Bicycling from Bloomington, Indiana, to Southern Illinois, a fracking conference, and I am now, officially, a Colonel

wabash river selfie   A selfie of me and my bicycle, at sunrise on the Wabash River, on an isolated wooden bridge, south of Vincennes, Indiana.

I set out from Bloomington, Indiana with my bike at 2 pm on May 19th, 2014, heading to Ozark, Illinois, 230 miles away. I had done no previous conditioning for this trip, so I knew I was going to pay. I gave myself an extra day, to get to the Heartwood Forest Conference, which would begin on Friday, May 23rd. bike on wabash

My touring bike in full dress. This bike is 18 years old, and I have put around 35k miles on it. I have replaced almost all the components by now. Just add food and water and I am carrying everything I need to travel for months.

I rode west for 2 hours, climbing 4 steep hills until I got to highway 67. On the way, I passed the isolated country farm home where my son’s mother and I lived for 6+ years, where we conceived and raised our son, and where our wonderful Labrador Retriever, Trout Ears, is buried. It was maybe too much remembrance of things gone past for me. So I kept pedaling. Read More…

Istanbul

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The Bosporus, with Asia in the background

We took an all-night train from Athens to Alexandropolis. Every seat was taken in the train, so Susan and I could not lie down and rest, as we had on other trains. With the new austerity programs in Greece, they have cut back on railway schedules. So one should expect full trains on long trips.

We got to Thessaloniki at sunrise. There the train thinned out. Now we could spread out and have a leisure ride through the mountains of eastern Greece. To me, there is simply a great joy in visiting the rural areas of new countries by train. Many of the routes are over a 100 years old and have been cut along ancient routes. This run was full of tunnels and long climbs. Ahead I could see the diesel engine barreling down as we slowed to 20 mph on the climbs. The views were great. Once, cedar forests had stood here. But long ago, an army of goats and sheep had forever removed them. The mountains were now left with grasses nubbed to the ground, and all the corollary erosion that came with it.

At 2 pm, our train backed into the coastal town of . It turned out that we had just missed the bus to Istanbul and would have to wait 12 hours for the next one. We were a bit tired, so we went to  a nearby hotel and negotiated for a room for 12 hours. When the desk man looked at my passport, he said “We see you last night! On ‘Locked Up Abroad.’” He then ran next door and got a few friends. They looked at my passport, then me, and agreed that I was the same guy as the one on TV the night before. They all laughed and shook my hand and offered a toast. This was all a bit odd to me. It had never happened before. But clearly, the service improved.

We grabbed a 2 am bus and made it a point to get in the back seat. There are five contiguous seats there, and if the bus does not fill up, we can lay down.  Off to Istanbul.

The annoying part is when they wake you up at 4 am at the Turkish border. There you must stand outside in the cold night air for over an hour while they completely search you and the bus for arms and explosives. All buses must go through a special scanning machine. Whatever it does, it lights up the sky around it.

We we get aboard and get to Istanbul at about 8 am. One taxi to the old center of the city. Within 5 minutes, we have found an acceptable room near the Blue Mosque for 40 euros. As with the rest of the trip, getting rooms in the off-season has been easy and reasonable.

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We enter the Harem, where, until 1921,  the sultan kept up to 500 concubines.

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The National Archeological Museum of Greece. The greatest archaeological museum I have ever seen.

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In front of the National Archaeological Museum of Greece. I have not seen a better archaeological museum in my life.

Whenever we  can, we visit the national  museums of the countries we are in. Given Greece’s rich history, I expected to find some jewels. But what we got was even better.

We allocated 2-3 hours to cover the museum and then move on. But late in the afternoon, I still found myself unable to leave. The National Archaeological Museum of Greece combined incredible quality and preservation with a vastness of hallways inside. I got lost several times as it just went on and on. Some of the quality of the marble had me shaking my head in amazement. Then I would step into the next room to find even greater works. Do put this museum on your must-see list in life.

