Cold flame 06/03/2011Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: china, dysentery, health, laos, new zealand, parasite, vietnam
I’ve been sick here. I’ve been sick since China.
That was dysentery. I laid in a hospital and got better. In Vietnam an infection burst my eardrum. I stayed in bed for eight days and got better. I don’t know what happened in Laos. I just didn’t get better.
Nothing stayed inside. I’d eat dinner and shit my guts out the next morning. I suspected bad food. Alcohol, sweets, fried meat, MSG, dairy – I cut them all out eventually. Then I couldn’t even keep down plain rice and water. I dropped too much weight. Bloated, aching and dizzy. Always dizzy.
But I biked.
Medical care in Laos barely exists. I was on my own. It took me two months to diagnose myself. Not bad for an Arts major.
I had a stomach parasite. The pills to kill it cost 60 cents. I was cured a day later.
Good riddance in a way. But that bug taught me something. Something I was afraid to admit.
Bike half dead and you’ll find there’s nowhere left to go. This trip doesn’t need my all anymore. I’ve outgrown the challenge.
Kilometres were never the point. I cycled for two years because I wanted to find my limit. I broke myself again and again, I cried and bled and screamed at the sky and I’m still not there. That’s fine. All I know is that I can’t get any closer on a bike.
I’m coming home, but not yet. A few short months separate me from New Zealand. I’m going with nothing to prove. I know exactly who I am now. I’ll pedal only because I love it and because I have a chance to do something special. That was the spirit in which this trip began. That’s how it should end.
This mountain needed a peak. Only a fool would climb forever.
Vietnam 04/10/2011Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: dien bien phu, heat, jungle, mountains, sapa, tam tron pass, vietnam
Vietnam is hot as balls. Seriously.
Granted, I don’t have a lot of experience in the tropics. Before this trip the closest I came to a jungle was a palm tree at the Regina mall.
As far as ideal temperatures go, I’m a lot like margarine, and now that the sun is screaming down I’ve nothing to do but melt.
But you’ll never hear me complain. Vietnam is incredible, and even though it’s kicking my butt, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.
Case in point: the ride from the border to Sapa, a 35 km climb that would make John Wayne tinkle in his chaps. It took me a day and a half, mostly spent doubled over my handle bars, panting and dripping.
But I had every reason to keep going. The higher I rode, the better my view of sweeping rice fields, terraced in a lazy ascent up the same mountains whose peaks disappeared into the clouds. I followed, amazed.
And on that narrow misty road, I fell in love with the hill tribes of the country’s northwest. H’mong, Dao, Tay – all of them in fantastic colours, waving hello, wearing smiles that stretched from their faces to mine.
I haven’t stopped grinning yet. After a full week in Sapa I pedalled over Tram Ton Pass – Vietnam’s highest – and descended into the oven of the lower mountains.
It took me five sweat-soaked days to bike to Dien Bien Phu, and no doubt the ride would have been hell if not for the hospitality along the way. In every town I had invitations for shade and tea. Kids handed me fresh fruit while old ladies fussed over my water bottles.
The only words I know in Vietnamese are “hello” and “thank you”. Sometimes that’s enough.
I’ll spend one more day in Dien Bien Phu before turning west and cycling to the Laos border. My legs can use the rest, and honestly, I’m not ready to leave the country just yet.
Every day I spend in Vietnam, I feel my energy returning, my faith in this trip being restored. They’re easy things to lose, hard to come by when they’re gone.
I’m only thankful that I’m heading in the right direction once more.
China 03/20/2011Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: china, laowei, vietnam, winter, xinjiang, yunnan
It’s been too long since my last update. I should have more to say about winter but I can’t seem to make it sound right.
All I saw were frozen rocks. Wind and snow and ice. I never knew where I’d sleep or find my next meal. For two months it was the same, and in that time I had only three conversations.
I struggled every day, with myself as much as the miles. Neither make much sense right now.
There is reason in self-denial. I see none in deprivation. One gives me strength, the other made me an animal. I’m not as proud as I thought, not nearly as kind or tolerant. I’m tough and stubborn and this time I think I went too far.
It wasn’t worth it because I can’t let it go.
Southern China is a different world entirely, all lush mountains and sunny skies.
I’ve seen things I could never imagine: hundreds of paper lanterns floating into the night on Chinese New Year, pandas snacking lazily on bamboo, a sitting Buddha, carved from the side of a red-rock cliff.
The welcome here has been with open arms. Villagers invite me into their homes, to their tables. I sit with them as dozens of tiny faces press against the window, jostling for a better look at the laowei.
It all deserves a tone I can’t give it right now. I see it, but all I think is Xinjiang.
I guess I still need more distance between me and the cold. Today I leave for Vietnam, and I think that will help.
It’s time to start a new chapter.