Bicycle.Punk Rock.Action

Greetings Fiends, It's Sunday evening, 20-April (4-20!) and we are back in Saigon after a rather relaxing week. Leaving Nha Trang the other day we saw two Mapei team riders in full kit heading the other direction, and while on any other ride I might assume it to be Peter Leugers, in this case it was quite surreal, and we can only assume they are in the area for the Trans-VietNam road race which started yesterday in Hanoi and finishes 30-April in Saigon. Later on we also passed a carnival-like stand on the side of the road, painted signs depicting Evel Kneivel type riders touting "Moto Bay." Sounds good; let's check it out...it's a 30 meter tall cylinder with stairs leading up the outside to a viewing platform. Inside, fully enclosed, 4 people are standind at the bottom of the cylinder, while a woman is riding a motorcycle in gyroscope fashion, climbing higher and higher up the walls, like some Billy Jack cum-Mert Lawill tripped out balancing act. Bizarre is too understated a word, and sadly, my camera had broke a few days back so we hope that Mac's long-range lens was able to capture some of the action. We clapped madly along with some locals gathered atop the platform when the woman and then a young man took turns riding. This trip keeps getting zanier... That evening in Ba Ngoi we drank bia hoi with the locals (4000 dong for a 2 litre jug; best deal yet!), and regaled them with our stellar command of vietnamese language; yeah right. The next morning rode a short 40k to Phan Rang. We're a bit o.d'd on beaches at the moment so plans were altered to visit Dalat, a mountainous town full ofextant French Villas, and hence, a former French stronghold back in the day. It was decided over beers the night before that we would catch a bus from Phan Rang for the 113k ride to Dalat, and anyway it was basically an uphill slog most of the way including two 10k climbs towards the finish. The bus ride was quite an experience, you understand. The first bus we hailed, at a roundabout in Phan Rang-(and these are 'mini-buses' or vans really) wanted 100,000 dong to our proposal of 60,000, so we said no thank you and rode on. Not 50 yards away a second bus approached, and agreed to our price. What occurred next was simply madness. As we started to load our bikes into the rear of the bus, the first bus pulled up. Out jump their "commandos", (my term, not theirs)as these buses have point-men (or in this case a man and a woman) on guard at all times hailing (haranguing?) riders, and a small melee ensued. The first group grabbing at our bikes, pushing and shoving. One guy is yanking on her brake cable so Mac gave the guy a brisk forearm, while I grabbed his arm and had to shout him down, all the while thinking I was going to have to punch this clown, if necessary, though cognizant the whole time that losing your cool is not well respected here. Essentially, the first group felt the 2nd bus was "stealing" their passengers. Fuck them, they didn't want to take us for 60,000. It was all very chaotic. We were never in danger, mind you, save for the Neal Casady-driving styles, but the situation was certainly bizarre. Once loaded into the van, we then turned around and must've done close to 20 laps around the roundabout and thru nearby streets looking for more passengers to fill out the van. We settled for several large bags of produce, 2 monks, and an older man heading to the next village. I wasn't very happy with it all, as I'd rather be riding, but Mac's calm demeanor in the eye of madness was the voice of reason and the alternative 113k ride in retrospect, would have been a motherfucker. Ok, fine I guess. But 20 minutes into it, we pulled a u-turn behind some building and out go the bikes to be loaded on the roof, as about 9 large bags of charcoal get heaved, slammed and crammed into any available nook and cranny in the back of the van. Unreal, but that's simply how they do things here. I mellowed out, even though I wasn't enjoying the ride so much. More than anything, I hate being trapped inside some insular automobile, while madness reigns all around me. It was all worth it, as we arrived in Dalat, though, with it's cool mountain climate, and very European feel. We found a great room on the top floor of the Peace 2 Hotel for $5 bucks, and drank cold tiger beer. Ironically, right next door was an adventure company, Phat Tire Ventures, run by a US expat and his wife, offering guided mountain bike rides. We signed up for a trip called "Northern Exposure" for the next day. They were skeptical that we could do the ride on our single speeds, but we assured them not to worry. The next morning we showed up and met the owner, and then went out with two guides. It felt great to ride without the weight of our panniers and the trails were fantastic, with real live singletrack, steep climbs, and fast descents. In fact, all of us stacked it at one point or another, none serious, though one of our guides brought up the rear at one point with a nice contusion on his cheek below his eye, and a cut on his knee. After a long 20 minute climb, we broke for lunch. Duong & Hao, our guides, laid out a nice spread of sandwiches, bananas, pineapple and sweetbreads, and we eagerly chowed down. Then it was more fast descents, and a nice technical trail around a lake before riding back into town. We left around 9:30 a.m. and returned to the shop at 2:30. It was an excellent break from the daily grind on the highways with our fully loaded bikes. We contemplated riding again today, but decided to get to Saigon as we need to get our Cambodian Visas before heading back across lower Cambodia and back to Thailand, and time is running short. However, today's bus ride, though long -about 6-7 hours, ~300k to Saigon- was on an air-conditioned passenger bus, with our bikes loaded below in the cargo bay. It was a bit weird to be back in Saigon, and the bus dropped us at the tourist office not one block from where we stayed previously, so we felt like old pros, and in fact got a room at Guesthouse 70, the same place as last time. So here we are, just tying up loose ends, before riding south out of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) thru the Mekong Delta, and onward thru Cambodia to Sihanoukville. From there, we'll take a short boat ride back into Thailand, and hopefully round out thetrip with some island time on Koh Chang Island, before bee-lining it to Bangkok for our 8 May departure. I hope this finds everyone happy and healthy. Sounds like Sea Otter was it's usual ball of fun, and we're sorry to be missing out on Fruita this year, but we're confident that the usual amounts of beer will be spilled, even without our help... Hurl & Mac Whirled Tour 2003
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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