Cool grey skies greet us this early morning in Vientiane. It is five thirty AM and all is quiet save for the occasional person on the street sweeping, or preparing their food stall for business. For the last few weeks, the weather has been positively sweltering, but this morning there is a gift in the sky: clouds! The cool morning air makes for perfect cycling weather.
We hit the road, groggy but smiling, reciting our riding mantra:
"I'm thankful for good health and good weather! …and paved roads!"
Our remaining days of travel can nearly be counted on one hand, and we're going to do our best to find the beauty and gift in all of them, to really be present right here, right now.
Leaving Vientiane, brown leaves tumble from the trees, swirling and billowing in the air with each passing car. They crunch loudly as we cycle over them, rolling through a huge roundabout commanded by a cubic archway and rows of palms. We curve along, making our way past markets, street vendors selling Lao sandwiches on crusty French bread, wats with their elaborate gold decorations, and the humble ocher monks who reside within.
In front of the wats, women sit at tables, selling carefully crafted floral decorations. I think they are for people to buy as offerings at a shrine or wat. I love the origami'd banana leaves, held together with the sharp spines from palm leaves, decorated with flowers galore. I like the garlands, too, hanging by pink ribbon, and the funny towers folded from leaves. I almost buy one to decorate the front of my bicycle, but decide to leave them for the devout.
Slipping easily out of the quiet capital city, we're back in the countryside. The scenery is flat and a bit scruffy, reminding me of central Illinois in the wintertime when no snow has fallen. The land is brown with stark empty trees against a steel gray sky. It's not that brown here, really, and it isn't cold out, but it reminds me of November.
There's not much to see besides the scrubby fields and a few aging factories here and there. A headwind howls for much of the morning, gusting towards us, making us work for what is shaping up to be an otherwise easy day. The gusts doesn't slow us down much, we just pedal harder and take turns drafting.
It's only ten in the morning and we've traveled nearly sixty kilometers. God I love it when it's flat. We stop for fried noodles at a roadside restaurant, finding relief in the chance to rest our legs. And then, once we're fueled, onwards we go, pumping our legs, rolling over level ground.
The scenery is nothing to write home about, and I find myself briefly disappointed we chose to come this way instead of going to Bangkok. The thought doesn't last long, because I quickly realize we would've always wondered what that last bit of Laos was like if we hadn't have come this way. Much better to do it and be underwhelmed than not and regret it forever.
We've ridden about 90 kilometers when we roll into the largest settlement we've seen all day. Soon, we've found a promising guest-house and met the friendly lady who runs it. The accommodations turn out to be even better than we thought they would be: we have a really nice bed, hot showers, and air conditioning. A good end to an ordinary day on the road.