Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Crepuscular Dawn

April, 2001, after 11 years of living with acute and chronic back pain and on the cusp of disability because of unrelenting back disease, I asked Deb, my physical therapist, when she thought I might be able to do something physical again.

Her response was classic: "Well, Susan, what did you have in mind? Let me remind you that your current rehab goal is to be able to roll over in bed." 

"I know", I said, "but I think I might be able to ride a recumbent bike." 

Now, I have no idea where I came up with that idea because I don't remember ever even seeing such a thing. 

But Deb was wise.  She didn't roll her eyes or laugh, or poo-poo my idea in any way. She simply said, "You get the bike and we'll figure out how to get you on it."

In less than a month I had bought my first recumbent (now on about my 5th), crashed it on my maiden ride resulting in a broken jaw, several broken teeth, broken wrist, and lots of lacerations, all without hitting anything or being hit by anything or anyone.

Thirteen years and 135,000 cycling miles later, April 1, 2014 age 68-1/2 after that inauspicious first ride, I found myself alongside Eagle Eye Road, a deserted desert road 5 miles south of Aguila, AZ about to begin my 2nd official attempt of completing 200 miles in 12 hours, a "bucket list" goal.

This 200/12 idea has been percolating since May 2011 when I completed 186 miles in 11:30 at Calvin's Challenge, a 12-hr Challenge ride in Springfield, OH. That had been my goal that day: a 300k (186 miles) in 12:00 or less. I stopped riding when I reached my goal. It was only later that that I began the mental calculations, both mathematical and logistical, of what it would take to successfully complete a 200/12. 

In the crepuscular scrim before sunrise, my husband Kirk, my friend Dan Fallon, and I busied ourselves with disgorging and gorging our respective vehicles of bikes and supplies. Kirk would deposit Dan's Subaru at the intersection of Eagle Eye and Salome and would then ride his own bike back to our vehicle left just under the Eagle's Eye. He would spend his day in Wickenburg while I hammered out solo miles and Dan served as my domestique. 

My first 50 miles were completed in 2.5 hrs, my second 50 in 3.0 hrs for an average elapsed speed of 18.18, two mph ahead of the minimum I would need to have a successful 200/12 completion.

All I had to do was ride and enjoy the faces and memories of so many who have been a part of my being able to be on this road on this day: Kirk who has supported my spirit and passion through it all for nearly 45 years of marriage; family who have encouraged me even if they aren't riders themselves; bent riders and upright riders who have pushed and pulled me through the miles; bike mechanics who have taught me self-sufficiency; PAC Tour who has helped me develop as a cyclist and provided me with the vision of things beyond my imagination a few years ago including completion of two transcontinental rides in my 60's, body workers and therapists who gave me hope that physical recovery was possible when I had lost all hope. 

By the time I began my 2nd hundred miles tumbleweed was flying across the road in front me and I either listed at a 15 degree angle or nearly ground to a halt in the head wind. 

With 135 miles completed I had only 4 hrs and 16 minutes left in my 12 hrs to complete the remaining 65 miles. Those were numbers outside my realm of capability. 

I rolled up alongside Dan's vehicle and said: "I'm done. I can't ride 65 miles in just over 4 hours." Would have been very doable with normal winds, but today's wind was not supportive of my efforts.

We loaded my bike in Dan's car and headed back to Aquila to meet Kirk. Dan got up at 3:15 that morning, April 1, to drive from Prescott, AZ to our rendezvous spot on Eagle Eye Road. We got up at 3:30 that morning to drive from Wickenburg to that same rendezvous spot.

I know I'll be back to Eagle Eye/Salome to vanquish the 200/12. Who knows, I might bring some other 200/12 hopefuls with me and we'll make it a party!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

And Now For The Hard Stuff

Angkor Wat Temple at surnise reflected in the lake

No country, no reporter, no individual is capable of experiencing, interpreting, or reporting anything from a position of unbiased objectivity. We experience, interpret, and report based on our personal and cultural history, experience, education, health, and woundedness.

And so I came to Vietnam in January, 2014 having lived through the Vietnam/American War safe and sound in the US as a college student, a relatively newly married woman (1969) to Kirk, a then 22 year old Army Lieutenant also safely stationed state-side, but often responsible for helping parents plan the funerals for their sons killed in Viet Nam. He had no pastoral training at the time, it was just one of his "other duties as assigned" at the Springfield, Massachusetts Armed Forces Examining And Entrance Station, aka, AFEES.

Saigon fell in April, 1975. I was reading the news as reported in the Chicago Tribune while commuting on the CTA, and it was the only day in my 40 years of commuting I missed my stop.

I came to Vietnam in hope of better understanding how, as a people, they, the Vietnamese, have made peace with their losses, are so genuinely welcoming to Americans, and are so enthusiastically advancing themselves economically both as individuals and in the global economy.

The Vietnam/American War has always been a personal metaphor for me having grown up in a family under the rule of a well educated, unconscious, benevolent tyrant for a father and a well educated, passive, dependent, mother who never, ever found her voice.

My sense has been that the Vietnamese's resilience in reconciliation has come easier than my own. I have long wondered what might have contributed to their ease in healing while I had found the same so labor intensive?

Several factors for both make sense to me, but who knows if I'm anywhere close to a rightful understanding.

Patience is one of the Vietnamese key virtues and weapons. It's how they outlasted the French, the Americans, how they played the Chinese against the Soviet Union. I was but a powerless child, with no older siblings, no extended family infrastructure, isolated from peers and no available extracurricular activities giving me exposure to a bigger world and visions of choices that could be mine.

"How long do you Americans want to fight?" Pham Van Dong, a founder of the Viet Minh and one of Ho Chi Minh's closest allies, asked an American reporter in 1966. " One year? Five years? Twenty years? We can accommodate you."

Ho Chi Minh, while a Communist, was best known among the Vietnamese people for his  Nationalism. For Viet Nam he was the equivalent of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King all rolled into one. If those little stretchy bracelets had existed back in the '60's there would have been one that read: "WWHCMD", What Would Ho Chi Minh Do?

I had no super heroes, alive or imagined and no stretchy plastic bracelet.

I lived in isolation in my own personal Cu Chi tunnel for 22 years with no vision of what I was fighting for or how I would know when I could emerge. And, I knew for a fact I didn't have the social skills to cope with the world if I were to ever come out of my tunnel.

The Mi Lai Massacre (March, 1965) and the Tet Offensive (January, 1965) totally turned the tide of the war in the US. Until then the war was more of a political and military offensive that didn't impose much on the daily lives of the ordinary US citizen be they young, idealistic, staid, or weary with the wars that had preceded this Vietnamese/American war. But Mi Lai and the Tet Offensive stirred nearly all Americans into action of some sort.

What the Vietnamese people took from all the protests of the US general populous was our people's support of their effort to be free and to chart their own destiny. The Vietnamese were able to make a clear distinction between us the American people and the American Government/American military. And so, even today, they welcome us, we the American people. They even welcome returning US Veterans because they seem to understand that the soldiers, themselves, had little choice but to follow the orders of their superiors.

Yes, US military, committed atrocities, but so did the VC, ARVN, Kmher Rouge. The same can be said for every country that has ever been at war since the beginning of time.

Part of what it means to be human is to have the choice to be hurtful or helpful, hateful or loving; It is

our choice to make daily. It is our responsibility to self-inventory at the end of each day: "How did I do today?"

Because Nationalism is Vietnamese's overarching driving force, they have been able to reunite their families torn asunder by fighting brother against brother on either side of the DMZ. They have been growing their market  economy into a global presence, e.g. leading exporter of over 300 kinds of rice and the number 2 exporter of coffee world-wide.

I attribute my personal resilience and reconciliation with past wounds to  Kirk's love and patience, to my children's acceptance of my imperfect self, to my faith community that has been unwavering, and to the 12-Step principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. While not officially a member of the AA Fellowship, it was at the core of all the addiction treatment programs I worked in for 40 years. AA understands that you can't begin to heal until you recognize there is a problem. It recognizes that none of us can heal fully in isolation; forgiveness of self and others and reconciliation can only fully happen in the context of community, be that at the level of a nation, e.g. Vietnam, a family wounded by domestic abuse, or an individual who has made choices along the way that have been devastatingly painful to self or others.

I was sick virtually my entire time in Asia: GI and respiratory. Maybe it was food allergies, maybe it was air pollution, maybe it was just the radical change in the flora and fauna that entered my system. But maybe, just maybe, it was a body cry I shared with the Vietnamese people. Maybe, just maybe, all this outpouring of toxins from my body is part of my own healing?

One of my little sayings, most of the time said just to myself is: "In time, more will be revealed."

