I'm feeling quiet and introspective as we prepare to leave, on this, our second-to-last day of cycling. It is a morning like any other, filled with tasks we've performed hundreds of times. As I mentally run through our morning checklist without effort, I recognize with renewed perspective just how many moving parts the seemingly simple act of setting out on a bicycle with everything we own actually has.
Stuffing my clothing bag into a pannier, rolling it shut and squishing out the excess air, carefully bungee-strapping a pack to my rear rack, double checking that we have enough water, triple checking with Tara that we have our passports, wallet, camera, bike lock keys and more—these tasks are steeped in a new awareness, one that recognizes our well-oiled daily routines are coming to their end.
As we set out for the day, I am laughing to myself, remembering how I wrote in our journal a mere week into this adventure how we were "getting the hang of this." Even with all of our research and preparation, we had no idea what we were doing, but we made it!
As we pedal through the flat countryside of Laos, on something like our 500th ride since we set out from Scotland two years ago, I do not feel the giddy excitement I once did at the start of each day. That sensation has long since been replaced by the subtle touch of contentment—a centered serenity that I strive (and often fail) to maintain from each moment of my life to the next.
Though we rarely cover more than 80km (50 miles) in a ride, we nearly always experience something new. Today is no exception. Early in our ride, we pass a group of Lao people fishing from a river. The vein of water they're mining for food snakes through the countryside, stretching far into the distance.
While many men wade shirtless in the waters, untangling fishing nets and lines, the shores of the narrow stream are dotted with women, raising and lowering massive fishing nets at the end of long wooden poles, like a beautifully orchestrated ballet. When they heave their sparkling, drippy nets from the water, the mesh breaks free from the surface with a "schloop!" and a glittering splash.
After watching the scene for a little bit, I find myself struck, once again, by how friendly these people are. Here we are, just a pair of foreigners passing through, asking if we can take pictures of their daily work. We are universally met with smiles and encouragement, welcoming gestures, and up-close tours of their fishing operation. Everyone seems to be having so much fun!
At fifty kilometers, we pull into a small but bustling little town, stopping for a shady break and some food. It's a hot bowl of ramen for lunch today. As we sit together, sipping on 7-Ups and slurping our soup, we're eying the fan overhead, silently willing it to churn out a cooler breeze to combat the ever-warming afternoon air.
It would be really nice to end our day right now in this little town, so Tara asks the women who work here if there are any accommodations nearby. We're both bummed when they tell her no, as we'd really like to avoid a sweltering ride in search of a place to sleep. Unexpectedly, we get our wish—just minutes after pedaling out of town, we spot a sign for a guest-house with individual bungalows, air conditioning, and lake-side porches!
We're both thrilled to have the entire afternoon free relax and read. I'm currently enjoying The Master Switch, an illuminating book about the important issue of net neutrality and the corporate control of mass media. Tara is deep into a second reading of Bird by Bird, a memoir about teaching writing that we got from my cousin Elizabeth.
We're feeling nostalgic, sitting in our little room, recounting memories from our trip. We laugh and reminisce, remembering things like free-camps in Scotland, and on the island of Crete, when sheep surrounded our tent, or the day in Romania when two little puppies pranced into our campsite and our hearts. It is a little staggering, when I think about just how long we could play "remember when."
It's hard to believe that tomorrow we'll be rolling into Savannaket, from where we'll take the bus to Bangkok. In just a few short days, this season of our lives, rich with memories, will come to its end. What a good time it's been.
As the sun is setting, relinquishing its fiery grip on the dusty little town of Xebangfay, we head out for a sunset stroll. The light is shining, golden and beautiful, as are the faces of the village's friendly people. Animals roam freely through the town; there are spastic chickens, cows with soft brown noses lumbering along, and many a sweet stray dog too. It is so peaceful here.
Laos, we're really going to miss you.