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Old 08-12-2009, 05:11 PM   #16
how was your lamb?
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the stuff in that last batch of photos is just ... wow
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Old 08-12-2009, 05:48 PM   #17
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Digby broke out a bottle of whiskey and we drank with the village headman who made room for us in a hut. We brought our own food and enough to share with our hosts; these people do not have food to spare. Digby was the diplomat with the headman. Ray cooked dinner, over an open fire. I helped Steph clean and bandage his injuries. One of his knees was swollen to the size of a grapefruit and the kneecap was in the wrong place -- I don't know how else to describe it. He had some gouges and cuts on his arms and legs and bruises running across his chest in a tire tread pattern.

It was not clear how we could continued down the trail in the collective state we were in. It was a somber, subdued mood --

Except, later that night:

Ray: Ian, you hurting?

Ian: Yeah, I guess so.

Ray: You know what you can take for that?

Both Steph and Ian were iron men, not once whining, wincing or complaining although they had to be in a lot of pain. I don't know if it's cause they're Australian or that's just the kind of guys they were. Ian was having some trouble breathing and I worried that Ian or Steph or both of them might have some internal injuries. I woke up once in the middle of the night and I was relived to hear Ian breathing. Steph, I couldn't tell but I told myself he was O.K.

The next morning Steph fixed his brake pedal which had been bent double in the crash:

We had breakfast:

I rode around the village. I'm told the villagers built a fence around this half-buried rocket to keep children and animals away from it:

Close up:

We saddled up to ride:

Ian borrowed my kidney belt and cinched it tightly around his rib cage - it seemed to help.

It was clear that we could not continue down the trail, which only got more difficult from here; Ian was hurt badly, and anyway, the villagers were not sure they could get us across the Xe Banfai in canoes -- the only way across -- because it was running swiftly and high.

We doubled back toward Tha Ket, the city from which we had started the day before, but we found a trail heading in that direction that kept us off the paved road for part of the way back. Steph and Ian on the trail:

We stopped at a MAG (Mines Advisory Group) ordnance clearing operation. You see their skull and crossbones logo all over Laos. Some one third of the bombs dropped on Laos did not detonate on impact and now are unexploded ordnance or ‘UXO.' Especially prevalent are countless tennis ball-sized cluster bomblets and similar sub-munitions. Some 6,000 Lao are killed and many more maimed every year by UXO, often while clearing fields to plant. MAG finds the UXO with metal detectors and blow it up in place. We heard a siren sound which meant they were about to detonate some charges.

Here Digby radios back to their base to get permission to proceed:

We got back to Tha Ket and that evening, Ian had another scary episode of trouble breathing. The next morning we dosed him on pain medications and got him and his bike in a pick-up truck to return to Vientiane. Steph accompanied Ian. The plan was to get Ian to a hospital in Thailand. It wasn't clear whether Steph would return to ride with us, but he left his bike in Tha Ket to keep that option open:

Suqsuda screwed with this post 08-12-2009 at 06:19 PM
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Old 08-13-2009, 04:58 PM   #18
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While Steph accompanied Ian back to Vientiane to get him to a hospital, Digby, Ray and I spent the day exploring the caves around Tha Ket. There are countless caves in the limestone mountains outside Tha Ket, reachable by trail only by motorcycle or on foot. Many have rivers running through them. Many are Buddhist shrines.

We rode our bikes into this cave:

Lao street food that evening back in Tha Ket:

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Old 08-13-2009, 05:12 PM   #19
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but , not so much
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Old 08-13-2009, 06:32 PM   #20
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The morning of day six -- I was happy to see that Steph back with us and ready to ride. He was operating on little sleep, having arrived sometime in the middle of the night after having gotten Ian into a hospital in Thailand.

We set off early to cross Laos east to west once again and get back on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. About 50 km outside of Tha Ket, we turned off paved highway and headed toward Mahaxe. It was a dusty, red clay road:

Mahaxe is a market town:

Past Mahaxe:

We intercepted the HoChi Minh Trail at Bua La Pha, about seven or eight miles south of Sen Phen, where we had been two days before.

U.S. pilots called this part of the trail 'The Chokes.' It is another natural choke point where geography forced strands of the trail to converge in a river valley that was heavily targeted by U.S. bombers. The satellite photo below shows a well-defined dirt road south of the Nam Phanang river -- a route that Digby had taken before. The photo also shows a dirt road running on the far side of the river to the base of a mountain -- 4,583-foot Phou Louang mountain. Another track is visible running along a ridge line in the foothills to the mountain.

And this Vietnam War-era U.S. military aviation map appears to show the trail running along the west bank of the river.

Outside of Kok we paused to consult the map and decided to take one of the unexplored (by us) routes on the far side of the river:

We crossed the Nam Phanang:

The riding was smooth and beautiful. The only thing that slowed us down were immense flocks of purple butterflies.

We stopped for a picnic lunch. We saw no one else on this part of the trail. Villages were few and far between.

