Vietnam 2001

This is John Snape’s account:

My Fears
Getting a duff bike.
Getting a dose of the trotters / Montezumas.
Being bunked up with a snorer.
Getting pissed and missing the plane.

The doctor ordered me to drink a lot before, and during the flight, in order to avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Well what about me Liver Doc? Was a question I did not ask, knowing that I was on to a good thing. Two of the above fears were realised. My wake up call came when a French friend of mine not known for mincing his words, said What eees the matter with you John? You have turned into a fat bastard, the laughs have gone out of you. Those words stung. Not because I felt insulted, but because they were true and I knew it.

A couple of years ago, a good mate of mine one Brian Woodworth, sold his sailing boat. The annual boating trips across the Irish Sea and up to Scotland had helped to satisfy my need for adventure, and excitement. The ending of the sailing days left a vacuum. Then in 2001, foot and mouth disease stalked the land. No sailing, and now no mountains, I felt like my arms and legs were being chopped off one by one. One Saturday morning, on impulse, and in the face of a bad weather forecast, I thought stuff it, grabbed my hiking kit at the crack of dawn, and shot off up to Wales. I was greeted by snow covered mountains, sun and clear blue skies,which lasted until late PM when the weather took a turn for the severe. I’d had a good day; with terrific views across the Menai Straits into Anglesey, and made my way down to see that the foot and mouth prohibition notices had gone up. The mountains were closed for the foreseeable future. I began to hate sheep. I got a bad dose of the blues when mountaineering friends from BT (The Bruces) rang me and asked Bruce, we are going to Austria for a long weekend walking in the Alps, can you make it? I could not through business commitments. I felt like a caged animal. I had become aimless and lethargic. I ate too much, drank more than I should, and did little except get unfit, and turn into as my French mate so accurately put it, a fat bastard. I was down in the dumps physically and psychologically, a ship adrift without its rudder. Jacques relentless nagging fired me up. He persuaded me to renew my membership of the Jarvis Heath Hotel Leisure Centre at Bewdley, which proved to be my resurrection, and I thank him for it. Indirectly he opened the gateway to Vietnam.

Once I started going up the gym, I stopped nicking my son Tom’s penguins, and kit kat bars and drastically reduced my intake of beer. In six weeks I lost a stone, and with it the bulk of my pot belly, and all but one of my double chins. Over the following month I lost a further half stone with little effort. Jacques’ scathing, and contemptuous intervention had paid off. By this time, April 2001, I was feeling fitter, livelier, and was on the hunt for something different to do. It had to be, outdoor, interesting and with a fun / people / adventure element to it. I had more or less decided to sign up for a March 2002 ski holiday in Claviere Italy with my froggie mate and his entourage, when Vietnam screamed at me from the gym club notice board. I reached adult hood many years ago but never really grew up. Sometimes the big kid in me overrules common sense, reason, and things learned and that’s how it started. The big kid in me wanted to go to ‘naaam. I put £300 into the charity as a registration fee, and had committed to raise £2000 by the 7th Sept 2001, and a further £500 minimum before the trip in November. I wanted to go to Vietnam more than anywhere, it was only just coming onto the tourist trail; and had fired up my imagination through the many American war films that I had seen. In those films, as the obligatory Yankee helicopters screamed low over the treetops spitting death to those below, my eyes had always drifted off to the scenery. I was captivated by the eyeball-to-eyeball greenness of the country. Palm lined paddy fields, decked by huge, foreboding misty mountains in the background. The stark beauty of that country, at this point seen by myself only via the cinema, or television screen, pleased my eyes. I had to go there.

To this point in my life, year 2001, I had not given charities a lot of thought. As a child I loved the noise and powerful blasts of Salvation Army bands, they enthralled me, and I would rush out to see them when they paraded the streets, or seaside resorts that I visited with my parents.