 

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A satyr groping a nymph

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Look at how the wind appears to blow the marble tunic

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A tombstone stellae. This is a story of grief. The young man on the left has died prematurely. His servant below him grieves. But the worst of the grief is left for the old father on the right, staring at his departed son. The Greeks knew how to capture tragedy with the best.

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A satyr molests a nymph. He has no problem with his appearance either. But most incredible. This is ONE continuous piece of marble.

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Athens

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I had studied Latin and Greek History is high school. One of my favorite teachers was Alpha Braunsworth. She knew her classes inside out. She brought Greek mythology to life for me. Between the lines, I could read about their gods living, lusting, and passionate. So different from the sterile Christianity presented to me daily in my life. I swore that I would visit the Parthenon, the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, the Oracle of Delphi. And here it was, 50 (FIFTY!) years later, and I had not visited. Speaking of a bucket list.

The temple of Hesperia in Athens. 2400 years old, and in fine condition.

The temple of Hesperia. 2400 years old, and in fine condition.

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On the Acropolis, on Valentine’s Day, we were met by these dear young Greek women who were giving chocolates out to all couples they met, including Susan and I. How sweet.

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The Temple of Zeus, in south Athens. Still standing, balanced, after being finished by Hadrian, 1900 years ago.

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2014 Albania

Albania was lost to the world from 1950 through 1985 because of the complete meglomaniac paranoia of Enver Hoxha. He started out as a patriotic nationalist, but ended up as an unreformed Stalinist who held absolute power. So convinced was he that ‘reactionary’ Communist forces were going to overthrow him that he had built over 700,000 anti-tank pill boxes. All over the country to this day do these pill boxes stare at you, just waiting for you to make one subversive move.

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One of the 700,000+ anti-tank boxes built under the Hoxha regime

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another pill box, peering at me from the bus

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Yet another one, watching me from a farmer’ field. They are simply all over the place.

Actually, all of them have been decommissioned, with the death of Hoxha in 1985. But his legacy remains.

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The Pyramid built to last a ’1000 years’ in Tirana, Albania, in commemoration of the great leader Hoxha. It was designed by Hoxha’s untrained daughter. City officials closed it down 15 years ago, and it is now caving in. The stairs in front have collapsed. This is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias, all over again.

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People’s art, on the outside of the National Museum. But the art inside was definitely worth seeing.

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Venice and Croatia in the winter

Fifty Years of Backpacking, and still going at it. Why travel South East Europe in the winter? The Pluses: 1. short lines, or none at all 2. Cheap air flights 3. Rooms readily available at great discounts 4. Museum entrance tickets available in all cases The Minus(es) 1. Cold rain, at times. Some of it persistent and unpleasant. Susan had three weeks of ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ vacation. So we would use it. And where to? Susan said that anyplace would be fine, since she basically had not traveled in her life. I had been to Italy a few times. But I had never gotten up to Venice. It was on my bucket list of places to visit. So we booked round-trip tickets flying from Indianapolis to Venice, and returning from Istanbul to Indianapolis. At $930 @ ticket, we got tickets at half their summer rate. So we were off to the races.   Venice was the only city we made reservations for. We readily found rooms wherever else we went, without difficulty. I began traveling internationally with backpacks in 1964. I have not felt a major reason to change. And so, here I am, on my fiftieth year of backpacking. We are traveling light. We carry all our luggage above. We have settled on three changes of clothes, and we hand-wash our clothes every night in our room. This will work for us. two-backpacks So I have my day pack here, which snaps to my ultralight backpack. This gives me both balance and accessibility. So Susan and I set in on Venice on February first, 2014, hoping that winter would be gone when we returned three weeks later. On that one point, we were really going to be disappointed. venice-sue-and-gondola San Marcos Plaza and the four museums around that plaza are must-sees. This city is going under water, slowly. Already, many of the first stories of the buildings are abandoned as their foundations settle into the the sand and the sea rises. But Venice will grace us with its beauty for a century or two more before it finally succumbs to its watery ruins. On to Croatia via train and bus. With the breakup of the old Yugoslavia, there are now lots of smaller Balkan countries. We head out for Split, Croatia. (or , We split for Split?)
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#10 Returning from the Burmese Border

One of the seven waterfalls at Erawon. Very much worth the 1/2 day hike.

