Day 19 started with much optimism and enthusiasm, with drill sergeant Tat getting everyone’s blood pumping with the usual hotel lobby workout, this time set to a backdrop of Freddie Mercury belting out ‘I Want to Ride My Bicycle’. After team photos with the DHL crew we were on our way. What lay ahead was a short 50km jaunt to Pleiku, where we would spend the afternoon visiting one of the beneficiaries of the ride, Thien An orphanage.
As we have discovered so far, H2H never indulges you too much. Whenever it offers up a treat with one hand it slaps you in the face with the other. When the climbs are tough and soul-destroying, the views that greet you at the top tend to be stunning. When the rides are short we are met with undulating bumpy roads, countless trucks and tour buses (few of which would ever pass an MOT), road construction and very little to look at. It’s like riding through the desert with nothing to see and only the horizon to aim for. Such monotony can make a 50km ride feel like an eternity.
As the ride has progressed, I’ve realized how the elements of the body and mind can work together. As someone once described as ‘indolent’ by a teacher in high school, I’m hardly accustomed to pushing myself be it physically or mentally. There have been days where I’ve literally felt nothing left in my legs, and wanted to throw in the towel and yet the thought of why we are doing this and the support people have shown us has been enough to keep the pedals moving forward. There have also been days when the monotony, traffic and lack of scenery has been mind-numbing and made every 5km feel like Groundhog Day, yet my nuoc mia-fuelled legs have kept going.
Upon our arrival in Pleiku, the storm clouds began to gather and we sought refuge in a nearby com tam place while the storm passed. Late afternoon we headed up to Thien An orphanage – home to over 80 children and run by 13 wonderful nuns, to see where some of the money we raise each year goes. At the orphanage we were greeted by the nuns and given free rein to play with some of the kids. The girls were banished to one corner to play ‘catch’ while the serious business of a lads Vietnam v the Rest of the World football match took centre stage in the sports hall (which H2H money helped to build). Nothing was held back in an enthralling midfield battle which brought back memories of Keane v Vieira, the visitors being subjected to a number of late challenges that Gary Neville would describe as ‘tasty’, before Tat played the role of Pirez and took a shameful dive in an attempt to win a penalty. No chance on foreign soil.
After a superb dinner break of chicken sandwiches and potatoes, Tat donned his blue morph suit and played the role of children’s entertainer / tormentor with the help from Mr Chuong (our mechanic). It was great to see all the kids, nuns, volunteers and riders join in the fun with smiles on their faces. It also served as a reminder as to why we are doing this. Our visit was brief, but what we do as H2H riders has a long and lasting impact on the lives of these kids. When the legs feel like they have nothing more to give, when the mind is breaking and another 30km fills you with dread, the images of those kids, the smiles, the love is what makes it all worthwhile. We can all consider ourselves truly fortunate souls. While H2H brings together a variety of personalities, there is one common goal we all share which makes us a great team. We’re here because we want to make a difference. It’s been a long and emotional 19 days but this was my favourite day by far.