Before I went into formal training for Vietnam, I would hop on my bike occasionally and do short rides as part of my fitness regime. This took in White Hill, a short, but steep hump just around the corner from where I live. White Hill was good; it got my heart going first thing in the morning and lined me up for a ride onto the Sheepwalks, a nearby ridge with three short, but very steep and separate ascents, before reaching the top. This was an excellent route for a short burst of vigorous exercise, when I had got neither the time nor the inclination to do much else. The Sheep walks also give commanding views across beautiful open countryside, and I like that. Kinver-Bridgnorth-Shatterford-Kinver My first ride in training for Vietnam was on a sunny Sunday morning, a short run of approximately 25 miles. I headed from Kinver to Bridgnorth, then back towards Kidderminster. As I approached the Red Lion pub at Shatterford, I was Shattered; but unhealthily so, and it gave me cause for concern. I started to have serious misgivings about my ability to achieve the level of fitness required, and wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew with this Vietnam Bike Ride caper. I biked on to my mate’s house, Ken and Pauline Rutter, in Trimpley Lane a short distance away, and felt much better after a couple of rounds of toast and a cuppa. Not having breakfast may have been part of the problem. I returned to Kinver without event, when half a mile from home, coming up the last bit of a hill in Kingsford Lane, my right leg suddenly gave notice that it was going to quit. It did this by giving me a severe attack of the cramp, it was painful, and being a whinger, I whinged. There I was with my Vietnam Bike Ride tee shirt on, about to look a complete prat if I was seen by anyone local pushing my bike home. Credibility failure, and public humiliation loomed, but all was not lost. I hit on the idea of changing into a much harder gear, getting up out of thesaddle, and taking the pressure off the offending muscle. It worked, and I skulked home but only just, and nobody knew.

Clee Hill! Just for The Crack. A while later, having discussed Clee Hill with an acquaintance who’s pretty hot stuff on a bike, and similarly likes a challenge, I decided to have a crack at it. Clee Hill, for the un-initiated, is a real monster of a hill, being long of ascent with a steepness to match. I drove to the foot of the Clee and biked up it from the Crown Pub at Hoptonwafers on the Kidderminster side. After 10 mins or so the gradient relented I had it cracked, and made the top in just less than 30 minutes, which is slow. Warm, sunny with magic views, and me feeling good, I rolled down the other side towards Ludlow and turned back only when the hill fizzled out. From the Ludlow side, Clee Hill is something else. It’s shorter, much steeper and consistently so. As I hauled my way up Angel Bank I felt the strain. The arteries in my neck were pulsating such that the sound of my own blood (wouldn’t be anyone else’s would it?) roared in my ears. Should I, an older bloke at the age of 56, be tackling a hill of this size, so soon with minimal training? I could croak it! A saying of Dick Morrell, a portly BT friend of mine sprang to mind. I keep fit, by going to the funerals of my keepfit mates. Would Dick be attending my funeral in a few days time? I felt at this point that it would be unwise to continue, so being unwise I continued, and took the opportunity not to croak it on that occasion, which was good. I felt great, really chuffed in one way, but at the same time strangely deflated, that Clee Hill both ways had not stretched me as I thought it would; I had expected to be shagged out. Only as I approached Bewdley on my way home, did I kick myself for not doing the obvious, and going for it twice. I shall return I thought, and I did several times, once with a vengeance.

The Trip
The journey to Vietnam was a quest in itself, taking twelve and a quarter hours from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur. A two hour wait in KL, preceded a two hour flight to Saigon followed by a few hours sightseeing in Saigon by coach. Saigon suffered from heavy traffic congestion,fumes, and horrendous noise. Everyone who has a horn blows it, and often. The traffic comprised hundreds of mopeds, not many cars, and quite a few lorries and coaches. The traffic appeared to have no order to it. At traffic islands, squadrons of mopeds converged from all directions and no one seemed to give way. It was just like the dodgems at the fair, the only difference being that in the interest of self-preservation, they are all trying to miss and by some miracle they do. Many people on mopeds wore smog masks and quite a few of the women wore elbow length gloves. Often, health conscious pedestrians wore facemasks. Saigon was a traffic nightmare, to attempt to cross the road seemed suicidal, but watching the locals, you sus that you just have to step out into the road and make em have it. If you hesitate once you have set out across the road, you are likely to get hit. It confuses the riders / drivers. You have to keep on walking at a steady pace, and sure enough they do miss you. It’s a little nerve wracking at first, but it has its amusement value, once you get used to it.

Then we were back to the airport for an internal flight north to Da Nang, the old American airbase. The loo on the small plane up to Da Nang was a disgrace. Dun matter that much for a bloke doing a stand up job, but some of the girls on the trip were mightily miffed, and rightly so. On arrival at Da Nang, everyone was tired out in an excited kind of a way, and after a ten-minute drive from the airport we arrived at our hotel at approx 6.30 pm. We had dinner, introductions, and the ride briefing, followed by a few beers. Very few beers in my case, I wanted to enjoy the ride. Here our fate was sealed as to our roommate for the duration. Sadly, I was lumbered with a bloke, but he was an amiable type, by the name of Barry Robinson, an ex colliery nurse, now chief lecturer for the social services in West Yorkshire. Barry was easy going, had a good sense of humour, and did not snore which was a blessing.

