Downriver

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
1
122
149
Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, January 7, 2008

I had bold plans to ride the 150km to Paxxan the day I left Vientiane. I was following 'highway 1', the arterial north/south highway following the Mekong from the Cambodian border to Vientiane. Following the river I could be confident there'd be no unexpected mountains, so I was planning on some long rides. The prospect of riding the Laos equivalent of the M1 didn't bother me overmuch, since this meant a shift from 'no' to 'very occasional' traffic.

My fine intentions were scuppered, by an event I'd been dreading pretty much since I rode out of my front drive. One of my spokes broke. It had to happen eventually. 19,900 km with no broken spokes is almost unheard of. I'd never replaced a spoke before, nor, more importantly, had I trued a wheel with any success. However, I'd bought the tool I needed to remove the rear cassette (a 'hypercracker') off Peter before he left Lhasa, and one of his cycling monologues had explained to me the theoretical logic of wheel truing. I'd watched Pawel replace several wheels worth of spokes while we were together, so I felt I stood at least a chance of success. As it transpired, and entirely thanks to Peter, it took only ninety minutes and one attempt to get back on the road. I was delighted with myself, despite having wasted too much time to finish my planned marathon.

I reached a guesthouse not much farther up the road, and decided to call it a day. I'd seen a sign for a detour to a waterfall 13km away, which I figured I could reach and be back before dark, so I dumped my bags and set off again. I should have rethunk when the road became dirt after two hundred yards. I definitely should have rethunk when I noticed I was heading into the hills. And when, after 13km I reached an admission officer, who told me the actual waterfall was a further 4km,  I had no choice but to rethink. However, I'm a bloody-minded fellow, and it wasn't until I'd paid my 5000kip entrance fee and ridden two kilometers, the last 500m down a precipitous, dusty and treacherous dirt track which threw me into the jungle, that I was forced to do a reality check, and admit that there was no way I could reach the waterfall and be back before dark. Not relishing the prospect of riding the dirt road at night, I had to turn around. I made it back to the hostel just before dark, after a 30km dirt road round-trip to nowhere. At least my replacement spoke withstood the punishment.

To make up for my faltering yesterday, I was determined to make a solid showing. In particular, I wanted, for no good reason, to ride 200km in a day. This would make for a day of landmarks, since 200km would be my longest single day's ride, push my whole journey past 20,000km, and past the 20,037.516829km 'half the circumference of the world' milestone (nerds should note that some or all of the decimal places are guesses). There was only one small problem. After 200km, the sun was 10minutes from setting, and I was 3 hours from a town. 

I pulled over by a streetside eatery, and attracted the attention of some diners. With strategic use of the international sign for 'sleep' I communicated my problem. And with pointing, and saying 'see' (four) they communicated my solution. Sure enough, four kilometers further on brought me to another village, but there was no sign of a hotel. I asked around, but replies were either shrugs or a combination of signs and foreign verbiage far too complex to decipher. It was now fully dark, with no moonlight. (And, of course, no streetlights). I saw a well-lit streetside cafe at the far end of the village, so, drawn like a moth, I headed for it. After shrugging and looking confused for a couple of minutes, the cafe crowd came to realise that I wasn't going to simply disappear, and I'd successfully made my problem their problem. One of the crowd fired up his moped and said "come". He led me back to almost the first building in the village, which had a painted sign promising a 'cafe' within. He preceded me into the cafe and negotiated with the owner for a minute.
-they have room. 30,000kip.
Three dollars. Bargain.

The room was a concrete-floored and plasterboard-walled cell. Unlit, unswept and unclean. But it was a room, and there was a mosquito net over the bed, so I was delighted. There was a bucket shower in the adjacent cell. To show my gratitude to the guide, I walked back to the cafe at the far end of town for dinner.

Despite an early start, plans for a second double-century were undermined early-on when, within 2 hours, I met two couples cycling the the other way. I chatted with the first couple for an hour or so. They transpired, with almost predictable improbability, to be the Canadian friends of Kristen and Detlev, who were following us through Tibet. They'd not only got to Bangkok before me, but had just left Kristen and Detlev after spending New Year with them. The second couple's English was worse than my German, so we had only a brief conversation, but it was a surprising one.
-You are riding from England to Australia!
-Yeah
-We just met another man, from New Zealand. He also came from England, going to NZ! He is about 30minutes ahead!

Had he been 30 minutes ahead for 16months?
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