Friday, February 27, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air Please

Friday, February 27, 2009
A Breath of Fresh Air Please
Arriving in Medan and taking the taxi back to where we made base camp gave me a familiar feeling. The hustle of city life, the chaos of traffic and being back in Indo was interesting. Medan is a big city, the heart of Sumatra, and its business as usual for its locals. Just putting the bikes together, making last minute purchases and the long flight didn’t take us long to want to put our heads to rest. A sleeping pill, ear plugs and fatigue still doesn’t drown the noise beyond the walls of our homestay. We did get some rest and found ourselves waking up way before dawn ready to take on the day.
After our modest breakfast of coffee (kopi) and toast with peanut butter we loaded up the bikes and headed out of town towards Berastagi. The roads are busy with buses, motorcycles, scooters and cars. The traffic is intense as well as the exhaust fumes from them. They have their own communication system; horns blowing, taps and competing poll positions for the best path forward. We are just another vehicle on the road and that is exactly how we have to ride; aggressively! It doesn’t take long to figure out how the cycle works, if you are ahead then you have the right of way. But you have to watch it, the buses and cars will stop right in front of you without warning and you have to keep your wits about yourself, especially traveling with a loaded bike with heavy panniers and handlebar bag. It gets old after a while; the sound of buses humming by, usually too close for comfort, the smell of exhaust and the burning piles of litter at the side of the road. It didn’t take me long at all to realize I am in need of fresh air and the charm I was hoping this country has to offer. I was not impressed anymore with being in foreign surroundings, I needed more and arriving in Berastagi didn’t offer that at all. It was a very long ride to get there, about 75km of uphill, and I could’ve used a hot shower to wash off all the grime. I didn’t get that.
It’s modest here in Sumatra. Living is a daily ritual and getting through each day is just that, getting through the day. Berastagi is a busy city with a mix of Christians and Muslims and other religions living in harmony. Padangs are a mainstay in these parts; little shops or stalls with various spicy foods displayed in a window served with cooked white rice. You pick what you want – they charge you by what you eat – and it’s super cheap. It’s easy for us to choose these stalls as we ride all day and by the time we head out for a bite to eat we are too tired and hungry to sit around and wait for anything to cook. These make very good instant hunger fixes for us.
Sticky fingers also lurk in these parts and it didn’t take me long to realize I must always be on my guard. Someone took my camera off my bike. It was my little point and shoot but that little camera was the fun little toy I enjoyed the most as I was able to shoot on the fly from my bike. The day was gone and I just had to come to terms that this is what happens in these parts. The camera can, and will, be replaced but the day cannot. That is what bothers me the most, losing a day in my life. I am now forced to use my Canon 5D and Tamron 28-300 VC lens. I back-up all my photos each day now and will not take any chances anymore. Suffice to say the following day wasn’t a good one for me. I was upset and I was ready for the charm I was hoping for!
We still had a long day ahead of us, about another 120km of riding to get to Prapat where we will take the ferry across to Tuk Tuk on the Island of Pulau Samosir. This is the island in the middle of Lake Toba which sits inside a fallen volcano. This lake is bigger than Singapore and is surrounded by the crater wall with a sweet island in the middle. The view from the top was breathtaking; definitely worth all the hard work on the bike. We took the ferry across and while on the ferry were approached by a man to stay in his “hotel.” Based on the fact that we would be arriving in the dark, had our bikes and seven pieces of luggage between us (2 panniers each, two handlebar bags and one rucksack) he didn’t have to convince us that perhaps this is where we should stay. And we were pleasantly surprised. The room is a traditional Batek style building (picture an a-frame) with dark hand carved wood and modest amenities including a warm shower, a rarity in these parts, with a nice view of the lake. We have access to a restaurant and cold Bintang beer and after a good meal it was time to retire.
Landing at Lake Toba was, without a doubt, a breath of fresh air; both literally and figuratively. The morning was beautiful and peaceful. The sounds of nature filled the air; birds, crickets, frogs and fish jumping in the lake were music to my ears. It sure beats the sounds of beeping horns, motorbikes and bad loud music coming from blown speakers. It is here that I feel good.The villages on the island are small and though this was once a hopping tourist destination now appears to be a ghost town. Not too many tourists come here and those that are here seem to be more mature. I find there are a lot more Europeans than Americans. But I am also happy to say being American isn’t so bad now that Obama is President. If I say I am American the locals will recite his name with a gleeful smile. After all he did go to grade school in Indonesia so for him to become President of the United States is something the locals can be proud of.
Today is my day to gather my thoughts, soak in the surroundings and write my blog while Anthony goes off for a training ride. Tomorrow is back on the bike and very hard going travel. Kutacane is our next destination with some time to check out Gunung Leuser National Park. This park is one of the most special parks on the planet with all its threatened wild life and delicate eco-system. I am not sure what to expect yet but I am certain biting insects will be key to avoid. Then it’s off towards the Aceh province, Banda Aceh (the hardest hit by the 2004 Tsunami) and Pulau Weh Marine Park for some diving. I doubt I will have many Internet options so this might be the last blog I post for a while. So until then, wish us safe travels and send your good energy our way as we will be approaching the unknown soon! Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Florence Arizona

It appears I made mistake about Florence, Arizona and it is not just the town that houses Arizona's State Pen and a McDonald's but actually has history.

