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The Big Climb: Part Three

by Tara

7:30 PM / Tara » 73km ridden » 1955m climbed » 1325m elevation

The velvet black sky above us is strewn liberally with stars, all twinkling and dancing like diamonds around a brilliant crescent moon. The cool darkness of night is the ultimate comfort to my sun-weary body right now—looking up in wonder at the heavens, I feel better than I've felt all day.

Perhaps sensing the improvement in my mood, the exhaustion pendulum swings to Tyler, who is now seriously flagging. As we push by an abandoned row of market shelters, similar to the one we slept in with Pete and Natasha, I call us to a halt. It's time for a snack.

Barely able to function, Tyler feebly flops on to his back, head still in his helmet, looking up. Meanwhile, I retreieve our Last Resources, a pair of Snickers bars which I've been saving for just such an occasion. I grab the water bottle and make him drink, and sit with him as he savors his caramel-chocolate-peanut confection. There, feel better? He nods.

Though I don't feel like a heroine in a grand and amazing adventure, Tyler's spirit still blazes with desire to do this country justice, to do it under our own power, on bicycles as we set out to do. He doesn't want to skimp, just because we're nearing the end of our trip, and he wants to go out guns blazing. It is his passion that carries me onwards, even if I can't feel a sense of purpose for my own climbing.

What do value is supporting my partner in reaching his goal, so I'm committed to finishing this ride together. And that's just what we're going to do. As we leave our final rest break, I am momentarily terrified by a brief, debilitating cramp in my calf that grips me with pain. Thankfully, the agony subsides as soon as it comes, and we're ready to go once more.

Taking a moment before our next big push, we stand by the roadside hugging one another, boosting each other's spirits, saying "We've got this, we can do this!" When a semi truck blasts by, we're caught in the headlights; a thumb's-up and a *Honk HOOONKKKK* from the driver signal that it's time to go.

And then we walk.

It's a beautiful night for a moonlit stroll, and our walking muscles aren't as worn out as our cycling ones. My tail light shines for the both of us, as Tyler's is broken, and slowly we push, occasionally moving off the road when semis, lit up like Christmas trees against the darkness, chug by.

Under the stars, in the cool darkness, marching forward with Tyler towards the promise of food and rest, I am happy. I like walking. I like the rhythm and slowness of it. Arms braced against the weight of our bicycles, pushing steadily up a mountain at night in Laos, we have three kilometers to go. At our current pace, it'll take an hour.

We can cycle just a touch faster than we can push (five kilometers an hour, instead of three), and Tyler is eager hop back on. So, I fish one of our headlamps out of a pannier and adjust the straps so it fits over my handlebar bag. Then, away we pedal, ever so slowly, into the darkness.

Cycling at night (without blinding streams of traffic) is surprisingly relaxing. I can't see the slope of the road, nor can I see how many switchbacks lay ahead. Distractions fall away—the only things that exist are lit up by the narrow, four-foot beam of my headlamp.

I find myself smiling, for I'm reminded of a quote I heard once about how insurmountable feeling goals are achieved. Never have words rung more true:

It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

E. L. Doctorow

Around a bend in the road, we begin to hear cheerful party music, carried on the breeze through the cool night air. Our town, really just a dusty settlement along the highway, is a smattering of golden lights, sparkling on the top of a far-off hill. Our destination, shimmering like a mirage in the distance, could not appear more breathtakingly beautiful from where we stand.

Still upwards we climb, passing through a village in the throes of a party. People fill the street, talking, laughing, linking arms, and setting off on scooters. "Sabadeee!" they shout as they pass us by, and we'd love to join in the party. But right now, we need this day to be over.

We don't stop to record the music, or take pictures, or meet any of the friendly, drunken villagers. Instead, we keep climbing, until at last, we reach the top. The remaining kilometer into town is all downhill!

8:15 PM / Tara » 75km ridden » 2050m climbed » 1420m elevation

Down we coast, cold wind in our faces, relief spreading throughout our muscles. There it is, just ahead: a row of shops, restaurants, and guest-houses. Barely a blip on the map, this little town is our saving grace. We made it! I hold the bikes while Tyler checks on our options for accommodation.

Then, like the goofy parade that we are, we wheel our bikes into the restaurant, through the corridor, and into the area in the back where the rooms are located. Bringing up the rear is the guest-house owner, grinning from ear to ear as he proudly transports Tyler's flag, a twenty foot tall reed.

Kioukacham Guesthouse Guesthouse, You Are Welcome

A rock-hard bed decked out in clean, frilly pink sheets awaits our arrival. Panniers are ferried into our room, electronics hooked up, sweaty clothes slowly, clumsily removed with leaden, fumbling arms. It's shower time. At first glance, the bathroom is nothing to write home about, but the shower is hot and the spray is abnormally strong. Never has water on my skin felt so good!

Kioukacham Guesthouse Bathroom

9:30 PM / Tara » 75km ridden » 2050m climbed » 1375m elevation

An hour later, we're clean, refreshed, and absolutely famished. We hobble down to the restaurant, crack open a beer, and order some food. It turns out mountain climbing and hunger make the world's best sauces, for my simple garlic pork and sticky rice is some of the best food I have ever eaten. As we oooh and ahhh about how amazing everything tastes tonight, that Tyler brings out the GPS. After a bit of fiddling, he looks up at me with a smile.

"Guess how much we climbed today? Something like two thousand and fifty meters! That is, hold on… nearly 7,000 feet!"

With a grin, I give Tyler a high five, sensing a creeping hint of pride encroaching on my dispassionate numbness. I'm not sure what I'll remember most when I look back on this day. Will it be the hopeless futility I felt for much of the ride, or how Tyler and I pushed our bikes under the stars, on a mission infused with purpose, or perhaps the growing pride I feel about overcoming our biggest mountain climb ever? Only time will tell.

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You guys are rock stars
Posted by Amanda on April 20th, 2011 at 4:28 AM
:D Thank you, Amanda!
Posted by Tara on April 20th, 2011 at 3:50 PM
Sweet thunder and lightening, what a day! T & T: saving the day for adventure one pedal stroke at a time!
Posted by Karina on April 20th, 2011 at 7:13 PM
Ha! Always glad to save the day. :-)
Posted by Tara on April 21st, 2011 at 6:45 AM
Really enjoyed the last three entries guys and love the Kioukacham Guesthouse photo. I am impressed all over again that you guys finished that climb.
Posted by Natasha on April 22nd, 2011 at 2:37 PM
Over 2,000 meters, in one day! That’s a quarter of the way up Everest. Makes me exhausted just thinking about it and lets be honest you guys aren’t exactly the definition of “Ultra Light Touring”, we have seen the size of your electronics bag alone. Great stuff!
Posted by Guy & Freddie on April 24th, 2011 at 9:21 AM
Nice work, you two! This ride looks so incredibly beautiful, it made me miss being out there on two wheels. We're looking forward to seeing you guys in the Bay Area!
Posted by manjula on April 24th, 2011 at 7:34 PM