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The Big Climb: Part Two

by Going Slowly

3:00 PM / Tara » 60km ridden » 1230m climbed » 600m elevation

Every second of this climb is full and rich with experience. My emotions swing wildly from pure joy at the slightest breeze, to complete hopelessness and despair at the screams coming from my aching muscles. The heat is insufferable—conspiring against me, ganging up on my good attitude, crippling my morale.

My legs are churning, but I'm barely moving. I feel like an ant, tiny and insignificant. I'm struggling to find meaning in what we're doing, and the sun, a mighty blaze overhead, pierces me with its heat like an evil kid killing a bug with a magnifying glass.

Lao Mountain Homes

4:40 PM / Tara » 64km ridden » 1460m climbed » 830m elevation

A rippling haze hovers over the road. I am drenched with sweat, overheating, and a little dizzy. As the pavement begins to wobble beneath me, I feebly dismount, and begin pushing. More frightening than the dizziness, is the numbness I feel towards this entire experience.

When we climbed Julierpass in Switzerland, it was a quest, a grand adventure imbued with excitement and purpose. But here in the mountains of Laos, I'm lacking enthusiasm, failing to see how this is a worthwhile endeavor. Have I lost my sense of adventure?

The only thing keeping me going is Tyler's encouragement, and a slideshow of encouraging images playing in my mind. My parents cheering me on from the roadside. Tyler's little brothers and sisters singing "Happy Birthday" and dancing around. My grandmother's embrace. Pete and Natasha saying they'd be willing us up the mountain. The thought of going home.

Every passing truck fills me with bitterness. If I wanted to, I could easily stop one and pay them a dollar to take me ten kilometers into town, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I think it's a combination of not wanting to leave Tyler, and not having the willingness to admit aloud that I feel stretched beyond my limits.

5:00 PM / Tyler » 65km ridden » 1540m climbed » 910m elevation

At last, the sun begins its race for the horizon, leaving us to cycle unfettered by the intense afternoon heat. We're beginning to pass through villages with scruffy, scrawny kids, and for some reason, this area seems poorer than any we've ridden through before.

Tear-Stained Lao Girl Lao Mama & Baby Lao Mountain Home Lao Mama & Baby

One woman rushes out of her home to give us some nearly rotten bananas, and I'm unsure of how to respond. Is she really offering what looks to be the last of her food out of hospitality? I try to decline without offending her, but she insists. When I finally accept, she asks for money, and I realize she was trying to sell them to us.

I'm not sure how much she is expecting, so I just hand her a wad of bills and refuse any change. A few kilometers later, we'll realize we could've given the banana's back to her and let her keep the money. I wish we had, she obviously needed both much more than we did.

I am humbled and saddened by the reality that our dwindling supply of mountain climbing snacks may be more than these people have to eat. When a sickly looking girl who is fearfully skinny approaches us, we give her everything we can spare. Next, we dig out our notebooks and pencils.

Tara Giving Pencils to Lao Kids Lao Kids

While most of the kids we've offered school supplies have accepted them with shy or confused expressions, the ones in this village go absolutely nuts. Tara has a crowd around her in seconds. One of the mothers scolds them for their manners, and they calm down after that, accepting the gifts gratefully with a "kop jai."

Lao Kids

As we ride away, the kids chase us, grabbing hold of our panniers. Are they just playing with us? Are they trying to get us to stay? I have no idea.

Lao Girls Running After Us Lao Kids

6:30 PM / Tara » 70km ridden » 1805m climbed » 1175m elevation

Rounding a bend, I watch the sun sink towards the horizon, floating like a bright red bubble on a backdrop of dark, forested mountains. We watch as the golden orb slowly slips away, swallowed by the darkening forest. The scene is breathtakingly beautiful, but we don't stop for photos; we must keep climbing.

Instead of feeling panic about what is now an inevitable nighttime mountain climb, I find myself relieved. The air is markedly cooler and refreshing. As the stifling heat dissipates, so too does my fatigue. My energy levels are rising, and I welcome the coming darkness, finally feeling like I'm getting my second wind, or maybe the first real wind I've had all day.