Record number of vendors set for ENC Home & Holiday show – New Bern Sun Journal

The annual ENC Home & Holiday Gift Show will be bigger and better than ever when it opens this week for Friday and Saturday shows at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, 203 S. Front St.

“We have vendors from the ENC selling homemade jams, pickles, wine and grown-up gummies,” said Julie Alley, show manager for sponsoring ENC Live Events. “Plus, on the way out you can enjoy a made-to-order candy apple. We have vendors from throughout the ENC, plus vendors traveling from as far as Virginia, Florida, Kansas, Ohio, and Texas to be a part of the annual New Bern event.”

The Home & Holiday Gift Show has been a New Bern tradition since 2011.

Show hours are noon to 6 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Admission is $3, or $2 with a canned food donation. Children under age 12 get in free.

Attendees can accomplish all their holiday shopping under one roof, with more than 90 vendors offering gift ideas, clothing and accessories, home décor, health and beauty products, home improvement and much more.

The record number of vendors far surpasses the 2016 total of 72.

The show will have activities for the children, demonstrations and Santa.

Plus, register for lots of prizes throughout the show.

Some of the regional vendors include English Ivy Children’s Boutique of New Bern; Hinnant Family Vineyards & Winery of Pine Level; Lady B’s Boutique of New Bern; Pet’s Personality Bed Mats of Arapahoe; Southside Farms — jams and jellies — of Chocowinity; Timila’s Classic Jewels — lighted glass boxes and jewelry of Kinston; Tangled Turtle — glass and jewelry — of New Bern.

Some unique cash and carry items include hovering soccer balls, wool insulted coolers, Purify Hair Tools and Magic Pens.

There are gift ideas — from garlic grinders to massage pillows and everything in between — along with home-crafted items from wreaths to garden art and ornaments to artwork.

Lots of personal items for the women will be available, such as clothing and accessories, as well as pampering products and hand-crafted jewelry.

Items for the rest of the family range from dog beds, toys and accessories for the four-legged friends, to clothing, books and toys for the children.

There is even a travel trailer barbecue tools for dad.

Home and decor gifts range from exotic cow hide rugs to designer pillows and sheets.

The first 300 guests each day will receive a Tote Bag, compliments of Down East Heating & Air Conditioning.

Thousands of dollars in giveaways will be handed out, including three $200 gift cards. Other winning gifts include a Bathroom Remodel, YETI giveaway and numerous gift baskets.

Upcoming ENC shows include the ENC Bridal & Special Event Expo on Jan. 21; the ENC Jacksonville Home & Garden Show on March 10 and 11; and the ENC New Bern Home & Garden Show on March 17 and 18.

The show is sponsored by ENC Live Events. Call 970-590-0383.

Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or Follow him on Twitter @CharlieHallNBSJ

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Florence taxidermist busy after hunting season – NBC Montana

Florence taxidermist busy after…

FLORENCE, Mont. – With general big game hunting season wrapping up last weekend taxidermists are busy.

Florence taxidermist Shirley Hopkins has a good work load ahead of her. She owns A Memory Saved Taxidermy.

Using dental instruments she was cleaning the teeth of a white-tailed deer a hunter brought her.

She said most hunters she talks to want European skull mounts. That’s the bleached or unbleached skull and antlers of an elk or deer.

“They take up less space on the wall,” said Hopkins. “And they are a lot cheaper.”

But Hopkins also does shoulder mounts and rugs.

“I’ve gotten in two elk skins, a cow hide and a sheep hide,” the customer wants tanned, she said.

In the middle of her shop stands the form of a life-sized black bear. She will begin work on it after the hide is tanned.

The bear was taken near Florence. She said most of her work is with local and Montana hunters.

Hopkins has been working in taxidermy for nine years. But she’s had a life-long fascination with it.

It began, she said, when she was in second grade and visited the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.

“I remember looking at all the animals that were taxidermied,” she said, “and I thought it was a really neat thing to have a fully preserved animal for history.”

She pointed to the skull of a white-tailed deer on her work table, calling it the biggest “highlight” of this years’s hunting season.

It was shot by a military veteran.

“It’s a Wounded Warrior deer that I got in last week,” she said. “It was a deer hunt donated by Montana Wounded Warriors.”

The group takes wounded veterans on all-expense-paid hunting trips.

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Made In Chelsea's Oliver Proudlock on home ownership – Metro Newspaper UK

MADE In Chelsea star Oliver Proudlock, 31, has been renting his two- bedroom apartment in a converted church in Kensington for two years — but thinks it’s time he got on to the property ladder.

‘Me and my girlfriend found a house in Shepherd’s Bush we really wanted. It was three storeys, had three bedrooms and a garden — but it needed a lot of work. Unfortunately, someone else made a higher offer, so we lost out on that one,’ he says.

Proudlock says he and his model partner Emma are now planning to go on a serious house-hunting mission and want to buy something early next year.

But even a three-storey home in Shepherd’s Bush would be a far cry from the place Ollie spent his early childhood — Grade II-listed country house Lasborough Park in Gloucestershire. ‘It was beautiful and had amazing grounds, but things changed and we had to downsize,’ he says.

‘The perception of people from Made In Chelsea is that we’re all minted. But I work very hard and I’ve been earning my own money since I was 17. I’ve had a good education but I’m not loaded.

Reality check: TV star Oliver looks for some design inspiration

‘We’ve been saving for the last three years and feel that now is the time to invest in property.’

Ollie grew up with his interior designer mother in the Gloucestershire countryside.

‘Mum used to change the house all the time,’ he says. ‘One week it would be all white, the next purple with gold leaf everywhere. And it was featured in interiors magazines quite often. There were shoots happening every other week; it was like a show house.’

Art attack: There are unique pieces in Ollie’s flat

And when Ollie was a teenager, his mother set up a design business themed around denim. ‘She used to upholster interiors with denim. The whole house was denim. My bedroom had black denim wallpaper — it’s still the same now; she hasn’t changed it.’

Ollie says his mother has inspired his work in fashion — he runs and designs for his own label, Serge DeNimes. ‘It’s a link to my upbringing and my mum,’ he says.

There was so much denim around the place that when Ollie returned from doing his Fine Art degree at Newcastle University he clad his Fiat car in it. ‘I even did the hubcaps,’ he says. ‘I drove around in this denim-ed Fiat but I didn’t seal it, so it all fell off after a couple of months.’

He points to a large artwork on the wall. It’s a 5ft by 4ft piece he did after leaving university. A tyre mark from the Fiat runs across the piece and there are denim patches which were offcuts from his mum’s materials.

The flat features more of his art, such as two abstract pieces printed on aluminium, inspired by the work of Robert Rauschenberg. There are also three reindeer skulls and a couple of cow hide rugs which were given to him by his mum.

‘I’d say my taste in interiors is a mix of English and Swedish — I like that minimalism. But we went to Morocco last year and I really like those rugs and lanterns — we’d want to include that in our new place. I’d want something pretty contemporary but also cosy,’ he says.

