HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, February 17, 2012

H2H Day 14: Over the Hills and Far Away

Day 14 was one of three described as an "Evil Bitch Day" by the group who took part in the first H2H three years ago. 104km long, with two major climbs thrown in for good measure. The leg from A Luoi to P'Rao would certainly test our mettle, perhaps even more so than the previous day. It turned out to be another stunning in day in terms of weather, scenery, and degree of difficulty. We also passed the halfway point on our journey in terms of distance.

We set off at about 8:30 on an absolutely beautiful morning, with cool air keeping the bright sun from becoming too hot. After 25km of mostly flat riding we reached a fork in the road: one direction led to the Laos border a few kilometers away, the other led into the hills of Vietnam's rugged Central Highlands.
take a left to go to Laos
After a brief uphill we encountered a short, steep downhill. I had replaced my rear brake pads that morning, but I still didn't have much stopping power, and at the bottom I managed to hit a pants-wetting 54kph (34 mph), which was both awesome and terrifying.
Tin starting his descent
the view from the top of the hill
The first major climb of the day began shortly after that downhill blast, and I ended up in a group with Quinn, Tin, Johnny, Anna, and Kirsty. We worked our way up together, sharing snacks and water, stopping a few times for pictures of the awesome surroundings or rest, and overall the climb was longer but much more gradual than the first ascent of the previous day. The road was also in beautiful condition, probably because it is nearly traffic-free, which made for much easier cycling than the cratered mess of day 13.
Rhona gettin' to it
Kirsty and Anna doing work


By this point the sun had warmed to its full potential, and we were all soaked in sweat by the time we reached the top of the hill. We continued along the twisting road, just two kilometers from Laos at some spots, and passed through two totally unexpected tunnels, an odd sight in such an undeveloped and remote part of the country.

47km into the ride we hit a dramatic 10km downhill. I had tweaked my brakes a bit after the first harrowing descent so they were functioning a little better, but I still wasn't able to prevent myself from careening down the road, although my hands were sore from pumping the brake handles so much by the time I hit the bottom. I went so fast I lost my group and stopped at a picturesque overlook. To my dismay, I could see that the second climb would be starting as soon as the descent ended. You can see the road curving back up on the left side of the below picture.
I caught up with Corey, Dana, Chris and Tom O., who were resting on a bridge. We mounted up and started taking on the day's last major climb.
The riding was hard, and I came to understand the ways that going uphill can mess with you psychologically: when you are climbing and there is a curve ahead, you hope against all hope that the road will flatten out once you round the corner. When it ends up being more uphill, you are deflated. Perhaps even worse is when you reach a stretch of road going downhill around a corner and you think that yes, YES, the climb is over!, only to round the next bend and have to go straight back up. After cycling over 1,000km since leaving Hanoi we're all in good enough to shape to conquer these climbs, but after putting your body through so much the mental aspect becomes just as important, if not more so, than what you are physically capable of doing. Fortunately, clouds had appeared around mid-day and lessened the impact of the heat.

After what seemed like an eternity the road finally started curving back down, and we planned to stop for lunch in a town that, according to the distance markers, was approaching. There hadn't been anywhere to stop for food or drinks for the first 60+km, and we were all famished. 

Sadly, the place turned out to be a phantom: there was a small, incredibly poor-looking settlement located across a rickety bridge; not the type of place that has a restaurant. This crushed us, and at a fork in the road Tom S., Dana, Corey and I shared some snacks to get us through the final stage of the day. I also drew a penis in the road with some chalk, the agreed upon sign we use when the direction we're supposed to go in at an intersection isn't completely obvious.
Shortly after that we got a call from Rhona, who was ahead of us with Joe, informing us that there was a town a little further down that had food. Elated, we hurried to this shop in the middle of nowhere which sold one of the best bowls of pho I've ever had. My opinion may be a bit biased since I had just ridden 80km on nothing but peanuts and candy, but the stuff was simply amazing.
There was a 1km-long climb straight after we ate, but once that was put behind us it was downhill the rest of the way. After 20km of cruising past shocked locals, looming hills, verdant forests, and a rushing river, Tom S., Dana and I rolled into A Luoi around 4pm, happy to have one of the hardest days of the ride behind us.

It had been an eventful one for many of us: Tin hit a dog (at low speed), Joe killed a chicken that ran in front of his wheel, and Tom O. walked the final 8km to town after he got a flat and didn't have anything to repair it with. However, we now knew what we could handle, and were looking forward to a needed short ride - a trifling 54km - the next day.


Since I haven't mentioned this in a while, don't forget to check out our team blog: http://www.h2hrfvc.blogspot.com/.

And if you'd like to donate to H2H, please visit: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/michaeltatarski/bikeride.

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