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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Slackers about to hit the road again

Our 2 days off in Siam Reap became three after one of the bikes came back from Bo Bo the bike shop man with its motor not functioning. We do not suspect that the affable Mr B and his team of lads were to blame - it was just one of those things, probably water getting into the power switch somehow. Many thanks yet again to Shaun for providing spares and telling us what to do with them! And we recommend Bo Bo to anyone buying, hiring, repairing or needing spares or accessories for bikes. Find him at www.angkor-cycling-tour.com



Paradoxically, having spent a day getting the bike going, we now have nobody to ride it as Cindy will  have to leave us in the morning to take Mr That's tuk-tuk to the airport to fly to Bangkok and thence back home. The bike will have to go with Lucky in a taxi until we can rendezvous with Katrina somewhere near the Thai border, where we also hope to meet one or more members of the Thai Cycling Club, who have offerred to give us aid and assistance. Many thanks to Suki in Bangkok for setting that connection in motion.

It's been a much needed rest, and the visit to Angkor Wat was terrific, even in the rain. But the tarmac beckons...........

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mad Bomber Aboard

Mad Bomber came on board as a significant sponsor since we left! They vow to bail us out of jail and help with bicycle repairs and tow trucks, medical bills and the occasional frivolous expense such as paying entry fees for Angkor Wat. Thank you Mad Bomber! Visit their website and order a cool Mad Bomber hat as Mad Bomber cares about Cystic Fibrosis!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

R and R


Quick! Come and look at the funny white person!


Grubby and dishevelled, the team rolled into Siam Reap for a 2 day stop to recharge our batteries - physical, spiritual and lithium ion. We will have time to give the bikes a bit of tlc, courtesy of Mr Bobo whose bike shop Walter found on the internet and who knows what a disc brake is, and visit the temples of Angkor Wat. Thanks for this stay at an upscale hotel go to the Wishing Well Clinic in south west WA who have generously sponsored some of the team's expenses.

The family in the corridor at the hotel in Stoung turned out to be the accounts department - it was to the bloke that we paid our $20 for three rooms.

It was another day of sleepy villages (with the main road running through the middle), waving moppets and inscrutable brahmin cattle. Mark felt a lot better and decided to go on ahead and arrive before the afternoon got too hot. Walter, Cindy and Al rolled along in his wake, but still made pretty good time and got in well before dark, for once. Then a quick late lunch became a bit of an ordeal - they brought the first person's drink, waited till they finished then brought the next person's. Ditto the food. Strange and time-consuming, though as Walt pointed out it made the cost of the meal per minute very reasonable.

We parted unexpectedly from Mom today. She had to go back to Phnom Penh to sort out transferring her son from one school to another. But she brought along another son, a much bigger one, to help us until we go to the border. This son, Lucky, has never been to Siam Reap/Angkor Wat before, so will see this wonder of his cultural heritage as our guest, which is rather nice. His English is not as good as his Mum's but he can always phone her for help, and his Khmer will be invaluable.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bad day for Mark


Another late start as we pottered around finding torches, chain oil and whatnot, adjusted some brakes... Only about 90 to go and we made quite sure there was a real hotel already booked so there shouldn't be any surprises........

Very hot again, but 90km meant we could use a fair bit of battery so we made good progress. It's great riding through the Cambodian villages - they build beautiful wood plank houses up on tall stilts, and continue to build them in the same way, some thatched and some with fish-scale tiled roofs and elaborate finials. The kids all rush out and wave and say hello to the funny foreigners (they were doing it last night too in the pitch dark - how do they know?). Our attempted lunch stop was odd. There were lots of stalls by the road, which people seemed to be living in, and some tables and chairs and a few unpromising veggies and pots with no fires under them, but lots of bowls of eggs sitting on bain-maries over unlit little charcoal burners. Gestures about eating these eggs provoked great hilarity - they may have been incubating them to hatch. Nothing else seemed on offer so we got out some munchies of our own and ended up handing them round. First time I've been in an eatery where the guests feed the proprietors.

