November 9th (Continued)
"Close the windows or the monkeys will come."
This was the first thing I was told when I checked in and was one of the better pieces of advice I had received on this trip.
Welcome to the jungle. I had arrived in Khao Sok after 3 painful days of riding and I had somehow stumbled across this amazing guesthouse resort run by a local family. For the first time since arriving in Thailand, I decided to splurge on accommodations and spent a whopping $15 a night. This is what $15 a night gets you in Thailand:
My own private bungalow with a hot water shower (completely unnecessary) and laundry service.
That night I had one the best meals of my life. Very rarely is a meal a memorable moment in my life, but I will never forget my first dinner in Khao Sok. The cook/laundry service/housekeeping/mother of 3 was the owner's wife, and the restaurant was this fantastic open air patio with a thatched roof overlooking the river. I decided that I needed to step out of my comfort zone and asked the "cook" to make me anything she wanted. What I ended up with was "Chicken with Cashew Nut," and while it doesn't sound like much, it was absolutely unreal. It was hands down one of the best things I've ever eaten, period. That night, I ate dinner alone in the middle of the Thai jungle eating food that was out of this world and drinking beer that was unbelievably bad, and as uneventful as it may sound, I will never forget that night.
The jungle trek...
What was supposed to be a leisurely 2.5 mile hike through Khao Sok National Park turned into one of the most ridiculous days of my life. The hike was described as "one of the more spectacular hikes in the park but seldom done because of a deteriorating trail, steep
hills and 6 river crossings." More or less, I figured it would be right up my alley. Interestingly enough, the guidebook said to allow 6 hours round trip for the hike. This is the point where I should have noticed that something wasn't quite right, but naturally all I thought was, "Challenge accepted. I bet I can knock it out in 3". Well I managed to do it in 4 hours- 4 hours of hell.
Before I explain the hike, I should explain where I was at this point in time. Khao Sok is the oldest living jungle in the world and the most bio-diverse place on the planet. What that means is that they have every scary animal and creepy crawler you can imagine. Here's the short list: elephants, sun bears, leopards, tigers (yeah, tigers), territorial monkeys and gibbons, tapirs, and wild pigs. If that wasn't exciting enough, Khao Sok is also home to foot-long centipedes with a nasty bite, bird eating spiders (the same bird eating spiders that you had studied in first grade and were elated that you'd never see one in person), crickets the size of mice, scorpions and countless varieties of hostile ants. Top it off with a number of pythons, vipers and water monitors, and you've got yourself a proper jungle.
Trekking through the Thai jungle would be comparable to running the Manitou Incline
in 100 degree weather with 150% humidity and throw in some bushwhacking, endless mud, and leeches galore. It was a character building experience to say the least.
I have never sweat so much in my entire life and I doubt I will ever sweat that much ever again. It was literally raining off my face
. This picture sums up exactly how my jungle trek went:
The worst part of the trek was having to stop every 5 minutes to pick the leeches off. It was endless. I started counting after a while and figured that I pulled roughly 175 leeches off my legs over the duration of my trek.
Mercifully, I finally made it to my destination, a spectacular waterfall in the middle of absolute nowhere.
I took some time to go swimming and pose for obligatory self-shot photos and then started the arduous trek back. On the way back, I managed to get lost 3 different times which is something that truly needs to be experienced to be fully understood. Being truly lost in the jungle by yourself is not a comforting feeling to say the least. All in all, it was great experience but not something that I plan on doing again anytime soon.
I spent that evening with a girl from Germany who's name I have completely misplaced. We spent the evening discussing everything from the differences in world healthcare to "traveler English." We talked for hours and it was one of the most engaging conversations I've ever had. All the while, we drank terrible, but well deserved, beer as I tried convincing her to ride an elephant with me the next day. Personally, I thought it was a fantastic idea. Unfortunately, her boyfriend wasn't too keen on the idea when he showed up later that evening. As the evening progressed, we made a few more new friends from all over the globe. The most memorable was a French guy, who's dream in life, of all things, was to, "Go to Florida and watch an NFL game." I did not see that one coming.
