14 December 2011
It's going to be a biggie, so I'm out of bed at 7am. I'd gone to bed late because I was busy finishing Midnight's Children and getting in a last WiFi fix before heading to the boonies, but I sleep well and wake feeling fresh. Four days of getting fat in Vientiane, and I'm nervous about how today is going to pan out. It's also dawned on me that it could be late March in Singapore before I cross paths with anyone I know, which suddenly seems a long way off.
I leave a few things behind in Vientiane. My zip-up fleece hoodie, which is an ideal garment to possess in Kunming, and which I wore way too much, has not been used since China. While I'll likely have some cool weather when I'm up at altitude in Vietnam, I don't think it'll be that cold. Ditching a garment so much a part of my Kunming garb, and departing yet again, I find myself thinking about the mistakes of defining oneself in terms of possessions or places.
I hit the road soon after 8am, picking up a baguette and a Gatorade to take on the road. I'm disappointed to find the Gatorade bottle is a small one, which won't fit in the bike's bottle cage - I was mainly buying it as a replacement for the one I'd used all the way from Kunming, which was getting a little icky.
My general direction of travel over the next four days is south, towards the Mekong port of Savannakhet, but today I start out north, following Route 13S, which will gradually veer around to take me south. It takes me 14km to feel like I'm leaving the city, when I make a right and start heading roughly east.
Departing town, I see more baguettes than I have seen in my entire life to date. Stands are set up every 100m or so, freshly baked bready fingers pointing towards the sky - wrapped, unwrapped, twin packs, bundles... and all the stands are on the side of the road for people leaving town. Is this the Lao road trip snack of choice?
I pass some extensive sports facilities, which I'm guessing were built for the 2009 Southeast Asian Games, which Vientiane hosted. The road at this point is wide and impressive. A few kilometres further and we're back to the regular two-lane that I've followed down from China.
The surface today is some of the best and most consistent I've seen since the Chinese-built road section in the far north. There was exactly one full-width break in the surface. It's also flat, or as good as, with the altitude varying between 120 and 150m above sea level. The result of my Vientiane feeding frenzy seems to have been positive: I'm feeling powered up most of the day and able to cruise at an average for the day just short of 25km/h.
I stop just before 50km to take down the baguette and Gatorade, and at 95km at Thabok for some fried rice, roughly breaking the day into thirds. Thabok has accommodation, and would be a respectable place to stop. Riders wanting to up the ante can add on 40km to make a 190km day to Pakkading. I thought about it, but common sense prevailed. I stop past Pakxan's small centre to clock 152km, comfortably the trip's longest day so far. The guesthouse I stumble upon is set back from the highway, clean and in good nick, and the wood-decked and thatch-roofed restaurant across the road from it has just banged out a tasty chicken, veggies and sticky rice meal. Despite me starting it with concerns of various stripes, the day seems to have panned out fine.
152km, 24.7km/h, 6hr8min, 1950km