Soon after we realised Mark wasn't behind us, but we didn't worry as he often stops to take pictures and then zooms past us again. Then we DID start to worry, and soon he called to say he was sick and vomiting by the roadside, and having trouble breathing. He soldiered on for a bit but was soon pretty crook again so Walter got Mom to come back in a taxi. These little towns don't HAVE taxis, so she persuaded a shoe shop man to drive her back to collect Mark and bike and take him the last 10km or so to the hotel. Seemed to be heatstroke - after all, Mark is working much harder than us slackers with batteries - but a doctor came and reckons he has flu. He has been coughing for a week. Anyway he has been cooled and medicated and rested and seems a lot better.
The rest nearly made it to town without the tropical downpour experience. It belted down and we pulled in under someone's front porch to shelter. They were very welcoming and ended up giving us a bowl of noodles each - and extremely fine noodles they were.

So here we are in the hotel in Stoung, sans aircon, sans wifi, and perfectly comfortable. There is a family of three living in the corridor outside our rooms. Odd.



Back on line


A welcome patch of shade on a really hot day - we get through buckets of sugary drinks......


Sorry no post yesterday - hotel wifi not exactly as advertised (they advertised it would work, but it didn't).

Yesterday turned into a loooong day. We had agreed with Mom to ride about 80km to Skun, which didn't sound too arduous, so we pottered about in PP variously seeing a museum, visiting a bike shop (one with a lot more enthusiasm than expertise) and generally not being very focused, finally getting ready to leave about 11, whereupon Mom announced that there was no hotel there and we had to go another 40. Which in real life turned out to be 53. 133km with an 11 o'clock start is going some, and sure enough we did the last hour and a half in the dark. It was worse than the previous time as this road had potholes, which we tried to spot using a combination of our lights - bright when viewed from the front but modest for seeing with - other cars' lights, our team mates' tail lights, and, for a while, copious amounts of lightning. Didn't do badly at all, and there was hardly any rain, though we still hit a pothole or two which after 100+km jars the sore bum considerably.

And why had we been pt through this ordeal? It's not that there were no hotels in Skun, just none with aircon and wifi. We have updated Mon's understanding of our needs and requirements - after all I am writing this a day late in a room without aircon or wifi and, thanks to Walter for figuring out my phone's 3G problem, I am both cool and online.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Slackers

An interesting start today when we finally got going - we rolled onto a ferry to take us across the river, squashed on with container trucks, mopeds (some with cargos of unfortunate pigs and chickens, all trussed up) and an assortment of hawkers squeezing between the vehicles with their pomeloes, fried birds and who knows what else. We were careful to squeeze the brakes as we stood right at the back with the bikes, lest an unexpected lurch should make us slide backwards 3 feet and over the stern, through the safety barrier which was not present. Safely off the ferry, we and the unfortunate livestock turned right and headed for Phnom Penh, a mere 55km away.

Walter's guardian angel was on fine form today. 2 sudden and torrential downpours. 2 coffee shops right there when we needed them most. So thanks to our refuges (we were already in the first one when the deluge hit) we got to PP unsoaked, where Mom met us and whisked us off in her tuk-tuk to see her good works in a very poor village on the outskirts. She does work for an orphanage of sorts and has built several shacks and is near completing a large block which will house 16 families. Then the tuk-tuk, driven by her adopted son and herself, by turns, took us on a bit of a tour of PP, especially Diamond Island, which is largely a big funfair where the less-poor kids were being happily centrifuged on bright neon rides. The tuk-tuk was nicely decorated, was steered through the mayhem by someone else, and, best of all, didn't need pedalling.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Phew!

Well, today was a bit of hard work. We left Trang Bang for the Cambodian border about 30km away, loading all the bags into a taxi organised by Sreymom (Mom). When we got there, there she was sitting having coffee next to our huge pile of baggage, which was then all loaded onto a moped - no space for driver so they pushed it across the border and put it in a Cambodian cab.

Then things started to go just a little pear-shaped. We got through immigration fine, Walter even managing to use his watercolour passport to both leave Vietnam and enter Cambodia. The we were ready to have lunch and set off for a town about 40 odd km away as planned. But Mom had got her wires a bit crossed and arranged the cab to come to  Neak Loeung - 100km away....

So we bolted lunch and pedalled off, trying to keep up a good pace but not use too much battery (we had a spare each, but the 2 extra ones were in the cab. Hardly stopped for over 6 hours, battling a headwind, at least an hour in the dark. Luckily the Cambodian roads, or at least this Route One, are in much better nick than the Vietnamese ones - no potholes to dodge in the dark, traffic light, though fast, and drivers give us a very wide berth. So we made it to this rather grotty hotel, dead tired and with nearly everything aching, and that's all I have the stamina to report.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

On the road again


Forgive radio silence yesterday - a rest day in Ho Chi Minh city, and a sad farewell to Jim, but a warm welcome to Cindy from Tasmania.


Having said goodbye to the stalwart Nam it was just the new team and the GPS finding our way via a bit of history at the Cu Chi war tunnels to Trang Bang - our last stop in Vietnam before hitting the Cambodian border. Walter managed to get a route into the device by hand as we have managed to lose the cable for connecting it to the laptop and doing it the easy way. It promptly led us off in exactly the opposite direction to where we needed to go but we kept the faith and it led us round a large block for reasons best known to itself and we were soon dodging the HCM traffic again. It was Cindy's first time riding a Zoco so she was really chucked in the deep end - and breezed through it all.

The war tunnels were a sobering history lesson. Mark scooted down the original-size little tunnel to see inside a bunker with a slit for shooting Americans. Of course Wal wanted to go down too, and fitted ok, but found the amount of oxygen less than he was used to and emerged coughing away, much to the alarm of the poor guide. The visit took a while, not least because they make you park your bikes hundreds of metres from the site proper, so we rolled into town in the dark and in the rain. Again.

Mon, our Cambodian minder, arrived late after a bus breakdown at the border. She's a real live wire, speaks good English, and at dinner spotted a taxi so grabbed the driver and booked him for tomorrow's run to the border so she seems on the ball.

There's a lot of Cambodia to get across so we better get going. Always assuming Wal can get out of Vietnam with his watercolour passport.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We made it!


The team rolled into Ho Chi Minh city in splendour and with time to spare for Andrew to have a shower and a massage before leaving for the airport. Bon voyage Andrew and thank you so much for being a part of the escapade.

Jim went ahead as ever, having put an ill-advised 10 extra pumps of air in his back tyre. Halfway to HCM this exploded and Nam had to be dispatched forward to take Jim and his crippled steed to a bike shop. The rest decided to put the batteries on full power and gun it from the outset. The terrain was flat and the sun blistering and Andrew set a cracking pace - guess he couldn't wait to get home. We hit the urban sprawl at least 20km out of the city and wove our way in between about 3 million mopeds to the Mifuki hotel - Walter and his trusty gps navigating us here without a hitch. As we turned the last corner
Nam appeared in the car - he had been scouting around for us - and Jim jumped out of a taxi, complete with bike china. He had been lurking somewhere a little way out and saw us go past, but even the redoubtable Jim could not keep up with the Zocos on full power, so resorted to a reasonably terrifying taxi ride, with the team in sight for much of the way.

Cindy arrived just after Andrew left and the baton now passes to her. We have a day off tomorrow, so she can get the hang of the bike before taking on the HCM traffic in earnest.

Last word goes to Jim, who we also lose here......



Jim here
Wot a ride this has been! The best parts:

Climbing the steep passes of the Ho Chi Minh highway, listening to your own breathing echoing off the hills, and cooling in the waterfalls at the side of the road.

Or having the handlebars of your bike fixed by a man with no hands.

Or just watching Wally, Alastair, Andrew and Mark, brilliant in fleuro, set a demon pace as they close in through the wild traffic in central HCM city.

Thanks Wally, it has been the experience of a lifetime and for you it isn't even half over. This is a very serious test for you. Good speed and g'donya!

Jim

And remember everyone - Wally and the team are still in need of help, especially for support vehicles. Our thanks again to Vinacrete for providing Nam, who was a hero, but there are always extras to pay and the money for vehicles is going faster than expected, and we have yet to make any arrangements for Thailand and Malaysia. Head on over to www.coughng4cf.com and click on the map to support the team directly via fundrazr. Thank you!


Can't resist a PS. There's good coffee, and then there's......

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A dry day until it rained


You're probably all bored with pictures of sweaty blokes in ridiculous shorts - so here's a picture of a pig.


The team's well-intentioned earlyish start was foiled by Andrew getting all of 30m and finding he had no brakes. Roadside repairs and the fitting of new pads - thank you Shaun for adding those to the pack of spares - got him going again but we lost a bit of time. Mark was with the peloton today - Jim long gone. We gradually descended from the plateau, though with plenty of uphill climbs in between, and did a fair few long, fast descents which invariably ended in a broken up/muddy/appallingly-mended stretch at the bottom (where I suppose heavy rains kick off the erosion process) for us to negotiate amid the trucks and buses and scooters each picking their favoured line through the battlefield. At these times, indeed at most times, driving on the right is more a guideline than a rule to be pedantic about.

We rode into Dong Xoai as it was getting dark, whereupon the black clouds which we had been watching with apprehension finally did their thing and the last 5km was in a huge downpour. Just had time to stop and put the essentials in the waterproof bag before we were drenched, which took seconds.

Jim had been here for hours of course. We will be sad to lose him after tomorrow, the man's a legend. Andrew too - assuming we get him there on time - will leave a big hole in the team. His hung-ho attitude and aptitude for fixing things have been invaluable, though he has lately become a bit slack as Al's coffee partner. Complaining about the sugar hit in the condensed milk or some such nonsense.

I've just noticed our room has a window with a curtain - but it's onto the corridor, not the outside world. Strange.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Day of the 3 in 1 Coffee Break



The Zocos had been looking a little unkempt for the last few days. In fact they were covered in mud. So what could be better than a tiny coffee place in a scruffy town with a motorbike-washing joint on one side and a barber on the other? The bikes had a spa treatment with a pressure hose and good old soap and water and a sponge, while Andrew and Walt's chins had a not dissimilar experience.

So after a day billed as mostly downhill which somehow contrived to feel as if it was mostly uphill, we arrived in Gia Nghia looking unusually presentable. The Zocos are now linked together by a stonking great chain and padlock, fitted by the hotel (what kind of a town IS this?). Jim and Mark had, as ever, preceded the rest, and heroically found the hotel, despite our having been given the wrong address. Still in with a chance of getting Andrew to the airport on Wednesday night. Will we make it?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thank You to everyone

Just a quick thank you to everyone who has donated to our big ride for Cystic Fibrosis. Without you this trip would not be possible! There is no way the self funded team could find enough money for the support vehicle. The vehicle in Vietnam is already much more expensive than we had budgeted for. Even though car rental and drivers wages are covered we are still paying the petrol money and food and accommodation for the driver. In the next few countries we may not be so lucky to have someone like Vinacrete find a superb man like Nam, and pay the bulk of his cost. Where we still need help with vehicle options are Thailand and Malaysia. In the mean time we still really accept donations for the team! great news is that our initial targets have been reached!!! I will not change those as it is too wonderful to see we exceeded our hopes! Of course any money not spend will go back to CF at the end of the trip too. Everyday we drink clean bottled water thanks to sponsors like the Mad Bomber, www.madbomber.com , who has donated a sizeable kitty for emergency funds like clean drinking water, good food and wine (!) and tips to poor people who help us - like the people who cleaned our bikes and gave us a shave over a coffee break in a tiny village! Mad Bomber cares about those little luxuries in life, and they support Cystic Fibrosis. Thank you Mad Bomber! When the weather turns we will wear our Mad Bomber hats! Promise! And speaking of sponsors, last night's luscious hotel was going to come from the Welness Clinic donation, but Jim covered it for us all!! Time for dinner!
Some of the team and the sturdy legs of a soldier at a roadside war memorial. Andrew (taking picture) and Jim (somewhere in front on Bike China) send their apologies.


Jim joined us for lunch today! But hardly touched his bowl of noodles and he was gone again. It was supposed only to be a coffee stop but Walter needed some fuel and the rest selflessly joined him in a very good bowl of pho. Disturbingly this pre-lunch turned out to be the only lunch we got!

We did a modest 83km today to end up in Buon Ma Thout. Some was downhill but some definitely wasn't, though we all made it on one battery with juice to spare. This is quite a big town and we wound up in a grander than usual hotel. The mauveness of the décor seems to decrease as you go up-market.

We have just looked at the altitude profile for tomorrow's segment of the get-Andrew-to-HCM-by-Wednesday campaign. Gulp. Time for an early night......

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Downhill (mostly)


"I'm very sorry, Mr Van Praag, but the Queensland government is a proscribed organisation in these parts"


From Pleiku it was downhill most of the way and we made good time, rather hemmed in by buildings and a huge rubber estate, until we came down off a plateau and saw a vast, open landscape before us with distant mountains behind. Rather magnificent, it was.

Jim had done his customary disappearing act in the morning but Mark stayed with the peloton this time. He was slowed down a bit, by Mark standards, by a dodgy stomach, but soon recovered and whizzed off into the distance. The last 25km got their revenge a bit as things went uphill again, but we are now installed in Eu Drang, after the stalwart Nam trawled the town for somewhere who would take us. Thank you Vinacrete for providing his invaluable services!

