DAY ONE was an easy ride south on Route 13, a paved highway that runs along the Mekong heading south from Vientiane. We planned two-to-three easy days before getting to what was our trail head at the Vietnam border -- time I needed to accustom myself to being on a bike again. I felt something like blind faith or a forlorn hope that my vestigial riding skills would return. Isn't the saying 'It comes back to you, like riding a bike?' But I'm not sure this was the kind of bike they meant.
We turned east onto Route 8, up and over a mountain pass, then onto a red clay dirt road to Kong Lor.
Here Steph motors up a side road to an overlook:
This was the view:
Crossing rice paddies toward an eco-lodge on a riverbank at the base of the distant mountains just past the tree line. If there was a real road to this place, we never found it; it is visited and provisioned by river.
The cross-country ride was hard going. The paddies are squares in a chessboard pattern separated by dikes about a foot to a foot-and-a-half high and just wide enough to walk on Ė thatís the green line I am approaching. Some paddies were flooded mud wallows and others dry enough to cross. You had to move like the knight on a chessboard -- two squares forward and one square left or right -- trying to pick a passable route. We ended up spread all over the field trying to pick our individual routes through, getting mired in mud and turning back.
I figured out quickly that you had to hit the dikes head on to get over them. As a novice off-road rider I found that the shocks on these bikes suck up enormous impacts. But hit the dike obliquely and youíll go down. Thatís what happened to Ray. Worse, as he scrambled free of the falling bike, the butt of the handlebar came down and speared his foot, mashing his toes. He ended up limping for the rest of the trip.
He also hurt something in his rib cage -- either from falling or from the strain of lifting the bike back up.
Ray's foot (hope this doesn't violate the ADV ban on nudity in pics):
Later that night:
Ian: 'Ray, you feeling a lot of pain?'
Ian: 'You know what you can take for that?'
Ray: 'No, what?' (hopeful inflection in voice).
Ian: 'Take a can of harden the f*** up.'
I also fell in the rice paddies. I hit a dike that was too high, got the front wheel over but the rear wheel hung up on top of the dike, and the bike bucked and unseated me and then fell on top of me. The impact knocked the wind out of me and popped the gas cap loose. I was momentarily trapped under the bike while gas glugged-glugged from the tank and soaked my jeans as I scrambled free. I envisioned the gas igniting from contact with the hot exhaust and incinerating me. I struggled clear but my adrenaline was spiking like Iíd been injected with a drug.
I was alone in the rice paddies when I fell. I got the bike started and rode over to a stand of bamboo, shut off the engine and put down the kickstand and dismounted. In the sudden silence with the engine off, I heard the bamboo swaying in the wind, the leaves and branches rattlings and the bamboo trunks as big as my limbs rubbing against each other, which made a beautiful sound like the timbers in the hold of a wooden ship bending to the wind, or like being inside a stringed instrument - like being in a Stradivarius. I consciously let it calm me. Then got back on the bike.
We found our way to the lodge with appetites for a whole roast suckling pig waiting for us for dinner:
Look carefully and you'll see a jar of applesauce that Digby thoughtfully carried from from Vientiane to complement the pork: