HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

H2H Day 3: Stretching my legs

Sorry for the lack of updates recently, but we've had problems finding internet connections in the small towns we've been stopping in.

Day three began under yet another overcast sky. We navigated Vu Ban's horrifically muddy road on foot for breakfast, and then got ready to head out. We bumped our way down to a ramshackle soccer stadium for our morning stretches, and then rolled out of town. I was hoping that my mechanical problems of the previous two days wouldn't return for the 82km trek.

We would be on the horrid small road for 12km, after which we would hit the Ho Chi Minh Highway, a fully-paved major artery. We stopped at several points along the awful road to take pictures: the surrounding scenery was awesome, with distant hills draped in low clouds fronted by dozens of rice paddies full of laboring farmers. The locals were amazed at the sight of 19 Westerners, and dozens of 'HELLOS!!" and waves were dispensed. One boy was even trying to throw chips to us, although his aim wasn't great. I was out front for a bit and it was funny to see the look of confusion as people saw me. Just as I passed them they seemed to realize what I was, and then I could hear them emphatically greeting everyone behind me.

At times the ruined road made it difficult to respond to people. I could hear people shouting greetings, but the potholes, rocks, and mud made it impossible to take your eyes off the road or a hand off the handlebar for even a second. The road finally smoothed out just before we hit the highway, and we stopped to buy some sugar cane and wait for everyone to catch up. The new, well-paved road stretched into the distance in front of us, carving its way between hills, paddies, and rugged karsts.

We hit the highway and were immediately confronted with a stiff headwind. Traffic was light though, and I got into a rhythm near the head of the pack. The scenery was majestic, though the leaden sky made it difficult to get good results from pictures. The road surface was glorious after the bone-jarring track of the morning, and a few of us were eating up the kilometers. I could see lush hills, paddies, and sugar cane farms everywhere. I was happy to have a (mostly) functioning bike at last, and I enjoyed pushing the pace.

At one point, as I was passing a roadside restaurant, a dog charged into the road and lunged at my right leg before I could even react, just missing me and grabbing the spokes of my rear wheel instead. He started to chase after me up the hill I had just reached, and I was worried he would be able to keep up. After a few seconds though he gave up and turned around.

This was a fascinating road to use. It is fairly modern, but it also runs through nothing but basic agricultural towns. As a result, practically every mode of transport available in Vietnam was spotted along the way: ox-pulled carts, bicycles packed with bamboo stalks, motorbikes, superbikes, buses, trucks packed with harvested plants, luxury sedans, etc. I eventually reached the town where we were to split off from the Ho Chi Minh highway to route 217, so I stopped to wait for the others. I had put some distance between myself and the next person, so I wandered around and snagged a few photos.

Everyone else soon showed up, so we split into groups and grabbed lunch at various restaurants. Lunch was awesome. And huge. After filling up we checked our bikes...something that always draws a crowd, and continued on at around 12:30. We had about 40km to go until we hit Quan Lao, our stop for the day.

I ended up in a group of four - Tom S., Phong, Joe and I -  at the front, and we kept up a pace of about 25kph. I didn't take any pictures over this stretch, since there are only so many ways you can shoot a rice paddy or a mountain, especially under such gray skies. I can't wait for a sunny day. Still, it was a great time. 217 wasn't as nice as the highway but it was paved, and I dispensed countless additional hellos and waves, as well as a few high-fives. At one point Dana caught up and the front five pulled into Quan Lao around 2pm and sorted out which hotel we would be staying at. I was amazed I hadn't gotten any flats, especially on the rough track this morning, and I was elated after an awesome day on the road. Although my ass was absolutely killing me. This town is a far cry from Vu Ban, with a main road separated by a median and all sorts of buildings and businesses. Time to relax in the gradually warming weather. Tomorrow we head to Tinh Gia, 68km away. H2H 2012 rolls on! 213km covered so far.

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