Chasing Summer Around the Globe

Suffering a heat stroke in the middle of Vietnam’s mountainous jungles was definitely not in the plans when Hannah Bowley decided to cycle from Hanoi to Singapore. Hannah was in month nine of a one-year touring adventure, and Southeast Asia was the third leg of her trip, following long rides in Western Europe, which included the Camino de Santiago, and South America, including the Carretera Austral in Patagonia. Thanks to the remarkable kindness of her Vietnamese host, as well as the help of many others she met through the Warmshowers community and elsewhere, Hannah continues to live her dream of chasing summer around the globe.

Episode Transcript

Hannah: I met your friend Marius in Vietnam. I had grand plans to bike from Hanoi, North Vietnam, all the way down Vietnam through Cambodia, down through Thailand to Singapore. And I made it nine days in Vietnam before I had what I think was a heat stroke and I had to stop. So, plans have changed.

Gabriel: You just heard Hannah Bowley describing her plans for a Southeast Asian bicycle tour and how quickly those plans changed. Southeast Asia was the third leg of Hannah’s year-long bicycle adventure, following long rides in Western Europe, which included the Camino de Santiago and the Carretera Austral in Patagonia. While the heat stroke she suffered was a major setback, it ultimately will not prevent her from enjoying the last three months of her tour, as she continues chasing summer around the globe.

Sandra: You’re listening to The Accidental Bicycle Tourist. In this podcast, you’ll meet people from all walks of life and learn about their most memorable bike touring experiences. This is your host, Gabriel Aldaz.

Gabriel: Hello cycle touring enthusiasts. On a long bike tour, it’s an exhilarating moment when the odometer on your electronic route tracking gadget rolls over from 999 kilometers to 1,000. In this case, a more appropriate comparison might be rolling over from 9 kilometers to and it’s a milestone worth celebrating! I want to take a moment to thank you, the listener, for all the words of encouragement I have received. It really means a lot. It’s very fitting, therefore, that today’s guest is here thanks to friends of the show, Marius and Clara, who were traveling in Vietnam when they met Hannah Bowley. And with that, let’s get started on what promises to be an excellent episode. Thank you very much for being a guest on The Accidental Bicycle Tourist.

Hannah: Yeah, great to be here. Thank you.

Gabriel: You’re a very random guest for me.

Hannah: Yes, a random connection.

Gabriel: A random connection through my good friend, Marius, who lives in Berlin and you met in Vietnam.

Hannah: Yeah, we were on the same tour in Ha Long Bay and I met him through a one-day, nine-hour tour from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay and back. It was quite the adventure.

Gabriel: And where are you today?

Hannah: I am in the tiniest hotel room you can imagine in Tokyo, Japan.

Gabriel: Oh, that’s pretty small. I can imagine very small hotel rooms in Tokyo.

Hannah: Yeah, I barely have enough room for all my bike bags. In fact, I have two touching my feet right now, leaning up against me.

Gabriel: Yeah, Tokyo has those capsule hotels that are minuscule. You probably can reflect back and think, how did I get here? So, let’s find out a bit more about how you did get to this small hotel room. How did it all get started, this bicycle adventure that you’re on?

Hannah: So I’m on a one-year sabbatical from work and I just hit nine months. It’s been a lot of bicycle touring and not bicycle touring with plans changing. I started in July in Copenhagen and I biked all through Western Europe down to Barcelona. And then I did the Camino de Santiago on my bicycle.

Gabriel: If you made it to Barcelona, then if you wanted to start the Camino, that’s basically just a straight shot west from Barcelona.

Hannah: Yeah, I can’t say it was the best planning.

Gabriel: OK. 

Hannah: My friend was meeting me at the beginning of the French route Camino. Well, I guess a little bit inland from the beginning, but in Logroño.

Gabriel: Logroño, OK.

Hannah: She had rented a bike, she was all ready to go and I realized, oh, shoot. OK, now I have to go from Barcelona to Logroño, so I’ll have to make that happen.

Gabriel: Can you just clarify, again, how you got from Barcelona to Logroño, maybe by train or by bus?

Hannah: Yeah, so in theory, it was going to be by train, but there’s certain trains in Spain where you have to take apart your bike completely. And that just so happened to be the only train I could get from Barcelona to Logroño, so I ended up actually renting a car to put my bike in. Because I was so adamant on not taking apart my bike. And because that specific train is quite expensive, it was only a little bit more to rent a car and drive it up to Logroño, or the surrounding area, and then just take my bike to the first albergue.

Gabriel: Yeah, I think that’s the case on the very fast trains in Spain. They don’t really have much room and they have this requirement, which is pretty silly.

Hannah: Yeah. 

Gabriel: The slower the train, the more likely to be bike friendly.

Hannah: Yeah, the slower and the cheaper the train, the more likely to be bike friendly, yeah.

Gabriel: Exactly. It’s just that, unfortunately, there are no options sometimes.

Hannah: Yeah, in Spain was tricky. I’ve learned to ask for forgiveness, not for permission with the bike. If there’s room on the train, sometimes I see that I could just squeeze right on. And then usually it’s not a problem. But if I ask, then they pass me around to a lot of different people who might not know the answer. And then in the end, I get a no, because nobody wants to give me the wrong answer. So now I try to just ask for forgiveness and get on the trains when I can within reason, of course.

Gabriel: Your description is really the exact workflow for something like that.

Hannah: Yeah. 

Gabriel: It ends up being a no, but it takes an excruciatingly long time to find out.

Hannah: Yeah, yeah. And nobody wants to be the bad guy to tell you, “No, you can’t do that.” So they just pass you to the next window and the next window and the next window.

