July 1st, 2010
Thai Hoa, Vietnam

We covered a lot of ground today and made our longest ride yet: 315 kilometres, between Phong Nha National Park and this mid-sized town called Thai Hoa, from about 8 in the morning to 6.30 in the evening.

We were able to do this partly because Mitch’s Daily Minsk Fuck-Up was one that didn’t prevent me from riding the bike, or even from riding it fast. Shortly after we left town (as always) my engine started to splutter and die as though it was running out of fuel… except it didn’t completely die, and I had half a tank. We pulled over at a mechanic and spent several hours taking apart the air filter and fiddling with the accelarator cable again. It still didn’t work when we took off but I thought “fuck it, it still goes” and so we kept riding.

We were still inside the national park at this point, and while the road was flat and straight, the landscape around us was one of stunning beauty – huge limestone karsts jutting up from the rice paddies, with green foliage cascading down the sides. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it, had I been on any other motorcycle in the world.

 

The problem was annoying, but it certainly beat having the bike not start or being stuck in first gear. At least we were still covering a lot of ground. Once the bike started to splutter and die I just had to reduce the throttle; if it was really bad I’d slow down, gear all the way down to first, and then work my way back up to fourth, which would buy me a kilometre or two before the problem happened again. We weren’t losing any more time than we would have if we were on steep, winding mountain roads.

It really says something about the last month – and about Minsks – that I find it relatively acceptable for my bike to do this.

We were aiming for the city of Vinh but since we were actually making good time for once we decided to keep on going, powering on over the Ca River and heading north for the town of Thai Hoa, which would shave a day off our estimated travel time to Ninh Binh. After fuelling up, I noticed that my bike had stopped doing the whole “stop reacting to throttle at high speed” thing, which, while I certainly wasn’t going to complain, was rather strange.

Then, a couple of hours later, it started happening again. My bike is fickle and unpredictable and I don’t understand it at all. It’s like a woman.

When we were about twenty or thirty k’s south of Thai Hoa, as the sun was starting to set, a guy came alongside me on a Honda trying to catch my eye and pointing backwards over his shoulder. I glanced back and saw the road behind me was deserted – Chris had disappeared. He’d wanted me to stay in front because of my erratic engine, and since I still haven’t had my bike’s mirror replaced since the crash, I hadn’t been regularly checking behind me to make sure he was there.

I turned around and headed back up the highway, topping the next rise to see Chris pushing his bike along the shoulder of the road. There was a XE MAY (mechanic) sign just ahead, so I pulled in there and then walked back to help him with the bike.

Apropos of nothing, his rear tyre had burst while he was driving along, resulting in some helter-skelter swerving that he managed to keep under control and come to a safe stop. We had a spare inner tube, but we had to unload his pack and saddlebags from the back of the bike to replace it.

Twenty or thirty minutes later we were underway again – only to have my bike throw up its favourite old chestnut, the broken gearbox. I was stuck in first again. Chris tried to drive it and managed to get it into fourth; I started it up again followed him along the highway. I could only make third, but with less than fifteen k’s into town, that was good enough.

 

After we found a hotel, I tried to track down a mechanic, but at this point it was about seven o’clock and they were all closed. I’ll try again tomorrow morning. We certainly can’t go anywhere until my gearbox is fixed. I don’t give a shit about the power loss at this point, but depending how the gearbox goes I’ll get him to check the carburettor as well.

I forget to mention, but the first night we got to Phong Nha, I went to a mechanic to have him try to put a seal on the carburettor, since it was leaking. The Kiwi guy we met was with an Easy Rider who told me the Vietnamese word for “seal,” which I repeated a few times while pointing at the carburettor. The mechanic pointed at my watch to show me that I should come back in two hours’ time, and since I’d already racked up my quota of hours spent sitting around at a mechanic’s, I elected to go back to the hotel rather than watch what he did to the bike.

When I picked the bike up, and gave him the 50,000 dong he wanted, the carburettor was still leaking sometimes and my handlebars had been severely lowered – Chris had to loosen the bolts and pull them back up. God only knows what the fuck he thought I wanted him to do, and what he actually did. Chris strongly suspects he’s fucked up the carburettor somehow and is responsible for the power loss troubles today. I guess I’ll see tomorrow.

This was a pretty boring diary-style update, since I’m tired and not in the mood for writing at the moment, but I felt like I needed to get it down. We’ve come so far, and we’re so close. I can feel it now. Hanoi draws near. We’ve been on the road in a fairly remote part of the country for four days now, which is a lot longer than it seems when you’re in a place like this. I’ve seen two Westeners since Hue, and apart from a hamburger and some bacon and eggs at QB Teen in Dong Hoi, that was also the last place I had anything to eat other than noodles, rice and unidentified meat fragments. Ninh Binh apparently isn’t very Westernised either, but at least we’ll be able to sleep in for a few days and get some laundry done. I’ve been wearing the same shirt for four days, streaked with sweat and dirt, my jeans are filthy and covered in the oil and grease the engine spits, and I just had to wash my underwear and socks in the basin – which certainly wins the award for worst-designed basin ever.

 

The whole bathroom is awful, in fact, even by Asian standards. The showerhead sprays directly at the toilet, and the toilet itself won’t flush properly unless you use the ass-hose to fill up the cistern. Chris has removed the top of it to make the toilet more efficient.

“I’m sick of fixing everything, everywhere I go,” he said, rubbing aloe vera into his sunburnt arms. The Vietnamese don’t use sunscreen, and since we’re off the tourist-trail there’s nowhere to buy it, so we ran out today. “Motorbikes, air-conditioners, toilets, routers… if you want to know where I’ve been, If you want to follow my trail across Vietnam, just stay at the hotels where things work.”

We’re filthy, sunburnt, sweaty, frustrated wrecks with bruised and broken asses. My bike won’t give us a fucking break, not even for one day. The backroads hotels we’re staying in are the typical mixture of Vietnamese incompetence and stupidity. Our stomachs are regularly assailed with awful Asian food. The noise and the faulty air-conditioning means we rarely get much sleep.

I’m salivating at the thought of Hanoi. A golden city on the road ahead, the light shining into the sky from beyond the horizon. A place where I can have a Western meal, sleep in a decent hotel, buy as many packets of M & M’s as I want, see Kristie again – and wash my hands of this fucking motorcycle.

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