Monday, 8 May 2017

Day 28: 2017 OUT.


Hey, it’s me again. Day 28, last day of the ride. Well, some of us had stayed up late socialising the night before, cause, you know, the sooner you go to sleep, the sooner it’s over. I woke up at seven, still tired, then took forever digging through my pack for a pair of socks. Anyway, we were supposed to be leaving about eight, but stretches were late, we stopped to take photos before setting off, I think it was about eight thirty by the time we got going.


The ride itself was mostly uneventful, not much in the way of scenery, though the road got progressively busier as we entered Ho Chi Minh, with a few hair raising intersections. We stayed as a group at first, but with traffic it got harder to stick together. We stopped for a break about 20k in, then I ended up with Travis, Oli (who zoomed off), and Eli up front and we just kept going till we hit the Boathouse. When we were nearly there a car tried to turn a corner by cutting across Travis, so they stopped in the middle of the road. Of course I’d tried to go the other way around the car, and ran into it. No harm done to me or my bike, but that did bring my total number of tumbles for the ride to four. Pretty sure that’s a record.



Getting to the Boathouse was an amazing feeling. We’d made it, and now we could relax for a while with fresh juice and a burger. And make bets on who’d be in next. (It was Jimmy.) Rhiannon had a flat tyre 3k out and had to get in the van, Andrew also had been ill and had to drive into Saigon, but in good time the whole team was there. Some of us went to drop our gear at various people’s houses, and we said a heartfelt goodbye to our drivers and support crew who’d assisted us and kept us going, literally, for 2000km.


Finally it was time to set off for the post office. Travis had sorted free drinks for us at Bia Craft on the way so that was our next stop. We had ten minutes to down them before hitting the road again.


The last few kilometers of the ride felt surreal, and it wasn’t long before we stopped just around the corner from the post office to regroup, our whole team, together for the last milestone. And to kill some time as we were the first team to arrive early, cause, you know, we’re awesome. By now I think all of us were getting a bit emotional, there were a few teary eyes for sure. Zak gave a short speech, telling us all how proud he was to have been our leader. Not sure we could’ve asked for a better one.

And then it was time. We set off together, and a minute later as the cathedral came into view there was cheering from the crowd of people who’d come to welcome us in. Two slow laps around the cathedral, and that was it. Our ride was done.



We parked up, there were hugs all around, previous H2Hers welcoming us, photos being taken, speeches given by charity representatives, the British consul, a bunch of media outlets filming it all and interviewing people.



Bohemian Rhapsody. It was kinda our song on the ride, so we all got in a circle round somebody’s phone and sang our hearts out. Afterward we moved on to Pasteur St for more free beer, people went for food, and we all had to get prepped for the party at seven thirty. It was great. We’d put together a playlist for it the night before, a weird, eclectic mix of songs, some of which had to be vetoed for the greater good. Music, pools, good drinks, some of the best people in the world, the last night of H2H 2017 was one to remember.


So that’s it then. We’re done. H2H 2017 is over. Twenty-eight days, was it long or short? To be honest, it was both. Feels like we’ve been cycling forever, like we’ve been setting out before the sun gets too strong, waving to smiling people, celebrating another day on a bike over, singing H2H karaoke, and collapsing into bed to do it all again for ages. But far out it flew by.

Highlights of the trip personally? In no particular order, the visit to the Live and Give Orphanage and meeting those legend nuns and the amazing kids they support. The four or five days straight after Hue with those brutal climbs and amazing views. Swimming, in lakes, rivers, pools, the sea, roadside puddles. Jimmy entertaining us with his magic, his ukulele, his songs and stories, his drawings. Making everyone groan with god awful puns, then sitting back and watching the punniness spread. Fresh mangoes. Dancing on hotel beds. Late night drinking with the session moths. Getting across the finish line as a team. Bohemian Rhapsody. Just hanging out with these people. It’s been great times.

Finally, to my fellow cyclists, you’re awesome, every one of you. Thanks. And to future riders, you people are amazing just for doing this. It won’t be easy, but take it as it comes, have fun, and look after each other. Ride on.

2017 out.