Gabriel: Right. And then finally, it’s like, oh, can you talk to the conductor who’s on track seven? You can certainly find him there.

Hannah: Yeah.

Gabriel: You did the Camino with a friend. And how was that?

Hannah: It was great. We did it in ten days. For me, it was very relaxing because I had just come from planning my own route every day, trying to make sure I was going to be able to find a camp spot or a wild camp spot on my trail through Western Europe. So, getting on the Camino and knowing that every 20 kilometers, there was food, there was water, there is a hostel to stay, I thought it just felt like a luxurious ride that had everything set up and you didn’t even need a map or a plan. You can just start and then everything that you need is at your fingertips as a bicycle tourist. So I loved it. I already want to go back and walk it as a real pilgrim. I felt like biking was kind of cheating a little bit.

Gabriel: Oh oh, wait a minute now. Wait a minute. You have now uncovered a fundamental issue…

Hannah: Oh, no.

Gabriel: Of the Camino. Yes! Are bicycling pilgrims real pilgrims? I think there’ll be, one day, a full episode on the Camino because it’s just too big of a topic. Why did you think that a cyclist is not a real pilgrim?

Hannah: I don’t feel like I had the real struggle that people do while they’re walking. I saw a lot of people limping and crying and having really high highs and really low lows, which you can have while you’re biking, but I think I just saw it more often, maybe because it’s so densely populated. I was there in October and I couldn’t believe how many people were there. And they said it was the slow season.

Gabriel: It’s become incredible. It seems like everybody has to do it at some point.

Hannah: Yeah.

Gabriel: OK, so I think that’s a fair point. If you want to have a lot of struggles, you’re more likely to have a lot of struggles on foot. You can still have struggles on the bicycle on the Camino. Believe me. 

Hannah:  Definitely. There were some struggles. There were times where I accidentally took my friend and I on the hiking path. So we spent a half of a day carrying our bikes up, and it was my friend’s first ever bike tour, and she kept asking, “Is this really the path?” And I’m like, “This is what my maps are saying,” as we’re carrying our bikes and wanting to cry all at the same time.

Gabriel: That is an excellent point. I should quickly clarify that on the Camino, even by bicycle, you have options that increase or decrease your struggle. So you can definitely take very nicely paved roads the entire Camino on your bike, and then it is really quite smooth. However, you can also try to more closely follow the walking path, which sometimes it’s impossible because the walking path is so rocky.

Hannah: Yeah.

Gabriel: Sometimes in theory, you can take the walking path and then it might be gravelly and sandy and it’s a lot more of a struggle than just being on the nice car path.

Hannah: Yeah, absolutely.

Gabriel: And again, it depends on your bike. Obviously, if you’re on a fancy road bike, you can do the Camino in a few days, but what’s the point of that?

Hannah: Exactly. Yeah, we had all of our luggage on our bikes, which we saw some other bike tourists that did the paid luggage transfer, like some of the pilgrims walking.

Gabriel: Yeah, the paid luggage transfer. That’s a thing now.

Hannah: Yeah.

Gabriel: That was not a thing when I did the Camino, but that was a long time ago.

Hannah: Yeah, now it’s a thing. It was really a choose-your-own-adventure-type trail ’cause you can have, like you said, the smooth pavement or you could go for, like, a mountain bike adventure / bike tour adventure.

Gabriel: Basically, I’m, as you can maybe guess, in the camp that bicycle pilgrims are real pilgrims, but I do have to say, I might have to draw the line at the cyclists who use the paid luggage service. I think, that’s not really in the spirit of the Camino, but to each their own.

Hannah: To each their own, yes. I did not mean to discount that we were not. We are real pilgrims. I just felt like, I think, from what I started on to getting on the Camino, it just felt like a different experience than if I had started on the Camino.

Gabriel: In short, you might have to suffer a bit to consider yourself a pilgrim, but you don’t have to limp along for 700 kilometers with blistered, swollen feet.

Hannah: I saw a lot of that. That’s why maybe I felt like I had it so good on the bike, because I didn’t feel that way, but I was also trained. Up until that point, I was ready and had been using the previous 4,000 kilometers as my training.

Gabriel: Exactly. That will help.

Hannah: Yes.

Gabriel: Well, it sounds like it was a successful Camino. And then, after that?

Hannah: So I was going to ride the coast of Portugal, but it was already late October, early November. So I was going to wait to see how the weather was, and it turns out it was really, really rainy. So I got a job through a Workaway picking olives on an olive farm in Portugal instead of biking, which ended up being a really fun experience. And then I flew to South America and landed in El Calafate. And then took a bus down to Puerto Natales, where I worked in a hostel for a month before my friends met me in El Chaltén in Argentina.

Gabriel: Oh, OK.

Hannah: So we did the Carretera backwards. We did it south to north.

Gabriel: Right. Definitely, you were going against the flow on that.

Hannah: Yes, we were. And it was great listening to your podcast where you interviewed someone that had just done it.

Gabriel: Yes, the very first episode with Michelle Savacool included the Carretera Austral.

Hannah: I knew all of the different spots in the struggles in the filter to filter or not filter water. And it was very relatable.

Gabriel: OK, that’s become a legendary moment. It keeps coming up again and again. So it’s funny that that made such an impression.

Hannah: Yeah. And it was a really slow year for the Carretera. So there was other folks we met that had done it before in 2019. And they said there were far fewer cyclists on it this year, specifically, than the years that they’ve done it before. So we didn’t really cross paths with as many cyclists as I expected.

Gabriel: What month of the year was it?

Hannah: We started December 23rd and we ended at the beginning of February.

Gabriel: Oh, gosh. Yeah. So that is the high season for sure.

Hannah: Yeah. And it was perfect weather. I mean, we only got rain one time while cycling.

