Archive for January, 2013

News clippings from India / 31.01.13

Much of the news in India has revolved around the gang-rape case that happened this past December in New Delhi. Other news topics include President Obama’s re-inauguration, record breaking sub-zero temperatures in North India, the green movement (India is transitioning to cloth bags instead of plastic), cricket, and the ongoing conflict with Pakastan. Here are a few clippings…


Part of the FBR team goes to Burma/Myanmar! / 29.01.13

While Andrew and Kallie are on honeymoon and Lindsey has departed for Uganda, Steve and I, in addition to one of our other friends, Patrick, who has joined us from his fall cycle tour in New Zealand for 3 weeks, have decided to go to Burma/Myanmar for 2 weeks. This will likely be the most adventurous part of the trip because it is less traveled (or was, now there are over 100 people getting visas a day here in Bangkok). We wanted to bicycle through Burma on the first trip, but were discouraged by learning that foreigners cannot cross land borders for longer than one day, so most have to fly and fly out. We again have found this to be true. But, we have also found cheap flights from Bangkok and decided to take this opportunity to visit this more rarely visited country that has received so much press in the last year for “opening up” and having “positive reforms.” While many caution about being too quick to praise the leaders of Myanmar, I think the best way to learn about a country is to go and see life on the ground myself.

We have read several blogs of cyclists who toured there last year and are heartened to learn that it is possible to bicycle there and that the local authorities are friendly and helpful, not to mention everyone raving about the nice people everywhere. We will likely not have internet (except for the start and end of our trip in the capital, Yangon) until we return to Bangkok on Feb 12th 2013, please do not be worried about this. Prayers for smooth traveling and safety are always welcomed.

For me, this is the last leg of this 6 month tour, and the most exciting. More to come later!

Europe (and the world) on 5 Euros (US$6.73) a Day / 27.01.13

No, this is not a flash back to the 1960s (Europe didn’t have Euros then anyways) – this is legitimately possible in 2013: to live on 5 Euros a day per person in Europe or anywhere, and even less in developing countries. Most guidebooks today suggest 50 Euros a day in Europe and call it “on a shoestring.” How then, is it possible to cut expenses by 10x this amount on the most expensive continent in the world?

Lifestyle Choice.

Just what do I mean by that? Connecting to my previous blog on happiness, all my travels over the last decade (living abroad and two Eurasian bicycle journeys), and my study and work in international development have focused me on this one all encompassing package of daily decisions we all must make: how much we spend, how much and what we consume, where we live, what we eat, how we move around, how we live. This also connects to the second pillar of Fueled By Rice: “Simplicity.” In the spirits of Henry David Thoreau and Rich Dad Poor Dad author, Robert Kiyosaki, I’d like to explore the nitty gritty euros and cents behind our bicycle journey.

Some may look at our travels and wonder, “How do they afford that kind of 6-12 month trip without working during that period? Who is sponsoring them? What a luxury! I will never be able to take that kind of trip, it must be so expensive.” For example, on our first Fueled By Rice trip in 2008, comments on a LaCrosse Wisconsin USA newspaper article about us included some rather bitter speculating by readers who assumed that our rich parents were funding us – how wrong they were!

I am here to share the truth that nearly anyone in the US and other developed countries could afford this kind of extended travel, and many in developing countries could too for that matter. We all have the power to choose how we spend our money, though constraints vary. The economic term is Opportunity Cost: “the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of the next best alternative forgone (that is not chosen).” Basically, sacrifice and self-restraint in some areas of expenditure is needed to be able to do what one wants in other areas – one can’t have it all so we must choose. Henry David Thoreau realized at Walden Pond that if we don’t buy stuff, we don’t need to spend our time earning that money. Now, I do appreciate the fact that not everyone wants to travel and see the world, or do not prioritize travel over family – I respect that. Yet, I think many of us do, actually, desire to see the world – to see how others live and to expand our horizons to new possibilities and alternatives for our own lives that we never dreamed possible before. My main point is simply that if you desire to travel for 6-12 months (or longer), it is much more financially possible than you may think. I am convinced that most people without children could choose to save up US$4000/person for 1 year of bicycle travel given 6 months to 2 years of saving, and even those with children given 3-5 years.

