance with my being out of the office so much…..like danged near a year…..thanks.

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Most especially, I want to acknowledge my wife and my thanks to her for all she puts up with from me. Thankyou Colleen, I love you and cherish your council and your unending affection. Deserved or not, you never hold back and give me 100%. If ever I fall short on strength or conviction on my biblical walk, you are right there, like guideposts on my roadway. I have 2 beautiful children because of her genetics…..apparently none of mine show up…..mystery.

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Jeremiahs last blog post had him taking a deserved day off and sitting in a motel room in Barstow. With the blog entry and images finished up, Jeremiah walked next door and had americanized Chinese food. Hit the sack pretty early and got up about 5.15am. He and Shirley were rolling in the pre-dawn hours of what would be  breezy day all the way west towards Tehachapi. Not much can be said about the stretch between Barstow and Mojave, except maybe YUP, done that piece before. Had a meal in Mojave and took sort of a backroad out of this wind farm encroached town, a road that winds its way up over the mountains then drops into the valley that holds Tehachapi. The wind was howling and finding a spot to set up my wind challenged tent was very problematic. Done my best, but by 4 am, I knew that I had a problem and it needed to be dealt with. So  I crawled out of the abode, and grasping the crossing of poles at the top of the tent, I reached down with my freehand and dislodged the closest corner guy-rope…..at some 90 miles an hour the tent kited out to the ropes end, burning my hand upon its exit…..hit the end of its tether and flipped totally inside out bending poles and spraying tent stakes like a lawn sprinkler. Cowboys……gotta love thier mentality…..its instant blood boil….followed by a “comeer you SOB….an I’ll show you”. I hauled the tent back by the one tiny chord that I stiil held fast……total darkness and groping for orientation…….got a fabric corner and pulled it to my face to figure things out……oooops, there goes the danged ballcap Jim-Bob, cock your head a little and turn just slightly said my mental elevation control panel……and I listened and executed to near perfection. A snapping sound, followed by that crisp noise a sail makes when it engulfs a full load of aire……followed by now complete blindness as the tent sprang from its final tent peg mooring and reversed its current fold to capture me entirely as it changed its course in the prevailing wind.

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Rip stop nylon, coated zippers, seamed tent peg pockets and fly screen were stuck to my legs and face as if by glue….no part could be lifted away without some other piece of fabric filling the void……Jeremiah is running short of breath, and visual acuity is now zero as the flapping fabric envelopes my head. My mental emergency responce unit came into play and issued a dire oxygen awarness warning and a dissorientation buzzer sounded which ley me know my internal gyroscope was now malfunctioning due to a lack of oxygen and a blotted out horizon line…….TURN IMMEDIATLY TO THE RIGHT JEREMIAH was the advice…..which I did like an automaton, and the tent sprang from my body like a leopard from a tree branch. A sharp jerk at arms length, and a burning palm was my gift for allowing the tent to once again flip inside out and capture a full sail of wind. The mental preservation unit once again kicked in with advice which is totally computer driven…….bout as usefull as advice about work from a teenager or almost anything from Al Gore for that matter. Shutup I said, what do you know about camping anyways I heard my reply, as it tried in vain to warn me……..I stomped my left foot down in the middle of the billowing tent and grasped a corner and whatever bent poles I could find. Wrapped any loosed fabric left over, around my arm and proceeded to stuff it into an empty pannier. Not really caring, nor looking for that matter, just getting it contained and constrained was my goal. The sun had not even begun it’s match over the eastern horizon, camp was packed, the bike was ready to roll. Nothing to do know but get started.

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About 8 miles separated me from Tehachapi, which meant that the previous day I had logged some 83 or so miles into a stiff head wind…not bad for an old fart. Rolled of the top of the ridge and down into Tehachapi, stood for a moment wondering what to do next. I was supposed too call my friend Matt Sheridan, and my intention was to do just that if it had been a normal day……but here I am at 5.45……..and I would be waiting till when……?  Done what every cyclist with a yearning to get home would do, I rolled right out to the 4 lane known as 58, and sailed downhill into Bakersfield. Rode on thru most of town then stopped for a cup of coffee and breakfast. made a left hand turn onto 7th Standard road and was now headed for the west side of the San Joaquin valley. By about 3.30pm, I was on the west side but totally unsure of my tent situation and was pondering what to do…….a truck rolled up and offered me a lift. Gladly I said,  and caught a ride almost 40 miles north to Hwy41 junction and the closest motel to where I was.  Inside the room, I figured out the state of my tent and hit the hay. About 77 miles covered that day while on the bike.

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The following day, I would ride from Hwy 41 on up to Jayne Ave which is abot 12 miles from Coalinga. Sitting at a Shell Station, I called my wife and got the bad news……….I was not allowed to come home till the following morning after 10am. For about 4 hours I read Tom Clancy’s novel, Executive Actions while sitting out front of the store. Sometime along about 5pm, my Pastor and my other good friend Larkin snuck up on me as I sat reading and surprised the heck out of me as I sat. They had a plan of taking me out to supper, which sure sounded nice, but, I declined since I had made plans to cook my last meal in my tent. It made me feel bad, sorry guys, but I was defermined to close this expecition out like an adventure expedition.