--Keith 'Oh So Punny' Maxwell


Day 27: Final Descent


Our penultimate day started with hearty bowls of bo kho and the usual ten coffees for Storm. We'd heard a rumour from Becs about egg tarts, so after breakfast Rhiannon and I went on a mission to find them. After traipsing up and down the road for a while and giving up hope of ever finding them, I heard a cry of delight from Rhiannon. She'd spotted the egg tart lady, hooray! We ran across the road and promptly bought enough for the whole team and the dhl drivers. Egg tarts for everyone! Unfortunately (or fortunately) most people were too full from breakfast to even consider an egg tart, and so of course I ended up snacking on them throughout the day (I ate five, and I'm not sorry).



After taking a team photo outside a temple we set off for the second last time. Around 12km into the ride we came to the 'scary downhill' that Zak had warned us about the previous evening. It was about 10km of steep winding road, complete with those suicidal bus drivers we all know and hate, whose favourite pastime seems to be running unsuspecting H2H riders off the road. We've noticed that the closer we get to Saigon, the less people seem to value their lives, with reckless overtaking and moronic motorbikes pulling out in front of you becoming more and more frequent. As I rode along today I spotted lots of spray-painted outlines of bikes on the road, and remembered someone saying it was to mark the location of traffic accidents. I rode on and tried not to think about it.



Once the steep decline was over the rest of the ride was fairly straightforward, with only a couple of grade 5s and one grade 4 climb. Amy and I cruised along for a bit, stopped to refuel with revive and egg tarts, then cruised some more. The sun was blessing us with its presence and bore down on us as we rode. But we're hardcore cyclists now, and a bit of hot weather wasn't going to beat us today. The scenery that flashed past us wasn't particularly inspiring, although one town had lots of enormous house-sized rocks randomly scattered around, with no explanation about how and why they were there. By this point I was starting to feel the effects of a third 100km+ day in a row, but as we approached the last climb of the day something in my head must have sent a signal to my legs to power up it as fast as possible. This is the last real hill of H2H, go for it! I arrived at the hotel completely exhausted, but satisfied.



We're at our final hotel of the ride and I don't think I'm alone in feeling sad that everything is coming to an end. Whenever this has been mentioned over the last few days it's been met with cries of 'no, don't talk about it!' 'I don't want to think about that now!' Most of us are also feeling exhausted after three days of long rides, in which we have encountered lots of challenging weather and road conditions. But hopefully everyone is also feeling incredibly pleased with themselves. After all, we've nearly cycled the length of a whole country, and don't our legs know it! Over the last four weeks we've all been tested physically and mentally, but we've also had the time of our lives, and as I rode today I had a think about all the things I'm going to miss about H2H. The list was long, and here is what I can remember:



Morning stretches, riding out of the towns in a big group, lying on the floor in any location being completely acceptable, second (and sometimes third) breakfasts being normal, ice cold nuoc mia, roadside hammock breaks, Jimmy's mind blowing magic tricks, Bianca's fab ukulele playing, Storm cursing the whole way up the mountain, Zak's morning texts, hotel party rooms, swimming in roadside bodies of water, amazing scenery that makes you go 'WOW' every five minutes, never ending downhills, shouting hello at school kids, discovering new Vietnamese food, chatting with the lovely locals, cold drinks after a long day, team meetings, spotting the DHL van, playing with the world's cutest puppies, belting out Bohemian Rhapsody, Mr Cuong's fun sense of humour, visiting the charities and getting to meet a bunch of wonderful kids, riding with the butterflies, the sense of achievement at the end of a big climb and feeling the massive high while riding down the other side... And alright, I guess I'll even miss Keith's constant stream of puns. Or maybe not.

Cycling the length of Vietnam was always going to be an adventure, but the thing that made it so amazing for me was the wonderful group of people I got to experience it with. Every single team member has supported each other throughout the entire ride, and even when we were struggling, we were struggling through it as a team. It's been an absolute pleasure to be a part of H2H 2017, and is without doubt the best thing I have ever done.

--Grace Boosey

Day 26: Doggos!

Our hotel in Lam Ha was situated right beside a pretty little lake with a floating lotus flower thing in the middle. We were up early, despite the tiring day before. While having our morning coffee by the lake a little frog joined us at our table. After getting tired of our chat he made a run/hop for the road. In trying to herd him back towards the lake he made a crazily high leap for my face. However, due to my fast frog-dodging reflexes he landed on a taxi. We don't know what happened to our little buddy. We hope for the best.



