April 7, 2013
Distance: 47.4 miles Climbing: 2795.3 ft
The morning started on a rough note. Chandler noticed the gas canister for our stove was leaking, when he investigated the problem, he discovered the pressure gasket was torn. Looks like no eggs for breakfast. We had a little disagreement about moving on or staying another night while we fix the problem. In the end Chan didn’t think we could find a replacement part locally so we decided to leave town.
We then had to make a choice between taking the old road to Dali or the new road. While the new road looked appealing with its fresh pavement, we weren’t interested in the traffic that would surely accompany it. The old road was a few miles longer, it promised only one pass to climb instead of two. We decided on the way out of town because it was easier to find the old road than the new one. Our moods weren’t the best as we peddled through the usual gas-smelling outskirts. The pavement was broken up, there was a very small shoulder and lots of traffic.
I was beginning to wonder why we had bothered with the old road, our pace picked up and the traffic thinned out. We cycled along a valley bottom, next to a muddy river for a few miles before we hit a construction site. As we waited in line with a number of cars, an excavator loaded a dump truck up with dirt and rock from the side of the road, sending giant clouds of dust in our direction. Now, I was sure we had made a mistake by not taking the new road.
A little construction
When we finally made it past the construction site, the riding conditions improved greatly. After a little while the muddy river joined up with a deep green river. Once again we were riding along the Mekong, this time on the western bank. There were trees lining the road to give us shade the terrain was flat and we were making good time.
After crossing the bridge, the road began to climb. We spotted a large dam on the river, which was the first one built on the Mekong by the Chinese in the 1980s. We started looking for a place to camp, but the terrain was really steep on either side of the road. After the first mile of not finding anywhere that looked suitable for camping, Chandler made a suggestion. He saw a road coming up that led to the reservoir behind the dam. Chandler thought that might be a nice relaxing spot to spend the night. I wasn’t as interested though. The side road climbed up a ridge for a mile or so and if we were going to climb up a mile, I wanted to continue looking on the main road. We got into a big fight, which ended with mutual silent treatments and us continuing up the road.
We didn’t bother talking to each other for the next two hours as we just climbed up and up and up. We passed through several small villages and farms, but there was nowhere to camp. I was becoming a little desperate when I noticed a family sitting outside their store all waving and smiling at us. Next to their store was an abandoned gas station used to keep a pile of wood dry. I hollered for Chandler to stop and said we should ask if we could camp next to the wood pile.
We turned our bikes around, bought a bottle of water and somehow managed to communicate with hand gestures that we wanted to camp. The man running the store agreed once he understood that we had a tent. We then decided we should have a beer to relax. The family immediately invited us to sit with them and pulled up some stools for us. They offered us tea and Chandler and cigarette. Chandler does not smoke cigarettes and said no, but the man offered again. Chandler said no again but they man became more adamant and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Chan took it to maintain the peace, thinking he could just hold onto it when the man whipped out his lighter and lit it up for Chandler. The situation was so ridiculous that we just laughed and Chandler smoked it like a cigar, not inhaling the smoke.
We had a pleasant time attempting to chat with the adults and teasing the little boy that was running around. After watching the sun set and finishing our beers, we said good night. The owner then gestured for Chandler to follow him to an unused building next to the gas station. He unlocked one of the rooms and offered it to us for the night. He sweep it clean of bugs and dirt and helped us carry our bikes up the stair to stow them safely inside.
We could not believe our luck. The bikes and tent fit in the room perfectly. We were in such good moods that we weren’t bothered by the stove being broken. We had a dinner of dry ramen, tuna and crackers and Oreos for dessert. Then we watched with a movie on laptop and fell asleep.