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Downhill, Then Back Up

The air was cool and fresh, slightly thinner due to our high elevation here in Sa Pa, but very comfortable. The first part of the wheel was all to be downhill, which made it very easy, pleasant wheeling. We had both put on our SpeedMatrix jerseys, which added to the airy, fresh feeling. The sun was the brightest it had been since we were in Borneo or Bali, but the addition of the Maui Jims to our lifestyle even kept that cooled off. Basically, we were feeling great.

When we passed a restaurant that sported a big suckling pig, cooling on a spit outside, we decided to stop in for a bite to eat.

Inside, we discovered that this was the policeman’s haunt, and decided, after looking around at tables full of cops eating lunch, just to emulate their behavior, and order by pointing at what they had on the table. We ended up getting a very Chinese plate of crispy pork and greens (delightful though not nearly as good as those we had had in Lijiang during the pilot study), and a large pile of rather crispy French fried potatoes.

With eating out of the way, we climbed back on the Speed TRs and asked a local woman which direction she thought we should wheel in. She pointed down the road up which we had just climbed in the bus.

Okay, more downhill it would be, for now at least. We strapped a bunch of bottles of water to our cycles and headed off.

It is worth pausing to discuss here the strange trends we have observed in Vietnamese bottled water manufacturing. Aquafina, being the market leader, commands a high price for its H2O. So, following suit, all the Vietnamese bottled water companies have re-branded themselves to resemble Aquifina. We saw, among others “Aquaonly, AquahostA AquiMinimax, AquaSpa, ….”

The feeling was wonderful, just soaring down the mountain. As we coasted along, the scene opened up around us to display giant green valleys filled with terraced rice operations, dotted with little farmer’s huts. Morale was supremely high, so we just kept soaring on, stopping, of course, from time to time, to indulge a little of that old vice of ours… timed exposures.

We wheeled on past a large Colorado-esque sign indicating that we were leaving Sa Pa. And down through one valley and then another. On the slopes, everywhere we looked, people were farming various crops, presumably dependent on the availability of water and the quality of the soil. In the very bottom of most of the valleys, there were small streams, around which herds of water buffalo were being tended. Nearby the farmers would churn through the mud of their rice fields with giant devices, seemingly homemade, consisting of engines, connected to openly whirling blades, all mounted on a welded-together framework of metal. Looked like terrifying, but satisfying work.

On we went, farther and farther down, past fellows on mopeds transporting all manner of goods up to Sa Pa, and road crews hard at work maintaining the beautiful curves of bitumen that we so luxuriously rode upon. Finally, we came just to the edge of the clouds we had worked our way through on that morning’s bus. It seemed time to turn around.

And what a change it was. What had been an easy, beautiful, cool, dry wheel, suddenly became a punishing, sweat-drenched test of the human psyche. This mountain, which had once been so kind and open with us, became a cruel beast that had to be tamed. Up and up we rode, stopping from time to time to drink water like lost desert wanderers stumbling upon an oasis. No sooner had we quenched our thirst than we were back in the cycles, hammering up the mountain. We quickly digested all in our stomachs, and drank all our water.

With that came a new kind of challenge. We no longer had the excuse of water breaks. It was just us and the mountain. Even through the haze of struggle, though, from time to time the raw beauty of the landscape would captivate me. I would get lost in the curves of the terraces, or a herd of water buffalo wallowing in the muck at the valley floor.

We neared the top of the mountain and the city of Sa Pa riding a wave of energy. The heat of the moment was over and we were once again in the highest of spirits, and delighted with our recent trajectory, instantly dried and cooled by the mountain air. We wheeled to the edge of the city, where we stopped to take in one more drink of the stunning view. I sat on a tuft of green grass and Scott joined me. What a country this was!

We wheeled back into town past a table where two fried dogs heads advertised the availability of canine meat, and sat down at a hole in the wall Pho joint.

The soup was unsurprisingly delicious, and from there we wheeled slow and easy back to the roomy, Wifi-filled comfort of our hotel room. We spent the rest of the night working on correspondence for you, dear reader, stepping out only briefly to indulge in a small dinner of Bia Hoi and boiled duck eggs, each of which was filled with a deliciously fetal chick.


  1. Elena | June 27th, 2010 | 1:01 pm

    ‘deliciously fetal chick’ ~ ….so awesome

  2. Mark/Dad | July 4th, 2010 | 10:13 am

    Great picture of the terraced fields.

  3. Henkes | July 5th, 2010 | 8:37 am

    i hated the picture of the dog heads. boo.

  4. Woody | July 5th, 2010 | 9:06 am

    @ Elena
    Thanks. We’re blushing with pride.

    @ Henkes
    It’s true, sometimes there are ugly things which we encounter… but I consider it our responsibility to report back on those as well. Wouldn’t be honest Gonzo journalism if we didn’t. I am sorry you found them distasteful, though.

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