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My morning began at 7 and I pedaled into Coalinga to have coffee. Called the wife and let her know that I was coming home….ready or not so too speak. Headed up the canyon and stopped to visit with nieghbours as I rode. First I met the ranch owner where I live, Ted Denhartog. From tnere I went to pray with my Pastor and Miss Mary at the church before I headed up the canyon. About that sametime, our friend “Uncle Leonard” came along to say hello and wish me well. Next up was my mailman and a friend, Daniel. Rode on aways to Alcalde Ranches and visited with Natasha and Chance, checked out her greyhounds and the new barn they have been putting up since I left. Just a ways further up I got to say hello to the Warthan Canyon beeman, Don. Within maybe 3 miles of home, I met Sharon, my former secretary and her husband Norv, along with our now retired phone man Jim, and his copilot Mr. Ramsey. It was a magnificent morning up Warythan Canyon, as cattle of all colors dotted the sides of those sunwashed hills. Granite spires and wildflowers thrown in as if by a painters hand, adding interest and color. It was aneasy ride, drawn as if by a string or maybe magnetic power towards first my mailbox then just a mile and a half further my house. The road from the mailbox to the house had been painted with thenames of all the countries that Pine and I had ridden thru on this odyssey. At the gate, I was met by 2 of Teds( ranch owner ) grand-daughters and they on bicycles, escorting me into the last 150 yard stretch too the house, the shop, my yard, waiting friends and employees, Colleen, Pine and the dogs and cats that make our home, our home. So thankfull to all of you and especially to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for guiding and ushering me thru on this journey one road and one hill after another.

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Special thanks to;
Colleen Watt my wife, what can I say but that she is truly the glue that binds my home and business together.
Pine Watt for sharing the first 4 months of the journey thru the hardest section, and for keeping me going. Its you that made it happen.
Nevada Watt, my daughter for her constant support and encouragement.
Ted & Tracy Denhartog, the owners of the ranch where we get to live, its paradise, thanks
Hyun Ku Kim, of China for his support and friendship, his fantastic sendoff party, many thanks.
Jack Ann of South Korea, for his constant prayers while we were traveling and for praying over us when sending us off.
Sunny Yan, of China for his support and prayers as we traveled
Vladimir, Gaia and Roman Kolchetkov of Russia for thier welcome into thier home and fine meals and encouragement.
Yves, Miriam and Erin Lesire of France for welco ing me into thier home and thier warm hospitality.
Georges and Natalie Braile also of France, thier constant friendship and continued support, thanks.
Pierre Duinat my Basque friend, a warm home and many meals.
Orzuri Urrutia, a great gal from the Basque region, who allowed me the use of her mailbox at desparate times.
Ryan, Tracy and Chloe, who welcomed a biker back to America, fed him and allowed him to play with Chloe’s toys.
Niel Watt, my brother, who took a chance on riding with me in Europe as well as New Mexico, many thanks.
Lee, Kendra, Rayce and Kollins Griggs, who provided a welcome home to me during a stormy section thru New Mexico
Darby & Dalette Adams, for thier friendship over many years and consistant support and encouragement.
Niel and Debra Overton for thier long lasting friendship and support.
Deahl Rooks for his many years of friendship and consistant encouragement.
Pastor Mike Markley and wife Jeana for constant prayers and the rousing of the faithful saints to do the same, thanks.
Pastor Hindrik van Diijken of Holland, for continued prayers and encouragement to prevail in the name of Christ that he may be glorified.
Valentin Daniel Olariu, for his friendship and gift of Portugese wine to enjoy over Christmas Holidays
Weaver Leather, to the entire staff for allowing me to be missing from action for almost a full year, many thanks

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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Blog31-Yup, its a lovers coast

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No sooner was I talking about it being a lovers coast, than I should meet a beautiful women in Zadar. A women with long Blay hair and cowboy boots…….God does listen to Prayers folks……….I mean how or who else would know I am sucker for the color Blay and cowboy boots over stillettos……only God can know those sort of intimate details. So for those wondering just what is going on in this paragraph opener……my wife flew into Zadar to meet me and spend about 8 days with me here on the adriatic coast. We had a nice supper out in the old town center, with waves washing up against the “wave symphony”, an ingenoius musical harbor platform inwhich wave action drives musical notes from harbor horns mounted under the platform which sits out over the harbors edge. The night sky turned dark and crystal clear, with a crimson sky as our backdrop.

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We were actually up pretty early so we could hit the road in very typical Watt fashion………we have some sort of inner fasinaction with gas pedals and steering wheels. We left Zadar in a spray or small rocks and gravel, we are headed south hugging the pine tree lined coast and staring at the azure colored sea in awe and amazement. The coast line color and clarity are such that I am not even going to try and describe it because you will think that its false or maybe I have added a filter to the camera to hieghten or enhance what we seen. So, get out ol,Merriam’s and just look up BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE IT ABOUT COVERS IT.

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Pulled over and had our first 1/4 cup of coffee. If you haven’t been to European climes, then you may not realize that a cup of coffee here is about 2oz in volume. Somehow then mix 1.75 ounces of boiling water with 2.25 pounds of superfine Espresso grind coffee beans…….and like a Pen&Teller act, they pour that entire concoction into a cup with 2oz capacity. 3 cups of this stuff injested in succession could put and end to Califoria’s death row issues.

