“Bonjour Frederic, bien dormir?”
“Oui, et vous?”
“Nooon, J’ai beaucoup de.. de..”
“Cauchemar.. that sounds like the right word”
I had a recurring dream that I was lying on top of one of the Zhangjiajie pillars, and despite having lots of room, still found myself precariously balanced. The slightest movement meant falling over the edge, but I could only hold my breath for so long. And down I’d go.
We left the hotel at 7am. The route started flat and coastal as we doubled-back on the way we came yesterday. We stopped at Red Beach, where the American veterans told us how the this was where the US Marines became the first troops in Vietnam when they landed here, and served as the main supply port for the troops in the area.
Tex, one of the Vietnam veterans, tells us the history of Red Beach
We then headed inland, destined for the top of Hải Vân Pass. The pass is on the main supply route between Hue and Danang, and hence it was strategically important ground during the Vietnam war. These days traffic goes through a tunnel, except for lorries which aren’t allowed through.
As the climb began, things were starting well. I was at the front of the group while at a comfortable pace, but the sun also continued to climb upwards. The heat became intense, with no shade and no cooling breeze, and as if that wasn’t enough, every time a lorry came past, the exhaust fumes hit like a passing blast furnace. Eventually I reached the waterstop, emptied my pockets of all electronics and had a good stand over the spray from a cut hosepipe. I then tried to sit in some shade, avoiding the funnel webs, but this rest was short lived when the ants started to bite, and bite they did.
On the way up I saw a dollar bill on the floor. To my amazement it was a $100 bill. And then there was another, and then some more. Admittedly by the second note, I felt something was amiss, but I still scooped them all up. Dozens of hundred-dollar bills, and a few notes in some other strange currency. I decided it had to be fake. Maybe a criminal got chased up here on his scooter and was bailing his counterfeit cash. A guide explained it was indeed fake money, but with good intentions. At funerals in Vietnam, families throw fake money over the ground to please the gods. I’m not sure I’d be a happy god with counterfeit money offerings, but to each their own.
Eventually we reached the top, had a quick photo and snack break, before having the privilege of the downhill on the other side.
The group started off gently, but I couldn’t contain myself. Faffing with my GoPro, I was one of the last to set off, meaning I got great footage of flying past everyone down the hill. The road was tarmac, with the occasional pothole, and lots of hairpin bends blanketed with scree. The bumps meant the camera, mounted on my handlebar, kept needing to be resecured in place and tightened. I neared the front of the pack where the pace was much faster and intense. I eventually hit a hairpin bend too fast, not used to the weight of the bike compared to what I ride back at home, the brakes weren’t effective. I saw the scree and made a the decision to crash into the wall, rather than try to turn too sharply and slide off across the road in front of everyone.
I managed to minimize the attack angle against the wall, so it was going to be a relatively gentle graze rather than head on crash, but as my wheels locked up, I heard Gabe, one of the American amputees, yelp out behind me. “Oh crap” I thought, “of all the people…”, and instantly fealt a sense of dread for what was about to happen. The remarkable thing is, at the moment of impact, the loose camera mount flipped back, meaning it got footage of the aftermath; me landing gracefully sat on the wall with a cut leg, apologising to Gabe, who was thankfully OK except the brake handle had snapped off his bars.
Gabe and I after our crash
Further on down the slope, Martin, one of the British riders, wasn’t so fortunate and had a similar crash but flew over the wall. Luckily he managed to do so a the one spot where there was land on the other side, rather than a cliff-drop.
Video: Martin crashes over a wall
Martin after his crash
This earnt Martin a badly grazed leg and the sash-of-shame, but was still able to pedal on. The final leg of today’s journey went by loads of cemeteries. Fake money everywhere! It also went over some roads that were being rebuilt, so we got caked rather nicely in mud.