Gabriel: In the summer, it can be quite dry. However, one of the biggest things that happened in the summer is the horse flies.

Hannah: Oh. 

Gabriel: You had to struggle against the horse flies? They’re called tábanos in Spanish.

Hannah: You’ve triggered me.

Gabriel: Oh oh. 

Hannah: I forgot about the horse flies, Gabriel. Yeah. So I ended up biking with somebody that I met by through Warmshowers. I had hosted him for one night in my apartment in Seattle the year before. And he brought a friend and we all rode together. And there was just a day where I was almost in tears because I had been getting bit by two horse flies at one time. So he rides up next to me and he’s like, “On a scale from one to ten, how much do you hate the horse flies?” And I was like, “An eleven! I think I’m throwing my bike into the river. I’m flying home. I’m not built for this.”

Gabriel: Oh, boy.

Hannah: Yeah. The horse flies were really bad and every cyclist we met was like, “It only gets worse the farther north you get.” And we’re like, “How do you know, you haven’t been south yet?”

Gabriel: When we were hitchhiking and Michelle, who you heard was cycling, that was in November and there are zero horse flies. They haven’t emerged yet. So that’s a really compelling reason to not do the Carretera Austral at the high season.

Hannah: Yeah, I think there’s a trade off for every choice you make in terms of the season.

Gabriel: Oh, yes.

Hannah: I had been doing some backpacking in Torres del Paine in November and it was still snowing at that point. I thought I better not start biking right now. I’m setting myself up for failure. I lasted, like, two days of backpacking before I thought, “Alright, I better stay inside until it stops snowing.”

Gabriel: You are exactly right because when my wife Sandra and I did the “O” Loop at Torres del Paine, which is a seven-day hike, it’s a bit of a forced march, because you need to get to the next campsite every night. You don’t have a free choice. They have to keep people moving along and you need to reach your destination. That was November and it definitely snowed. I can tell you it was beautiful, but it got actually a little bit serious. When the snow melted, it was so muddy and the terrain is rough. There was a hiker who slipped and broke her leg and needed to be airlifted out from the remote side of Torres del Paine.

Hannah: Yeah, wow. 

Gabriel: It’s a trade-off. The weather is totally unpredictable in October, November. Horseflies are, for me, unbearable. So I’ll take my chances with rain and wind and snow.

Hannah: Yeah. Actually, speaking of wind, the windiest day I’ve ever cycled was from El Calafate to El Chaltén. I actually got blown over off my bike, which was extremely scary. Felt like I was kind of in the middle of a tornado, if I imagine what that’s like, when a bus passed me while I was cycling, I just got caught in kind of a twist of wind and I actually flew off my bike on the side of the road. That really scared me. So there’s a lot of elements to deal with.

Gabriel: That’s a terrifying experience.

Hannah: Yes, it was. Actually, if you were to say all of the scary elements to biking, I would never say wind, and now that’s at the top of my list.

Gabriel: In South America, sometimes the roads just go in one direction for a really long time. And if that direction happens to be against the wind, that can be really demoralizing.

Hannah: Yeah, that led to meeting two of my favorite people that I’ve met on this trip, though, because after I flew off my bike, I thought I’m hitchhiking into El Chaltén. I can’t do it anymore. I was only about 40 kilometers out. I put my thumb out and the first people that I tried to hitchhike with picked me up. And I ended up spending a week with them backpacking through El Chaltén and saw them two other times on the carterra. They were driving through South America. So that ended up being a good experience, despite flying off my bike and being extremely spooked to get on my bike with that wind that was continuing.

Gabriel: Oh, yeah, that’s another factor. Not only was it terrible in the moment, but it does make you think twice about getting back on it. Yeah. So you got to do a lot of the cool hikes in that area around El Chaltén.

Hannah: I did, yes. And I have no photo evidence because I broke my phone backpacking in El Chaltén. So I woke up and did the sunrise Fitz Roy hike and everything. And I have no photos to prove it, but that’s OK. They’re in my memory.

Gabriel: Did you end up at Puerto Montt?

Hannah: Yes, I flew out of Puerto Montt.

Gabriel: OK, well, that sounds really good. Then you had to pack up your bike and what was your next destination?

Hannah: I flew to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Gabriel: OK.

Hannah: Like I said, I made a lot of decisions far in advance that I really question. For anybody listening that’s biking for a year, I don’t recommend doing the route I did, but I was basically chasing summer around the globe.

Gabriel: That was now your third continent.

Hannah: Yes.

Gabriel: So you ended up in Vietnam and what was your plan?

Hannah: So I met a friend there and that’s when I met Marius. So we were together for about a week and I’m doing the regular tourist thing. Well, I got my bike stuff together. I had to do a couple repairs, get a new cassette, some new tires. There was a lot that I needed to do in Vietnam, so that took some time. But my plan was to bike all the way south for two months and reach Singapore. And then from Singapore, I was going to fly to Tokyo.

Gabriel: So you had your plan set out and you started biking south?

Hannah: My favorite places to bike are huge mountainous regions. So the Carretera, the Swiss Alps, those have been some highlights for me. So I love big mountains. I was biking along the coast for about eight days. And I had cross paths with some other bicycle tourists from Canada and the Netherlands, and we all kind of got together and chatted a little bit about the coast route. I had heard for years that Vietnam is this amazing place to bike along the coast. It’s beautiful. And we all kind of agreed that we were wondering where that comes from. Because, while it is beautiful, the bike route, the pavement, there’s these massive semi-trucks, scooters, honking. It’s very chaotic and very scary. There’s just giant buses passing. It’s not pleasant at all. I witnessed in nine days of biking two pretty bad scooter accidents.