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On down the road we blazed, we hit village after village, some we stopped and walked around in, other villages, we simply pulled a few of the pedestrians who had gotten stuck in our grill out which convieniently leaves them close to home albeit with a limp……and blazed on still further. We took a hard left off the coast line and beat a path for Krka National Park and we are so pleased that we took this detour from our very beautiful coastal route.

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Krka Park, not a real common tourist stop in comparison to say Plitvice or several of the Adriatic cities that dot the coast. Krka,is even hard to put to words, but for you I will give it a try. Croatias largest export product should be ROCKS, they are literally covered in those rascals. Its so bad that folks have to stack rock walls of immense size and number……not because they want a fence but rather just so they can get to some dirt to begin growing something. Limestone is maybe the most abundant type of rock they have, and Krka is based at the fot of limestone cliffs. Water, and I mean water from every possible direction and orifice comes boiling out of the ground, over the ground and from the heavenly skies above. All waters gather and disgorge in a crystal clear fashion over the rough hewn limestone cliffs and crags that constitute what we see as Krka, an elaborate system of waterfalls and spill ways. The limestone in the region have been washed now for several thousand years, and there if very little dust and dirt washing downstream. The water works its magic by activating the calcium carbonate which forms a mild acid and now the limestone is eaten or etched into immense underground waterways as well as those we see above ground. The washing of the limestone formations is also slowly eroding the surface liemstone and depositing it onto the stream bed surface which does 2 things. It creates a crystalline structure which reflects light differently, but it also induces an algae formation, both these aspects now play a part in the coloration of the water we see spilling over the whitish limestone rock. Thats the scientific dope, or we could simly say OMG but it is so darned beautiful to see with the naked eye. Which is also wierd when ya’think about it, how many times do you head out to look at something closely when yer naked????

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Water spills over the ground in stunning volume and from every direction you can imagine. I really have come to love the way that the Europeans handle the whole park and nature scenario because you feel like you are right there in the wild natural habitate. It is indeed very different and some would\will be insulted and angry at my attempt to describe what and how it is made so. For one, they are logging all over within this NAtioanal Park, just like every other National Park I have gone thru over here. And you know what, thier forests look to be very healthy as compared to ours which are in total ruin especially in California. There are no warning signs, no protective baricades, no yellow tape, no nti slip matts, no wire mesh fence to catch you……..there are not even hand railks to hold. If your that damed dumb to fall in, jump in, or push your friend in…….then adios idiot, because you are no longer in the gene pool. The Park folks have over time, beggining from as far back as 1865, built walkway completely over the fast flowing rivers surface……..no, no, not some 100 feet over with a plexi glass side and flor and constant caution signs ttype thing…..no, no. This is a walkway that skims the very water surface so that you feel as though you are simply walking the surface. Twist after turn, sharp corners and around trees that are not only alive but the walkway is built fully around them, you make your way, no handrails, nothing to impede your sensation at being right within the waters flow. At times the boiling water sprays up over the boards abd pas angrily at walkway corners. Boards are wet and slippery, and those with a solidified brain stem understand one listep and you are ina current that no one will rscue you from. Amazing to see and witness the awesome strength of flowing water. If ever you go to Croatia, which I thnk is a must for folks who love to trvel and nature, then Krka is on the must do list.

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We spent 4 hours up at the falls and arrived back in the little village with not enough light left to drive to Sibenik that night. So, we got a cute little room for 20 Euro which was just fine. Walked down into the tiny stone walled town center and dined with the locals on fresh fish and sea food. Fish 2 times a year for Jeremiah is some sort of milestone………..and my Pastor on the other hand has GILLS.

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Left that tiny village with empty bellies, and no coffee. To wind our way up and out of the Krka Park over some 10 miles of steep grades and switchbacks on barely 2 lane sized road. Pulled into a tiny village awash in Adriatic coastal spelndor by 8am and had a wonderful espresso and pastry from a local Pekarna along with some hand picked and unwashed locaal fruit from a rad side fruit seller. Imagine, we ate that fresh fruit and didn’t even wash it with our “organic sanitizer foam fruit and vegetable spray”………what the heck is the big deal about a little diarhea anyways.day seen us walking the cobbled streets of many small unknown and well known cities alike. Tried coffee in aqll, had pastry in each, plenty of fresh fruit and drove many miles doing it. Each turn, each steep grade and each tiny rustic village made the whole that much more enjoyable. This place is so subdued and quiet LOOKING as compared to almost anywhere in USA, it becomes a real noticeable visual treat after just a few days. The only NEON sign that we have seen is that of a Pharmacy which is a green cross, or a Hospital which is red.

