Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Go pho yourself

We reached the small town of Quan Loc this afternoon after a 85 kilometer day. The first three days of cycling have totally shattered my expectations about how amazing, adventurous and fulfilling the trip would be. I've basically had a smile on my face the entire time.
Plans changed before we even left Hanoi on the first day, as it was obvious the 13 of us had no chance of fitting in the van with our packs and bikes as well. My bike was one of the six tossed in the van so off I went. The plan was to send the van and our driver, Bac (who we immediately discovered spoke not even an ounce of English. Or atleast pretends not to is my theory. That way he knows we won't even try.), back for the others. Rather than splitting up our initial sextet decided to wait for the latter septet and depart as a unified group.
Though the initial plan was to depart from our hotel by 7 a.m., it was 11:30 by the time we started. The first half of the ride was no better than our training rides around Ho Chi Minh City. The air was smog filled, the landscape was nothing to look at and worst of all, trucks had no qualms about driving in the opposite direction in our lanes and completely forcing us on the dirt, rocky shoulder.
The traffic lessened and the scenery -- and importantly, morale -- improved during the second half of the day's 60 kilometer ride (about 35 miles). Jagged limestone rock formations sprouted up out of the rice fields, reminiscent of Halong Bay sans water. We cruised into Hoa Binh about 2:30, found hotels with $5 rooms and found some much needed nourishment in the form of pho and com ga (chicken rice).
Had a nice evening stroll around the city and made it up to Bac Ho statue (Uncle Ho) for some pictures. We held a 8 p.m. comrade meeting in a room designed for comrade meetings. Our H2H Commie leader James Ortmann whipped out his "purge list" next to the bust of Ho Chi Minh City standing behind a podium and microphone and in front of a Vietnamese flag. Okay, so all we really did was go over some important things to know and remember, but this room was just too perfect.
Dear leader Ortmann led us in some pre-cycling stretches before our Day 2 take-off. At the prior night's meeting, Marx Ortmann had notified us we could expect a "pretty flat" ride. That was obliterated within the first five kilometers as we began a steep ascent up a hill, or rather moutain. Katie Cox's chain snapped and she and Marx returned to town in the van to find a fix. The rest of us pressed on.
At the town of Muong Khen we were to meet up with Highway 12B which would take us to our destination of Vu Ban for the night. I made an executive decision, abetted by others that we should continue on since we had not yet run into 12B. The kilometers passed by and pretty soon we were climbing a steep, steep mountain. It went on for another five kilometers. We finally stopped and asked some people. They pointed us in the other direction. At least it was downhill.
When all was said and done, five of us (though everyone went the wrong way, fortunately they didn't make it up most of the mountain) went 15k out of the way, tacking on 30k to what was supposed to be our most relaxed ride. So much for that.

The final stretch to Vu Ban was dusty and bumpy. We split between two hotels, settled in and showered. I set about exploring the town. As while riding, almost everyone says "hello" or waves. In three days I've waved or said hello over 1,000 times. That's no exaggeration.
So anyway, I'm strolling around Vu Ban, mingling with the locals and a dude with a cart and a water buffalo invites me up for a ride. I hesitate and then think, "How can I turn down a ride by a freaking buffalo!?" I climb on and we parade through town. Clearly, I was feeling attention starved by the locals and needed a little bit more. Just saying hello to a big ugly foreigner is enough to give them fits of laughter so seeing me holding the reins of a water buffalo really set them off.
That's all for now this keyboard sucks.
But bottom line we've gone about 220 kilometers in three days and everyone is healthy, safe and our bikes are holding up pretty well. The only complaint is we're all sick of pho!

1 comment:

  1. Great work, keep it up! and please give us some photos guys!