The conversation is a common one, the one with other travellers that inevitably veers towards recent and impending travels. And so the story for us has contained the essential probings about Vietnam, food, sights, scams and places. On this questioning line of discovery there is one element that contains little inquisition, the question of another travellers favourite place in Vietnam. So repetitively the answer returns: Hoi An. And so the charge resumes, after yesterdays dramatic drama-free day covering a whopping 280km’s we’re up for another 305km’s in the two day push to Hoi An that should be taken over three days. Yesterdays Gypsie blessing that backfired in the most spectacular way has been set aside, we’re on our own with a long way between us and high expectations; will the bikes make it?
An earlier start sees us away and into the stop-start first stage of this trip; petrol, oil changes and coffee sees us cowering in a roadside cafe from a torrential downpour. This is not going well. After staying a little longer than we wanted to thanks to the rain, it’s time to jacket up and ride through the torrent, nothing is keeping us from Hoi An today. Except for the flat tyre on Ari’s bike, Dragon Fart, so aptly named for the dragon design on the fuel tank and it’s incessant backfiring. And so we wait, the routine mechanic is right across the road and in short order we’re patched, pumped and purring along the road despite the tropical storm that throws it down in buckets. Where’s that Gypsie blessing when you need it, or is it the Gypsie blessing were seeing?Finally we’re off and although we’re not exactly racing along we’re finally making good time. We were making good time, Greg decides that after days of spectacular behaviour he’ll indulge in a bit of attention seeking. Spluttering and faltering through the rain he eventually throws himself to the floor like a spoilt little shit in the confectionary aisle when dad puts back the chocolate, we simply can’t get going on this day that we most need to. A quick fiddle with some electrical parts and an airgun to clear water out of the workings sees me up and running, finally, can we get this day happening. We get the day happening for about a kilometre before Greg decides that he very much wanted that chocolate, it’s splutter and stall time again. I swear I am about to call child protection myself and start going all bogan child abuse on this big sook any minute and just see how long it takes the authorities to stop me.
Again, a mechanic is about one hundred metres away and it’s a more thorough look into the carburettor for a good cleaning and a bit of love; basically I give the little shit his chocolates. In the longest day of this whole trip we’re about two hours in with barely a scratch on the total distance and already we’re concerned about timing. Finally, now finally we’re set to go until Jamie’s bike, Cat Lady, decides that Greg’s tactics are worth a try and replicates the tantrum. This is not the day to feel the wrath of a Gypsie curse backlash. Gypsie curse or determined resolve, which will win the day?Could anything more possibly go wrong? Oddly enough the greatest attention seeker of them all, Rob, is stoic and irrepressible today, he’s leaking oil which is a concern but we cannot fault his endeavour as all others fall around him. In an odd twist the pouring rain is the least of our worries and for the first time today we make good progress through towering mountains, raging waterfalls and sweeping vistas of lush tropical jungle. We so often associate mountains with aggressive rocky crags, snowy caps and frosty wind but here in Vietnam the immensity, grandeur and intimidation exists without the usual markers. We’re chasing time that seems too far away, Ari who is learning to ride a bike on this trip is battling with rain, Vietnamese roads, Vietnamese traffic and soldiering on only slightly slower than the rest of us who have lifetimes of biking experience behind us. Today is a team effort and we will make it, we must.
Finally we make some progress, it’s nearly 4pm and although a good leg of spectacular scenery lies behind us there’s still over 100km to go and the bikes need a rest. Rob is leaking oil while Greg and Cat Lady are still going well in the lightened rain. We only pray that the rain stays away as we still don’t know if the issue was the carburettor or water related leaving us riding on eggshells. Hurdle after hurdle has been placed before us but outright disaster has not visited as we resign to arriving in the dark, a terrifying prospect but our resolve to reach Hoi An today is not abandoned so easily.Flying now, Rob is decorating the relatively dry roads with regular rainbows of leaking oil, a hippie style line of breadcrumbs for us all to follow; we ned a mechanic but the famed Vietnamese regularity has abandoned us in our hour of need. Rob, the brave sook pushes on, we wait at every corner for a catastrophic breakdown but he stoically persists. Ten, twenty, thirty kilometres nearly; it must be the longest stretch of road in this country without a mechanic but Rob still pushes unbelievably forward. Is the dream of Hoi An today about to literally go up in smoke?
On top of Robs second by second proposition, Dragon Fart’s chassis has literally cracked and is falling apart, Ari is sliding and drifting all over the road as just one more hurdle to her learning to ride experience and still she refuses to quit. Caught between needing oil for Rob and staying with the convoy Charlie and I are terrified of Rob giving it all up so we push forward to oil and to also take the pressure off Ari who is trying so admirably to keep up on a bike that simply can’t. Today has started poorly and like a hastily made house of cards it’s on the brink with still about 80km’s to go.
On fading light Rob’s determination pays off, we’ve made it and it’s into a mechanic for oil and a home welding job on Dragon Fart to keep us going. Just when we though that the dream of Hoi An was over we’re thrown a lifeline, or at least a hope. With a long way to go, fading light, two bikes untested in heavy rain, one recently welded back together and another dotting rainbows all over the road our motley band of determination presses forward. Corner by corner the light fades and the chaos that is a Vietnamese road grows and grows in its threat. Greg isn’t handling low revs, I have to charge forward so Charlie and I leave Jamie and Ari intermittently abandoning the dream of a happy convoy to scrap our way there as best we can to be rejoined in intervals of rest.Darkness descends, we now have no sunglasses to add to the challenge, this is unquestionably the toughest riding I have ever done. We’re tired, it’s hard to concentrate, Bugs are hitting our faces and stinging our eyes, the roads are patchy and chaotic, trucks blind our eyes and charge at us head on forcing us from the road, all manner of traffic emerges from side streets and kerbs without looking, our bikes are slowly failing and we’re all a little scared. Our nerves are fraying but in this most horrific of circumstance we think of Ari the most, if she can get through this she can ride anywhere on earth; the rest of us at least have years of managing a bike in traffic. There’s no immediate threat of disaster if we keep our heads; but rarely are great disasters preceded by an awareness of them, the risks here are real and unmistakeable.
Stopping on a side road we think is ours I ask some local guys if it’s the back way to Hoi An. I could nearly cry with relief, a happy man waves down the road and indicate that he’s going that way. We gladly follow. Like climbing aboard a life raft from a sinking ship we plod slowly on this traffic free and well lit road. None of us can believe it but we are mere minutes from Hoi An. The road has thrown up more dramas and obstacles than we could imagine in this day that wasn’t so much a road trip but a test of resolve. Our huge rooms and soft beds are a well earned embrace, Ari particularly has achieved something to be proud of on a day that darted fear into seasoned riders. Maybe for the next leg we’ll call on the Gypsie gods again; or maybe not. We wanted a drama free day but in its place we had a life lesson, a test of fortitude and in Hoi An, I think we deserve a beer.