Loading Fully – What we’ve taken on our bicycle trip from Vietnam To Europe.

1,400km down and we finally have time and position to take the “aerial” shots of most of our gear. So through the sweat and heat of a 32 degree November day we laid ourselves and things on the hot concrete. (We’ve got another 19,000km to go with borders closed all around us)

While I fancy myself an expert on light packing, this trip was not meant to be that, for the first time I choose to over-pack.

In the past we packed very light. Only basic essentials minimal clothes etc. When my wife and I would hit the road in our low tier Giant bikes and Tao Bao Panniers, there wasn’t a hill that killed me or a climb that drained me. On a flat road I’d often lose sense of time, space and meaning keeping a speed between 25-30km/hr for long periods of time. My legs would pump and my mind would wonder to the lyrics of the songs I was listening to, to the vibes of traffic, to things I did in the past and might do to the future. By the time I’d look behind me my Zuza would be miles behind, irritated and taking it personally how I tended to zoom off at every straight way.

Plus on this trip I didn’t want Major Danger to feel like he didn’t have his toys. Which is why more than 50% of our luggage is dedicated to his things, toys, lotions, learning materials. We use these things regularly with him giving him a niche and variety in his and our lives. While we don’t want to add more weight we’ve talked to him about exchanging toys while on the road. We may offer his duplo to another child soon so that we can replace it with more legos. We do have 2 or 3 physical books, however we read several every night to him. Right before the trip we photographed our 100s of kids books and put them on the tablet so he can still choose from a library size of books in the evening.

So our layout is both to ensure Major Danger’s upbringing isn’t compromised(after all its not his fault we’re crazy), and to keep my pace the same as my wife. So far its working and only my legs and rear cassettes complain.

We have of course given away quite a few things to balance things out. They include. A blue Ukulele, A Scooter, a 2m wide collapsible blue/green screen, a fine silk hammock, several inner-tubes, and dress shoes.

Below is our setup. I chose to exclude our electronics and tablets, but I will say this we have a mini-projector(100inch screen!) for movies, and a wonderboom bluetooth speaker for music and dancing.

The layout of our bags is as follows

Daddy
Front Left bag
1.City Clothes. 3 shirts, 2 Shorts, bag of socks/underwear.
2.Sleeping Bag
3.1 spare inner tube
Front Right Bag

  1. Cycling Shorts
  2. Sleeping Bag
  3. 3 t-shirts
    Rear Left Bag –
  4. Major Dangers Toys – Duplo, Lego, Magforms, action figures.
  5. Spare Glasses
  6. Stove and Gas Canister
  7. Bike Oil
    Rear Right Bag
  8. Teaching Materials (including Parachute)
  9. Notebooks
  10. Bag of Cosmetics
  11. Portable Pot and Pan
  12. Chefs Knife and Cutting Board
  13. Flask (With Spirits)
    Rear Rack
  14. Tent
  15. Bike Tools and Zip Ties(Under the saddle)

Momma
Front Left Bag

  1. Major Danger’s Clothes + Shoes
    Front Right Bag
  2. Major Danger’s Clothes + Rainjacket
    Front rack
    2 Mats
    Rear Left Bag
    1.Momma’s Clothes
    2.Decorative Things
  3. Lotion
    Rear Right bag
    1.Momma’s Clothes
  4. Momma’s Notebook.

Burley Bee

  1. Even more Toys
  2. Big Backpackers Backpack. Holds 2 Suits.
    3.Major Danger
  3. Beer(in the rear, not with Major Danger)
  4. Microscope (for Looking at things up close)
  5. Binoculars (for looking at things far away)

Why the suits? Just in case we get invited to a wedding we will be well prepared.

I like contrasts and I like surprising people, and I like feeling clean and professional. When we rode through China we’d show up dusty, disheveled, like vagabonds and undesirables. I liked that feeling of being rugged, of wearing a hard days ride on my sleeve but I also liked going up, shaving, braiding my hair(it was long then), and walking down looking like a million bucks. The look on the hotel owners face made it worth it. Likewise I like showing people how much we can change and how initial judgements are ridiculous. When i hitch-hiked through Europe I always carried high quality cologne with me, and this trip is no different.