One of the seven waterfalls at Erawon. Very much worth the 1/2 day hike.

This site so endeared me. Many adult men drive modified motorcycles with sidecars for taxis. But here, someone  has modified a bicycle to be a play taxi for these two sisters. How cute.

This sight so endeared me. Many adult men drive modified motorcycles with sidecars for taxis. But here, someone has modified a bicycle to be a play taxi for these three sisters. 

 

Most Thais are quite modest. Western tourists, less so.

 

Most Thais are quite modest. Western tourists, less so.

 

Along side the 'Railway of Death' there is a cave. When the allies bombed the railway, the slave laborers would dash into this cave. The local Buddhists made this shrine to honor those who died here.

Along side the ‘Railway of Death’ there is a cave. When the allies bombed the railway, the slave laborers would dash into this cave. The local Buddhists made this shrine to honor those who died here.

After being stopped at the Burmese border, I turned around and bussed back to Kanchanaburi. From there I visited the Erawon Waterfalls. These are a series of seven waterfalls leading up a mountain. They were stunning in the dry season. But the locals said that the true beauty and fury of the falls are only revealed during the monsoon.

I needed more bicycling before I returned to Bangkok. If I returned via the direct route to Bangkok, I would be retracing a high-traffic, boring industrial route. So I headed north toward Suphan Buri. This is the heart of Thailand’s rice-growing district. And as Thailand is the #1 exporter of rice in the world, this is agribusiness at its most intense.

I left well before sunrise and pedaled north. The scenery was purely large-scale rice farming. Massive irrigation pumps flooding fields, lush light green rice seedlings bursting thru the ponds with 1000s of white egrets wading in them for as far as I could see. The roads were as flat as the rice paddies. I would have made great time, except that I was bucking the wind all the way. By 10 am it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. And by 1 pm, it was 100 degrees F. I was guzzling a liter of water an hour. Surprisingly, I did not feel too exhausted by the heat. I took a two-hour nap inside a large, covered outdoor bus stop. Then I headed out at 4 pm to try to made 25 more miles by sunset. I did. I struggled for an hour to find a place to stay. At the end of the day I had made 85 miles into the wind. I was good with that.

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#9 Chased by Border Guards

Far in the distance in ThongPhaPhum I see this, and walk toward it

Far in the distance in ThongPhaPhum I see this, and walk toward it

I walk the suspension bridge, climb several hundred stairs, and I find the gold Buddha. The book says it has real gold on it. I am there alone for a while.

I walk the suspension bridge, climb several hundred stairs, and I find the gold Buddha. The book says it has real gold on it. I am there alone for a while.

 

The mountains at the far horizon are in Burma. 80 kms away. I plan to pedal there tomorrow.
The mountains at the far horizon are in Burma. 80 kms away. I plan to pedal there tomorrow.

It is starting to heat up here. So I leave on bicycle before sunrise. I have what looks like 2 days of pedaling into the mountains to climb to the Burmese border. My first day went relatively well as I pulled into Thong Pha Phum. It is a small town on the River Kwai, at the edge of steep mountains. The river now flows swift, deep, and clear.

Across the river I see a glittering Buddhist Shrine atop a jagged pinnacle. I walk across a long suspension bridge to it. The bridge sways in the wind. I climb the 300+ steps to the top and I discover that I am the only person here. It is beautifully made shrine, open to all. Later, a few visitors arrive. As the sun sets, I take some pictures to the north, where Burma lies in the distance. I will try to pedal up thru the mountains to here tomorrow.

