23 December 2011
My first steps into the cold and wet this morning take me to a banh my bakery. I wait for my baguettes to be filled as I bask in the warming glow from the baking ovens. A team of guys shape the dough on large trays, slam them in to bake, and then dump out the freshly cooked ones into a heap for the sandwich makers to mine into.
I pack a carton of milk and two baguettes filled with cucumber and La Vache Qui Rit cheese, and stuff a third warm loaf in my mouth as I leave. The dough mix could use a wee bit more salt, and isn't quite baguette texture, but it still beats noodles for breakfast.
I'm expecting 25km or so of descent before the turn off onto the Ho Chi Minh highway towards A Luoi. It turns out to be fourteen, during which I cave in to the elements, pannier my top tube bag and put on my rain cape. It's looking like it's going to be an attritional day.
There's plenty of uphill on the road to A Luoi, but it's generally given right back as the road undulates. It seems to take forever to get through the first 10km on this road, but it's been around 25 minutes - the weather must be distorting time. By 40km on the clock the rain has ceased and I stop to take down my baguettes and my incredibly sweet milk. The river below is in brown spate and noisy. The sky starts to brighten a bit and the middle of the day is almost pleasant.
With 40km remaining I pass through a town which seems to have a good restaurant selection. Rather than push on relying on dwindling fuel, I make a stop for some rice and pre-cooked Chinese-style eats. Wise move, as the weather deteriorates again, and a short but steep climb appears. It feels like I'm up high, as I'm surrounded by cloud, but the climb tops out around 620m above sea level.
The climb ends about 20km from A Luoi and the rest of the ride is straightforward and speedy, if rather mucky. The rain has been too light to wash the roads clean, and a thin layer of mud on the road becomes a thin layer of mud on me and my bike. I must think again about installing mudguards.
I choose a hotel at random. Ok, so the WiFi sign helps its cause. The girl running the place has not a word of English, but we manage. She provides me with a large bucket of water to sluice myself off with, and I stand out front doing my best to unmake a mess. It's a sorry sight.
106km, 19.4km/h, 5hr28min, 2653km