Some of the best conversations I've ever had in life have been with complete strangers that I'd met while traveling. Despite the fact that you're talking to complete strangers from all over the world, it always feels more like you're talking to someone you've known your whole life but somehow know absolutely nothing about. When people ask me why I travel alone, it's because it allows you to meet people who you'd never otherwise meet and do things you'd never otherwise do. To me, that's the best part of traveling. The places you go are not nearly as memorable as the people you meet.
I didn't do a darn thing. It rained on and off all day, so I sat on my porch and read my book cover to cover. It was awesome.
Khao Sok is one of the most unique places I've ever been and the fact that it was further off of the normal tourist track made it that much better. After a few days in the jungle though I was ready for some excitement, and the next day, I was headed south to Phuket to meet up with a friend of mine to do some climbing.
After a nice stay in Kanchanaburi, it was time to start the long journey south. I spent the morning packing my bag and then got back on the bike. Today's goal was to ride to the town of Phetachburi. Because I wasn't very comfortable on the bike yet, I figured this would be a manageable distance for my first long day of riding.
Well, the ride was awful. In order to get to Phetchaburi, I had to ride back towards the chaos of Bangkok before dropping south onto the Malay Peninsula. Navigating the major highways was fairly straight forward since the English/Roman character city names were always printed below the Thai. Because of this convenient touch, getting from city to city was fairly easy. However, once you had arrived at your destination city, navigating became extremely difficult. In smaller cities, the street signs are only in Thai, which meant you could never tell what road you were on. I should reiterate that these street signs weren't just in a different language but also in a different alphabet, so there was absolutely no hope of even guessing what the signs said. Long story short after a number of circles through town and an hour or two of walking around aimlessly, I found the river and followed it until I ran into a guesthouse. The place was abysmal, but it had a nice bar overlooking the river so it met my criteria nonetheless.
My bike with all my possessions parked outside the guesthouse in Phetchaburi.
I spent the majority of the evening wandering the town taking pictures of overweight monkeys and relaxing in the bar at the guesthouse. At the bar I met Chris and Deanne, an American couple from Maryland. After a few drinks, we all went out for dinner at the local night market. Dinner was great as always and again unbelievably cheap. Before we left, Chris and I decided we should try some of the local mystery desserts. One bight each was enough to tell us that we had both chosen wrong, although my green blob was definitely better than Chris's pink blob solely based on the lack of noodles in it.
$4 worth of accommodations and our even more memorable mystery desserts
Long ride, short story.
I woke up early and rode 280 miles south to the town of Ranong. I spent the majority of the day dodging large trucks on the freeway and becoming more comfortable with riding a motorcycle overall. The last section of the ride was terrifying as the road narrowed to one lane through the mountains, but I survived nonetheless. After a long day of riding I made it to Ranong, and after an hour or so I eventually found a place to stay. I started to figure out that the key to navigating smaller cities was to do it on foot. This way you could focus more on looking around for a place to stay rather than focusing on not dying on your motorcycle.
Ranong wasn't all that eventful and was really just a rest stop on my way to Khao Sok National Park. I stayed at place called the Asia Hotel, which looked more like a prison than a hotel, but it served its purpose.
I left Ranong and continued south towards Khao Sok. This was the first time on the trip I truly enjoyed the motorcycle. There was no traffic on the road, stunning scenery and a wicked fun winding road that kept you on your toes just enough throughout the ride. After three days of riding, I finally arrived in one of the most stunning places you will ever see, huge valleys full of towering karsts as far as the eye could see. This was going to be home for the next few days as I explored the jungle and gave my rear end a much deserved break from the bike seat. Somehow, I had yet again landed in paradise.
Alex is breaking his usual mold of climbing natural formations by climbing an undisclosed building live for National Geographic this fall. Honnold, a free-soloing specialist and Adventurer of the Year
in 2010, has yet to have climbed a building in his adult life. Excited? We are!
Read about his interview with National Geographic here
Can’t get enough? Read our post
last year about Honnold’s appearance in a Citi Bank commercial or watch his 60-minute segment below.
High season is here! But before things get really crazy, Molly and I decided to sneak off to Penitente Canyon to climb for a few days. With a spring season full of wild weather, the amount of actual climbing we got to do was limited, but we still managed to make it exciting. Penitente Canyon is a beautiful hidden canyon nestled northwest of Alamosa, CO. Made of volcanic rock, the canyon is full of short bolted sport routes with everything from slabs to overhanging huecos.
