The four of us (Roman the Knight Rider/lesser Jeff Goldblum, Thomas aka Ghost Rider, and Dave the middle aged American as well as yours truly) planned for a 9 am departure to Dalat but with a group various delays always seem to materialize. Regardless, the estimated transit time stood at five hours so I slight delay like that was no worry with more than enough time to spare. At 9:45 am, we left the hostel riding the same beautiful coastline road past the dunes and fishing village bay in the direction of the passage that would lead us through numerous switchbacks through the mountains and countryside way off the well worn and smoggy highway. Up one of the hills adjacent to the picturesque ocean-bound background, my bike began to stutter to the point of stalling with enough momentum to reach the curbside of the road. After removing my luggage to reach the gas tank, I found a limited amount of petrol but not exactly bone dry. I filled up the tank with my spare petrol bottle, always waiting as a safety valve. Once we all reassembled, they noticed a leak coming from the front of the bike. We all assumed my petrol tank had a leak; we decided to get moving with whatever I had in it to make sure I arrived to a mechanic in time. I continued riding feeling quite weary of the bike that was supposedly supposed to get me to Hanoi and beyond. On the upward stretches my bike struggled mightily as if my gears weren’t willing to cooperate. Somehow despite the odds and my own disbelief in the matter, I arrived to the mechanic whole but helpless. What else could possibly be wrong with my bike now? I signaled at the leaking point and also tried to explain how my bike was stuttering when climbing hills. While the mechanic went about tweaking the bike and explore her damaged guts, a neighbor of the mechanic was using his phone to translate from Vietnamese to English. We went back and forth between the languages to try to find some common ground and figure out what the mechanic might be thinking. Sometimes the message came out mostly clear but more times than not I had no idea what he was trying to say. Words got translated into ‘paste’, ‘milk’, double negatives, etc. After the mechanic drove the bike himself and examined it further, we came to the conclusion that my clutch or gears (as far as I am concerned, I am talking out of my ass right now) had been rubbed raw. Maybe I was mistakenly shifting gears in the wrong pattern at the most inopportune moments but I find it unlikely to believe (just like my rear brakes) that I could have wrecked my bike so thoroughly in such a short period of time. While the mechanic left to go into town to fashion the parts (with a guesstimated time of 1 hour and 30 minutes), the four of us went to a nearby dry goods station that doubled as someone’s to rest and kill the time. This was not at all how I expected the day to go/begin but I am sure glad I had a group with me to absorb the misfortune and detract from the pessimism. While waiting around, the family cooked us up an impromptu meal of American ramen! and fried egg soup. Not exactly delicious but I can’t really complain when adrift in the middle of no man’s land. By pure chance, two friends of theirs from the hostel (French and Polish guys) ran across and decided to wait around for us since they were heading for Dalat today as well. So much time passed yet we still stood so far away from the highlands of Dalat. The mechanic arrived and went about quickly implementing the new machinery into my damaged bike. All the while I kept wondering how much such a service like this would cost. Once he completed his work and after I tested it to be sure of its worth as far as my limited prowess in the world of motors and bikes is concerned, I found out the price amounted to a total of 550,000 dong, which equates to 25 dollars. Not wanting to get screwed over, I used Dave’s translating gizmo to request that he itemize the various parts and services that went into such a figure. The math determined it to be 490,000 dong which isn’t a huge difference but I want to fight for whatever dollar I can. It’s not that I don’t mind paying a tourist price since this can’t be avoided; I just hate to accept being a sucker for their unrealistic amounts that go beyond any respectable adjustment to the original local total. Finally we were able to leave (at roughly 2 o’clock which still might be a generous approximation) but I couldn’t help getting the feeling of paranoia about the capability of my bike. Seriously, what will go next? My engine. I haven’t even approached Hanoi and already I have gotten a new rear brake, fresh inflated rear tire, and now a brand new transmission. The paranoia soon began to escape my clouded mind as the ride took us through gorgeous countryside that seemed too lush considering the dry lands I had just visited in Myanmar and Cambodia. The roads cut this way and that past small neighboring villages and their youthfully vibrant green farmland. The roads were mostly deserted with our Dalat-bound biker gang representing the only consistent pulse on the slowly depreciating pavement. Although the roads out here sprouted with the magic of nature’s touch, man’s engineering tact and time were outsourced to other more populated areas. A smattering of potholes scattered the