HCMC Dining Guide

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

H2H 2013 Day 12: Where's the road?

Day 12 was our first in the mountains that bisect the country, and everyone was a bit nervous. People had heard from last year's riders (including me) how hard these rides were, and no one really knew how their bodies would respond. After getting out of Hue we settled in on QL49, the road that would take us to A Luoi, a small town near the border with Laos. It was set to be a 73km ride with a couple of serious climbs.

The first 30ish km's were relatively flat, with a few small hills along the way.
 We then hit the first climb - a short but steep one, and I stopped at the top to wait for the rest of the team to regroup. It was great to see everyone cheering each other on, and it was clear that we are really gelling as a team. I've been telling the riders that the mental aspect of climbing is even more important than the physical, and nothing is better than rounding a corner to see a bunch of people cheering for you.

 After some more climbing we reached a set of two insane downhills. The brakes on our cheap bikes aren't great, and as I rocketed down I was seriously scared at a few points. The road was potholed, and you never knew what was coming around the next corner. Watch one through my helmet-cam:

Everyone made it down safely, and once things flattened out we stopped for lunch in a lovely area.
Instantly a crowd formed around the strange new visitors. Most of the children appeared to be from a minority group, which there are many of in this part of Vietnam. Some were a bit shy:
 While others had no problem mugging for the camera:
future boy band

 There was almost as much interest in our weird-looking bikes as there was in us. With lunch finished we set off, with the second climb of the day just a few minutes away. This was a rough one at the start. Much of this section of the road simply doesn't exist anymore, as they are putting in a completely new highway with a number of bridges. Last year this had been completely paved, now it was just a stretch of dirt.

 Things were rather frightening for a few minutes, with trucks and heavy machinery rumbling past, while we only had a couple of feet between us and a fatal fall off the road and into a ravine. After a while though I began to enjoy it - the looks of utter confusion from construction workers as we went past, the amazing views, and the sheer insanity of what we were doing. Below the photos is a video taken with the GoPro camera I'm using on the trip that should give you a good idea of what this part of the ride was like. (I'm getting some great videos, but the internet connections in the towns we are staying in haven't been great, so I can only upload one at a time.)

After a bit the construction ended, and the paved road meant an easier time of the climb. With 8 km to go to A Luoi I hit the final downhill of the day and careened into town shortly thereafter. While looking for hotel rooms I ran into a couple of muscular American men who survey sites here in Vietnam where the remains of U.S. servicemen may rest. The day before they had been scheduled to go out to an area where a helicopter crashed during the war, but they said the terrain made it impossible to reach by ground. They explained that the battle depicted in the movie "Hamburger Hill" took place nearby, and Khe Sanh was just up the road. One of the guys has been doing this work here for 20 years and spoke excellent Vietnamese - he said that A Luoi saw a lot of action during the war. Fascinating stuff.

That evening we had some amazing bun thit nuong for dinner and began to rest up for day 13, the first of the officially sanctioned Evil Bitch Days - 105km through more mountains. Bring it.

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