Strenous Stretch. Painful Pelvis. Northern Vietnam.

11 Dec

Children are no longer an option. Not humanly possible. No way. I’m done.  Out for the count.

It’s late at night. In a hotel room in a random, Northern Vietnam town. And, I’m pondering the word, “Strenuous Stretch?” That’s how the Adventure Travel brochure described today’s ride. “Strenuous Stretch.” Stretch means short distance, right? Not 15 km uphill.   Today is an example of marketing gone wrong.

Let’s make it clear. I’m not a biker. Cyclist. Peddler. My biking days consist of a stationary bike at the YMCA and a yellow Schwinn with baskets at seven. Had a mountain bike at college in Colorado. It was stolen on week two. The cops recovered it. Mountain biked moved to tour-DE-bar hopping bike. Fast forward to Vietnam.

My friend Chris told me if I was visiting Vietnam, then Halong Bay was a must. No matter what. Skip everything else, if need be. But, go to Halong Bay. I goggled it. Beautiful.   But why not experience more than just a bay.  Kick it up a few notches and add some outdoorsy stuff.   Fun, right?

I’m now on Day 2 out of day Day 12 of this outdoorsy adventure. I ask Ang about today’s bike ride.

Ang: “Today. We do uphill.”

Me: “Yes, but downhill too, right?”

Ang: “No. All uphill.”

Me: “What do you mean? It has to go down eventually, no?”

Ang: “No. Not today. We bike 15 km this morning. All uphill. Yesterday, we biked over 45 km. Today, much shorter. Today is good…”

Me: “Hold the phone.  All uphill? I don’t understand…”

I assumed something was lost in translation. We got out of the bus. Ang prepared our bikes, raising my seat for “big” people. I’m wearing the same black leggings from H&M and a JCrew t-shirt. Why change now.   Ang gave us instructions. He sounded serious.

Ag: “Only change gears when your body is at 70%. The mistake is when people change and change gears. Need to change gears gradually. And, uphill means you peddle very fast with little resistance. This is not a race. Go slow…”

Me: “I do go slow. I’m from Florida.  And, I change gears a lot because I’m at 70% within 28 seconds of peddling…”

Ang continues: “Watch out for construction and trucks. Do not stop for the first ¼th of the climb. You will loose momentum. No stopping. Just peddling. Peddle fast and go slow…”

Me: “OMG…Where are we?”

I look up the road. It’s a highway. For big, diesel, semi-trucks and motor-bikes. It’s like biking Interstate I-70 from Denver to Vail. And, why are we biking up this mountain? This highway? Why? Someone please tell me WHY. No answers. We’re off.

I’m only three mins in and want to stop. I tell Ang, “My bike is broke. It does not feel like it is going fast. The break must be on.” He said, “No. Bike is fine.” Implying it’s me.  My legs are heavy and tired from yesterday’s little 45 km jaunt. Lactic acid starts to chip in at minute five. Pelvis pain kicks in at minute six.

Sweet Tour-Burn peddles behind me. He needs to move. Or, else I may hurl a rock at him. I blurt out, “Please pass me or I’m going to hurt you. Don’t wait on me today. I’m super slow and superbly deranged.”

He said, “Are you sure?”

He could tell by my evil look if he does not pass me, I’m going to run him off the road. The pressure of having someone tail this Florida girl for 15 km – up hill – was too much to handle.

I told myself. OK. Bike for 15 mins and then reconsider your options – like air conditioned bus and Coke Zero. I focused. I focused on this 70%. Focused on “peddling fast and going slow” as motor-bikes flew by honking, mac-trucks spewed diesel and half naked street kids ran to the road screaming. This is friggin crazy.

Got 10 mins down and the body has started to adjust to the pain. Lungs started to work. Heart started slowing down. Sweat only dripped, instead of gushed. I looked up for the first time. Looked around. Truly breathtaking. Thank you travel angels. Now, I need your help in carrying me up the mountain. I talked to them the entire time – “Are we at 70%? Am I breathing? Are kids an option?”

I looked up and saw Tour-Burn walking his bike around a bend. My word – he is already walking his bike. I’m screwed. I refused to walk my bike. I’m doing this thing – come hell or high water. I don’t care if I can’t have kids after this. I’m biking it baby – well, at least the first 15 mins.

Guess what? I did it! I biked the first 30 or so mins without stopping. Without walking. Don’t ask me how. The mind is amazing. When I stopped for water, Ang said, “That was the hardest part of the climb. Usually people don’t make it. They walk or van picks them up. I did not think you would make it. Very good.”

Well, with that – I was on a roll. Now, I’m biker-lady. If that was hard, the rest of this is a cinch. Yep, give pride a crack, and he takes over.

I get back on the bike. Start peddling. About thirty minutes in, the pelvis is paralyzed with pain. No gel seat. Gel pants. Or, gel period is going to solve this one. I got off the bike, and walked. It felt good to walk. I saw the van. If van driver could take me 3 km as feeling resumes in my lower extremities, then I could bike the last 4 or 5 km into town. That would work. My pelvis needs a holiday.

I got into the bus. The driver was standing on the side of the road looking down into a valley. He motioned for me to come over. I hobbled across the highway and saw a car at the bottom split into two. Spit into TWO. Others were stopping. I hope this just did not happen and we’re just looking and doing nothing. It turns out, the day earlier, three people were going to fast around the turn – downhill – and flew off the cliff. They all lived. I don’t see how.