width of the road but with the clear light of day we easily swerved around and between the cracked path. We continued climbing towards the mountains as well as the gloomy grey cloud cover up ahead. We hugged the mountain edge following the ripples and bumps that protruded from its core which meant more switchbacks and sashaying than I have ever experienced before. As far as I could tell we were slowly grinding (hopefully not my gears; good God do I need that exception) our way to Mt. Olympus in this atmosphere of the gods. This is how I had always envisioned Vietnam to be: scenic, surreal, and spellbound peace. The memories of clogged highway and intimidating road encounters were getting masked with each view downward towards the lush valley below and distant misty mountains enveloping the perimeter of the panorama. Each upward jaunt represented a trial for my brand new transmission. I was weary but managed to keep pace despite manually dropping and lowering my gears quicker than expected. The slight drip of rainfall had now become a full onslaught that tested every bit of our rain covers and might. No longer could we stop to check the brilliant views for their required photoshoots while also making sure we regrouped every twenty minutes or so. The rain became relentless and filled the pothole ridden roads in front of us. The warning signs became less obvious and so each perceived pothole may very well drop off and lead to China (or in this case America). Thank God for rain jackets but as desperately as they shielded me they stood no chance against constant blast of the heavens opening up. The combination of the mountain air, being drenched fully, and the approach of nightfall meant for a bone chilling and rattling departure (also due to the multiple segues into pothole paradise) from the heat and sunshine of Mui Ne. In the brief moments when the rain offered me a glance, I could see those ever present foggy mountains drifting in and out of consciousness depending on the wave of the storm and cloud; they shuffled between the two states as if they suddenly appeared and disappeared out of nowhere. At times I wondered whether we would need to call a random village home for the night as darkness approached and the rain did not seem to relent. The day and night never seemed to end. Once we left the utmost high passes of the mountains the rain began to slow down and give us hope that just maybe we might be able reach Dalat sometime today despite all the shit that has graced us so far in this day that has already felt like it spanned at least two. Sure enough more roadblocks stood in our way to really test our mettle and conviction. Dave’s ignition wouldn’t start which had to get repaired in a random town while the rest of us ate a local shop filling us with bowls of pho highlighted by whole segments of pig (I am pretty sure a pig foot dressed each of our meals). Also Dave somehow got lost bless his soul while circumventing a roundabout on the last road to Dalat. After thirty minutes of waiting and frustration, he finally stumbled across us. Just to make my day that much better and put the cherry on the topping of this humble pie, my ignition stalled on one of the last hills into Dalat as we reached 9 o’clock at night in the full unquestionable darkness. After determining the obvious that I had enough petrol, I revved the engine several times over hoping for a spark of luck. After pushing up to the summit and trying once more with my virgin kickstand, we deduced that we would need to do as the locals do and push it along with an adjacent rider. With one foot extended onto my passenger foot peg, Roman pushed me along as we attempted this awkward balancing act. The distance covered was minimal we managed to make enough progress to inch closer to Dalat. As I teetered side to side thanks to my world renowned balancing skills, lit traffic passed us by in swift waves while the others in our pack formed a guiding patrol and boundary between the traffic and this sad sack circus act. Only on the downward slopes could Roman receive any form of rest. A local couple on motorbike saw our predicament and took us to a bottled fuel station on the side of the road in town until I made it clear that I had more than enough petrol. Somehow with the kick starter that we so struggled to bring to life, he got the engine revving and back from the dead. Now that we were in Dalat at the main initial intersection, we went our separate ways to our individual hostels with Thomas joining me to Tiny Tigers hostel. We got lost again venturing through the city of Dalat but considering all that we had gone through I couldn’t be bothered. Sure enough after twelve long epic hours through whatever nature, misfortune, patience, etc. brought to us, we could finally rest. The morning felt like ages ago as if it had been some other day. We met up for a beer to celebrate our arrival and survival before calling it a day and what a day it was. I should have taken a shower but my mind and muscles didn’t have the energy for such a task to alleviate my body of the wet dog smell. Oh well, I’ve had worse. As much as I like the idea of riding by myself I learned firsthand the benefits of riding as a group to cover each other’s asses.
Riding Vietnam Day 158: The Day to End All Days