Most of the team rode out of town at 7.30. Some other riders had set out at about 6 to avoid being too long in the sun. Nearly straight away I realised there was something wrong with my bike. I couldn't go into my higher gears to make use of the nice flat stretches of road that we had. I had a tumble from my bike at speed trying to take a turn on a downhill stretch in the heavy monsoon rain the day before. My chain had came off (and my shoe) but at the time I was more interested in getting out of the way of oncoming trucks and assessing how much of me I had broken (none, thank god). After about 10k of frustratingly trying to keep up with the pack while my legs spinned around in low gears, I stopped and waited for the support van. The hero that is our mechanic Hoa sorted the problem in a jiffy and I was off again.



It was a strange day in that we didn't take any of our breaks together. We are used to the first riders spotting a particularly welcoming looking nuac mia stall, pulling in and then proceeding to make high pitched screeches to notify any passing riders of our whereabouts. At about 40k we saw most of the group. After that we seemed to disperse. Keith and I didn't see anyone for a long long time. Zak and Rhiannon were ahead of us. But then they passed us by. We stopped for pineapple and pepsi about 20k away. Loan and Harriet caught up with us. "But you were ahead." "We stopped." "We didn't see you".



The ride itself was nice and easy. A few climbs but lots of downhill and flat sections too. For about 20k in the middle I was feeling pretty rough. I had a cough from being caught in the rain the night before which made it hard to catch my breath. I also was a bit stiff and sore from my fall and couldn’t turn my head to the left to check for oncoming buses and trucks when I was overtaking. But after our last stop for pepsi I was in a much better mood and enjoyed the ride into town.



We stayed between two hotels, each as unpleasant as the other. The windows in my room didn't close and while the decor was bland, the mould and damp on the wall added a textured earthiness to the room. One of the hotels did have a sweet wee terrace out the back that overlooked the lake. And of course the little crippled chihuahua, who is an H2H legend. This tiny, strange doggy with stiff limbs and long, long, long fingernails was doted on by everyone. We wanted to take her with us to Saigon.



We didn't venture too far from our hotels due to the rain. A few doors down we found some AMAZING Bo Kho on which we gorged for lunch, second lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning. The puntastic Kiwi Keith brought some pizzas to the hotel. And though we protested that we were much too full of Bo Kho, they were demolished.



"The ending" has been hanging over us like a bad smell the last few days. We are not allowed to talk about work. We are not allowed to talk about the cycle ending. And yet in 2 short days it will all be over. I'm going to miss an awful lot. The euphoria of turning a bend and seeing that finally, finally, unlike the last 52 times you’ve turned a corner on this climb, the road dips down. The exhausted contentment as you coast downhill, revelling in each non-pedalling second of it, knowing that you have earned it. The relief at seeing the DHL van parked at the dingiest of hotels after 115km in the heat. The relief when you stand up on your pedals and give your bum a moment to feel alive again. Our morning stretches. The pleasure/pain of peeling your shorts from the most intimate parts they have crawled up into at the end of a long sweaty day. Waking early in the morning, and knowing the only thing you have to worry about for the whole day is getting from here to there. Getting to spend all day, every day exploring this beautiful country.



Each and every person on this ride, who have gone from complete strangers to a bum-cream sharing family. I'm even going to miss Keith's puns. Well, on second thoughts. . .

--Amy McInerney


Saturday, 29 April 2017

Day 25: Flight of the Wet, Frozen Birds

Today we set off for Lam Ha – the bravest of the group started at 6 o’clock ready to attack the 115 kilometers and five graded climbs that were waiting for them. The rest of the team managed to drag themselves out of bed for a 7 o’clock start, bleary eyed, but happy to get back to the mountains which they’d left behind a few days ago. The journey started gently with a scale three climb and two scale five climbs – broken up by hammock / revive drink breaks and with views still as impressive as previously. Finally we arrived at the foot of the first scale two climb – it was long and hot; in short: business as usual for the mountain days. This time however the condition of the roads made the journey more dangerous and tiring than usual.




