Friday, 27 February 2015

Where's my flippin motorbike?

Day 3 deserves its own blog entry. Phuck a ding, what a day!!! The 60 odd km to Muang Khom started well. We were on the road by 7.45 with yet another noodle soup sloshing around in our bellies (they're not getting any smaller by the way which is a bit disappointing considering the recent efforts). The first 25km went pretty smoothly, rolling hills (= quite a lot of granny gear in these parts) and nice scenery.  

Then things got even better. I saw a bank note fluttering around in the road. The 50,000, 20,000 and 500 Kip note are all pretty much the same colour. 50K (about 4 quid) would get us either a room for the night, dinner for 2 or 4 big beers. Yep, you guessed it. It was a 500Kip (4 flippin pence), no wonder no other tight arse bothered to stop.....

After a pleasant morning coffee stop (picture us sitting on 2 miniature plastic stools in a lovely old ladies miniature roadside shop) the climb started. 

When does a hill become a mountain? Is there a definition? If not, we'll say its after you've been twiddling in granny gear for over 20 minutes and its still going up. Until now the view ahead had recently included some hills but always with gaps for the road to sneak through. Now all we saw was mountainside.

The cool of the morning was now gone, the sun high enough to make no decent shade to hide in. Now, we'd be the first to admit that we are not going to win any 'We can climb like Lance Armstrong' competitions, in fact we're more like 'a couple of flat whites please' so today was a literal baptism of fire. The heat, the 10% gradient, the 15kg of luggage (I weighed the panniers at a veg stall earlier in the day). Phuck a ding, we were struggling. I can't say that the pedalling wasn't hard but really it was the heat. In fact our legs feel fine tonight as we sit here having a beer (no, we weren't legless before you ask). The sweat was stinging in my eyes so much I deployed my yet to be patented invention, the BMOTF, better known as the Breathing Mask On The Forehead.

If a truck came down hill it gave us a gorgeous waft of cold air as it whooshed past, only to be followed by the acrid smell of burning brakes. The air was so still, hot, hot, hot....

Ok, I won't go on as long as the climb did, well I could, have you got all day? But Phuck a ding (I know I've said that already but...), 14km of it. I'm not sure how many 10% gradient signs we went past but enough to know it was steep. All I kept thinking about was my motorbike sitting in a damp garage in south east London. Oh for my motorbike.....

I spotted some shade and then there we were, the bikes dumped on the ground, sitting in the drainage gully eating the last of our cheapo pretend digestive biscuits and the remains of a manky bunch of bananas. We had half a bottle of water each and both had the shakes. "Calm down, slow down, it'll be ok" we told ourselves/each other. On we went, up and up. Then, in the middle of nowhere was a petrol station. Shade! We pulled up by the pumps, the lady attendant didn't even bother to stir from her chair. We sat there and peered out at 2 little kids who'd appeared from the jungle and slithered down the dirt slope of the cutting we were in. Look closely and you'll see them.

Luckily we found a restaurant in the next town. The first could only offer us a Pot noodle (FFS!). Kate went 'native' and soon the owner had cooked us up a spicy veg omelette, rice and chopped tomato. The table of bored youths knocking back the beers ("we don't want no trouble") found us most amusing. We sat there long enough to digest the meal but no way could we sit there for 3 hours for the sun to cool...

Up, up we went and then, "no, not down!" As nice as it was, the 4km downhill just meant that we'd have to do more up to get to the 1100m plateau where we were heading to.

As we climbed again, Kate spotted a most handy piece of Laos ingenuity. The cold water from the stream is channeled down a bamboo gutter which is propped up on various sticks & branches. The cool water soaked our clothes and really did help us get through the next couple of hours.

I'd not bothered to bring any gadgets for measuring the climbs, gradients, altitude of our ride. I knew that none of it would sound that impressive from the comfort of your armchair or wherever you may be reading this, but, let me tell you, if any of you fancy a bit of a work out, come on down and join the party!

I honestly can't remember all the distances for the up & down of the day. I know we went up continuously for 14km, then down, then up for another 5km, then.... Whatever, it's enough isn't it?!

At about 4 we finally got to Muang Khoun. There really wasn't much there. Another shite guest house? More noodle soup? Probably but no thanks. We flagged down a bus and for £5 between us, bounced our way along the remaining (flattish) 30km of road to Phonsavan, where we knew we could find clean cotton, hot water and dare we say, a banana pancake or 2.

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