I think that says it best for now, more will be reveled and I will know when I know.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Random Observations and Thoughts

  • Thresholds, they're everywhere. The thresholds I'm accustomed to relate to a level of tolerance above or below which some thing or some one can not function optimally. In Buddhist dominated cultures thresholds are a raised barrier anywhere from 1/2" to 9" between rooms. I believe they symbolically (or literally??) keep the evil spirits from entering. What I know to be true is that you better learn where the thresholds are in your hotel room or you'll stub your toe, or worse, when trying to find your way to the john in the middle of the night.
  • Toilet paper and paper towels for hand drying are not standard issue. Don't expect public restrooms in restaurants, or squat pots to provide toilet paper, and expect to dry your hands on your pants, hair, or in the ambient air.
  • Spray hoses ARE standard issue in public restrooms and squat pot rooms to wash your nether regions since TP is not to be put in toilets. Wipe and drop is a hard habit for me to break.
  • Restrooms are typically called toilets. That just sounds way to banal to me. Some kind of a euphemism might be in order.
  • Cow milk alternatives are non-existent, e.g. soy or other nut milks.
  • Don't expect your server to bring you your bill automatically. It's considered rude to rush the customer. When you're ready to go, you gotta ask for your bill.
  • Hotel rooms have door bells.
  • Electric outlets in your hotel room are powered by your room key inserted into a slot in your room. To assure you don't leave the lights on in your room upon exiting, you're issued only one room key despite the number of people in your room.
  • Hotels of new construction are outfitted with motion sensor lights upon entry and in the bathroom, a nice idea but there is no way to override the default. So, middle of the night trips to the john your circadian rhythms will be rudely awakened by the bathroom light brightly greeting you. The good news is you can easily see the threshold and not stub your toe.
  • Asiana Airline flight attendants are striking in that they look vintage 1950's: all Asian women, all the same height, all with only a weight variance of no more than 5 pounds, all with the same hair style: long, severely pulled back into a bun, all wearing the same uniform: a cafe au lait colored business suit, skirt knee length, a conservatively colored neck scarf, and a stupid looking hat.
  • Gender-based roles also appear to be vintage 1950's, at least on Asiana Airlines. We watched our Asiana flight crew stand at our gate waiting for the plane to be ready for their boarding. Male pilot crew on the left, female attendant crew on the right, no cross-gender/cross-function conversation.
  • In Hoi An we saw myriad shops selling silk sleeping bags. I simply couldn't imagine why anyone would want to buy such a thing. If I were to buy a sleeping bag it would be down rated for polar conditions, not a fine silk work of art. Took me a couple of hotel stays in Vietnam to catch on. They do not use a top sheet. Presumably they change the bottom sheet between customers, but you sleep directly under a New England weight comforter. Your choice is to cover up with the comforter, snugging it up around your face sharing skin with all the previous users, or sleep uncovered. Kind wish I'd bought a silk sleeping bag.
  • Hospitality in all restaurants, commercial venues, airports, everywhere we traveled far exceeded our expectations AND the standards set in US. US Americans have much we can learn for our global neighbors.

Floating Village

Kirk, Trevor, and I left our hotel this morning behind the wheel of our guide for about a 12-15k ride to the largest lake in SE Asia, Tonle Sap. Today marked my first-ever ride on a mountain bike, and glad for it. The quality of the road was about 1/4 paved, 1/2 hard or puddle packed mud, and 1/4 major rocks. Trevor was one of our riders who joined us in Nah Trang, rode with us to Saigon, and then joined Kirk and me for our 3 days in Cambodia.

We boarded a less than impressive, but hopefully water-worthy boat and took off for a 45 minute tour of a floating village, home to 1,000 families (3-4 people/family). Homes were built on top of boats; when the monsoons come and the water rises by 30', no problem. There are a couple of schools, also floating; used to be 4 Karaoke bars, now only one. The poverty was astounding to me, what I imagine some of the poorest Philippine Islands to look like, or maybe Haiti. The totally brown lake water serves as wash water for clothes, drinking water, bath water, and all forms of toilet. There are floating churches, a floating wedding/party boat, and a floating Korean restaurant. And yes, everyone has a cell phone, the cell phone tower anchored to the bottom of the lake.
Cell Phone Tower

Homes have no furniture, just a hammock, the floor, and sacks of rice that double as chairs, but most rural Asians are more than adept at squatting on their haunches or sitting cross legged on the floor. 

Little kids, maybe 7 years old, paddled themselves to school standing on the prow of their family boat/car. Babies crawled across the floor of the boat/home, apparently unattended, just feet from the edge of the platform above what I understood to be crocodile infested waters. 