So while it looks like a mess in this photo, it only takes us about 15 minutes to pack up and be on the road.

Packing up!

Give an extra few minutes for food and waking up and we can usually be on the road within 30 minutes of waking up. Which we will be doing tomorrow morning at 5am to ride a short distance to Da Nang.

Now Onward and Forward!

Lets ride

100+ Days in Hoi An – Bracing for the Storms

Friends, Covid-lockdown, Scuba Week and A constant barrage of tropical storms. How we’ve made a terrible mistake but found ourselves living the best way we possibly could.

Our Street turned river. Major Danger and I would race lego boats during the torrential downpour here.

We’re trying our best to take it day by day in a world where our long term planning has been subject to the worst case of Murphy’s, “Everything that can go will.” From multiple covid lockdowns, early typhoons, late payments and geopolitical tumult we’ve found our time-table a half year off kilter putting us in places during seasons we originally sought to avoid by large margins. A normally pretty stressful trip has had an avalanche of new problems being poured on top of it, however by focusing on the day by day and taking it as easy we’ve rerouted most of it to a place of the inevitable we can’t accept, focusing instead on the pleasures of day to day, eating, activities, new friends and a bit of photography. Our mistake was getting caught in the Rainy/Typhoon season but we have chosen to focus on the silver lining.

The largest distraction was literally the largest, the Ocean. We’d daily go to the beach and spend hours there. Originally from hidden beach(now gone), we’d discover a great place known as La Plage full of cheap drinks, food and beach access. I’d set up my computer there to do a bit of work. I’d photo-edit, chat, swim, body board during the storms and just surveying the damage from beach to beach.

As the storms hit we hit the beaches with sandbags. The was a call at different spots to help build sand walls to fight erosion and us with a few others bagged, carried and placed tens of thousands of sand bags against the walls. In the morning we’d work together bagging and it the afternoon I’d teach.

Through the last few storms most have lasted

Plus food and drinks have kept us occupied. I’ve become obsessed with eating roast ducks from 140k-280k , surveying a wide range of places for settling on the best from Com Linh at 280k. Reason for this is its at least twice the size of the cheaper ones and lasts twice as long keeping our family of three happily fed for 4-5 days. Each time we received it, it was like getting a perfectly cooked turkey dinner.

Then as things rolled around we were able to trick or treat for Halloween. It was there that we would meet people in charge of World School Hub. If you’re a family coming through Hoi An I can’t recommend them more with their innovative lessons and kind participants.

Get In, we’re going quarantining. Lockdown in Hoi An.

My meme from my photo. Testing Nurses in their modified ambulances from Hoi An.

Covid.

I’m just going to let that word hang there. Covid.

Covid is such a huge and powerful word now, once thought of as just a small but spreadable virus.

It would be selfish for me to complain because Covid has rocked the world. People are getting sick, dying and losing loved ones. Rights are being restricted, and more people are pushing back. Political polarity and denial are springing up and harsh measures and no tolerance mentality has divided and hurt people everywhere. Workings around the world are falling apart as the reactions, actions and sicknesses of Covid push a breakdown the degradation of the whole word.

So I won’t complain. This is a success story.

“Potential new case in Da Nang” A headline we didn’t like or want to believe hit our news-feed. Within 3 hours the word potential changed to confirmed and the people in our homestsay turned to swearing and frustration. To those who don’t know, Hoi An borders Da Nang and everyday we visited thebach we looked out to see the skyline only 30km away. The following morning we had planned to ride back to Da Nang to visit our friends.

Night sets on a Hoi an and a Lock Downed Da Nang in the distance

As we started our trip I swore that we would do all we could to show respect and caution with the disease. So we canceled it, and prepared to watch the news. Like all covid stories there is never just one case. Da Nang and Hoi An are immensely popular places for tourism, the beaches full of business retreats and the resorts full of weddings. I hopped into a pharmacy to buy a box of masks for 30k. Good thing too as all the local shops had already put up the, “No entry without Mask” signs. Of course even with these sudden protective measures cases begin popping up in Quang Nam(Hoi ans province), and all over Da Nang.