Da Nang – Hoi An (20 miles) The day in Vietnam started early at 6am, a routine that was to persist, other than for the two days when we got up at 5.30, and one at 5.00am. The morning was reserved for bike fitting, with a short ride scheduled for the afternoon. I groaned with a westerner’s impatience, at the slowness of the Vietnamese mechanics. Half a dozen of us saw which way the wind was blowing, took the initiative, and decided to slope off for a bit and go walkabout up town Da Nang. We were glad that we had, the sights in the streets adjacent to the hotel will stay with us forever. As far as the eye could see was market. Every inch of the pavement was cluttered with people selling everything imaginable. Fresh fruit, fresh veg of all descriptions, some of it stuff that I had never set eyes on before. All kinds of meats and fish were laid out on slabs, quite exposed to any dust, flies, and fumes. Six hens were lying on the pavementfacing the road, all had their legs tied behind them, and were lying on their breasts contentedly eating meal placed in a plastic tray in front of them. Immediately behind them, one of their mates, alive and clucking a minute or so ago, had been strangled, plucked, and was being gutted and washed down within their earshot and vision!! Why were they still eating? Why weren’t they panicking and trying to escape? Didn’t they know that one of them was going to be next!!! I took a photograph that tells the story. Then a guy appeared on a moped with six ducks hanging from the right side of his handlebar, and six from the left. All were hanging upside down, legs tied together, and alive! Each was trying to lift its headup to see what was going on. Unlike the chickens the ducks looked worried, they knew the score.

We headed back to the hotel and lo and behold my bike was fitted. I gave it a spin around the hotel car park and found that the gears actually worked. Great euphoria and multiple plus points! Then I discovered that the brakes did not work. F*****g hell I don’t believe this! I exclaimed. It was one of my fears, I had got a duff bike! I had a word with Phil, our leader. Phil was a tall, lithe, Danish Jew with a big hooked conk to prove it; he was a great bloke, fit as they come, with a good sense of humour, and otherwise employed by the Israeli government as a cultural advisor. Phil called the mechanic over to have a look at my brakes, and after five minutes of pratting about, they came to the conclusion that nothing could be done, the brake block compound was no good, and they had no spares. What a balls up!! Snape once again, and through no fault of his own (for a change) was up shit creek. A couple of others in the party had a similar problem. But there was a warped irony in this that appealed to me. In my work as a Health and Safety Management Consultant, I set up systems to reduce risks of injury, death, ill health, and to keep other people safe. Help! Brakes or no brakes I intended to have fun, they did bring me to a halt eventually, and that would have to do. One precaution I took, was to remove the straps from my toe clips.

We set off late AM for Hoi An, a beach resort only a short 20 miles away. It was hot and dull, with a good following wind. The scenery was flat, and the paddy fields in this location were uninspiring, the rice being sparse and lacking in the lush sun enhanced greenness that my eyes craved. As the days went by, I built up a warmth and admiration for the fatties of the group. Phil aged 33, was as round as a beer barrel, medium height, and had no neck. He was a Quality Control Manager for Scottish and Newcastle Breweries in Manchester, and was employed no doubt because of his beer barrel shape. Phil’s job was to sup ale all day so I reckoned, though he denied it. Phil was as amiable as they come, a gentle man, a man of few words but many smiles. He struggled desperately on the ride, but always had an aura of happiness about him. As he pulled in to each water stop, his face and neck were ruddy as can be and glazed with streaming sweat, I feared for the guy. The fatties were probably tougher and more determined than those of us at the front. Ken, a building site chippy from Dundee, was a no-nonsense, potbellied, unmitigated fun loving character that liked a drink. Suzanne was a mature woman, run to flab, and Emma a young woman, in her late twenties, had also run to flab. Emma had the distinction of being the first to come off her bike early on the first day. I helped her up and got her kerbside, where though unhurt, she did a very female thing and burst into tears. Later we fell upon a small village in The Marble Mountains. This was a scheduled drinkand fruit stop, providing bottled water, watermelon, and bananas.

