Monday, January 20, 2014

Cycle Touring As A Cultural Act

Bicycle Touring As A Cultural Act

I have really only cycle toured with two other companies: PAC Tour and Adventure Corps, the latter being their Spring Training Camp in Death Valley. I've ridden countless centuries hosted by various bicycle clubs and fewer double centuries, all of which have added up to an average of nearly 12,000 miles/year for the last 10-11 years.

But, I have never been to Asia.

I am accustomed to daily distances being easily between 90-125 miles, excellent SAG support, and safe, navigable roads.

For good reason Pedal Tours typically SAGS us out of and into the urban area: safety first. They will also SAG us through stretches of the road that are so poorly paved, so heavily trafficked with huge vehicles, or so serpentine that, once again, Westerners on non-motorized vehicles would be at risk, big risk. They, Pedal Tours, certainly provide excellent SAG support.

Given these road conditions here in Vietnam we have typically only ridden 40k (~25 miles) by lunch time. But, our van time is a rich time to learn about the heart and soul of the Vietnamese people through stories shared with us by Luc, our tour guide from HCMC, who was born a year before the Viet Nam-American War ended, whose father was a physician and encamped for "re-education" after the war ended because he had had worked for the Americans and was not trusted by the Communist government; whose father had 12 brothers, 6 fought in the NVA, 6 who fought with the Americans the South Vietnamese Army. After the war, all 12 were re-united as one family once again.

For miles we rode along rice paddies still planted, tended to, and harvested by hand and fields furrowed by water buffalo as it has been done for thousands of years. Automated farming has come, to some degree, to the Mekong Delta, but not further north, yet.

Bicycles are parked along the farmer's rice paddy for his/her entire field day, not padlocked, but then, again, there is nothing to padlock it to. Same is true of bicycles in the cities, including Hanoi (haven't been to Saigon yet). Bicycles are parked on the street unlocked. That is mostly the case, too, of scooters--unlocked. We saw some scooters with a medium heft U lock through the spokes of the front wheel, but certainly not all.

It is common for many people to bring their scooters into their front room at night. Several families will live in the same house so it is not uncommon to see as many as 5 scooters in the front room as you meander the streets at night.

We passed shrimp and lobster farms and fishing villages with huge nets hung up to dry. Theft or vandalism to another's property is un heard of.

The further South we've ridden the percent of people wearing a face mask while cycling/scooting on the road has increased, yet the air quality has improved as we've moved away from Hanoi and are still too far away from Saigon/HCMC. The explanation given is they (mostly women, but men, too) are concerned about their complexion pre-marriage. I guess after you're married it doesn't matter any more.  But, I'm thinking I might invest in one for when I ride in Tucson during the hot season as my lips get so sun/wind burned despite conscientious use of SPF lip balm.


NH Hiker said...


What an awesome adventure!

Susan said...

Thanks NH hiker, for following my journey.