Gabriel: In Southeast Asia, what happens on a highway as we know it, maybe in Western countries, it’s completely different. It’s hard to imagine, actually, it’s worth maybe painting a picture, because you have this incredible range from these huge trucks all the way down to bicycles, scooters, and you will straight up see somebody pulling an oxcart with animals down the road and totally oblivious. Accidents with scooters or hitting an animal, it happens all the time and it’s just sort of accepted.

Hannah: After witnessing the two scooter accidents and just watching people kind of disperse like no one’s going to stop and help you and look out for you, that I thought, “I’m on my bike alone and that’s what will happen to me if I get in an accident.” And I had so many close calls in nine days, more than the six months before of biking. I had more close calls in that short time. And I just thought, I’m not out here to suffer. I’m not out here to get hit by a semi.

Gabriel: Right.

Hannah: And I thought maybe I was on the wrong route. So I chatted with these other bicycle tourists and they said, “No, indeed, that’s the best route,” because if you try to take the countryside like I did a couple times, the road might just end. There’s pavement and then all of a sudden it’s a road that would not be bikeable. And I’ve tried because I got stuck on it. A couple side roads, the mud was so deep or the potholes are so deep that it’s really impossible to bike on. So people stick to the highways. So I decided after meeting up with them, well, I’m going to go straight into the mountains, into the jungle, because I had heard that the roads were really nice and there was no cars. It’s very peaceful. So I thought, that’s what I’m going to do. I started biking and it quickly got really hot, compared to what the years in the past were around that time. So kind of the heat and the humidity picked up about a month sooner than they were supposed to. And I had been fine along the coast. The temperature had been 21 degrees Celsius. It was perfect. And so I thought, in the high elevation, it couldn’t be any warmer than that. And I was wrong. So it was actually just over one day. And then during that day, it felt like it went from fine to not fine. I was on my way to this lodge area that was pretty far from any sort of civilization, but it wasn’t anything specific. It was about 70 kilometers and I think about 2,500 meters of climbing in one day, which for me is… that’s okay. It sounds like a lot, but because I had been biking so much before that wasn’t going to be terrible, but the weather and the heat and the humidity just kind of felt like I was breathing in a sauna at one point. And so I decided to take a break off the side of my bike and I laid down and my legs just went into full cramps.

Gabriel: Oh.

Hannah: That’s kind of what I realized that there was a problem, but I was already halfway, so if I turned around, it would have been the same amount of distance that I had to go back. So I decided to keep going.

Gabriel: By the way, that’s a dreadful realization when you realize that it’s just as difficult to go back as to keep going forward.

Hannah: Yeah.

Gabriel: So wow, there you were on the side of the road, cramping. Those cramps are terrible, obviously, paralyzing and can come back at any moment. So what was going through your mind?

Hannah: “What did I get myself into?” And I didn’t have cell phone service. So I thought, wow, this is what ends my trip. Well, I’ve been having this amazing, mostly solo bike journey, and I thought this day is going to end me, is kind of what I thought. However, I knew that I had to keep going because I was really in the middle of nowhere and it wouldn’t have been safe to camp or stop on the side because there’s wild animals, and it was not going to be helpful because there was also no shade. That was the other problem. I was biking in an area that didn’t have shade. So I just opened a pack of gummy bears that had been all melted together. Like a pancake and I ate them.

Gabriel: Mmm, delicious.

Hannah: I started pushing. Yeah. Mmm. Yeah, those Haribos. I think that was really saved my life. I started pushing my bike, alternating between pushing and biking. Okay. I got into a little bit of cell phone service and the person who’s jungle lodge, I say lodge, but I mean kind of like a hut on somebody’s property that I was staying in.

Gabriel: Oh, okay. That’s a really great clarification, because when you said you were headed towards the lodge, I thought, “This can’t be that bad.”

Hannah: No, sorry. I should clarify. The lodge doesn’t have AC. There’s a lot of bugs. It’s just this kind of wooden hut in the jungle where you sleep in a mosquito net on my camping mat inside. So…

Gabriel: Okay. Yeah. Let’s just call it a hut from now on.

Hannah: It’s called a lodge, but I want everybody to get the lodge picture out of there. 

Gabriel: Okay. So you got a bit of coverage.

Hannah: Yes. My cell phone started going off. I thought, “Oh, I have service.” So I got a message from the lodge owner and he said… 

Gabriel: No, no, the hut owner.

Hannah: Oh, sorry. Sorry. I had a message from the hut owner and he said, “It’s unusually hot today. Are you okay?” And I just responded, “No, I need help.” For me to ask for help, you know it’s really bad because I usually just suffer through and figure it out, but this I just knew I couldn’t. So a couple hours later, he came with his motorbike and took my panniers and my backpack and my fork bag all off my bike. And I was able just to bike with only my bicycle the rest of the way, which made a huge difference. But I was kind of alternating between laying on the side of the road, biking and pushing my bike, and just pouring cold water over my head and continuing on. And that’s kind of what I did for many hours. I started at 6 30 a.m. And I got there at 7 p.m.

Gabriel: Wow, what a day. You said you poured cold water. So that means that at least access to water was not a problem?

Hannah: Yeah, I never ran out of water. There’s just so many things that are coming back as I say this. I lost my ability to hold down any food or water. I was vomiting and that kicked in a couple hours before 7 p.m., when I had arrived. That’s why I think I had maybe heat exhaustion or something along those lines, because every time I would drink water, I would throw up.

Gabriel: Wow.

Hannah: So I think that’s severe to hydration also kicked in as well.

Gabriel: This just sounds like such a struggle, these hours of just pushing and stopping and biking a bit. Definitely the craziest day you ever had on a bicycle.

