Saturday, December 24, 2016

On The Road Again

It was a little scary taking off on a motorbike today packed with all the stuff I have with me on my trip.  Mostly because I have never done that before, and because I had become somewhat complacent with my four-month stay in Hanoi, which is the longest I've stayed anywhere on this journey.  I have one big backpack that mostly consists of stuff I brought with me from the beginning, and a very few things that I have bought along the way, and then another one that consists mostly of food. I decided to lay the big backpack flat on the back of the bike, and then have the other pack standing up in front of it.  The bike shop where I bought the bike had told me I could just lay them flat on top of each other, and bungee them to the bike, but I decided to take the approach I took instead.

Another thing I was worried about was taking off with so much weight on the back of my bike, especially leaving Hanoi with the crazy traffic there.  It turned out it was not that big a deal, and it was certainly much less weight than if I had a passenger.  I did learn a couple things from packing my bike to travel.  One, I should have backed the stuff about six inches further toward the front.  It was all a little back-heavy; probably the center of weight should be over the back wheel, but it was a bit farther back than that.  And also, if I had packed it further toward the front, I would have had a back rest from the front pack that was standing up, but supported by the larger pack.  Two, I should have turned the open part of the raincover on my backpack that was standing up toward the back rather than toward the front.  Traveling at high speed into the rain, it would be coming right into that opening, whereas if it was open in the back, the rain would probably not get to it.  This would be not as big a deal if I implemented point number one and my back was leaning against the backpack.  Three, I need rain gear pretty much instantly accessible.  It started drizzling toward the end of the trip, but if it had rained much harder, I would have needed to get out my raincoat and stick my cellphone in a zip-lock baggie pronto, and that stuff was buried deep in never-never land in my gear.

On the way out of my apartment, while I was packing up my bike, I met a Canadian guy named Daniel who lived there, and we struck up a conversation.  Both of us were saying we didn't ever see most of the other people who lived there, so we hadn't really met anyone.  Kinda weird to be meeting someone and having pleasant conversation as you're moving out, but that's the way it goes.  I offhandedly mentioned that I had left another motorcycle helmet behind that the buckle had broken on, and he got excited and said he needed a helmet, so I went back up to my apartment and got it for him.  I know they can fix it at one of the helmet shops around Hanoi, but I just hadn't gotten around to it.  It's too bad, because I liked that helmet a lot more than the one I replaced it with.  But I'm glad someone was able to use it.

It looks like Frank and Alexis, some Canadians I met a while back, will be taking my apartment.  I washed the sheets right before I left, and hung them in the bathroom to dry, so they won't have to deal with dirty sheets.  I did the same right before I left on my visa run to Thailand almost a month ago, and when I got back after being gone for five days, they were clean and dry and ready to be put back on the bed.

It took forever to get out of chaotic Hanoi.  That part was probably about half the length of the trip.  I did have to get used to the extra weight, but dodging obstacles left and right in incredibly heavy traffic that was often stopped up took a lot of time.

I decided to take highway A1 for the journey.  I could have taken the Ho Chih Minh Road, which would have been more scenic, but it would have taken twice as long to get there, because it was quite a ways out of the way, and I would have had to circle around some.  But not knowing how I would be able to maneuver with all that weight on my backpack, I decided to play it safe for my first lengthy bike trip.  But Google Maps tried to send me on a road that was a faster highway, but didn't allow motorbikes on it.  I started to turn down that way, but when I saw the no motorbikes sign, and a checkpoint straight ahead, I turned around and went back on the road I had just come off of.  It was about ten minutes of delay; no big deal.

Finally I got out of Hanoi exurban hell, and I was able to open 'er up to 8000 rpm on the open road.  Yeah, that's what it's all about, going 70 kilometers an hour while taxing your engine to the limit.  I've read blog posts where people describe having to cool down their overheated engines by hosing them down after cranking up the rpms on steep mountain passes in Southeast Asia.

At one point some guy driving a panel truck suddenly took a left turn right in front of me, and if I hadn't been paying enough attention, I would have smacked right into him.  As it was, I had to swerve and slam on both my front and back brakes to avoid hitting him, which I barely managed to do, and didn't even have to go into a skid, luckily.  After that harrowing encounter, a motorbike passed me and both the driver and passenger gave me the thumbs-up, as if to say, "Good job surviving that one!"  But I probably got nearly killed about every eight minutes before the traffic thinned out.  And then, when it did, it just became deceptively complacent, because people still drive chaotically, you're just not seeing it constantly so you don't have your guard up as much.

Then after about two and a half hours of driving, I pulled into Ninh Binh, in which I had reserved a hotel online for three days.  I decided to splurge and get a private room instead of a hostel, because I found a place with private rooms for eight bucks a night, versus five bucks a night for a room jammed with bunks.  What the hell.  I might as well pay the extra three bucks.  Then when I got here, I told them that I think I want to stay five nights instead of three, and they were cool with that.  I don't think there are many others staying here, so that works out.  And there is a lot of stuff to see in this area, so I can use the hotel room as a base and see a lot of the sights around here, and still have some breathing room to chill if I want.  But from here on, I probably won't be reserving many rooms until I get to bigger cities; I'll mostly likely be pulling into little towns and scoping out the accomodations on the fly.  I want to start making my way toward Laos, and from what I've read online, the roads heading in that direction are spectacularly shitty.  Mostly huge open mud pits that are constantly under construction.  Hey, if people have done it before, I can probably make it.  Maybe.  We'll see.

Once I got into Ninh Binh and checked into my room, I spent the rest of the day walking around the city, just to check out the surroundings.  The city itself is nothing terribly spectacular, but there are a few nice sights, and the area surrounding it is supposed to be beautiful; I'll check out some of the sights outside the city in the next few days.  I'm hoping to have a really great Christmas checking out some of the cooler stuff around here.

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