We were adjacent to a shop selling ornate carved marble goods, hewn from the bedrock of the mountains. The village was alive with the tap, tap, tapping sounds of a multitude of artisan’s chisels chipping away at the marble, and the sounds of others with their whining power tools. Suddenly, I felt a cool hand with long slender fingers gently take my right arm just above my wrist. I looked down into the open smile of a lovely brown-eyed slender woman. I liked the cool hand, the gentle touch, the friendly smile, and the brown eyed slender woman, Iwas fast warming to Vietnam. What you name? she asked. Me name John I replied instinctively, immediately cottoning on to the lingo. You like see what I got sell you John? she said. Not half. I replied, but I was on an entirely different wavelength. She showed me all sorts of beautifull crafted marble carvings, and not being interested, I shook her off gently,saying Me come buy later. I slipped over the road, paid 1000 dong, and made my way up the steep steps at the side of the Marble Mountain for a bird’s eye view of the locality. Back at the bike the tactile totty homed in on me. I had just got my leg over (my bike) when she came to me looking depressed, and asked me. You no buy something from me now John? That did it, I cracked, I was a lost man. She knew what I had shown an interest in, and had it ready in her hand, a small jewellery box for my daughter.

We were soon at The Hoi An Beach Hotel our destiny for the night. The standard of the accommodation embarrassed us. This was a new, top class hotel, with the beach on one side and a river on the other. This was also a charity bike ride, and we were on it in good faith. Sensing our unease, (we were dead chuffed really) the leader explained that the planned lower grade accommodation had been double booked, and that we had been upgraded at no extra cost to MIND. Many, particularly the women went up town Hoi An. I wanted the sea, and a good swim in it. But it was not the clear blue sea of the brochures, this was Weston-Super-Mare with the tide in. In warm murkywaters, I fought my way out through the breakers, and chatted with the only other guy to make it out there, a mid thirties South African by the name of Sean. Sean had a bloody sense of humour of the dry variety, and throughout the trip the only time that I saw him without a fag in his hand was when he was riding, or swimming. I got dried off and dressed, and suggested to my roommate Barry, that we take our bikes and explore the locality before the sunset.

Hoi An – Quang Ngai on THE ROAD TO HELL!! (80 miles) This was the long one with the wake upcall at 5.00am. We had a ride of eighty miles ahead of us, and a train to catch at the end of it. We were off sharpish at 6.30am, and again it was dull which peeved me. After a few miles we hit highway one. Not for the first time in Vietnam,I thought f*****g hell! I don’t believe this! Highway one was a slaughterhouse designed with cyclists in mind. This was the main road from Hanoi in the north, to Ho Chi Minh City in the south, and was Vietnam’s equivalent of the M1 on a bad day. The road was narrow, having one unmarked lane in each direction, and a little bit of extra tarmac for folks on mopeds etc, but the road’s surface was good. The traffic was very, very heavy, and comprised huge old fashioned lorries, lots of big, old fashioned, and very overcrowded coaches, all of which belched out thick black smoke. It also had the usual heavy crop of mopeds. The smoke formed a dark haze that clinged to the road like a tunnel, and you could taste the acrid choking fumes as you inhaled them. Not very health promoting I thought, as I reconciled myself to the fact that with all of this traffic, piss poor brakes and fumes as well, I was not likely to be a living member of this planet much longer. A pleasant woman by the name of Caroline, fresh plucked from the leafy lanes of Gloucestershire, pulled up alongside me and asked anxiously. What do you think of this John? I looked her dead in the eye, kept my face as straight as I could, and sang to her tunelessly the words from the Chris Rea song This aint no upwardly mobile freeway, oh no this is THE ROAD TO HELL. Caroline was not at amused, she was looking for sympathy and support which was not forthcoming.

Nah Trang to Phan Rang. (67 miles.) We alighted the train at around 6 am, and were taken by our back up coach to a pleasant hotel where we had time to shower, change into our cycling gear, and breakfast. Being a few hundred miles further south now, the temperature was much higher. It was hot! Not only that it was sunny, and I was doubly chuffed. We set off early, and were soon into the lush greenery of rich paddy fields and beautiful clean rivers, wandering lazily from the nearby tree-studded mountains. Palm and banana trees swayed gently in the cooling breeze, and the sun was blazing down. At this point everything that I had wanted from the trip was realised. I was elated, and as happy and contented as a man can be. Perfect scenery, good company, I felt fitter than ever, and was full of seemingly boundless energy. I rediscovered on that day what it feels like to be young. An added bonus was that we were away from the mad, crazy, traffic, fumes and noise of Highway one.

