After a few trips with my Scotland friend to the Mekong Delta with the distance of less than 100 kilometres each trip, one day I was asked by him “Would you like to ride with me from Vietnam to Paris?” I nodded without hesitation because it was a chance for me to fulfill my dream to travel and explore the world no matter which mode of transportation I would choose.
Then we started the journey of more than 15,000 kilometres across twelve countries stretching from Asia to Europe, from smooth and flat to rough and mountainous roads that pushed us to the abyss. Highlights included over-3,800-metre Torugart mountain peak where it snowed heavily in the middle of the summer in Kyrgyzstan and the burning Karakum Desert (black sand) in the middle of July in Turkmenistan, and our destination was not Paris but London for the Christmas season.
After the trip of a lifetime, we returned to Vietnam to continue our journey to eight Southeast Asian countries in 154 days, completing near the end of June 2017.With just a bicycle, all the roads connecting the continents seem to become shorter.
PREPARING FOR THE RIDE
People often think that in order to travel around the world, we need to buy fancy bikes, but I think there is no need for expensive touring bikes; instead, I chose a Windspeed bike for only 13 million VND. If two people travel together, it is recommended to choose the same kind of bikes to easily carry the spares and repairing tools. However, we could not find two bikes of the same brand, so we had to buy a new Windspeed bike and a second-hand Surly brand. Besides the bicycles, there are a lot of other things to prepare:
- Repair tools kits, pump, tire, tube, and spare spokes.
- Waterproof roll-top panniers made by Ortleib are suitable for bike packing trips. If you have to carry a lot of stuff, you should take two more Ortlieb’s front panniers to help balance the weight in the front.
- For a long cycling ride through multiple terrains, the bicycle saddle is extremely important. It is recommended to choose a soft saddle to protect your butt, and if you have enough money, you should buy the Brooks’ saddles – the type of leather bicycle saddle that will provide natural “give” by stretching and flexing. If not you can buy saddle pads.
- Before each trip, take into account the distance and learn about the area, especially deserts, to take sufficient water, dried foods, tires, and tubes. When crossing the desert in Xinjiang and Turkmenistan, we could not carry much water, and because I did not drink enough water in the extremely hot weather, I had a terrible headache which was really dangerous.
- Clothing: The less you carry, the lighter your cycling will be. Watch the weather at your place of arrival to consider taking appropriate clothes.
- Bring tents and cooking stoves. Always store some instant noodles to cook in areas where you cannot find a restaurant.
HANDLE SOME UNEXPECTED INCIDENTS
Flat tire: When the tire of the bike gets punctured by a spike or nail, which happens quite often, the tube needs to be replaced. This process is quite simple.
Chain breaking when riding down the pass: In case the chain breaks while on the pass, you should keep calm, keep going and think that the chain is not necessary when riding down the pass. It is important to squeeze the brake slowly and steadily. Use the bottom of your shoes to help slow down and squeeze the brake to reduce speed.
Brakes failing while going down a steep hill or mountain: In this case, staying calm is a life-saving weapon. Keep riding, tightly hold the handlebars, and try to let your foot hit the road slowly then forcefully, and calmly stop the bike. Then you can repair the brake, in the worse case you should walk the bike, go hitchhiking to the nearest hotel or repair store.
On average, we ride 75 kilometres per day, and my speed is about 12 kilometres per hour only. The most suitable time to start is the early morning. We usually get up at 5am, eat breakfast, clean the tent, and leave at 5.30am – 6.00am. We will stop at about 10am to rest for 30 minutes, then continue to ride till noon. We take a rest until 1pm or 1.30pm to avoid the hottest time of the day, ride to a hotel or find the campground before the sunset.
Particularly in the Turkmestan desert area, the temperature is rather high at 45 degree Celcius, so it is better to start riding at 4am, take a break from 1pm to 2pm when the temperature reaches the highest point before continuing the ride. In the Xinjiang desert, we ride until 7pm because in this area the sun sets at 10pm.
On average, you should try to eat more calories by adding bananas, fruits or sweets every 30 minutes. Never let yourself get too hungry or it will leave you feeling exhausted. Carrying a lot of water will make the bike heavy as well as cause you to lose more energy while riding, so it is important to consider the amount of water to carry. We usually carry about 2-3 liters of water if there are many places to buy in the area. However, when riding through remote areas we often carry 5 liters of water. With three to four 1.5-liter bottles.
Regularly lubricate the bike, especially after rain and check the brakes before taking routes through mountainous areas.
Nguyen Kim Ngan | Wanderlust Tips