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Day 27– December 27: Ky Anh to Dong Hoi: 86kms
We were down at the breakfast buffet at 6.30 am. There were only three other people in this rather spooky hotel. I was glad we were leaving. At 8.10 am, under grey skies, I set off once more with the assistance of a slight tailwind. Today I wore only a T-shirt and shorts. The weather is at least getting warmer as we progress south.
As I hit the coast once more, the clouds opened up to reveal a blue sky, something I hadn’t seen for a while. It was a welcome sight, and my spirits lifted. Down this far, the rice paddies had young plants in them, and the sun turned them luminous green. It made me want to see what was further on as the climate would become more tropical.
I’ve been told on a few occasions that the climate changes dramatically after Da Nang, that you immediately enter the tropical zone. I’m very much looking forward to that, even if it means cycling in hot, humid weather.
At about the 20km mark, I began a long climb up toward an approaching mountain. As I got closer, I was looking for the road to head back out to the coast and then around the peninsula. To my surprise, it headed straight into a tunnel. I stopped and looked at the map. I should have looked more closely when planning today’s ride, but it didn’t matter anymore; there was no bypass road over the top to avoid the tunnel. I would just have to go through it.
I hate tunnels! If ever I’m going to get killed on the bike, it’ll probably be in a tunnel. I rode up to it and got off the bike. I walked up to the entrance, which was about 200m long. I could see the light at the other end. That was something, I suppose. In the meantime, a constant stream of trucks and buses buzzed past me, their engines amplified by the low, rounded roof. There was a partition fence in the middle of the tunnel to keep the single lanes apart from each other, and there was a raised walkway on my side of the tunnel as well. This heartened me, as there was no room between a truck and the walkway to cycle in. I would just get squashed against the wall of the walkway.
I hoisted the bike up onto the walkway with a bit of effort as the panniers were still on. As the light faded into a yellowish haze, I could see the walkway was constructed of a series of cement slabs covering all sorts of electrical lines and pipes. Each slab was about a meter and a half square, enough to cover the width of the walkway and about 20cm thick. I know all this because about 10m in, one had been removed and left on the walkway, exposing the workings underneath. To continue, I would have to lift the bike and all its gear over the hole while straddling it on either side with my feet. It was an extremely precarious balancing act, made all the more dangerous by the fact that the pipe railing running along the walkway’s length was rusted and wouldn’t support anything (or anyone) leaning against it.
As I brought the bike up to the first hole, already sweating profusely, I could see the same old story every ten meters up the tunnel. I told myself I had plenty of time, but I needed to be cautious as if I got hurt now, that’d be the end of the trip, and I wouldn’t be able to help Sharyn when she needed it.
I reached out with my left foot to the other side of the hole. I was at full stretch with the bike’s front wheel hanging out over the edge, me holding the brake so it wouldn’t roll in. I’d never get it back out of the hole again without a lot of trouble. With the bike held out at arm’s length so as to counter-balance myself, I heaved it over to the other side, the rear wheel just making it. Now I would have to push off with my right leg and hope the bike didn’t move on me. Otherwise, I’d be in the hole with the bike on top of me! Avoiding the temptation to lean against the railing, I pushed off and found myself on the other side, the rear wheel hanging out over the hole with the weight of the panniers pressing down on it.
I repeated this procedure two more times, trucks and buses screaming past me just a couple of meters away. I was completely wet with sweat and covered in dust and grime. There had to be an easier way to do this. I was using all my energy and still had a long way to go today.
I unloaded the bike. I figured I’d carry the panniers halfway up the tunnel, then bring the bike next. I didn’t want to take the panniers, especially the handlebar bag, which had my passport and phone, to the end of the tunnel and have someone nick them while I was hauling the bike through. About halfway up the tunnel, there was an alcove at road level. I set the panniers down there and returned for the bike. This was much easier now without the load, but still pretty dodgy. At the alcove, I lifted the bike down off the walkway and drank some water. I was fairly dehydrated by now. Hands-on hips and still puffing, I surveyed the situation. I was about 120m from the exit on the other side. If I waited for a break in the traffic, I could ride the rest of the way and be home-free.
I was still in two minds as to whether this was a good idea or not. I loaded the bike back up. I was keen to get out of there. I nudged the front wheel out of the alcove and stared down the tunnel. There were still several trucks and buses coming through, but I was prepared to wait. There were also lots of scooters, but I wasn’t worried about them. They’d just go around me.
After a very long couple of minutes, there was a break in the traffic. I didn’t hesitate. I pushed the bike out into the single lane and rode as fast as I could. Behind me, I could hear traffic entering the tunnel. I looked in my mirror and saw lights, but it was hard to tell just how far behind they were.
The light at the end of the tunnel grew larger and larger. My heart was pounding faster and faster until, eventually, gratefully, I broke out into daylight. I immediately veered over into a parking bay away from the exit as a bus roared past me, followed by a couple of cars. I stood straddling the bike, looking back at the exit. My heart was beginning to slow down as I took in my surroundings. I was happy to see the road continuing on a long downhill section. The air seemed so fresh now I could breathe properly again.
I wiped the sweat and grime off my face on my sleeve, surprising myself with how much mess it made. I grabbed my water bottle and took a couple of large gulps. It then occurred to me that this warranted a video for the blog. Taking my phone, I pointed away from the tunnel and slowly panned around while recounting my little adventure. As I got to the tunnel mouth, an old man dressed entirely in black on a dilapidated town bike with no lights pedaled slowly out. I was dumbstruck! He rode casually by me without even a bead of sweat on him. He nodded to me as I stood there with my mouth wide open. Karma was obviously on his side! There is literally no fear or thought of consequences here on the road. It goes a long way to explaining why they drive like they do.
2020 saw 20 people a day die on the roads here. That’s for the entire year! Sharing the road with these guys and arriving alive is going to take some effort.
I took one last look at the tunnel, then began rolling down the long descent, the cooling breeze on my face raising my spirits. The day was far from over. I still had 65 km to go.
At the 30 km mark, I crossed a big bridge with no shoulder into the small town of Tien Phong. As I turned east off of the bridge, I was greeted with a strong headwind. My energy levels depleted with my efforts at the tunnel, I quickly succumbed to fatigue and looked for somewhere to rest. After another 5kms, I found a small cafe and slumped down in a chair.
As I drank my iced coffee (Cafe sua da) and green tea (Tra da), the owner showed me a picture of two other cyclists who had stayed with them and indicated to me they had a room above the cafe for let. I said thanks, but no thanks. I still had about 35kms into a headwind to go. I spent about half an hour there and drank two coffees. I felt much better for the rest and continued on.
Another five or ten kilometers passed, and the wind changed again. This time it blew from the northwest, giving me some welcome assistance. I texted Sharyn at the turnoff to Dong Hoi to let her know I was close. It was only ten kilometers into town from there.
The city itself is quite large and spread out. There was a lot of traffic to negotiate, and I was feeling quite tired by now. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to navigate, and I was soon on the waterfront, where Sharyn was waiting for me at our hotel. The Geminai is a small boutique hotel on the esplanade with a park between it and the water. It’ll be a great place to stay for five nights, giving Sharyn time to fly back to Hanoi for x-rays to check her arm.
Head on over to see what happened next: Sun, Songs, and 73 brothers.