Boat houses are but one room,  the next boat being no more than 12' away, walls are either board with see through spaces between the boards, or maybe tarpaulins. We Westerners would never survive in the less than sanitary conditions and supreme lack of privacy. They, in turn, would never survive in the sterility and isolation of our our living conditions. 
We rode a different way back to the hotel through a long village along the river, shacks on stilts for the regular flooding that comes with each monsoon. As we left the dock area where we boarded our little water-worthy boat, an uncountable number of tour busses brought hoards of tourists to ride the boats through the floating village. Others came by tuk-tuk. We were the only ones who came by bike;
 just sayin'.

Yep, a croc

The School

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ethnocentrism, sadly it's everywhere

Dressed Up For the New Year

Just An Ordinary Tuesday Night

Masks and Scooter Traffic--'ya gotta take a look. It will be a long time before any city in Viet Nam earns the status of being a bike friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists. Not sure that this video is a direct link to ethnocentrism, but it is signature Viet Nam.

Next on the agenda would be a metric century from Nah Trang to Buon Ma Thout, about half-way to Da Lat. Our two days to Da Lat would take us into Central Highlands, home to most all of the 53 other minority ethnic groups or hill tribes. There are 54 ethnic groups in Viet Nam altogether; the majority one being the Viet people. Some of the larger groups include: the Ede, H'mong, and Jari. All the tribes know the Viet language, but each has its own dialect that's not understood by the other. Relationships and politics are not always smooth or accepting between the Viets and the 53 others.

Seems that the obsession with skin complexion is linked to ethnic relationships, too. Hill tribes can be darker skinned, maybe genes, maybe working out in the rice fields. The Viets, especially the females, seek a lighter complexion by covering up with masks and head gear seemingly as confining to us as Muslim burkas but purely voluntary in order to less likely be confused as being one of the minority tribes and/or a field worker/farmer.

We left Nah Trang at 7:00 a.m. and by 7:30 we were in a market throng of ducks strung up by their legs hanging off either side of a scooter quacking all the way; along side the road, waiting for sale were the most unhealthy looking chickens and ducks you could imagine having lost most of their feathers, their feet tied together so as not to escape sale and an earlier death; and of course fruits and vegetables, and coffee, coffee, coffee.

Vietnam is one of, if not the largest exporters of coffee in the world. Vietnamese love their coffee as much as Americans love their beer on Super Bowl Sunday.

Beware, though, Vietnamese drink their coffee without cream/milk, without sugar and as thick as room temperature molasses. It almost has a chocolate flavor, naturally though, no additive. Kinda reminds you of Turkish coffee.

While on the subject of vices and comforts, 80% of the Vietnamese men smoke, only 5% of the Vietnamese women smoke. Wrapping up our stay now in Cambodia we asked our guide if they, the Cambodians, smoke similarly to the Vietnamese. Interestingly, au contraire. Only about 30% of the Cambodians smoke, and even fewer women smoke than in Vietnam where the female percentage is only at about 5%. Seems that smoking in Cambodia is associated with gang affiliation, not a desirable affiliation for those so committed to advancing themselves personally, professionally, economically, and in all other ways since Pol Pot summarily annihilated virtually 20% of the Cambodian population in the late 70's early 80's.

Laundry Vietnamese Style: It works!!!

We had a most satisfying laundry experience in Nah Trang. Funny how the basic (primitive?) needs can become such a dominant focus when you're out of your primary element. Behind our hotel, in an alley, is a whole world of local life. At night, when the electricity is on, you can see into the homes: the multiple scooters in the main room, satellite dishes for nearly everyone, and EVERYONE has a cell phone in the rural areas as well as the towns and cities.

Anyhow, while Kirk was out excursioning with the rest of our group, I was trying to recoup from my gut ailment and sought out how to do our laundry. Laundromats don't exist around here. You can pay the hotel $20-30 to do your laundry or have one of the families in the alley do it for $1.00 USD/kilo. I gave a delightfully happy 30-ish woman my 4kilo of wash and 8 hours later it was all washed and dried, some line dried, some machine dried, pressed when appropriate (like Kirk's T-shirts, he doesn't get that treatment at home), and returned to us with a hug and a smile. We gave her a $2.00 tip and she thought it was a mistake. Must have made her week, or maybe her month.

We didn't have a group meal our 2nd night in Nah Trang, so Kirk and I went in search of something less Vietnamese, something a little more like home. We chose Indian. Sounds funny, but lamb curry and papadum with chutney tasted like comfort food.

Had another laundry experience in Saigon. (District 1, of 24 districts, is called Saigon; the metro area is referred to as Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC, with half of the districts being named, the other half given numbers.) Anyhow, our hotel was in the heart of what would be Michigan Avenue or the Miracle Mile in Chicago or Park Ave. in NYC. No alleys anywhere in sight with  families competing to do your laundry.

