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The Big Climb: Part One

by Going Slowly

4:30 AM / Tyler » 0km ridden » 0m climbed » 300m elevation

The alarm sounds, it's shrill, infernal beeps rending my cocoon of sleep asunder. As the pitch black of early morning seeps into my consciousness, I am disoriented and confused. I only understand one thing: I must silence this intruder, this inexplicable affront to all that is good and just in the world. I must return to my rightful place: the land of dreams.

As I fumble to silence the unholy ringing, the poison of wakefulness claws it's way into my mind, taking hold, and reminding me of our task. Suddenly, I know who I am, and why I'm here—the knowledge provides little motivation to bolt from the safety of these warm sheets. We have two thousand meters to climb today.

6:30 AM / Tara » 3km ridden » 0m climbed » 300m elevation

As I fumble around sleepily, packing our belongings, I feel the strange affects of a restless sleep stricken with nightmares. A night of running from a faceless pursuer, being tracked and hunted through a post-apocalyptic landscape has left me feeling decidedly off-kilter and exhausted.

Even though most of our things were packed in our panniers last night, we are woefully slow to get moving. Rolling away from our guest-house more than hour later than we'd planned, we cycle to the outskirts of town, watching as monks file out of their wats in ochre robes, humbly walking through the city in a single file line, accepting alms and offerings.

We're headed to a place I know that makes sandwiches, in hopes that they'll be open and we can score a big breakfast. Luckily, they're hard at work early, and we feast on fresh baguettes with cheese, chicken, vegetables, and sweet chili sauce.

While we're eating, we meet a young Dutch cycle touring couple, with whom we chat for a bit. They're headed north into China, and we wish them well as they buy sandwiches and carry on their way. As we're leaving, we meet a friendly guy from Milwaukee, who is eager to look at our bikes, telling us he loves to go on short tours himself. We're in a hurry to make as much progress as possible before the sun comes out full blast, so we bid him farewell as quickly as we can, taking to the road once more.

8:00 AM / Tyler » 10km ridden » 150m climbed » 450m elevation

It is so great to be cycling again! The cool morning air, the sensation of my legs pumping slowly, the quiet hum of our tires on the pavement—it all feels like home. Even though we've plied this section of road no less than six times, I'm seeing it with new eyes. As we pass through villages on the outskirts of town, bustling with activity, it is hugely apparent just how much more we see on bicycles.

Twisty Road Ahead

On a bus, we were in a vehicle we couldn't control, high above the road behind windows we couldn't open. On a scooter we were blasting along to keep up with our friends on the way to a party, and on motorcycles, even going slowly, we zipped by fairly quickly, missing all sorts of little things. On a bicycle, the landscape and terrain snaps into sharp focus; we're no longer riding through the world, we're in it.

Lao Road View

9:00 AM / Tara » 15km ridden » 150m climbed » 310m elevation

I am coasting down a hill just outside of town. The wind cools the sweat on my face, and the brisk morning air feels invigorating. I sincerely wish the weather would stay like this all day, but I know the sun will soon rise above these trees and hills. It is already getting warm, the day is sure to be a scorcher.

Lao Road View

12:00 PM / Tara » 37km ridden » 900m climbed » 960m elevation

It's time for our first big climb, a seven-hundred meter ascent, the likes of which we've pedaled on countless occasions. Feeling good, we stop regularly for snacks and water. Our attitudes our soaring, we're feeling great, and no longer does the climb ahead feel so daunting. The scenery is stunning, and we're confident in our abilities. No problem, we got this!

Meanwhile, we're astounded by how many cycle tourists we meet. There's a pair of smiley Chinese guys, and then a super-organized Dutch couple on a tandem, and then a nice, slightly eccentric British guy. A bit further down the road, we meet a fresh faced and friendly French couple with one year left to go on their own two-year tour.

12:45 PM / Tyler » 41km ridden » 1000m climbed » 1060m elevation

As the sun rises high in the sky, the cool air we'd enjoyed so much this morning is becoming a distant memory. Legs spinning in an easy gear, we ascend the final hundred meters of our first climb. A long descent awaits, marking the last time we'll have the pleasure of moving forward without great effort for the next eight hours.

Tyler's Bike & Flag

As we race down, down, and down some more, I try to still my mind, locking myself in the moment, fully appreciating the last few "free" kilometers of this day, traversed with no toil at all.

1:45 PM » 55km ridden » 1000m climbed » 370m elevation

We land unceremoniously at the bottom of our descent, having swiftly eaten up all the progress we made the last few hours. We're back at the same elevation we started, with an even bigger ascent ahead. The midday sun has arrived with a fiery vengeance—just in time for the biggest climb of our entire journey. Here we go!