There are all kinds of ways to cut spending before traveling to save up, but here I will focus on our expenses while on the road. The whole endeavor before and during this kind of trip is an experiment in simple living and constantly asking one’s self – What do I REALLY need? Usually one finds the answer is “less than I thought.” The biggest expense items while traveling (and not traveling too!) are housing, transport, and food.

Since housing is the most expensive single expense, in Europe we simply cut it out completely (or mostly). In Europe, to stay within our 5 Euro/day/person budget we did not stay in hotels, youth hostels, or even official camp grounds – we free camped next to corn fields, rivers/streams, in woods, or in people’s yards after asking them (gardens as the Europeans call them). We also stayed with free hosts in their homes once every 1-2 weeks (with people we spontaneously met or arranged on-line through or – a fantastic use of the internet). In Asia though, we can afford cheap guesthouses (US$1 – 3/person) most nights, with camping and free hosts on other nights.

For us, the opportunity cost of lower comfort (but often better scenery) by camping in Europe instead of staying in hotels is worth the extra days of travel we gain. For example, a cheap hostel or hotel in Europe is usually at least 15-25 Euros/person/night (and I’ve spent as much as 30 Euros a night for just a dorm bed in Amsterdam). Based on our 5 Euro/person/day budget, that equates to 3-5 more days in Europe traveling for every one night we do not stay in a hostel/hotel. This is an incredible exponential savings that in just one week of camping gives us an additional 21-35 days of travel, and over one month gives us an additional 84-140 days of travel (2.8 – 4.6 months!). For us, it is an easy opportunity cost choice. But I realize that for others, greater comfort is worth more than quadrupling travel time. Or another example, some think one US$3.00 Starbucks drink is worth more than 3/5 of a day traveling in Europe (or anywhere) by bicycle, or if bought daily over a year – US$1,095/year and 162 days of travel). But it is a choice. Everyone could save and travel if they really wanted. In Asia though, we can keep the same budget but live at a higher living standard should we choose.

IMG_6687 France -



A bicycle replaces all petrol/gasoline consuming transport except for flights to start and end a trip (and mandatory jumps such as over Iran for Americans who must have a government tour guide which was too expensive for us [US$100/day], and over Burma/Myanmar which does not allow by-land border crossings). No train or bus tickets means huge savings. For example, in Europe, a 4-6hr train ride often winds up being around 80-100 Euros. When I studied abroad in Germany, at the end I traveled for 3 weeks around Europe using the popular Eurail pass which cost around US$500. US$500 now equals 371 Euros, which divided by 5 Euros a day = 74 days (2.5 months – over 3x my original 3 week trip) of bicycle travel that I could have done with just my train budget! And of course, a bicycle is much better for the environment, my health, my happiness, and reducing middle-east funded terrorism activities than petrol/gasoline transport – be fueled by rice and pedal not petrol!

[35] 1- 28x42 cm (Peter Ehresmann)

That leaves us with food – comprising our entire 5 Euros/person/day budget in Europe. The key is that we rarely (about once per country) ate in restaurants or went to bars in Europe because they are expensive. What about eating local food you ask? Some of our weekly hosts cooked us such meals. In Asia though, we usually eat in restaurants because meals are only US$1-3. So, in Europe we went to grocery stores and open markets like normal local people to buy our raw food, like all of us do at home (only we went daily to minimize weight). We also chose discount grocery stores, of which the German brand Lidl [lee-del] (like Aldi but with a bit more variety) wound up being both our favorite and the most common through out all of Europe. We ate two cold meals (breakfast and lunch) and one hot meal (dinner)a day cooked with our single burner camp stove(s) that can burn any liquid fuel including diesel (unleaded petrol/gasoline is the easiest to come by).

Our typical European meals looked like this:

Breakfast: Muesli and milk, fruit
Lunch: Sandwiches with plenty of European cheeses and sometimes meat, veggie salad or fruit/yogurt salad
Dinner: Pasta, rice, or potato base with lots of cooked veggies alternating spicing schemes, sauces, and soup vs stir fry
Snacks: lots of nuts, fruit, and discount chocolate bars

As Henry David Thoreau included an itemized list of his expenses to show how cheaply he could live, here are two of our daily receipts from Lidl and Intermarche when we were four traveling (after Tori’s injury in France). Keep in mind that anyone who knows me knows that I am a BIG eater, especially when I’m biking 50-70km a day, so we did not skimp on quantity:



European Lunch:




The discount prices at Lidl, especially on items like Muesli (2.60 euros for 1 kilo [2 lbs]) and chocolate bars (30-60 cents/big bar) certainly helped us out. It is all a matter of scoping out the grocery stores and seeing what is cheap yet nutritious and getting creative with those ingredients.  That said, when we are living more permanently in a community with more money to spend, most of us do value paying more for higher quality raw foods from farmers’ markets.  That is a compromise we made on this trip.