I have been informed by a Florence resident that I missed quite the festivities this year on Valentine's Day. This reader wrote:
Read your blog comments on Florence AZ and I have this to say...

Too bad you didn't actually go into Florence AZ on Valentines Day.That was the day they had their historic tour. The town has over 100 buildings on the National Register and this was the day some of the public and private homes and buildings are open to the public. You missed an antique show, book sale, quilt show, old time fiddle music and the chance to see Florence homes from the 1870's on up. Some of these old adobes are quite photogenic, as is the 1891 Victorian Courthouse.

The museum in Florence is quite incredible and has furniture made out of cactus, and has info on the lady stagecoach robber and a sobering prison display of the nooses used for hangings among a lot of other amazing things. Its a great, interesting, historic, and authentic western town recently picked as #4 of the top ten true western towns by True West Magazine for 2009. Too bad you didnt get off the highway and see the real town. There is so much more than just the prison and McDonalds.
I think this person is correct, I would have loved to have gotten off the highway to view this quaint little town with big personality on Valentine's Day! Thank you for sharing!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Solo Winners

Posted by Picasa

24 Hours of The Old Pueblo

Location: A few miles outside of Tucson Arizona
Place: 24 hours of The Old Pueblo
Date: February 13th thru 15th, 2009

It was a beautiful drive coming from Las Vegas. The sun was high and the skies were clear blue. A complete contrast of what the forecast was a couple days prior which called for cold, clouds and rain. Over Hoover Dam and seeing the new construction of the bridge was a sight to see. It is amazing how they construct bridges especially that high! The views of Black Canyon were awesome and the little buds of grass was a small sign that rain had just passed and perhaps spring is on it's way!

Getting into Arizona was wonderful. I was in awe of all the Saguaro Cacti. Never have I seen so many and different species of cacti not to mention concentration of them. They were everywhere. My eyes were everywhere excepth the road - just kidding we arrived safely.

Though we did have to stop overnight as the drive was quite long. Not a good idea when it was Valentines weekend - who wants to take their Valentine to Florence? Italy perhaps but Florence, Arizona? There's the Arizona State Pen down the road and McDonalds that's all. But all motels were booked then we realized there was an Indian Flute Festival and Renaissance Festival happening that same weekend. We were lucky to have even found a room in the Hampton Inn at the rate we were going and it was higher than Vegas rates!

Eventually we made it to the venue, after one of the best nights' of sleep we have had in a long time, the following day. The camping area was getting packed and athletes and their support crew were arriving by car, truck and RV loads. It was nice that Robin and Leslie had a camping spot picked out for us already and it was easy to spot. We had enough room to get Ian and Sully's RV in as well.

Anthony and I went out to test ride the course and it was super fun. Lots of fast single track, cactus dodging, an occasional cow and firm packed trail. The recipe for fun! After our trail ride it was time for Anthony to hit the pasta and do last minute adjustments to his bikes.

The next morning was perfect. The crowds were out and about, the vendors were open for business and the coffee wagon line was out of control. The athletes were ready for registration and getting their poll positions in order. Bikes were lined up along the course as the riders made their way for the running start. It wasn't long before the elite athletes were in the front ready to tackle the first lap. The first soloist around the 16 mile course was Tinker Juarez followed by Evan Plews who was not far behind. It wasn't long until Ian Leitch and Anthony White made their way around - first hour was down 23 more hours to go.

It was cat and mouse for a while between Ian and Anthony. Neither could keep up the pace with Tinker or Evan and Evan made his way to the top followed by Ant and Ian - or was it Ian and Ant? Regardless at one point Ian was third and Ant was third but Ant ended up having to pull out after 14 hours (11 laps) because he couldn't see. The desert sand took it's toll on his sensitive eyes and he got a little too close for comfort with the native cacti and became a painful pin cushion. It wasn't a total loss as we did have Ian to help which in the end got an incredible second place finish to Evan, both with 18 laps, and Tinker coming in at third place with 17.

I have to thank all the vendors who have been so good to us - well - me! First is Jeff Kerkove with Ergon grips. Thank you for the awesome carbon Ergon grips that I get to use during my travels abroad. I am so excited about them. AND my great friends at Deuter - thank you! AND our newest sponsor Rudy Project. Next year there will be no excuses for Anthony to not finish this race and win. Ha!

Now it's time to repack everything for this big trip Anthony and I are taking with more fun stories to share, so check back and keep in touch. And until then I wish you happy trails.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Road Tripping

Today is the day we head out for the big race, 24 hours of Old Pueblo, in Tucson Arizona. The forecast is looking better than before but not the ideal situation of 60+ degrees and sunny skies that I was hoping for. I think it is now going to be milder during the day and the chance of rain less likely, but temps will be dropping down to a mere 35 degrees at night (burr). I am also not looking forward to the drive (as I think my lazy butt is going to have to sit in the driver's seat for 7+ hours) nor the packing I still have to do (which I should probably get out of the dryer). At least the camera gear is packed (priorities) and all that is left is the remainder of my clothing and last minute business related stuff.

