HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, February 10, 2012

H2H Day 6: Going solo

the neighborhood around our hotel in Do Luong
Our sixth day, a journey from muddy Do Luong to Pho Chau, was supposed to be 85km long - 25 on Route 7, and another 60 on the Ho Chi Minh Highway. The ride ended up being much longer, much to our chagrin.

The seven of us who had crashed the wedding the previous day expected to be hurting from the obnoxious amounts of shots we had taken, and I did indeed wake up with a headache. Fortunately I had passed out for a few hours as soon as we got back from the shindig the previous night, and that had certainly helped ease the worst of the pain. Although my left knee was looking a bit gruesome after falling in a drunken haze after all of the shots of whiskey and rice wine. I simply slapped a band-aid on it and got ready to go. By the time we set out into the dreary weather (same as it has been every day) my head was feeling fine, although I hadn't really had breakfast, so I wasn't sure how long my energy reserves would last.

The answer ended up being about 25km - I had to stop for a snack at the start of the highway, since I was feeling drained. A few people stopped as well, and after a few minutes Sandra and I set off together. We soon passed a kilometer marker that said "Pho Chau - 80km". We both wondered what the hell was going on - this meant the day would be at least 105km, not the expected 85. There wasn't anything we could do about that, so we continued on. Attempts to draft off each other were thwarted by the wet and the mud, since riding behind someone meant you were constantly sprayed by their tire wash. After eating some mud and catching a few pieces in my eyes I decided to abandon riding with anyone.

After traversing some rolling hills and looping descents I came out on a flat stretch with rice paddies fanning out on both sides. I stopped to take a few pictures and was joined by Rhona, Dana, Corey, Phong, and Sandra.

Look mom, I'm still alive!
After taking off again I quickly pulled away from the others, and eventually passed Tom S. and Anna, the two people ahead of me. I then passed the lead support van, and was completely on my own. I got into a steady pace and started cranking out the kilometers. I thought we were going to stop for lunch as a group with about 40km to go, but I was already within 35km of Pho Chau when I got a text saying most of the people had stopped to eat about 55km from town. I knew this meant I was well ahead of everyone else, and I ended up being on my own for hours. There weren't any towns or villages worth mentioning along the way, so there was nowhere to stop for food. I had no choice but to power through the day without having lunch.

The road was gorgeous: smooth and well-paved, with awesome scenery, and little traffic. I'm pretty sure I saw more livestock than motor vehicles in the course of the day.
at some points we were less than 10km from the border with Laos
the empty highway
I was a little nervous about riding so far ahead of the rest of the riders since I've been cycling naked in terms of equipment: no food, and no gear except for a pump. If I had gotten a puncture, crashed, or had some other mechanical problem I would've been in trouble. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this solo ride: the fresh air and solitude of the highway was a godsend after the time spent on hectic Highway 1 the previous day, and I was able to just keep going without worrying about anyone slowing me down. The mist of the morning had also cleared, so the cycling was dry, although the views were still a bit obscured. 

I got a lot of confused looks from people I rode past. They didn't seem sure of what to make of a white guy riding a road bike all by himself. With about 10km to go the mist returned, just in time for a cruel, unnecessary hill right outside of Pho Chau. I had already put in roughly 105km, so I crawled up the hill and rejoiced during the descent down the other side. I pulled into town just as seemingly every kid within a 20-mile radius was returning to school, and I ended up riding down the main road with approximately 50,000 kids, all on bicycles of their own, staring at me. 

I couldn't find our hotel at first, so I went and sat near the roundabout right at the entrance to town waiting for other people to show up. Two kids walked up to me and asked me for money and left when I ignored them. After waiting for a about 30 minutes with no riders in sight, I decided to have another go at finding the hotel. I did, but the people there spoke absolutely no English, and I couldn't get the point that I needed lots of rooms across. Fortunately, the leading support van then showed up with Anna just behind, and the drivers explained what was needed. Other riders then began arriving, and we were soon sorted with rooms, although the last of the group showed up about two hours after I had arrived.

Pho Chau was another pretty undeveloped town with little in the way of food, and there wasn't much to do. My band-aid had come off my knee during the ride, so my wound was looking pretty filthy. I got that cleaned up and hit the hay. My bike computer read 111km traveled that day, a massive amount. We discovered the next day that we had taken a wrong turn that added the 20+km to what we originally thought we would be dealing with, but I had actually rather enjoyed it. The road was a joy, the scenery great, and the terrain pretty manageable. With a short day up next I was feeling good.

On my own in the middle of nowhere
One of the most common obstacles on the HCM Highway: cow shit

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