Hannah: Yes, I kept thinking, “Wow, were the semis really that bad?” I think I could have survived with the semis on the coast.

Gabriel: At that point, you’re like, “Close call with a semi? That’s no problem.”

Hannah: Yeah. Yeah.

Gabriel: “Let it scrape my elbow. That’s nothing.”

Hannah: “Was the honking that bad?” No, not as bad as this.

Gabriel: Let them honk all they want. Finally, after all of that, you reached the hut and you talked to the owner, I guess. How did he react when he saw you?

Hannah: He was really distraught. He was like, “I don’t know how to help you. There’s no hospital around here.” And we had talked about, “Oh, maybe I’ll get on the back of your motorbike and ride.” But to be honest, I was nervous I was going to fall off or pass out because I had felt so sick at the time. And I kept having to lay down every couple of minutes on the side of the road. And so he was just extremely distraught. And I’d basically just collapsed when I got to the hut on the grass. And I knew things were bad because I look over on the grass and there’s just this giant snake. And I am definitely scared of snakes and I had no reaction. I just couldn’t move or get up. And he’s like, “OK, I’ll take care of the snake.” I feel bad. He was extremely distraught. He could tell I was in some sort of crisis or emergency. And then I was feeling, as a result, really bad for him feeling distraught. He made me this bowl of pho and I was trying to drink it, but I still couldn’t hold anything down. So I basically just kind of crawled to the hut and didn’t really move from there for about 48 hours. He nursed me back to life.

Gabriel: Oh, gosh. 

Hannah: He brought me this electrolyte water that they have in Vietnam. And he told me I had electrolytes. I couldn’t read the writing in Vietnamese, but I believed him. And I just kind of sipped on that for the next few days. And and the muscle cramps lasted, on and off, for about a week.

Gabriel: Oh, my gosh. In terms of your family situation, do you have parents who are monitoring your every move?

Hannah: I wouldn’t say every move. I have my whole family following me on Find My on Apple Maps on my iPhone. They’ve been monitoring, kind of where I’m going, as long as I’m in service. Actually, some of my friends knew where I was supposed to be, and I didn’t make it to there because I had no service when I was in the jungle. And there was a lot of people really worried about me.

Gabriel: OK, yeah.

Hannah: So, yeah, to answer your question in the short way, there are a lot of people tracking and kind of worried about me. And up until that point, I was always like, “I’m fine. Don’t worry, don’t worry.” And now I’m like, “OK, maybe it’s good if you check my location every couple days.”

Gabriel: The technology for that is simply astounding. For many, many years, of course, my mother was my biggest fan. All I can say is I’m glad she wasn’t able to track my location on a daily basis, because she worried so much and she would just stare at that dot. And it’s like, “That dot’s not moving. He’s not biking. What’s going on?”

Hannah: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Gabriel: In the 90s, the person was out of touch for days or weeks or months. At that time, you literally had to say, Mom, meet me in Santiago, the main square, July 22nd at noon. And that was the plan that we had because, it sounds crazy, but it just wasn’t that easy to get in touch.

Hannah: Yeah.

Gabriel: So do you think you had a heat stroke?

Hannah: I’m not sure that I had a heat stroke. I never went to the hospital, but I had all of the signs, like a little bit of hallucination and I stopped sweating. My muscles were cramping, couldn’t really move. And I’m biking solo, so that really, really scared me.

Gabriel: Yeah, so it sounds like instead of chasing summer, you should have chased maybe spring or chased fall.

Hannah: Yes, exactly. I would have done things differently had I known what was going to happen.

Gabriel: Yeah, you chased summer and summer hit you over the head.

Hannah: Yes, it sure did. No, I didn’t bike again in Southeast Asia. I boxed up my bike after that and changed my plan.

Gabriel: So how did you actually depart the hut area, back to civilization?

Hannah: So the hut was located on this really long lake in Vietnam. And so there’s boats on there you can rent with a driver. And so I did that to get farther along through the jungle, because I still had to get out of the jungle and I was really worried how that was going to happen. So I took a boat with my bike. That was one of the days. And then from the boat, the owner of the hut arranged for a bus to pick me up. The bus driver just had to go a little off route, like about one kilometer to pick me up. And he took me and my bike through the rest of the jungle to a larger city, where then I rented an overnight bus – which is a great experience in Vietnam, whoever goes – to Ho Chi Minh City. I had to bribe all the bus drivers, though, to take my bike, because they weren’t supposed to.

Gabriel: You definitely gave the hut owner a five-star review on whatever booking platform.

Hannah: I did. I gave him a five-star review with tears streaming down my face because I just realized how much he did to help me in that situation. And I tried to pay him extra, but he insisted that he won’t take it. Part of him just felt so bad for me because he could see how low I was. All my bike plans had been ruined and… or, not ruined but… well, kind of, I guess. He felt bad that I couldn’t continue biking. And he just wouldn’t accept anything extra than what I owed him.

Gabriel: What a person to encounter. I guess if there’s a silver lining to the story is that this person really took it upon themselves to make sure you left in much better shape than you arrived. And that’s amazing.

Hannah: Yeah, I really attribute a lot of being able to get out of that situation to him. And I think I’ve learned that on this bicycle tour that kindness from strangers has really gone a long ways in helping me in different situations. Of course, that one was by far the worst. He really helped me, and I plan on writing him a letter, of course, to thank him.

Gabriel: Yeah. 

Hannah: I’m really lucky that I had booked that hut and that he was looking after me in that time.

Gabriel: Well, as you know, because you listen to the show, the kindness from total strangers is a recurrent theme on the podcast.

Hannah: Yeah, it really is. I’m trying to carry it forward and help other strangers and bicycle tourists as well.

