The Vietnam adventure kickstarted when I heard about a new 3 day race called the Vietnam Victory Challenge. Emailing the organizers to find out more about it I quickly received a nice offer from Bob the race director to help get me to the startline. I knew I couldn’t pass on the chance to head to Vietnam but it was hard pulling away from a great winter in Victoria. The weather had been amazing and training was going great with Mr.Plaxton and Dan Prouxl and his National Team crew. I was in a great routine, days were melting into weeks, and life was cushy. A little to cushy for my liking as I was starting to lose that bit of excitement necessary to keep the edge and decided it was time to shake things up and leave base camp for a little adventure on the other side of the globe.
Vietnam is a developing country and has had a rough history with most recently the Vietnam war from 1954-1975. The country has rebounded nicely from the catastrophe and it’s 91 million citizens now enjoy a high literacy rate near 94%, and have one of the Worlds quickest growing economies. They are the world leaders in Cashew and Pepper exportation, and 2nd up in Coffee and Rice which is impressive for one nation! It has always been a country which has intrigued me as there seems to be a good balance of food, geography and cultural aspectes to it and a nice climate to boot.
Landing in the hill station of Da Lat high up on a 1500 M plateau in southern Vietnam was just the shake up I needed. After a jet lagged first day exploring the city I headed back to to hotel to build up my bike. It was a bummer when found out I was missing a ziploc bag full of my CO’2s and my rear thru axel. Apparantly somewhere along the line an airport security staff must have removed the bag. This was a real problem as my bike was useless without the thru axel to hold the rear wheel in place. I started looking for one in Vietnam but the specific part was like trying to find an ice cube in the gobi desert. I contacted race director Bob and he started looking but there wasn’t one to be found in Vietnam so he leant me his bike for the first couple days. A day later out of the blue he stumbled upon a thru axel at the Specialized frame factory in which they had one to test there bike moulds! Arrangments were made and I had a loaner thru axel until my friend Sarah arrived from the USA a few days before the race with one.
Dodging a bullet, I was now back on my beloved Kona King Kahuna riding the race course under 30 degree heat with the Vietnam MTB team! They had invited me to join them on the pre-ride. We made it to the start of the course but then started getting lost at every turn. Luckily I had downloaded the course map on my Garmin and went from guest rider, to lead rider as we followed my GPS around the cool little 45 km course. Later that night we had a team dinner, Vietnamese style with 5 courses all served via a hot pot in the middle of the table. The veggie, rice and meat based meal was delicious, although watching them eat eggs with half an embryo inside was revolting!
Still having a week till race day I strapped a rack on my bike and set out on a 4 day, 500 km bike tour to check out the countryside. Day 1 I tried following an unknown route north of Da Lat into a national park and then heading due west back to civilization. 50 km into the 120 km ride I came to a million forks in the road, all of them leading down off the 1500 M plateau into the forest below. Forseeing an adventure ahead I opted to get some lunch but none of the 4 restaurants in the small village I was in would serve me (the loan white guy) anything. At the 4th restaurant one man grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me hard into a chair saying something in his foreign tongue. Another guy stepped in and cooled his buddy off and then his table of 8 guys invited me for a beer and smoke. It wasn’t a situation I wanted to be art of so I opted to continue on my journey. After a few wrong turns and having no way to communicate with the locals it became apparent my mission on the day was turing sideways. I could’ve started picking random roads to descend down but there was about a 5% chance of me not getting very lost, so I opted to save my bullets for another day and headed back to Da Lat for the night.
The next morning I took off on a new highway, 140 km to the beach meca of Nha Trang. The first 60 km of the ride was across the high pine tree filled plateau before hitting a jungle and dropping off the side of the mountain down a 30 km descent into a fertile valley below.. It was a great ride as the traffic was light and there were tourists enjoying themselves all over the place. Once down at sea level I followed a meandering river down into a big flood plain which lead to Nha Trang. Hitting a massive headwind I started drafting scooters which worked out great and just 4.5 hours after leaving Dalat I was getting close to my destination. Feeling good and trying to get a solid training day in I took some nifty little backroads into Nha Trang, extending the trip into a 7 hour day and getting to see some real rural areas of the country. The Vietnamese people around here seemed surprised to see me but were all very welcoming and seemed happy to have me ride by. These locals even fed me in exchange for $ which was a nice relief!
Riding into Nha Trang was a bit of a gongshow as is nearly any city of this size (300 000+) in a developing country. Riding around trying to figure the place out a large man on his scooter came up beside me as he’d seen my Canadian jersey and was interested what town I was from. Being from Edmonton himself, just 3.5 hrs from my hometown, we hit it off and had a bowl of soup together. He had lived in Nha trang for a couple years with his Vietnamese wife so he had all the info I could possibly need to map the town out and was an interesting character I got to know over the next couple days.
Having a day to explore Nha Trang I took the bike out for a couple hours in the morning to check out the northern coast and then spent the afternoon hitting the beach and cruising around the touristy town. I tried to get a normal massage to help recovery but found myself in a whore house. I’m not very good at picking these places out and it can be a little frustrating when the masseus starts asking if you want a “yim yim boom boom”. WTF is a yim yim boom boom? Yes sir, you know.. 100 dollars sir. Huh, No “No thanks,’ just a leg massage. .. This went on for 10 minutes before she got pissed and told me the massage was done. Only getting 25 mins of a 60 min massage I was pissed so refused to pay the full amount and soon had 4 mad Vietnamese woman in my face. What a gongshow, all I wanted was a massage to help the legs recover so I could get back up to Da Lat, all these girls wanted wass to pull on dongs and when denied, still expect you to pay for the massage that only half happened!? What a disgrace, if they want some action that bad they should be paying for it.. It was a relief to get out of there and head down to the ocean for a sunset swim.
The next morning I was back on the bike at 6:30 to head down to see the squid fisherman come in from a night of fishing. After some nice pictures, it was off back towards Da Lat for the race. Having a solid 140 km ride back into the mountains ahead I was happy to leave under the cool morning skys and to try to get back up the 30 km climb into the cool air before the sun got to hot. I still got baked have way up the climb so put the 7 hour ride on hold for 15 minutes to soak under a waterfall and cool the engine off. This was the refreshing blast I needed to finish of the big day on the bike and settle into Da Lat for the race. Normally I would rest the days heading into a stage race but this one I’m treating as a big training block to prepare for a big race year ahead. Spending 3 hours today checking out the courses and riding some singeltrack was a great way to see more of the countryside around here. The countryside is similar to the interior of BC around Kamloops.
Da lat is a busy town of 200 000 people built on the side of a hill with snaky streets heading all over the place. It was one of the few places left virtually untouched by the Vietnam war. Apparantly officials from both the North and South sides would meet up here for a break from the fighting. Nowadays the town is a nice balance of locals and tourists highlighted with a large night market which comes alive every evening with locals selling all kinds of goods, loads of fresh fruit and veg from the surrounding fields and some off the best street food I have ever eaten. The tapioca tortillas coated with eggs, onions, chills and then cooked over hot coals is a favourite. The “pho” soups made with rice noodles, onion and some sort of meat are pretty awesome too as they serve plates of green veggies with them to mix in which makes a healthy meal anytime of the day.
It’s already been a fulfilling trip and the race has yet to start. Life is full of opportunities to take advantage of, sometimes its tough to leave the comforts of home but once you get out there it seems to never disappoint!
The race starts on Friday over here (Thursday in Canada) and results should be found at http://www.webscorer.com/race?raceid=39007
Here is a link to some pre-race media at http://vietnammtb.com