Wobbling Down the Lane - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

October 28, 2016

Wobbling Down the Lane

Hanoi to Bắc Giang

Dear little friends,

Five floors down below our little balcony the street wakes up early, and so did we. Nervously we crammed our panniers with stuff we already wondered why we had brought. Or brought so much of. There is nothing new to this, some of it will be mailed home when the weather changes, some of it will be consumed. Pack, pack, pack.

Then the final flight down to the tiny lobby, where we ate the hotel breakfast of scrambled eggs and a baguette. For the second morning in a row somebody had to be reminded that we had ordered coffee. Coffee brewing in Vietnam is not your instant espresso kinda deal, we’ll describe it in more detail another time. But I was definitely not leaving without coffee so our early start was delayed.

The lane was so crowded with parked motorbikes, moving motorbikes, motorbikes being parked and motorbikes leaving their precious parking space, that just finding a place to load our small folding bikes was a challenge. For all the charm of our hotel’s location, it may not have been the ideal location for starting a bike trip. Bruce especially, was being bullied with sweeping brooms and a sharp elbowed motorcycle lady. And it was hotter than hell, have we mentioned that?

Linh, our lovely hostess and English student, came out to take our photo and bid us farewell. Other staff waved shyly.

Here we go.
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We had a route out of town provided by Pocket Earth, they are pretty good with international urban cycling routes, but this is Hanoi we’re talking about. It was intense.

First of all, we hadn’t even had a chance to try out the newly reassembled bikes and there are always some little tweaks and tightens after the poor things have had a boxed transit like that. And, we hadn’t ridden our bikes fully loaded since April so there’s the initial wobbling. Not much room for wobbling on that street, we could have squashed a toddler or tipped over a table of cut-up pork! I wish I had a video of us taking off but we were purely in survival mode.

We bravely set forth, negotiated the insanity, crossed the vortex of intersections, stopped in gridlock market lanes where Bruce got swatted on the pannier by an impatient motorcyclist, and finally reached a real road with serious traffic that would lead us across the railroad/motorbike bridge and east out of Hanoi. It all went pretty well, considering. We stopped to check some intersections and followed our directions to get us off the main road.

A banana stand in the middle of a busy bridge. Normally driving is on the right but for some reason motorbikes are on the left with the rail line in the middle.
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Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to get a tiny bit lost, and we did, but that was actually the best part of the day because it put us on a tiny rice road, through villages where all sorts of industrious things were happening on an artisan scale. Also, at least half of each road surface was covered with drying rice, which caused some moral dilemmas when being crowded by an oncoming truck. Personally, I wasn’t going to be that foreigner that rode over some family’s food supply. I know how hard rice growing is.

Ho Chi Minh guards the precious rice as it dries. There was rain in the forecast, so people are out with brooms and hoes turning, turning, turning the rice in the heat to make it dry quickly.
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Drying rice.
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More drying rice so this bridge is closed at present.
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But no rice or foreigners were harmed on our rural detour. It was steamy hot and we stopped for snacks and water in a temple grounds. Then on we carried.

Old temple
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Snack stop at an old temple.
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Because of bridges, we ended up on the main highway for much of the day, but I wasn’t finding it so terrible. I mean, it was actually terrible. There are all sorts of things going on that should scare the crap out of a sensible person, but I was feeling oddly calm and serene. Bruce could tell you a story of a day long ago when I got on my first rented bicycle in Mandalay and burst into tears because I was too afraid to cross the street. He told me that the traffic would all see me as a foreigner from a mile away and give me plenty of room, and that’s exactly what happened. I’m not so sure that the same dynamic was happening in Vietnam, more likely I have just developed nerves of steel.

Like other SE Asian countries, land is at a premium and houses can only be built along the roadsides so we were pretty much sealed off from the countryside for much of the day. There was a lot to look at and to learn. Vietnamese uses a modified Roman alphabet so signs that might look like a bowl of noodle-os in Thailand or Myanmar could actually be read, recognized and possibly puzzled out.

All new construction is tall and skinny. And sometimes fancy.
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Some of the towns had trees big enough to shade the entire roadway, we were moving along pretty well, but golly it was hot. We were still puzzling out the money, too so of course got ripped off by a water seller. Lessons learned.

Why can't trees grow square? They would be so much more space versatile. A teak village east of Hanoi.
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We reached Bắc Giang by afternoon, completely frazzled. We knew the words for hotel and guesthouse but were having little luck finding a place. Finally we stopped for an iced coffee at a place out on a sidewalk with folks sitting around shooting the breeze, asked the whereabouts of a hotel, and were led to the “fancy” one we had shunned earlier. It was not crazy expensive and we were just relieved to have a place to crash so it all worked out.

People who speak English were eager to talk to us. Others were polite and friendly and helpful, frankly, not the stereotype of Vietnam we had always been told. Darkness dropped like a box and we had a little mysterious street food and then were back to our room to fall asleep by seven.

A random hug from a passing child. Bắc Giang.
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Bac Giang
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We knew that our very first day of riding was going to be stressful, there was no way to avoid the busy road out of Hanoi. But from Bắc Giang, we are going to strike north and away from the big towns and into what can only be called hinterlands. We survived the urban Vietnam, now to tackle rural Vietnam with its own set of challenges.

Today's ride: 37 miles (60 km)
Total: 37 miles (60 km)

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