At one of the many Lidls we shopped at:


In India, we were eating “meals” for lunch, which is like thali or dahl baht full in northern India, where one gets rice and several sides and one can eat as much as they like. Price: US$0.75-2.50. Amazing. Most of the group did get a bit sick of “meals” after a while, and most of us actually got sick at some point, but I recovered and embraced meals just as heartily as before without negative consequence.


Meals – lunch in India


Meals – coming around to serve up more


Travel and Health insurance may be another concern, but there are many international insurance options out there that are much cheaper (and only for big emergencies) than normal domestic health insurance. I have used World Nomads, which is roughly around US$400/6 months. But for most minor injuries in most countries outside the US, it is usually cheap enough to just pay out of pocket without filing claims.


Final Thoughts:

Extended travel is not as expensive as you think. The hardest part for most people is getting the time, which requires taking the leap of faith away from the security of a job and a brick and mortar home. Certainly selling a home to eliminate mortgage payments is a big hurdle for homeowners.  Renting out one’s home one’s self or through an agency is one solution.  Eitherway, there are many extended travel bicycle couples out there who have done it. You can too!

Many postpone major world travel until they “have money” or are retired. However, while its never too late to start, we’ve talked several times together as a team and have discovered that traveling while young (though continuing to travel throughout one’s life) makes much more sense for several reasons including these five:

1) Easier to get away without responsibilities (i.e. job, mortgage, and children) or the effort of getting out of these responsibilities tying one down.

2) It is easier to keep it cheap because one is more accustomed to simpler living standards (i.e. willing to camp and stay in cheap and potentially dirty guesthouses, taking mass transit like subways and buses instead of renting a car or taking taxis).

3) One is more likely to be physically able when young to get around, hike, bike, or just walk around a city. Renting cars and taking taxis add costs and negative ecological and political consequences mentioned above.

4) There are no guarantees one will live to a certain age in the future. Better to do it (and pursue all of our most important goals and dreams) now if it’s something one wants to do “sometime.” As Dave Matthews sings in Cry Freedom, “The future is no place to place one’s better days.”

5) Although one has less money when young, there is more payback, benefit, and reward over the rest of one’s lifetime including everything learned and one’s changed perspective on life and what’s important. This will impact and potentially change life decisions, career path, lifestyle choices, etc. hopefully for the better.

PILGRIM NOTES: Mission / 17.01.13

“Taste and see…” -Psalm 34:8

To the ancient Hebrews, creation was a table spread with many delights. We were honored guests, invited by the Creator to partake–to taste and see. Growing up, my family highly valued eating together. This may have owed in part to my father’s delight in watching his kids eat. “Et now! Et now!” he would say happily in his fake accent as he shoveled bacon onto our plates next to steaming stacks of buckwheat buttermilk pancakes, soaking up the butter melting into fresh maple syrup.

And the more we loved it, the more he loved it. He was positively tickled to see us enjoying something he created. Though he usually restrained himself, we could hear him asking behind every offering of food,
“Isn’t it good?!”
“Do you like it?!”
“Do you want some more?!”

Take that image and bring it to where we are today, on a hot afternoon in south India, resting under a shade tree.

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PILGRIM NOTES: Grace / 17.01.13

“…not because of anything we did, but because of his mercy…” -Titus 3:5

“I don’t think I can do another climb.” It was getting into late afternoon, the time our cycle group Fueled By Rice usually starts looking for campsites. But now it was just Kallie and I, biking along the east coast of Italy to meet up with the other four team members at a host’s house about twenty kilometers further. Twenty kilometers isn’t too bad, on the flat; but lately the mountains had been getting noticeably more mountainous and a 10 km climb on the switchbacks would probably be another hour and a half. Kallie was tired; so was I.

