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Old 08-22-2009, 10:02 AM   #31
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Thanks for reading, Motoreiter.

This trip was 12 days riding -- we've just finished day six in the ride report. We also spent a couple days on either end of the trip hanging out in Vientiane.
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Old 08-22-2009, 01:05 PM   #32
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Thanks for the great ride report, Bob.

This area has special meaning to me. I was USAF photo-interpreter stationed in Udorn, Thailand (not far from Vientiene) in 1967-68 and it was my job to analyze fresh aerial photography of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, looking for SAMs and doing bomb damage assessment.

At high altitudes, you don't see people. I don't remember thinking about the people, only about when I was going to finish my shift so I could go home to my bungalow and get loaded. It is healing for me to see these areas from the ground and see the people and how they were affected by the war.
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Old 08-22-2009, 01:45 PM   #33
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Thanks for the great report!! Keep it coming!
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Old 08-22-2009, 03:42 PM   #34
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Thanks for your comments, guys, and earthroamer, thanks for your perspective; as you might know, the U.S. Air Force recorded the date, time and exact coordinates of each individual bomb strike in Laos and compiled the information into enormous databases that have since been declassified. I assume that it was analysts such as yourself who did this. If you plot the data as red marks on a map it looks like this:

This is a low-resolution image and a large-scale map; where it gets interesting is if you were to zoom in; the red lines resolve into thousands of individual red dots. The dots provide a fairly accurate map of where the trail actually ran during the war. This -- together with other information from American and Vietnamese military archives -- was how Digby originally figured out where the trail ran -- because the Ho Chi Minh Trail is nowhere marked as such in Laos -- there are no road signs -- and no accurate maps.

On day seven, we rode on paved highway to Sephon and checked into a hotel at around noon:

Bomb casings are all over this area including in the hotel's courtyard:

We ditched our luggage at the hotel and took a ride. This bullet-riddled building is on the outskirts of Sephon:

We continued down the highway to Ban Dong, close to the Vietnam border, where we came upon the hulk of a U.S. tank (I think it was lost here by South Vietnamese Army forces, not the U.S. Army).

More bomb casings in Ban Dong:

Maps showed a portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail -- an infiltration route to Vietnam -- heading north out of Ban Dong. We were expecting a rough trail but it turned out to be a wide, graded dirt road -- it looked recently improved. This was something of a relief but also a bit of a disappointment:

The road ascended toward the border; we stopped along a high, very windy ridge line with bomb carters on both sides of the road and sweeping views. The jungle here had been burned off, I assume to plant crops:

We rode for a couple hours up this road and back and did not see another vehicle. It seemed deserted:

Back in Sephon that afternoon:

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Old 08-22-2009, 07:26 PM   #35
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I am really enjoying this report.
I work in aviation, and one of my coworkers walked over to take look at your pictures. He said, "I was never in Laos........officially....."
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Old 08-22-2009, 08:27 PM   #36
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thanks for the ordeal, you might not realize how many guys like earthtromer this trip of yours affects. We can visualize the bombs being assembled in the chow hall at night, to the dia secret pubs the next day showing some poor 6X6 surrounded by craters, untouched. On a big flat topped boat with a pointy end, tracking sam's locations as we steamed up and down the coast. The radar division had a ecm curtained off area where all the wacko's worked, we listened to radar, off to the west was Hainan island buzzing with snarling migs, and to the east were the multiple sam sites searching and locking on and launching. I had a 1965 copy of a motorcycle magazine with a review of a Matchless G85, 500 cc thumper, I read the article for 9 months, first thing back in Alameda i bought one. $500. last week I bought a 88 honda nx250 and tonight I am reading about you dudes galavanting, swamped with luxury, on similar bikes giving all of us rare a viewpoint of our history. Jeez, way to go...

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Old 08-22-2009, 10:24 PM   #37
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Great report, fantastic pics and really really nice riding!! Cant wait for more!
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Old 08-22-2009, 10:53 PM   #38
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Def an awesome ride report!!!!! Subscribed!!!
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Old 08-23-2009, 01:14 AM   #39
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One of the best RR I have seen in awhile...
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Old 08-23-2009, 05:57 AM   #40
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Fantastic! Thank you for posting this great report!
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Old 08-23-2009, 07:05 AM   #41
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Thank you for this RR. One of the most interesting and compelling reports I've ever read.
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Old 08-23-2009, 03:40 PM   #42
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Thanks to you all for reading, and thanks for your comments.

Up early for day eight of our ride. Today will be a long day on rugged trails:

We ride east on paved Highway 9 and turn south at Ban Dong toward Nong, crossing this bridge:

More canoes made of jettisoned aircraft fuel tanks, seen from the bridge:

Approaching Nong, this short stretch of the original Ho Chi Minh Trail was protected by a white fence -- the only part of the entire trail where I saw any attempt to preserve it.

We gassed up at Nong:

The ruined hulk of a Russian-made half-track, at Nong:

Cluster bomb casings are stacked like firewood outside of this building in Nong:

Last chance to stock up at a general store:

There were heaps of scrap metal including these bomb fragments, which people find with metal detectors. Collecting and selling such scrap was a big business for rural Lao villagers until recently, when the price plummeted; now it was piling up.

The trail narrowed outside of Nong:

We took several paths where we had to turn back at a river that was too deep to cross; we eventually found a ferry crossing:

I think my body language suggests I was ready to get off this rickety raft as soon as possible:

Less than one kilometer later, we had another river crossing:

A helping hand to steady Ray's bike:

Many of the huts in this area are built on bomb casings:

I counted a dozen small river crossings like this in the first ten kilometers, then stopped counting:

Digby picking his way across another river. You can cross the rivers with sandy bottoms at speed but many of the river beds in this area were composed of grapefruit-sized rocks, so you have to make your way carefully.

A cluster bomb casing by the trail. A typical cluster bomb rains several hundred tennis-ball sized mini-bombs over the area of a football field. About one-third of these min-bombs fail to detonate on impact and become de-facto land mines. In places like this, you don't even step off the road.

An unexploded munition just off the trail:

We came to the rusted remains of this this truck.

It was riddled with bullet holes; it looked like it was strafed from the air, then exploded and burned. All around the truck on the ground were hundreds of thumb-sized glass vials like the kind you plunge a syringe into through a rubber stopper; some still had these crimp caps on. The truck must have been carrying morphine or some other medicine. The little glass bottles were melted and fused in clumps. You could walk around looking at the ground and read the story.

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Old 08-23-2009, 07:15 PM   #43
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Fantastic trip man! Thanks for sharing it.
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Old 08-23-2009, 08:05 PM   #44
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Thumb Front Page Material!

Originally Posted by Suqsuda

I think my body language suggests I was ready to get off this rickety raft as soon as possible:

Awesome RR. Thanks for sharing a great adventure.
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Old 08-23-2009, 10:22 PM   #45
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I am reading carefully every word of this RR and watching at every detail in the pictures as I am having a 5 day ride in Laos with some friends at the end of October, all booked and pre-ordered already.

It is a great RR very informative and colorful. I am just sorry for your pal. Hope he is getting better soon.

Waiting for you to continue, of course.
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