That’s how it was described to me. ‘The hardest and most rewarding day yet’, which coming from people that have been touring for a while made me take note.
I was 50:50 on taking this road or going the longer way via Dien Bien Phu. Its famous for the Vietnamese nailing the French, if you aren’t either of them then I figure you can skip it. My advisors were the first other cyclists I’d come across in over a month.
It was 98km, it took 8h 45 of which the first 10km took 1h 20 and was just grinding up hill. Normally I average around 20km/h, the uphills are lots slower, the downhills make up for the difference and there are often lots of flat stretches to make up time. Not on this road, I think my average came out at around 14km/h which doesn’t include breaks.
It took me away from the mud and grime of Moung Lay and straight up to the clouds. From there the road just kept climbing and falling between valleys and hills. all day long. There were villages along the way but I’d been warned to carry plenty of water and take all your own food.
Every hill I came over just opened into another valley with another up hill somewhere in the distance. I became a pro at spotting powerlines and mobile phone towers that might mark the next pass into the next valley.
The population was largely from the minority groups. Colourful flower Hmong at the start of the day and Black Thai towards the end. I shied away from taking photos because I felt pretty outnumbered and peoples attitudes seemed to mix between friendly & excited and scared & edgy.
A couple of times I had kids see me and run after me giggling. Then they would give my bike a welcome push. Then they would give it a hard tug back down the hill too. Once I saw a kids bamboo arrow skittle along the road past me and later in the day a bamboo spear skid down the road. The kids following the spear were startled to see me, the arrow however wasn’t an accident. It inspired me to keep riding through places where there weren’t either a critical mass of people or nobody at all. There was something about the unpredictable attitudes that just kept me on my toes. It was a real shame that I didn’t feel relaxed around the kids because mostly they seemed curious and fun. The young girl with a big smile and bigger machette was disturbing in an American Pschyo sort of way.
The landscapes were amazing. The road followed the valleys of a river, although I’m not sure why the river never had to go up hills but I did. The hills were either untouched forests or corn and bean planations. The valley floor were rice paddies. The occasional karst rockface showed through on the side of a mountain.
For the rest of the vistas, I’ll let some pictures do the talking.