Is It Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware?

By Stephen Ewashkiw | March 13, 2014

11,228 km so far.

We veered off the main road almost as soon as we set out today, following the route we’d planned last night.

Morning view from Balcony Hill Resort.

Morning view from Balcony Hill Resort.

Before we knew it, we were on a dirt road leading us behind some farmer’s homes and into rice fields.

cycling the rice fields thailand

In the rice fields.

A few people waved to us, no doubt confused by where we were going, and two young boys ran out to watch us ride into the fields.

Rural Route

Our road, if you can call it that, wound its way through fields, past farmers working them, past a couple of houses set in the midst of the moist rice paddies, and eventually into a small town.

thai hay bale

Thai style hay bale.

We remarked that we can’t believe a road like this is on any map, anywhere, let alone on Google Maps (which RideWithGPS uses for its routing), especially considering the countless 4-lane highways in China that weren’t on any maps.

Routes like this make us extremely thankful for the modern tools we use. Planning using RideWithGPS shows us the shortcuts and byways, and also lets us know exactly what the elevation changes will be for the day. We then put the route into PocketEarth, the brilliant offline mapping system we use to guide us successfully throughout each day.

We have seen so much more than we would had we just followed the main roads visible on paper maps, never venturing off onto the cycle paths and local avenues that these two tools offer us.

Wat Is That Ruckus?

As we rode through town a sound that we had been able to hear all morning was getting louder. Then, a group of men, dressed in white and playing traditional Thai instruments appeared around a bend. They were performing at the entrance to a wat. Pickup trucks filled with people were being ushered down the road to the wat by a traffic policeman.

We rode down to the temple and discovered a huge party in full swing. Of course, we had no idea what the celebration was for. A monk sitting in the shade beckoned me over and asked me to sit with him and talk, as monks are wont to do.

Another friendly monk, at wat grand opening.

Another friendly monk, at wat grand opening.

He told me the celebration was to honour the grand opening of this temple, which had just been built. It was a thing of beauty, with intricately finished statues, and a beautifully decorated main temple.

All around the property monks were holding prayer sessions with small groups of devotees, and there were several groups of musicians all playing away, creating an incredibly festive and joyful cacophony.


Jane’s note: This “festive and joyful” noise was a little too much for me. There were far too many auditory stimuli rattling around in my brain, and I had to escape outside the wat walls to avoid some of it.

Outside the wat, there were dozens of stalls set up. Many were fairground games, where you fish for a plastic toy or try to knock down a stack of bottles to win a prize.

Fishing game at the wat opening, near Mae Suai.

Fishing game at the wat opening, near Mae Suai.

The rest were clothing and food stalls, just like you might find at any town’s market or bazaar.

Globally Positioned For Optimal Rides

We use RideWithGPS primarily to check out the elevation changes on our route. Some cycle tourists don’t do this – they simply rely on the (very small) topographical markings on their paper maps. I can’t fathom this. I want to know where the uphills (and downhills) will be, how steep each incline will be, and, maybe most importantly, how long each climb is.

RWGPS shows us the route, plus a graph of the topography changes, gives us the total elevation rise and fall, and shows us how steep every hill will be.

We can make changes to the route by simply dragging the route to a different road. (Note: this feature doesn’t work on the iPad, but does on the MacBook.) The elevation and distance totals change almost instantly, and we can decide which route option is best.

It is also the record of exactly where we have gone every day on this trip.

With just a couple of clicks, we can import the route into PocketEarth.

The Whole World In My Pocket

We have mentioned many times here how much we love PocketEarth, and I am about to do it again. We love PocketEarth. The app costs $3 and allows you to download OpenStreetMaps for a city, state, or entire country easily and quickly for offline use on the go.

Most people don’t realise that the built-in GPS on smartphones and tablets is operational even if you don’t have a local SIM card and you’re not online. When we bought it, we didn’t know the WiFi-only iPad mini doesn’t have a built-in GPS, so have been using the GPS add-on Bad Elf. It would have been much easier if we’d bought the 3G/WiFi iPad mini, but this fix works.

Combining the GPS capabilities with an offline map like PE means you are all set to navigate anywhere in the world, without roaming charges or the need for data connection. It truly is amazing, and we would have found this trip a lot harder without it.

Mapping routes within the app is simple (although you do need to be online for this feature), and you can adjust the route to go along different roads (as in RWGPS but here this feature works on the iPad), and you can export the route to RWGPS to check elevation (again, with WiFi connection).

The best thing about it, as a cycle tourist, is the use of OpenStreetMaps cycle routes, which means that you get routed along some amazing roads you otherwise would never find. Take for example this morning’s ride through the rice fields, or our all bike-path ride into Rīga.

We also use PocketEarth to navigate around cities, even when we’re just walking around being tourists. When we find a sight we want to visit, or, as is more often the case, a coffee shop or restaurant we must try, we just drop a pin on the map and then follow the GPS dot to our destination. I don’t know why every traveller doesn’t use this!

Welcome To The Future

The year in Thailand is 2557. No, I am not hallucinating from the 100F days. Thais use a different calendar, the Buddhist solar calendar, which starts on the day Buddha is said to have died. Makes sense. Why would they base their calendar around the birth of Jesus, as the Gregorian calendar does? So, while it is still March 13 here, the year is 2557, and it will switch to 2558 in April.

I can not imagine what cycle touring will entail in ‘our’ year 2557, but when I read blog posts of cyclists who travelled this region just a few years ago, I feel like I’m already there.

I can’t imagine having to rely solely on a paper map to navigate or estimate topography. A paper map can never be completely up-to-date, and there’s no little blue dot telling you exactly where you are.

I am so happy we don’t have to carry around a heavy, out-of-date travel guidebook and use it as our only source of information on hotels and restaurants.

I don’t think I could do this trip without Spotify and my 300GB music hard drive. When we backpacked around Europe in the late 90s, we brought 12 CDs.

Best of all the modern tools? WiFi and FaceTime. Our parents are big fans of these tools, too, since now they know where we are every day. Thanks Steve Jobs.

Soundtrack: Sivert Høyem, Endless Love | Pharrell Williams, G I R L  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.


  1. Comment by michael moldofsky

    michael moldofsky April 1, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    i’m told they don’t really change to the new year in our mid year and that they synced up with the gregorian calendar to make it easy for government.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 2, 2014 at 2:18 am

      Well, they may have switched to Gregorian for government documents, but some hoteliers use it in their books still, and all the election signs say 2557.

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