Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Day 9: Muong Lai – Tam Duong

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115kms
“The Mirco Express”

Met Mirco (pictured) in the morning as promised, and set off about 7.30am. He’s quite a sight – white hair, tiny and ungainly on his racing bike. The pattern for the day was set early on; I would press ahead on the hills and wait for him at the top. Tried to do it in a way that didn’t demoralise him, and reassured him that it was giving me a good opportunity to take some photos as well. At one stage we came upon three locals who were having trouble with their bicycle tyre (no puncture repair kit), and so we spent 20 minutes or so on the side of the road helping them fix it. A funny sight for Magali and Filip (the Belgians) as they crested the hill to see two foreigners being used as cheap labour. They stopped and gave us a bottle of cold water each – like gold – and had a quick chat before setting off again.

We stopped for lunch in a tin pot town at 65kms and attracted a fair bit of attention at the Com Pho spot. Had a passable meal and were off again, enjoying the chance to chat as we rode side by side. After encountering some navigational complexity – a fork in the road with neither sign pointing to the town we were after – we eventually hit the bottom of a 15km monster that would take us from sea level to 1100 metres. The agreement was that I would continue ahead and we would see each other at a pre-determined guesthouse. Found a good rhythm on the climb (pictured below) but it was unbelievably steep in sections. Did 9kms before stopping for a break, and figured that Mirco was probably four or so kms behind me. At the 12km mark a truck came past carrying sand, and here was Mirco hanging on to the tailgate shouting at me to get on. I was in hysterics seeing this guy covered in sand and holding on for grim death. Turns out he’d latched on to the truck at the 6km mark.

I rejoined Mirco at the top of the hill after two hours of solid effort, and we were able to pedal the remaining 15kms into town together. A long day in the saddle, and we had a beer to celebrate on the balcony of our guesthouse. The smoke today was the worst I had encountered so far and visibility was down to several hundred metres. It spoilt the view but not my mood, as I am feeling acclimatised and relaxed for the first time .

Saw some incredibly elaborate costumes on the hill tribe folk today, particularly on the last part of the climb with women returning from work. Tomorrow is the final assault to Sapa – 80 gut-busting kms to 2100m. Should be very interesting and the plan is for Mirco and I to start together, but the 26km climb should separate us. We will ride over the highest road in Vietnam to Sapa, and at this stage I’m undecided about whether to stay in Sapa or continue on to Lai Cai. It will depend on how I’m feeling, and my first impressions of Sapa.

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