We had just descended to sea level and we had one more climb to go before we arrived at Miki’s house in Chiavari. Since we were in a town, we decided to check in with email and see if any plans had developed and to let the others know our intentions. Fortunately, the only WiFi we found was a gelato café, so we were obliged to indulge in ice cream while we were online. With some extra gelato power and an encouraging note from Tori saying, “Hot soup is waiting!” we decided to press on.

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Things I Miss Most / 14.01.13

Fairly self explanatory, these are things I miss.

10. Bike Paths in Switzerland

These puppies consisted of the most amazingly groomed, accessible  well marked network of bike paths I have ever seen. They were paved quite often and took us everywhere we needed to go with minimal flat tires and a smooth ride. They went on beautiful scenic routes and allowed us to avoid busy roads, big cities, and cars which all slow cyclists down. I would give an arm and a leg for a bike path network like this in the U.S. – or even just Michigan. Way to go Switzerland!

9. Finding a Campsite

It’s like a mix between I Spy, Wheres Waldo, and a treasure hunt every single night. Is is well hidden? Three points. Is it accessible even for the tandem and trailer? Five points. Does it have a clean water source nearby for Lindsey to shower in? Fifteen Points! The accomplishment of finding the winning campsite for the evening is unmatched, even without receiving a medal or trophy ( even though I would kindly accept one)- just saying.

8.Guilt Free Calorie Consumption

I could do what I want, eat what I want, and not become a fatty due to excessive and sometimes involuntary cycling. This was helpful since our primary food was some form of processed carbs, and I usually liked to eat a lot of it thanks to hunger and oftentimes boredom- what else is there to do at night when camping in a field?

7. Bread and Cheese in France

The best in the world, and oh so cheap. Give me a baguette and some local brie and I am one happy girl.

6. Not Picking Out Clothes in the Morning

Spandex pants or spandex shorts? Butt padding or none? Two jackets or one? Does my yellow helmet go with my pink sneakers, or does it clash with my purple shirt and the brown dirt caked on my legs? I think the dread locks in my pony tail are ruining the whole feel of this outfit…Who the heck cares!!!

5. Chupa-Chups

The strawberry milky lolly pops that kept me going through my highest highs and lowest lows, even the currency for bets at times. I miss these little guys tumbling around in my handle bar bag, awaiting the next water break when I can whip one out and have a little Chupa- Chup bliss.

4. Life on a Map

Every day we looked at the map and figured out where we would go. Pointing to a dot on the paper shaped our days, it was all up to us, all planned last minute, and made for an exciting day, everyday. If we got lost, we weren’t really lost because there was always another way to get to the destination dot. If we wanted to take a detour, we could and if we saw a larger dot, or a dot that looked more enticing we had the freedom to go to that dot instead. Usually the names of the dots were what drew us in, and also the colors of the roads on the map. Red roads are bad, yellow roads are good, and white roads are boring and usually not flat. Life based on a map is truly the best way to travel- you never know what the dots will look like in reality, and what the routes to get there will bring.

3. Peeing Where I Please

Finding a bathroom is so over rated and oftentimes on this trip impossible. You have to pee. You get off your bike. You take care of business. You get back on the bike. Done. So. Simple.

2. Meeting Strangers

People are so good and so interesting everywhere in the world. Whether they are staring at the bizarre caravan of dirty cyclist, or asking us to come home to have dinner with them and their family, we connected with people everyday. They saw us, were interested, and sometimes we got the pleasure of accepting their stories, kindness, and hospitality. I met some of the most interesting characters I’ve ever encountered on this trip, and also made some friends who I will keep in contact with for years to come. Interact with those around you because encountering strangers is the good stuff in life- if they are weird then move on, if they are amazing then you have found a new friend, why not take the chance?

1. Movement Lifestyle

Everyday I saw new cities, new people, new landscapes, unpredictable weather, interactions, new food, new place to sleep, new experiences. My mind was always full of thoughts processing everything around me and it never got old. I was moving myself forward one country at a time and focusing on the simple things in life like eating and sleeping. Sitting still became a treat and warm showers were divine. A couch was a temporary luxury that I would encounter once in awhile, and everyday was centered around adapting and moving. This is the way to live. There is so much to see ,and do, and taste, and so many people to meet. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sit still again.


