We had a lot of distance to cover today, and we were not expecting great scenery. so we planned a hard and fast ride south down the HCM Trail to our destination of Son Trach. As we were to find, things do not always go as planned.
The scenery started out better than expected, pretty darn nice actually. Low mountain ranges, tea plantations and the general greenery you get so used to in Vietnam. Going through one town I lost Zach. As I did a u-turn to go look for him the bike died, and then would not start. I had plenty of fuel, there was no kill switch so that could not be the issue. The bike just would not start. I then remembered that about 300 yards back I had passed a Honda dealership, one of very few to be found in that area. So I pushed the bike back to the dealer, and as I neared it Zach rode up. We had miscommunicated our route. I coasted down the last 30 yards into the dealer shop, and immediately all work ceased as the shop manager and every mechanic came over to look at this bike, the likes of which they had never seen. I communicated to the manager that it would not start. He fiddled with the electrical unit attached to the kick-stand that prevents the bike from engaging a gear if the stand is down, but that was not the issue (I had made sure the stand was down when trying to start and in any event it would still start even with the stand down). He indicated to me he did not know this type of bike and was unsure what to do. He then tried the starter and lo and behold the bike started first try. I was a little embarrassed to say the least, made profuse apologies, and hopped on the bike as quickly and graciously as I could and we rode off. I will add that this stall happened again a few days later and I developed an idea of what caused it - but we will get to that later.
We continued riding hard and as we now neared Laos, riding parallel to it and very close at times, the vegetation became very thick and verdant, basically thick impenetrable jungle. It was the first time we had seen this true jungle fauna on our trip and we were pretty amazed. My trip notes say we were stunned!
I was out far between towns and Zach had ridden ahead to shoot some footage of the jungle on the GoPro when the back started to slide all over the road. The bike handling immediately declared "flat" to me and as I slowed to a stop and took a look indeed my rear tire was flat. I was not sure whether to continue in the same direction or turn back, unsure as to where the next town was located. Some guys riding by stopped to offer help and indicated I should continue onward, not turn back. So I rode slowly on the flat and a few kilometers later at the top of a rise I found basically a truck stop: a small restaurant and a tiny shop next to it that apparently repaired truck tires! Nothing else. The young guy who owned the shop, later turned out to be the son of the lady that owned the restaurant, took the bike over to his shop. We jacked it up on some wood blocks and pulled off the rear wheel. It soon became apparent that he had no experience with bikes but I had no option and had to work with him. His tire levers were about 5 feet long, designed to remove truck tires, so as you can imagine we had quite a time getting the tire off. Finally we did, pulled from our toolkit the tube we had replaced and repaired at BaBe Lakes and installed it. With a lot of effort we finally got the tire back on, the wheel mounted, the tire inflated, and I was all set to go. Man was I grateful! The next town was nowhere in sight and this guy had really saved me from a bad situation.
And then........pphhhhhhhht.....with a big sigh the tire went flat again. We were not happy, it had been a heckuva job getting the wheel off, the tube replaced, and the wheel back on again with no suitable tools.
Anyway we jacked the bike back up on the wood blocks, removed the wheel and tire, and found to our dismay that the tube had a rip about 20 inches long along its seam. It was an old tube that had basically just ripped apart when inflated. We had no more tubes and were now in a real bind. My 250 rear tire took an 18" tube and these size tubes are very hard to come by in Vietnam. The many and frequent bike mechanics have plenty of 16" and 17" tubes, the size that fit the smaller bikes, but 18" tubes are hard to come by. I thought Zach would have to ride back to the town where the Honda dealer was located, the last sizeable town we had passed, and that was about 100 kms back. A truck driver had come over to look at our goings on, and he and the shop owner indicated there was a town, off the HCM Trail on a side road, about ten minutes away. They thought we could get a tube there. So Zach rode off in the direction of the town. I expected him back within a half hour. And then I waited, and waited, in the very hot Vietnam sun. Eventually an hour had passed and no Zach. Now I was starting to get real concerned, worried that he may have had a fall. Another nerve-racking 15 minutes went by and then Zach rode up, and lo and behold he had a tube. He later told me that he took so long because he had a real hard time in the town finding a tube. He got sent from one shop to another and then another and then another with no luck. Finally when he had despaired of getting one and was about to give up and return he hit pay dirt. He did have to pay double the going rate though.
During the long wait for Zach the helpful truck driver had taken a good look at my rear tire and pointed out that there was a very rough spot inside the tire, and matching it up with the tube we found a severely worn patch that would have resulted in a hole in the near future. So the young shop owner, together with the very capable assistance of the truck driver, fashioned a patch from another tube and, after sanding down the rough spot, adhered the patch to the inside of the tire covering the rough spot. Perhaps it was just as well I had the problem I did when I did, as things could have been a lot worse later if they had not found this problem.
With a lot of effort we got the new tube installed, tire on, and wheel mounted. And when inflated it held! Oh joy
We had lost close on three hours now but at least we were ready to go.
Now I went to pay the guy who had spent the better part of three hours working on my bike. I asked him how much. He consulted with his mother, and then indicated there was no charge for all they had done!! In disbelief I took 100 Dong ($5) out and handed it to him. He would not accept it. I absolutely insisted and eventually he accepted it but his mother pulled out her money and tried to give me 50 Dong change. I refused to accept it so she ran into the restaurant and came out with two large bottled waters and insisted I accept those, which I did. Frigging unbelievable.......here these people spend so much time helping me and then are very reluctant to accept money for their services. Very humbling experience.
We hit it hard and arrived in Son Trach around 5:00pm and found a hotel room in about 15 minutes. A short while later the heavens opened up and there was a huge lightening and thunderstorm, the rain absolutely pouring down as it only can in tropical areas. After the storm we tried to find something to eat, but no restaurants. It had been a long and hard day, and we ended up buying dry crackers, yoghurt, a few fruit drinks and a Top Ramen-type noodle package for dinner. There was no boiling water so Zach ate dry noodles while I had crackers and yoghurt.
Total distance for the day - 280 kms (174 miles)