Just put one foot – or one pedal – in front of the other. That’s what I told myself. I dragged my sorry, but getting smaller, behind up another 10% grade in the heat of the day and wondered if it would end. You never know when the windy, mountain roads of Laos will offer respite. We set out at 8 am this morning from our quaint riverside bungalow in the small town of Vieng Phouka, 120km from Huay Xai, the Laos:Thailand border town set on the Mekong River. Despite our early start, or maybe because of it, the day was long and hot.
To add to the tough day, our timing chain kept coming off (I think because our pedals hit some rocks the other day which has loosened things up) which completes the short recipe for Clayton’s anger. After the third incident he screamed “Worthless dipshit bastard son of a bitch,” (my apologies to both our mothers and grandmothers reading this.) He climbed off and attempted to throw the bike to the ground but I steadied it—as I was still on it. He then kicked the front pannier and I told him to cool off. Clayton has a temper and it irritates me. He gets angry at our bike and its problems, and oh it has problems. Small problems that don’t incapacitate the bike are the worst, because they never get fixed and never go away. They are a nuisance each and every day.
I’d fix them if I knew how, Clayton will fix them eventually, but not today. But I don’t complain, I do hardly anything to maintain the bike. He’s fixed more problems than I could have imagined, so despite his temper tantrum, I let him keep cycling. However, I did ride the fully loaded tandem past him, as he fumed down the highway, telling him he could get over his anger or walk to Huay Xai. He got over it. I was glad – the long, hot, mountainous day continued and it took both of us to drag our heavy tandem over the hills.
After five hours, and too many hills, we reached our final opponent: a 12% grade for three kilometers. It was too steep. And our bodies were empty, empty of carbs to fuel our muscles. We also rode those five hours on only two water bottles and a handful of sticky rice. Each turn of the pedals was painful. We stopped. We were beat. Clayton took the bike and I walked. Even walking was hard, I’m not sure how Clayton got our stuff up that hill. Around the corner Clayton left a water bottle on the side of the road. I like mountains, but I like knowing where the top is. But this road winds and winds, tempting me with multiple false summits. When will it end? At the very next restaurant Clayton had half a dozen spoonfuls of soy sauce before his noodle soup. When you’re debilitated in the heat, its easy to drink too much water, further exacerbating low sodium levels which can cause hyponatremia (or so Clayton says.)
This past weekend we stayed with René Roesler in Luang Namtha. René is our first Warmshower host since Delhi. He did not disappoint. Crispy, thin crust pizza, sauna with the locals, muesli with yogurt and mangos at the local bakery, trekking in the jungle, swimming in the river, lunch of khao niao, pork larp, and joew bong on banana leaves, more sauna time, burgers, soft-serve ice cream in a waffle cone ($0.62), a bonfire looking over the Nam Nga, then a leisurely Sunday afternoon at a waterfall sunbathing, while I read and Clayton wrote. Heavenly. By the time this trip ends, Clayton might write as many books as he’s read: one. We planned to leave Sunday afternoon but a free bed and buy 2 get 1 free ice cream cones forced us to stay another night. René is from Germany and works for the German Development Council. He oversees micro financing for 135 surrounding villages. He lives in the perfect place for exploring on foot and bicycle. Every weekend he has the same routine: run, hike, bike – and then go to the sauna. We might have to move here. At the very least we would recommend it to others. (Hint, hint Fullers.)
Tomorrow we cross Friendship Bridge No. 4 and will be in Thailand. Country #26. Wow. Despite enjoying the moment, it dawns on me how quickly our time is passing on this incredible adventure. Who would have thought time would pass this fast? Don’t worry. We still have a solid two months and haven’t bought any return plane tickets, so who know how this journey will end.