We always got the bulk of the mileage under the belt before lunch, and lunch today was in a picturesque setting at a restaurant on stilts, at the side of a tidal estuary. We sat outside under a roof that provided shade; when looking out across the wide river I saw a weird thing that my eyes and senses could not take in. It was a Vietnamese hat in the middle of the river (pointed end skywards) but not all of it’s rim was in the river, nor was the hat floating downstream with the slow current. My peepers aren’t the best, so I pointed and asked the others What do you makeof that? No sooner the question was asked, than the hat rose out of the water several inches to reveal the head that it was attached to. By now many of us were hanging over the handrail, gawping, transfixed, and agog. What was going on? For ages we could not make head nor tail of it, until finally the woman waded closer, into shallow water, revealing that she had a basket on her back, and was plucking mussels, or shrimps from the bed of the river.

The following day, day four, was the day of the great hill climb up to the mountain town of Dalat, a climb of several thousand feet. After training on Clee Hill, I thought that I would be unassailable, and that I would blow the legs off the field once again. This was not to be. Every dog has his day, and I had just had mine. We arrived at the beachside hotel in Phan Rang, a nice place only about seventy yards through the palms to the waters edge. I was immediately into swim mode, and once again joined up with Sean. Sean revealed that he had been a South African Springbok swimmer in his younger days, and on the strength of this I weighed him up as a bullshitter 1st class. That was until he did as fast, and as perfect showing of the butterfly stroke that I have ever seen. We swam out to a large boat anchored a few hundred yards off shore, tried to board the boat to dive off it by climbing up its anchor rope, (like a couple of overgrown kids) failed, and swam back. Dinner was a beach barbecue and went well with the drinks flowing and me not drinking much. A guitar appeared, and several of the guys had an introverted play around with it, but none of them could bash a song out, it was a frustrating shambles and I got peeved almost to the point of saying give the bloody thing here. I can bash a basic tune out as good as the next, but I don’t sing any too good. Not wishing to look a prat, I abstained with regret. Then the Vietnamese serving staff, for some obscure reason gave a singing of the Vietnamese Anthem that was as boring as hell. Happily, two of our party were getting a bit pissed, Sharon a smashing lively lass, who was a CID plain clothes cop, and her mate Susan a bar owner, both from Plymouth, started taking the piss out of the singing Vietnamese, and their duff efforts. It was funny and embarrassing in equal measure. Finally our crowd gave Bohemian Rhapsody a go, and there the night ended.

Phan Rang-Dalat. (25 miles) The day started with a walk down to the beach that resulted in the only known friction of the trip, with me causing it. Here local fishermen had set a net out in the sea. The net formed an n shape, the top end of which was about three hundred yards offshore, the whole net being suspended by corks. Both shore based ends of the net were gradually being pulled in from the beach, thereby gathering the fish into an ever,decreasing loop. I asked one of the girls to take a photo of me helping to haul the net in, and that got the ball rolling. Soon, there were about sixteen of us hauling in on each end of the net, which was about six minutes from being brought up the beach and its catch revealed. (Previously, I had been watching with great interest for about fifteen minutes, and was determined to see the catch landed) At this point Phil the leader intervened and shouted, Come on now, we have to go. Several dropped the rope immediately, and made to head up the beach. Stuff him, I said, impolitely, but out of Phil’s earshot. It’s our trip not his, we raised the bloody sponsorship money, what difference is a few minutes going to make? I had a point. The sheep, or “conditioned” members of the party, about six of them, obeyed Phil’s exhortations and slinked off obediently like school kids. The rest of us dug our heels in, cocked a determined deaf un, and hauled on the ropes. When the catch was landed it was paltry, and might just about have fed the fisherman and his family for a day. I felt very sorry for them.