As the apartment is rented, there’s a limit to what Ollie and Emma can do but they have converted the second bedroom into a dressing room to store all their clothing. ‘We both work in fashion so we have a few clothes. This place is awesome but there aren’t many cupboards — so we need more storage.’

More is less: The couple want more space for clothes

And Ollie still likes the features which initially attracted him to the flat. ‘I love the windows. It used to be a church and there are also skylights in the main room, so there’s lots of light that comes in. And I like the area. Since I moved to London I’ve always lived in the west,’ he says. ‘But it feels like we’re at the point now where we want to find a place that can become a project.’

His dream home would be something ‘open plan with a lot of natural light’ in Notting Hill. ‘There’s an amazing energy there. It’s got that villagey vibe, but has amazing bars and restaurants. I’m just excited to try to get on the ladder. It feels like a buyer’s market at the moment. There’s potential to find a real gem if you put enough time into it.’

Oliver is founder and designer of urban clothing brand Serge DeNimes,

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How to choose the perfect rug –

Ask yourself how the room is used, advises Lillian Barker. If it gets a lot of foot traffic then your rug will need to ...


Ask yourself how the room is used, advises Lillian Barker. If it gets a lot of foot traffic then your rug will need to be hard wearing.

When it comes to finishing off a room, a rug is a key ingredient. 

Annie Loveridge, director of The Ivy House, puts it simply: “Rooms look better with a rug.” 

With the ability to transform a space, introduce a sense of luxury, personality, softness or edge, rugs are an element you want to get right. 

If there is a cold, hard floor, a rug can help soften the room.


If there is a cold, hard floor, a rug can help soften the room.


The first thing to think about is what you want the rug to do for your space, suggests Loveridge. 

“Do you want it to provide a soft flooring area or is it more cosmetic? Do you want it to unify a space or define an area?” she asks. A rug can pull together a mixed selection of furniture or it can be a bold statement in a neutral furnishing scheme. 


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* What’s your flooring preference? Wool or nylon carpet, solid timber or laminate?
* Choosing the right carpet
* Design Space: Alex Fulton’s ‘thing with floors’ 


The rug you choose to go under your dining table should be larger than the table so there is enough space for the chairs ...


The rug you choose to go under your dining table should be larger than the table so there is enough space for the chairs to stay on it when pulled back.

“Get out the measuring tape,” is Loveridge’s first suggestion. “Measure your space. Getting the size right is key.” 

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A rug that is too small draws the eye in, makes the space feel smaller and furniture feel disconnected. Too big and the space will feel cluttered and stuffy. 

A simple way to get an idea of size is to take four A4 pieces of paper and place one in each corner of where you want the rug to go. Your eyes will travel to those four corners and will help to give you a good sense of the size. 

In a bedroom, place a large rug underneath the bed with a generous amount visible at the foot and sides. Keep bedside ...


In a bedroom, place a large rug underneath the bed with a generous amount visible at the foot and sides. Keep bedside tables off the rug to highlight the floor and enhance the feeling of space, says Annie Loveridge.

“A common solution is to have a rug that sits within the furniture,” says Loveridge. Ideally all furniture is touching the rug, for example the legs of a couch should be on the rug. “But don’t place furniture on the shorter ends of the rug as it will draw the space back in,” she warns.


Choosing the right shaped rug all comes down to the purpose of the rug and the room it’s in. 

Take a dining room –  a rule of thumb in design is that repetition creates harmony, says Lillian Baker of Furtex. If you have a rectangular dining table, it’s normally a good idea to choose a rectangular rug. 

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“Make sure there is room extending beyond all sides of the table. When the chairs are pushed back they should still stay on the rug,” she says. 

The minimum that allows for this is 75cm on each side, says Loveridge, so the ideal rug size is generally at least 1.5m larger than the table in each direction. 

In a bedroom, any shape goes. “A large rectangular rug can frame a bed really well, but a circular rug will add a little bit of fun and something like a cow hide will add some interest.” 

Don't be afraid to go with rich colours, especially if the rest of the room is neutral.


Don’t be afraid to go with rich colours, especially if the rest of the room is neutral.


In a living room, it’s important to consider the sofa and wall colour and the atmosphere you want to create. 

If it’s calm and relaxing you’re after, Baker suggests going for a wool or jute rug in a natural colour palette. 

Layering rugs is hard to achieve but looks amazing when done right, says Annie Loveridge. The best way to achieve this ...


Layering rugs is hard to achieve but looks amazing when done right, says Annie Loveridge. The best way to achieve this is to go with contrast, in either shape, texture, colour and size.

Creating a playful, energising space? “[Look for] primary colours, bold patterns or … luxuriously dark and moody jewel tones,” she says. 


Baker says layering rugs adds texture and personality. “You can never have too much of either in your home.” It’s also a great way to fill a space. 

“Try contrasting textures and styles – a jewel-toned antique patchwork floor rug over a larger textured jute rug for example.” 

 – Homed

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Beware the Bandage Man: Part I – Coast Weekend

Illustration by Dylan Tanner

Illustration by Dylan Tanner

Illustration by Dylan Tanner

Illustration by Dylan Tanner



They were tourists.

That’s what he told the kids as they whipped through the dusk out of Portland into the foothills, the A.M. radio still dry-heaving the latest on Watergate and Vietnam through larger and larger chunks of static. He just needed a few days to figure out his next move — their next move — and what better place was there to think than the beach?

“Don’t we have school tomorrow?” Audrey asked from the backseat in the kind of incredulous tone only natural to a 16-year-old girl.

Well, Bonneville Dam it. He would have to call their schools in the morning. Did the cabin even have a phone? He really hadn’t thought this out. Ben Driscoll cinched a brand-new Parliament between his lips then punched the dash lighter a little too hard as he tried to smile into the rearview.

Audrey caught him in the mirror, one brow raised and waiting. She had inherited her mother’s stink-eye; a practical heirloom from his deceased wife.

Sam didn’t even look up from the book in his lap. With a flashlight cradled in his neck to illuminate the pages, Ben’s 12-year-old son looked older than his station. Bearded with shadow, the light playing off the wire-rimmed glasses that sat atop the eye-patch over his right eye, he looked like some kind of intellectual dwarf pirate minus the hat. Ben wondered, with his son’s sorry lot of late, if Sam raised his head for much of anything anymore.

“What’s the matter, Odd?” Ben said to his daughter. “Don’t like it when your father goes groovy? Makes an impromptu plan?”

“Ew,” his daughter said, visibly shuddering even in the dark of the station wagon. “You are so far from groovy you don’t even know how to use that word. Nobody goes groovy. Groovy is just … groovy.”

