Sunday, 12 May 2019

Day 28: Ho Chi Minh City

Two sonnets for H2H

One night when I had had too much to drink /
My friend convinced me to take on a quest / 
Adventure strange and honorable I think / 
I’d never done anything like this test.

We cycled from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh / 
O’er mountains vast, ‘cross valleys long we rode / 
Through butterfly and lightning storms therein / 
For our just cause, along that bumpy road.

We sought to fundraise for some charities /
Who work to help the kids of Vietnam / 
To educate and free them from slavery /
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And now the road has born me home once more / 
I only wish I could have helped out more.

Fifteen of us had set out from Hanoi / 
Some young, some not, some strangers, and some friends / 
On bikes bought, borrowed, and offertory / 
For Saigon along that road’s bumps and bends. 

We sought to raise some money for children /
And made some progress towards that account / 
But we know that with just our sweaty skin / 
We never would have raised such an amount.

So thanks to all our sponsors and our friends / 
The ones who drove, shared links, and donated / 
To all those who helped us achieve our ends / 
We thank you and you ought to be feted.

And now as H2H rolls to its end / 

We hope next year we’ll see you here again! 

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Day 27: Bao Loc to Gia Kiem (110km)

Our penultimate riding day! I felt strong but fatigued, and very much settled into the routine of cycle, eat, sleep, repeat. There was a sense of the ride coming to an end, and of anticipation to reach our final goal of HCMC safely the following day. 

The hotel in Bao Loc was one of the better ones of the ride, opposite the poorly named ‘Trump’s Coffee.’ I was sharing nice little room with my mum and Thao. We had air con and even a kettle - my mum was thrilled to be able to make her own brew in the morning (Yorkshire tea, obvs!) We’d been out nhau-ing with the DHL drivers the night before so it was a groggy morning. When I woke up, Thao excitedly announced that the hotel included breakfast - YES, winning 💪🏽. The news was spread on our group chat and everyone was suitably delighted.

We’d had a few consecutive 100km+ days so we were all wincing a bit when climbing the stairs to brekky on the 1st floor, but it was worth it. I had some bo kho & sticky rice; a break from our usual banh mi tradition. All the DHL drivers were present and chirpy despite being out nhau-ing it up last night and jokily claiming ‘no DHL tomorrow!’

Bao Loc Breakfast!

I collected my laundry to realize I’d accidentally had my headphones washed and dried, oooops. Miraculously they still worked fine- it was a H2H miracle!

On the route to Hue we’d bumped into Ruth and Ben, a very friendly and free spirited couple from the UK on their own epic cycling trip from Hanoi to Bangkok and beyond. We'd recently crossed paths with them again, this time because of a bike issue they had which our mechanic was able to help them with. We affectionately refer to Ruth and Ben as ‘The Hippies.’ I.e. Did anyone pass The Hippies today? Are The Hippies staying in our hotel? Etc. They had breakfast with us and joined in on our morning stretchy stretchy and pep talk.

Ruth and Ben aka The Hippies

As I mentioned earlier, we were all feeling a bit worse for wear muscle-wize, so the massage train I’d introduced into our morning stretching routine was very well received, and our achey groans echoed around the hotel car park. 

Massage train

The first part of the ride today involved a dramatic 20km white knuckle descent down a steep mountain road, leaving the alpine Dalat vibes and heading towards the busier and more familiar little towns closer to HCMC. You’d think such a long descent would have been sooo much fun to swoosh down after all our recent uphill climbing, and it would have been if there were no trucks and buses, or fear of falling off the side of a mountain. However, there were trucks and buses honking their horns and making risky decisions to overtake each other, and there was a possibility of imminent death off the side of the mountain. Zak had been having issues with his front tyre and rim, so sensibly decided to ride this short stretch in the van. Even Thao, our ‘Downhill Duchess,’ descended with much more trepidation than usual, breaks clamped on. It was tough on my hands to keep using the breaks with such force for 20km, and after a while they’d cramp up and give me a serious case of ‘claw hand,’ so I had to keep stopping to jump in the gutter and wiggle them around. Eventually, we all arrived safely at the bottom, windswept and a bit shakey.

Nice to see a warning for a 10% decline instead of a 10% incline!