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By the time that I am writing this, we have jumped out of Croatia and into Herzegovina, no, dont ask me too explain this tiny little piece of the world because I do not yet understand it myself. Different everything here including cultures and currency. Hardscrabble  rocky ground makes farming almost non existant….I said almost.There are fruit trees and olive trees which also are known to have once grown on the moon……so, no surprise seeing them here. Sheep and some mixed beed cows. On those slopes facing southwest……..there aint anything…….no, I said nothing. On the other side of those same slopes there will often be a small loggingindustry, more grass and more sheep just due to rainfall conditions. Stopped in Mostar to see that very famous bridge built in 1450 to appease a request by grand Sultan Suliman the Magnificent……….great name to have in WWF. It spans a rock sided gorge that is at the confluence of 2 rivers. Both flow fast and clean towards the southen seas. We got to the bridge by 6:30am and took walks and pictures till about 9am.

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Made our way out east to Blagaj, where we took in a 1225 Dervish House that has been built rught over a huge hole in the cliff face. Out of this gaping maw spills millions of gallons of fresh crystal blue water daily. The Dervish house is used by Muslims as a place of Prayer. On up over the rocky mountinside we go, always up it seems. Till we crest and then begin an ardous trek across the serpent like ridge on this mountain road. We stopped and ate under the roof edge of a Church built 1862, and at the very tiny tip top of a mountain peak with nothing but lush green valley surrounding it. Further down the road we would cross over into Bosnia for maybe 30 miles and then on into Montenegro. We took in a tiny Orthodox Monestary in Montenegro at Venovici. You would ner know it waas there but for an tiny plaque at rads edge. The 3km drive back in is just beautiful, thru spartan oaks, and red brambles, green grass and sheep. And the omnipresent rock walls which lay labor traces over the infertile soil as a slug lays traces over a tilled garden. Good night and God bless to all those who have Prayed for such. And blessings to those who have as of yet been afraid to Pray. 

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Blog27- Bullet holes, landmines and a history of conflict

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At this moment, I am basking in sunshine. I have very smelly clothes hanging on a close by fence to air out. Heck, I even took a full on 1.5 litre shower this day to celebrate. My tent is dry, my bag of sleep is getting close to dry, my bike reads 87 degrees at 5.25pm. My camp, is high on a ridge over Palanka, Serbia. My son convinced me to take in Belgrade while I was here, since JW was going to skip it. I told him it was nothing but bullet holes and landmines in an area of constant historical conflict. And his reply, was, thats exactly why you need to take it in Dad. So by tomorrow evening I should be in Belgrade for supper, I’am praying about entering big cities without Pine.

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The last blog page had us further south in Sajecar, and I left there on a very tiny back road in pouring rain. The road was a very difficult one for me as the surface was full of cracks and gaps, so that forward speed was very slow. I have no idea how difficult it would have been for a regular mortal, scares me to think. Old roads get very steep grades and this one had plenty of 15 plus grades on it. Big, rolling hill country with narrow verdant valleys snaking thier way between hills and ridges. The villages were few and far between. Not one village had sort of product for sale, so no supplies gathered on this first leg. Supper that night was spartan and simple. 1 cup of very sweet tea, and several cookies along with a handfull of raisins. Please be sure to download this days recipe at the end of the post.

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It’s about 2pm, and I am climbing het another hillon my way, I feel like I am threading a needle so too speak as I make my way one tiny backroad after another. There is a bar slash cafe type store and out front it has a cooler full of ice teas. Being that the bike is reading about 90, I think a tea would be pretty good right now…….HELLO…….and I turn to see a fellow all clad in pure racing attire for a cyclist. Hello, I said back and the conversation thus began. He, being Nenad, a Serbian businessman who speaks very good english. We visit for half an hour and I begin to excuse myself so I can get into Belgrade before dark. Well, that will not take long if you allow me to lead you he suggests. And so the journey begins, he on his sub 12 pound total carbon fiber racing frame. And I, on what he affectionaly called a tractor, even suggested I paint it green and put a John Deere label on the head tube. There are a lot of hills and grades on the way and he would have to wait at the top of almost all of them for me, but wait he did. Right into the city we went, me following him, as he scurried between cars and rode out into intersections at red lights…… things I would never do, but I had to keep up. By 4pm, I was in front of the huge apartment that I had rented rather than get a hotel room which was more than double the price. $34.00 us dollars a night, it was great and very clean right on the primary oldtown street. Can’t get better than that.

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Go, have a shower because you need one, said my guide. How about 8pm, I will come back and pick you up for supper, he asks. Fine with me, but only if you PAY…….oops, sorry, only if you allow me to buy. Sorry he says, but in Serbia, when you are a guest, we treat you to the very best of everything and thats the only way it can be. So, I asked him if he preffered to dine alone or with company……..too which he emphatically stated be would prefer to dine with company. Good I said, that is my preferance as well. So, if you want to dine with me……I BUY……. and you get to pick the restaurant. Which will it be, with me, or by yourself? Okay, fine, we will do it as you wish. But tomorrow you have too allow me to give you a cycling tour of Belgrade.