We walked out the front door of the glitzy 4 Star Hotel heading for a walk with the goal of getting 4 more mug shots for our Cambodian Visa. Literally had not gotten 10 feet from the front door when a woman rushed us, thrust a business card into our hands with an offer to do our laundry. $5.00 USD/kilo, but we're not complaining. We wondered if we'd ever see it again, but she promised to have it ready for us at the same spot on the corner in 24 hours. Deal!!

24 hours later all of our laundry was more than perfectly present, folded, high tech fabrics line dried, heavy duty cottons dried another. The system works.

Again, pix will be dropped into the blog after I get home. For now, those of you on Facebook can catch some of the pix there.

Monday, January 20, 2014

An Adrenalin Rush

Yesterday's ride from Quy Nhon to Nah Trang was divided into 3 parts with a SAG in between each segment. At the beginning of  the third segment, Luc hoped we could make it to the hotel before night fall, a pretty important goal since none of the Pedal Tour's bikes had lights. I had one of those teeny tiny LED front blinkies and the bright Planet Bike rear blinkies. He thought if we kept a 12-14 mph pace we could do it. The lead pack, including me, booked it at between 18-20 mph and darkness still gobbled us up. It didn't help I still had on my dark glasses, but to stop and exchange for clear lenses would have meant losing my pack. We hit the Beach Boulevard in the middle of evening rush with a gazillion motor scooters, round abouts, and no clear knowledge of where our hotel was. It was just one of the BIG ones.

I tell you what, the best survival strategy is to ride at the pace of the scooters and just keep going; let them flow around you. It worked!! We all made it.

I felt really badly, though, because I thought Kirk was riding with Kathy and Linda; but they were behind him and he couldn't catch us because of traffic lights, which, surprisingly, they obey here in Nah Trang. So, the poor guy had to navigate his way without benefit of any compadres and benefit of any lights.

Altogether, probably not the wisest choice that any of us has made, but it is certainly a memorable arrival.

Cycle Touring As A Cultural Act

Bicycle Touring As A Cultural Act

I have really only cycle toured with two other companies: PAC Tour and Adventure Corps, the latter being their Spring Training Camp in Death Valley. I've ridden countless centuries hosted by various bicycle clubs and fewer double centuries, all of which have added up to an average of nearly 12,000 miles/year for the last 10-11 years.

But, I have never been to Asia.

I am accustomed to daily distances being easily between 90-125 miles, excellent SAG support, and safe, navigable roads.

For good reason Pedal Tours typically SAGS us out of and into the urban area: safety first. They will also SAG us through stretches of the road that are so poorly paved, so heavily trafficked with huge vehicles, or so serpentine that, once again, Westerners on non-motorized vehicles would be at risk, big risk. They, Pedal Tours, certainly provide excellent SAG support.

Given these road conditions here in Vietnam we have typically only ridden 40k (~25 miles) by lunch time. But, our van time is a rich time to learn about the heart and soul of the Vietnamese people through stories shared with us by Luc, our tour guide from HCMC, who was born a year before the Viet Nam-American War ended, whose father was a physician and encamped for "re-education" after the war ended because he had had worked for the Americans and was not trusted by the Communist government; whose father had 12 brothers, 6 fought in the NVA, 6 who fought with the Americans the South Vietnamese Army. After the war, all 12 were re-united as one family once again.

For miles we rode along rice paddies still planted, tended to, and harvested by hand and fields furrowed by water buffalo as it has been done for thousands of years. Automated farming has come, to some degree, to the Mekong Delta, but not further north, yet.

Bicycles are parked along the farmer's rice paddy for his/her entire field day, not padlocked, but then, again, there is nothing to padlock it to. Same is true of bicycles in the cities, including Hanoi (haven't been to Saigon yet). Bicycles are parked on the street unlocked. That is mostly the case, too, of scooters--unlocked. We saw some scooters with a medium heft U lock through the spokes of the front wheel, but certainly not all.

It is common for many people to bring their scooters into their front room at night. Several families will live in the same house so it is not uncommon to see as many as 5 scooters in the front room as you meander the streets at night.

We passed shrimp and lobster farms and fishing villages with huge nets hung up to dry. Theft or vandalism to another's property is un heard of.

