Claire: Nothing makes us more stubborn than being told we can’t accomplish our goal.
The nice German tried to break it to us gently that we would probably have to stay with a Lao family because we would not make the big climbs ahead, 1600 meters for the day and it was already noon. He was almost right, we almost didn’t make it. Though we wouldn’t have minded staying with a family, we pushed on a little longer than usual because of his remark. It was a two Nescafe day.
We took a bus excursion to Phonsavan to save ourselves pedaling two days out and back to see the Plain of Jars. The massive, ancient stone jars are intriguing, but what really struck me with awe was envisioning them bouncing and shattering from the impact of the bombs that left huge, diving pool size craters. Some of the answers to the questions surrounding the 2500 year old relics may have been blown to bits.
I never did get credit from Bob for pulling off a perfectly timed one day excursion: We rode 50 kilometers by 12:30, found a guesthouse, unloaded and locked Zippy, showered, packed an overnight bag, found the bus ticket seller in the village and were on a bus to Phonsavan by 2:00. Once in Phonsavan, we teamed with Lorenz and Alex in a tuk-tuk to the Kongkeo Guesthouse where we booked the tour for the next day and even arranged for them to drop us back at the bus station at the end of the tour. We made it back to Zippy by 8:30 that night. Okay, it was all just dumb luck.
Bad luck did find me in the form of some foul lettuce. That took a day and some fat out of me, but I’m sure glad Bob didn’t get sick, he doesn’t have any fat to spare.
Though the karst topography is scenic, we’re looking forward to a few less hills. Once in Vientiane, we’ll be riding along the Mekong; the lower elevation will mean warmer temperatures. Let’s hope the roads are good.
I thought Lonely Planet was joking when they said Vang Vieng was full of backpackers all watching Friends reruns in the bars, but they’re mostly right. It is a strange scene to come upon overfed, tattooed and bikini-clad western girls when the most flesh we’ve seen lately has been on dark, skinny, naked Lao children bathing at the standpipe.
Bob: Claire is not kidding about the fat girls. A bit of weight that comes naturally with age is fine, but to jiggle like Jello at 23, and flaunt it, is bad form. The boys are just pale and flaccid, and drunk by noon. Bah Humbug. I’m getting old.
It does appear we are mostly out of the mountains, finally. I think, but I have been wrong before. I looked at our stats, and we will be a little over 1,500 miles for two months. That is very slow for us on tour, as we usually do more like 1,000 to 1,500 per month. Now we are getting older, we would expect our average to come down a bit, but never have we had so many mountains. Of the 1,500 miles, 1,300 were in mountains with climbs of 2,000 to 7,000 feet per day, and many of those climbs were at very high elevation. Neither of those numbers is too bad, except when they come day after day after day, with no let up. For two weeks in Tibetan Sichuan, we were doing those climbs at elevations of 13,500 to nearly 16,000 feet. That was, to put it nicely, hard.
When we got to Northern Yunnan, we thought it would ease off, but it was not to be again. The climbs kept coming, just at a bit lower elevation. After the bus ride to Southern Yunnan the mountains continued into Northern Laos, where we were again sure they would at least become hills. It was not to be. Just three riding days ago, we climbed 1,600 meters, or 5,250 feet. This is not a bad day for us in Tucson, on our old but still fairly light road bikes, but on a loaded tandem, in heat and humidity, with 3300 feet waiting the next day, exhausting.
I look back at our first tour of the U.S., and the Rockies were with us for a long time, but the top elevation was just over 12,000 feet, and there were rolling plains between the ranges. The Himalayas of Southwest China gave no breaks, and Northern Laos the same, just lower in elevation. British Columbia and Alberta have a lot of big climbs, but the top elevation was 8,000 feet or so, and most of the climbs under 4,000 feet.
So, who is to blame for all these mountains? Me. I could have researched the route and known how hard it would be. But, my natural optimism led me to believe whatever mountains China and Laos threw at us, we would be able to handle. Well, it was close.
But, Stubbornness is our name, tenacity is our game. Now it gets easy, just heat and humidity, and I think there might be some little hills on the border with Vietnam, and some in Cambodia. Not to worry; can’t be much.
A few pictures from the last few days: