Sunday, September 19th, 2021

Day 5: Son La – Tuan Giou


“The Climb”

Probably one of the most satisfying days I’ve had on a bike – on a par with finishing the Melbourne-Warrnambool. The day started horribly with a wrong turn out of town. I didn’t discover the error until I’d ridden 15kms, meaning that by the time I had completed 30kms I was back where I started. Not what I needed for what I knew shaped up as one of the toughest days of the tour. Cursed my way out of Son La and berated myself for making such a regulation error.
To indicate how tough the climb was, I had to stop 100 metres from the top as I didn’t have the energy to complete the final stretch on that burst of energy. Once I summited I stopped at a cafe, attracting the contempt of a truck driver who looked at me like I was out of Deliverance. The descent down from 1400m was steep and brief. The remaining 10 kms into town were flat, but appalling road surfaces (pictured below). About 5kms from town a German guy that I’d spoken to the night before came past on his motorbike. He went past without even an acknowledgment and it crushed me. After what I’d just been through I wanted someone to recognise the effort, and was gutted at his failure to even nod.

Found pretty dingy accomodation for tonight and just had a great meal and cup of tea. Am encouraged by my good legs today and hope that I’m getting fitter or tougher, or both. I’m going to repeat yesterday’s formula: lots of rice, lots of water and plenty of vegies. After 7 hours on the bike today I will sleep well. Sometimes it’s good to ask yourself a hard question and come up with an answer. Today was one of those days.

Out of Son La by a couple of hundred metres and the road surface turned to broken asphalt with huge corrugations. This made the first 4.5kms at 10% extremely difficult, particularly half way up where asphalt gave way to dirt. After the first climb it was a brief downhill and then a gradual climb all the way to Tian Giou. Stopped there for lunch and had the best meal so far – stir fried vegetables, potato soup and rice. Have resorted to pointing at ingredients in the kitchen to get what I want, motioning with my hands to gesture how I want it cooked.

Following lunch it was 15kms to the bottom of the climb, where I stopped at a roadside stall to swig another 1.5 litres of water and collect a red bull for later (pictured above). Took several deep breaths before heading off into the dust. To describe the climb is difficult. The first 4.5kms were at more than 10% gradient and intermittently the road surface changed from broken rocks to thick, deep silt. I settled into a mountain bike rythmn – 6-8kph picking a path through the rocks – battling my way up. The English guy I met the other day said these roads were the worst he’d seen in years of touring (surpassing former Yugoslavia), and he had no argument from me.

Stopped about 3kms up (pictured right) to drink some more water and regroup, a ritual I would repeat three or four times to the top of the 17km beast. I thankfully had one of those rare days on the bike where I didn’t really let myself fall out of a rythmn. Having to be careful to stay upright on the rocks probably contributed. The top part of the climb – which took over two hours of solid riding – was one of the most barren, souless and desolate spots I’ve seen. Dust everywhere, and absolutely parched. The people were also different up there, and apart from the truck drivers that were bogged in the silt I ran into some locals wandering around up there that constituted the Vietnamese version of Deliverance. The banjo people were fairly aggressive, and two separate times I was harassed for money. It’s difficult to respond when you are crawling up a hill, so I tried to ignore them. A couple of times they tried to grab me but I shrugged and eventually the effort seemed beyond them. Wouldn’t be surprised if they were sampling the local opium, as well as fraternising with local wildlife.


One Response to “Day 5: Son La – Tuan Giou”
  1. dtazik says:

    Your German friend reminds me of the Norwegian that loved his wife so much he almost told her. Must be a north country thing!

    BTW — what was the question?.. and answer?