21 December 2011
A shorter day today, after yesterday's, umm, bonus kilometres. Breakfast is the remaining baguette. It's gone a bit soggy, but it still hits the spot.
I pack up and roll out, aiming to lunch in Muang Phine, which was to have been my backstop place to stay last night. At just short of 40km, I pull through a town with restaurants and guesthouses. That would definitely have been within range yesterday. Signposts would be useful. I failed to mention it yesterday, but since Seno, the bulk of the kilometre markers have been illegible.
Again, the headwind is strong and constantly present. I'm still able to cruise in the low 20s, but I'm working for it.
I have 51km on the clock when I pull over for lunch in Muang Phine. It's just short of noon. The pork fried rice I order takes them a while to get together, so I spend the time guzzling a can of coconut juice and refilling my water bottle. The rice is good, but there could be more of it.
Surface is on and off today, with some stretches great and some a joke. I get hassled by a couple of guys on a motorbike who are fooling around, which I don't really object to, but I do object to them doing it at upwards of 25km/h on a rough road with heavy goods vehicles bombing along it. The shouts from the roadside seem to have degraded from sabaidee, via hello, to mere noises. A little girl waves and sabaidees - it's not her fault, so I smile and sabaidee back. Her father yells 'I love you'. Yes, I'm ready to leave all over again. Vietnam tomorrow. 45km to the border then another 20km or so after to Khe Sanh. I'd better get learning some Vietnamese - I can maybe count to three in a pinch.
Talking of HGVs, I've been surprised at how few there have been on route 9. I was expecting overland Thailand-Vietnam trade to make this road hell to ride, but traffic's never been a problem. Do these countries find it more effective to trade by sea? Does Laos impose punitive taxes for goods crossing the country? Isn't there a Greater Mekong Sub-region free trade area that all three countries are signed up to?
After lunch, I pass a junction with a road going south, and all of a sudden, the kilometre markers come back to life. I watch them as they count down towards Sepon and the border. I keep thinking I'm going to climb, as small hills start appearing, but the road wriggles through them. I also keep thinking I'll find myself in their lee, but I guess the wind wriggles through too.
One kilometre out from Sepon, I find myself dawdling a little. I realise I'm trying to avoid the possibility of a repeat of yesterday turning into present reality. I needn't have worried - there's a choice of accommodation, and the first place I stop, a little way off the highway and past the town centre, ticks all the boxes for 50,000 kip. I tack on a large bottle of water and a Beerlao and rest on the verandah sipping the latter.
While I'm busy with that, air is busy leaving my rear tyre. My second 'guesthouse puncture' - I'll take them over roadside fixes in blazing sun - this time something's definitely gone through the tube, but from an odd angle and leaving no further evidence. The most likely suspects are the cactus-like plants where I parked up near the guesthouse entrance.
Tube patched and refitted, I head out for food. I run into two bike tourists from Idaho, Steve and Jane. They invite me to join them for food and beers. They're travelling from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap, their route overlapping mine a lot. They're as circumspect as I am about riding Vietnam's highway 1, and seem to be taking the same approach: check it out between Hue and Hoi An and then replan if needed.
Back at the guesthouse before nine, I fall asleep until around midnight. The wind has made today rather more tiring than the distance implies.
86km, 19.6km/h, 4hr24min, 2482km