Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Day 20: Pleiku to Ea Drang

Rob Webster

Most people who do H2H initially sign up for it with big intentions and a big idea as to why they’re doing it. However, at 7:00am, when a bearded, belligerent young man from Guilford is barking stretching instructions at you and you have over 100km cycling ahead, it is very easy to lose sight of that big idea.

Today was to be a challenging day. We had left the mountains and the heavy climbs and breath-taking beauty that accompany them. It would be a flatter affair, but one conducted on the very busy and poorly maintained Asian Highway 17. It was to be a day of drudgery and digging in, as the inclines were more monotonous than mountainous.

To try and describe the road quality would be an affront to the word ‘quality’ and to the word ‘road’. The winding mountain roads were replaced by long and straight highways that the Romans of 325 AD would have been proud of – which, incidentally, was the last time this road was tarmacked. In fact, the only thing I’ve come into contact with this ride that has been more broken and battered is my anal-perineum region. Alas, the team rode on, with over a third of us suffering punctures, halting our momentum and testing our willpower. Over us, lorries loomed and trucks towered as we were often forced off roads by vehicles more hostile than hospitable. Conversely, in the midst of all this, as with all towns and villages we’ve passed through since April 4th, the local children welcomed us like heroes. You couldn’t go three minutes of this long day without someone shouting ‘Hello!’ at you and making you feel as important as a visiting head of state. That being said, as always, Vietnam has a brilliant way of keeping your feet on the ground. For every 100 children that just want to connect and communicate with you, there’s always that one that hits you on the back side with a sandal, leaving you feeling less like Barack Obama and more like a fallen bust of Saddam Hussein. Overall though, the locals on the ride have been a constant source of entertainment and fun. Even today, deflated by a long morning of punctures and pollution, there was an obliging 50-year-old man on hand to challenge – successfully – Danny Walsh to an arm wrestling contest, in a scene that wouldn’t have been out of place in Deliverance.

There wasn’t much to marvel at on today’s long journey. It felt very much like just getting from A to B, and trying to do so in one piece. Trying to reconnect with the big idea that originally inspired us can be helpful in keeping us going. One thing that was never in doubt today was that we would finish. There have been times, and roads, and mountains in the past few weeks where I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I didn’t know if I could complete what I had set out to achieve. I was dying to be back in Saigon, completing the ride. I would look down, with my head willing, at my legs with a sense of guilt and worry as they seemed to have nothing left. Today, though, that was never an issue. Our legs are stronger than they were 3 weeks ago. And, more importantly, our minds are stronger. We’ve climbed so many mountains and cycled so many kilometers that we are imbued with a steel and determination that meant finishing today’s ride was a mere matter of time.

And finish we did. Into a nice little town named Ea Drang where a few of us had the best, most-rewarding Ban Xeo I’ve ever eaten. Toasting all the people (the drivers, the mechanic, our friends and family, each other) that help us to finish each day with generous servings of Huda and rice wine. And then I went online and checked my Justgiving page. A very good friend had made an extremely generous donation to the ride on behalf of himself and his mother who had recently passed away. He had also promoted my doing the ride on social media and some friends and family of his had kindly donated to this complete stranger. I scrolled down further and looked at all the people who have parted with the money they have earned with their time and effort, doing so to support me and to support the cause; people who recognize that we on the ride are trying to do good by part-taking in this great experience. And suddenly, after an arduous, knackering, pointless day, I had my big idea given back to me. Perspective had been restored and I felt a new man. I know this is common among all riders, the feeling of humility and gratitude you get when someone important to you gives their money for you. Unfortunately I don’t have the words to do the feeling justice, but we all do our best each day to honour that feeling and to honour the support and generosity of our loved ones. And I sat there, in a car park in Ea Drang, scrolling through my donations page feeling truly thankful at being able to clearly see the big idea again.     

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