This hotel seems to be run by two barely teenage girls - they checked us in, carried bags, moved 2 bikes (which were locked together, causing a lot of giggling) waited at dinner, the lot. They then went back to their texting and copying drawings from Manga comics. We have no idea where the grown-ups are, if indeed there are any. Al's towel is possibly the smallest so far. You could perhaps dry an infant with it, providing the infant wasn't too wet to begin with.

We are now counting days as we need to get Andrew to the airport in HCM City by Wednesday. Will we make it? Don't miss tomorrow's thrilling instalment!

(Oh, we got stopped by the Police, but they only wanted a chat)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fewer mountains


Walter negotiating the after-school traffic. His arm would be pretty tired from waving by this point. Note the van overtaking him overtaking the cyclists.


We rode about 100km today but we can't be sure as the second bike computer has now had a hissy fit and isn't measuring properly. The GPS will reveal all eventually. Mark and Jim were way in front as usual, and paid for it by being caught in a huge downpour that even stopped Mark in his tracks. Now the poor bloke has a rotten cold.

Team farkle (Walter, Andrew and Al) were well behind and could see the black clouds that soaked the other two, but only got a little wet themselves. Their lunch stop turned into a bit of a party - a shot of vodka each from the next table and a shared glass of something remarkably like grappa from a large plastic drum. The noodles were good too.

We have discovered why the hotels were refusing to let us foreigners stay - it seems we are now in a politically delicate area and need police clearance to stay in a hotel. This should be a formality as long as we pre-book, so Wal is at this very moment researching tomorrow's stop and doing his coughing, ace multi-tasker that he is. Luckily the rather larger than usual Pleiku Hotel accepted us, muddy legs and all, so here we are. It even serves breakfast!

Friday, September 14, 2012

More mountains

He came, he saw, he broke it. The Ho Chi Minh highway looking a little the worse for wear in the wake of a certain Dutchman........




Well we made it!

When we got down to breakfast Jim had miraculously disappeared - wanting to get a good start on us until the rest caught up and Al and Andrew in relays could help get bike China up the hill. He had reckoned without the length of time Team Farkle needs to get under way in the morning - and their dedication to coffee stops - and reached Dak Leng 3 hours ahead of them.

The scenery in the mountains was magnificent - emerald hills with the occasional rice paddies (not many - mostly too steep), our progress marked as ever by the crossing of rivers large and small, clear and brown, and dotted with small villages of traditional wood-plank houses containing children clad in traditional Manchester United strip.

The Zoco electric bikes got us up the hills with aplomb, though we still had to pedal hard and chewed through 2 batteries each. The mostly smooth and lightly-used HCM highway threw a couple of surprises at us in the form of sudden road works - deep, sticky mud with many ruts and invariably a truck labouring through from the other end. Just the way Walter likes it - he was in his element!

Pics to follow - the Dong Duong Hotel internet is like treacle.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Into the real mountains

It was a day of reckoning. Andrew joined the team and Eleanor left us :(.

Andrew brought the Moët to celebrate the changeover which we drank in the resort after he had a good inspection of his Zoco Electric Bike. Andrew was intrigued by the gearing system and seems now fully familiarised with it... The bikes all got a bit of an Andrew touch to ensure the next leg was going to be as trouble free as the first.

We left Hoi An leaving a very sad Eleanor behind as well as my spare glasses... Andrew beamed ahead full of enthusiasm and energy.

Mark got his first flat tyre of the trip on his Mark-powered bicycle and fixed it in no time flat. After about 40kms we were back on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and heading into the mountains. We climbed to a final level of about 400m but had a lot of ups and downs before getting there. We have two manual bikes with us and Jim eventually relinquished his to Andrew who had mistakenly thought they were easy to pedal. Over the final rainy 5km of uphill he was convinced that Mark and Jim are bloody fit! Andrew will try them again tomorrow. Of course riding a battery assisted Zoco takes the pain out of even the biggest mountains. The 113km were covered with 2 batteries each and an average of 21.5kph. I know I personally could not average half that myself on a manual bike!

Kham Duc is a remote town at 400m altitude in front of a huge mountain. Tomorrow we have a 1200m pass!to climb in the first 40kms of a very long day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Day 9, 10, 11

There is a reason we haven't blogged for a while... We've settled quite nicely into a delightfully comfortable resort in Hoi An for a well deserved rest-break thanks to Scott and Estel from the Devonport based, Kentish Funerals (many, many thanks, from the bottom of our bottoms).

