Drinking and riding - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

October 30, 2016

Drinking and riding

Hữu Lũng to Bắc Sơn.

Dear little friends,

I’m pretty sure I slept 12 hours.

Vietnam retains the timeworn Communist up-’n-at-’em 5:30 loudspeaker wakeup call, which I have no objections to. At this eastern end of the time zone darkness drops at 5 pm and shortly afterward the sidewalks start rolling themselves up, and everybody is presumed to be suitably rested and refreshed by morning loudspeaker time. We have been fortunate to not be within deafening loudspeaker distance at that hour, so it’s a little charming to hear faint music and patriotic slogans and the reactive chickens and howling dogs.

We hopped out of bed ready for another ride through paradise. The temperature had dropped to the 70s with a slight overcast, the road wound through more karst and villages out of a movie set. The houses in this region are less updated and a combination of old Thai and Chinese styles. There are new ones being built that are gorgeous, possibly future guesthouses or vacation homes for the Hanoi polloi.

There are some really beautiful houses around here.
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Ever since we had gone over a slight pass yesterday the road had turned to Myanmar-like quality, with jagged edges of large rough stones and many patches and potholes. But we didn’t mind, the riding was just amazing.

At our noodle breakfast stop, the guys were hanging out for Sunday social time, and they were well into their bottle of rice whiskey. So let it be known that Bruce had three shots of that stuff before 8 am on a Sunday. It’s rice harvest time, reason to celebrate and live large. I felt lucky to have escaped the mandatory libations because of my delicate girlhood but Bruce seemed unfazed.

After the whiskey, the soup.
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Ron GrumbyWow, 3 shots.... I'm impressed. I'd have to go back to bed.
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3 months ago
Andrea BrownFortunately the soup sobered him right up.
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3 months ago
And what a soup it was.
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Out on the street, it was market day.
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It was just a fantastic morning of riding. Did I say that already?

“I have Myanmar Face,” I said to Bruce. Loyal readers may recall from our last journal that that is the stiffness your cheek muscles get from smiling and greeting people for hours a day. Here we had thought that only happened in Myanmar but nope, the Vietnamese out here have been fantastically friendly and good-natured. I am not going to keep track of the “Hellos” we have returned each day but we can probably round it up to 50 per hour.

Also, we have kids following us on bikes. For miles. If we stop to take a photo they are there to practice their English. Nearly every kid can speak a little, with initial shyness. Very few of the adults do. It’s not that I think English is some wondrous thing to know, although of course that does make things very convenient for us. It’s that English is apparently becoming the world language and these children want a foot in that outer world. Even small kids could count to ten, and here we were struggling to do the same in Vietnamese.

After years of sneaking photos of people, the rise of the cell phone camera has made it our turn to be the subjects. That seems fair.
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Finally we started encountering some rolling hills. Damn. I hadn’t forgotten how much I struggle on hills, and I still have zero qualms about walking up them. But it slowed us down considerably.

Ho hum, more dreamy rural Vietnam karst landscape.
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Ron GrumbyThat's a lotta karst out there.... (Sorry!)
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3 months ago
Andrea BrownAnd that’s just the... oh, never mind.
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3 months ago
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We reached a crossroads and stopped for a banh mi. It was market day and the crowds were noisy and friendly. They made a lot of personal remarks about our looks and bikes and weights and so on. The market was shadowed by enormous trees, and there was a song drifting out from a speaker that I actually recognized, a song that my Vietnamese-American students used to sing at my school in Portland. I will try to find that song to post here because it’s pretty sweet and has a great little tune.

I see a lot of folks here that resemble different families from my school, and it makes me wonder if they are kin. I find myself naming a passerby after one of the Duongs or Nguyens I’ve known, “Oh, she looks like Thuy. And that kid could be Benson’s little brother.”

Banh Mi are everywhere but each one is made slightly different with different ingredients.
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Now that we were back on a highway, the road surface was much improved and the traffic wasn’t too unbearable. It is true that you have to acquiesce to the trucks and buses, nothing new here. They were not frequent enough to make us stop all that often. The hills were becoming longer, taller and more frequent. We stopped to buy a coffee from a pleasant family and check in with my family by wifi. Later on down the road we bought a papaya from a roadside stand, we had tried to stop at another farm table manned by little girls but they scattered like baby grouse when Bruce turned around to buy from them. They changed their minds when we started to leave and we heard plaintive hellos for the next quarter mile.

Naturally the last bit of road before Bắc Sơn was the hardest, with one last 10% grade to curse my way up. The mist had turned to drizzle, which I was ignoring, then turned to a light rain. Up to this time we had actually never had to tour in the rain, it just didn’t happen on our last trip. We dug out the rain jackets and soldiered on.

Yet again, this is where Bruce the photographer and Andrea the wannabe photographer part ways. I am chugging up to the top of the pass, eager to move on to our destination which was only a mile away. Bruce stopped to take atmospheric and gorgeous photos of the misty rain and the mountains. I was starting to wonder if he had hitched a ride on a truck without telling me when he came up around the curve and on we sailed down into Bắc Sơn.

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Our toughest hill.
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We found the most beautiful Nha Nghi at the edge of town looking out onto the rice fields and mountain scenery. Unfortunately the owner either really had a full house or did not want to deal with two weirdos on bikes, it’s hard to say. In any case we found a serviceable guesthouse and settled in and then went out for fried rice, which I had just learned the words for.

The Sunday that started with drinking ended with drinking when a guy lurched over and latched onto us with a lot of loud talk and shots of whiskey. He was harmless but pretty wasted, a situation that everybody in the restaurant watched with care and humor. Sometimes those situations can go south very quickly but I felt that people were going to help us if he got too obnoxious. They gently diverted him away from us and pandered to his many requests for photos of him with us. He did know enough English to be dangerous, so when he wanted to talk about Obama (pronounced, as elsewhere in SE Asia, as OH-bum-uh) we gave thumbs up. He wanted us to know that OH-bum-uh had been in Vietnam, and we concurred.

“Obama eat bun cha in Hanoi” I said, which brought down the house. Obama had been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show about food, it had been filmed in May and everybody was still talking about it.

“BUN CHA!!! OH-BUM-UH!!!”, he thundered.

Whew. We barely got out of there. And yes, I had to take a snort of the whiskey to seal diplomatic relations. It was a good night, a good Sunday on the road. But yes, we are out of shape and our asses got kicked, and now it’s time for a few rest days. Bắc Sơn is notable in that there are some more amazing karst formations and a mountaintop viewpoint with which to score the best karst photo ever from. So, we rest now, and wait for clear skies in a town that has pretty good wifi, not one single tourist, passable food, and at least one happy drunk.

Today's ride: 42 miles (68 km)
Total: 117 miles (188 km)

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