The Dream Ride - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

November 3, 2016

The Dream Ride

Bắc Sơn to Minh Sơn

Dear little friends,

Before we left Portland I had been studying Google satellite maps of NE Vietnam. I knew there were amazing landscapes up near the Chinese border but when I looked at the roads leading to and away from them my heart sank. We simply aren’t interested in that kind of punishment, especially early in a trip when we aren’t in the kind of shape we need to be to tackle mountain roads like that. Yet weather conditions would be changing quickly to winter rains and if we wanted to see NE Vietnam we had to do it immediately.

But I did find a section of the map where karst mountains were spaced like warts on a frog’s back, with sinuous little roads winding through them in presumably flat rice-field valleys, and that is the area around Bắc Sơn.

It was amazing to see in person what I had seen from Google satellite view. Bắc Sơn
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We spent a few days in Bắc Sơn waiting for the sun to come out, and once it did we climbed Mt. Viba and clicked away at the dazzling jungle-fuzzy mountains and patterned rice fields below. Harvest was just beginning so the heavy gold of rice grains still glowed above their intense green stems, just fantastic.

The view from Mt. Viba, Bắc Sơn
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A view of Mt. Viba, where we hiked to the top and took photos of the valley below. Bắc Sơn. And no, I can't believe we climbed that thing.
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Bắc Sơn is a pleasant enough town but it was time to leave our gloomy nha nghi (guesthouse) and roll. Typical of us, we waited until the morning we were to leave to decide on our route out but it was just a serendipitous gift that we had picked the perfect route.

Our Nha Nghi in Bắc Sơn.
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DT 243 is Bắc Sơn’s southward link to AH1. We had considered it as a northbound route to get there but it looked too difficult. It turns out that it’s not a difficult route at all but it does run downhill as it goes south so the way we did it was a million times easier than it would have been the other direction, in fact it was a pure dreamsicle all day long. Well, there was one nasty pass that claimed to be a 10% grade but was certainly steeper than that, otherwise this route would have been too perfect and we would have had to retire from bike touring after finishing it because nothing else would ever measure up to it again.

A typical view from our day.
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Ron SuchanekSo early in the trip and already your calves are bulging. Lucky!
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1 year ago
Bruce LellmanYes, this was only the fourth day of riding. By the sixth day my calves were enormous and I asked Andrea not to photograph them anymore knowing some people would be jealous.
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1 year ago
Andrea BrownThis is the truth.
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1 year ago
The harvest to come: rice.
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The harvest in progress: corn.
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DT 243 is in good shape, it runs through karst mountains and friendly villages, the sunshine we had been waiting for showed up as did perfect blue skies, comfy temperatures, no wind, pinch-me landscapes, and it was hard to stop smiling so we didn’t. Well, I may have stopped smiling while pushing the bike up that effing pass but the downhill was worth it.

Up the hill, up the hill.
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Usually I go behind Bruce so I won’t lose him to a photography moment, and this time was no different but as we wailed down that hill I stopped to pick up one of his wayward bungee cords and so it was his turn to wonder if he should go back up and pick my broken body up off of the road. You know it’s love when somebody voluntarily turns around and starts up a beastly hill on their loaded bike for you. Fortunately he didn’t have to go far before I showed up unscathed.

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The last few miles of this road are sadly broken up by huge trucks of sand and limestone gravel, as some of the beautiful karst mountains are chewed up into quarries to feed the cement mixers of a rapidly developing country. So after a bumpy dusty finish we hit AH1 and the adrenaline of big highway riding kicked in for another ten miles before we got to a town with a hotel.

The chipper hotel owner plied us with water and we had English conversation time with his 9-year-old son, found some amazing food nearby, and then passed out on our hard, hard bed. We certainly use our sleeping bags and pillows a lot to pad these spartan plastic-wrapped mattresses around here.

I foresee a day when our nearly-perfect dream ride has become a famous cycling route but at present there is little food and no guesthouses available so plan accordingly.

Today's ride: 44 miles (71 km)
Total: 161 miles (259 km)

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