Things I do NOT miss:

Being rained on

Being so dirty my hair stands up on its own

Spandex and butt sores


Spiders/ Bugs

Itch weed

Steep Inclines


Chapter Five: Meeting Rainbows / 14.01.13


Thessaloniki. A college town on the coast of Greece, full of shopping, frappe, and social unrest. We arrived late at night with our loaded bikes after an 18 kilometer walk from the airport outside the city. Without a host, we found ourselves tired and in search of a cheap hostel to rest for the night. While waiting by a lamp post for devin to return after backtracking to find my lost bike lock cable, I made some new friends. First a boy about my age with a similarly loaded bike came over to me to introduce himself. His name was Gus, and he had been cycling by himself from his home in France for five months. Not a moment later another young man walked up and introduced himself, Martin was his name and he too was solo cycling across Europe. We all exchanged information, and within minutes were connected swapping stories of our travels, checking out each others gear, and wondering where the others were staying for the night.

After a difficult and seemingly endless day, this meeting of cycling tourists gave us a new energy and let us know we were not alone in our mission. Others just like us have the same ideas and curiosity- we were not crazy for stepping from our day to day lives to explore and let circumstances take us where they may. We really had no idea what circumstances had in mind for us later on in Greece, but it ended up being a colorful experience that would be hard to forget.

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Grigio Shery / 14.01.13

Grigio Shery spoke quite quickly, kind of like an upbeat car salesman who needs to keep the ball rolling. He had his MBA in marketing and was working in the sprawling city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s capitol, in business. Now however he was home to his coastal fishing village for a couple weeks for the Christmas holiday. We also happened to be in that same coastal village on our bicycles as we headed south toward the southern tip of India. Shery stopped by on his motorcycle as we were about to enter a small restaurant for dinner. We had already gone through the usual negotiations with the proprieter:

“Do you have food?” [gesture of putting five fingers to lips]
Head wobble Yes.
“What do you have?”
Head wobble.
“Do you have rice?”
“No rice. Paarotha, dhosa, chicken fry…” [fried dough, pancake material, fried chicken]
“Do you have Sambar?” [thick vegetable gravy broth]
“Mmb. Sambar.” Head wobble.
Turning to the others: “He has chicken, sambar, parotha, dhosa… waddyathink?”
We thought we’d stay.

It was at this point in our evening, as we were getting slowly settled around the one table in the small cozy but dingy food joint, that Shery approached. With an excellent English vocabulary and a lilt and bend that was still difficult for our American ears to catch, he began to find out about us and what we might be needing (he doing most of the talking). When he found out we’d stopped for dinner, he negotiated with cook to get us something to eat. Since we’d already done that, we were a bit fatigued with the interaction and “help”; that is, until he asked us where we were staying.

So far we’d scoped very few possible camp sites, and we really had no idea where we’d stay the night. Our plan was to eat some dinner, cruise to the edge of town where we’d find a faucet or a river to bathe in, and camp somewhere after the darkness fell, so as to attract less attention. When Shery found out we needed a place to stay, he offered to talk to the nuns for us. “I will ask the mother superior, and you can stay at St. Jude’s, if she says yes. There they have a room where you can wash, make yourselves comfortable, you can see the children as they are feeding children and taking care of them, so I think it will be no problem for you to stay there, and you can attend mass in the morning if you like, so I will just speak with the mother and we will see. Don’t worry! This is India, and we are a Christian people! We will take care of you!…”

We arranged that we’d meet him in an hour and a half over at the church to find out the low down on the nunnery, and we thanked him. After all, this promised to be not only a place to stay and wash up, but also a pretty cool window into south Indian coastal Christian culture. Earlier that day, as we were winding our way along the coast dodging pedestrians, rickshaws and buses loaded to the gills, we kept noticing that at every small town or village or turn in the road there seemed to be a huge cathedral style church. Sometimes they weren’t as huge, but all of them had that strange mix of ancient establishment meets garish makeup. Many had grottos to Mary outside, but in the absence of rocks they were made of what looked to be gray spray painted fiberglass material. It was strange because we expected to find more Hindus in India, but here we seemed to be in a Roman Catholic pocket (which we were). That also meant that at several of the restaurants we stopped at they only served fried chunks of chicken or beef–not the vegetable sauce you find at Hindu-run places.