Day 1 - We left in the morning and and headed west through ominous rain clouds with the ever persistent hope that the weather would be nicer in Pentitente than it was anywhere else...
It wasn't... we arrived in the pouring rain. I promptly decided that the rain was definitely going to blow over shortly and it would soon be beautiful and sunny for the rest of the trip. Anyone who has ever been climbing with myself and has heard one of my ultra-scientific and fact-based meteorology predictions knows that my track record is abysmal, at best. So, it continued to down pour for the rest of the afternoon.
While we set up camp and started to unpack, Molly had a revelation. No, maybe we should call it an epiphany. She had forgotten her harness. That's right. We were on 3-day climbing trip and we only had one harness between the two of us. As a side note, the irony that Molly and I of all people would be short on equipment is truly overwhelming. At this point, most folks would have packed up and turned around, but considering our insane work schedules, we were determined to make this work. At this point it was still raining and we decided that our best course of action would be to drive to Alamosa to do some shopping. After a quick stop in Alamosa, Molly had a new harness to add to her collection and we were good to go, except for the fact that it was still raining...
To escape the frigid cold and massive snow storm this week, I headed south to Sugarite State Park near Raton, NM. Only minutes south of the Colorado-New Mexico border, Sugarite State Park is a spectacular area with two trout-filled reservoirs, convenient camping areas with electric hook-ups and running water, and most importantly, 50’ basalt cliffs covered in cracks of every size and difficulty. An ideal get away for spring and fall months, Sugarite welcomes all forms of climbers with easy access for top roping almost every route. Although the weather wasn't ideal with the occasional wind gust and cooler temperatures, I certainly had my fill of finger, hand and foot jams as I scaled up these volcanic cliffs. Check out some classic climbs like S&M Crack and read more about this breathtaking hideaway on Mountain Project
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Las Vegas? Gambling? Shows? Clubs? Did you know there’s a spectacular climbing area only 20 minutes west of the Strip? As I found out, most locals don’t even know about this beautiful area covered in hundreds if not thousands of climbing routes. For an entire week, a group of friends and I went scrambling up every gully we could find to climb a new route in this beautiful sandstone park. Our first day, we climbed at the Magic Bus, an area filled with moderate sport routes and located high above the sandy wash. Watch the timelapse video below.
The rest of our stay was filled with every kind of climbing from sport to trad and hanging from huecos, smearing on slab, and jamming an elbow in an off-width crack. Although finding an open route in some popular areas proved to be a challenge, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. With an average above 100˚F during the summer, I’d only recommend climbing here in the early spring or late fall months. Yet, it’s certainly a must see, er... climb, for anyone's bucket list.
What a weekend! Last Friday, we attended 2013 Snowsports Industries America trade show and perused every isle gawking at and fiddling with the newest winter gear. SIA is an annual trade show where all of the ski, snowboard, and accessory manufacturers gather in one place to show off next year's latest and greatest to retailers across the country. So, we spent all day Friday going from one booth to another with an occasional work-related meeting.
Some of next years offerings from Smith Optics and Line Skis:
One thing that stood out this year was the amount of backcountry oriented gear at the show. These days, it seems like every manufacturer is making backcountry this and that. While it's exciting to see so many companies making backcountry gear, it's also scary. With this large surge in backcountry offerings, there isn't the same surge in backcountry education
There are several groups like Friends of Berthoud Pass
and numerous AIARE course providers dedicated to teaching avalanche awareness and promoting avalanche education, but ultimately it is up to the user to educate him/herself. The purchase of an Avalung and some Marker Dukes shouldn't invite someone to start exploring the backcountry. Unfortunately, the marketing of many of these new backcountry items (not necessarily those previously mentioned) could lead one to believe as much. Hopefully ideas like Project Zero
will be successful in making avalanche education as "cool" to backcountry skiers and snowboarders as the products that go with it.