The further South we've ridden the percent of people wearing a face mask while cycling/scooting on the road has increased, yet the air quality has improved as we've moved away from Hanoi and are still too far away from Saigon/HCMC. The explanation given is they (mostly women, but men, too) are concerned about their complexion pre-marriage. I guess after you're married it doesn't matter any more.  But, I'm thinking I might invest in one for when I ride in Tucson during the hot season as my lips get so sun/wind burned despite conscientious use of SPF lip balm.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ablutions Thwarted

Ablutions Thwarted

Saturday January 18th
As a 1st world, middle class, Westerner the mechanics and resources for the daily ablution rituals are taken for granted. Not so for where we've been traveling in North Vietnam.

The differences became abundantly clear as we were readying to leave Hoi An for Quang Ngai. I spent over half of my already short night (still have not transitioned to full night sleeping because of the 14 hrs difference from home) in the bathroom with either a vicious case of food allergy/intolerance or tourista, so called Delhi Belly by the UK/Aussies.

Today would be a challenged day for me: a key undergarment was not to be found, the one lost yesterday at the local laundry across from the hotel; I lost track of my iPhone, but there was not time to go back to search the room in Hoi An or retrieve my suitcase from the packed luggage van. The best I could hope for was to use my iPad when I got to the next hotel to use the "Find My Phone" app; it was steadily raining Seattle style, temperature in the mid 50's, not bad by many peoples' standards, but when you're sick with something, it takes it's toll; and the predictably unpredictable roads which would quite regularly degrade into muddy slick-pack (not to be confused with hard-pack) allowing for a mud bath by passing scooters, trucks, and tour busses.

I had to call it quits to my ride for the day after lunch. 26 miles was all I could pedal tour today.

Our destination today was Quang Ngai after a visit to the museum at My Lai. More on both of those in a separate post.

Oh, the good news is I found my iPhone when I arrived at our Quang Ngai hotel. Amidst my semi delirium I had put it in a most atypical spot in my suitcase.

While my gut seemed to have quieted over night in Qanq Ngai, I was feverish and full of whole body shakes on the van as we all drove about 50 miles from our hotel in Quang Ngai to the ride start. Our guide thought we might need to be hospital bound, but some helpful pharma from fellow riders and a bottle of Revive, an all natural energy drink that might become my new best friend from Amazon, I began to bounce back. I was able to ride 36 miles from lunch on into Quy Nhon. This afternoon I was not in desperate search of the nearest squat hole, I mainly just felt like I had been run over by a tour bus while lying in a mud hole. That said, and despite the continuing rain, being on the bike was restorative.

I was highly motivated to ride the full day on Sunday the 19th, just because: because I wanted to, because there were several hills I was looking forward to, because I missed getting to ride the hills the day before because of my sickness; and because we would be riding into Nah Trang, a big city,
and we would have a day off the bike on Monday to explore. I already knew I would opt out of exploring and opt in to trying to recover some gut health and energy and catch up on blogging our journey.

I did, indeed, accomplish all of those things, except I had some more adventures of the ablution kind. After lunch I was in need, even a porcelain squat hole should have been most welcome, but how to find? Luc, our Vietnamese tour guide, was helping me zero in on a feasible place as we moved through the hamlets. The first home we stopped at the family was more than willing to offer me what they had, but they only had the resources for peeing, not what I needed. That resource was a large bowl that we might use to make enough fruit salad for a large wedding. Not going to work. The second house, wide open to the street. We entered, announced ourselves, but no one was home. The third house invited me in to their room with a modern toilet that can be flushed, not bucket flushed, and an actual wash bowl for hand washing.

Interesting, no place has any resources for drying your hands. Air dry only.

On a somewhat related note, there is virtually no use of disposable products in any place we've been so far: no to-go cups, no paper/plastic plates/eating utensils, most often no toilet paper. I've been carrying my own, double wrapped on my bike because of the rainy conditions. I definitely give the Vietnamese credit for their green stance on this one. Not sure if it is intentional or just that the option has not yet manifested itself. We've seen only a couple of US franchises (Subway and KFC) in Hanoi. I'm told there is a McDonald's in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and that there  is one Starbucks in HCMC, too. A plus or a minus? I'll let you decide.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hoi An

Today was our first riding day. Oh my, I was so ready to be back on the bike. I had been off the bike for a week! Huge amount of time for me.

I have found a new way to describe my riding: it is my primary spiritual discipline. Some people practice daily martial arts or Yoga, or journaling, or reading, or some other meditative practice. I ride my bike. I think describing my cycling as a spiritual discipline deserves its own post. So, back to our first riding day: Hue to Hoi An.

We were carried by van 15k south of Hue to get us out of the rush hour chaos of thousands of motor scooters (which,BTW, are all called Hondas, as are all cars called Honda, regardless of their true maker, much like tissues are universally called Kleenex, and soft drinks are called Coke).