Gabriel: Yeah, it’s a community. OK, so you finally made it to Ho Chi Minh City and then you basically had to regroup. And how did you then modify your plans?

Hannah: Yes, so the regrouping took me about five days, to kind of wrap my head around what just happened. I’m going to be OK. And it’s OK if I don’t continue biking. It’s not the safe thing to do, because it actually was only getting hotter. So in Ho Chi Minh, it was reaching up to 35 degrees at that time. And people had said, if you think this is hot, you should feel Cambodia.

Gabriel: You’re like, “Cambodia, Cambodia, oh, that’s on my route. Argh!”

Hannah: Yeah, Cambodia. Wait, I’m biking the entire length of the country of Cambodia. And you’re telling me it’s hotter than this. OK, noted. I really wanted to go to Thailand. I had been looking forward to Thailand most on this entire, you know, year off. I’d always wanted to go. So I met somebody actually hiking in Torres del Paine that lives in Bangkok. And we had exchanged contact information. He was like, “Yeah, when you come to Bangkok, let me know.” I had texted him from Ho Chi Minh that I was coming to Bangkok. But I’m going to have to find a place to store my bike, long term, as in the next five weeks, while I regroup and figure out what I want to do. And he’s like, “Oh, you can store it at my place. No problem.” That was really nice. So I flew to Bangkok with my bike and stored my bike at his apartment there. And then I transitioned to be being a regular tourist. I started taking the buses to go places. I went to Southern Thailand and Northern Thailand, kind of all over. I actually ended up going to Cambodia. And I was so glad I didn’t bike there. One day, The temperature said feels like 114 degrees Fahrenheit. I think that’s 45 degrees Celsius.

Gabriel: Yeah, about 45.

Hannah: So just existing there was hard enough outside. I’m just really glad I didn’t try to bike. I think my bike would have melted.

Gabriel: That is very hot.

Hannah: I took that time off my bike and then was reunited with my bike in Bangkok five weeks later and flew to Tokyo where, in a couple of days now, I’ll start biking again and I’ll be biking with friends, which I feel I think mentally recovered and ready to bike, so long as I can have people with me.

Gabriel: OK, and what’s your plan then? Where are you going to go?

Hannah: So we’ll be biking on Shikoku Island. So you have to take a bullet train to get down there from Tokyo and we’ll bike for about ten days around Shikoku Island. And then we’ll bike to Fukuoka. And from Fukuoka, we take a ferry with our bikes to Busan, South Korea. And from Busan, we’ll bike to Seoul.

Gabriel: The episode “Long Blue Line: Cycling Shimanami,” it’s about the path that goes between Imabari, which is on Shikoku Island, and Onomichi, which is on Honshu Island. That’s an incredible 70-kilometers journey where all you have to do is follow this blue line. And it’s actually a national cycle route, supposedly very, very cool to bicycle. So I was wondering if that was part of your plan since you mentioned you’d be on Shikoku Island?

Hannah: Yes, it is part of my plans. I’m very excited for that section. I’ve heard amazing things.

Gabriel: Oh, cool.

Hannah: Yeah, there’s been a lot of plans that I’ve made in the last nine months that I’ve questioned. But I made them so far out in advance that now I realize that it’s not good to make plans so far out in advance on a bike tour, because so many things can change. I’ve learned my lesson so much so that in a couple of weeks from now, I have no idea what I’m doing and people are asking me. And I said, “I’m going to wait until a couple of weeks from now to plan that.”

Gabriel: Now that you’re nine months out of twelve into it, it sounds very reasonable to say, “Oh, yeah, I’m in the middle of a year off bicycling around the world.” But how did you get that idea? Can you give us a little bit of a background of your everyday life? And what led you to do this?

Hannah: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I work in a school district as a speech therapist. I’m very much on the school calendar. And I’ve always wanted to do more long-term travel. And of course, in the summer, I have two months off, but that just never really scratched my travel itch, that I guess I’ve always had. It’s in my work contract that I can take a year off, unpaid, and still return to my job and they’ll hold my job for me. So with that in mind, I kind of set the wheels in motion to take the full year off. And the year had always been planned without a bike. And then I hosted somebody from Warmshowers, which I do in Seattle. And they were like, “Oh, you’re not going to bring your bike. Why wouldn’t you bring your bike?” My quick answer was, “That’s too many logistics. That sounds really difficult. How will I fly to different places with it or get to different parts of the world that I want to do with my bike?” And then they left my apartment and I thought about it for a really long time. And I thought, I better bring my bike. That’s the best way to get around the world. It’ll make it more affordable because I can camp in a lot of places. And it’s an amazing way to see the world. You’re going very slow and you get to bike through all these places that you can’t get to as a tourist in a bus or on a train.

Gabriel: It’s interesting. You say that you are hosting people on Warmshowers. Does that mean that before this trip you had already done some bicycle tours?

Hannah: Yeah, I started bicycle touring during COVID. It was a new hobby that I picked up.

Gabriel: Another person in that camp.

Hannah: Yeah. Yeah. Even the hiking trails in Seattle were closed during COVID. They shut down or towed cars away from the trailhead. So I really still wanted to get outside in a way that was safe, that I was allowed to do. I had one of my friends, a rock climber and also a bicycle tourist, convince me to go with him and his friends on a short route around the San Juan Islands, outside of Seattle, Washington. And I completely fell in love with it. Actually, those friends that introduced me to bicycle touring are the ones that are meeting me in Tokyo. Gabriel: Oh!

Hannah: I got a text. They just landed, and their bikes are stuck in Canada. But anyway, yeah. So I’m new to it.

Gabriel: Wait, wait, wait.

Hannah: Sorry, you can cut that out.