My lights were on -- we were already starting to lose light:

I believe this is Phou Louang mountain looming in the distance:

Suqsuda screwed with this post 08-21-2009 at 02:44 PM
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Old 08-20-2009, 11:06 PM   #21
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Are U there?

14 Days gone by - waiting for another fix.
First thing I do when I get to work - fart, quick check out the window and see if there is any more to this thread.
Normaly I dont post, cause plenty of others are clogging up the good stuff with irellavent crap, but I am begining to worry you didnt get enough encouragement to keep posting.
'Rust. Natures way of toneing down our worst excesses.'
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Old 08-20-2009, 11:42 PM   #22
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Keep it comming!!!!

Jeez, this is great! ADV all the way!
Where am I going you ask.... I dunno really
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Old 08-21-2009, 08:50 AM   #23
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Thanks for the encouragement Dakardad and 11thHour, I appreciate it. I've been busy with work and life in general like we all are but I was just thinking the other day that I need to turn my attention back to this RR and see it through. I was also coming to a part in the narrative that was hard to ride, so hard to write about. Please bear with me and I'll be adding more soon.

Another river crossing in the Chokes:

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Old 08-21-2009, 10:02 AM   #24
how was your lamb?
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I very much like this one
Originally Posted by Suqsuda
makes me downright giddy

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Old 08-21-2009, 11:31 AM   #25
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Digby liked it too, as you can see from the smile on his face:

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Old 08-21-2009, 01:30 PM   #26
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Excellent ride report and photos! The food looks great too. Saludos
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Old 08-21-2009, 03:37 PM   #27
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Phou Louang mountain stands like a sentinel over the river valley, but was visible only when we emerged intermittently from under the jungle canopy.

On January 11, 1968, a U.S. Air Force Lockheed Neptune on a secret surveillance mission crashed into a sheer cliff on the north side of the mountain, 150 feet below the summit. The crash killed the crew of nine and the crew's mascot (a small dog named Snoopy Seagrams).

The Air Force located the site of the crash soon after it occurred, but due to its inaccessibility and remoteness, it was not until 2001-2002 that the U.S. Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) was able to recover the remains of the crew and their effects. Among the things recovered was a helmet with a piece of skull embedded in it -- an image that came to mind whenever I put on my own helmet.

I don't really want to dwell on my own feelings except to say that I was conscious of being in a place where people on both sides had fought and died and I was sometimes haunted by thoughts of these events. Yes, we were here for fun and adventure, but there was a seriousness and respect to our interest in being here.

These cobblestones are a sure sign that you are on a stretch of the original Ho Chi Minh Trail. The North Vietnamese military engineers set the stones to support truck traffic where the soil was soft.

Another view of the cobblestones:

There is a certain spookiness -- at least to my mind -- to being on the remote parts of the trail. I'm sure some of it is is imagined but at least some part is perceived; you aren't necessarily assured of a friendly reception in every village. Not that I ever felt we would be attacked -- that was never a concern (you do see villagers carrying SKS rifles and crossbows, but they are used for hunting). It was just that there was sometimes a wariness or coolness. Other villages we passed through were completely deserted. Of course they can hear the bikes coming from a long way off. I don't know if they were watching us from the treeline, or were inside their huts.

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Old 08-21-2009, 03:51 PM   #28
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Old 08-21-2009, 05:28 PM   #29
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There are reports -- or rumors -- that villagers in the Chokes know of downed U.S.. aircraft as yet undiscovered by American recovery teams. I don't know if this is true, but telltale pieces of American planes do show up in villages. In one village, we found what I think must have been a gun sight camera body from a fighter jet or a camera from a reconn. airplane. It was not a journalist's camera -- it had no viewfinder aperture, for one thing, and was sized for large-format film. It was heavy and made of what looked like some exotic alloy. And it still had traces of red earth, from where it had been dug up. This was a village where the reception was not warm -- in fact, Digby told us to put away our cameras and get out of there. He does take GPS coordinates of finds like this and sends them to his contacts at JTFFA.

Past the village, the trail was blocked by a fallen tree. It took some time to get the four bikes past it and we were losing light:

Here's a film clip from a little point-and-shoot camera:

The trail continued to deteriorate and we ended up in pitch darkness punctuated only by our headlights riding through muddy, deeply rutted stretches. The hard part was, we had no idea whether this trail would go through, or end in an impassable obstacle or dead end. But we didn't want to go back to that village.

This part of the trail was reverting to jungle. There were long stretches where bamboo was leaning over the trail and we had to duck under it and push it out of the way with swimming motions. We were all lashed and cut by bamboo.

We emerged suddenly onto a real road -- a dirt road, but a real road. We had another 20-30 kilometers before coming to Vilabury -- the first town we'd seen since Mahaxe with electricity and running water. We'd had a long day -- about 14 hours on the bikes.

Another pic after we'd gotten our composure and put on our game faces:

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Old 08-21-2009, 08:32 PM   #30
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What a manly adventure! Great pix! How many days was this trip?
Adventure is just another word for poor planning.
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