Wow, I don’t think anyone could believe the day had arrived. Everyone was up and raring to go, but after checking our bikes one last time and packing our gear on the DHL van, we first set off for breakfast at KOTO -- one of the charities that we are proudly riding for. The food was outstanding and plentiful and we truly felt how thankful they were for H2H’s contributions to their students and program.
Before our departure, we went out to the crowded streets of Hanoi to get some team stretches going. That was a sight to behold! I’m truly surprised 20 matching, lycra-clad foreigners working out their hamstrings didn’t cause an accident. After a few motivational words from Mike, we saddled up and headed out.
Biking in Saigon isn’t all that easy, but Hanoi is a different beast altogether. Bus drivers there are certified maniacs and one taxi just stopped to check his phone (on an 8 lane road) directly in front of Zak, causing said him to skid to a stop and nearly crash. The driver is ok, but the car was punched. Everybody got to the first pit-stop in one piece. We were getting out of the worst of the traffic and exhaust and pollution, so everybody was pumped to get going. But not before a quick roadside dance party.
The next 25km was just suburban Hanoi, not much new to see. We came to another rest stop right at the only turn of the day. We thought we were the first, but Georges got a bit excited and rode off ahead in the wrong direction. He returned pretty quickly after a phone call. The van that should be at the front of the group was nowhere to be seen, but apparently they didn’t know the directions (though, mind you, it was only one road). The group of riders that should likely have been fastest was back helping Jack fix one or several of his three flat tires on the day. As a herd of cows passed, we thought, hmm what a strange start we’re having.
And then we heard that Bekah had fallen off her bike. We were naturally concerned for her, but nobody panicked because we all knew the whole team was very well-prepared for situations like this. We soon found out that she lost control when she hit an uneven part of the road and skidded off the side of the road, causing a minor injury to her left arm. A quick trip to get some medicine and she trailed the team into Cho Ben in the van. Despite being disappointed that it happened on day one (and not on a big hill day) she was in fairly good spirits and the team rallied to cheer her up. Not to worry, she’ll back on the bike in a day or two!
The remainder of the ride after the turn was pretty spectacular. The giant rock formations that line the Ho Chi Minh Trail are absolutely stunning - jutting out of the ground like mountain peaks out of the clouds, each more beautiful than the last. The terrain was fairly flat the entire way, with perhaps one very small climb to warm us up for what’s to come.
We turned on to the dirt road into Cho Ben, ecstatic that food and rest were at hand. It was a horribly bumpy road, flowing with dump trucks trying to dodge the regulations of other, paved roads to and from limestone quarries. After a couple kilometers of turbulence, we found our hotel. It looked nice enough and the staff was welcoming – offering a hose for us to cool off, and fetching some watermelon. The rest of the riders trickled in as we stretched, showered, washed our clothes and ate. The hotel didn’t have enough rooms for all of us, so a few had to go to a guest house further down the road. Unfortunate though that was, all in all, it was a good first day.
Words: Chris Gallet
Pictures: Chris Gallet, Georges Erhard, Chris Tran, Claire Lormor, Natalie Resparc, Anastasia Yulia. Sorry if I forgot someone.