Ben sighed and checked the gas gauge. The needle was still hovering around half a tank, thank God. With the gas stations in Portland recently shuttered behind their OUT OF GAS signs thanks to OPEC, he had had to abridge his getaway plan. His buddy Rex had rented a little place outside of Cannon Beach over the last summer and had passed along the info. After laying low for a few days, they would be reborn. Now he just had to figure out how to tell the kids their old lives were dead.

As they passed the summit, it began to rain in sheets. Ben had the sensation that they were driving underwater. Next time you commit grand larceny, genius, Ben said to himself, maybe don’t do it in October?

Approaching U.S. 101, somehow the rain intensified. Ben could barely make out Sultan, their terrier mutt, whimpering in the rear of the vehicle, but Audrey was on it, turning around to comfort the dog.

“Did you know that there’s supposed to be treasure buried on Neahkahnie Mountain?” Sam said. “It’s supposed to be haunted. Cursed. People who go looking don’t come back. Can we go?”

“Yawn,” Audrey said.

Ben thought about his own ill-begotten treasure. He had stuffed $15,000 into the spare-tire well of their Plymouth Satellite. Buried beneath suitcases, picture frames, bikes, and one muddy terrier lay their future, but oh how cursed did it already feel.

Cancer doesn’t just dig one grave. It has enough gravity to sink whole clans. He had lost their house just to pay for losing his wife. Stuck in a two-bedroom with two kids, and then every morning on site there’s awful Marilyn Horn with her checkbook, erecting her family’s dream house one signature at a time.

It takes quite a while to drive from North Portland to the West Hills. Lesser men get to thinking.

By Monday Marilyn Horn would start asking about her lumber and she would find her foreman gone.

“Let’s see what the weather has in store, buddy,” Ben said, “but a hike sounds like fun. This week is all about fun. In fact, I say we play a game. Have you guys ever wanted to be someone else?”

“Only like every day of my life,” Audrey deadpanned.

The rain went full riot, and for a moment there was no way to distinguish elk from tree, and Ben just had to swallow faith that 101 was still heading south in front of them. The full moon was no help.

“Let’s pretend to be a different family,” he said.

Sam turned off his flashlight and Ben tried to blink away every psychedelic color that throbbed at his peripheral. The station wagon’s roof kept getting pummeled, and the emptiness of the passenger seat next to him had never felt so vast.

“But I like being Sam Driscoll,” Sam said.

“You sure about that, buddy?” Ben asked.

An orange light flashed above the car, revealing the dark, flailing arms of the trees at the side of the road, but Ben could not tell what direction the light had come from as the rain and sky had bled into a single thing. Seemed too low to be a plane but Ben couldn’t be sure, and they hadn’t passed another car for miles, meaning they were the only ones stupid enough to be out here.

Audrey was the first to see the stranger standing on the shoulder of the road.

“Bad night to be hitchhiking,” Ben said matter-of-factly.

“Aren’t you going to stop?” Audrey asked. “It’s pouring.”

“We’re only going a few more miles,” Ben said. “Wouldn’t do them a lot of good.”

“But I thought you were going groovy, Dad. Joining the revolution?”

“Oh, for crissakes,” Ben muttered as he pumped the breaks and guided the Satellite toward the shoulder.

“Dad,” Sam said.

“What’s that smell?” Audrey asked. “Is there a beached whale around here? I think I’m going to barf.”

Sultan began to growl.

As Ben focused, he noticed that the figure in the rain hadn’t made a move toward the car. He wasn’t even looking in their direction but at the tree line instead.

Sultan barked.

“Dad,” Sam said.

His arms were at his side. Had he even stuck his thumb out?

“Dad!” Sam said more emphatically.

He had no bag. No jacket. Just a soaked Pendleton plaid buttoned to his Adam’s apple, and something else . . . draping off his arms. Ben immediately thought of limp tentacles, as if this stranger were wearing a dead octopus like a shawl. He had no face. Was he wearing a mask? Ben thought he could see wet tufts of dark hair, an earlobe peeking through the covering. No, not a mask, but a wrapping, heavy with rain and soil and eclipsing his entire head. He was just eyes and a mouth embraced by gauze.

“Dad!” Sam said. “Is that a mummy!?”

Then, quick as a jolt of lightning, this thing was at the front passenger door, smacking the window and shivering the handle as it moaned in some sort of guttural cow dialect. Audrey screamed and Sultan barked incessantly. Had Ben remembered to lock the door? As perverse silver linings go, he realized that he had stopped unlocking that door after Jessica died. Ben peeled out onto the highway, but the thing persisted, running the length of the station wagon, and smearing the rear passenger-door window with a viscous liquid emitted from its bandaged palm that resembled chocolate pudding.

It would be another two miles before Audrey stopped screaming, Sultan stopped barking, and Sam would unfold himself from the fetal position to watch the rain wash the smear of goo off his window.

Ben welcomed back the persistent sound of the rain on the roof. On the radio, Nixon still refused to hand over his Oval Office tapes to Archibald Cox.

“Dad?” Sam asked. Ben looked at his son in the mirror. He had taken off his glasses, but his right eye remained behind the patch. “Was that a monster?” he asked.

Ben couldn’t say. He didn’t know exactly what a monster looked like.

* * *

Rex had said the Surf’s End House was cozy, which, in real estate, means small. This place wasn’t cozy, it was rustic, which, in real estate, means dilapidated. Located at the dead end of a short access road, Ben had noticed only one other property on the street as they drove up.

Rain had been punching this place into the sand for years. Buckling slightly through the middle, wild vegetation bookended either side with what appeared to be the pressure of a vice. The worn, cracked shingles of the siding dripped with black lichen, as if the house had been crying though mascara. The station wagon’s headlights exposed a patchwork of fuzzy green moss up on the roof. Ben could see a single fern growing up there too next to the chimney. Besides the fern, the house also came with a stone-faced old man sitting on the covered porch, a shotgun resting on his lap.

“7649 Carronade Lane,” Ben said as he double-checked the slip of paper he had written Rex’s directions on. “I guess this is it?”

“Can we just go home?” Audrey pleaded.

“But we’ve come all this way,” Ben said, to which Sam added, “And what if he’s still out there?,” which is what they’d all really been thinking.

Ben tossed up the hood of his yellow rain jacket and got out of the station wagon. The man on the porch stood with some difficulty. Ben noticed that he walked with a severe limp running through his right leg and that he used the shotgun barrel-down against the porch as a makeshift cane.

“Evening,” Ben said.

“You must be the happy vacationers,” the man said. “Welcome to the beach.”

“Pete Archer,” Ben said, slipping on his alias for the first time out loud.

“Earl Sloane,” the man said. “I guess you could say that I’m the caretaker around here.”

“Earl,” Ben said. “I’m a little confused here. This is 7649 Carronade? I thought this was the Surf’s End House?”

“Nah,” Earl said. “Surf’s End is down at the other end of the block.” Earl lifted the shotgun to point into the darkness over Ben’s shoulder and Ben instinctively flinched. “Easy there.” Earl chuckled. “You passed it on your way up. They must’ve just given you my address because I have the key.”