We dined at a very small Serbian restaurant, known for its excellent Serbian pasta dishes. We had a huge salad, fresh made bread cooked in a stone oven on ashes……wow, I am bread lover and this was good. The main course was lamb and proscuitto baked with home made pasta bows and a heavy mushroom sauce, then topped with something called kymika (think a sharpish cheese ). I love Serbia, great people,beautiful scenery, interesting city and culture……but what I love the most……these folks are carvivores. By golly, when they serve you meat, they serve you meat, no messing around. Didn’t have to hunt around for the meat in this great meal. The next day, we took off on the bikes and began a 30 mile trip seeing the sights of Belgrade. Yes, to answer that lingering question that maybe all of us from the west have……there are still bullet holes, and torn apart buildings from both rocket and mortar fire. For the most part, these fragments of war evidence have been left as a reminder to all, that this is not what they want to return too. I found the city, Belgrade to be vibrant and intersting, even more so than Bucharest for instance. Would I come back to Belgrade and greater Serbia, in a heartbeat and bring my sweetie with me without any worry or concern. And not to beat the drum too loud, but the country of Serbia has a very interesting and enticing business inducements in place that should make any Corporation give them a seriuos second look. That afternoon was spent dining on the best lamb I have ever had, and yes, even you Pine would have enjoyed this lamb. Its cooked whole on a spit, slow cooked and basted for 8 hours. At this restaurant you buy it by half kilo per person or more……none of this 6oz servings of red meat crap. Here if you can’t eat 1/2 kilo, then go put your man pants on and come back. We had a full kilo order and non left over. All good things do come to an end, and my host had to leave. We said our goodbyes and went our own ways. But, I know we will talk and see each other again somewhere, sometime.

Up the next morning and headed out of Belgrade. Not one problem getting out with the gps folks. I took the smallest back roads that I could find. Put in an admirable day for an old fart. About 115 miles at 85 degrees, pretty nice riding weather. Mostly flat or gentle rolling coutryside. I was wanting to gain some distance and time, because everyone warns me that I will be punished when I get to Bosnia. Bosnia is surely living up to that expectation in spades.

Crossed the border into Bosnia, and interestingly, you cant get gps service here if you are from USA. So, I spent about 3 hours hunting for a road map,,,,,hard to do if you dont speak the language. Back a few months, we met a great couple from Amsterdam ( we met in Bayan Olgii at the Blue Wolf yurts, and you guys drove the white Land Rover ) who really swore by “open street maps”, they felt it was the best thing going. I on the other hand have a tough time with it…….so my Amsterdam friends if you read this……… contact me by email jwatt@inreach.com and maybe you can aid me in better understanding and using the program. Now I am navigating thru Bosnia by paper map and cyrillic……pray for me as I will be lucky to make it out the other side. I am cycling thru, over and around all that God created during that amazing first week of life on this earth. And in case you are wondering, NO, he didn’t put an outpost on Mars just incase this one didn’t work out, contrary to what the whiz kids on Discovery channel have come up with as an excuse for life here. As gorgeous as the mountains, roads, lakes, rivers and streams have been, they pale in comparison to that which was made good in God’s eyes on the 6th day of creation, thanks big Rob for making me aware of that very important fact. I may have been a “pantheist” forever had you not pointed that out. Its up to you to reread the creation story if you want to know what he made the 6th day. Hey, uncle Bill, start with looking in the first book, Genesis.
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Blog25-So long Pine and adios Bucharest

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At this moment, Iam probably the most dejected and forlorn fellow in all Bucharest. It was so long Pine on Friday morning 6am, he flew out for USA via Warsaw,Chicago and Los Angeles. Pine, was my best friend,my best advisor, my business sounding board, my executive director, my language app, my IT go to guy, and my son, all wrapped into one fuzz topped 6 foot 1 package. Pine, I cant say it loud enough, thankyou so much for riding with me, you made the miserable sections fun, and the fun sections evenmore so -THANKS SO MUCH!. More than that I got to see Pine the man come out, as a father we always see our sons as kids still. But a trip like this allows all aspects of a persons character to be revealed, your a great kid and I love you for all you provided on this journey. We knew this day was coming, and I dont think it caught anyone off guard and yet it wasnt a welcomed day iether. With Pine on the plane I set off to run some errands before I said adios Bucharest. All by myself, headed south by south west…….at least I think thats the direction I want to go……darn this phone, maybe I didn’t shake it enough. I should tell you that we enjoyed the city, went down to the Old Quarters and really enjoyed the narrow cobbled streets. Had one of the best dinners we have had so far at a Romanian Restaurant we found…….right next to Gelato shop…….ain’t that just convienient.

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My Pastor and friend, Mike, will be dissappointed in me as I was not able to make my Christian Outreach episode come to life while in Bucharest. Since I felt that Christ had spared my life just a week or so ago, I felt this was a sign of what Christ was wanting me to do since that is what I had been Praying about. But, my other Pastor friend whom we met out in front of Voronets, had been sent an email telling him we were on the nunt for an Christian outreach ministtry…..but he was kayaking in Sweden so no answer there. And we have a lady friend in Bucharest who runs an NGO Christian Ministry and both of her numbers resulted in no answers. So, I take away this, that God did not want me in Bucharest he wants me someplace else. Maybe thats over in Serbia, Croatia or Bosnia as they come next. I am willing to accept names and contacts in these countries if anyone knows people involved in this sort of Christian mission field.