Da Nang entered lockdown, and three days later Hoi An entered it as well. Once again we were in lockdown. Beaches closed, restaurants delivery only, and outside activities should be limited. We still went for walks and would visit the Vinmarts to pick up some food. One we noticed an area nearby us was blocked off but we just avoided it.

A once packed area blocked off.

The following morning our homestay “Boss” was pacing back and and forth chugging on cigarettes, repeating “I don’t know! I don’t know!”. Peering down the road we could see a military checkpoint at both ends of the street. FB checks pointed our our entire district of Cam To, in Hoi An was under an extra degree of lockdown and an article mentioned that the government would provide food for those under the lockdown. Great, i thought to myself, Rice. I hate rice.

The sometimes barrier. Anyone who approached would be turned away.

As we made a list of provisions we needed from the local market our the “Boss” of the homestay just directed us to a thin path by the Estuary that would go past the blockade. We waited a day and then nervously tried it without problem. We also noticed they took the blockade down at 9pm and reset it between 7am-11am, so we weren’t sure what the whole point was. In my time in vietnam I’ve noticed there are “soft” rules where its expected that you’ll quietly surpass them but just to be careful and concerned. The government rice never came so others were doing the same. Remember I’ve had two police officers shake my hand while asking if I have Covid, I assume they are shaking my hand as a sign of respect to say, “We have to ask every foreigner regardless, I know you don’t have it, sorry.” Even the officer I shoved out of our room a few weeks ago, did this.

So we took the quiet exit and picked up supplies at the local markets. Shrimp and Squid were cheap. Shrimp at around 150k($7 a kg) and squid at 100-170k($4.50-$8) depending on quality. We picked up a cheap $5 grill, and some Lump Charcoal and we were grilling almost everyday. Eggplant, marinated shrimp and squid, plus potatoes and sometimes rice. We found mozarella, yeast and tomato paste so we cooked a few nights of pan fried Pizza. The homestay let us grill and use their kitchen regularly(though it was always awkward trying not to step on the bamboo bed which was in front of the fridge.).

Walking around the area, short bicycle trips, cooking, and online teaching became the norm. Major Danger ran to the other guests every morning to chat and play before joining us for eggs and pancakes. Everything we owned would be unpacked. The projector, computers toys, colorful parachute, hard drives teaching materials. We’d chew on smoked goat cheese, fruits and snacks throughout the day. I found dried, sour and spicy apricots that I’d suck on from time to time throughout the day, writing and photo editing. At some point I went online and gathered a few ESL learned and friends to start a sunday evening D&D group, a prototype for future D&D lessons. A few times a week we’d do lessons for the Major as well.

We’d download a blue shield App, the tracked the movements of covid and ourselves to let us know if we had interactions with anyone infected. While none of us had direct contact, we could see cases spring up on a part of the estuary down the road from us. Hence the extra ‘security’.

A few days later An official rolled up, blasting instructions, on a motorbike strapped with a large Karaoke speaker. “Mandatory Testing.” When? “Right now!” Oh alright, its Vietnam, makes sense. I nervously brought my camera with me ready for them to tell me “no photos”. As we approached they saw the camera and behind their masks smiled. Soon a few pictures later, a few bunny eared poses, and our passports we were ready to be tested. Thankfully it was only an oral swab. It was surreal, the tests down the street was literal in the middle of the street, the viet-hazmat suits, their happy attitude and the limousine golf-cart that they came up on. My one regret was not getting the nurses numbers as they tend to only give you your results if you ask. The test itself they did take quite seriously placing our swabs in sealed test tubes with our names, address, and passport numbers.



A day went by, then two, then four and week. We still practiced all the social distancing, only going to market once a week. Towards the end we did sneak a walk along the beach, and one day, the 28th of August, they announced the end of the lockdown. We are now free to move around as we’d like, visit bars, restaurants and the beaches.



For the next week we’ll stay put to ensure all is contained and then begin moving slowly inland. We still have no idea whats in store for us in the future and we’ll take it day by day, practicing the safest of measures.

A main carries burdens across the beach while a storm descends on Da Nang.