Rex hadn’t said anything about a caretaker, just that the key would be under the mat, but Ben could only shrug it off at this time of night. And really, the place down the block had looked a lot better cared for than this dump. Apparently, Earl didn’t like to bring his work home with him.

Earl disappeared into the house and emerged some time later, key in hand. “Holler if you need anything. Hopefully you’ll get a good night’s sleep. If I do say, you look a little shaky, Pete. Long drive from … ?”

“Spokane,” Ben lied. “Yeah, long drive, bad weather, and we saw something … strange.” Ben couldn’t help but overshare. He’d been holding it together to keep the kids from falling apart, but what he had seen had spooked him to his core.

“Just north of town,” Ben continued. “We saw this hitchhiker. Well, I guess I can’t say for sure he was a hitchhiker, but it was pouring rain so we slowed down. And his face—”

“Wrapped up in bandages?” Earl interrupted.

Ben nodded. “How’d you know?”

Earl furrowed his brow and sighed as he looked down at the porch. “That would be my son, Billy,” he said. “He must’ve sensed you’d be coming my way. He’s always looking for a ride home.”

“What happened to him?”

Earl shrugged and tapped his right leg with the shotgun. “Tree got him,” he said. “You log enough woods, tree’s gonna get you. I took mine in the leg. Poor Billy took his in the brain.”

“Jesus,” Ben said. “Shouldn’t he be in a hospital?”

Earl raised his eyebrow and gave Ben a puzzled look. “I don’t think you get me, Pete. Billy’s been dead for a number of years now. It just doesn’t stop him from trying to make it home every now and then.”

“Wait,” Ben said. “Are you telling me he’s a ghost?”

Earl sighed again and rested heavier on the shotgun. “I’m trying to tell you that he’s dead. I don’t go putting names to things I don’t understand.”

“Right,” Ben said. He was filled with a sudden motivation to exit this porch, but Earl still had the key. “So? We’re done here?”

“Let’s see,” Earl said, shifting his weight. “Check out time is noon next Friday. Just put your dirty linens and towels in the washer. No need to start it. The phone only makes local calls. And you were told about the murders?”


“Well, technically the state police call them disappearances, but come on. Dogs disappear around here all the time. Cats too. Three separate families don’t just disappear from the same house over twenty years without some murder going on. Leaving all their belongings behind? Their cars? People just don’t do that.”

“I thought you didn’t put names on things you don’t understand?”

“Exactly,” Earl said. “Look, I don’t mean to make you uneasy, but I see you’ve got your kids with you there. It’s not too late for you to go back into town and get yourself a motel room.”

Ben relaxed as he realized Earl’s angle. For some reason, Earl Sloane didn’t want them here. All this talk of ghosts and murder — well, that was just a local razzing an out-of-towner. Next the old kook would probably tell him Haystack Rock was built by aliens. Even the guy out on the highway could be in on it. He wasn’t sure how, but that seemed more plausible than being attacked by this guy’s dead son.

“We’ll take our chances,” Ben said.

Earl dangled the key out in front of him. “Be my guest, Pete. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. Oh, and stay out of the basement. That’s the owner’s private area.”

Back in the car, Audrey turned to him. “Well?”

“Let’s not bother Mr. Earl Sloane for the rest of the week.”

* * *

Like he suspected, the Surf’s End House hardly looked like the site of multiple, ghastly murders: white picket fence, sturdy gray shingles on a good one-story skeleton, two bulbous hydrangeas out front — not exactly the kind of set-up to inspire fear and dread. The yard was littered with flotsam — buoys, glass floats, driftwood — as if some tender tsunami had washed it all across the tiny parcel and left it just so.

Inside, the large single room was dressed in knotty pine, with a wood stove in one corner. It was separated from an open kitchen by a matching pine bar. Down a short hallway doorways for three bedrooms and a bath popped open as the kids explored. There was the expected coastal ephemera hanging on the walls: a few prints of seascapes, pithy beach messages done up in needlepoint. Quite a few throw rugs and an assortment of plush furniture softened the spank of the hardwood floors. Built-in cabinets. Even a color TV. In fact, it was all quite tastefully done, except—

“What’s that smell?” Audrey asked.

Ben had noticed it too when they walked in. It was faint, but ever-present, sharp and saline like a fouled brine. Just as Ben would begin to forget about it, the smell would return, retrieved like an unwanted memory, prickling his nostrils into hard O’s.

“Different places have different smells, Odd,” he said. “You probably won’t even notice it when you wake up in the morning. And if it is a dead squirrel, I’m sure Sultan will let us know.”

Of course, after he got the kids in bed, he immediately shimmied the knob of the basement door, but it was deadbolted. So he poured himself another bourbon, pining to see how the honeyed firelight from the wood stove would dance off Jessica’s auburn hair. A couple more bourbons and a half-filled ashtray nearly erased the cottage’s wandering stench and the bad taste that Earl Slone had left in Ben’s mouth. A ghost? Really? He replayed the meaty smack of the creature’s palm against the car’s window until the network broadcast bid adieu for the night with the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Smack! That’s about as corporeal as they come.

As the broadcast settled into static, he listened to the rain spray the house. He didn’t trust Earl Sloane enough to leave $15,000 in a parked car. But where else could he stash it away from both Earl and the kids? He fingered the seams of the knotty pine, but nothing gave. The kitchen cabinets were too likely to be explored. There was a foot of air under the platform bed in his room which left little to the imagination. So he began to rummage through the built-ins, discovering a Bible on a bed of seashells, a local area guide, a drawer full of machine parts, some extra beach towels, a crab pot, a collection of 8-tracks that ranged from country to doo wop, a guest log, a misplaced set of tongs, and, in the bottom drawer, a heap of skulls reeking of dust and death.

Vertebrates. Animals. Critters. Trophies? The waft from the drawer was arid, deep, and unlike the stench that had been following him around the house. He counted seventeen, all various shapes and sizes. Maybe a deer, maybe a raccoon or two, nothing human, but maybe some of these registered too familiar.

Sultan had tuckered himself out sniffing the baseboards and lay dead asleep atop the throw pillow Ben had set on the floor. He pulled one skull from the drawer and set it near Sultan’s sleeping head as his hand shook at the eerie similarity.

* * *

He will forget how squishy they are when they open. He will never remember how good its steam felt on his chin as the cold rain soaked his covered head. He will not remember shivering. He will never take solace in the luck of this lost cub stirring at the shore of this lapping river; how it went limp in his grip. He will never relish the hot fat smeared into the gauze around his mouth. There is only eat, cold, and home in the moonlight.

He does remember the tree avalanching toward him. And them. The orange light that sifted him into a silver bed. The cuffs. How they petted him until he healed. He couldn’t recall how many times he had walked into the orange light. Outside of it, it was only eat, cold, and the moon. He will find a ride home.