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I did not roll away from the hotel Ibis till noon. Not because I got up so late. Rather it was my waiting on a no show UPS package (NO Christmas cookies for my UPS man Tim back in USA, since these UPS guys are Ll union and attached at the hip I think the pain should be spread universally. When one falls short they all should feel the pain) i was waiting on a new unit from Goal Zero. A nomad 50 battery pack and the larger panels so that I could have tablet power. Now we have to stop at bars and plug in foran hour or more thru the day to power back up. I have measured carefully and it takes 17.75 bottles of beer to pass one Romanian Hour. I think there are far fewer bottles of beer per hour in USA because you have to get up to pee six times in an hour. Put in 85kilometers today and are out in Alexadria region of southern Romania. Gently rolling farm ground. Nothing special but nothing terrible iether. Just watch the traffic and pedal. For supper tonight I had sausages and a new concoction……hot mustard and blue berry jam. Strait out of Cow Camp Cooking, page 98. It follows right on behind the recipe for rubbing par boiled potatoes on a salt lick to add that OutBackesque flavor. That page is one of my familys favorites.

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What tomorrow brings I do not know. But after it happens I will surely tell you if it was any fun at all. Tomorrow has arrived and I am sitting in a pine forest in Bulgaria about 39 miles over the river from Romania. I crossed the mighty Danube river on a ferry, along with 2 other cyclists. Thay are both Doctors of Enderology (thing bung holes and such ). Nice folks doing 2 weeks along the Danube. As I sit here typing and swatting mozzies, its  8.30pm, and 9 huge Klass combines just rolled past in a convoy, surprised to see that sort of equipment here. Had a great supper, finally got the nerve to fry a pork chop, turned out just fine, followed by a cup of Earl Grey and we are done.

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I have managed to stay on roads mar,ed in white, which are little wee rascals. This is wo derful for traffic concerns, but leaves much to be desired when it comes to dogs, got chased 3 times by dogs that meant business. No bites, just frayed nerves. The country here is big rolling ridges, reminds me of parts of Moldova in some ways, except these climbs are just longer with a few more curves to make it all more interesting. The villages that one passes thru are not as well off income wise as most of Romania, its pretty evident looking at houses and vehichles. One odd thing I noticed, in Romania I hardly recall seeing a Russian make vehichle such as Kamaz or Lada. But here in Bulgaria, oh my, but they come out of the wood work from cars to tractors, everything.

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So far, I have been up a little earlier than when P&I were together, so my pedaling day has about 1 more hour in it. With that extra time, I have covered a few more miles and taken a few more photos. I try to stop every 2 hours, get off and walk around…..good advice from my buddy Vladimir. At noon, I try to sit and eat at some local joint and have a conversation if at all possible. Last night, sometimearound midnight, a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning woke me strait up in my bag of sleep. Within about 15 minutes therain was pelting the tent like it wanted to shred the outer layer on me. I had it all staked out at the corners, and guy ropes in place……so, nothing to do but lay down and go back to sleep. Got up about 6.45 and the rain was falling steady and hard. Everything was in pretty good shape really, it all got alot wetter as I tore camp down. Went as fast as I could,but just not fast enough. Skipped breakfast and hit the road. About 9am I passed thru a village and spotted a place to have coffee. Sat down to drink my coffee, 6 other folks all ready sitting around outside on bottle boxes etc…..so I just joined them. Great big fella sitting across from me says “WHERE”,  so I take it he is asking where am I from…..I proceed to tell him America. He opens his arms like giving a hug………and says “I LOFF OBAMA”. Well crap, my day was done. I got up, shook the political dust off my sa dals and moved on right then…….leftmy coffee sitting. had my rain suit on,and was as wet inside as outside,and finally the chill of riding down a big hill, and then pedaling up and getting hot all over again got to me. About 200 yards off tomy right at the top of thenexthill, was anaba doned Soviet type farm building. It was in bad shape,with trees and shrubs growing on the roof. I rode around to the backside to see if I could find a dry spot and fire up my stove to make my own darned coffee. Sure enough, there were just a few feet of floor space that was dry,enough for me……and not enough for O’Blamer.

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Spent maybe an hour getting a couple cups of tea down, and got warmed up. The rain never let up,must kept pounding the ground. 14 hours of it, and at one point my bike showed 48 degrees. Cold enough, I could not get my phone to respond to my touch…….same thing happens to my wife once in a while? Backto the phone,o ce I got myhands dry and warm everything phone wise worked just great. I made it to MONTANA, Bulgaria byabout 3.45pm so decided I would get a room and dry things out as well as charge things back up. My new Canon SX50 camera uses the battery alot quicker than my old camera and it needs a wall outlet to power it. My tablet was also dead from writing and reading at night. Pine, I repacked my bike and like it much better. Front panniers have all clothing and electronics in them. Back panniers now have tools, tent and bag of sleep in them. Which leaves me with the rackbag justfor the stove and all food. I went out on a limb, bought 4 jars (plastic jars) of peanut butter when I found it. I emptied 3 out, washed them good, and replaced contents with jam, coffee etc…….threw way everything glass…….not sure why it took so long to figger that out, and the rack bag is much lighter. Still miss you though,andhope Inever get over it. SO THAT YOU THE READER ANDFOLLLWER OF THIS BLOG UNDERSTAND, I have cussed the WordPress app to no end, becauze it is buggy inzide of a mobile Android platform……enuff to cause severe alchoholism…..promise ya! Today, we will beginmaking changes. My son Pine, has voluntered to take over posting the blogs from home on his laptop. I will send him the text and images via Evernote, and he will postit as he gets the time. The postings could be sporatic and out of sequence…….as I think there may be a women involved…….just sayin.

