The day started off so innocently with a couple of hours of easy riding in cool temperatures. We passed a community of house boats on a lake between Dak Lak and Dak Nong Provinces.
Turns out I was wrong about Day 18 being the final Hell Day because that distinction belongs to the unforgettably bonkers day that was Day 25. To start with, today’s 106 km ride from Liên Sơn to Lâm Hà Province had five graded climbs including two successive grade 2s.
Isn’t it just great how well the body can adapt to physical exertion because the first grade 2 up the Banana Pass (Đèo Chuối) didn’t seem that bad. (Also, I had recently discovered two additional levels of lower gears on my bike.) We stopped for lunch after surmounting the Banana Pass, and had ginormous coconuts (they must have weighed two kilos each and were brim-full of juice). We were there quite a while because Travis and Keith managed to fit in quick hammock naps, but when the sky became overcast, the wind picked up, and we heard a thunderclap we figured it’d be best to get going in case of a storm. There was, after all, still 40 kilometres to go.
Now, it’s not uncommon here for there to be lightning and thunder storms for hours without there being any actual rain. However, today wasn’t one of those occasions. We had barely been on the road for five minutes and were just starting the climb of the next grade 2 when lightning and thunder claps were followed by a violent deluge of water from the heavens. We were soaked through immediately. The road, which had more craters than the moon, filled up with muddy rainwater. Just was we were blinking hard to see our way through the downpour (and bouncing all over the rocky terrain), with water coming down on us from both the sky and the upper slopes of the mountain, some trucks and a couple of shuttle buses rounded a bend and descended upon us like a herd of stampeding mastodons. As each vehicle passed and sprayed us with mud, so did the rain wash off said mud in what was like some perverse laundry-based relay. Not for the first time, we felt a little nervous.
A quality video by fellow rider Tun Than who was smart enough to stay back at the lunch stop a little longer. You can support his ride here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/TunThanH2H
Gradually, we got used to the rain, the wind, the thunder, the lightening, the trucks, the road conditions which effectively turned our bikes into pogo-sticks. Perhaps it was the adrenalin but we started cheering and hollering because, well, we were bouncing our way up a mountain jungle dodging trucks and tour buses in a massive monsoon storm, and if that isn’t bloody cool, nothing is.
We soon found Deema, who had left the lunch place a bit earlier, sheltering in a drink stall and convinced her to come out and keep cycling because we were already wet through and if we stopped, we’d only get cold and our muscles would stiffen, and who knew when the rain would stop, if at all? And the rain didn’t stop for another two and a half hours, though it did get slightly lighter so we just kept going up and up that mountain pass in the rain; the climb was 19km long. The drop in temperature was actually energising and we made the climb a lot faster than we would have in the heat.
At one point, we came upon Rhiannon by the roadside with a flat tire, so we made a quick call to Mr Cường and Hoà who were still somewhere below us on the mountain. While we waited, someone needed an urgent Jungle Wee. (We had drunk a lot of coconuts at lunch expecting to sweat it off later; a strategic error because liquids consumed which aren’t expelled through sweating must exit in other ways, and repeatedly.) We were hiding our fellow rider amongst the bamboo trees, when Mr Cường’s van pulled up, and it was one of those moments when you just have to laugh long and hard, because, again, we were on a mountain pass surrounded by jungle that was looking especially beautiful and green due to the rain, while our friend was having a Jungle Wee and trying to hide it from Hoà. Although, we were also very wet and cold, so it could just have been hysteria.
At the top of the pass, we saw mist rising up from the valley (it had been a very hot morning), so we descended along the side of that mountain and into the mist. (We found out later that an earlier group of riders were in the middle of their descent when the storm started, and someone had a fall – thankfully a minor one.)
We took it slowly and steadily though we would have made it to Lam Ha sooner if we hadn’t stopped to take photos so often but the changing light and skies were too hard to resist.
Finally, we made it to Lam Ha around 4 o’clock, when the sun obliged us by reappearing and giving us some lovely late afternoon light.