Thursday, 18 November 2010

Tropical Depression #18 has other plans for our charity ride (but it doesn't know the juggernaut it's messing with)

Nov. 15

We woke up just before 6 this morning. No sign of rain at first. But by the time we walked to breakfast it had started coming down — stronger by the minute. It was the kind of weather that if by chance you saw a masochistic cyclist on the road, you’d remark, “My God, that guy’s an absolute psychopath.”
After speaking to the riders, we had near unanimity that riding wasn’t an option. People were quite relieved. We formulated a plan to hire a third vehicle for the day which would carry our bikes and packs.
Thanks a lot “Tropical Depression 18.”
After breakfast we turned on CNN which led into the weather. The first story was the tropical storm hitting Hue and Danang. The second story was the blizzard that hit the Twin Cities. It showed clips from Maple Grove and Woodbury, Minnesota!
The weather in Vietnam has been bizarre this entire year as rainy season started late. Now it appears it’s extending late. There’s nothing we can do, so we’ll make the best of it.
Riding in the vans the 75k to A Luoi was a good call. The road quality was dodgy and the twists and turns harrowing. The steep downhill slopes would have been dangerous on a bike. Safety is always our number one. We even saw a truck go into the ditch and flip on its side while attempting a foolish pass. That truck’s gonna be there a while.
After a big group pow-wow tonight we decided we’ll leave A Luoi for P’rao tomorrow. It’s about 110 kilometers, most of which is up-and-down. If the weather is as miserable as projected, we’ll do the same as today and hire a third vehicle. But if the weather enables us to ride, those who are comfortable will set off and the others will ride in the vans. We’re not pressuring anyone to ride and there’s no shame in taking the van if you don’t feel confident enough.
Maybe if it rains a lot tonight it won’t rain tomorrow? Wishful thinking, yes, but that’s the best we can hope for now. We’re not working with much.
The best “rain” songs I’ve found on my iTunes:
“Fire and Rain” James Taylor
“The Rain” Missy Elliott
“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” Bob Dylan
“No Rain” Blind Melon
“Rain King” Counting Crows
“Raining in Baltimore” Counting Crows
“Rain” The Beatles
“Have you ever seen the rain?” CCR
“Who’ll stop the rain?” CCR
“Purple Rain” Prince

Nov. 16

On Monday night, we met at the Aliha Hotel in A Luoi to weigh our options. It had been raining for over two days with no sign of slowing down. We’d hired a third vehicle to take us the 70-75 km from Hue to A Luoi. On Tuesday we had a daunting 110 km day ahead of us.
The power went in and out as we debated the best of our crappy options before the electricity finally cut, leaving us in candlelight. We decided we had to try to get out of A Luoi the following day, leaving us with two options: either to cycle out or ride out in a third vehicle, like we just had.
On Tuesday morning we got up at 5:30 a.m. It was still raining rather hard. The group congregated an hour later and we learned that Kasey and Jas had been robbed during the night. Talk about being kicked in the groin when you’re already down…The cowardly bastards took their iPods and wallets, which were laying on their beds. Morale takes a hit.
At 7 we’re still mulling our options and take a group vote about who intends to cycle and who doesn’t. We’re split perfectly down the middle ten to ten. We make plans to rent a third vehicle while the others begin stretching.
At 7:30 it’s pouring down the hardest it has all morning and the intrepid group of ten set off. Fearless? Stupid? Insane? All of the above? The rest of us move to a nearby cafe while we wait for the third vehicle.
At 9 a.m. we get word that the fearless ten have cycled 30 km and begun an ascent. However, people on the road had been warning them of a landslide. The Ford Everest driver, Mr. Chien, raced ahead to check the road condition. Before long, he calls warning of a blocked road. The mud/rockslide would take two or three days to clear, he reported. The fearless ten turn around and return to A Luoi. The rest of us make preparations to return to Hue, assuming we can back the way we did the prior day.
By 1 p.m. we had a third vehicle to transport our bikes and gear and went on our way. The road was a bit dicey and we passed through one washed out area, but otherwise nothing major. Getting back into Hue we had to take a different route because of flooded streets. Eventually we made it (After some fighting with the third vehicle driver and conflicting information about whether Hue was flooded or not. We did discover the hotel we’d stayed at on Saturday and Sunday was indeed flooded.), somewhat defeated but somewhat optimistic.
During the return Abigail and I had come up with a plan to get us back on track. With Phong’s huge help translating, we came to an agreement with the drivers. We’d take a third vehicle (again) just past Danang and then cycle about 50 km to Thanh My, where we were scheduled to be by Wednesday night.
There were plenty of unknowns, but if the weather finally stayed dry (as it had for a couple hours at that point) the roads would probably be cleared up enough and we could get back on the road. We met over pizza and beers for one final night in Hue. We’d try again tomorrow.

Nov. 17 and 18

With our plan in place, we loaded up a third vehicle and left Hue by 9:00. By noon we’d stretched and set off as a complete unit – all 20 of us – for Thanh My. The ride was only 49 kilometers, but had a nice steep ascent at the end, a preview of what we have to look forward to over the next few days. Most importantly, the ride brought us back on schedule. It felt great to be back on the bike and taking in the beautiful scenery (for the first time all trip I was on a new road!). And, for the first time in several days, we even saw the sun! The nightmarish experience of A Luoi already started to feel like ages ago.
We had a gorgeous ride again today, just 60 kilometers, but with some hellish hills at the ride’s end. The jungle-like humidity had me sweating by the morning’s stretches. The weather again has us on our toes, as it has been raining all afternoon, utterly pouring at times. Tomorrow is also one of the infamous ‘evil bitch days’ – that would be 100-plus kilometers through the mountains. Please Vietnam, no more raining on our cycling parade.

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