Once on the bike, while the road was paved, it was often only 10' wide carrying bidirectional traffic, most of which was scooter and bike, but there were a few cars, trucks, and tour busses. Some games of chicken were at play, but most of the time it was us who would hit the unpaved shoulder before it was too late.

The homes we passed were pretty humble, no, they were very humble. Luc described it as a middle class suburb of Hue. We never saw an upper class suburb, but we did see rural hovels that became hovelier the further south we went. It seemed many were nothing more than tarpaulins strung up to bamboo poles.

After 20k (12.4 mi) we stopped for coffee, tea, a bio-break Vietnamese style. We had to scuttle around the scooters that cluttered the entrance, before we could scuttle up a staircase to the 2nd floor, to an open-air, warehousie kind of place operated by a late teenaged girl. Hard to judge young people's ages the older I get. This place hardly looked like a going concern, but it met our needs and off we went again giving the right of way to cows wandering across our road and farmers walking their water buffalo down the middle of the the same road. Just as I learned in Tucson that bikes yield the right of way to horses on the multi-use paths and that in Alaska everyone gives the right of way to a moose on or near the road or path you're on no matter if you're on a bike or car, so it is in Vietnam that right of way is given to the water buffalo.

I saw my first rice paddy worked by barefooted farmers wearing conical hats and barefooted farmers plowing their fields behind their one water buffalo. There were fields of arrowroot, taro, sweet potato, and pumpkin and, of course rice, rice, and rice.

And, everywhere there were children age 3-10, boys and girls leaving whatever they were doing to run to the side of the road shouting "Aloh", and, of course, we'd return the Aloh greeting. Quite a contrast to American kids who are a) taught "stranger danger" from birth, and b) who have lost the freedom to play outside unsupervised.

It took 20+ years before tourism even began to come to Vietnam, but when it did Westerners were called West Man by the locals. Then, the little children began to practice their English when one of "us" would come through their town by shouting out, "Hello" which soon became Aloh. Now Westerners are simply known as "Alohs".

When the kids grew more confident with their English, they would venture into bold new territory asking: "How are you?" or "What's your name?" or, "How old are you?" The latter is not a boundary breach, but rather in Vietnamese how you are addressed is determined by how old you are: so you could be younger brother, older brother, uncle, or senior uncle. I suppose the same applies to the female gender.

Before our lunch break we visited the most amazing cemetery imaginable. It measured 40k (24.8 mi) in length filled with Family Temples, home to cremains of many generations. Most temples ranged in cost from $100,000-200,000 USD! In time I'll be able to drop some representative pix of the temples. But for now, those of you on Facebook can check out some pix there.

After our little diversion to the cemetery Kirk and I were in search of a bathroom. The ubiquitous convenient stores are non-existent and neither of us was comfortable with public relief. We must have looked a bit like Alohs in search of something when a 30-something man, sitting on his porch asked what we were looking for: "A toilet." He invited us in to his house that had no electricity, handed us a weak flashlight and directed us through a series of rooms to a toilet bowl  on a wet cement floor. It worked well.

After lunch 6 of the 11 riders climbed Hai Van Pass which was about a 5% grade for 11k with many switchbacks at an 8% grade. I passed some bicycle tourists walking their bikes up some of the steeper pitches, their bikes loaded with heavy panniers. I asked one of them how much further to the top. His response was "China." There is not much English spoken over here. The descent down the Pass to China Beach was good fun.

It was by far the steepest and longest climb I've ever done on my upright/Bike Friday. Felt good about being the first person to the top of the grade only 5 minutes behind our guide who is 28 years my junior. Kirk did awesome! I think he's now ready for Gates Pass and Mt. Lemmon up to Molina Basin.

We passed through Danang riding in our van/bus. Darkness would have gobbled us up along with the rush hour scooter traffic.

Danang is a happening place now aglow with modernity 1 million strong. But during the American War, it was where all GI's landed for 2-weeks before being dropped off by choppers into jungle to fight for the cause, their lives, and hopefully to be airlifted out 1 year later still whole-bodied.

Danang was also where American GI's would come for r&r. When the war was over and all the American soldiers returned home, Danang was over run with prostitutes and war babies of mixed nationality. The Communist government invested 30 years of effort to re-educate, train and re-integrate the social casualties of the war into the new and proud fabric of Vietnamese life and culture. They have been effective.