The SIA show is broken up into two segments. The first part is the two-day show itself and the second is two on-snow demo days at Winter Park where you can try out everything you saw at the show. We
Always fun at the liberty tent
I had a short list of skis that I had seen at the show that I wanted to try and then a number that had been suggested to me by others. Despite the fact that there was no snow, it was without a doubt one of the best days of skiing I've had this year. Who knew that bombing blue runs all day long could be so much fun? I tried a number of different skis over the course of the day and for every ski I didn't have time to try, someone else on the chairlift had and was able to tell me about. I spent most of the day trying out bigger skis and even with the conditions being less than ideal, a couple managed to still wow me. The DPS skis stole the show in my book- especially the Wailer 112RPC, which was impressive to say the least.
Check out the pictures below. The only ski not pictured is the Moment Governor, which I was having so much fun on I forgot to take a picture.
Black Diamond Carbon Megawatt
DPS Lotus 120
Liberty Envy and DPS Wailer 112RPC
Line Mr. Pollards Opus
Ski Logik Bombsquad
After a nice rest day at the Jolly Frog, I set off on a day trip to explore Erawan National Park. For the first time, I somewhat enjoyed riding the bike. Finally out in country side and away from the mega highways and trucking routes, I was able to finally get the feel for the bike while my rear end got the feel for a rock hard seat. Granted, I still hadn't mastered first gear, so I was stalling the bike at practically every traffic light or gasoline stop. That got a little embarrassing seeing as my bike was admired by every gas station attendant and passer by. Apparently my bike, which retails in the U.S. for just under $5,000, was miles nicer than anyone's there. While a huge percentage of people in Thailand ride bikes, very few of them are larger than a scooter or 150cc's, so my 250cc full-size bike definitely stood out.
Back to the national park... I had been warned that in order to beat the tourists I would need to go early. Thanks to my disrupted sleep schedule, I was wide awake at 5 AM and cruised on up just before the park opened.
I stopped for a quick bite to eat before the park, where the lady at the food cart kept asked me if I wanted this and that. Seeing as how I had no idea what she was going on about, I just nodded my head in agreement and kept saying yes. I ended up with the items pictured below. The chicken was impeccable- seriously one of the best pieces of chicken I have ever had. The bamboo salad (what I assume it was) on the other hand left something to be desired, to say the least.
Once in the park, I parked the bike and started the hike up to Erawan Falls. Erawan Falls is made up of seven tiers of waterfalls over a stretch of 2-3 kilometers. Despite getting there incredibly early, the first waterfall was already packed with tourists by the time I arrived.
Despite my affection for taking pictures of awkwardly out of place tourists, I decided that if I wanted any half decent pictures of the final water fall I would have to get there first. I proceeded to run/jog the entirety of the hike skipping all of the waterfalls in between and passing as many people as possible on the "technical sections" of the trail.
After stopping for a sweaty self portrait and a couple random photos, my run was a success and I was one of the first people to arrive at the top.
The seventh tier of the Erawan Falls, and the only two people who had beaten me there...
I spent the next half hour lounging around in the pools as fish nibbled on my feet, which took some time getting used to. I took my time on the way down taking pictures of all the tiers I had skipped on the way up.
After the falls, I found myself with some extra time before I needed to leave (in order to get back to before dark) so I decided to go check out a cave I had heard about a few miles away. Having the bike for this part was awesome. Unlike the waterfalls, the cave was not on the normal tourist track and the road was more of a dirt drainage ditch than a road. After a little exploring (sometimes referred to as getting lost) I found the cave entrance and felt as if I was the only person for miles. I hiked up what seemed like an endless staircase, pouring sweat the entire way, and all the while having no idea of where on earth I was going. Finally, I reached the cave entrance.
Upon arriving at the cave entrance I awoke a small Thai man who was sleeping in a hammock. Apparently, he was to be my tour guide. All of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of the Thai jungle on a private tour of this immense and impressive cave. Crazy, right?
My tour guide didn't speak a lick of English but we still manged to communicate as he pointed out the animal shaped formations and the endless sea of bats. My guide even stopped to take pictures of me in front of every "animal." The cave was massive, something like a football field long and half as high.
After the cave, I made my way back to the Jolly Frog for some dinner and a few terrible beers.