The ride to get here on day 9 was monumental. We conquered The Hải Vân Pass, ("ocean cloud pass") with an elevation of 500m. We deliberated for some time the evening prior as to whether we had the stamina and conviction to ride it or take the tunnel instead, but with the promise of fully charged batteries and immense scenic views (and Jeremy Clarkson's blazing trail) we decided to do it. Thank goodness we (thought we) were prepared because it turns out we couldn't go through the tunnel on bikes anyway.

As per schedule, Jim left early to get his head start. Mark left second and was soon behind Jim. Al, Wal and El left last (a definite pattern). Jim called up Walter after surrendering himself and Bike-Chi to the mountain and jumping into the sagwagon with the Driver, and bet El's socks we wouldn't make it up. 300m from the summit, El's battery died and she swapped it for her back-up only to realise it wasn't charged at all. But, we all made it, somehow-or-other to the summit only to be badgered by shop vendors so the moment for us all was a little lost. So down we went, and within no time Walter discovered he had no brakes. Let us say the sole of his shoe is now a little thinner. After a quick fix, we still had little confidence to really belt down, because really, we have scant idea about brakes. T'was a long day - about 10 hours on the bikes. But we made it, albeit in the dark. It was a good ride for El to finish on and she gets to keep her socks.

Now, the team prepares for the next leg, from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh, minus El, but plus Andrew from PNG.

We should also mention that Jim has acquired a new bike, and we'll leave the performance review to him. He's currently on the scout for a suitable benefactor for Bike-Chi. And as always, Mark is powering on on his road bike, and today, day 11, he's decided to put in a lazy 110kms in the blistering heat just for fun to visit the attraction, 'My Son.

Eleanor----

PS Alastair carried a big Pomelo fruit in his panniers for the last two days... Waiting for the perfect moment to eat it. Pomelos are about as common as apples at home...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Resting day

What a journey. We struggled into HoiAn and found the Vinh Hung Riverside Resort. Totally over the top luxury compared to what we've had anywhere. Eleanor will write about the actual riding, and I'll just say I arrived missing my cycling gloves and lacking health. After a day here it was apparent I needed one more before leaving, and that was an easy decision. Thanks to sponsorship from Devonport's Kentish Funerals we could have a good rest in peace here.

Finding bicycle gloves is next to impossible here. Even buying a bicycle bell is a challenge. But the friendly owners of Heaven and Earth bicycle tours happen to have one pair hiding I their home and sold them to me for a very friendly price. Maybe not the perfect size, but without gloves my sweaty hands can't even change gears on the bike! They also helped me chase down a new SIM card for a phone. Without speaking vietnamese nothing is simple! Anyways, if you like cycling and are heading for vietnam do checkout Pascal and his lovely wife at www.vietnam-bicycle.com

Maybe I'll ride my bike past them and see if they can sort out where my big squeak comes from!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day 8

Walt and Al enjoying their first Durian stop of the trip - but it wasn't a very good fruit.

Mark and Jim were up at the crack of dawn and went off too see the DMZ and the war tunnels. After a hard day yesterday Al and Walter decided on a bit of a lie-in but had reckoned without a hammer drill starting up about 3 feet from their window at 7am on a Saturday morning. Walter being Walter he immediately downloaded an iPhone app to measure the sound level. 93dB in the room. Happy to say El had recovered from a bit of queasiness the night before but elected to ride in the car with Nam and bike-chi to Hué. So Jim rejoined the peloton on his original Zoco and the four boys made it to Hué in pretty good time without mishap, unless a sore bum counts as a mishap. El quite taken with bike-chi, and led us on a cycling tour of the market and the citadel - sans batteries, sans helmets, sans lights, sans everything.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

View from Bike-Chi

Hi. Jim here. Because we don't have enough electric bikes to go around I have relegated myself to a manual bike; a women's single speed like just about every bike in Vietnam.
It has a top cruising speed of around 24 kph compared to around 30kph for the Zocos but they both require pedalling!

Even so my job is easier than Walter's. I don't need to spend the hour or so each morning coughing, i don't need to refuel regularly with a proper meal that diabetics with c.f. have to have.