Finally arrived in Hoi An about 6:00 p.m. a gracious town enjoying the benefits of global tourism including lots of Alohs. We were given a street map of the town proudly titled: "Hoi An: Vestiges of Interest". I think they would do well to invest in a native English speaker to check out their translations before sending their work to the print shop. Sometimes Google translations miss the essence of the message.

We spent the day, Thursday the 16th here in Hoi An, home to 132,000 people whose ancestors have called this place home for 2,200 years and where the average rainfall is about 6'. The outside of the houses are dark with mold. Owners expect their houses to be flooded with 6-8' of water each year.

Kirk visited a tailor shop and in 3 hours had two shirts hand-made of the loveliest material and with amazing quality. We did laundry today, too. I expected to do it American style in hotel self serve machines. But, that's not the Vietnamese way. For $7 USD we had 29 pieces of clothing hand laundered, folded, and returned to us 6 hours later. Those pieces that needed to be line dried were, those that could be machine dried were. The only downfall is that I ended up with someone else's T-shirt and underpants and someone else got one of my dearly beloved running tops. Oh well.

Hue, Vietnam

It's difficult to keep track of days, dates, and times since, by our body clock, it took 30 hours to get to Hanoi, and once in Vietnam, Tucson remains, by the clock, 14 hours behind us. Let's just say that Tuesday morning, January 13th at 11:00 a.m. we piled 7 riders, our guide, Luc (a 40 y.o.  Vietnamese from Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh), and headed for the Hanoi Airport.

A pause to introduce who's sharing our journey with us. All are retired, all are seasoned international travelers (I am the least well traveled of the bunch). We will meet 4 more riders, also about our age, but a bit younger, in Hue: twin sisters and their spouses. One of the twin couples lives in Sidney, the other couple in London. Thus, our group will be 11 plus our guide. We will be accompanied by a 15 passenger bus/van and a truck which will haul our bikes when need be, our dedicated truck driver/mechanic and another sous mechanic who doubles as sweep.

All but Kirk and David have enjoyed previous cycling trips and tours. David, from NZ, is the only one without a spouse or travel companion (his wife doesn't enjoy traveling), and only started cycling 3 weeks before the trip, an ambitious guy. I am the only one of the bunch who, you might say, has a cycling resume.

Kathy and Linda are from the DC area, worked for the federal government in the same department at the DOT, and have been travel companions for years.

Niki and Ron retired from CA to CO several years ago and also brought their own bikes with them, Bike Fridays. Interesting to have 3 sets of Little Wheels in the stable.

The airport rituals we have come to expect in the US were thorough, but relaxed in Hanoi,  so much so we completed the entire check-in process AND a delicious, fairly priced lunch in under 60
minutes. We arrived at the gate as they were boarding, facing no gate closures 15 minutes before
take-off and no blaring announcements, and left on time.

A 15 person bus met us and Phuc (pronounced fook), our driver for the duration met us at the airport and drove us immediately to the Citadel for a brief tour; the 3 of us with Bike Fridays still had to build our bikes before night fall and the others had to be fitted to their rental hybrids.

A bit about Hue. Her population is currently 358,000. Hers is a blend of the imperial old with the recent excesses infused by tourism. For better or for worse there is no night life; the locals go to bed by 10:00.

In 1802 the capital of Vietnam was moved from Hanoi to Hue in an effort to unite North and South Vietnam. The Citadel was completed in 1835. In 1885 the French responded to an attack by the Vietnamese by storming the Citadel burning the imperial library and stealing every object of value.

Hue became the focus of attention again in 1968 during the Tet Offensive when the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong stormed the Citadel and gained control of it. During their 3-1/2 weeks of control of the Citadel 2,500 merchants, priests, government workers, and just workers were shot, clubbed or buried alive. The US and the South Vietnamese armies responded by leveling whole neighborhoods, battering the Citadel, and napalming the imperial palace. 10,000 lives were lost in the Tet Offensive, most were civilians.

Despite the fact that many private American dollars are steadily flowing into all of Vietnam to help rebuild what was destroyed during the Vietnam-American war, I find my overarching feeling while traveling here is one of deep sadness and guilt, much like what I have felt when walking through Civil War battlefields, visiting Confederate Prisoner of War Camp and burial ground in Andersonville, GA, and Historic Williamsburg, feeling in my bones, my soul the depth of the capacity of human fear, hatred, and our nation's, my nation's, capacity to arrogantly or ignorantly abuse it's power to destroy, while clinging to the belief that it is doing so for the betterment of some,
if not all.

Looks like pictures will have to be integrated into my blog after I return home. For those of you on Facebook, you can catch some pictures on Facebook by liking my page, Bentwanderer, at