Monday, April 7, 2014

Thailand — April 2014

It's been a hell of a pleasant winter here in Chiang Mai — the coldest in many years. A lot of Thais, including Nut, were adversely affected by the cold — it affected me too but in the opposite way. I've totally enjoyed the uncharacteristically cool weather and can only hope for more of the same next season.

I'm a bit blue these days because it's almost time for Nut and I to say our farewells. I'll return to the states, visit family, then head north to Kachemak Country for the summer months. This is always a bittersweet time. We've been hanging together for four years now and I still feel lucky to have her in my life. There's excitement ahead and maybe even a few adventures but I'll be solo and I'll miss her.

I've been busy. Too busy to blog, almost too busy to answer emails. Mapping on OpenStreetMap (OSM) has become an obsession and takes up almost all my time. The deeper I get into it the more time I invest. I am still thrilled to be able to contribute to something I see as incredibly worthwhile and that fits so well with my own aptitudes and interests. At the same time, like all addictions, it has its down side: I sit in front of the computer for way too many hours every day. I take breaks for tennis, meals together with Nut, an occasional movie or TV show and sleep but otherwise stay busy with the mapping. Nut thinks I'm crazy. She asks, "Who pays you to do this?" Nobody, I say. She only shakes her head and walks away. And who knows? Maybe she's right.

Naturally, I've invested considerable energy working on Thailand because I live here eight months of the year. But lately I've been doing a lot of work on Alaska projects. As big as Alaska is and as interesting geographically there are very few people mapping it. Consequently, vast areas are empty of details and the highways and geographic features that are present often aren't very accurate. Yes, I know, many people use Google Maps and are happy with them. I was totally captivated by Google Earth for years. But Google controls the use of Google Maps and has a tight copyright grip on every aspect of them. This goes against my grain and is one reason I embrace the open source software movement. OpenStreetMap is, needless to say, a completely open source project and whomever wants to use the data we gather and organize can do so with no questions asked. I like that. I am quite sure that OSM will eventually come to replace proprietary maps, Garmin maps come to mind immediately, the way Wikipedia has replaced conventional encyclopedias, and for the very same reasons — rapid updates and solid factual knowledge supplied by an intelligent and highly motivated user community — and the data is completely free with no strings attached.

In the past few months I've mapped Adak Island, completely reworking the streets in Adak town and most of the gravel roads north of the city, enhanced the Denali, Parks, and Richardson highways as well as the Nenana River, enhanced portions of the Copper River, added hundreds of lakes and a canoe trail to the Swanson River area north of Soldotna, and spent a ton of time adding details to the southern Kenai Peninsula and the mountains across the bay from Homer. One of my first projects was fixing up and adding names to the roads in the City of Homer and out East End Road, a project that was mostly finished last year but which I still return to now and then.

I also spent a bit of time adding information to the Yasawa Island group in Fiji, a place I visited in 2009 and about which have some useful knowledge. Another favorite haunt is the Adirondacks in northern New York State. Hiking there in the 60s helped develop a love of wilderness areas that eventually resulted in my move to Alaska n 1983. So now I am mapping those mountains from my armchair, as it were, using aerial imagery and information gleaned from the Internet. Lately I've been adding hiking trails, lakes, streams and the locations of Adirondack shelters, called lean-tos, to the High Peaks Region and the Northville-Placid Trail. I will probably never backpack there again but I will always love that forested eastern country and enjoy adding to the map of it.

My mapping work will continue until I grow tired of it, or find something else to fascinate me and absorb my attention. I don't see that happening any time soon and there is just so much to do. Because I'll be in Alaska soon, I reckon I'll continue mapping there and might even talk myself into a trip over the Denali highway to witness in person once again the incredible majesty of the Alaska outback.
(Oct 15, 2014 : I made the Denali Highway trip in July. Read about that here.)

This winter was busy for other reasons too. We had visitors, many visitors, some from Homer, some friends of friends and one from Oregon, my son Tuli, who came over for two weeks in February. And of course, I bought a new motorcycle last August so we made quite a few tours around the country. I didn't blog about all of them because frankly I don't think writing about yet another motorcycle trip makes very interesting reading for most people. But I do want to include some photos of a few of the more memorable moments of 2014.

