The last couple of months have been fun. I have sport climbed a lot in some beautiful places, been cycling and swimming, seen old friends and made new ones…but just recently I have been feeling a little restless.
I have been craving adventure. My rat has been getting hungry. (For those of you who don’t know the book “Feeding the Rat”, the Rat is the thing inside of is all that feeds off of adventure, the more you feed it, the fatter and hungrier it gets, and the more you have to feed it t satisfy it – my rat’s appetite seems to be growing all the time!)
As much as I love sport climbing, it often feels quite tame. Yes it is physically hard, and sometimes scary. But it lacks something for me. I can’t quite place my finger on what.
I love pushing my limits. Not just on a 30 metre sport climb (although if it is at my physical limit this can be both a mental battle too) but on the kind of challenge that takes perseverance. The kind that when things go wrong you have to keep going and work it out.
It’s why I love expeditions. Walking, cycling, climbing. It doesn’t matter too much what the activity is, rather what the adventure is.
Thankfully I meet Sanne. Sanne is a Dutch girl, 29, who also climbs and loves adventure. She wanted to motorbike around northern Vietnam and she wanted some company. It sounded fun. So I decided to join her.
Yesterday we bought fake Honda Win bikes from some travellers we met in Hanoi. Today we packed our bags, strapped them to the back of our bikes and set off.
And what a day!
Though I have ridden bikes before, and even recently in Chiang Mai, nothing quite prepared me for this.
Let me just describe Hanoi for you for one moment.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and probably the motorbike capital of the world. Amongst the narrow streets and alleyways reminiscent of colonial times, hundreds of motorbikes pass by.
Motorbikes piled high with huge sacks of goods going to market, motorbike vendors with makeshift sidecar selling all sorts of delectable goods, motorbikes going the wrong way down one way streets and crossing junctions without stopping. It is a crazy place and even as a pedestrian you have to keep you’re weird about you, as you never know where the next bike will appear from.
Riding a beaten up old bike whose engine cut out whenever I wasn’t revving it, with my rucksack strapped to the back, on the crazy roads of Hanoi was a baptism of fire.
Thankfully, after a few wrong turns (though we didn’t do add the locals do and simply turn U-turn on a one way road), we made it out of Hanoi and we were on our way!
It felt great to be riding a bike.
After a couple of hours of riding, during which we saw a pig being transported on the back of a bike, one of the more unusual things I’ve seen, around 4.30pm, we stopped at a roadside stop for a refreshing iced tea. And what a blessing that was.
For some reason my bike wouldn’t start and, when it did, it cut straight out again. We couldn’t work out why and I was circling round the petrol station slowly gathering a crowd of onlookers.
Soon they were all coming over to help but, on closer inspection, it was one of the bolts on the axle of the back wheel that had come loose, and the bike needed repairing immediately.
It was amazing!
The locals, who didn’t speak a word of English, told us to sit and wait on two little, blue plastic stools at one corner of the layby. So we did, without knowing what would happen next.
Soon a couple of guys turn up on another motorbike with a toolkit perched between the drivers legs. He gets off and promptly starts dismantling my back wheel. He couldn’t get the problematic bolt out so he mimed going and coming back again. With no other choice Sanne and I simply nodded and off he went into the chaos of bikes coming toward us.
It reminded me of when I was cycling to Turkey. So often I had to rely on other people and with no guarantees. Once more I was in the hands of strangers, who I couldn’t communicate with except by exaggerated actions. It was brilliant.
Soon he returned, with a new part ready to fix onto my bike. I paid him the equivalent of $12 and in less than an hour we were back on our way. And it was a good job as the bright red sun was already low in the sky.
Luckily we were close and we arrived in Hai Duong before it got dark. But not without a few more motorbike troubles first. My bike (again) kept cutting out at traffic lights and not restarting.
A kind Vietnamese man, who spoke a few words of English, stopped to help us and took me to a garage while Sanne found us somewhere to stay for the night.
By 7pm we were finally at our hotel with two working (for now) bikes and a resolve to leave earlier tomorrow and get a bike service first thing before we do!
It’s been an adventurous first day and although it’s not been easy, it has been exactly what I wanted and more! We have laughed a lot, I have almost cried, and I have a yellow helmet! 🙂 We can’t wait for tomorrow!