I just leave a bit earlier and have quicker meal breaks, then hope that the thin humid air will be easy again to push through. All this works in my favour; meanwhile Walter is out there for just as long, but in the hotter part of the day. Then when we finally arrive Walter has to turn around and organise the coughing for CF side of things plus hold our wonderfully madcap team together! Get on the next(?) Walter tour if you can,you will have a ball! Jim.
Ed. In between the frequent snack stops we also stop for lunch, and in the mean time Jim is pedalling Bike-Chi (it's name)... Jim usually beats us to our destination somehow. We suspect he bought Bike-Chi from a witch.

Friday, September 7, 2012

day 6

We had a bit of a drama today. We set out from the rather seedy Ha
Quang guest house and continued down the Ho Chi Minh highway, to our
now-familiar chorus of helloes from the local kids and adults and,
surprisingly, one water buffalo. It soon started raining, but we
didn't mind that, and the terrain started to get hilly but we didn't
mind that either as the Zocos helped us power up and good ol' gravity
helped us zoom down the other side. Fun! El and Al were in front and
Mark and Walter behind, with Nam at the back in case of crisis. A and
E stopped at the top of the biggest hill as their batteries faded, and
Mark soon joined them. Mark's a human battery so doesn't have that
problem.

Looking way back down the hill we waited for Walter to appear. A
promising speck came round the bend and immediately fell off its bike!
Back down the others went, hearts in mouths, to find someone had
indeed fallen off Walter's bike, but that someone wasn't Walter - it
was Nam. He was fine, and said Walter was driving the car. So we
waited for him to catch up. For quite a while. Then what did we see
but a lonely figure approaching up the hill. On foot.
It transpires that Walter had a bit of a sugar low and stopped to buy
some bananas to keep him going. Nam decided he would help out by
riding the bike for a bit and letting Walt drive the car. But he
stuffed up on two counts - he failed to communicate his plan to Walt,
and he accidentally locked the car with the key inside.

So there was our beloved team leader, his banana skins limp in his
hand, with no bike, a locked car (containing his phone) and, well,
that's about it. All he could do was set out to walk after us, which
he did for about half an hour until his ever-vigilant guardian angel
knocked Nam off his bike and set a resolution in motion. To his great
credit, Walt went from wanting to kill Nam to understanding that he
had meant well in no time flat.

Meanwhile Jim - leagues ahead of us as ever on bike-chi - had found a
hotel, checked us all in, and was showered, changed and relaxed when
the rest of the team finally rocked up.

And that is where we are now.

Oh, the bit about the water buffalo saying hello wasn't true.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Water is Life

It was bound to happen, and today was the day. Rain. Lots of it. We managed 73kms and my eye balls have never felt so clean. The biggest casualty was Walter’s passport. Through a plastic cover and ‘waterproof’ bag, in three hours Wally’s identity became a mere water-colour stain...

But really, perhaps today was Vietnam explaining herself a little more to us. Water is life here - rice paddies, floating villages, fisherman, monsoons, the water buffalo and expansive rivers... today we peddled along to the musical chorus of illusive bull frogs.

The rain is clearly affecting the power in our hotel tonight - I’m typing this in the dark and I now realise just how many insects are in my room as they are swarming over my screen. Fingers crossed power returns so the bike’s batteries charge in time - big climbs tomorrow.

Tonight, for $10 a room, I’m grateful I have a bed, a (cold) shower and a towel to dry with, even though it IS the size of a tea towel. Wally and Al are particularly lucky as they got (tea) towels that must have got caught on the line, all day. Oh well.

More rain is forecast, but we say, bring it on. It’s all part of the adventure (until we get to the beach, that is).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day 3 - Thai Hoa to Pho Chau

Yesterday we rode135kms along the HCM Trail Highway, and it was bliss. Few cars, lots of school children along the road, life-stock, great road surface, nice scenery... We couldn't ask for more. Well, one trucky decided to scare us by heading for us at high speed, making us dive for cover.

The rolling hills gently took us from just over 110m to maybe about 40m, meaning we had no significant climbs! Going up the hills with the Zoco Electric Assist helping us along is not that hard, but the fact remains that we pedalled for almost 6 hours at 23.9kmph and that is a long time to be perched on a bike. Our buts are a little tender... Well, mine is.

We arrived in Pho Chau in time for our flag waving reception. Hundreds of children were marching along the main street, the only street, waving big Vietnamese flags. One can only assume our reputation precedes us.



the hotel Nam choose for us was the best looking one, and probably the only one, around. It promised Thai Massages and looked grand.