Oh I would like to write that I am very happy with the way Vietnam has dealt with the situation. This is the second time I’ve been tested and both times I understood and seriously appreciated the transparency, and by transparency i just meant no one was denying or trying to hide anything. When I asked questions they didn’t know the answers to they’d say, “I don’t know. But lets make a fb chat group with my boss”. Vietnam has made every measure in their fight open for view by everyone.

Hoi an now for the fish.

We’d ride through, stay a night in Da Nang and Move onto Hoi An. A small touristy but very beautiful town on the coast just south of the much larger Da Nang city.

Here we’d rendezvous with some friends. WIth whom we rented lovely villa and had an amazing time with, them and us having a few beers and drinks while their duaghter and major danger ran around the grounds having a blast.

Hoi an Is and has always been a favorite destination of mine. Small quaint, and a whirlpool of ancient cultures. The old town is always packed and buzzing, beach bars and adjacent spots along the nearby beaches. Even fancy resort “clubs” that still have halfway decent prices where you can enjoy a luxurious and cheap breakfast by the seaside, while sitting at a pool bar.

A unique cultures of fishing and basket boats .



So this trip has a purpose of “Spoke N Stories” and the concept behind it is teaching while traveling using stories. What does that really mean? We really don’t know. We were supposed to gather information on local legends then write and illustrate them into children’s stories. This has been more difficult than we originally thought as research into each area we visit is time consuming, on top of all the other day to day activities being a cyclotourist. Over the next mini chapter in our trip we’ll begin to do a lot of soul searching and re-calibrating. Oh But I digress and will write more on this topic later.

While we have our purpose, we have income from Online lessons, some organized through italki, and others from my previous venture, “The Kinder Adventure.” The Kinder Adventure was a study and field trip program of taking students out once a week to different places to practice things they learned in the classroom. Educational field trips I called them because they would include all the dynamics of a lesson including preparation and an end project. Within Kinder Adventure I played around with the concept up multiple day field trips where the parents would join us and we’d organize events, hotels, and activities in other cities. During our time in Hoi An(now tallying on the second month), we’d have our friends join and then some former students. Both of which we arranged to go to the beaches, dinners and the Vinwonder theme park.

To which we all had a great time. Didn’t really include the education part, but I was able to see a lot of the problems/dilemmas that can occur while doing these. Food in the theme parks must be thought out more in advance as each time it was a logistical nightmare.

So as the visits wound down we met with some more friends heading up to Da Nang. We’d follow up in a few days. Booked a hotel and then checked the news 1 covid case found in Da Nang. We decided to stay put in Hoi An and wait for the news. It wasn’t good.

In three days the city of Hoi An would lockdown following Da Nangs suit as Covid spread from wedding party to family members all over the area.

On a Hai Van Pass to Hell

We left Hue to a small beach town. Lessons in the afternoon while Major Danger and Zuza went to the beach. Due to scheduling conflicts and irritation we went and ate separately which resulted in neither of us eating properly that night. By the time I was finished the only place to eat, aside the over priced beach bars, was a convenience store. So cold rice and uncooked noodles was my dinner. I managed to put a bottle in the freezer.

We had 10km to get to the pass so at 5am sharp we were jumping up, grabbing a bit of cold rice and bread and off we went. Unfortunately it was to be a hot day, by the time we made it to the start of the pass the temperature was already over 30 degrees. After this ride I’d spend a lot of time contemplating, heat and riding. In the past we’d do 1200m days with only a few stops but in the high temperatures our bodies begin to give out and experience a true hell. Im also sure we may have experienced wet bulb temperatures due to the high heat, humidity and our(ok mine) bodies tendency to malfunction.

Entrance to Hai Van Pass



Feeling woozy and downing a few cookies I drank half an energy drink before ascending. Caffeine requirement or just a mistake?



Ascents with switchbacks. Even though it was blazing hot there was shade on the left side. When the traffic was empty I rode on the left side, and would move to the right when we’d see oncoming traffic.


At 10:30 am it would reach 38 degrees with 57% humidity. According to a heat index site the real feel would have been 53 degrees. The sound of my heart smashed against my head as my raspy breathing overwhelmed my senses. Each pedal felt like a strain on my body as I lurched upwards with an overloaded bike and a heavier trailer. Any thoughts of “I think I can” had been left two switch-backs ago it my entire world was simply the pedals, road, and the sounds of my struggling body.