Gabriel: No, I don’t want to cut that out. That’s going in. Wait, they just landed. You’re about ready to start the bike tour, except their bikes are in Canada. What? Hannah: Yeah. So they had a layover. They flew from Seattle to Vancouver, and Vancouver to Narita in Tokyo. And I just got a text like five minutes ago, since we’ve been on this call, and they said, “It looks like our bikes didn’t make it. We’re at the counter.” The bikes are stuck on the layover in Vancouver, which has happened to me in multiple times on this trip.

Gabriel: Oh, you’ve had your bike not make it?

Hannah: Yeah, twice.

Gabriel: Oh, wow.

Hannah: Out of four flights, it’s been two flights where it didn’t make it on time.

Gabriel: Wow, that’s a terrible record.

Hannah: Yeah, pro tip. Put an Air Tag in your bike.

Gabriel: Ah, yes, the Air Tags.

Gabriel: Unless you’ve been lost in the jungles of Southeast Asia, you probably know that an Air Tag is a small tracking device developed by Apple. The Air Tag is made to find or track personal objects, such as keys or a bicycle box in transit. Some people attach one or more Air Tags to a bicycle as an anti-theft device, but this is not what the Air Tags are designed for. Apple has an anti-stalking mode on the Air Tags that alerts anybody with an iPhone, including a thief, that an unknown Air Tag appears to be traveling with them. As usual, there is no easy solution to the bike theft problem.

Gabriel: What made you sign up for Warmshowers so quickly then, if you only got into this after the pandemic?

Hannah: Well, I had heard about it from a friend, actually one of the friends that’s coming. And I live in… or, at the time I had an apartment in a prime spot in Seattle, really close to the train station, really close to bike shops. And I knew it would be a great spot for bicycle tourists passing through Seattle to stay at. And so as soon as I signed up, I got requests in the summer starting, like, about three times a week. And as soon as I knew I was going to be biking for a year, I thought, I would love to stay with people and meet people in different countries, locals, specifically, to see kind of how they live. I wanted to pay it forward in advance. And it turns out it’s just really fun to host people from all over the world and hear about their bike journeys. So I did it just to start off with, I was like, “Oh, maybe I’ll try it out.” And then I just started loving all the guests. And I mean, my first guest ever is the one I biked the Carretera with, so it’s a really great way to meet other bicycle tourists as well.

Gabriel: Oh, wow. OK, that just blew my mind right there. But it’s a different guest who had said you should bicycle, and not just hike or take trains or something. That’s a different person.

Hannah: Yeah. 

Gabriel: Are you still in touch with that person? And do they know that you actually did what they suggested?

Hannah: Yeah, I am still in touch. Typically, I start following people on Instagram and I get to see their bike journeys.

Gabriel: Once you realized this was going to be a bike journey, as your friend suggested, how did you proceed?

Hannah: So, it kind of just started becoming a bike journey, and then I ordered some maps from EuroVelo, that system. And my planning just started and it lasted for about six months before I started my trip.

Gabriel: In previous episodes, we’ve given EuroVelo a bit of a hard time, because when you do look at maps, it all looks very grand.

Hannah: Yes, yes.

Gabriel: The reality of it is a little bit more patchy. So I wanted to quickly get your opinion, having now gone through the whole process of looking at maps and all of that, to actually being on the ground. What do you think?

Hannah: So I agree, it’s very patchy and you kind of have to fill in between some of the routes that – even the ones that say fully developed – you have to expect that you’re going to have detours or you might get lost and you have to figure out a different way. I just had a one large paper map and then also my map on my phone to kind of find the best route.

Gabriel: Having a paper map is so retro. I love it.

Hannah: I know, I know. Well, I’ll tell you what, I broke my phone in South America and I couldn’t fix it for about three months because I have an iPhone, and they’re heavily Android based down there. So having a paper map really saved me a couple of times.

Gabriel: In this way you got to really channel the bicycle tourists of 20, 30 years ago.

Hannah: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know. I was listening to the podcast about Cuba and I thought, “Wow, could I ever have bicycle tours successfully in the 90s with no map?”

Gabriel: That would be the episode “Two Canadians rolling through Cuba” with Jim and Susan Allman.

Hannah: Listening to them talk about, “Oh, yeah, we found this spot on Lonely Planet.” I just thought, oh, my goodness, I open my phone and I find campsites on Google and I use Google Maps to get there sometimes. So I just can’t imagine not having that resource.

Gabriel: On that episode, Jim and Susan mentioned the Lonely Planet, but another thing that they mentioned, which is super correct, is the Xerox copies from the library, because that solved the problem.

Hannah: Yeah.

Gabriel: You thought, “You know, I’m not going to buy like six guidebooks and I really only need this one section from this one book.” So then at the library, Xerox copies.

Hannah: Yeah. 

Gabriel: Then you ended up with a somewhat thick but very personalized homemade book with the info that you needed, as well as maybe an official guidebook. Yep, those were tools of the trade.

Hannah: Yes, tools of the trade. For me, I was alternating between camping and staying with Warmshowers host. So I always took their advice in route planning, especially if they had already done part of the route I was going to do, which for the most part I attribute to a lot of different local people that gave me route options or told me, “Oh, this part’s really boring. You should take this route.” And they fully kind of mapped out a route for me. So with the help of the locals and EuroVelo, I kind of patched it together to make one really nice route. There was a couple of times where my route was flooded or a large section was closed or being repaved, so I had to completely change courses, which I’d always ask other cyclists or go into a local bike shop to ask what they thought. Everyone would always met me with a lot of excitement. “Oh, you’re on this bike journey by yourself and how can we help?” And so people were really excited.

