16 November 2015
Luzhong to Pianma, Luang Prabang to Phou Khoun, Meiringen to Grindelwald, assemble esteemed company, and welcome... Kyaukse to Ywa Ngan! What an absolute swine of a day.
We ride south on highway 1; smooth and fast just like yesterday. 12km down and we hang a left, thus committing ourselves to some monstrousness. Steady low gradient for 23km along this road brings us to the village of Myogyi. Here we grab an early lunch, at around 11am, because we know that this is the last settlement of size until we get into Ywa Ngan. We drink soy milk, Fiz Cola, coffee, tea, water and have some street-side preprepared nosh of rice, chickpeas and veggies and a tiny bit of pork.
After lunch we begin the ascent. At first it's minor - a few slopes, up and down, with the occasional steep pop. It's like the road crew who put the road in is trying to soften us up with a taste of what is to come.
Things start to blur after this. The road ascends for the best part of 40km, with unstable gradient throughout. Sometimes it's constant and it's possible to get into a rhythm for a while, but oftentimes it's a stretch of low gradient or flat followed by a short stretch of 15-20% gradient. I'm riding a relatively low-geared two chainring chainset with 700c wheels, but it's not enough - I'm in 1st gear nearly all the time, and often out of the saddle with it.
On the lower slopes, and in the heat of the middle of the day, I start to cook. The out-of-saddle climbing pushes my heart rate up. My skin is glowing red, not from sunburn, but from my body pushing blood to the surface to cool me down; blood that might be better used feeding oxygen to my legs... From time to time I have to rest to let my heart rate drop. I'm guzzling water and it's just pouring out of my skin.
As the afternoon wears on, and we get higher, the temperature drops and we can feel a light breeze. The riding is still hard, but with less of the melting feeling.
It's relentless. Each time we think we're done, the road comes back with more. A short descent, and we hope it descends to the end, but no, get some more climbing in. At one point there's a lengthy descent which sheds 200m or so of elevation and we allow ourselves to believe that we're done climbing for the day. Wrong - a series of bends clamped onto a mountainside take us up to a pass at around 1450m. That isn't the end either, and abuse is meted out for several kilometres more. The last 10km or so finally give us some respite, albeit on rougher surface.
In Ywa Ngan, without prompting, we're pointed towards our stopping place, the only guesthouse in town that can take foreigners. Asking some other folks up the road for clarification results in a visual chorus of pointing. Pink bungalows hung with flashing coloured fairy lights... you couldn't miss it.
86km, 5hr30, 15.6km/h