This was my last day in Kanchanaburi and my best day yet. Tomorrow I would be setting off on the long trip south.
To be completely honest, I have made a number of what you might call poor life decisions over the years. Out of all the bad ideas** I've had, none of them seem to top running with the bulls in Pampalona... until now. Choosing to ride a motorcycle across Thailand is categorized as a bad idea. Yet, choosing to learn how to ride a motorcycle so that I can ride it across Thailand is without a doubt the single worst life decision I have ever made. Hands down.
** Bad ideas usually start out as great ideas.
It was my second day in Thailand and the realization of what I was about to embark on was sinking in. After taking a number of cab rides across Bangkok the day before, I quickly learned there was a never ending flow of gridlock traffic throughout the city and seemingly no traffic laws whatsoever. The only thing that seemed constant was what I call the Tonnage Rule, meaning the bigger vehicle always gets the right of way. So here I was about to pick up my motorcycle absolutely dreading whatever it was I had gotten myself into.
Some quick background on why I chose to ride a motorcycle. It's simple really: Top Gear (the single best show on television),
and The Vietnam Special
(click to watch it, or series 12 episode 8 for Netflix users). If you haven't seen that episode, watch it, and it will explain everything. I figured if Jeremy Clarkson could do it, anyone could.
So, I made it to the rental shop and started signing all the
paperwork. I made sure to purchase every possible insurance plan. I then made the massive mistake of asking the the bike shop guy if this was a bad idea. He then proceeded to tell me that they have only had one serious accident this month and if I avoided U-turns I would be fine.... Awesome. After an hour or so of this, I was finally on my bike and out the door. I had rented a Kawasaki KLX-250, a dual purpose dirt bike. It was the biggest bike available in my price range, but a choice my rear end would inevitably pay for. And did I mention that due to the lack of roman characters on street signs, navigating in the city was next to impossible?
My first day, I chose to ride to 78 miles to the city of Kanchanabur
y. It was just far enough to escape Bangkok without over doing it on my first day of riding, or so I figured. After a quick gas stop and a close call with a white Toyota, I was on the road and on my way. To avoid having to navigate while trying to stay alive, I had paid a motorcycle taxi to let me follow him to the outskirts of town. I wish I could properly describe what riding a bike through downtown Bangkok is like but I simply can't find the words that would do it justice. Terrifying doesn't come close to what I was feeling for that first hour. As I weaved my way through cars and other bikes trying to keep up with my taxi and stay alive, out of nowhere I suddenly came to terms with the fact that I was not going to survive this trip. From that moment on though I found myself settling in and relaxing a little as I snaked my way through the chaos.
After a few hours
of close calls, poor shifting, and getting lost, I made it to Kanchanaburi. I had skimmed through the guide booked the night before and found a place that sounded nice called the Jolly Frog. Miraculously, I drove right to it, completely by accident. Even more miraculously, I had survived the day.
The Jolly Frog was paradise. It sat directly on the River Kwai (just a couple hundred yards downstream from the famous bridge) with an immaculate courtyard filled with lounge chairs and hammocks all overlooking the river. I spent the next 3 hours drinking terrible beer in the courtyard reveling in the fact that I had just survived Bangkok on a motorcycle and somehow landed in paradise. The fact that paradise only cost $6 a night was a definite plus.
I quickly made some new friends out in the courtyard and decided to tag along with them to the night market for dinner. Thai night markets are absolutely fantastic. You can buy anything from cell phones to goats. They are in every city, open only after dark, and are a backpackers best friend.
Dinner at the Kanchanaburi night market for 25 cents.
My new friends had all moved on to their next stops, and I had no desire whatsoever to get back on the bike. So, I spent the day doing absolutely nothing. It was amazing. I putzed around the courtyard making stressful decisions such as choosing between laying in a hammock or in a lounge chair or maybe both. I was still reveling in my success from the day before and I even managed to muster some confidence to jump back on the bike for a casual cruise down to the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.
The film is a whole lot better than the bridge...
I had a big day of exploring Erawan National Park planned for tomorrow, and I couldn't function due to the time difference so I called it a early night. Tomorrow, I had 80 miles of riding and again I wasn't terribly excited about it.
Read part 3 Here
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