2017-12-02 A Long Haul

Chau Doc to Ha Tien

I started this long (60 miles) hot ride before dawn and finished more than eight hours later, exhausted. The high point of my ride, literally and emotionally was a Vietnamese veterans’ memorial cemetery at 250 feet above sea level. (See the post, “A Soldier’s Grief” regarding the cemetery.)

The landscape has relief now. In the midst of endless rice paddies only a few feet above sea level, massive granite mountains thrust up nearly 2,000 feet. I chose to bypass the climb to the top of the famous Sam Mountain due to the length of the ride. Had there been any commercial lodgings or homestays along the way, I would have gladly split the ride into two days.

Treats along the way:

A roadside restaurant run by a charming family. I ordered the house special, com chay (rice with vegetables and pork) and a bottle of water. Watching me hungrily tie into their food, they decided I needed more; bananas and extra stir fried veggies magically appeared. When I asked for the bill they charged me 5,000 VD (about 25 cents US). When I protested that it seemed wrong, the son explained, using his smart phone app to translate, that the water and vegetarian food were free! They would not accept any more. But when I pulled out the camera, excitement erupted. The Vietnamese I’ve met love having their pictures taken. After much ado, grandpa, grandma and the grandson stood for the picture; other family stood behind me to see what a real camera does.

A Thai Buddhist celebration caused massive traffic disruption. Water buffalo grazed and bathed. A small herd of white cattle frisking in their yard, suddenly took off full tilt down the road to something still more fun. A lovely shady, breezy perch beside the river offered a refuge to absorb and process the veterans’ cemetery experience while also giving my body a rest.

Most of the ride was on good regional highway with a cooling breeze which became a tailwind for the last 30 km, when I needed it most. I was shocked to arrive in Ha Tien before 1500, but troubled by the very rough pavement and heavy traffic the last few km into town. Google got lost, but eventually figured out how to get to the hotel.

The Oasis Bar, run by an expat Brit and full of foreigners, offered companionship, good food, and shelter from a monsoon-like thunder storm. We enjoyed an extra drink while the storm cooled and washed the world.

There’s is a pattern to my arrival at a new hotel. Inevitably, I’m sweaty and exhausted.

1. Give the clerk a copy of my passport and visa in exchange for my room key.

2. Figure out what to do with the bike. Ask about secure storage for the bike. First response – leave it with the motorbikes or in the lobby area. Then I try to get them to understand that I need to lock the bike TO something. Stair railings work well. Taking it to the room is an option if the elevator is big enough to stand the bike on end.

3. Lug the luggage, water bottles, etc. up to the room.

4. Strip off the sweaty riding clothes.

5. Stretch.

6. Take a shower.

7. Flop down on the bed, still wet, and nap for an hour or two.

8. Get up and find dinner.

9. If I still have any energy, write about the day’s experiences.

I eat mostly Vietnamese food from small street-side shops. I don’t always know what I’m eating, but it has all been good. My body likes the spicy Vietnamese cuisine; I fart less and have plenty of energy.

Muscles and joints seem to like the routine, except at the end of a long day, when my ergonomics sag; my shoulders and arms complain about fatigue. My only other complaint is that I’m a bit raw where my body encounters the saddle from pedaling so many hours in the heat and humidity. As callous builds I become even more of a hard-ass.

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