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Blog 23-Downward Spiral

I am living in blogging hell, the vehichle that propels me towards hell at warp speed is the WordPress app. This post was written to describe the descent off the backside of Trans Fagaras, since it felt like we were spiraling down the mountain. Instead we find our writing/photograhy and blogging efforts swirling down the toilet bowl. Thanks WordPress, ya really knock it out’a the park with this blogging platform. The entire post that was up here this am is gone, very sorry but I dont have a copy and I ain’t screwing around with retelling the whole thing. I will post the images once again and then webe done.

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The Roof of Curtea D'Arges Monastery
The Roof of Curtea D’Arges Monastery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blog 22 -By Gods grace alone

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Thouroughly ticked off with the WordPress app. Thjs post was done in total, and last night Pine even proof read it for me so we could be sure we told our story accurately ans in order. But trust the danged WordPress to eat,destroy,skip,erase, or generally make life in hell look like more fun than everyday infront of WordPress. God, has been given the naming rights to this post because I am here due to Gods grace alone.
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Pine and I spent a day wandering Sibiu, a very pretty city and as far west as we will be going on this trip. Sibiu is one of those cities who,s outer industrial type zone about had JW ready to leave before I got into the heart of it. Its an old city with some amazing sites to see, a huge armour museum, a rennasaince art museum with some of the finest pieces in the world, then there is the very quaint and achitecturally interesting downtown……..plus there is a Ben & Jerrys Ice Cream…….and thats the only thing we were here for. We seen it all, sat and watched a Christian Band play in old town center, watched people, and took many photos. The road into Sibiu was way to busy for our liking, many heavy trucks.
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We wrapped up our time in Sibiu, and made our plans to leave by way of tiny backroads. This woukd take us out thru rolling farm country, and take us directly east along a major river Here in Romania. As soon as we climb over the first ridge east out of Sibiu, we were in a much different world, the single lane blacktop gave way to gravel or various conditions ranging from good to nasty. Plenty of long slow climbs spotted our days pedal effort. Sweat was rolling, shirts were off, sun screen shone in the sweat and sunshine that bounced off our backs……pretty soon pants were off. Okay, don,t get to excited, I am lying about having my shirt off. Farmers, mostly working in pairs along side thier horses, were out hand loading hay to be taken back to the farm yard. The hay is most often cut with a scythe, forked and rakwd into windrows, then hand tossed onto wagons, were once in the farm yard it is then stacked over a triangular rack were it can dry completely. Huge thunderheads rolled over the distant mountains edge, beckoning us to venture closer.
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We are headed for Trans Fagaras, this is considered by many to be amongst the top 5 climbs in the world……..and we are going to do it, or die trying. And for that cowboy friend who said we had always taken the easy way out, this is for you, to satisfie your cruel heart that we done at least one very difficult climb. Not that there haven,t been more than that. Some of you are harkening back to my claim, 4hat I am here by Gods grace alone. Maybe now is a good time to explain. Our cross country route from Sibiu this day, kept us away from a very busy minor highway for as long as possible. But as fate would have it, we had to ride 12 miles of this road before we could make our next turn south towards the infamous Trans Fagaras.
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Roads are generally pretty good here in Romania, that is if you are in a car. But on a bike, it looks and feels totally different. Here are some details before you call me  just another idiot on a bicycle. In almost all places along the road there is a vee shaped ditch to catch running water, it would be about 3 foot wide and 2 feet or more dee, the ditch is sometimes right at the white line and at others there may be a foot or so of cement edge before the ditch.. This ditch is open if you are out of town, but intown, there is a cement grate placed over it, the grate is designed to allow water to pass thru and into the ditch. Probl2m is, that witha bike, if you hit the ditch at just the right angle, your wheel also passes thru it and the wreck is on. When going thru towns and villages, there are curbs made that are usually about 10 inches tall, these really catch your pedala quick if you dont pay attention. And last, also maybe the worst, is the blacktop edge drops right off at the white line, the drop can vary from being ess3ntially flush to as much as 10 inches which really wakes you up.
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So, there we are, Pine running about 50 yards out front of myself. We are rolling uphill thru a small village, these are always the worst and we hate them for the simple reason that there are so many things to watch out for. Traffic is generally very considerate on Romanian roads, and this is not a rant about drivers. As I pedal uphill, watching for people, bogs,curbs, white line and one single tree that borders the very road edge in front of me, I can here a semi tractor coming behind me. I take a second to check my mirror on his position, and in that briefest instant several things happened simoultaneously. The reality of knowing that the semi was right on my butt probably played into things even if only sublimanely. The road edge dissappeared from under my bikes front wheel, as road edges are, that being uneven and rough. It allows my front wheel to roll off, then attempt to roll right back on……..I could tell I was going down. But, there was nothing that I nor Superman could have done about it. When the bike rolls off and back on like this, its shoots you and the bike at an angle out across the lane of traffic……and thats right where I was headed, in slow motion I watched as I headed out into