A shade-less switchback.

While going up I was taking bits of videos of my state and describing what was going on. Re-watching I’m beginning to notice early warning signs of heat-stroke.


Once we were on the top we racked up a medium sized bill full of coconuts, fantas, waters, sugar cane juice and anything else cold we could find. It was a relief and an accomplishment. One that I am very happy we did.



However we absolute choose the worst side to do it on. On the way down towards Da Nang we saw Mia Da stalls and cafes everywhere! Hell there was even a massive cafe with giant waterfalls that I could only imagine were for cooling down while going up! We’d get a Bun Cha ca and beer at the bottom before riding an extra 10km into Da Nang city center. At night as I closed my eyes to sleep I had nightmares of climbing hills in the heat.

Two Tombs and a Palace in Hue – Photos.

We visited the tombs of two kings. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find the best way to describe them so I’ll just let the pictures.


Emperor Khia Dinhs tomb. Described as eccentric.

Tomb 2 – Minh Mang

This tomb surrounded by temple after temple is hidden behind a wall in the center. Once a year only a select monk goes in to visit and maintain it.

And the following day in the heat and humidity we made it to the Palace.

Abandoned Water-park – Hue

Urban exploring has always been a passion of mine. Empty and abandoned buildings titillate my mind and I find an eerie beauty in seeing places once full of life, now empty desolate and being reclaimed by nature.

Finding it was easy however we went through the one side thats guarded. The security guard came out whistled at me and pretended that he actually worked at the park saying no one was allowed only later relenting to 50k to go in, which to me was far too high. After I rode a few circles and demanded he show me his credentials and engage in a friendly motorbike-bicycle chase he went inside his empty booth. His tea drinking friend took 40k (20k per person and Major gets in free). from me and in we went. The first security guard rolled up soon after on the empty path and gave us the one rule of the park, “No Smoking!” led us to the center and the disappeared over the horizon.

In the park there’s several parts. The Dragon and Aquarium, pictured above. The water slides and water playground, and the stadium. By the stadium is an occupied shack (be friendly, they may share beer) and and a 5d spaceship house. I’d recommend to others to really go exploring in this area. Also, wear proper shoes. For some reason my wife wore sandals which made it difficult to walk in the areas with broken glass.

The day when we arrived was hot, I wish we had brought some snacks and beverages as the park was large.

The third part we visited was the Stadium. We met a few others and in between conversations about conspiracies and extortion in the Berlin rap community, the blasting heat, and a more pleasant conversation about Covid, we enjoyed the parks beauty.

A New Hue

Rolling into Hue we were met with this scene. Burning crops behind a tower.

Hue! And finally with a bicycle. Every visit to the area in the past was precipitated by weeks of debating as to whether or not to take a bicycle and then finally relenting and spending a good amount regretting on the lack of personal wheels forcing us to rely on unpleasant taxi rides. Having the freedom of the bike made a huge difference.



Arriving during the Covid times was surreal in the city. The tourists streets we’re near empty as hotel owners ran up and down the roads trying to get us to stay at their places. We snacked on a few of their dishes but to be frank the Bun Bo Hue here was identical to many of the spots we were in Hanoi.



Now Hue’s center is packed tight with hotels and homestays so the first one we choose had no parking so we had to let them know we couldn’t stay there. We’d get a quick room nearby(they let us put the bikes in the lobby) in a ruby hotel and then we’d move to a cheaper place with astounding customer service outside the center. This one was called the “Loving Homestay” and it was worth it. Cheap, friendly, welcoming and with beer and breakfasts. The lady in charge showered Major Danger with attention(in fact most hotels from this point onward would). The rooms were comfortable, and the location was just enough outside the city center that we didn’t feel claustrophobic.

Hue was pleasant, quaint and had a nice vibe. Like Hanoi’s old quarter but less grungy and aside from Bia hoi, a little bit cheaper.


Views of the clouds and sky in Hue always impressed.




Another delight was finding a less than known version of Bun Ca in Hue for 20k a bowl. Lite fish filet with a fishy but not too fishy broth and noodles.

While in Hue we’d visit the abandoned waterpark, a kings tomb and and the royal palace.