HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, February 3, 2012

H2H Day 1: Murphy's Law takes over

Day 1 of the ride was hellacious, hateful, mostly miserable, and mistake-prone. It began in a cold, misty Hanoi, and ended in a cloudy but mercifully dry Hoa Binh. We packed our bags into two supply vans and made necessary last-minute adjustments to our bikes before rolling out around 9am. I'll mention the cold again - it was much colder than any of us expected, and the on-and-off drizzle ensured that the roads were soaked, meaning our bikes were quickly drenched from the water coming off our rear tires. We wound our way through the busy morning traffic towards the western part of the city. A rampaging bus driver cut off most of the group from the front four and the leading van. As a result, we all ended up stuck at a red light at a huge intersection surrounded by construction sites, unsure of which direction to go.

gearing up
in Hanoi traffic
so...which way do we go?
We got in touch with one of the riders (there are 19 of us) who had made it through the light and found out we had to go straight. As we got to the other side of the intersection, we immediately saw a problem: a motorbike had smashed into the rear of one of the vans, shattering its rear window. Both of the guys on the moto were shaken up: one had cuts above his left eye, and the other had a split lip. We all hauled our bikes onto the sidewalk and waited to find out what would happen. The wind had picked up by now, and standing around was not pleasant.

After 30 minutes, the moto driver agreed that the crash was his fault, so we mounted up and continued on. This road out of the city was miserable: arrow-straight, with absolutely nothing to see on either side, and full of mud. Our backs were covered in mud quickly. We continued on this boring road for 30km before turning off and taking a "short cut" that the van drivers decided to utilize...which ended up adding about 20km to the day's total. Only in Vietnam would a shortcut take longer.

During one of our snack breaks I had grabbed my rain jacket out one of the vans, since it was really chilly anytime you weren't riding hard. By this point I though we had about 10-15km left, since the leg was supposed to be around 60km. Then, I saw a signpost saying 'Hoa Binh - 38km', and my heart sank. Sarah, one of the other riders, pulled up and voiced her displeasure. The group was well spread out by now and we were on our own, and I was famished. So, we pulled over at a ramshackle pho place that was surrounded by dog meat restaurants and got two steaming bowls of soup. I thought this would warm us up, but as soon as we got back on the road I began shaking heavily. I had to clench my jaw and pedal hard to get my blood flowing again.

I didn't have my camera on me, since I had thrown it into the van to prevent it from getting to muddy. I didn't regret this at all, since it was massively muddy, and there hadn't been any scenery worth looking at so far. The town we had stopped in for pho had a main road lined with potholes full of mud, which would have actually been fairly easy to avoid if it weren't for the cars and trucks blowing by, forcing us to the far edge of the road. With about 30km to go we were completely covered in mud, as were our bikes: my shoes and socks were caked in brown, every inch of my bike was filthy, and in my hotel room that evening I even discovered that my underwear were totally brown. It looked like I had shit my pants.

Eventually I came upon another restaurant where everyone had stopped for food. The surrounding scenery was finally coming into its own: jagged karts soared into the low mist, and verdant forests carpeted everything. I had to get my camera out of the van:

After relaxing and enjoying some hot pot, it was time to continue on. 25km to go. This is when the mechanical problems struck like a hammerblow. We navigated a tiring incline and then ripped down some awesome downhill that fed onto a flat stretch surrounded by rice paddies and hills on both sides. It was around this time that I fell: I was distracted by the views and accidentally went off the pavement and onto the mud that was a few inches lower than the road. I hopped my front wheel back onto the tarmac, but my rear one skidded along the lip and then kicked out to the right, sending me down on my hands and knees. Luckily I had already braked hard, so the incident hurt nothing but my ego. I came upon a few other riders pulled over on the grass and stopped to see what was up. It was the first flat tire of the group! The award goes to Hannake.
group effort to fix the flat
As we were getting that issue sorted the support van that was at the back of the pack pulled up with Chris inside: one of his pedals had sheared off. As soon we pulled away after changing Hanneke's flat, I realized I also had a flat. This was on top of the other issues I had been dealing with all day: my saddle bag had fallen off hours earlier, so I had to throw it into one of the vans and thus had no equipment with me. My gears had not been cooperating, sometimes changing several minutes after I wanted them to, and sometimes not changing at all. Also, my front brakes were constantly rubbing my front tire, causing some serious extra friction (and helping to explain why I was dragging so much ass.).

So, I pulled over and a couple other people hung back to help, but the van driver ended up doing most of the work. Now way behind everyone else, I mounted up again. There were only 10km to go to Hoa Binh.

With just 3km to go, I found Kirsty on the side of the road: she had lost a pedal as well. Good lord! We limped into town just after 5pm...finally...and joined the rest of the group at our hotel, utterly caked in mud and quite cold. My legs were completely done for the day. We did our best to wash ourselves off and then wandered around town in various groups, scrounging for food and getting ready for tomorrow. Day 2 features a brutal hill just a few kilometers into the leg, so we'll see how that goes. 90 kilometers in the bag, about 1,900 to go. Next stop: Vu Ban.
The main drag in Hoa Binh
P.S. Don't forget to check our group blog, there are two new posts up:  http://www.h2hrfvc.blogspot.com/


  1. Very interesting. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your posts.

    1. Thanks, hope you enjoy them! I took a look at your blog as well, sounds like you had an adventure of your own on the Natchez Trace.