Gabriel: Did you have people who were concerned about you from a safety point of view? This was something that Michelle reported a lot, that people would find out she was bicycling alone and would say, “A solo woman, how are you doing this?” What are your experiences in that regard?

Hannah: The reactions were very different. I had some people that said, “Wow, that’s amazing. I wish I was that brave.” I had some people say straight up, “That is extremely dangerous. I don’t recommend you do that.” And then other people that were just cheering me on and saying how fun that’s going to be and how many great experiences I’ll have and how many different people I’ll meet. So I kind of got a mix. But I think what’s most important for me is to have my family and friends’ support, and I do. But another reaction that was interesting that I had right before my trip is, I would tell people what I was doing and then they would tell me the scariest story they could think of or they’ve ever learned on the news or they’ve read somewhere about somebody traveling solo that something happened to them. Like I had somebody say, “Oh, you’re going to be in Southeast Asia? Well, I saw on the news once this guy was riding his motorbike through Southeast Asia by himself and he camped somewhere and got mulled by a tiger.” And I thought, “Oh, great. Thank you for sharing that story.”

Gabriel: Thank you. I can use that information for absolutely nothing.

Hannah: Yes, exactly. And that was one of many times where somebody told me something they heard on the news, and they would just go to the most extreme stories. So I’d say, you know, it was very divided, but most people were worried about my safety. And I think now that I’ve been traveling and I’ve said that I feel safer in a lot of the places I’ve been in than I do in Seattle. People will get really shocked about that. It’s not that I haven’t been worried about my own safety. I am very cognizant of my surroundings and to go at night versus not. There’s certain things I have to worry about. But overall, I felt safe.

Gabriel: People who don’t travel that much have a very different view of the world, and tend to think that the place where they are is really secure and good, and all these other far off countries are so dangerous and people are out to get you. Sometimes the people who would be most economically disadvantaged, from just a pure annual income point of view, turn out to be the most generous people you ever meet.

Hannah: Yes, that is 100 percent true. I learned that a lot, especially in Southeast Asia. There’s been a couple of times where I’ll walk my bike up in Vietnam and then the people come up and laugh that it’s locked, because they’ve never seen anybody lock their bike up, because bike theft is just not a problem in that area, but it’s just a habit of mine. Oh, I was going to say, listen to some of the other episodes where people can spontaneously meet somebody in the street and then go with them to their house. And that’s definitely not something I do. I have to kind of feel out the person before I want to go inside their house. But I’ll camp in people’s yards and then usually end up in their house because then I realize they’re very safe in there. But I always start with a little bit of trepidation as a solo female traveler.

Gabriel: OK, but it seems like it doesn’t take you too long, since you just said…

Hannah: No, no, it doesn’t take me too long. Yeah, it’s not something I do right away, but I have to, you know, follow my gut based on the person.

Gabriel: It’s just funny, the mental image I had is, “I’m cautious. So I start off in the backyard and maybe I put my tent on the ground and they invite me in and I say, OK.” 

Hannah: “OK, sure. Yeah, I guess I’ll have dinner inside.” Warmshowers has been a huge highlight of my trip, especially in Europe. I stayed with so many amazing families and people. There was one time where my route in Switzerland was completely flooded, so I ended up staying with somebody for three days instead of one night, and then he ended up joining me for four days of biking through the Swiss Alps. So it’s just led to some of the most amazing experiences on my trip, so I heavily support it and the community.

Gabriel: Sounds good.

Hannah: But I do think the longer you bike, the definition of your low point might change. So in Europe, for me, it was maybe getting lost and not finding the route, which now thinking back, I’m like, that’s not even a problem or an issue. If I get lost now, that’s the least of my concerns.

Gabriel: That’s a very good point. If you do bike long enough, you are going to encounter some very difficult moments. And in your case, your description of your heat stroke is… I would say that’s fairly serious.

Hannah: Yeah. 

Gabriel: I’m glad you came out of it, and I think it will be much smoother in Japan and Korea.

Hannah: Yeah. In my head, when I agreed to talk with you, I was like, perfect. I will talk about my crazy adventure I had from Hanoi to Singapore. And then when it ended, I was like, “Oh oh, what will I tell you?”

Gabriel: No, but that experience – I mean, it was a difficult thing to live through – I think it’s perfect, because it shows it can be difficult and you need to be resourceful and you need to rely on kindness. So it’s a perfect story.

Hannah: That’s where summer hit me over the head. Was the day that I went into the mountains and the jungle completely humbled me.

Gabriel: Wow, Hannah is in the middle of one amazing bicycle adventure. I think we set a new record for most previous episode references, which is a great way to celebrate episode 10. I also want to share a new feature called Fan Mail, where you can send me your feedback by clicking a new link on the show notes. I look forward to receiving your comments and suggestions. Lastly, if you have not yet rated or reviewed the Accidental Bicycle Tourist on your favorite podcast platform, please take a moment to do so. The algorithms and I thank you for it.

Gabriel: The transcript for this episode is available on the Accidental Bicycle Tourist website. I welcome feedback and suggestions for this and other episodes. You’ll find the link to all contact information in the show notes. If you would like to rate or review the show, you can do that on your favorite podcast platform. You can also follow the podcast on Instagram. Thank you to Anna Lindenmeier for the cover artwork and to Timothy Shortell for the original music. This podcast would not be possible without continuous support from my wife Sandra. And thank you so much for listening. I hope the episode will inspire you to get out and see where the road leads you.

Hannah: Some highlights about bike touring, I think, are: Traveling by bike allows you to go to areas that you can’t go otherwise as a regular tourist. So going through neighborhoods and learning and seeing how people will really live has been one of the best highlights of my entire trip.

Gabriel: Oh, are there? I thought… I was expecting more highlights.

Hannah: Sorry, I thought I lost you.