It's exciting to think who is going to be there: the vendors - the crazy athletes who enjoy 24 hours of abuse - and all the people who volunteer to stay up all night being part of the team's "pit" crew. I am going to enjoy photographing the whole process as typically photographers take images of the riders on course - rarely do you see shots of the looks of pain on their face when they come into transition, or the carnage that is bound to happen during any type of endurance race (by carnage I mean broken bikes). I recall a scene from Mountain Mayhem 2008 when a guy was carrying his perfectly good bike (in the middle of the night I might add) and I asked him: "Is your bike broken?" and his response was "I'm broken."

Which is another test. These riders train hard to be able to stay up all night, giving it their all and keeping the pace for 24 hours straight. It's a mental game. Many, many solo riders end up falling apart just because of lack of will. Or they give their all in the first 12 hours and can't make their legs go round after 13, by that time it's a bust. This is a true test of someone's will - or pure stupidity - you choose - I think the latter.

I am signing off now - the buzzer is going on the dryer and I must finish my business before I listen to U2's the Joshua Tree over and over until I reach Tucson! Happy trails!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Shooting with theTamron 70-200mm F/2.8

Location: Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City, Nevada.
Camera: Canon 5D
Lens: Tamron AF70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro
Subject: Anthony White: Endurance Cyclist and contender for the 2009 24 hours of Old Pueblo endurance race in Tucson, Arizona.

The shoot was to help promote Anthony's cycling sponsors with this particular shot being for Exposure Lights and it's ease of use. The image was shot wide open at F/2.8. Notice the detail. I was so amazed using this lens and getting the quality I did. Pairing it with my Canon 5D is perfection.

If you are in the market for an affordable, beautiful, fast, super sharp lens then I would look no further. This one takes the cake.

I will continue to post images using my Tamron lenses and I encourage you to check back frequently for updates.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Tamron Lens is going Biking!

Oooh, I can't wait, I am going to get a new lens for my trip. The wonderful people at Tamron are loaning me one of their new AF28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC (Vibration Compensation) LD Aspherical (IF) Macro to use with my Canon 5D. I am so excited after reading all it can do! One of the things that I have learned in my cycle travel is keeping things light. That is one of the benefits of using Tamron lenses - I get great quality imagery without sacrifing weight by using bulkier lenses. Now with their new Vibration Compensation I am bound to get some pretty amazing images as I cycle through the villages with one hand on the handle bar and the other on my camera. That might be a photo in and of itself!

I have agreed to provide Tamron with beautiful images using this lens and a link to my blog - as well as posting photos and blogs to their site - so keep checking back for amazing shots I take using their fine equipment.

London 2008 all in one!
Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 9, 2009

It's Looking Grim

It's another grim day in Vegas. The surrounding mtns have snow and the rain keeps coming and going. The wind is howling, it's cold and I have been off my bike for what seems to be an eternity! I have to plan this trip so I really shouldn't be too fussed about the weather and no saddle time. I seem to be up in the wee hours of the morning until the wee hours of the night plugging away on last minute details.

The next step is preparing for 24 hours of Old Pueblo. Good thing I am not racing but I will be photographing the grand event for MBUK (the mountain bike magazine in the UK). There are a few contenders in this race - One is my boyfriend, Ant White, who will be wearing a Project Rwanda jersey, and came in at an impressive second place in the men's solo pro category at The 12 hours of Temecula race just 2 weeks ago (only 14 minutes behind 2 time Olympian, Tinker Juarez - results) along with Ian Leitch, riding for Independent Fabrication, (2nd place winner of the biggest 24 hour race in the UK, Mountain Mayhem - results -notice Ant White as first place solo). I have a few other key riders I am hoping to feature. One is a dear friend, Robin Brown, who will be riding his single speed, solo, with ONE arm. The other a female friend who will be riding solo as well under the name "Ignorance Is." Would that have a Forrest Gump reference in there somewhere?

As I plan my gear bag I have to take into consideration the conditions. Cold and possibly VERY wet - the recipe for disaster when taking photos! Fingers freeze and everyone knows cameras do not like the rain. I also have to get packing for my huge jaunt so I feel a bit under pressure.

Anyway - photos will be posted of 24 HOP - and I will keep you up to date on the packing front. At least with this brutal weather I don't feel so guilty not being on the bike. Instead I must continue keeping myself occupied doing things in preparation for these events... right?

Looking forward to you checking back soon!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A rainy day in Vegas

OK - so it's raining in Vegas. Not a common site as you know. I think it was my friend ADI (who lives in the UK - which, by the way, is experiencing the coldest winter in about 30 years or so) that brought the crap weather with him. No playing outdoors for Steph today - it's homeward bound for me all the while cursing poor Adi!
It's OK though ... I seem to be getting things done. I have made a blog entry, added new links to: A Few of my Favorite Things (please check them out) and get to spend time with Ant. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Saturday!
Now it's off to finding great photos to post so I can have a killer slide show that you all can see.
Check back soon - signing off for now!