From here the coach took us on an hours long journey through hilly, jungle terrain, to the Muc Pass where we joined our bikes. It was a day of steep hills, and blazing unforgiving sunshine, with several having to hop on the support coach. At lunchtime, we were issued with a clear glass bottle of pop each, the pop was a deep yellow colour, and looked like bladderwater. After a couple of swigs it tasted iffy too. The name of the pop, unbelievably was Number 1. As we heaved our way up the mountain to Dalat the temperature dropped significantly,and we regrouped for the last descent into town and our hotel. It was drizzling now, and approaching town the beauty of the group, Lorraine from Peterborough pulled alongside for a chat. In her thirties and with a daughter of 16, she was divorced and seemed happy. In ten minutes I had her life story, some of it tragic from which she had recouped, and become the good fun, outgoing, wildly adventurous and free flowing spirit that she was, she seemed to have it all. After a quick shower, change, and a jar at the impressive hotel, we went up town for a look around. On the way back to the restaurant, a young Vietnamese girl who couldn’t have been more than eighteen, took my arm and said with a smile. I want marry you. Bloody hell Barry, did you hear that? I just had a proposal! Barry laughed, the girl hung on to my arm, and I was really flummoxed. In response I took her arm off mine, bent down towards her, and pointed towards my bald head saying. Me no good for you, me velly old git, got baldie head, you go find nice young man. She got my drift, as she and her mate laughed at my antics and walked off waving and smiling, both parties the better for the encounter.

Dalat to Bao Lac (71 miles) At breakfast in Dalat, I sat with Sharon of CID undercover fame, and her mate Susan. Susan was heavily distressed at having received a bill from the hotel for 97 US dollars for a 15 minute telephone call to the UK. That’s over £60. Susan owned a bar in Plymouth and such I would have thought that she could stand her own corner. But she hadn’t challenged the bill, was plainly distressed feeling ripped off, and seemed relieved when I offered to challenge the bill for her. In the event,the hotel was right, and the rates though rip off, were clearly displayed in reception. As Susan had said it was a business call, I at least got a bill for her to offset against tax. Vietnam, we were told belatedly, is the most expensive place in the world to make a phone call from. Having been told that the first six miles (10km) was down hill, and most of it very steep and bumpy, I decided to take only one spare water bottle on the grounds of no exertion fort he first 10km. This was nearly my undoing from a dehydration point of view.

The sides of the road had deep, concrete, flat-bottomed culverts to carry away the monsoon rains, and the top two corners of this culvert were very sharp. If my front brake cable snapped I would have had it. There was no way that I could have come out of it with bruises. Badly torn flesh, and broken bones would have been the situation at best. I like to think positive, as in it aint going to happen, but knowing it could, I do tend to prepare for that eventuality. In the event of front brake failure, the culvert had to be avoided at all costs. The corners of the culvert, hit at speed, would have rendered my helmet useless, and could easily have opened up my rib cage. Crashing into anything coming uphill, lorries etc, would be fatal. Hitting a lorry going downhill, not a nice thought as lorries are quite hard, but a lower impact speed was a possible option for lesser injuries. Crashing into a fellow cyclist and using him / her as a brake was a consideration but not an option, you could easily catapult them into the culvert, and never live with yourself afterwards. Jumping off the bike was a possibility, but your natural inclination is to stay with it, having at least the doubtful comfort of something to hang on to. In the end I stopped, yanked the front brake on as hard as I could and tried to snap the cable. I couldn’t, and convinced myself from this simple test that it would be ok. So down the steep bumpy road we went, at some speed, throwing caution to the wind. I noticed someone’s water bottle bounce across the road and disappear into the culvert, but did not see mine when it did the same thing. The hill finally petered out without mishap, and we came to our first climb. I reached for my water bottle, grabbed fresh air, looked down and saw it was gone. Not for the first time in Vietnam I thought F*****g hell I don’t believe this! But I did really. I was catching on. Eight miles to go with no water, temperature 84 degrees in the shade, we were in the sun, and had some very good long and steep hills to climb. There was the option of waiting for the support vehicle, but this was not an option in my book. It was a challenge in itself, I have never tried dehydration before, so I got stuck in and waited to see what would happen. Ten minutes before reaching the water stop, my mouth and tongue had become as dry as chalk, and one was sticking to the other. In all other respects I felt fine. Fred, who had also lost his water bottle, but had not drunk much liquid before setting off, was in a state of collapse. He was badly dehydrated and had the shakes. The remainder of the day was uneventful, and our last day of cycling loomed.

Bao Loc – Saigon. (27 miles)! Again the day went by without event. At the very end I stopped to take photos of a river, and Fred, aged fifty one, stopped on the bridge with me. The two of us, who had fought so hard for the lead in the early days, on the last day went over the finishing line at the end of the pack. I made a point of finishing last. The Vietnam bike ride, and the whole bloody marvellous adventure that was Vietnam had ended. A glass of champagne each to celebrate, a riverside meal, and a heartfelt thank you to our Vietnamese support staff, and we were off by coach back to Saigon and The Mother of All Pissups. I had abstained from serious drinking long enough.