DAY ONE started in a manner we were to follow for the 8 days of cycling i.e. up at 05.15 with bags & selves present at breakfast & ready to go at 06.00. We received orders from our leader Andy at both ends of the day & although of slight stature, this crew cut army man of discipline was not to be messed with.
We started with a 2 ½ hour bus drive out of the City to be brought face to face with our bikes & there followed a couple of hours of frenetic activity in the hot sunshine, whilst we attempted to re-jig & mould these machines to our liking. Personal saddles & peddles were fitted, bags & bar extensions attached & gears & brakes tested. Most were in decent shape – mountain bikes with flat bars & largely with 24 gears. There were some complaints, largely dealt with by swapping the guides bikes for ours. The lunch that followed was fairly diabolical, eaten in pretty unhygienic conditions (& given there was a Cholera problem in parts of the country, not particularly encouraging), which contributed to a rather nervous mass of yellow jerseys hitting the road that day. Whatever we felt on departure however was soon overtaken with thoughts of how to tackle the immediate fairly steep gradient we met, would we ever get used to the traffic of largely diesel exhaust spewing trucks & why in god’s name did they have to keep blowing their bloody horns. However the end of the day saw us on country roads of the sort we expected, largely downhill & through farming communities almost medieval in their simplicity & onto our home for the night MAI CHAU.
The Ritz it was not & we were allocated two barn floors for the guys & one for the girls with two people sharing the small space under a single mosquito net. The communal dinner that night was excellent & the local people then entertained us with some wonderful dancing & singing. There were also stalls to buy largely silk products, which we could watch being hand spun by the ladies. This was our first real encounter with the Vietnamese people & their welcoming quiet dignity was to be repeated throughout our 700km trip with only rare exceptions.
I never was a good sleeper, even with my tempur mattress & the total solitude of St Martin’s to assist. I was therefore delighted to see 05.15 on my watch in the dim light & the chance to be first to the communal facilities. I exited with caution, climbed down a treacherous staircase that would be condemned in the West & entered a fetid shower room to discover it wasn’t 05.15 but 03.15. It didn’t help that when I came out, toilet bag in hand there was a queue of three already formed. Piss taking followed all day & my street cred, not the highest before, plummeted.