Sunday, 19 April 2015

Day 13: A Loui to P'rao

Today marked the halfway point of H2H 2015, and it was a hell of a day. Barring accidents / injury, Day 13 had it all. Up until now it's been fun. Today was not fun. It was awe-inspiring.

We began with a decent breakfast in a surprisingly good hotel - following the swanky 4 star hotel in Hue, we weren't expecting much and were pleasantly surprised. Good thing too, as we needed a decent sleep before the brutal ride that was to follow.

We set off in glorious sunshine after our morning stretch routine and managed the first 25km without a problem, except Zak, who had some stomach problems. Happily, he was able to continue the ride later in the day after having to reluctantly get in the van, take some painkillers and get some rest. We hit our first climb shortly after a ca phe sua da, and it was a killer. We hadn't quite recovered from the 33km of torturous climbs on Day 12, and to be hit with a Grade 2 (for non cyclists, that means very hard) seemed unfair. The scenery though, was dramatic to say the least. Reminiscent of Jurassic Park, with ferns, banana trees, palms, it was stunning. But a tough slog getting up.

The top of the climb played host to an awesome 500m long tunnel. The acoustics in there were such that echoes lasted several seconds, and when I rode down to the other end of the tunnel, I was able to hold a semi-coherent conversation with the other riders from half a kilometre away. 

While I sat and caught a well earned few minutes rest sitting on top of the next tunnel, Claire had to call on our superb mechanic Chuong before the descent, as her bike didn't feel quite right. A problem with her rear brakes, she thought… As it turned out the problem was that her wheel had somehow detached from the bike... Chuong re-attached and tested it, and we were ready to go.

To go with the climbs, the downhills were immense, the first lasting 14km of brake-gripping, teeth-gritting speed and corners. An awesome road, not for the faint hearted. This was of course, followed by an even bigger climb through rich, dense jungle in blistering heat. This was too much for my poor thighs and I had to walk most of the way up. But as hard as it was, the scenery just kept getting better and better. This was a stunning road. Draped over mountain sides, which were absolutely teaming with wildlife, and singing with all manner of eerie and loud insects and tropical birds. My ipod was put firmly away in order to listen to sounds I've only ever heard the likes of on Attenborough documentaries. The sound was literally impossible to describe, but mesmerising. 

After several kilometres, the mountain finally gave us the downhill we'd been waiting for. We had battled through 69km without a single food stand to be seen, and with the promise of food at the bottom of the downhill at 70km, my lack of energy was taking a huge toll. I was exhausted, so when the food place never came, at 76km and still with 28km to go, I had to raid the van for snacks.

We needed to press on - we aren't supposed to ride after dark, and when Chris Rolls and I found ourselves taking photos of a glorious sunset behind a mountain, we knew we didn't have long before the van would be looming, ready to scoop us up and drive us the last 10km. Using what little energy we had gained from snacks and a Red Bull, we managed to keep up the pace and avoided getting in the van. Racing what turned out to be a perpetual sunset, the sun appearing, disappearing and re-appearing from behind the mountain tops, it felt great to finish the ride on a bike, but i was glad to get out of the saddle.

Eventually, in P'rao, our day of riding was rewarded with a hotel room in dire straits. It was big enough, but there were cockroaches and other nasties everywhere. We moved to another, cleaner hotel, where we could finally get some rest…

Blog by Keith Landberger
Photos by Keith Landberger and Chris Rolls

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