It’s worth mentioning that on the first climb we came across an elderly lady generously offering her ‘support’ to men who stopped to catch their breath (Editor's note: previous years' blogs warned us about her!). For those who missed out on this offer, it was time to attack the second scale two climb. Yet again the road was in a terrible state with lots of trucks which made progress quite slow. Then the rain arrived. It was refreshing at first until it became one of those storms that you can only experience in Vietnam. While initially fun it quickly became difficult to keep moving with our eyes closed whilst frozen to the bone. Much of the team found shelter where they could. Some however decided to brave the deluge which made the last 20 kilometers of descent to the town quite dangerous. Despite Amy taking a slight tumble, everyone arrived safe and sound in the middle of the afternoon. They were happy to have conquered one of the hardest days but slightly bitter to see the first road signs for Saigon (which is approaching too fast for everyone’s liking). The day ended on a high note with refreshments at the lakeside in Lam Ha. It was Keith’s turn for culture night and he introduced us to a kiwi comic-relief video by musicians: Flight of the Conchords.

--Mai-Loan Tu

Day 24: Amazing Scenery but a Mangy Shelter

Today was very relaxing, a mere 50 kilometers or so. After a leisurely wake up and lovely breakfast we stretched and hit the road. Our first stop was right around the corner; a bike-themed coffee shop owned by friends of our bike mechanic.


The coffee was awesome, and I picked up some audacious shades! 


After our caffeine fix we carried on. We were still well in the central highlands and I enjoyed the scenery. It reminded me of the Hollywood Hills crossed with the New Mexican desert. Sparse vegetation dotted the hills, with an occasional fir tree sending its lovely scent wafting over the road.


I pedaled slowly, intent on enjoying the ride; I also didn’t want to push too hard knowing the following day was going to be a tough one! I’ve been enjoying reading the blog posts from riders of years past, and they made me quite wary of the following day.

With our slow pace we found time to hang out along the way, of course. Here’s a few pictures from the ride and a rest stop.



As I teetered along, listening to my tunes, I found myself in the midst of a valley.


It was wholly unique compared to all the valleys that had come before, and I really enjoyed the big open fields with cows lazily chewing cud, nosing around for the few bits of grass that hadn’t already been decimated by their family members.


All good things must end, and I found myself arriving into town around noon, despite my leisurely pace. There were two hotels today, and I was the first to sign up for ‘the second one’ as it came to be known. The second one had…character. I made a good show of bellyaching about the weird smells and dirty rooms, but at the end of the day the internet was fast and the fan wasn’t too noisy.

I spent the afternoon watching TV on my laptop, still saving energy in preparation for the next day’s ride. For lunch there was a lovely vegetarian rice place, and for dinner Rhiannon and I found a packed bánh xèo place. We learned later that rather gruff proprietors had turned away some of our fellow teammates earlier! I felt honored to have been permitted to sample the goods, and they were quite delicious—the owners made fun of us for how many we ate! Fat westerners, we!

Afterwards we had a team meeting around the corner from the hotels. The sense of merriment and jollity is at an all time high to me. There’s lots of joking around and needling amongst each other. It was surprising we ever even decided upon a time to wake up the next day.


With the ‘paperwork’ finished, we headed our separate ways. I headed to bed where I read until it was time to turn off the lights.

A wonderful day on the ride, and the time flies by faster and faster!

--Eli Gaultney

Day 23: Rest and Culture

For some, our final rest day in BMT started in the early hours with getting lost on the way home from Team Karaoke. This, after Harriet had delighted all with a virtuoso performance with the microphone. Harriet is the sort of person who makes going to karaoke worthwhile – she sings with the passion and commitment of someone who’s in the shower and thinks no one’s listening.

I was saved/prevented from spending all day in bed eating coconut cream tarts by Storm who suggested we visit a nearby waterfall. (Apparently the coffee plantations were too far away to visit.) Dray Sap was 30 kilometres from the city centre but as it was meant to be a day’s respite from pedalling we opted to take a bus there. Perhaps it was general fatigue setting in, but we’d forgotten our vow never to get on one of these, having shared the road with them for three weeks. We were soon reminded of it though because, just after we boarded, it started bouncing all over the road and threatening the lives of innocent motorists. Except this time, we were the dirty collaborators on the inside, not the terrified road users clinging to the hard shoulder.