He will not remember seeing the orange light appear again, hovering like a 3,000-pound firebug above the tree line. Afraid, he will flee the riverbank, forfeiting the young sea lion to the sand, its taste still wrapped around his lips. Why will they keep coming for him? Why will they not let him die?

* * *

With the weather cleared, they spent the day swamping across a soggy side of Neahkahnie Mountain, encountering poison oak on a few occasions, but no treasure. No gas either. They drove into Cannon Beach proper on fumes for dinner.

“Why are there so many missing dogs?” Audrey asked, pointing at one of the telephone poles slathered with a phone number and a photo of an absent Scottie. “Is it like a dog plague?”

Ben held his tongue as well as the leash, the end of which Sultan was really testing. “It’s not a dog plague, Odd.”

They found a place to nosh fish and chips while staring at Haystack Rock.

“So,” Audrey began, “if the President is a criminal, why should any other American not just do whatever they need to get ahead? I mean, it’s like the law almost.”

Ben gulped his beer wrong, coughed, and wondered if Audrey was implying something about their situation. She was not a stupid girl, and he felt she could see his muddy fingerprints all over her life.

“Mortality,” Sam answered.

“I think you mean morality, buddy,” Ben interjected.

Audrey scoffed at her brother’s mistake and let her eye wander across the puddled patio to find a table of teenagers her own age — three boys and a girl. One of the boys, his hair the color of wet sand, was staring right at her as his friends talked. She blushed and looked away, but when she returned, his eyes were still trained on her. A third and fourth glance away didn’t stop him. Who does that? It was so forward. So confident. Could she do that too?

“Well, it’s been a pleasure making mud with you gentlemen today,” she said, “but I think I need to speak with my own species.”

Ben followed her line of vision across the patio, the first time the boy had shied away, and Ben groaned deeply enough to wake up Sultan at his feet.

“I don’t know, Odd.”

“This is exactly what Suzy Archer, of Spokane, would do,” she said.

The Pete in him understood.

“Then be my guest,” he said, “but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

As she sashayed across the patio, shedding dirt from her boots, her body bolted electric on what Suzy Archer was all about. It was liberating, like crawling into a new skin. The group stopped talking as she approached their table. She looked right at the sandy-haired blond boy, ran her fingers through his hair, and said, “Help me! My name is Suzy Archer. I am from Spokane, Washington. I think my dad is losing his mind.”

“Take a seat, Suzy A.!,” the girl said. “Yeah,” one of the guys said, “Suzy A.!” When she sat down, she felt the last of Audrey Driscoll expel through her nose. She wasn’t sure who was left, but she wanted to find out.

Ben watched his daughter meet-cute, before shaking his head and turning to his son.

“I’m sorry we didn’t find any treasure,” Ben said.

“I don’t care about the treasure,” Sam said. “Hey, if I have to be Aaron Archer, shouldn’t Sultan get a new name too?”

“Like what?”

“What about King?”

Ben laughed into the end of his beer.

“Are you okay, Dad?”

“Oh yeah, fine,” Ben said. “That sounds great. So you really didn’t care about the treasure?”

Sam shook his head.

“Then what were you up to? Why are we all boot-deep in mud?”

Sam kept his eye pointed at the table. “I was looking for a ghost,” he said. “I need to know that they are real.”

Ben lumped, and sucked in a great deal of air through his nose.

“Is this about mom?”

Sam nodded. “I miss her.”

“Me too, buddy.” Ben swallowed the last splash of his beer and patted Sam’s shoulder. “Me too.”

Sam started crying out of his one good eye, which made Ben just fall apart. A boy should be able to cry out of two eyes. He already regretted saying what he was about to say, but he couldn’t stop himself. “You know our neighbor, Earl?”

Sam wiped a big streak of snot onto his sleeve, and said, “Not really.”

“Well, Earl thinks that thing we saw out on the highway is a ghost.”

“Yeah?” Sam perked up.

Ben nodded, but Sam’s face went dark. “What is it?”

“Do you think all ghosts are like that one?” he asked.

“Probably not,” Ben said.

Ben paid the check and then called across the patio, “Suzy, let’s jet!”

“I’ve got it, Dad,” she said. “Jessie will give me a ride later.”

“And this Jessie knows how to get you home?”

“It’s not our home,” she said. “But yeah.”

Ben groaned again, but held his tongue. Pete Archer was the kind of man who didn’t want to raise a fuss.

As they walked back to the car, Ben noticed some crime scene tape roping off a slab of the beach as a yellow excavator lifted the corpse of a German Sheppard out of the falling sand. It was stiff, with all four legs extended like some furry end table set upside down.

“Well,” Sam said. “I guess we know what happened to those missing dogs.”

Not all of them, Ben thought.

To be continued in Part II …




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What Mongolian Nomads Teach Us About the Digital Future – WIRED

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What Mongolian Nomads Teach Us About the Digital Future
The cropped grass wraps the contours like a green rug. … Eagles are used to hunt fur and meat in these parts; this one was resting, hooded. My driver motioned … All of these things, including firewood and cow dung for fuel, are provided by the

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WATCH: Ikea marks 30 years of flat-pack pain – Independent Online

The IKEA House Party is an immersive week-long series of daytime experiences and evening house parties. Picture:

London — To mark 30 years in Britain, Ikea has transformed a London house to recreate living rooms through the decades. Sarah Rainey takes a look at the good, the bad – and the downright bizarre.

The 1980s

From the Jane Fonda workout video and David Bowie vinyls on the bookcase to My Weekly magazine on the table, this room is unmistakably Eighties: bold prints, clashing colours and statement furniture everywhere.

Consumerism was on the rise in this era and house-proud Britons wanted to put what they owned on display.

Red was the most popular colour for the iconic Klippan sofa; walls were often painted blue and many items, from rugs to tables, were look-at-me round rather than rectangular. Note the zig-zag shelves; completely impractical, but certainly a talking point.

“People were very proud of their homes in the Eighties,” explains Clotilde Passalacqua, Ikea UK’s interior design leader. “Previously, interior design had been expensive and out of reach. Suddenly, it was affordable. They could buy the things they saw in glossy magazines – striped curtains, bright cushions and trendy table lamps.

“This was a decade of rebelliousness, of expressing your personality and not caring what other people thought. The same looks you saw in fashion, you saw in people’s homes.” Bestsellers included glass tables, laminated cabinets, vinyl record racks and leather recliner chairs in bright colours.

In this era, she explains, Ikea was mostly targeted at families who wanted pieces to be durable, rather than just cheap – so price tags were higher than today.

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The 1990s

By the Nineties, Ikea started to understand the British way of living. Laurent Tiersen, Ikea’s UK brand manager, explains they do more than 200 house visits a year to understand how people use the rooms in their homes.

Entertaining was a big trend in this era; sideboards, soft-lighting lamps and stackable tables (handy for canapés or drinks) were bestsellers – as was glassware including champagne flutes. One of the iconic pieces of the decade was the PS 1995 clock, which came with an in-built liquor cabinet – another must for sociable homeowners.

