It’s the adventure of a lifetime. Two soul mates motorcycling their way through SE Asia in search of discovery, personal fulfillment, stunning scenery, and amazing meals.
It’s an incredible opportunity. And sometimes, it just sucks.
Since we’ve been on the road for a month and a half with 1,000 miles logged, I feel qualified to say this. My intent is not to sound ungrateful for the opportunity or unhappy in our adventure – far from it. But, I think it’s human nature to gloss over the tough stuff and focus instead on the good things – the positive experiences, the most jealousy-inducing photos, etc. – show ourselves in the best light and all that jazz.
So, this is my warts-and-all post, a month and a half in. A chance to tell you that we are human and that not every moment of this adventure is fun, perfect, or beautiful.
I hope you still like us after reading all this:
Motorcycling is Hard
If you’re a rider, you know this. If you’re not, it may seem like riders just zip along, enjoying the breeze and the roar of the engine with nary a care in the world. All or some of that may be true, but we’re also constantly on alert. Who’s alongside? Behind? In front? What are they doing? What does the road look like? Am I maintaining good speed? Good riding posture? Are my hands getting numb? Trust me when I say that riding a motorbike is VERY different than driving a car. It is mentally and physically exhausting.
Now add in unpredictable and often heavy traffic, horrendous road conditions, and finicky, cheap motorbikes. My left shoulder constantly aches from tension and stress, and if I hit one more pot hole, skid on gravel one more time, have yet another gust of wind nearly blow me off the bike, or have the 101st truck on the opposite side run me off the road because he simply cannot wait another moment to pass someone, I will have a mental breakdown. I’ve had moments here where I sincerely hate it and never want to get on a bike again.
As much as it pains me to admit that, it pains me even more to admit that I’ve allowed my frustrations to affect my partner. When things get tough, I’m prone to swearing a blue streak and muttering into my Bluetooth headset that I want to quit, even though I don’t really mean it – your basic brat behavior. It is unbecoming, immature, and one of my worst qualities, made worse by the fact that it stresses and brings H.J. down. None of it is his fault, but my angst makes him feel that way. I know this, yet I can’t help myself. Nothing like long-term, adventure travel to bring you face-to-face with your inner demons.
Adventures in Eating
I lost 10 lbs in our first month. I have not developed an eating disorder, and I am not on a starving backpacker diet … I call my current eating plan the “eat-things-that-don’t-give-me-the-shits” diet. I hate to be crass, but there’s no nice way to say it. Suffice to say that avoiding such problems is hugely important when traveling via motorbike through a country where bathrooms along the road are severely lacking, if we even find a bathroom at all. We’ve encountered rooms where you do your business right on the floor, then rinse it away down a drain. Then there were the holes cut into rotting floorboards over a river … the same river locals use for bathing, drinking, dish cleaning, and clothes washing. Did we just drink tea at this place? Shit…
Now that I’ve shattered anything that might be left of my ladylike image, back to the diet. So what can I eat? Not the adventurous, Andrew Zimmern-approved local specialties I came for … nooooo. Think bread, bread, and more bread. And rice. And bland. And even this is not a perfect recipe for a happy digestive system. It’s been a big culinary letdown to say the least. Add that into the constant worry about how something will affect my stomach, and times get not fun, fast.
The Dumbing Down of the Derrs
I recently read the travel memoir of a woman who backpacked China in 1986 in which she described being a tourist as “being infantilized.” This is so true.
The communication barrier is sometimes insurmountable, and accomplishing even the most basic tasks is daunting, exhausting, and takes 10 times the amount of time it would if we could speak the language. I often find myself gesticulating wildly and shouting. And, this is all to ask simple things like: “Where I can find contact lens solution?” (answer: at an optometrist’s office or eyeglass store, often one and the same here). Or when H ordered fried “pie” with sweet-and-sour sauce, only to receive a plate of stir-fried celery, cucumber, pineapple, and tofu.
This is part of the adventure and is mostly fine, but every once in awhile, I long for the days when I could walk into the Old Ebbitt Grill and order my favorite breakfast in the world, Eggs Long Island (English muffins, spinach, scrambled eggs, fried oysters, and dijon Hollandaise, with a side of fries and ranch for dipping) and a mimosa … or five. No need to spend 30 minutes to map out my route, 20 minutes getting lost, and 30 minutes to figure out what I want to eat and order it. In related news, I miss Trader Joe’s.
What’s Time Management?
This one is going to seem incredibly whiny to someone who is stuck in a job and/or life that they don’t love, those that would give anything to do something like this. Sorry to you, but here goes anyway: we have a lot on our agenda, and never enough time to do it.
We want to make the most of our time here, so we spend an inordinate amount of time planning our riding route, ensuring that it both brings us to places we want to visit and also provides enjoyable riding (good roads, great views, little traffic). As you might imagine, Google maps is not a great help here, missing a lot of the minor/under construction roads (although we are learning to make inferences from it), and we have yet to find a decent paper map. We tried to buy a German-made map of Vietnam from our friend Fredo at Mekong-Logis, and he laughed us off, refusing to part with it. Now we know why.
Upon arrival, we want to make sure we have a good hotel – clean, hot water, exterior window, decent wifi, safe place to park the bikes, good location, and a halfway decent bed. Thankfully, we have the crowd-sourcing at our fingertips on the internet, so this is infinitely easier than the days of old when you’d have to show up at a place and scope it out in person. Now, we can read review after review telling us everything we want to know, but that takes time – much more than you would think. Perhaps we are being picky. Ok, we are for sure being picky. But we’ve had enough hotel duds and enough gems to tell us that the time spent finding good accommodations is worth it.
In addition to all this, we have to ride from place to place. We’re averaging about a 4-5 hour ride every few days. In between that, we squeeze in sightseeing, both for our own benefit and our readers. Then there’s the work – writing (me), photo editing (H), promoting our stuff through social media, answering emails, etc. Add in a never-ending list of errands (restocking supplies, laundry, purifying our own water to save money, bike repairs, etc.). And, because this is still real life for us, we like to relax and relish the experience once in awhile. Have a few too many beers. Connect with fellow travelers and locals. Take in a sunset. Grab a nap.
There is never enough time in the day – we felt that way in our old lives, and we feel that way now. We feel a lot of pressure to make every second count, especially since we are hoping that new careers may come out of this blog.
So that’s it – a smattering of some of the struggles we’ve faced so far. Some completely of our own making, others just par for the course. Like I said, it’s not all roses. But, for us, it sure as hell beats sitting at a desk all day, dreaming of adventure.
I hope you’re inspired to follow your dreams, whatever they may be. To tackle things that scare the hell out of you. Reporting from the front lines, I can tell you it’s been amazingly worth it so far.
Peace, love, and happiness –