Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Hills are Alive

The hills are every bit as fanatical, quad-agonizing, and formidable as I remember. The only difference is I was mentally prepared for them this year. On Friday morning rain looked imminent. It had been raining since our arrival the day before, Thursday, and gushed down all night long. But Vietnam would be on our side this time. For the last several days it felt as if the country didn’t want our charity ride to take place. Between the weather, bandits, thieves and teenagers on motorbikes run amok (I thought I was going to get in a brick fight one day. Long story.), it seemed the winds were in our face (as they usually are). Point being, it didn’t rain, but we still had a 110 kilometer day to suffer through. Around the corner of every 10 percent grade climb was…..SURPRISE (!!!!!)….another steep climb. Last year I shared my feelings with the mountains, cursing every climb. This year I found myself pleasantly serene, not exactly reveling in the suffering, but tolerating it.

After two shorter — but still rather hilly — days, we have another 110 kilometer (about 68 miles) ride tomorrow. My recollection from last year: bad roads, lots of up and down, a strong headwind, and the most irritating bee bite ever. But suddenly, we have just seven days of riding left; we’ll be back in Saigon a week from tomorrow.

After seeing the same people every day for four weeks we’ll go our separate ways around the globe. Many will leave Saigon and Vietnam directly after the trip, some will stick around for a couple weeks and others will go back into their teaching routine. It’s hard knowing I might not see a lot of these amazing people ever again, but we’ll always have the epic bike ride and H2H to keep us together. It’s been fun getting to know everyone and getting to spend time with good friends.

All 20 of us get together for one hour each night when we have a meeting. At our meetings we discuss the day’s events, things to keep in mind while riding and other fun stuff like that. We go over tomorrow’s ride and what to expect. We have a “sexy time” presentation given by the day’s previous “sexy time” recipient for their extraordinary efforts. Basically it’s a way of recognizing someone’s upstanding contributions to our H2H team. Lastly, we have a “cultural event.”

I introduced the cultural event concept to the group after a friend introduced it to me during a bachelor party in Rocky Mountain National Park I attended this past summer. As defined by myself, “The cultural event is all about creativity and an open mind. Read a poem, discuss philosophy, share a newspaper story, podcast, perform a soliloquy, sing a song, play a harmonica, read from a book, teach us first aid, teach us how to dance, whatever — anything you feel like sharing with the group.”

For example, on the first night (waaaaaay back in Hoa Binh), I played a WNYC Radio Lab podcast on human “limits.” The podcast featured a story about the insane cyclists who undertake the Race Across America challenge. My intent was not to terrify the group but rather to show them what they are capable of and find their “hidden human potential.” I think I scared them.

Abigail had us write letters to our future selves — as in future Chet on the last day of the ride — to open later and see what we were thinking as we began our cycling odyssey. Liz shared some Eastern religion with us and had us meditate. Pierre had us “name that song intro.” Chris had us play some charades. Trey taught us “mafia.” Everyone’s cultural contribution has been creative and unique. It’s been something to look forward to each night.

Phong had us write down the five senses that were most memorable from that day (Day 3 from Vu Ban to Quan Lao in that case.). It’s a great way to journal. So here are the most memorable five senses I’ve had from the last couple days.

Sights: Struggling up an ascent with no end and looking ahead and seeing the road up ahead in the distance…WAY UP.
Also, the fog emanating from the mountains like puffs of smoke. Being so high up we were pretty much touching the clouds.

Sound: All of kids laughing after you say “hello.” Kanye West helping me climb mountains: “Makes us longer, better, faster, stronger! Do it faster makes us stronger…”

Smell: Musty, moldy hotel rooms and fresh mountain air. It’s hard to find fresh air anywhere in Vietnam.

Taste: The half of a protein bar Nick gave me while riding 110 km the other day. I was so hungry I was shaking and I can’t remember anything ever tasting so good, or ever devouring anything so quickly.

Touch: The vibrations on the handlebars during massive descents. Quads burning during climbs when you’re convinced over and over again that you must have a flat tire but the hill is just really that steep. Also, getting high-fives from kids while riding.



  1. That's my favorite podcast ever! The human limits one specifically! Yeeeeeaaahhh Radio Lab! And Yeeeeaaahhh H2H!

  2. I love how in your road picture you actually captures the steepness. That's it baby. That's H2H!