I woke up extra early this morning so that we could get a head start on the 300 km plus journey (likely 320 clicks) to Hoi An. Now that we were adding that mountain pass through the park based on the recommendation of the Germans Roman and the other guys met in Buon Ho (they were also planning on doing the same but not for at least an hour later in the day) every minute would count in our efforts in completing such a journey. Before doing so we picked up some items to scarf down at a Vietnamese bakery. They were tasty but not what I expected with some meat fragments scattered into the dough for a protein kick with a oily substance encasing the entirety of the bread; I am tempted to say it was clarified butter but who knows maybe it was pork fat or some other foreign substance that I should not delve into or ask many questions about. From there, we had nothing but a long stretch of road ahead that would avoid the major stretches of highway to dig deep into the countryside and forgotten villages. As we went past those towns and non-stop villages, we saw many eager kids waving and smiling in our direction with a never ending chorus of hellos since Westerners probably rarely venture off the main road into this locale and I was soon to find out why. I felt like taking the long way to Hoi An was already off to a great because of these kids and people altogether seemed to genuinely appreciate the sight of us just as I had felt in Myanmar. Soon enough the actual pavement of the road died and what was left was an endless stretch of dirt topped and immersed with loose rocks and pebbles. We kept riding over this rocky path despite my own worries in the matter because the GPS promised escape to supposedly a real flat road not too far into the distance; I would just need to put up with this for just a short while longer. The road got worse and as I lowered myself down a decline that was further depreciated by rocky stubble I fell over with the bike collapsed on top of me. I had rode slowly down this hill as much as my gears could take but it still wasn’t enough. My tires are simply not wide enough and lacking the necessary tread to surmount such an off-road trail as this one. Plus, I would never say my own center of gravity would handle itself on a trapeze; to put it simply my balance sucks! Regardless, I got some minor scrapes, nothing that cut deep compared to my first fall since this happened at possibly a few km/h. After some help dislodging the bike from off my left leg I was quite firm in my stance that I wanted to turn back. They wanted to keep going since the mirage of a legitimate road had been into their minds but they had not experienced the previous trauma as I had. The psyche and confidence gets lowered a few pegs when you don’t feel so invincible after a couple falls. We turned around and sure enough saw the Germans that convinced Roman of this deadly mission. After telling them of the road ahead, we all joined as one pack onto another road that would work its way around the park but still would not be the original highway we were originally destined to take before delving into other deathly measures and missions. The road returned to legitimacy before falling off the wayside in the worst way imaginable. To put it this way, the road got so bad I wouldn’t even suggest someone walk over it as a trekking path. I struggled to find anything flat or made of enough dirt to lessen the impact of rocks scattered throughout. I didn’t think nature could produce rocks so neatly in one long stretch; this had to be designed like this for some sick purpose. Once again I fell down after David and the two Germans rode ahead with only Roman still with me. I yelled out the greatest bellowing F-bomb in my life the frustration and pain had risen so prominently and over the top. I was done with all of this and couldn’t see anyway for escape except to continue on and remove myself from this hell hole. I had been going the same speed as my first fall of the day so no I didn’t get any abrasions but sure enough I found myself once again lodged under my motorbike. The worst part beyond the sheer horror of the threat of another potential fall was the fact that my bandages were slipping off and dirt was working its way into my exposed wounds. How frustrating could a day get? Why me, why now whenever everyone else was able to stay upright? Although when put into perspective this one may seem small, the trials that I have been put through have grown and really tested my patience and wherewithal but what other choice do I have but to get up and keep moving forward. I would like to think this builds character; it reveals to myself that as much as life may want to take a big dump on my face and rain scorn down upon me I can take it each and every time and look back knowing that I have no quit. My nerves were all out of place shaking and trembling to the core with each rotation of my unsteady wheels on this God-forsaken unsteady road (if it even deserves the title of ‘road’ to begin with). This path was meant for 4 wheel drive and ATVs but sure as hell no motorbikes yet I saw enough motorbikes zip past me with occasionally whole families of Vietnamese upon them or some oversized equipment strapped on in the most peculiar way. Each one that passed lowered my self-esteem but at the end of the day I didn’t care. As long as I could get though this day and find some light at the end of the tunnel, the rest of it didn’t matter. On any other downhill track, I walked the bike down not willing to take a chance at fate and returning to my previous helpless state. We came to a crossroads near some sort of booth that each of us passed following the leader to the left at this fork in the road. A man on motorbike that eventually showed some credentials stopped us on the road which didn’t take much especially with the snail pace I was working at. He kept saying passport but we couldn’t think of what we might have done. We automatically figured it was some “checkpoint” used for these police to collect money from Westerners while posing under legitimate terms. Recalling that I still had Sam my motorbike dealer’s number, I pointed at the number for him to call with his phone. After some gibberish back and forth between the two, I was eventually handed the phone to speak with Sam. As much as I wanted to complain about the previous issues with my bike to him now was not the time. He told me that apparently we had gotten close enough to the Laos/Cambodian border that this was considered a border checkpoint between the countries. All the police wanted us to do was check our passports after we had turned around and went right at the fork in the road; no money needed to be exchanged. Maybe after some more convincing from Sam, we didn’t even need to show our passports as we were waved by. I’m so glad I know that guy. According to David and Roman’s GPS we were supposed to get back onto the highway but it was the same old shit that I had seen and fell on before. What was supposed to