If I can’t walk it, I will bike it…

Posted on February 13, 2012

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After 4 or 5 days of rest in Vientiane, I decided i’d continue the Smile Trek by bike, making it up to Hanoi, Vietnam… I met and spoke with many cyclists in those days who all encouraged me to “join the club!” Sure, sounds exciting, but what kind of bike? how many gears? what are the essentials? Am I once again romanticizing the challenging adventure as I did the walk? Would my body actually break down in a couple days? I felt quite overwhelmed by all the details involved, yet still earnestly excited/eager for a new adventure…

As I walked about town questioning cyclists about where they’ve gone, my eyes keenly examined their rides- from Egypt to India, Australia to the UK; tandem road, fixie, mountain; plastic basket to saddle bags… And as I made my way back to my room for a break, I saw what I thought would be my ideal bike. I asked out loud to everyone who’s bike it was. That’s how I met Iona from Romania, who decided it would be her honor and duty to equip me with the essentials for embarking on my 2-wheeled journey. We spent an entire day testing bikes (new and used) and riding from market to market picking up the essentials (gloves to cushion the palms, shades to block the wind, bike shorts to pad the butt, bungy cords to strap the bags.) I bought a used, refurbished, hybrid of a bike for 100 bucks. (behind a car dealership at the corner of Boulevard Kouvieng and Rue Dongpalane they have several dozens of used, mixed up, refurbished bikes)

Bike shop with handy essentials

The next day I bussed over to Lak Sao, the last major town before crossing over into Vietnam, to meet Winston. We stayed at Souriya Hotel just off the main road.

Day One– Clear sky, open fields, very few cars along Hwy 8 (a nicely paved hwy on the way to Vietnam.) Cow bells in the near distance sounded like wind chimes. a few butterflies decided to greet me as they crossed the road. This was so much better than walking I couldn’t believe I didn’t buy a bike sooner…

10km from the Vietnam boarder on Hwy 8

Due to our late start and word of the border closing time (5pm,) we decided to end the day right before the border in Nam Ngang. On the way there (at about Na Pe), I saw a sign- “HOT SPRINGS.” Of Course, I stopped. I saw nothing that resembled my idea of hot springs , but there were bungalows and the makings of a restaurant. I took a short break and then continued on to the meeting point. 10 minutes into the ride, I met a long stretch of straight away hugged nicely between acres of rice patties. “Wow, this looks so beautiful!” I thought to myself and on I went… But the wind swiftly picked up and OFF I nearly went from the road. Simultaneously, the sun fell behind dark clouds. What initially seemed like an easy ride became tremendously difficult. Pedaling through it reminded me of my month of boot camp workouts where we would have a bungy rope around our waist with someone behind us pulling back with their body weight while we attempted to run with all our might. The tension was so tight it looked like we were running in place. At this point, i felt like turning around, but this was only day 2! I couldn’t expect every day to be a breeze (in my favor.) Eventually, I made it through the stretch- only to meet a succession of inclinations to compliment the arduous winds. Feeling a bit helpless, I called Winston to explain the situation- strong winds, falling over, big hills, cold, can…. not…. make…. it…. (all the while hoping we can just call the “Hot Springs” our final meeting point.) He agreed…

Somehow, after that convo, I decided I’d take one for the team and tough it through to the next town (Nam Ngang) just to see if there were accommodations there. Well, there weren’t, BUT I felt pretty darn proud of myself for making it all the way there- and back! The cherry on top- a Hot bath 😀 I hadn’t seen a tub in months!

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