When we found him later, he brought us to the nuns’ quarters and introduced us, where were given a room for the girls with attached bath, and the guys were promised we could sleep in a classroom as soon as the classes let out. We showered up and learned that daily mass was at 6:30 a.m., but the bells would ring at 5:00, 5:15, and 5:45. “No problem,” I remember thinking, “we can handle bells.” And the fact that they were to be rung at three separate times made me think that perhaps they wouldn’t be incessant, and therefore somewhat ignorable if we wanted to sleep past the first two.

At 4:55 I remember hearing some bells tolling faintly outside somewhere across the open sand lot. “Not so bad,” I thought to myself, and prepared to drift back into sleep for a bit. But that was not to be. Immediately following the bells, there was a loudspeaker crackling, and then the music started playing. Not quiet, contemplative music, but loud Indian music. It was in its own way beautiful, but seemed glaringly out of place in the cool 5 a.m. pre-dawn darkness.

After mass we joined Shery for a stroll through the houses to the coast, to see the fishing operation. “They catch sharks here,” he told us. “We are shark fishermen. The boats go out sometimes for a month at a time, taking everything with them–packing ice, water, clothes, supplies, rice, oil–you know, cooking things–everything. Most of the sharks go to the Chinese and the Japanese…for medicinal purposes.” He told us how at Christmas all the boats come in to the harbor and it’s a real party.

After that he invited us back to his house to meet his family and have some sweet milk tea (chai). His father had cancer. Shery said it was from smoking and drinking too much. “He is an uneducated man. Already he had [cancer], and taken chemo, and then the cancer went away. But he didn’t listen to the doctor when he told him, ‘If you touch this stuff again you will die.'” Shery told us how he, as the eldest, sat his father down and talked to him:

“You have given us everything. You have worked and now all your children are educated and we have this house–don’t make us miss you. Now we will provide, we are grown.”

“Now if anyone says anything to him, he will just listen. If someone says, ‘Don’t do it!’, he will listen. That is how it is with my father. I have become the father now to him, as the eldest son. That’s how it is in India.”

Shery had two brothers and three sisters. We found out one of his sisters is getting married on February 7, and that is cause for both celebration and some work. He said that for her dowry he must contribute 2.5 to 3 laks Rupees (1 lak = 100,000). This would amount to about $6000. The dowry consists of two treasures. One is the money, collected from the family of the bride to give to the groom. This money is not kept by the groom exclusively, but is distributed among his mother and sisters. The other treasure is the fine garments and jewelry. This is for the couple to keep exclusively.

Even for US standards, $6000 is a lot to contribute for a wedding, and it is difficult to earn this much money in India; especially when you are supporting a family. To make it back more quickly he wants to move abroad and work, then maybe settle somewhere else if he can arrange the visas. The dowry money didn’t worry him so much, because he was also an educated man, he said, and would fetch a nice dowry himself some day.

After he brought us back to the convent, and we had thanked the sisters with a small contribution to their work, we said our goodbyes. It was already past 10 a.m., and we were eager to get on the road. He left us with his flashing smile and a blessing. “Maybe I’ll come to America, and see you there.” Maybe he would.

The Birds / 14.01.13

8 Jan. 2013

Leaving Madurai wasn’t so bad. The traffic was thick as locusts for three kms, and then thinned nicely into a wide two-lane split highway, smoothly paved. Just as we were hitting our stride on this surface, I noticed some large birds circling up ahead. In fact, there were so many of them I thought there must be a garbage dump or something. “Hey Kal, check out those birds — there must be a dump or something… they look like hawks.” Several times in India I’d noticed hawks and crows congregating around garbage dumps, but this was a spiraling cloud of them–at least two hundred.

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Chapter Four: Camping Ciampino & Roaming Rome / 13.01.13


After Florence, we took a train to Rome. The whole way I stared out the window and remarked at all the fabulous possible campsites that scattered the area along the tracks. We arrived to Rome in the evening, and left Rome an hour later for the outskirts of the city to find a place to camp for the night. Due to darkness and exhaustion we got off the train at the wrong station, getting Devin and his bike stuck in the train door in the process. After prying his bike free with the help of a few concerned train-riders, we discovered that we had no idea where we were, and even less of a clue where to go. Perfect.

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