Wow whee – What a ride!
We’ve just finished a 2 day cycle, 120kms that started in Hoi An and finished in Hue city. The ride was diverse, taking in rural areas, coastal stretches and numerous villages, but the real highlight and challenge of this particular ride is that it included crossing the Hai Van Pass which rises to 496 meters above sea level. It’s a grueling and slow climb and one that will take a ‘fit rider’ about 1 hr. It doesn’t sound too bad really – 1 hour, but uphill for that long, now that’s a whole different story!
I was excited … and nervous … and very dubious (about my fitness levels!) It’s been a while since I’ve embarked on any form of strenuous exercise, especially cardio, but somehow that concern went by the wayside. I knew that we would all love this little adventure, and deep down I also knew that this could be the start of a whole new way of travelling for these 8 feets. Liam has always loved cycling and my love for cycling was reignited during my time in China, the kids love anything that takes them into the world of adventure and discovery.
We arranged the tour with a reputable touring company who supplied all the bikes, one for both Liam and myself, a junior bike for Jed and a tag-along bike for Deni. (tag-along bikes attach to the seat post of the adult bike. They have their own pedals and gears but no brakes.) We were assigned Hai, aka ‘Tiger’, a fellow cyclist who would be our guide, and Tien, aka ‘Mr Money’ as our support team. We found out a little later that Tien is a very famous and well-known bicycle mechanic in these parts which pleased us immensely. He was fantastic and his many roles of support bus driver, mechanic, food and drink supplier and baby-sitter all were very much appreciated. It’s funny how his simple act of running alongside us with his enormous smile, shoving fresh, cold water bottles and bananas into our little bike packs put wind in my sails! Just knowing he was there made all the difference.
When we first started this ride, actually I’ve got to admit, well before we started this ride, I was just a tad nervous. The traffic in Vietnam is absolutely mad, undoubtedly the craziest we’ve experienced in our Asia travels, and the thought of my two darlings being right in amongst it scared the living daylights out of me. Now, for those of you who know me, you’ll know that I’m all for free-range parenting, you know … let them climb trees and let them fall – let the kid ride – but riding in these conditions is a little different than on the super safe bike paths back home. Neither Jed or Deni have much riding experience under their belts, actually quite little compared to other kids of their age, So … in short … and quite simply I was shitting myself! I hung on to the thought that the majority of the ride would be in rural areas. I knew Jed could easily manage that and Deni would be safe behind Liam on the tag-along bike. I imagined that we would be riding through villages, beside endless rice paddies and well away from the chaotic, mad highways and city streets. A little like our riding in China perhaps. Well, yep, some of the ride was just like that, and it was gorgeous and peaceful and very cruisey … and some was quite the opposite!
Over the next 2 days both Liam and I had many moments where our hearts were in our mouths. The stress got pretty high at times and our trust in the universe has never been so strong. To be honest, I would have been very happy to pull the pin on numerous occasions.
Jed’s bike was a size too big for him so he spent the first few km’s wobbling and swaying and looking very unsteady indeed. I felt sick the whole time and my heart was beating way too fast! Thankfully we were riding on an open highway (WHAT – I hear you say!) but it seemed that we had the right lane to ourselves. This little bit of space allowed for some wobbling and also allowed us to ride side by side. I gathered that worse case scenario they’d hit me first :/ But there wasn’t really any moment that I felt in danger with the motorists. Maybe the sheer sight of this foreign family of 4 riding alongside a highway was enough to get every one of them to give us a very wide berth, and many toots and smiles and hoots and thumbs up. When my anxiety slipped there was a really nice overall feeling of support and encouragement.
It was in these first few km’s that I was able to ride beside my brave boy and coach him along,
‘head up Jed … don’t look down … head up my boy … try to keep your handle bars steady … keep pedaling … don’t stop pedaling’.
All the while he would listen and adjust his riding accordingly, and as he kept going, kept pedaling and trying his hardest, my heart grew bigger and bigger, my admiration for this little road warrior exploded. I was so very proud to be by his side for this time.
We rode alongside the beach in DaNang for quite a way, then we rode over some pretty impressive bridges with even more impressive views. We toured through some mellow streets heading towards the start of the Pass. At this point the ‘panicking parent’ in me was happy. As we started the climb over the pass both kids took a break and climbed into the support bus. This was going to be way too hard for a little 8 year olds legs to handle, and for Liam to complete this challenge he really didn’t need the extra 20 or so kilos tacked onto his behind.
I have to admit I was really nervous about this part of the tour. I’m not one for hills, not by a long shot, and by the time we arrived at the bottom I was already pretty spent. The ride this far had been long and my legs were feeling a little powerless. I expected to ride for maybe 10 minutes – MAX! Well, I’m pretty happy to say that I gave it my best, and I made it half way up, possibly even a bit more. I felt amazing, tired yes, but strong and full of life. The ride was absolutely beautiful and I was so grateful to be pedaling up that pass. No swearing and cursing, just big smiles and a great sense of achievement. I was a very happy rider by the time I joined my darlings in the bus.
Liam made it to the top and his smile when the kiddies ran to greet him was priceless. It seemed that, he too, was feeling, quite literally, on top of the world!
So what goes up must come down. My good friend Alex once told me that downhill riding was the reward, I smiled when I thought about those wise words because it absolutely was!
The whole team regrouped and re-mounted and down we went. What took an hr to climb took maybe 10 minutes to descend. Jed managed the whole ride down, which was challenging and needed a whole new set of skills – essentially using his brakes! Yes, again my poor heart got a workout … needless to say I could have been heard across the big blue ocean breathing a sigh of relief when we finally sat down for lunch!
That first day Liam rode around 90 km’s, me – 80, Jed and Deni around 35/40. We arrived at our hotel tired, and sun-kissed, and happy. I was feeling so proud of my little ones, and so in awe of Liam’s ride. Even after a good 5 years of very little to no cycling he can still pull off an amazing, and what looked to be effortless, ride up a mountain! Heros abound!
Day two …. To be continued …