They said it was “magic,” I think it was more than mere magic. Van driver said, “Road dangerous. People fast. Cars and mopeds turn off engine to save gas when go down mountain…” He kept on trying to speak English. Too much information for me to absorb right now – I’m not sure what was more troubling….cutting off the engine downhill or me biking uphill.

About two mins up the road, we pass Tour-Burn. I wave. Looks like he’s about to keel over. I stop the bus. He was in the van in a matter of minutes. His body was giving out too and he is Mr. Athletic, Norwegian guy. Made this Florida girl happy.

As the van took us higher, I looked out the window. I was to bike this? And, I AM biking this? Crazy. The van dropped us off. Food and flushing toilets kept my legs moving. We arrived at the restaurant and grabbed a table outside. Both of us were in disbelief that we just biked over 12 km uphill. I sit down. Winced in pain. Food arrived in seconds. We inhaled.

Ang walked over to tells us about our afternoon plans.

Ang: “So we check into hotel. Then, do our afternoon bike ride. Two options long ride around the town and village. Or, short ride through the village.”

Is he crazy? Another bike ride? Wasn’t the strenuous stretch enough? And, am I the only one in pelvis pain? Don’t guys have pelvis pain?

Tour-burn and I looked at each other and shouted SHORT ride please. Back at the hotel, I popped four Advil before setting off – again. The positive was we started out going down hill. The negative, was our short trip turned into mountain biking. This pelvis was not prepared.

We stopped at a family’s house. The mother looked about 25. She had a baby on her back and four other kids surrounding her, barely dressed. She invited us in. She was part of another ethnic tribe – the flower tribe. A lot of colors. Creativity. Passion. Beauty.

Grandmother was seated on the floor picking dry corn kernals off the ears by hand. About eight people lived in the home along with a pig, ducks, chicken, pony and water buffalo. They harvested rice for a living and believe they had 400+ pounds of rice in their home, just for the family…just in case of a bad harvest… Now, I like rice – but come on. They did tell us they fermented and sold rice wine at market. They do the same with corn – ferment and make into wine. So, these folks sell moonshine!

Ten month old tiny tot was was half dressed and cozening up to his eighty year old grandmother. I pulled up a stool next to her and helped her pick corn kernels. Naked tiny tot wanted attention, and sat his naked butt in the bucket of corn. He just giggled. I thought, what happens if he pees? I later found out they are using this corn to make booze, so we’re good if the kid goes pee in the corn. No one will die…

The mom told me how she makes the clothes for her family. It takes about a month to make skirt. She puts one on me. It’s heavy! Over in the corner, sits the husband or grandfather. Sitting in the dark smoking a cig. I wondered if he was around during Vietnam War. I wondered what he thought of these Westerners – French, Americans and the whole lot – seeing his country as a travel destination, not a war zone. And, I wondered where I am right now? Was this a Viet Cong village? Were US forces here? N. Vietnam was THE hot bed. I looked over and just smiled at him. Above him hung a picture of Ho Chi Minh. He’s now their national hero. The liberator. I just took this all in as I’m picking kernels off corn with a naked, dirty baby.

We leave. Waved goodbye. And, jumped on the bikes. I felt good, until I go numb again. We rode for another hour or so through the village, stopping and inhaling the views – rice paddies.

Back at the hotel. I longed for a nice hot shower. But, guess what? There’s no warm water. Not only that, the entire bathroom floor was flooding. Where was the water coming from? Hell, they never installed the tub properly. Water was spilling fast. I just watched. The shower head was removable. I removed it. And, tossed the head in the tub and let the water run for a full 4 mins as I contemplated – what to do. I just couldn’t take a cold shower. Not now. Not today. I wondered if Tour-burn has warm water. This meant knocking on his door asking to take a shower. I just met the kid 2 days ago. I can’t do this to him. I walked back into the mini-flood. Touched the water. It’s lukewarm. Tour-burn was saved from naked, American, bossy girl.

After the shower, I headed downstairs to the lobby and overheard a French tourist asking the Vietnamese receptions for a new room. His rooms has spiders. I thought, be happy. Spiders eat the roaches, ants and mosquito carrying the malaria virus. It could be worse, like rats. The receptionist looked confused.

I passed them, and walked into the dining room with major overhead light issue. I felt like I was in an insane asylum or a mid-western cafeteria. Ugh. We sit. The meal was paid for. The room filled with loud, smoking French tourists within 10 mins. Even better. The French occupied Vietnam. And, now they occupy the dining room. Those damn French occupiers! Midway through dinner all the electricity went off. Pitch black. I could have told them its the overhead lights. Guess dinner’s over.

Tomorrow is day 3 of bike riding. God help me… God help my pelvis…

*Check out more photos in the album to the right of this blog

2 Responses to “Strenous Stretch. Painful Pelvis. Northern Vietnam.”

  1. Allison 12/12/2010 at 4:07 pm #

    You had me at pelvic pain. And naked kids sitting in corn.

  2. Tour-Burn 13/12/2010 at 9:26 am #

    Thought we agreed to tell the story of how we rode our bikes all the way to the top….