Colours were neutral: magnolia walls, beige soft furnishings and wood floors. Matching furniture was important, with coordinating cushions, curtains and accessories such as these beanbags.”Living rooms were clean and stripped back,” says Clotilde. “People had busy lives – there were more women than ever in the workplace – and home was a peaceful haven.”

Ikea also launched its children’s range, called Mammut, in 1994. The Lack coffee table continued to be popular as a family staple.This decade also marked the growth of technology in the home: TVs had their own stands and sturdy desks were needed for computers. Vinyl shelves were replaced by CD holder.

“This was the early era of furniture doubling up as technology solutions,” says Clotilde. “People wanted the latest mod-cons, but they didn’t want them cluttering up their homes.”

The 2000s

From the high-gloss surfaces to the cow hide rug and a faux fireplace, the turn of the century was all about experimenting.This kind of gaudy feature wall – as seen on TV home makeover shows such as Changing Rooms and DIY SOS – appeared across the country as families rejected the bland serenity of Nineties interiors.

“DIY was on the rise and people wanted to express their personalities in their living rooms,” Clotilde says. “They liked trying out bold wallpaper and dark, daring colours such as black and purple. Everything was minimalist and contemporary: sleek surfaces, monochrome furnishings, industrial textures like plastic and chrome.”

The future

With its clinical lighting, bleached furniture and hushed atmosphere, it may look a little like a dentist’s surgery – but the home of the future has plenty of surprises in store.On one wall are Floalt light panels, motion-activated by sensors in the ceiling, which have modes including soft sunset, white and dark. 

At present the panels are operated by a dimmer switch, but it is hoped in future we will control them with our phones.”The home of the future is all about control: homeowners want to be in charge with technology at their beck and call,” says Clotilde. 

They’re also conscious of the environment, saving energy and sustainability.’There will be wireless charging furniture – tables and chairs that charge our devices – and ‘smart’ mirrors, which can also tell you the time, weather and what’s on your to-do list. 

The room features 3D-printed chairs, made by a hi-tech printer. There is a screen called a ‘shadow tracker’, which uses movement and temperature to create constantly-changing digital ‘art’.

The most eye-catching feature is the greenery-covered walls. These are hydroponics, specially-cultivated plants that can be grown indoors if you don’t have a garden. Clotilde says: “Outdoor space will be even harder to come by in the future. Not only do indoor plants clean the air but they have a very soothing effect.”

Homes are set to get smaller, so designers are focusing on storage, including using previously-empty space above eye level, as well as space-saving models such as fold-up beds, collapsible chairs and multi-purpose stackable stools. Some innovations, it must be admitted, are more exciting than others.

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Over the hills and far away: A bikepacking adventure in Kyrgyzstan – Dirt Rag (blog)

By Peth Puliti 

It’s too early to be awake, but I’m too cold to sleep. I attempt the fetal position in the tight quarters of my sleeping bag, but wince in pain when my weight shifts to my hip bone. Last night was the second spent camped out in the shell of an outbuilding on the grounds of an abandoned Soviet-era factory. As the hours have turned into days waiting for cold, wet weather to pass, the rock-hard foundation has taken its toll on my tired bones. Not even my swanky NeoAir can cloak two nights on concrete.

I’m here with my husband, Justin — here being Kyrgyzstan, a tiny landlocked country in Central Asia whose name, if I’m being honest, I didn’t know how to pronounce correctly when I first arrived. Kur-guh-STAHN, if you’re curious, is how the locals say it. We arrived in the capital of Bishkek a week ago with enough supplies to keep us alive on a several-month high-altitude bike tour. The rub was that everything also had to fit onto our bikes. So we’re not carrying a lot of stuff. But not because we couldn’t fit it all. Surprisingly, not much is needed to be completely self-sufficient on a bicycle. For example, inside our bikepacking bags are our sleeping kits, a small pile of warm clothes, some toiletries, medicine to treat bacterial and stomach issues, spare bike parts, a few electronics that allow us to work part-time from the road, and not much else.

Though we’ve been touring internationally by bicycle for the past eight months, this marks the first time we’ve turned off the pavé. Consequently, we’re on a different form of transportation than in those early months of travel. Our mountain bikes have made the trip from home for this leg of our adventure: a baby-blue 1×10 converted Haro Mary SS and my not-quite-10- year-old Giant Anthem Advanced. We saw no reason to buy something new if what we have can do the job. Perhaps they’re not the best suited, but they’re beloved members of our “family.”


During our first week in Kyrgyzstan, unseasonably cold weather coupled with an unpredicted snowstorm kept us sleeping on the floor of a Warmshowers house in Bishkek longer than anticipated. Nuzzling cats made their way into our sleeping bags each night, so it was all good. But as soon as the sun broke free from the clouds, it was time to make a break for it ourselves. No sooner did we start pedaling out of the city than it started to cloud over again. But it didn’t matter, because what we discovered trumped any unpleasant weather headed our way.

Greeting us a short distance outside of the contemporary capital was a tangle of red dirt roads that cut through lush, emerald valleys, paralleled thundering rivers of glacial melt and climbed up to snow-capped peaks. More than once, we came up quickly on wild horses and parted the sea of chestnut animals with our own two wheels. Children ran beside and high-fived us as if we were celebrities. Shepherds waved us toward their flocks to shake hands and share a shot of homemade vodka or a glass of kumis, Kyrgyzstan’s nationally adored drink of fermented mare’s milk. We wild camped anywhere, because everywhere was the most beautiful piece of earth we’d ever laid eyes on.

After a week of pedaling straight from the pages of a bikepacking storybook, we find ourselves now hibernating from the frigid rain inside the not quite four walls of an inoperative industrial plant. But not for long. A gaping hole in the wall where a door should be reveals that the rain has let up overnight, leaving a thick curtain of vapor in its place. Great news, because we’re running low on pretty much everything and need to move on from this cinderblock sanctuary.

Yesterday, when I looked out of the same opening, I saw an older gentleman approaching and was sure we were seconds from being asked to leave our temporary shelter. Imagine our surprise when, through a game of Charades, we discovered that he was a fellow squatter. We had a confusing conversation in Kyrgyz, Russian (an official language of the former Soviet republic) and mime about our velosiped, how many kilometers we’d ridden and what countries we’d traveled to thus far. When we gestured that we were low on liquid, our neighbor left us on foot only to return several hours later struggling to carry several gallons of water to top off our every bottle and bladder.

Now, as we move to pack our bags and head back into the hills, his familiar face resurfaces outside our rustic quarters, this time with a stray dog in tow. I gesture for the two of them to come “inside” so that I can repay his kindness with the food we have left. When I ask if it’s OK to give his four-legged friend some of our biscuits, the man politely refuses, gesturing that when he makes his own meal, he puts aside some for the dog. For the second time, I’m overwhelmed by his generosity.

