Appeal tribune. (Silverton, Or.) 1999-current, April 06, 2016, Page 4A, Image 4

Below is the OCR text representation for this newspapers page. It is also available as plain text as well as XML.

Life in the
Valley y
Laura Wanker asks girls at a monastery school in Myanmar about their schooling.
Laura Wanker gets some local attention on the ride from Monywa to Pakokku in Myanmar.
Bicycle touring
Continued from Page 1A
see road conditions, and use www.Boo- and to
find hotels.
Planes and trains she books ahead; ho-
tels she usually doesn’t. The couple likes
to bike about 50 miles per day – give or
take 20.
“When I am doing the planning, I ab-
solutely know we’ll go off that plan,” she
says, flashing a wide smile.
If Laura’s learned to be spontaneous,
Rod was born that way. He once spent six
months touring Europe in a Volkswagen
van. On bike trips, the first time he sees
the map is usually when the couple is
preparing to ride.
“When we get to a city – especially an
Asian city – it can be very complicated to
find where to stay and eat, but Laura’s al-
ready got it figured out,” he says, gestur-
ing with calloused hands toward his wife
with obvious pride.
The retired electrician followed his
wife into biking many years ago. Per-
haps a sign of things to come, they spent
their honeymoon in 1984 bicycling
around the San Juan Islands in Washing-
ton. It was later, though, that Laura dis-
covered long-distance biking. She and
their then-10-year-old son, Jamon,
trained for and completed the 200-mile
Seattle to Portland group ride. She was
“I realized if I wanted to see my wife
more, I’d have to take up cycling,” Rod
said. “I’ve been a golfer all my life, but I
was happy to make the change.”
The couple’s first international bike
trip came in 1994, when they flew with
their bikes to Belize City and toured Be-
lize and the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexi-
co. Now they chuckle at their choice. In
Belize City, crime was so rampant that
they had to take their bikes with them ev-
erywhere – even into restaurants – and
they were hassled many times.
Far from discouraging the pair, the
experience hardened their resolve. They
discovered they liked exploring and
problem solving. Together they were
pretty darn good at it, and they were will-
ing to undergo discomfort to see far cor-
ners of the world through the eyes of the
people who live there.
“This puts us in an environment
where we’re challenged – we like that,”
Rod said. “I once took a psychology class
that taught that, historically, a married
couple was a ‘survival unit,’ that the need
to survive kept a man and woman togeth-
Simple survival has sometimes been a
challenge as Rod and Laura have biked
through 27 countries and 22 states. In the
past 10 years, they’ve biked in Spain, Por-
tugal, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia,
Macedonia, Argentina, Guatemala, Be-
lize (again), France, China, British Co-
lumbia, Uruguay and Greece and, and,
now, Southeast Asia.
Of course, not every tour has brought
marital bliss.
“In Spain, we got on each others’
nerves, don’t you think?” Rod asks, fix-
ing an honest gaze on his wife.
“Duh,” Laura shoots back with a gen-
tle laugh.
Nine years ago, in China, and on their
most recent trip to Southeast Asia, find-
ing food safe for western digestive
tracts was an extra challenge. Laura car-
ries a few snacks to ward off her “homi-
cidal hunger,” and has learned not to let
desperation get the better of her judg-
ment when ordering local food. Interest-
ingly enough, the worst food poisoning
the couple experienced was in British
On the road to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, curious Macaques climb on Rod and his bike.
The Wankers eat a lunch of pigeon along the road from Quang Ngai to Tam Ky in Vietnam.
“We make sure everything we eat is
cooked,” she said. “Often we just ask to
go into the kitchen so we can point out the
things we can eat.”
Their tricks to travelling light and
staying healthy are numerous. One is us-
ing whisky as a cheap sanitizer. Another
is taking their silk sleeping bag liners ev-
erywhere, to use in beds with unwashed
linens or lacking a top sheet.
Packing light is a requirement, as
their touring bikes, fully loaded,
weighed about 60 pounds on this last trip.
Once Rod’s bike was loaded up to 92
pounds, an experience he’d rather not re-
So, for a multi-month trip, each rider
typically takes no more than five outfits:
one for restaurants, two to three for rid-
ing and one for resting/sleeping. Add a
few medical supplies, electronic tablets,
cell phones, and spare glasses – and their
bags are full.
