Terrorized By My Bicycle in Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)


Terrorized By A Bike — 5 years Before I’m 50

“I did this to myself,” I mumbled. I kept thinking, “This is my fault. I am stuck on this bike in this heat in Bagan to celebrate my big birthday. I chose this. I must be crazy.” I wondered, “Why am I torturing myself? Are we having fun yet?” George, my happy husband, seemed so calm and collected on his bike. I wanted to be an intrepid traveler and young at heart but turning 45 made me wonder: “Am I too old for adventure? Do I need to get off the road and settle down? What will the next five years bring?”

Certain birthdays give us the chance to take stock. Have we met our goals? Where are we? As I map out where I want to go on this, my sabbatical year, I wonder in the next five years where will we go?

For the last six years, George and I have talked about traveling in Myanmar together. Now we were here for my 45th birthday and I hated it. I hated the heat. The bike. Even myself for choosing this terrorizing trauma as a gift to myself.

Who would bike in 104 degree heat at midday to see old rocks? What had I done? It seemed smart back in Los Angeles when we met online. I first saw the Schwedagon Pagoda in 2001 during a 50-day cruise from Athens to Bangkok. Seeing the Schwedagon Pagoda at sunset and then at night is one of my most special and enduring memories from seven years of working at sea like Julie McCoy on “The Love Boat.”


A huge THANK YOU to the HUFF POST OVER 50 team for including my article on their site!

I entranced George before our first blind date because I spoke of Schwedagon but had not yet been to Bagan. During our 2008 sabbatical year when we got engaged, we wanted to visit Myanmar but with the political situation, it was challenging to get a visa and we did not go.

When planning this sabbatical year in South East Asia, Myanmar was on the top of both our lists. George longed to share Bagan and its temples with me. When he spoke of bicycle riding, I did not realize we would bike on dirt paths with roads full of potholes and rocks.

After a teenage bicycle accident, I never got back on the bike and for the first time since then I biked at night (on a street where the street lights did not go on), uphill, and in sand. I decided to share my feelings and as I struggled to get my battered bike up hill, I screamed out loud, “I don’t like this.” I felt a bit better, but George felt a bit worse.

In Hsipaw, my first bike had a broken chain before we went two blocks; my second bike had broken front brakes and the back brakes worked a bit. I jumped off on the first downhill and walked on the rest of them. I felt like a bike failure and maybe even a travel failure. The German couple we were with never owned cars only bikes. They glided on and off their bikes so gracefully. I thought, “I am a sucky bike rider. I am too old to ride bikes.”

Then we biked in Bagan with high temperatures, challenging terrain, in the darkness and after that I got a flat tire. I thought if only we had better bikes. Then in Nyuang Shwe, my seat kept slipping down and was at a bad angle, I pitched forward pressing with my palms the entire time trying to stay upright, and then I felt dizzy in the heat.

Finally, there was a day that was cooler, the road had shade, my bike had tread on its tires and a seat properly angled. And I thought, “I almost like this.” Then we saw oxen and their babies, fields of red lotus flowers and a woman leg rowing her boat while holding a baby and transporting two other children. Another backpacker said pointing toward the rower: “And there goes someone who should get gold in the superbly talented Olympics.”

I remembered the day before on our boat trip on Inle Lake we learned that children begin leg rowing at age five so this woman could have been rowing for more than 20 or 30 years. I thought about my first grade students. When I helped them with a science project that required cutting, they would say to me, “Mrs. Rajna you cut so fast.” I always reply, “Years of practice. When you are my age, you will cut fast too!”

I decided, maybe I do not suck at biking. Maybe I don’t hate it. Maybe I need practice. I wonder how well I could bike if I practice for five years. When I am turning 50 maybe I will feel like the fellow traveler, I saw after breakfast. She looked so happy to get on her bike. I felt envious.

For my 45th birthday, I asked for 45 friends to donate $45 to help 45 refugee families from Darfur. Together, we raised enough money to aid over two hundred people in the camp who will benefit from the Solar Cooker Project and their lives will be safer. I wonder what the next five years will bring. I hope for adventure, health and opportunities to learn to be a better biker and not be so hard on myself. I need to recognize the terrain and adjust. I need to get a better bike, sometimes it is the equipment!

As a teacher, I am a perpetual counter. How many minutes are there for this experiment, until we need to clean up, days to vacation, points on this quiz. Using my 45th birthday as an opportunity to reflect, I am glad George and I are vagabonds on a journey. In the last month, I have been on national television for the first time, helped refugees in Africa and made my dreams come true. I love spending my time, with George, living the life we want, choosing to be on the road together and even biking in Bagan.

Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Ellen Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries and six continents. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she worked on cruise ships for seven years and backpacked for three years in Asia. She is the founder of the website WeSaidGoTravel which is read in 235 countries and was named #3 on Rise Global’s top 1,000 Travel Blogs. Niver is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, Inc. With more than 150,000 followers across social media, she has hosted Facebook Live for USA Today 10best, is verified on Twitter and listed on IMDb, and is the Social Media Manager for the Los Angeles Press Club. You can find Lisa Niver talking travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, Satellite Media Tours, The Jet Set TV and Orbitz travel webisodes as well as her YouTube channel, where her WeSaidGoTravel videos have over 1.6 million views. After three months on TikTok, Instagram Reels, Facebook Reels and YouTube Shorts, she had over 500,000 (1/2 million) views. As a journalist, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors and been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. She has been a judge for the Gracie Awards for the Alliance of Women in Media, and has run 15 travel competitions on her website, publishing over 2,500 writers and photographers from 75 countries. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty times.   Niver has published more than 2000 articles, in more than three dozen magazines and journals including National Geographic, Wired, Teen Vogue, HuffPost Personal, POPSUGAR, Ms. Magazine, Luxury Magazine, Smithsonian, Sierra Club, Saturday Evening Post, AARP, AAA Explorer Magazine, American Airways, Delta Sky, enRoute (Air Canada), Hemispheres, Jewish Journal, Myanmar Times, BuzzFeed, Robb Report, Scuba Diver Life, Ski Utah, Trivago, Undomesticated, USA Today, TODAY, Wharton Magazine, and Yahoo. Awards National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards 2021 Winner: Book Critic: Ms. Magazine “Untamed: Brave Means Living From the Inside Out” 2019 Winner: Soft News Feature for Film/TV: KTLA TV “Oscars Countdown to Gold with Lisa Niver” 2019 Finalist for: Soft News, Business/Music/Tech/Art Southern California Journalism Awards 2022 Finalist: Book Criticism 2021 Winner: Technology Reporting 2021 Finalist: Book Criticism 2020 Winner: Print Magazine Feature: Hemispheres Magazine, “Painter by the Numbers, Rembrandt” 2020 Finalist: Online Journalist of the Year, Activism Journalism, Educational Reporting, Broadcast Lifestyle Feature 2019 Finalist: Broadcast Television Lifestyle Segment for “Ogden Ski Getaway” 2018 Finalist: Science/Technology Reporting, Travel Reporting, Personality Profile 2017 Winner: Print Column “A Journey to Freedom over Three Passovers” Social Media Presence YouTube Channel: We Said Go Travel (1.6 million views) Short form video:TikTok, Instagram Reels, Facebook Reels, YouTube Shorts Twitter: lisaniver (90,000 followers) Instagram: lisaniver (24,000 followers) Pinterest: We Said Go Travel (20,000 followers and over 70,000 monthly views) Facebook: lisa.niver (5,000 followers); We Said Go Travel (3,000 followers) LinkedIn: lisaellenniver (9000 contacts)

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