be a scenic tour through the mountains in some untapped national park forestry (I didn’t realize how untapped that word could stretch) turned into me anxiously staring down at the ground anticipating the next rock dislodged from the rest or slight shimmy that may foreshadow my next fall. The road was soooo bad and the rocks so large and etched out from the others that enough of them had snapped off my rear brake lever/footpad. Apparently enough clanks and smacks across the pipe with enough rocks in its way finally did it in. How could this day get anymore lovely? Not only is my confidence shot but now I have lost the assurance of my main safety valve. I still had my front brakes available for use but I didn’t like the idea of burning that one down to nothing over the repetitive stops I knew I would have to make. After awhile we found some sense of salvation in the form of a mechanic that gave me a brand new brake lever for only 60,000 song (less than $3). I tried to tip him a little extra but he refused after multiple attempts to accept it. He knows I have more money than he will ever have in his life yet he so generous and kind to only accept what is considered the fair wage for his work. These moments help lighten my step and give me some faith in humanity knowing what acts we are capable of when a fellow man is in need. It may have been a small gesture and situation but it made all the direction. We left the Germans who had uncovered problems of their own with their bikes to return to rock and rubble of the road.When we finally found a long stretch of paved road ahead, it was as if the sun had returned after a long relentless and pelting storm that had once covered the sky gray and all its inhabitants in a dark gloomy shadow. No more, I was now free. I had to touch the ground with my own hands to fully realize that it was in fact real, not just another sick trick on my mind. We continued riding now at greater speeds but with each turn no matter how slight the angle I had to ease off the accelerator and tap onto the breaks more throughly and consistently than I had before or my fellow riders were tempting. I constantly envisioned myself careening off the road into some random ditch that would capture me for eternity. No longer was I looking ahead at where I wanted or should be but rather where I might end up based on my previous fateful experiences. After some time we reached the mountains that I was promised along that death road. We didn’t even need to take that detour; the mountains were already there waiting ahead on the Ho Chi Minh trail highway. Up those steep inclines to climb higher and higher into the atmosphere, I found that my transmission was struggling with the change in degree. The engine seemed to be overheating and so I luckily checked into a nearby town where someone could hopefully help me. My first thought was that I had shredded the gears on my transmission once again. After a change of oil which I had to be honest definitely needed and some surprisingly and rare practical advice from David, I returned to form with the necessary knowledge to climb towards the utmost peaks. Around one bend to the surprise of us all. We found overturned semi truck capsized into a ditch along one severe decline of the road. A man who may have very well been the driver or some passenger emerged from some unknown place that to be honest I cannot place and acted quite drunk and delirious. He kept speaking Vietnamese which the last time I checked I am not remotely fluent in. With nothing else to do we had no choice but to continue on. Roman still had every desire to make it to Hoi An tonight even through some night driving so the pace couldn’t afford many times to stop and enjoy the scenery and what starstruck scenery it was. Never did I realize how beautiful of a country Vietnam could be. All I had ever read and knew about of this country was that it had great immaculate food and plenty of rice fields. The Central Highlands of Vietnam is filled with a treasure trove of secrets, of tall bumpy and rolling hills that deserve more appropriate names as mountains with such lush greenery. Originally before I talked it over with the guys and thought more thoroughly about my plans, I never envisioned I would be driving through the Highlands since nothing seemed to be prized according to my limited perspective of the land; my whole mission after Dalat was to reach Hoi An with little else in between. The mountainous track has brought upon my eyes the most awe-inspiring scenery. Never did I think the Earth roll and move like it did. Mother Nature did not get bored in designing Vietnam. The mountains at times rise out of nowhere so you can never be too sure what may be waiting around the corner. In a bizarre way, the full blanket of green that composed these heavens looked like a dense forest of broccoli trees that guard over a lengthy river caught in the chaos of the mutilitude of milky white boulders etched through these apparent valleys. If I stopped for every moment that I wanted to enjoy the slight of the lands and mountains a while longer, I would be traveling through Vietnam for a full year. I am a mountain and nature lover to begin with so I felt very much at home here. Eventually we descended just a bit to the lone major city (probably an overstatement when I say major) from here on till Hoi An called Kham Duc. Roman and David decided to continue on to Hoi An while I had just about enough for today with the sun now about to set. After finding a hotel room to call my own for the night, I went out in search of a meal. I was stopped by a group of Vietnamese guys for some drinks. Figuring why not after the day I had been through, I got to experience some of the famous cheap Vietnamese beer called bia hoi that gets brewed freshly each day. It was light and refreshing with not much more body and boldness than the average lager but nonetheless hit the spot. These guys refused to let me pay for a thing which was a cool gesture. I’m sure they enjoyed the idea of inviting the local celebrity to sit down with them as I am sure we were a magnet for attention for anyone that passed by. They didn’t speak too much English but I had fun nonetheless to finally be on my own again experiencing local things without the crowd feel of a larger backpacker group. I like traveling as a lone wolf as much as some people might find it lonely; for me it fits just right. I don’t like catering to others complaints and misshapen desires. I am my own man and I want embrace as much of the freedom that it represents. Sure enough I saw Roman and David come back realizing their ill-fated desires to achieve Hoi An in one day. Sadly for me I lost my opportunity to ride once again on my own. But I can guarantee you one thing, I will return to the lone wolf pack stretching my wings out once again as soon as I reach Hoi An. I passed out quite early and slept a full sleep for the first time in a long time.
Riding Vietnam Day 165: It Was the Best and Worst of Days Part 1