HCMC Dining Guide

Saturday, May 9, 2015

H2H 2015 Day 27: We're Coming Home

I wrote the recap of the last day for the team blog and people liked it, so I'm going to repost it here.

This final day of H2H 2015 began earlier than the rest, and even the terrible morning people were up and ready because we all knew what was at the other end: our friends, our own beds and, most importantly, pizza and BBQ.

I had set a different route into the city from past years in order to completely avoid Highway 1, which is harrowing on a bike, but once I explained it to the DHL drivers they were having none of it. This new way would require a ferry crossing, which they said would take hours since holiday traffic was pouring out of Saigon. So much for that, Highway 1 it was - little did I know that a branch of AH17 has been added to the highway, allowing us to go around the worst stretch. Another benefit was that this significantly shortened the route - instead of nearly 100km as proposed by me, we were now facing a trifling 83. We had told everyone to meet us at Cargo Bar in District 4 at 4pm, so with ample time we enjoyed a long breakfast and could take our time on the road.

We rode differently today: the whole team together, with Kim and Damo out front and me at the back (which, I have to admit, was extremely boring), while the DHL van and Mr. Cuong the white van man acted as buffers at either end. The traffic, especially on the AH17 branch, was surprisingly light and completely manageable, much safer than in years past. After an extended water/Revive/Coke break at a roadside cafe we carried on - our first stop on the way into Saigon would be The Boathouse in Thao Dien, where Bekah, Bex and Thea, the injured riders, would meet us for the final leg into the city.

We rejoined Highway 1 in Thu Duc District and began following the metro construction past Suoi Tien. Coming over a rise you could see the unmistakable silhouette of the Bitexco Tower in the hazy distance and a cheer went up - we could see the end of this amazing journey, and it was an exciting moment.

We entered District 2 with time to spare and turned off the highway towards The Boathouse, located in the BP Compound. As went through the security gate at the entrance an extremely drunk Vietnamese man decided to crash his motorbike right in the middle of the group. Unfazed we carried on past the expensive villas and it was high-fives all around as we parked our bikes. Rider Damo is friends with Rod, the owner of The Boathouse, and he had arranged a 2 million VND tab for the team. We settled into the leafy riverside environs of the restaurant and enjoyed a few very well-deserved brews along with chips and salsa. We also reunited with the three girls who had returned to Saigon earlier in the ride, and it was great to see them in high spirits.

Anh Thuong, Anh Thang and Chu Cuong, the support drivers, received Hawaiian shirts as a token of our appreciation for their hard work and patience over the month.
After one final team picture, and the first full team shot in over three weeks, it was time to head to Cargo and the grand finale. Bekah and Thea, still unable to ride, went in the van, while Bex bravely mounted her Giant and rode along.

Across the river and through Binh Thanh, entering District 1 and riding along the river - it was strange cycling past skyscrapers and condo towers after several weeks of scruffy towns, herds of cattle and epic natural vistas. After one final regroup at a cafe around the corner from Cargo it was time to finish: Bekah and Thea walked along while we held up traffic to finish as a whole. Rounding onto Nguyen Tat Thanh we could see the crowd of friends and supporters gathered at the entrance to Cargo. It was an emotional moment for everyone and, if you'll allow me to indulge for a minute, an especially important one for me. This was my third H2H, and on the previous two I had experienced muscle strains with five days remaining, leaving me unable to finish either time. This year I had sorted the problem out and cruised through the final days with nary an ache or pain. As much as I love the charity, team-building and leadership aspects of H2H, actually finishing the ride was my top priority this time around, and I was doing just that. I'm not usually one for crying, but I couldn't help it as the crowd cheered for us, we chanted H2H and everyone started hugging each other. We had done it. I was so proud to have co-led such a great group of people to a successful finish. (And shout out to co-leader Chris Rolls, who was an absolute pleasure to ride with. To borrow his own favorite phrase, he's a top man.)

And what friends we have - within seconds of dismounting our bikes we were handed pizza, beer and a bottle of Scotch whiskey with a GoPro attached to it (thanks Matt and Alex!). I could see a whole range of emotions on each rider's face: joy and pride at completing such a daunting physical challenge, elation at seeing friends and loved ones, and perhaps a few twinges of sadness as we all realized something special was coming to an end.

No sadness here though.
It's difficult to sum up something as big and varied as H2H. What I've learned over three rides is that it's a huge undertaking made up of small moments: the smile of a child when you wave back at him; a panorama of utter beauty that flashes by as you rocket downhill at 60kph; the boy in Dong Le who said One Direction sucks; the whole team belting out 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at karaoke in Buon Me Thuot (Ok, I guess that's a 7-minute moment); stretching with the children at the orphanage in Pleiku; Team North America crushing Team England in kickball; talking to coffee farmers next to the hills they harvest; drinking with cops - the list goes on. As time progresses we'll forget parts of the ride; I'm guessing I'm the only person who can still name every town we stopped in. But I think we'll remember these moments, and we'll certainly remember each other and the causes we rode for.

Of course, the star of the show on H2H is always the incredible country of Vietnam. We've all adopted it as our home, some for longer than others, and what it gives back to you on the ride can never be repaid. The countless people who helped is out of pure generosity, the staggering scenery, the food and the roads. H2H wouldn't exist without this place, and I for one am thankful to have the opportunity to see it in such a way. I enjoy Saigon and all of its creature comforts, but the real Vietnam is out there, somewhere on the road, and I miss it already. Until next time.

P.S. We are still fundraising for our charities until the end of this month! We've broken the $45,000 record set by the 2012 team, but we'd love to raise more. I haven't reached my personal target of $2,500 yet, and that would be great if I could. If you'd like to donate please do so here: https://www.justgiving.com/Michael-Tatarski3/

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