Figuring out what the problem is, and making a plan to do something about it helps a lot, but at the moment, there's not much we can do to execute our solution. For the time being, we'll just muscle on, grinning and bearing it, even as we're passed by VIP bus after VIP bus, barreling down the mountain at breakneck speeds in the wrong lane (ours), horns blaring.
We've begun a long slow climb, and the sun is a devil at my back, searing away. Hot and Slow has to be my least favorite cycle touring combination, tied only with "Cold and Wet." But at least with cold and wet, the more you move around, the better. Here, there's nothing to be done except gradually melt into the pavement, climbing a mountain at a snail's pace.
At the top of a bend, I see a man hosing down his truck. Cold water here I come! Practically leaping off my bike and foisting it into Tyler's hands, I run over to mime/ask him to please, for the love of god, spray me down. While a guy across the street chuckles at the sight, the man acquiesces, albeit awkwardly, and the heat of the day dissipates under the freezing cold spray.
After leaning our bikes up, Tyler joins me and asks for the same service. Apparently the guy feels a little less inclined to spray down another man, instead pointing to a nearby water spigot. Laughing, the two of us eagerly run over and turn it on, promptly getting utterly and totally soaked. Oh thank heavens for cold water.
Back on the bikes, our cool, all-natural air-conditioning has momentarily put out the fire on our backs. Unfortunately, the relief doesn't last long; as we inch our way up the mountain, we dry out in short order. The hot, hot sun is hell-bent on smiting us, and I need music in order to get my mind off the heat and noise.
After an hour or more of ever-so-slowly toiling with the sun at our backs, we pass, miracle of miracles, a waterfall. I run off my bike once more, climbing up some scrubby shrubs and rocks, in order to get at the cool stream. This cold water treatment tides us over for another twenty minutes or so.
Eventually, the sun dips behind a mountain and oh, sweet relief, life is bearable again. Sure, there is still lots of climbing to be done, but I'm not physically tired, and with the sun out of the way, I'm free to go slowly in peace, without the constant harassment of heat.
We're very nearly at the top of the pass when our energy is spent. The two hundred meters ahead feel like two hundred miles, and every pedal stroke is grueling and slow. Thankfully, we round a bend, and there, perched on a rocky outcrop looking over a picturesque vista, is a small food stand!
While we sit our tired legs down in a chair to watch the sun's golden light filter across the mountains, the sweet owners give us free bananas (thank you!!), and prepare for us the most delectable sugar cane and lime juice we've ever had the pleasure of drinking.
If there's one thing I've learned about fitness on this trip, it's that there's a direct correlation between proper brain and body function, and food that fuels it. If I had a little meter that showed my power level, the bar would be increasing with each sip of juice, and with each bite of the ramen noodles we've ordered.
Feeling rejuvenated, the rest of the pass no longer looms so large. When we're ready to go, I fish through our panniers to get out our headlamps and orange emergency vests. There's no way we'll make it to our destination of Bảo Lộc before the sun sets. Back on the bikes we go, feeling superhuman thanks to the food and drink.
We finish the pass without trouble, then begin to reap the rewards of our day-long effort, coasting down into a quaint village with wooden houses, children playing, and woodsmoke that fills the air. It is an altogether different world on this side of the mountain!
With ample energy to enjoy it all, we descend, loving the wind in our faces. We feel we could coast like this forever, waving at kids, pedaling our way towards Bảo Lộc as the world sinks into darkness.
In no time, we reach our destination. The city is completely dark save for the strings of lanterns which hang above the roadsides. The town seems jolly and festive, and much more "Christmassy" than anywhere else we've been in Vietnam. With the smell of woodsmoke in the air, and the sound of carols emanating from an enormous church nearby, it could very well be Christmas at home.
But it's not, and instead, we're going to stay here an extra day to celebrate the New Year.
Happy New Year's Eve from Vietnam!