Most important are all the tools and
bike-repair supplies loaded onto Rod’s
bike. He’s literally a rolling bike shop,
ready to fix flat tires and anything else.
Some emergencies can’t be anticipat-
ed. While exploring the Angkor Wat tem-
ple complex in Cambodia, Rod tore the
sole off his 20-year-old bike shoes. Thus
began a search for an adhesive strong
enough to stick it back together, which
he eventually found in a local product
known only as “Dog-66.”
In Greece, Laura broke a tooth biting
into a baguette, and the couple gave up
days of touring to get it fixed by an un-
forgettably volatile mother-son dentist
team. While the couple does make pur-
chases along the way, they rarely buy
keepsakes. Once Laura found artist she
liked in South America and later ordered
a painting to be delivered to her home.
Generally, their buying is limited to
their basic needs – a place to stay, some-
thing to eat and something to drink. And
they buy with a specific philosophy.
“We like to keep our money working
locally with the people we meet,” Laura
says. So they avoid hotel chains, eat at lo-
cal restaurants and food stands, and
don’t purchase trinkets that are import-
ed or made in sweatshops.
While they once bought with travel-
er’s checks, now they use ATM cards,
hiding their cash in their bags or even in-
side their bike tubes. They’re usually
able to make pack-down bike trips for
about $50 per day, including airfare.
They’re really not looking to buy any-
way; they’re looking to live in the mo-
ment and make personal connections. As
it turns out, arriving by bike makes this
easier. Especially in remote areas, locals
shout greetings, and readily approach
when they stop to rest.
With fondness, Rod remembers once
making a difficult climb to the hill tribes
in northern Thailand. The road was so
steep, the couple had to stop and push
their bikes. But when they arrived, they
were the only foreigners around, and the
villagers were so surprised that they all
came out of their houses, welcoming
them, touching their bikes, and trying to
“We aren’t so much interested in the
sights, museums and things,” he says.
“We are interested in the people who live
there. On a bike, you put yourself in a po-
sition to meet them.”
They’ve met so many different people
in faraway places that it’s hard to keep
the memories straight. Rod predicts
that, someday, he’ll be “that guy in a
nursing home,” who accidentally blends
all his adventures together when telling
stories about his past.
Fortunately, since 2007, Laura has
documented every day of every adven-
ture on the blog www.CrazyGuyOnA- Photos, text and
maps tell their stories to friends and
family, as well other bike tourists seek-
ing tips. On March 1, they returned from
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
All 51 days of travel – and 1,200 miles of
biking – are already online, as Laura
posts as she goes. Her entries are sprin-
kled with humor (a monkey climbing her
husband’s leg, her chagrin over making a
baby cry, and more) and travel insights
(folks in Myanmar won’t accept folded
dollar bills, bike bags are better than
boxes on the airlines, etc.).
Because the couple takes planes,
trains and buses between ride segments,
“some people would not consider us pur-
ists,” Laura says. She doesn’t mind.
They’ve been bike touring for years, and
they know what works and what doesn’t.
“We have a general rule that we have
to spend at least a day in country for ev-
ery hour we spend getting there,” she ex-
plains. “A 20-hour trip requires at least
three weeks on the ground. “
Where would they suggest new bike
tourists go first? Right here in Oregon, a
ride down Highway 101 from Astoria to
Gold Beach makes the most of a south-
ward wind and features some of the
world’s best camping. Overseas, they
recommend Thailand and Vietnam’s Me-
kong Delta. Regardless of the location,
tourists on bikes always get an eyeful –
and sometimes an earful and nose-full
too – of real life. Rod says it’s stunning to
see how difficult life is for many people
on Earth. “It’s one thing to know about
poverty; it’s another to see it for your-
self,” he says.
Laura agrees, adding she’s grateful
for how bike touring has stripped away
her fear of the unknown and replaced it
with confidence. Even far from the com-
forts of home, off-plan and off-schedule,
she’s learned to embrace the moment
she’s living in.
“People tell us, ‘Be safe,’ when we’re
going on a trip. We just say, ‘Yeah,’ but
now we feel almost as comfortable and
safe in those places as we do at home.”