The scrum of the road - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

November 27, 2023

The scrum of the road

Outside of My Tho to Ben Tre

Dear little friends,

When we were last in Vietnam in 2016, our favorite town in the south was Bến Tre. (Note: while I try to copy and paste the intricate diacritics of written Vietnamese I often am too tired or impatient to. I fully acknowledge these excuses as being flimsy.) So we were pretty excited to be returning there. There was a cool hotel room on the river we were hoping to snag again. So we hopped out of bed and got our rears in gear and on the road when it was dark-adjacent.

One never beats the Vietnamese out of bed though. Never. By the time we were on the road other folks were too, and after a few miles when we were in My Tho it was full on rush hour. Heaving, frantic, mind-bending rush hour. Saigon traffic had some grace and style to it. My Tho traffic has Oppositional Defiance Disorder to it. It was like a city of 13-year-olds. We stormed through town with the best of them but that meant keeping the keenest of eyes out for the many, many motorbikes riding against traffic next to the curb, the lane that we would usually put our slow bicycles in. Nope. 

I have mentioned the elders on bikes before but I’d like to expand on that. 90% of them are women, tiny women with tiny brown hands clutching the handlebars, a conical hat hiding their heads, colorful mis-matching tops and pants, one-speed vintage bikes with hammered fenders, moving slowly and steadily through life’s chaos, purposeful, tough, and silent. Many of those bikes have seats over the rear wheel for riders, and often the main saddle is so derelict that the women ride on those rear seats if they can still reach the pedals.

One can only speculate what these riders have seen in their lives. Much smaller than the younger generations of Vietnamese, they probably aren’t any older than Bruce and I are, but are survivors of times kid Andrea only read about in Life magazine.

I give deference to these fellow cyclists, but they give none to me (nor should they), and will veer into my path if my path is where they need to go. They will also take a stab at keeping up with one of us, impressively so. You don’t mess with these gals, they’d take me down in two seconds. All hail to them as we travel through the scrum of the road together.

We had a pho stop after much searching, and then steeled ourselves for the Big Bridge. In a video we made from our last trip there’s a short clip of Bruce filming me near the top of that bridge after he pans the mighty branch of the Mekong below, and I gasp out “I’m kind of scared of bridges.” In other words, put your camera away and let’s get the hell off of this thing. 

Pho helps cure shell shock, but it takes a few minutes.
Heart 7 Comment 0
The pho restaurant also did a side business in dragon fruit storage.
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But up up up we went. Mind you, we haven’t climbed anything higher than adorable canal bridges up to that point so climbing a huge bridge felt like the Himalayas. Huff and puff it was, friends. Traffic was terrible. The terrifying joints that looked like they would swallow our tires were terrible. It was all terrible. We got off of there as soon as we could, then coasted into a deserted coffee shop to restart our hearts. The owner was very sweet, brought us tea, made sure we knew where the toilet was. Trucks and buses and motorbikes roared by like monstrous elephants. Sweet Guy lounged in his chair and watched it all go by with bemused interest. All day, every day, that sound in his life at every moment. I was consumed with despair on his behalf but the coffee was delicious and I was leaving anyway, he was going to have to retain sweetness without any help from me.

Steeling myself.
Heart 8 Comment 0
Any port in a storm.
Heart 7 Comment 1
Rachael AndersonIt looks like paradise after your ordeal!
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2 months ago

Bến Tre seems to have grown, that or we were more seasoned cyclists at that point in our trip last time, but it seemed to take forever to get into town. There are some impressively ornate traffic circles and then further in some big broad promenades with their middle spaces full of trees and public spaces, they’re quite nice and come alive at night, as we saw later on.

Rocking up to the Hung Vuong Hotel, Bruce went inside, nabbed the coveted room 214 with the cool curved corner windows, and talked them into letting us park the bikes inside under the stairs, well out of the way and mostly out of sight. It was way before any sort of reasonable check-in time but there we were, showering, napping, washing our soaked clothing, and settling in for some rest and reconnaissance. We made forays to the nearby market, had a freeze-brain fruit shake and an orange juice, ate fried rice in the hotel restaurant, and then took a hike to a mall where we got some supplies.

The view from our room.
Heart 6 Comment 0
Boof up to no good.
Heart 9 Comment 5
Jen RahnWhen there are pants that need drying, the unpantsed will find the way!

(Sense-making can be so fun! .. and how often are our stories utterly incorrect?)
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Jen RahnHa! He was adjusting the fans of the a/c so it wouldn’t blow directly onto the bed.
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2 months ago
Rachael AndersonTo Jen RahnYou’re so clever!
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2 months ago
Ron SuchanekWhat could possibly go wrong?
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2 months ago
Lisa LeslieI'm thinking this is the "easter egg" you planted in your post without comment to make sure we're all really reading and seeing every detail.
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1 month ago
Waiting for fried rice.
Heart 8 Comment 0
“Yakima hops” ??!!??
Heart 5 Comment 2
This is one of the public spaces, with lit-up trees.
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Shoes at the mall.
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We’re here for a couple or three days. The goal is to get Bruce’s rack repaired and to assess where we would like to go from here. A coolish breeze blows from the busy river that swaps directions every few hours with the tide. People come out after dark and gather noisily with refreshing beverages. The lottery ticket seller has a bright light and some pretty Vietnamese tunes to lure people to her forlorn little kiosk. There are people tuning up for karaoke in a room below ours, and I say tuning up with some falsity because that wasn’t their plan in any way. 

Karaoke is the strangest phenomenon here in Vietnam. They love it. They do it. They absolutely reek at it. But it makes them so happy! Even the mournful tunes drifting up can’t keep me awake, like cows drowning in honey and Bia Saigon, the boat motor hums and revving motos and lovely chatter are like lullabies and I drop off the earth like the visitor I am.

Today's ride: 15 miles (24 km)
Total: 59 miles (95 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 22
Comment on this entry Comment 3
Steve Miller/GrampiesToday sounds like it was the short day from hell. Glad you made it through relatively unscathed and have a few days to regroup and get Bruce's rack repaired. Enjoy your lovely room.
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2 months ago
Jen Rahn"They love it. They do it. They absolutely reek at it. But it makes them so happy!"

That's an image that makes me feel happy!

An inspiration to sing along with my dopamine playlist sometime today.

Here's to rest days to carry the nervous systems back into the window of tolerance. And a repair for Bruce's rear rack!
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2 months ago
Rachael AndersonWhat a hair raising ride but your description of the ride was amazing! I’m exhausted after reading it.
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2 months ago