The first few weeks in Hanoi were a little frustrating, lots of rain, messed up sleep patterns a few bike issues and not a lot of riding. Then a call went out on the cycling local e-mail group from an English guy looking for riding companions for a trip up north into the hills. I put my hand up straight away, what could be so hard about two long days of riding sandwiched between two night-bus journeys? And apparently there was a Danish guy coming along who’d been off the bike for a few years, should be cruisey then….
Met the guys, David and Asger, amid the chaos of the bus station. We got our bikes loaded, our bunks sorted and tried to get a bit of rest before Day 1 – ‘about 150km and a few hills’ according to David. The bus driver was obviously in a rush as we arrived in Ha Giang an hour ahead of schedule at 3.30am. Assembled our bikes under a street lamp and our motorbike support guy, Jonny, met us at his shop, stashed our gear and pointed us in the direction of a nutritious breakfast of pho.
A gentle roll out about 5.30am as the sun rose and after 25 km or so and we hit the first big hill of the day – 10km of climbing, not so many views as some thick fog, but mercifully cool. Then a twisty descent in heavy rain that saw me lay it down on a sketchy hairpin, nice bit of road rash on my hip but otherwise a great descent as we dropped out of the rain and cloud. Another 20km or so along the valley to get to the next climb, getting warm now, but after another hour slogging up the hill we were rewarded with a beautiful few k’s along the cool forested ridge before another steep descent to lunch at Yen Minh. About 90ks and over 3000m of elevation done and all before 10.30am
Over lunch got talking more to the other two about their riding exploits, I knew David was fit, had recently done well in a regional triathlon and was training for a semi pro stage race in Thailand in a couple of weeks. But that was fine – he was there to smash himself on the hills. Asger, my Danish companion was more of a dark horse. The conversation went something like this:
‘So you’ve been off the bike a few years, but you used to be competitive, right?’
‘Well I was in the Danish national squad’
‘Oh what kind of training were you doing’
‘Training camps in the Alps, regular motorpacing sessions, lots of racing, I stopped when I was 18 though’
‘A bit of adventure racing…..’
‘The top Danish team’
‘Oh, did you race/meet anyone interesting in your cycling days?’
‘Well my training partner was Lars Bak, although he was a year or two older so I never really got to race him.’
Ok, so my main riding companion used to train with a Giro stage winner and multiple national champion, and he’s used to going for days on end in adventure races. So despite a few years of taking it easy he’ll probably have a bit of residual stamina then. Oh and he’s 12 years younger than me, just for good measure.
Straight after lunch it was time to test that residual stamina against a beast of a climb – 23km and a 1000m of elevation. Probably the toughest 2 1/2 hours I’ve ever spent on a bike – the puncture half way up only offered brief respite. Some of the early slopes were great, but successive hairpins at 15-20% meant that by the time things did ease up later in the climb I was too buggered to increase my pace at all.
After sumitting that monster I think we had a 30km or so of rolling stuff until we reached Dong Van but to be honest my memories past that point are a bit scrambled. We went up and down a bit and saw stuff like this –
…beyond that I can offer no more details.Suffice to say we got there, found a hotel and after a shower got well and truly stuck into carbo loading for the next day, courtesy of Bia Saigon and mountains of fried noodles. Stats for the day rad 145km, 6,100m elevation
More on Day 2 soon