HCMC Dining Guide

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

H2H Day 13: Beauty and the Beast

This was actually our twelfth riding day, but I'm going to call it day 13 for continuity's sake. 

And it was a hard one. We gathered in a riverfront park in Hue to get a group shot in our swanky new cycling shirts, where we attracted several picture-takers, and headed out of the city. My gears were now working properly, thanks to the efforts of the man at the bike shop.

The ride was a planned 72km to A Luoi (Though it ended up being longer for some us. I'll get to that.) through the rugged hills southwest of Hue. There were going to be a couple of rough climbs, which no one was excited about.

Joe and I got off to a quick start in the humid, cloudy morning air, and made good progress through the rolling terrain of the first 30km.

About 36km in, we hit the first serious hill - a viciously steep, but relatively short, climb that left a lot of people (including me, sadly) walking up parts of it.
Most of the rest of the riders caught up with us shortly after we started resting at the top of the climb, and after snacking we all headed off. A lengthy, steep downhill ensued, which was pretty scary for me at some points: my rear brakes were worse than ever, and I couldn't use my front ones too often for fear of having them lock up while sending me flying over the handlebars. Luckily traffic was light, so I was able to cannonball down parts without worrying, but the road was heavily pockmarked, making for some bone-rattling bumps. By the time I got to the bottom my water bottle had gone flying once, my seat had been knocked loose several times, and my rear wheel was hot from so much braking.

Right when I hit the end of the descent, I nearly demolished a boy on a bicycle who decided to swerve all the way across the narrow road without looking as I was barreling towards him at close to 40kph. I started yelling and swerved into the dirt beside the road and narrowly missed a massive collision, which the kid would have definitely gotten the worst of.

We got lunch as a group at a place where several people worked on their bikes, some with the help of locals, who were speaking a minority group language.
By the time we finished eating and bitching about the climb, the sun had come out. We still had one major climb and about 25km to go. It was going to be a hot finish, much different from the damp cold we had gotten used to farther north.

Some shots of people working there way up the long climb.

We were all sweating profusely within minutes of starting to climb, and we savored the descents and the shady parts for the cooling properties. I actually developed a love-hate relationship with going downhill - it cooled me down and allowed my legs to rest, but my barely-functioning brakes made it dangerous, as did the rough road. This part of the country has a lot of problems with landslides during the monsoon season, and the impact of these events was evident in the cratered road surface. In fact, last year's H2H group wasn't even able to do today's leg. They rode in November, during the wet season, and a strong storm struck the Hue area while they were there, leaving this road impassable. On a beautiful day like today, though, the vistas were magnificent.
The climb, though, was brutal. All but three of the 19 riders have bog standard Chinese-made road bikes with no more than 14 gears, which simply aren't enough for hard climbing. The other three have mountain bikes with over 20 speeds, allowing them to get into a low enough gear where they can spin the pedals quickly while still making good progress. The rest of us don't have gears that low, so we are stuck with crawling our way up a hill, trying to stand up out of the saddle to climb, or walking. Psychologically, it's hard to justify staying on the bike when you're inching up at 6 or 7 kph, just over walking speed.

A bunch of us stayed together to share the pain, which definitely helped, and we were making progress, although stopping for pictures slowed things down too.
Joe, Tom S., Tin, Phong and I being BAMFs
With 10km to go we all figured the end of the hill had to be coming soon. There was one last sharp climb that I simply had to walk on (while singing along to The Killer's "All These Things That I Have Done"), when the road started to flatten out. I got back on the bike, and blasted down the other side while passing a distance marker that said A Luoi was 8km away. This is where things started to go wrong.

At the intersection where we rejoined the Ho Chi Minh Highway the drivers of the lead van directed us to go left. I caught up with the riders who were in front of me and then pushed ahead with Phong. The road was mercifully smooth, and a mountain range (actually in Laos territory) sat to the west, below the fading sun. After riding for 10km without seeing anymore signs for A Luoi (or any hint of a major town), I told Phong I thought something was wrong. We asked some villagers where the place was, and they pointed back the way we had come and said it was 26km away. Right as they were saying that I got a call from Kirsty saying the drivers had sent us in the wrong direction. At least the scenery was nice.
We turned around and roared towards A Luoi in a pissed-off fury, knowing that the mistake was partially our fault. We tore past the other people who had gone the wrong way, passed everyone else in town, and collapsed in front of the hotel, absolutely spent after the climbs of the day. We had done 98km, 26 more than expected. It was 5:30, by far the latest we had finished a day of riding. I am going to sleep HARD tonight. Tomorrow, the torture continues with a 103km ride over more major hills to P'Rao. We'll also be passing the 1,000km mark, our halfway point and a major milestone. Make the pain worth it by donating to H2H!: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/michaeltatarski/bikeride

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