Like most out of the way remote Vietnamese Towns this was no different. Spartan air-conditioned rooms with no bedside lights, minimal bedding, mini pillow and hanky size towel. None of these matter to us as long as there are power-points for us to charge our exhausted battery's and (hard) beds for our tired bodies. food is quite hard to find too, but we eventually found some noodle soup and fried pork bits between 2 restaurants.

This morning it is plummeting rain again, the norm it seems,

And yes, I tried the massage, but I must say the two I've had on the ride so far make me wonder if I should just save my $7. My neck is killing me, the girls are way too young to be competent. I've had to refuse a 14yr old, making her feel rejected. The thought of a daily massage was a great thought.

Sent from my iPad

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

HoChiMinh Trail

The Zoco Electric Bikes are awesome! Doing great despite tough and demanding conditions here in Vietnam. Every night brings torrential rains and the roads are covered with mud and potholes, ponds and streams with heavy traffic speeding along it. Even two of our batteries lasted for yesterday's entire 104km ride (I swapped mine at 95!). Today was a shorter distance, 72kms, but a few more hills - though we still averaged over 21kph. We are also aware we need to curb our enthusiasm till our muscles and buns and other body parts adjust to new demands placed on them. Eventually we will build up to 100-150km days.

Highlight for me today was watching Marks demise in my mirror. Riding past the edge of one 100m 'pond' covering our half of the road an oncoming and speeding bus overtook a truck, hence heading for us on our side of the road. We were riding about 50m appart and all headed straight into the ginormous puddle for our lives. The bus ploughed through the water and got Mark on his push bike covering him with a virtual tidal wave. It's ok, the water is warm! Amazingly the electrics are staying dry. We do our best to avoid these incidents, but when you are squeezed between a speeding bus and a pond...

In any case, after lunch we left AH1 on 48B and headed for the HoChiMinh Trail, which according to the US National Security Agency's official history of the war is "one of the great achievements of military engineering of the 20th century".48B was a pleasant 30km road through rural areas with water buffaloes crossing the road.

Mark and Jim, our two superhero veterans riding manual bikes are riding along comfortably. I must say none of us would keep up with them on normal bikes. Mark admits to riding 300kms per week for the past decade or so, and it shows. We still need to find out what exactly Jim's excuse is for being as fit as he is. The roads we are on are not suitable for road bikes in my humble opinion.

Tomorrow we hit the 'HoChiMinh trail': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ho_Chi_Minh_trail, exciting stuff!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Day 2

For some reason I mapped this day to be a shorter one... But the hotel our support driver Nam wanted to take us to was 104km away. Eleanor rode Jim's bike and Jim procured a no-gears situp-and-beg-bike so he didn't have to sit in the support vehicle! We gave him a 30 minute head start everyone we stopped! All up we averaged 23.5 km/hr and rode for 4hrs in mud and pot holes.

Lunch was at Kim Oahn restaurant in in Thanh Hoa. They were so impressed with what we were doing that the owner gave us free lunch!! What a nice surprise! And the food... It was a banquet fit for kings and even catered for Eleanor and Mark, our two vegetarians!

Now we are in a nice looking hotel with noone in it. This may be due to warm beer served with ice!

Our Koolit aloe vera gel came in very handy as the sun is scorching us!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Day ONE Done

Wow, what a ride. We left the Rising Dragon Palace hotel in the old quarters of Hanoi and rode out to the little red bridge, an iconic location in Hanoi, where we burned our little prayer paper to bless us on our trip. To add more blessings to our ride I even wrapped the blessed Tibetan scarf around my neck for the ceremony!

With the Garmin GPS supplied by future team more Andrew from PNG we headed South towards Nimh Binh, 95kms south. When we overshot a turn and thought we'd be smart we took a long detour through tiny village roads to end up where we were when we deviated. That was the only hiccup.

Finding the hotel was reasonably easy. We couldn't just put the address into the GPS because of the scant Vietnamese map and the lack of a Vietnamese keyboard, but Alastair found it on his Android phone!

At the hotel we found Eleanor and Nam the driver. We were covered in dirt after riding from 930-430pm and covering 101kms. Mark did incredibly well on his vintage Apollo III bicycle, and our Zoco Electric Bike batteries lasted the entire distance, averaging just over 20km/hr.

Jim's bike needs some adjusting as he had not 'aligned the yellow marks' when he did some work on the bike and thus did not have top gear. We will fix that later....

Now it's time for some serious relaxing!

The previous adventure!

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