that place I last wanted to be. My arms extended to break my fall, my left hand leads the way to impact………my feet attempt to turn and twist trying to free myself of the wieght of the bicycle. The fork and front wheel bounce with the impact……….. theres a screech but I cant see from what………..the panniers partially break the bikes fall……..the ashphalt rips at whatever exposed flesh comes its way…………an acrid smell of brakes fills my nose……………my left knee comes to a halt finally and it hurts…….there is the sound or horns honking……….my left elbow is complaining……….in the back of my mind I hear the expulsion of air from the semi but it dosen’t really register yet………we have landed and come to our final rsting place……blue wave of smoke passes thru my immediate vision…….. I look for blood, none. GOOD praise God. I am stuck, momentarily, but stuck nonetheless, my legs, and my feet are tangled in the bike frame and I cant get to my feet as I frantically try to work free knowing there is a semi coming. I roll over to my back, and push hard with my right leg which shoves the bike out and away from me. As i try then to get upright now, my feet and left hip encounter the huge silver front bumper of the semi…?….reality finally sets in here as I look over my placement and predicament. The reality of just how close all this came, has me shaking. Yes, I could have fainted the way I felt, everything in me was set on vibrate. Aches, pains, a little blood, some skin missing…….and the click of gears engaging as the semi now moves on from where it all happened. Total time, in actuality it took only seconds…….but in feeling……it took an hour from the moment I checked my mirror to landing on the road in front of the semi. Life, its a precious thing that we hold onto for all we are worth. Only God knows the number of our days here on this earth, and he alone is in control. I am blessed, yes blessed in being here after the very close call. But to a greater extent folks, I am blessed knowing that I have confesed my sins before a loving God Christ, he has alotted me a place in heaven……but not today. HE has something greater in mind for me, I know not what but I am on this walk and in his hands. He lives in my heart, he was saying and thinking the same things as I during this whole episode, only he was not worried because he knew the outcome. I am convinced that without Christ in my life I would not be here writing this today.
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WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY BE WAITING FOR, be thankful that some of your Christian friends actually think your life here has value. Life can be snuffed out so quickly, and in the most inoquous fashion that you may well have no time to ask forgiveness. Dont use that “I WILL CALL HIM WHEN IT HAPPENS” as your fall back plan. Oh’ but for the grace of God go I, in a pine box back to my family in California…..thankyou Jesus, for the angels placed around me because of the fervent prayers of your Saints here on earth.
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We take a short break after the accident, to gather our wits, our courage, check for damage. We are all good, albeit a little shaky, but good. We turn south towards the Trans Fagaras and its now famous grades and switch backs. Seen on 2 or 3 different TV shows that demonstrate driving skills, the Trans Fag is not to be taken lightly. We run about 18 miles due south, creeks cross our path in several places, all of them running fast, cold and clear likea mountain streem should. We reach the base of the climb and camp for the night.
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The next morning, we tackle the climb with the determination that we would be victorious. Ate a big helping of porridge and some toast. Rolled out and made the first inclined bend just 200 yards after our camp and it never let up for the next 5 hours. The initail climbs are all made within heavy forests or hardwoods and fir, just enough is cleared away to leave a road to drive on, huge branches swipe at you and cars as you pass. Stinging nettle lines to road side like fawning crowds of cycling enthusiasts, only to leave you with a rash and itch as a reward for your passing. The sun struggles to find a place on earth to lands its golden rays the trees are so dense. We had prayed that we would have sun during our climb so we could take pictures, and once again……my GOD answered our prayers as sunshine abounds. Thunderheads adorn the crest of the rocky peaks like whip cream dollops, sun warms the slopes above the tree line. After mayabe 2.5 hours of continuous climbing thru the forest, we break out above tree line and are greeted witha full view of the Balean Falls as our reward for our effort thus far.
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Starting at the falls, the first turn is hard left, uphill at plus 10 percent, and nothing quits from that stage on. We round the first hairpin, and are greeted by a huge bowl formation inwhich the roads snakes as if alive, yp to the very precarious top. We ride this writhing alive strip of ashphalt for some 40 assorted hair pin turns. Sosme less than 10 percent, and most are at or over the 10 percent grade. The lungs and the legs are about to burst, the lactic acid in my legs is on fire, my butt muscles feel like I have been branded. No amount of water seems to quench my thirst. And my riding shorts are now more white with salt, than they are black. There is the lingering smell of an “old goat”, and it seems to share a place on the bike with me. Turns, water falls, mud, rock slides, fog and mist rush in to invite us to attempt to tackle this God made rock behemoth……..crank, pedal, pray, drink, wipe sweat, grunt even fart……but just keep your eyes on the crest and nothing more. We are here, we both made it. Pine arrived maybe 45 minutes ahead of me. Here we stand at the top of Trans Fagarase. Done with one of the greatestroads to drive, and climbs to tackle in the entire world. I will carve a notch in the proverbial bed psot when I get home after this one. My hips are aching but other than that I feel pretty good. Pines butt muscles are tight, I didnt feel them, I took his word for it being so.

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Blog 21 Castles, Cathedrals and Cabbage rolls

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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