I load my bike and leave well before sunrise. Immediately I hit steep hills. Most of them are less than 7% climbs, and I can still make that, in the morning, while I am fresh. Something that I notice about the people that I pass is that they are no longer ethnically Thai. In general, they are smaller and darker than Thais. Most are Karen and Mon refugees from the Burmese government.

For the rest of the day, in increasing heat, I climb increasingly steep mountains. By 2 in the afternoon, I must stop and cool off at a Buddhist monastery. They bring me cool water. I have been drinking at least a liter an hour, and it is still not enough. If one cannot cool off with water, then one risks heat exhaustion. So I rest on. I covered 50 kms in the mountains this morning. I figure I can surely cover the remaining 30 kms before sunset.

But I am, in the end, wrong. It is getting hotter, the mountain roads are steeper, and I am more tired. The roads are too steep for me to pedal. So I hop off my bike and push my bike up to the top of passes. This can be 30 minutes or more, and although it is not cycling, it sure is exercise. At the top of each pass, I discover another mountain on the other side, higher than the one before. I coast rapidly to the bottom, and then begin the arduous walk/push bike to the top again.

When I get to the top of the last ridge, I am ready to congratulate myself. It is late, but I have made it to Sangkhlaburi, the end of the road. But wait, what do I see in the distance? Another mountain. I listen to the truck that has just passed me. I hear its engine whining loudly in first gear as it climbs up the longest slope. It will be dark soon. I look around. I could bivouac here for the night if need be. But I do not have a tent. I am so close to the city. So I try to wave down the next truck. The very first truck stops. Somehow, in Thailand, this does not surprise me. A middle-aged Thai couple stop, get out, and help me load my bike into the back. I ride in back with the bike. They take me over the last mountain, and it is the highest and the steepest one that I have encountered on this trip. Maybe I could have made it in the morning, but not now.

I find a lovely old hotel next to the town plaza and market. It is of tile and natural stone, with the fine workmanship of professional masons and stone workers. I choose a room with only a fan. That is good enough for me. At this altitude, it is not so hot. I quickly guzzle 2 more liters of water, take a cold shower, and wash my laundry by hand. I turn the fan toward the bed, and pass out. I had made it, of sorts.

The next morning before sunrise I go to the market to eat. Here was my breakfast of a green coconut curried vegetables. It tasted fine, and set me back 35 cents.

This was delicious, and set me back 35 cents. I am embarrassed to pay so little, so I leave tips.

This was delicious, and set me back 35 cents. I am embarrassed to pay so little, so I leave tips.

 

Many Mon women paint their faces white. Most will not let you photograph them. It can range from garish to striking.

Many Mon women paint their faces white.It can range from garish to striking. Most of them will not let you photograph them. 

 

 

Most of the women have their faces painted white. Usually it consists of a smear of paint on either cheek and their forehead. But occasionally there is a woman who has elaborately painted her face up in the detail one would imagine of a Geisha. When I ask if I an take their photos, they almost universally say no. Here is one who did not. I notice that the refugees here at the border are particularly kind and helpful to me. I later find out that there are numerous NGO’s working here in behalf of the refugees. Many of the employees are Europeans, and the refugees have very good associations with them. They have most likely assumed that I too am an NGO employee and they are giving me preferential treatment because of it. Well, it sure beats being hated.

Then I take a short ride in the back of the truck to the Burmese border. I get there and hike up to the border. I want to check out the border before I arrive on my bicycle.

I ask the Thai border guard if Burma is allowing people to cross today. He tells me that they are only permitting Burmese to enter. But many of the Burmese are afraid to return because of political repercussions. I decide to find out for myself. I follow a loaded truck thru the no one’s land of the border to the Burmese checkpoint. I watch the customs agents begin to search the truck.

