Got up early and went to the Bac Ha weekly Sunday market where vendors and shoppers, especially the Flower Hmuong minority group, come to buy and sell. It's a really large market with an astonishing array of merchandize, a riot of color and activity. Zach and I found a few things for ourselves and gifts for family and friends.
I bought a really cool satchel-type purse from this lady. I had seen people from a number of different minority groups carrying this specific item, really pretty and I wanted one.
There were a lot of family groups with all the women dressed to the nines:
I got quite a kick out of this lady, leading a horse and carrying a chicken
Then we set out on our ride, and oh what a day it turned out to be. We wanted to take a route not clearly identified on the map, and certainly not on the GPS. One of the guys working at the hotel said he knew the road well and he gave us instructions where to locate it off the main road, and a few pointers to stay on it. Things started out really well. The road started 12 kms out of town and we found it pretty quickly, it even had a signpost to Xin Man, the first town en route. The route was very rough and quite technical for about 25 kms but no big problem. There was a Y junction miles down the road and we took what appeared to be the correct fork based upon directions received. Soon I heard a weird noise coming from the rear wheel. Thought I must have a flat so stopped to check it but tire appeared fine. Hopped back on and continued. Zach came up alongside and pointed out the problem: the plastic chain guard mounts had broken from the rough conditions and the chain guard was loose and wedged between wheel and frame. Grabbed a wrench and removed the chain guard and threw it in the tool bag. The scenery was pretty good and then we encountered some very steep rocky sections. No problem, the 250's powered up them nicely. We then came to the crossroad we had been looking for and turned toward the town of Huong Su Phi.
We passed through Huong Su Phi and located the next road, following the route of a river in a long, very high canyon. Awesome scenery. The river was at least a mile below us, and the mountain stretched out high above us. Essentially we were riding along a steep mountainside that had a road carved out at about the midpoint. After about 20 kms we hit a few serious mudslides. The earth had simply given way above the road and come crashing down on to the road. The mud was hard in some places, quite soft in others, and reaching up to about six feet high. We made our way over the first three slides without too much difficulty
Then we came to one that presented a far greater obstacle. The only line over it went VERY close to the cliff edge, so close that if we made a slip we would go crashing over the edge and get smashed far down below. We decided to walk the bikes over one at a time, in gear and using the throttle for power to get through it, but with one of us on either side in case the bike started to tip. Gingerly we made our way over with both bikes. It was a little nerve racking but we got it done. Then a couple of hundred yards further down the road we came upon a much larger and more dangerous slide. It too had a single line over it and we decided, with much trepidation, to use the same technique as on the last slide. We got the first bike about 3/4 of the way over when things went all wrong, very wrong. The line went right to the edge of the cliff at the point where there was a steep V in the mud - we had to go down the first arm of the V and up the second. As we hit the bottom of the downslope the bike got wedged stuck in the crook of the V. We were teetering on the very edge of the cliff with the bike stuck, no way forward, no way back. Between the two of us we did not have the strength to pull the bike forward or backward. In a nutshell we were in big trouble with the distinct possibility of one of us, and/or the bike, going right over the cliff to meet a nasty end.
Actually it was not in the least bit funny.
Suddenly, and understand we were now far from any town, no villages in sight, we see a lady walking toward us over the mudflows ahead. She came up to us and started to help by grabbing a lot of rocks and helping to build a little platform on the edge of the cliff such that the person on the edge (me - Zach was on the mountain side of the bike) could place my foot and gain some leverage to at least hold the bike in position and not have it go crashing over. As she was doing this two men walked up from the same direction as the lady (the road ahead of us) and she issued some instructions to them in Vietnamese. One man went to the front wheel, the other to the back wheel, Zach and I on either side, and we started to drag the bike backward inch by inch. At one point I nearly freaked out as it felt to me as if the bike was tipping over its axis toward the cliff. But we managed to hold it and drag it backward until finally, totally exhausted and spent, we had the bike back on the road. Our rescuers made it very clear to us with emphatic gestures that there were more and worse mudslides ahead and that there was no way we could go that way, we had to turn back. Which meant negotiating our way back over the tough mudslide we had walked the bikes over, plus all the others. But there was no choice. Back we went and retraced our steps.
By the time we were done I was physically spent, and emotionally pretty wound up. Essentially we had made a bad decision: we should have turned back earlier when the mudslides got real gnarly, instead of trying to get through. We were very fortunate the locals came along when they did as we could not have got the bike out of the V and back on the road without their help. After we were done they continued walking down the road toward the town we had left an hour earlier and then a vehicle drove up and picked them up. We realized they came from the town toward which we were headed - they had somebody drive them as far along the road as a vehicle could go before being stopped from further progress by the mudslides. They then walked several kms over multiple mudslides until they reached a point at which a vehicle from the town behind us could reach and pick them up.
Chastened by our experience we rode back to Huong Su Phi. We took a break, bought lots of liquid, and consulted the map to figure out another route. We found an alternate route that took us way south and then wound around and got us back to our final destination. A far longer route but we had no option. Off we went and rode a brilliant 70 km stretch through some really beautiful countryside. Vibrant greens, hills, karst, it was really great. Finally we reached the main paved road and turned north. We rode really fast along this stretch and finally reached our destination, the town of Ha Giang, at about 5:00pm.
When we started our trip in Hanoi Zach had said to me that our trip only qualified as an adventure once we encountered and overcame obstacles and difficulties. That night I told him quite firmly that our trip now qualified as an adventure. It had been a really tough day. We had faced some real danger but had dealt with it and come out OK. We had now experienced two really tough days in a row - this is what I had expected when mapping out the northern portion of the trip.
Total distance for the day 200 kms (120 miles)