27 days, 2100km (or thereabouts), 20 amazing riders, 2 trusty support drivers, a tropical storm, countless punctures, the arduous Central Highlands, the majestic Ho Chi Minh Highway and finally the Reunification Palace to be greeted by Saigon friends armed with beer and pizza – fantastic!
If you’re reading this as an H2H 2010 supporter – A HUGE THANK YOU, you helped us raise over $40,000 gross for children’s charities in Vietnam, the whole point of doing the ride. This will make a big difference in places like Catdang village, supported by The Children’s Initiative.
If you’re reading this as a potential 2011 rider, PLEASE DO IT! You’ll make friends and memories to last a lifetime, you’ll see a whole different side of beautiful Vietnam and once the pain has subsided you’ll have calf muscles and tan lines to be proud of! It’s a unique experience. A time for some brief reflections, measured against my initial expectations:
1. The Cause. Over $40,000 gross raised – wow! Massive thanks to all our families and friends and to The Children’s Initiative (TCI), Vasco’s and Boston’s for their support. The bulk of the money is supporting education, health and income generating projects in Catdang Village, a large, poor, rural community in Northern Vietnam working with TCI. The H2H team spent time in the secondary school there and meeting community leaders before we set off. The children signed ‘Friendship Ribbons’ which we tied to our bikes, reminding us why we were doing this, especially on the big hills! The remaining funds will be assigned to other local children’s charities, pending a final team decision, now we know the amounts available. Again – thanks, it makes it all worthwhile.
2. The Real Vietnam. I’ve spent a year teaching in Ho Chi Minh City with ILA, which has been a great experience. But in many ways HCMC is like a lot of urban centres around the world – traffic, noise, people, commerce etc. It’s certainly a world apart from how the majority of this rural population, where 80% are involved in rice production, live out their lives. I now feel like I’ve seen ‘The real Vietnam’ and certainly parts that tourists just don’t get to visit. We spent a lot of time on the majestic Ho Chi Minh Highway, part of the former Ho Chi Minh Trail (a key supply route for the Northern army during the Vietnam War). This was intentionally routed off the beaten track and now provides a stunning journey through the heart of the country. Physically, Vietnam is spectacular. I learnt more about rural life too, seeing rice, bananas, coffee, rubber plants, sugarcane etc being grown and everyday we were greeted by smiles and waves, bemused curiosity and kind hospitality by the locals. We spent some lovely evenings in quiet villages, playing football and badminton and sharing meals, drinks and stories with new friends, all good for my fledgling Vietnamese! I feel like a know Vietnam a lot better now and appreciate it even more.
3. The Physical Challenge. On an average day, we stretched as a team at 8am, set off at 8.30 and would arrive at our next location between 1 and 2pm. We’d then find a hotel, (sometimes two), wash, rest, eat and explore the community before meeting as a team in the evening. We’d cover about 80km a day overall but this ranged from 50km – 120km a day, depending on good places to stop. The terrain also makes a big difference. On the flat, you could cover 25km in an hour, up hill (and we hit some monster 20km hills!) this dropped to 10km. Some days we were in by 12pm, some days by 5pm! For the record, I found the hardest days day 2 (first big hill!), days 13, 14, 17 (central highlands) and day 24 (2 huge hills). You do need to train well, be physically fit and mentally determined, and there will be days when everything aches and you don’t want to get out of bed, but it is a manageable challenge and the team, the cause, the scenery and all the waving kids just carry you along. And you feel superfit by the end of it, a great feeling! Plus there are 2 rest days thrown in as well – day 12 (Hue) and 22 (Buon Ma Thuot), very welcome!
4. The Team. You can’t plan for it but they way our team fitted together and complimented each other was fantastic. Everyone played their part. For example, Chet and Abigail (AKA ChAbigail) took on the leadership and organizing role, Jess L did a lot of fundraising and logistics work before we left, Jeff and Phong made a documentary during the ride, Liz sorted the hotel finances, Sasha led a team stretch each day, Colin was our bike wizard, Phong did a lot of translation work, Luke and Jeff kept the jokes flowing, Pierre had a unique dress sense, I could go on…! Every night we had a ‘sexy time’ award with a rotating trophy for a different team member for standing out in some way. Every night we had a ‘cultural slot’ where someone would lead a game / story / activity etc for the group. And every night we had a meeting to review and plan. No niggles, just great team spirit throughout and friends for life – beautiful!
My advice to anyone doing this – take your time, it’s not a race. Stop for photos, waterfalls, school kids, coconut juice, war memorials, enjoy the rich culture and the stunning scenery, that’s what you remember. Thanks H2H, unforgettable!
- Chris ‘everything aches’ Rolls www.h2hcharityride.org