Then one of them glances up and sees me. He shouts something unintelligible to me. I am holding my camera as I pull out my passport. He begins gesturing angrily at me,. Then he starts to run at me with his hands held out forward, as if her were going to push me over. I turn and start running back to the Thai border. Another guard follows him in the chase. They continue to chasing me until I am on clearly marked Thai soil. One of them continues shouting something at me. Then they turn and walk away. This is the only picture that I got.

just beyond those buildings is Burma

just beyond those buildings is Burma

 

After I had safely run back into Thailand, I turned to take this photo. They could not get me from here.
After I had safely run back into Thailand, I turned to take this photo. They could not get me from here.

Looks like I won’t be entering Burma any time soon.

This is the end of this line. I check my maps out, and I must now retrace 230 kms of road before I can branch off and bicycle another direction. I much prefer riding loops rather than retracing a route. So I go to the bus station. For $2.50 additional, the bus driver allows me to carry my bike in the bus. The Thai people are so kind about accommodating guests. So back to Kanchanaburi I go, one of my new favorite little cities in Thailand.

 

Thailand makes it very easy to carry bikes on trains or buses, for hybrid trips.

Thailand makes it very easy to carry bikes on trains or buses, for hybrid trips.

And will someone please help me with this?

???

???

 

#8 from SE Asia. The local marketplaces

A local lake crab delicacy. Note: I simply could not get her to hold it without the tongs.

A local lake crab delicacy. Note: I simply could not get her to hold it without the tongs.

Local marketplaces have always been a joy of travel to me. These are often loud, chaotic affairs in the center of each town. Many have been going on for centuries, if not millennia, in the very same spot. I have visited them around the world. Often I discover entirely new foods; fruit and vegetables that I have never seen before. I try eating them. Once I literally threw away the part I was supposed to eat, and tried eating the part I was to throw away. To my embarrassment, the women in the market roared with laughter. I wonder how long afterward they told that story about the ‘dumb foreigner’.

The secret with local markets is to get there before sunrise. Much of the business is done in the cool part of the day. You will not have to worry about being too early.

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#7 Hellfire Pass and Sai Yok National Park

 

My private resort. It would have been better if Susan were here.

My private resort. It would have been better if Susan were here.

I am running on (and out of) battery power now, as the electricity has been down for hours. In the isolated areas, this happens frequently. The Mynah bird in the cage next to me shrieks incredibly loudly and frequently. I want to let it go. And whenever I Skype Susan in the lounge where I can pick up WiFi, a small crowd of smiling locals gather, amazed. At first they thought the image on my net book was television, until I told Susan to wave to them and say ‘hello’ in Thai. I will not be able to transmit until we have power (and WiFi). I guess this is what I should expect in remote mountain towns at the Thai/Burmese border. One learns quickly to immediately plug in their recharger whenever there is working current.I stayed at a luxurious isolated resort on the River Kwai. I was the only guest there, so I had the use of the entire facility to myself. So late at night I went to the pool, declared it ‘nude swimming night’, and jumped in. Swimming in the River Kwai would have been better, but I was fearful of getting washed downstream in the rapid current. It seems like when I am on a bicycle, I manage to find all these isolated, empty resorts. For $10 to $15 @ night, I live well.

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The Wild Years

Dwight Worker The Wild Years A series of autobiographical stories about Dwight Worker’s life, running from the law…before Lecumberri. THE WILD YEARS is available in paperback and ebook.


Escape from Lecumberri

Dwight Worker Escape from Lecumberri Only two people ever escaped from the infamous Lecumberri Prison in Mexico City: Pancho Villa and Dwight Worker. This is the true story of Dwight Worker’s amazing escape. ESCAPE FROM LECUMBERRI is available in paperback or Kindle.

About the Author

Dwight Worker is an American professor, activist, adventurer, and fugitive. He escaped from the Mexican penitentiary Palacio de Lecumberri in 1975 along with the book and movie Escape about the story

Throughout his life he participated in civil rights, anti-war, and environmental movements. In 1991, Dwight volunteered to serve in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Worker is a former professor at Indiana University, where he created the Information Security program for the Kelley School of Business before retiring in 2008 to farm, write, and travel.….READ MORE