Dray Sap is the lesser of two neighbouring sets of waterfalls. The other is Dray Nur, but apparently the bridge connecting the two areas has fallen into disrepair. To access Dray Nur we’d have had to take some circuitous route that heat and laziness prevented us from doing. Nevermind, there was plenty to see at Dray Sap.


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“Help me, you guys – this sucks!”
Out in the open, in a shady wood, we came upon an old elephant looking sad and solemn. She was grabbing tufts of long, dry grass with her trunk and chomping on them with all the energy of a recently tasered G20 protester; her rear leg was in irons. Adjacent to the waterfall visiting area was the sort of zoo that promises visitors the opportunity to stare at chained up bears. We did not visit the zoo.

We walked first to the top of Dray Sap to watch water flow gently towards the falls then gather and form a torrent that gushes over the rock face. Somehow, two men had climbed up to a spot of rock between the two falls and seemed to be fishing. Then we walked down, through a jungle-shaded path, to the blue-green lake at the bottom of Dray Sap for a refreshing swim, during which Keith made some more terrible puns and we tried not beat him with water bottles.

The only follow-up worthy of such an adventure was, of course, another lunch at Buon Ma Thuot KFC.

Tun, Becca and I did try to do something cultural afterwards and visit the Dak Lak Museum of Ethnology, but we were thwarted by a random power-cut to the building. On the grounds surrounding the Museum though, some scouts were having a jamboree.

Back at Rest Day HQ, the rest of the gang were having a wholesome afternoon watching the “Blues Brothers”, while Jimmy was feeling a bit smug because he’d gone to the Museum of Ethnology in the morning before it had run out of its daily ration of electricity.


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Scouts learning semaphore

-- Mai Le Dinh

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Day 22: Day of the Living Butterflies

Our route today was from Ea Drang to our next rest stop at Buon Me Thuot. It was a mere 76km which seemed like nothing compared to our previous rides.


As tradition for the upcoming rest day, some of us sported our Hawaiian shirts and Zak, his sexy time medallion.


The first few kilometres took us downhill through a lovely pine tree lined road, reminiscent for me of Sandringham woods back home in the UK. We zoomed downhill for a while, but of course zooming downhill often has the downside of having to drag yourself up again. I met Zak after about 20 k who casually said ´I think this is the last of the hills´. I should have learned my lesson. When someone says there are fewer hill climbs coming up, NEVER BELIEVE THEM! I think if I could choose a bike for the h2h again, I would buy one that drags me up the hill, not one that I have to drag up!


The scenery was becoming less spectacular, but a haze of yellow butterflies decorating our path made it more exciting. They seemed intent on getting killed, darting into the road and at our faces as we cycled past.


It was an ecstatic moment when I reached the top of one hill and found everyone at a coconut hammock stop. Thankfully Hoa (our mechanic) and Mr Cuong (our driver) had decided it was necessary too, as Hoa had had his work cut out fixing three flat tyres. There´s nothing more heavenly than a cool jug of coconut juice, complete with the flesh, lying in a hammock watching butterflies.

The smell of pine trees changed to peppercorns being dried out by the side of the road. The butterflies led me and Storm to a temple with a beautiful garden, which we would have spent more time in had we not been dressed in lycra, (plus I looked like a twit in my Hawaiian shirt.)


The best part of the day for everyone was when we made a stop at KFC for lunch. You´d think a bunch of savages had been there from the mess that was left. Our hotel was cute but confusing. It was built on a hill so that the reception was on the top floor and the rooms were below…yet we still had a great view of the forest surrounding it. And if the KFC wasn´t good enough, we were treated to our first thunderstorm in three weeks. Most refreshing.

Grace and Storm bravely hosted a party in their room. A flashing bike light was doubled up as a disco light, pizzas ordered, karaoke booked for 9pm and we were set. Harriet, Loan and Grace did their own dance routine to the Jackson 5´s ABC which I have on record.

We stumbled to ´Friends karaoke´ and needless to say some of our team sang their hearts out until the daylight hours, with renditions of hits such as ´Hit me baby one more time´, ´Imagine´ and ´Nothing Compares to you´(by Amy and her backing singers).

--Rebecca 'Becs' Richardson