Hellooo from the hill

After the descent I acquired my 4th (and final, phew!) puncture of the ride. Luckily Thu wasn’t far away and he was able to change it for me and also gave me a new tyre so my front and back ones now matched. All good and back on the road. 

A little later, Kacey had an unfortunate collision with a family on a motorbike. We found her sitting on the side of the road with a big family gathered around her. Luckily no-one was badly hurt, and both bike and motorbike were fine. Kacey had some bruises and was a bit shaken up. We got her a coke and gave her hugs and she rode the rest of the day in the van. We’ve been so lucky this ride to not have had any serious injuries, accidents or hospitalizations. This was a reminder of how easy it is to accidentally collide with someone in traffic. Glad you were ok, Kacey!

The face says it all! :(
With over half the mileage done for the day, it was an acceptable time to each lunch. Andy had scouted out a nice Pho Bo place. They also had 7UP in glass bottles, which was a retro novelty. 


The afternoon was absolutely swelteringly hot. You can see from the pictures how exhausted everyone was at this rest stop - collapsed in hammocks and downing various liquids. I passed around some of the dried mango we acquired in Buon Me Thuot, drank some cold orange juice and I took the opportunity to charge my phone by plugging it into a tree. 

Again, the faces say it all!

Collapse o'clock

Sleepy Tan

Hammock life
Hydrate hydrate hydrate!

Looking much more zen than the previous photo after cooling down with ice cubes down her top!
Phone plugged into tree

We eventually peeled our sweaty selves out of the hammocks and willed ourselves to plough on through the heat. Many of us stopped at some floating villages and had a little photoshoot. 

There was some really crazy traffic on the approach to Gia Kiem. James and I almost got wiped out several times in a row by buses with no regard for cyclists’ lives, kamikaze motorbikes and teens on scooters not looking where they were going. We did lots of shouting ‘HEYYYY!!!!’ to compensate for having no horn. 

We were very happy to see the familiar sight of the DHL van, and Zak returning from his usual beer and ice mission. Niiiiice. 🍻 


We made it! Cheers!

Our hotel rooms were very bright and floral, and some had no bed frames, just a mattresses on the floor. Nobody minded much though, we were used to this by now, and it was our last night before being reunited with our comfy beds in HCMC.

Sleeping situ in Gia Kiem

In the evening me, mum, Zak, Dennis, James and Patrick went on a mission to find a pizza place, before reconvening with the whole team for our final evening meeting, (sob!) Justine brought along the stack of Polaroids she’d taken during the ride. We all had fun looking at these, reminiscing and thinking about all we’d experienced together over the last 28 days.

After chilling and chatting with Thao, Andrea and The Hippies for a bit, I took my tired legs to bed to get ready for the final ride into Saigon the following day. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Day 26, Lam Ha to Bao Loc, 103km

Day 26, We’re leaving Lam Ha and not too soon for me. Our hotel room was an afterthought, built behind a garage with no natural light, no AC and the password for the non-functioning WIFI scrawled upon the wall.  I slept some but not much. The ride to Bao Loc is 65 miles but with only half the climb we did yesterday. I thought it would be an easy day, and by itself, it may have been but I think I’m feeling the impact of the cumulative miles and poor sleep.

The day started as many do with a Banh Mi and a little coffee from a tea cup. I made the tough choice to skip our morning stretch time so I could finish my breakfast.

Zach and I had a late start, as we left Lam Ha I noticed the streets were littered with fake money and what appeared to be lottery tickets. This continued for a few miles until we soon came upon the source of all this litter and found ourselves in the middle of a chaotic funeral procession with ornate vehicles, a band, and many motor scooters. We had all we could do to navigate our bikes through this so I was unable to get any photos. That was the highlight of the ride as the rest of the day was rolling hills and urban landscape much like this.

While we didn’t have the amazing mountain / valley views, it’s interesting to take in and absorb suburbia in Vietnam.  I came upon a stretch, probably just a few miles long, where all of the road side stands seem to be featuring the same things, see pic below.  I learned later from a Facebook post response that these are used to make salty lemon drinks which are reportedly very refreshing.  So I’m guessing these are pickled lemons, never tried one - maybe next time.

