H2H Official Update
We’re sad to report that team legend Thea Dacke fell down a step at breakfast on day 8 and broke and dislocated her wrist. She was treated at a local hospital and when the x-ray confirmed the news that she couldn’t continue on the ride, we put her on the next flight back to Saigon for specialist medical attention. She has now been operated on and is on the road to recovery. Thea is much missed by the team, not least for her flow of memorable quotes and we look forward to seeing her at the finish line. Get well soon Thea! This now means that 3 riders have unfortunately needed to return to Saigon and we ride on with 17 for our injured friends and for the 5 amazing charities we’re supporting.
Day 8 - Quy Dat to Dong Hoi – 114km
Day 8 began in Quy Dat, a quiet town near Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to the world’s largest cave. The valley floor on which Quy Dat lies is so flat and so lusciously green that I thought the rice fields behind would make an idyllic cricket pitch. My suggestion was met with blank stares from both the Vietnamese locals and the American contingent of our group. It was like I was speaking another language.
The hotel wasn’t quite as well equipped as those previous, and so six of us gents had to make the best of 3 double beds in one room. As I woke I was sure I was back in my middle school changing room. The smell of deep heat, dirty feet and damp clothes was palpable. I rolled over and was greeted by the gentle snoring of ride leader Chris Rolls, six inches from my face. Coincidentally, Chris is old enough to be my PE teacher, and actually bears a slight resemblance to Mr Golding himself. I didn’t recognise the snoring though…
We ate banh mi and xoi [sic] for breakfast, and filled up on sugary snacks and biscuits from the barely-stocked supermarket – ‘super’ it certainly wasn’t. We suffered two delays before our grand departure. First, Thea’s suffered a freak banh mi injury, and broke her wrist. It was a desperately unlucky incident, and the team were just as gutted as Thea that she could no longer take part in the ride. We all wish her well, and for a speedy recovery. Second, the local police dropped by to check our passports and take our details. Bizarre it may seem, but I too would consider criminalising the act of 18 loud foreigners clad in lycra, stretching enthusiastically on the high street. Although the majority of the ride members are English teachers, a few of the crew work in other sectors. The cops handed out forms to fill in, and I found out Mike is in fact a professional fluffer. Luckily for him, the police did not insist that we provide hard evidence of our employment. Pun intended.
Finally, with Thea taken to hospital and in the capable hands of Carolyn and Kim, we were able to leave town for our 114km slog to Dong Hoi, a small coastal city. We re-joined the Ho Chi Minh Highway, and soon encountered one of the highlights of the trip so far; Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It is home to the recently discovered Sơn Đoòng Cave, considered the world’s largest. We had planned to visit one of the smaller, more accessible caves that afternoon, but with the day’s sturm und drang we neither had the time nor the desire to explore much.
The ride itself featured our first serious climb of the tour, a category 3 ascent which sent us up and into the clouds and fog which cling to the mountains’ summits. At the top, visibility was restricted to 30 yards, and it was eerily quiet in the jungle. Too quiet. The scenery was so otherworldly that it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Jurassic Park movie, albeit without the delirious cyclist pedalling slowly up the mountain. The descent, usually enjoyable, was made tough by the bad road surfacing, and the rain and mist meant it was slow going downhill and heavy on the wrists as I couldn’t release the brakes for more than a few seconds at a time. Once I reached the valley at the bottom the road opened up very wide and looked as though it could double as an airstrip. 20 yards wide, dead flat, 3 kilometres long. I’d like to know if indeed that was its secondary use, perhaps during the war. [Edit: Yes, it was an airstrip used by the North-Vietnamese].
After the national park the going was much easier. The road rolled down to the city of Dong Hoi, situated on the coast about 50km away. After we showered, a celebratory beer was in order on the promenade. Several members couldn’t wait for the shower, and instead dropped their bicycles, stripped off, and charged down to the sea. A rather less dignified, sweatier version of the ending of Les Quatre Cents Coups.
Team Update : Chris Rolls
Words : Jack Kimber
Photographs :Chris Rolls/Mike Tatarski