Homer friends Tracy and Olga came to Chiang Mai in early January. As always, I suggested renting a scooter so they could get around. But Tracy has a bike in Homer and immediately opted to rent a CB500X like mine. We did some great rides with them and took them to a few of our favorite restaurants where they caught me up with Homer events and gossip. Here we are riding the Samoeng Loop. DC was nearby and he joined us at the Wawee Coffee shop on Route 1096.

Me and Nut with Homer friends DC, Tracy and Olga
Later in the week, intrepid world traveler and Alaska neighbors Sally-O and her son Alex stopped in Chiang Mai for a few days. They were on a big trip — to India, Laos, Cambodia, New Zealand and god knows where else. That gal gets around.

Sally-O and Alex visit Chiang Mai
We, Nut, Daniel and I, took a trip to coffee country later in January visiting the Doi Chang and Wawi districts north of here. The weather was cold in the mornings (7°C, 38°F) and Nut was beside herself trying to stay warm. I caught this photo of her actually sitting in the sun, possibly for the first time in her life, and drinking coffee too. She's not a coffee drinker and hates being in the sun. The cold weather must have made her a little crazy.

Nut catching some rays — Ban Doi Chang
Nut checking out the "cherry blossoms" along the road to Ban Wawi
View of tea plantations and poinsettias — Ban Lao Lee

And then Tuli arrived. Years ago, just after he had graduated from high school, I had this fantasy of someday making a trip together. It never happened. The years flew by and he's a grown man now with a child of his own. It had often occurred to me that Thailand would make an ideal getaway vacation and a way to fulfill that travel fantasy, so when I floated the idea of a visit to Thailand, he jumped at it. He loves Thai food and has been hearing about Thailand from me for years, so ... We were able to set him up with an apartment in our building for the whole two weeks he was here. It was very convenient, and being Thailand, very cheap.

I knew we'd want to travel on motorcycles and Tuli had never ridden one before. I wanted to start him off slow — riding Nut's Click and after a while, when I was sure he was ready, maybe move him up to a Honda PCX. Well, he loved riding right away. Being the car and driving enthusiast he is I knew he'd like motorcycling but he really liked it. The Click was definitely too small for his 6'4' frame so the next day we rented a Honda CBR250. That bike too was derided as being "too damn small" and he started pushing to rent a bike like mine.

Whoa! I said, my fatherly instincts taking over. "That's too much bike for a beginner. I don't want you to get killed over here!" But he had already ridden my bike, loved it, and thought he could handle it. After a lot of hemming and hawing I finally let myself relax about the idea and, as it turned out, his riding went extremely well. As we were saddling up for a trip to Nan I said to him, "Now, don't feel you have to keep up with me. Ride your own ride. Don't take any chances, etc., etc."

Long story short: before too many miles he was passing me. He took to motorcycling like a duck to water. We did quite a bit of riding that week. We had company for part of it, Homer friends Phil and Al, and our good neighbor Daniel.

Tuli and me at Lake Phayao
On the road to Nan 
Coffee break with Danny, Phil and Al — R101 Pua

Tuli on the CB500X at Nan
We had a ball. I think it's fair to say Tuli loved Thailand and that he'll want to come back. I hope he does.

I was gonna waffle on about tennis because I have lucked into a coaching situation there that is pretty damn cool, but I'll save that for another post. Right now I'm packing for my return and for what should turn out to be an interesting side trip, a 12-day visit to Austria, where I'll ride a bit of the famous Danube Bike Path. I start in Passau, Germany, on the 12th and will bike, as in ride a bicycle, about 230 miles to Vienna over a period of 8 days. I booked the entire trip though a tour outfit called Eurobike. They will put me up in 4-star hotels along the way and schlepp my luggage so I can travel light, as light as a 240 lb, 70 year-old geezer can be, on the bike. I picked this trip for several reasons but perhaps the most important of those were that I'll be following the Danube downstream and, unless rivers can flow uphill, my journey should be all downhill. Plus, the prevailing wind is from west to east so, if I'm lucky, any wind should be at my back. My 1600 mile bike trip in New Zealand 10 years ago made me promise myself never to attempt to ride a heavily loaded bike again, and especially not in hilly terrain.

I'll let you now how that trip turns out.