Ho Chi Minh, just keeps getting closer!  I should be excited but instead it’s a reminder that this great journey is coming to an end.  I’m not ready for this to end just yet, I love biking and to be able to do it every day in this exotic land with this wonderful team is such a great adventure.  This is Jane and I, the oldest riders on the team this year.

A big part of each day's ride are the rest stops, whether it's beneath the shade of a tree or one of the hundreds of road-side "cafe's" littered with hammocks.  Not only were these invaluable to replenish our fuel tanks, but they were great opportunities to compare ride notes and share jokes.

There were three 50+ riders on the team this year.  This is Andy, we had a gentleman's agreement not to grunt or groan or produce any other "old man" noises.  Several times I caught myself grunting and quickly looked around to see if Andy may have heard it.

After a long urban ride with just a few glimpses of mountains in the distance, we finally arrive in Bao Loc.  We have a comfy hotel and the promise of good food.  I’m a happy camper!

Any H2H post cannot be considered complete without an amazing scooter feat!   I missed far more opportunities like this than I could capture.  My favorite was a scooter with two full size goats, each one in a gunny sack strapped to the side of the scooter making goat noises.  I was too startled to get my camera out in time.

That night, we took the support team out for dinner and had a great time despite language differences.  Sometimes a laugh only requires a few simple hand gestures and facial expressions.

Our ride leaders for 2019, An Drea and Zach.  It's not easy to lead a group of 15 riders over the course of 28 days riding bicycles across the country. Here we stopped here for some Banh Xeo (pancake-like creations you roll between rice paper and greens) before our dinner with the support team.  I found these to be a tasty alternative to the daily rice and eggs.

Only one more day before we roll into Saigon. I have mixed feelings about this coming to an end, part of me is anxious to get back to my "normal" life while the other part of me wants to keep going, maybe cross Cambodia or Thailand next. I don't know how you top such an amazing adventure as this.  It's hard to describe the experience but it has a lot to do with the cause, the team, the Vietnamese people, the beautiful landscape, and of course, riding every day for a month.  For me, that experience was exponentially greater as I was able to share it with my son.

For the benefit of future riders, I must share some of what I found useful to pack for this trip.  First, start with the H2H packlist which I think Chris Rolls published.  Then I would recommend the following additions:

1.) Sleeping bag liner – comes in handy when you want to put a layer between you and the bedding!
2.) Coffee press – when you just need something hot, dark, and bitter instead of cold and sweet.
3.) Travel powerstrip – many of these older hotels have a single outlet to charge phones, ipads, bicycle 
computers, cameras, etc.  Nice to have a bit more capacity.
4.) Clif (energy) bars – great for energy on the ride or when dinner just doesn’t pass the visual test.
5.)  Zip ties and electrical tape – doesn’t take much room and will likely come in handy.
6.) A cork screw.  You never know when you might be lucky enough to  find an acceptable bottle of red wine.
7.) A collared shirt for the party at the Consulate General's house.

Respectfully submitted by Dennis Kester

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Day 25 Lien Son to Lam Ha -- Minimal Words, Maximal Photos

On Day 25 we traversed 112 or so kilometers of rolling hills with a couple of large climbs thrown in for fun.  Or course large climbs come with lovely downhills.  All in all it was a lovely day of riding on low-quality extraordinarily bumpy roads.  Bumpy roads that took out bikes and rattled bones.

Rice fields just out of Lien Son.  Only a hair over 100 km to go!

108 km to go!

Second shade stop on the first significant climb of the day and my first Choco-Pie stop.  Drainage ditches have become my favorite place to take a rest.

Patrick clearing the top of the first climb

Naomi is all smiles at the top of the first climb because the awful rocky road hasn't started yet

Miscellaneous photo stop

I do believe Leanne's derailleur cable was the first victim of the day's road condition

Lovely countryside, perhaps coffee & wine?

Floating village in a river

Loc and Patrick photographing the floating village

The incline of the second hill from my vantage point lying on the road

The portion of the road that put a hole in my back tire

Waiting for our mechanic.  Afterward Sasha ended up with matching red tires.

We get closer to Ho Chi Minh City every day.

Slowly crushing out the kilometers!

The view from the final climb just before an approximately 20 kilometer downhill & flat stretch

Lifting Sasha in triumph

Loc lifting Sasha in triumph since Sasha is relatively lightweight