|road of bones
||[Jun. 9th, 2009|02:47 pm]
charlie boorman and ewan mcgregor had to contend with russia's road of bones in their "long way round" television series. for those who didn't see it, the road became inpassable and for a lot of the time, they hitched a ride in the back of a massive soviet truck / tank thing, and even then it wasn't exactly easy.
we came accross vietnam's version of the road of bones by accident. my initial plan was to show the boys the best riding in the country - about 150kms of ho chi minh highway snaking through the phong nha-ke bang national park. the actual highway bypasses the park, but there is some amazing scenery in this park making the diversion well worth the effort.
except, we couldn't get in. an over-zealous park ranger refused entry, and wouldn't even accept a "fee". no, we had to go back 30km and get some travel papers from some government building. we backtracked, waited for the 2.5 hour lunch to be over, only to be told the director and deputy were away on business, and nobody else could approve our papers.
so we had to skip out on what i considered to be the best riding between saigon and hanoi. very disappointed.
the alternative route took us back towards the cost, which is nice, but the jungle mountains are a lot more fun. we suddenly came across a bunch of policemen who said we were speeding! or was it that some of us had headlights on? either way, we were white and they wanted some money. 3.5 million vietnamese dong later, we were on our way, but i was looking for an alternative route - there are no police on the real ho chi minh highway, so i wanted to get back on that.
taking out my blue road atlas, there was a "national road 10" marked, about 28km in length, that would get us back on the road we wanted. the road was marked as being low quality, but still sealed. even taking it slow, 28km would easily be covered in an hour, so we all agreed to take NR10.
we left NR10 some 6 hours later.
as soon as we got on the road, it was obvious "sealed" meant something different to westerners. the road was rough, rocky and dusty, but still passable. soon we came across a roadworks siggn, saying there were roadworks on NR10 (at least we were on the right road!) for another 11km. a short cigarette break took place, and we all decided to press on: we could put up with 10km or so of bothersome road, then be popped out onto some nice stuff - hopefully the sort of road you don't need to be standing up for, and can go into 3rd or even 4th gear.
on the map, NR10 was strightforward - there were no other roads or even tracks branching off. imagine our surprise then, when we came to a series of 3 or 4 intersections. things were beginning to turn ugly... sometimes we stopped and asked, other times we just took the busiest looking track.
when we reached the 11km end marker, there was no marked improvement. in fact, the road deteriorated, becoming nothing more than coarse ungraded gravel (what would be used under a railway line) at best, boulders at worst. soon enough, another sign stating another 6km of roadworks was up ahead. our decision to push on through was looking shady, but we were almost halfway through, so nobody gave any thought of turning back. we had been on the NR10 for about an hour now.
the road just kept on going, and never got better. at one stage we had a small creek to cross, and i managed to get a fair way ahead and dismount, and got my camera out for some creek crossing shots:
(for those interested, i have some animated gifs available as well, for joe, chris and ian.)
ian's crossing was the most stunning, in no small part due to his crash at the other end. perhaps my cries of "more power!" weren't such a good idea :o
but from here on in, i have no photos. neither does adam, because things just got to hard. dirt and dust gave way to mud. the road became a trail with big water-filled truck ruts winding through it.
and it just got worse! soon the track was a set of parallel ruts, all filled with water - effectively a mud road. we came across a big river, which had a bridge over it. well, half a bridge: one of the 6 supports had been swept away, leaving one side of the bridge half collapsed. there was no other way to cross, so we all walked our bikes across the 75cm section where the bridge still looked normal. our shoes were muddy and the bridge is flat steel, so we were sliding all over the place.
soon we got over the bridge, then we had to go up the valley, onto the ridge line. i absolutely gunned my bike, and made it up without incident for a long way. to call what we were on a road at this point was laughable - we were riding up a tributary creek that fed into the river. there was the choice of deep mud or slippery river rocks. the sun was dipping and we were going through clouds as the mountain ridge became closer. at one point i stalled on some rocks, but didn't drop the bike - something i was very proud of.
we were now riding in the dark, on mud, with no idea how far we had to go. at this point, the other guys' bikes were having some issues: ian's clutch plate was to hot to engage correctly, and chris' engine was generally overheated from taking adam as a passenger. the final phase of the "road" was a mountain pass - lots of muddy switchbacks, up and downs. chris and i took it in turns to scout ahead and report back to joe and ian about the conditions coming up. i finally spied the ho chi minh highway, but we had a real mudpit to cross before we got there. tis mud was thick, and deep: at least 60cm / 2ft. we had a steep descent, and the mud went all the way to the edge, where a cliff dropped down into jungle, at least 50m down. it was tough going, and in the end i blew some of my eletrics keeping my light on high-beas for the others, but we all made it.
6 hours for 28km. no support crew, not even mobile phone coverage. we all felt exhausted, but accomplished. big manly hugs ensued, then we spied a shack open for beer... say no more!