The Ho Chi Minh Trail, 1 year on

Last year, Ro and I cycled a section of the Ho Chih Minh trail. We recently found out that Rebecca Rusch, a professional mountain biker, did a similar thing with a full support crew, and Red Bull made a feature film about it.

My thesis here is that some things that people make movies about are actually not so unachievable, if you are willing and stupid enough. Here are some leftover bits from our trip.

Our first proper day on the saddle, cycling toward Phong Nha. We had spent a couple of days finding our feet in Vietnam — assembling our bikes, making our way to Dong Hoi, generally faffing about. So it was exhilarating to finally be on the go, to have the wind in our faces and sun on our backs and open road in front of us.

At the same time I remember the uneasy feeling of the open-ness of that road. We had ideas about the direction in which we were headed but didn’t know how to get there. Didn’t know where to have lunch. Didn’t know where we would sleep that night. In retrospect the only thing that stopped me from being overwhelmed by doubt and turning around straight away was having Ro peddling with me. In the photo you see Ro’s lopsided backpack poorly tied to his bike with these bright orange elastic straps that we picked up from the market in Dong Hoi, which really gives you a sense of just how wholly unprepared we really were.

Ro napping after lunch.

The Mu Gia Pass. As with any overland border nestled in a mountain pass between developing countries, the rules at these checkpoints depend on how the border guard is feeling that day. We sat for an hour outside a concrete building with peeling orange paint with a handful of truckers while the officials laughed and smoked and had lunch. We ended up paying a few extra dollars as border tax and admin fees and bicycle tax and foreigner charges, then it was into Laos.

Our first day in Laos, just outside Ban Nongchan, realising what we had gotten ourselves into. We spent an hour floundering in the mud before turning around to find a guesthouse to regroup and re-strategize. I remember trudging back into the town thinking this is what failure looks like.

Stripped the bikes to wash them in Nongchan. Ended up trapped there for 3 days as the monsoons rolled in. Again, those orange straps.

Post-monsoon. It’s crazy to think that only 3 or 4 roads, all of this quality, run through an approximate 1000 square km, determining villagers’ access to markets, towns, and each other.

I still struggle to understand why we choose to do this in the monsoon season.

A de-mining team working near Xepon.

A bombed-out bridge, also near Xepon.

The border checkpoint at Lao Bao. It gave off ‘Black Panther’s secret base’ vibes. I gave my passport to the border guard and he motioned to his friends to have a look; they gathered around and whispered and he typed something into his computer and music started playing and he asked me to sing. It was an instrumental version of Majulah Singapura. So in my spandex bike shorts and sweat-encrusted shirt in this large hall with flickering blue fluorescent lights surrounded by Vietnamese border guards I proved my identity, with pride, and was thankful for all those morning assemblies.

I have a bunch of footage from the trip that I’ll hopefully edit into a short film one day.