Thursday, 23 June 2005

Tam Duong to Sa Pa, 74km, 1,850m ascent

Thursday 23 June 2005

Had a disturbed sleep, with a sore throat waking me. Eventually got up at 5:15am, with a cold and headache. Showered and to breakfast of two bananas, two bread rolls with fried eggs and coffee in the hotel at 6:30am. As I ate in the lobby colourfully-garbed montagnard women were walking along the road outside.

Noticed am missing news from the outside world: no radio, TV in English or newspapers. Carolyne sends me brief news snippets.

It was sunny and warm and I started the ride at 7:30am, third day in a row at this early time!

Passed through several small villages of H'mong, Dao and Lu. Rice paddies lined the road, with many water buffalo both on and off the road. At 7km started the first climb of the day. Though nothing like what was to follow, was still substantial at 400m. The views of the craggy karst mountains behind were wonderful. Noticed it was cooler by the top.

The descent was pleasant, made doubly enjoyable for 5-6 km as the road was straight and I could let fly without braking. Covered 5km in 6 minutes. At the bottom of the descent came to Binh Lu. Stopped there to buy cans of Coke and two Buffalo, and more water. Wanted to have plenty for the massive climb ahead. Started with 5 litres, plus a couple of bananas.

The road started climbing immediately out of town, but it was 4km until it became steep and could see it snaking high above.

With regular km markers was able to determine how much further had to climb the 22km up the mountain. Within a couple of km the views behind and around me became striking, improving all the time as I climbed. For about 7km followed a gully with a creek roaring down over the rocks. In the distance could see water falls. There was little traffic. Stopped several times to drink or eat a banana. The temperature distinctly cooled by half way. After leaving the creek climbed up the mountain side, the road twisting back and forth. When there was a scooter or bus, in front or behind, could usually see it a couple of km away. Could now see a long way, with huge mountains all around and the valley falling away behind me. Most of the time was accompanied only by the roar of the many waterfalls.

While stopped for a break two Aussies on a motorbike coming from Sa Pa stopped to take off their rain jackets at the same spot and advised that it was raining ahead. That did not worry me: still felt hot and was drinking a lot. Once in the rain felt the temperature felt comfortable but realised would probably be cold over the pass. The views slowly disappeared into the mist, and I just kept plodding on. The fog became thicker, with visibility reduced to a couple of hundred metres.

In the steady rain eventually saw the communications towers that signalled had reached Tram Ton pass, the highest road in Vietnam at 1,900m. At the pass there was thick, clay mud all across the road and had to negotiate it carefully. The fog was even thicker, with visibility at only a few metres. Then the blessed descent, with the road rather broken up for the first time. Had to limit my speed as there were some big potholes, all full of water, and the fog. Within a couple of minutes started to feel cold. Where I had to pedal felt okay, but with the rain continuing steadily the freewheeling sections made me feel very uncomfortable. The temperature was definitely lower here that on the other side of the pass. Counted down the 14km to Sa Pa. The closer I got, the worse I felt.

Arrived in Sa Pa at an altitude of 1,650m frozen to the bone and unable to lift my bags off my bike etc. Stopped at the first little hotel on the edge of town as I could not go on. People helped with my bags and got a warm shower going for me. Rested in bed all rugged up for a couple of hours but when I went to find my way around the town about 4pm could not orient myself and was constantly confused. Realised was suffering from low blood sugar and mild hypothermia. Found that the hotel was ordinary and about 2km out from the town centre. Bought four sua chua to keep me going. At 6pm had a good meal at the Little Sa Pa restaurant. Wandered slowly back and was sound asleep by 7:30pm.


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