I thank him for refilling our water by handing over a bag filled with two hard-boiled eggs, a small orange and a handful of candies. “Spasibo,” I tell him repeatedly as he departs, grateful to have learned this invaluable word early on.


A fierce headwind greets us as soon as we point our bikes toward the Tian Shan mountains, which are estimated to cover more than 80 percent of Kyrgyzstan. Two days of rain on top of the thawing that accompanies spring weather has made the dirt paths we’re traveling nearly impassable. Gobs of thick, peanut butter mud slow us down until we’re pedaling in place. We’re unable to even push our loaded rigs without seeking out a small patch of grass, spot of dry earth or piece of litter to gain traction. The cold was bad, the wind awful, but it’s the immobilizing sludge that brings me to ultimate frustration.

Our bike shoes aren’t cutting it in these temperatures and conditions and so we decide to purchase a pair of Russian galoshes with insulated liners from the local bazaar for a few hundred Kyrgyzstani som. They are immediately put to use pedaling and pushing up snow-covered mountain passes, coasting down icy-cold descents and slogging across water-logged meadows. My attitude improves immensely with the addition to my wardrobe. It’s incredible the power that warmth holds.

We’re halfway up a dirt mountain path that will lead us closer to the Pamir Highway (our ultimate destination) when a man wearing a fur ushanka whistles and beckons us closer. We look at each other and momentarily consider ignoring the gesture, as it’s a bit too cold to stop for long and he’s on the other side of an overflowing stream. Another whistle and it’s decided. We set down our bikes, pull on our galoshes and trudge through the arctic water.

“Sneg,” he says, which means “snow” in Russian.

“Snow is OK. We are riding bikes with big tires,” Justin says, pointing to the snow on the sides of the road and to our bikes. The man shakes his head and holds his arm waist-high to demonstrate just how much sneg we’re talking about farther up.

We point to the road and try to ask through gestures if we’d be able to make it over the pass. Our inquiry is met with a firm “Net.”

“What do you want to do?” Justin asks me, as if there is any other choice but to turn around. Before I can get a word out, the man interjects and asks if we’d like chay. Warm tea is the only thing that sounds appealing at the moment and so we accept.

Following chickens up a set of homemade steps, we enter a small retired railway-car-turned-home. Inside, we’re given tiny stools to sit on while the homeowner fetches dried dung to start a fire. In a few minutes’ time, water boils on top of the wood stove, we’re poured small bowls of tea, and food — pulled from I don’t know where — is spread out on a miniature short-legged table. Bottomless warm tea thaws my extremities and we fill our stomachs with biscuits, bread, butter, hard- cooked eggs and sweets. In place of conversation, songs — one of which is in English, which delights our companion — play through a dusty black box in the background.

When Justin and I make our way to leave, our host scoops up all of the extra candy that’s left on the table and piles it into our hands. There’s no pantry stocked with bulk foods or freezer filled with meals prepped for the week. We are likely given the only remaining food this man has to eat. But he won’t take net for an answer. My body is heavy with emotion as we walk out of the railcar and into the cold. I want to tell him that this experience is one of the most generous things anyone has ever done for me, but spasibo is literally all I can say. So, I do. Over and over.


We point our bikes in the opposite direction when we leave, as we’ll need to figure out a different route toward the second-highest international highway in the world now. Over the next week, countless miles of corrugated dirt roads rattle our bodies sore. Frozen, high-altitude mountain passes slow our pedaling to a stupid pace and leave us gasping for oxygen. A seemingly permanent headwind greets us each morning. On the days gravity is our friend, we cruise down to grassy valleys and grazing animals, soaking in every minute of the warmer temperatures, knowing full well that it’s only a short period of time until our tires point upward again.

This exceptionally rugged topography physically isolates the ex-Soviet state; as a result, its ancient culture has been protected. Where we saw city-dwelling Kyrgyz dressed in modern clothing, living in apartments and driving cars or using public shuttle buses, villagers wear clothes made from thick wool (at times sporting national dress), live in mud-brick homes or yurts higher up the mountains and frequently use horses for transportation. We also can’t pass a single adult without being invited back to his home for chay. It’s incredible.

In the lowlands, we fill our water in streams and well pumps alongside Kyrgyz who find our presence at their local water source bemusing. When we roll up to a village, in need of water, we never know where we’ll be sourcing it. In rural Kyrgyzstan, the same number of people obtain water from ditches, rivers, canals and springs as they do street standpipes. When we arrive in a village today to refill, people point us to the center of town, where a small stream runs down from the nearby mountain. We sterilize our water with a SteriPEN, which draws a crowd of mostly children who smile and point to the glowing UV light. As we are about to pedal away, a little girl with shoulder-length earrings and spiky pigtails gifts me a tiny bottle of green sparkle nail polish. I thank her with a bouquet of wildflowers, the first of the season, gifted to me earlier in the day by a young shepherd.

We continue pedaling over the most incredible, and incredibly exhausting, landscape I’ve experienced in my lifetime, stopping more than we ever have to eat, drink or simply collapse on top of the earth. When the ability to go farther is unbearable, we retire for the night sometimes right where we are. Kyrgyzstan is a wild-camping dream like that. Occasionally we’re too tired or hungry to cook, so we eat fish from a can and circles of tandoor-baked nan as big as our heads. The times we fi nd the energy to light the stove and the patience to wait for a meal, we boil lentils, pasta or potatoes. Tiny markets, hardly recognizable and sometimes inside homes, seem to offer only two staples: vodka and cookies. We’re lucky we have what we do. Accompanying many of our meals is Calvados, an amber-colored Kyrgyz spirit that claims it’s made from apples, but tastes like burning alcohol. When you make camp at four in the afternoon, it helps you fall asleep a few hours later.

Tonight, as we’re camping in a dried-up riverbed, I hear something outside. Hooves. They slow when our tent comes into sight and then ultimately stop just beside us. We’re not carrying protection of any kind because we’ve never felt threatened anywhere we’ve traveled. Including right now. I assume it’s the landowner outside about to ask us to leave the property (though that’s never happened to us before).

When we venture out to investigate, I see a young man on horseback. He’s intrigued by our bikes and tent, but unconcerned with our presence. Through gestures, we learn that he is 18 years old and on his way home by horseback — 10 kilometers following the riverbed. We attempt to share with him the names of a few other countries we’ve biked in and that we are in love with the beauty and beautiful people of Kyrgyzstan. When we offer him some Calvados and chocolate, he accepts only the sweet, thanking us. I ask if he wouldn’t mind taking a photo with us and he smiles when I show him the LCD screen. When he leaves, only the light of the stars and his tiny Nokia flip phone guides his way.


We pedal for days on dirt roads whose very tallest points are just now feeling spring temperatures. Thick, thawing mud greets us at the tops of passes, and we are forced to push our way up and over while the couple vehicles that attempt the same path spin and retreat. As we make our way south and pass through a stretch of desert-like vegetation, red clay and rock pinnacles, I’m hit with a pang of nostalgia for the American Southwest.

At long last, when we reach the remote town of Kazarman, only one 14,000-foot mountain pass separates our hard-earned travels from semi-smooth sailing to the start of the Pamir Highway. We inquire at the local police station and are told the road won’t open to cars for six more weeks, which means it’s likely impassable by any means of transportation. It’s a devastating blow, and our visa date has been set to enter Tajikistan in one week. We do the only thing that makes sense: a day-long taxi ride to Bishkek (our only option) and then another one to Osh, where we’ll rejoin our planned route and resume pedaling.

It’s not the easiest thing in the world to score a fair taxi ride in Kyrgyzstan. The country is corrupt, our skin is white and bargaining is expected. At the bazaar in Bishkek, we pedal through the shipping- container-turned-storefronts to a parking lot full of aged cars and vans. We’re followed from car to car by men who bark cities, various outrageous prices and the word “taxi” over and over in our faces. Finally, we find a car that will drive to Osh. It’s smaller than we’d like, but the driver promises us we will be the only passengers, a rare occurrence in these parts. Our bags will fit inside, but our bikes will have to be tied to the roof. It’s not ideal. So, we keep searching.

In the next parking lot, old Sprinter vans are lined up waiting for cargo. We find one that’s headed our way and has room for passengers. The driver proudly slides open the door, revealing makeshift bunk beds behind the front row. He gestures that three people have already claimed the top bunk. The condition of the roads will make it impossible to sleep, and so I request to sit next to him in the front instead. He agrees. Fourteen hours later with one stop a few hours in for gas, and one stop at midnight for food, we find ourselves in Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city and at the start of the Pamir Highway.


Much like the rest of our experience, southern Kyrgyzstan proves beautiful and difficult. We turn the pedals for roughly 125 miles before finding ourselves on a snow- and wind-filled steep descent into Sary-Tash, a resupply point and a crossroads between China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. When we arrive into the center of the small community, a woman working at a gas station waves us over and offers her house for us to stay in. We follow her down an alley off of the main road to a small home with a long hallway. For 500 som (about $8), we’re offered a room, where brightly colored rugs hang on the walls, three home-cooked meals a day, bottomless chay, a bed of tushuks at night and buckets of water to bathe in the banya. We take it.

Not even an hour into our stay, our door is slowly opened and a small smile peeks inside. We motion for the young boy to enter and he wobbles in followed by two older sisters. Our accommodation may lack heat and running water, but it makes up for it with the warm company of our host’s lovable children. The afternoon is filled with hair braiding, traditional dancing and dodgeball in the hallway. We go to bed at night stomachs bursting, faces wind-burned, lips chapped, fingers still numb and so incredibly thankful to have met this family.

The next morning, a cow blocks my path to the outhouse. As I wait shivering in the falling snow, I ponder whether we should move on. We’ll reach the border of Tajikistan in one day. It’s May 1, the day our visa starts, but riding our bikes in these conditions is less than appealing. We decide to stay put.

That day, we show photos and videos of Kyrgyzstan to the children, who eventually spot folders of photos from America. They’re captivated by our friends’ kids and love learning their names. While I teach 7-year- old Arunga how to use a mouse, 2-year-old Ak-bee sits content in Justin’s lap, helping to consume the spread of food, especially the chocolate, that is set out on a small, shin-high table before us. In addition to entertaining us, they are responsible for serving us meals, showing us how to retrieve water from the river for the house and making our bed at night. Arunga also desperately attempts to teach us the Cyrillic alphabet using her storybooks.

In total, five children are being raised in this home, and, as far as we can see, a single ball is their only toy. On our last night, we gift them three balloons that we find in their local market. You would have thought we bought them the world. Without warning, the reserved, wise-beyond-their-years kids transform before our eyes into genuine children who climb the walls, laugh out loud and jump into our arms.

While the impressive landscape in Kyrgyzstan has earned it the nickname “The Switzerland of Central Asia,” it’s the country’s citizens who are truly unforgettable. The Kyrgyz people don’t have a lot, but they give you everything they have. We left the country many months ago, but I doubt it will ever leave us.

Our Gear-Carrying Setup

· Ortlieb Ultimate 6M Pro E handlebar bags
· Revelate Designs Ranger frame bag, two Sweetroll handlebar bags and two Viscacha seat bags (for clothes, tent, sleeping kit, spare parts, etc.)
· Revelate Designs Mountain feedbags (for water bottles) and Gas Tank top-tube bags (for snacks)
· Old Man Mountain rack
· Ortlieb Sport-Packer panniers (for electronics, cook set, etc.)
· Osprey Escapist Mira pack
· Wingnut pack
*Our carrying system these days has since ditched the rack and panniers.

Our Gear

· MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent
· Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping pads
· Nearly 10-year-old 30-degree Sierra Designs down bag (Beth) and Mountain Hardwear Phantom 45 sleeping bag (Justin)
· Cocoon silk mummy liners
· MSR WhisperLite Universal stove and cook set
· SteriPEN Ultra
· Montbell down pants
· Ibex and Icebreaker base layers
· Pearl Izumi and Sugoi bike shorts
· Patagonia long underwear
· Showers Pass and Mammut rain jackets
· Outdoor Research and Kilimanjaro down jackets
· First-aid kit
· Spare bike parts and gear-repair kit
· One compact laptop and one tablet for work purposes
· One smartphone, which we used to navigate using the MAPS.ME app
· Rubber gloves, handmade wool socks and Russian galoshes from the local bazaar
*Our sleeping kit has since shed some weight and now consists of a Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum tent and an Enlightened Equipment Accomplice two-person quilt.

If you go:

What: Don’t expect to find nice hotels anywhere outside of the big cities. Guesthouses are fairly common, but more often than not, there will be no accommodations at all. If you dream of wild camping, you can do so for weeks on end. If you dream of running water and showers, this may not be the place for you.

When: High-altitude landscape and climate make timing crucial. Summertime is the best time to visit Kyrgyzstan. Mountain passes will be impassable in winter, and may also be obstructed in the spring and fall due to snow. That doesn’t mean summer is without its challenges. Wind/sandstorms, land/mudslides and unpredictable weather are all par for the course any time of the year.

Why: Visa on arrival. Mountains. Yurts. Wild horses. Hospitality.

How: Option #1: Fly into Manas International Airport in the capital city of Bishkek with your bike checked in a bike box. Either cab it from there to a hotel or build your bike up at the airport, like we did. Note that building a bike up outside of the airport will also build up a large crowd of inquiring men who desperately want to know how much your bicycle costs. Your options are to say how much it really costs, lie to them or tell them it’s not for sale.
Option #2: Fly into Manas International Airport and rent or buy a bike when you get there. Gergert Sport on Gorky Street is one of the better bike shops in the city.

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