Here is Keiran Ryan’s Vietnam Cycling Adventure Report.
I recently celebrated a significant birthday and decided on doing an overseas bike trip to celebrate. It is the wrong time of year for Europe so decided on Vietnam. After some research I came across Ride and Seek Tours based in Sydney. They seemed to be very professional and experienced so decided to sign up for their Vietnam trip.
They describe this adventure as an “epic” requiring considerable fitness and climbing ability, this proved to be an accurate description!!
We were a small group (10) with most having racing or considerable riding experience.We met at our hotel in Hanoi and next day drove some hours north in our 24 seat bus, heading close to the border with China. Another vehicle carried the bikes and our Vietnamese support crew including a cook and mechanic. We all brought our own bikes and we were advised to fit quality tyres. (I rode 28mm and they were perfect) That afternoon we mounted the bikes and started our first ride,only 50 km but with some serious climbing. Weather was ideal apart from a bit of humidity. The scenery was absolutely stunning, however
when we arrived at our hotel that evening some folk expressed a little concern about being able to handle the climbs. A few beers, friendly banter and we started to function as a group and mutual support began.
Accommodation was very comfortable and the food sensational. Our local guides prepared magnificent meals with dinner sometimes in local cafes.
The statistics of the trip were amazing. Five days of riding, 590 km overall and 10,000 meters of climbing.It truly was an epic event. I rode a Specialised Roubaix with compact cranks and 28 on the back. That proved ideal for me even though we encountered some pretty steep sections.
Road conditions were variable, with most being quite narrow. When descending you needed total concentration as you had to expect the unexpected around any corner. Sometimes the tarmac was absent for some meters or a water buffalo crossed you path or you could encounter a huge pile of gravel just dumped on the road awaiting the repair crew. Oncoming trucks and buses left little room for descending riders but in an unexpected way all that gave me a sense of flow, of being focused and really alive. There was never an aggression or impatience from drivers, lots of skill and much sounding of horns just to let you know they were there. Later in the trip roads were wider and in better condition, with minimal traffic.
We tended to climb at our own pace and re grouped at a lunch spot. Some folk took more time taking photos others just rode. It was so visually stimulating that each bend in the road offered another chance for the perfect picture.
We had plenty of time after riding to wander around towns and take in some of the sights and sounds. Our local guides were interesting to talk to. I was particularly interested in hearing about the changes post war and their parents experiences of that time.
My personal challenge on the trip was doing big days back to back without recovery. Having had quite a few birthdays I prefer to have a day or two off after a tough ride. I adapted however and enjoyed the experience even though power gradually diminished.
Our final day of riding seemed designed to take us to another level of challenge! It featured a climb of 30 km often around 10%. We also had rain on the climb and several km of unsealed roadworks. Rain stopped briefly after lunch so we headed off quickly. We were soon at altitude heading to the mountain resort town of Sapa. Rain became torrential as we descended, definitely the heaviest I have ever experienced and the road resembled a river. A few of us took shelter in the porch of a house. The owners spoke no English but they gave us clothing, blankets and hot drinks.They were wonderful and it made me reflect on how touring on a bike can make you vulnerable but more importantly, it removes barriers from interacting with folk from different cultures. Just about all the locals rode small motorbikes and scooters and people seemed very interested in us riding bicycles instead.
We had an overnight train trip back to Hanoi with four of us in a compartment. I expected a rough night however the gentle rocking of the slow train was strangely soothing. I had a couple of extra days sightseeing afterwards that added to the enjoyment of the trip.
Next year I am thinking about another trip with Ride and Seek, to Provence in France. This one is much easier with the option of adding more km if you wish. If anyone is interested, just let me know.
Next adventure is the Alpine Classic in January followed by 3 Peaks in March.
Finally, a big thank you to David for his training program. It works. I was a successful bike coach for many years so I have a pretty good idea about training, but just as a doctor should not treat himself it has been great to let go of some things that I knew were not working for me and just let someone else set some directions.