Tyler gently shakes me awake when the skies are light enough to ride by. He and Pete have been up tending to our fire—without which sleeping would have been impossible. It's bright and early, six thirty to be exact, and it's time to hit the road. A single hour of restful sleep will have to suffice for today. We're all groggy but in good spirits, happy that our long, cold night is over.
Packing up is easy, since we're wearing most of our belongings. Once our woven market stall shelter is cleared out, the backpacks and rackpacks are piled on to our motorcycles, bungees are fastened, and helmets are shoved on over our hats. We're ready to go in short order, eager to make it to the paved highway and the resources we are sure to find there.
What heat has been gained from the gently lightening skies is negated entirely by the frigid wind in our faces as we ride. It may be a cold, drizzly, cloudy day, but the darkness lends a solemn majesty to the valleys below. Wide mountain panoramas open just off the rutted dirt road, and we're in awe of the mossy green landscapes all around.
The dreariness of the morning adds a rugged ambiance to the tiny mountain villages with their basket-woven houses. Campfires unlike any I've ever seen smolder in front of nearly every home. Most are comprised of four logs, forming a plus sign. They burn only where they meet in the center, and as the ends turn to ash, the wood is slowly pushed inwards until the logs are gone. The result is a very small and efficient fire—this is undoubtedly important to these people, who must gather wood daily to survive.
Amidst craggy mountain scenery and a strip of rutted, muddy road, we watch early morning Laos come to life. People sift rice in large flat baskets, while chickens, piggies, puppies, and kids run wild. In some villages, women are doing laundry in fountains that gush straight from the mountain; I cannot imagine how cold their fingers must be!
Up, the winding mountain path we go, as rain spits down, and the hard-packed trail becomes slick. As the road deteriorates into a slippery, deeply-furrowed mess, I am thankful that Tyler is such a capable rider. From the looks of it, Pete is doing really well too!
Slowly but steadily, we advance, laughing at ourselves for thinking we could do this entire ride in one day.
The road seems never ending, and over the roar of the engine I tell Pete that I am over these bumps and ruts. He agrees, and I am sure it is worse for him because he has to do the driving, but we are both very happy that we didn't try to tackle it in the dark.Natasha
At last, we round a curve, and there, ahead of us, is the highway, jutting perpendicularly across our path. Highway feels like a bit of an overstatement, really, as most modern places would consider this a paved bike path, at best. A few tiny food stalls and a makeshift gas station are all the signs of life at this crossroads. It's a good thing we didn't come all the way here in hope of a guest-house last night! Still, we are relieved that food and pavement lie ahead.
After a few hours, the pavement comes into view and I do a little happy dance on the back of the bike.Natasha
For breakfast, we choose the first place we come to—a woman's miniscule home which doubles as noodle soup restaurant and snack shop. With her baby strapped to her back, the lady invites us in to sit down at small table. Just an arm's length away, her bed, a hard wooden board, is draped with a mosquito net and a blanket. A foot in the opposite direction is the small annexed kitchen, where the woman stirs a pot of broth.
Soon, piping hot bowls of soup emerge from the kitchen, and we eat with gusto, making up for last night's cold, crappy dinner. When our meal is complete, we thank the woman and pay her, buying a few extra snacks from her windowsill as well. Then, we wave goodbye and meander around the other little shops to see if they have a broader selection. They do, but their furry offerings aren't quite as appetizing as the tasteless packaged cookies we found at the first place.
Making the most of our rest break, we wander around for a bit, take lots of photos, and play with the local puppies. We're bundled up and dirty, wearing the same eight layers of clothes we wore yesterday and last night, but thanks to food in our bellies and the promise of smooth pavement ahead, life is good.
We stop to get gas on the way out of this tiny village…
…and then we take to the road once more. For a moment, I'm surprised when the pavement seems as strange and foreign and as it did when we reached the outskirts of Ulaan Bataar in Mongolia. I soon quit pining for the adventure of the muddy dirt track, though, when I notice how comfortable my butt is as we zoom around an unending series of curves.
The scenery is so intensely, insanely beautiful that we stop even more often than usual to admire the views, take photos, and freak out about how much fun we're having.
This is awesome!
Far away from any village, we come across a gang of kids carrying heavy backpacks full of wood, along with machetes and slingshots. We stop to say hello, and I am humbled to meet them, for these children are clearly capable and strong, so skillful and independent for such young people. They probably have more survival skills than the four of us combined!
Today's ride is a short one, and when we arrive in the very small town of Nong Kiaw, we're all pleased to reach the shelter of a guest-house parking lot just as an onslaught of rain arrives. After booking a pair of rooms, we settle in for the afternoon—it's a wonderful day for playing with the local doggies, relaxing in the hammocks on our bungalow porch, and most importantly, catching up on about six hours of sleep.
When night falls, we force ourselves to get up and meet with our friends for a late dinner. Over cheesy, melty pizza bread, we discuss plans for the morning, and give the local kitties a whole lot of love. And then, not so long after we got up, it's back to the bungalows for bed once more. I think I could sleep forever.