Two weeks later I had a bad day at work and asked for three months off. I'd worked there just under two years, so my boss was somewhat surprised, but she said that she'd try to see what the company could do. I justified the three months by stating that I was interested in bicycling Vietnam (I was definitely painting myself into a corner now!).

A day or two later I received the bicycling article in the mail. At the end of the story there were the names and addresses of two companies that were arranging organized bicycle tours to Vietnam. This meant that it was do-able. That was great news, but I did have mixed feelings about riding with a group. I phoned the business that was right here in the Bay Area, and, finding myself speaking with one of the actual guides, shared my concerns about traveling with a group, particularly after having already survived a serious solo ride. I was speaking to Mike, a part owner, and one of the tour leaders, and he was supportive. He said that Vietnam was great, that the roads were OK, that I didn't need a mountain bike, or a triple crank, and that it sounded like I could have a good time either with one of his tours or by myself.

Mike was upbeat, and he made bicycling Vietnam sound pretty easy. He clearly knew what he was talking about -- apparently he'd already led a couple of tours, and he was flying over in four days to lead another tour. I thanked him for his frankness, and asked if I could hire him as a "consultant" -- I wanted to ask more questions, but the bias I was developing was to try to do Vietnam independently, which wouldn't benefit his company. I wanted to be fair to him. Mike was OK with my unusual request, and agreed to meet me two days later.

After hanging up with Mike, I phoned the other bike-touring company and chatted for a few minutes. I asked why they started in Hanoi, when Saigon seemed to be the larger, more logical place to start from. "Southerly winds along the coast," I was informed. "You don't want to be biking into them." I filed that fact away. Our conversation never really took off the way the way my earlier call did, and after asking for the company's promotional literature, I hung up.

I prepared for my meeting with Mike. I mounted my Vietnam map on a sheet of cardboard, and placed push pins where my Lonely Planet guidebook said there were accommodations on the stretch between Saigon and Hanoi. There seemed to be a potential problem developing-- my push pins were anywhere from 80 to 160 kilometers apart. I remember from my trans-Europe ride that 80 k was a nice day. Twice, I think, I biked about 110 k, but those were long days, especially with the bike loaded with gear. Camping had made the difference. In Europe, I carried a sleeping bag and tarp, which allowed me to call it a day almost anywhere. Lonely Planet seemed to discourage camping, although the book didn't spell out why. (From reading the rest of the guidebook, it seemed that the issues were snakes, mosquitoes and other vermin.) Lonely Planet also had a reference about not being out at night between towns -- something about bandits and military deserters... The bottom line: camping sure seemed like it was out. I was anxious to see what solutions Mike had to those 160 k days.

Mike showed up the morning we agreed upon, and he continued to be super-positive. He marked off two more towns where hotels were available, and brushed off concerns about the few remaining long stretches. "Flat -- Shouldn't be a problem," he quipped, when I drew his attention to a particularly ugly stretch. Mike didn't even think I needed to upgrade my bike to a triple, although I'd already spent the money. We touched on other concerns of mine. Lonely Planet spelled out not to drink the water, and to avoid anything uncooked. I asked Mike. He advised me that bottled water was available everywhere, and getting sick wasn't a problem, if you stuck with cooked food. Mike's position was that bicycling Vietnam was great fun, but that it wasn't really that hard to do. The hour we had was soon over, and we parted ways. The trip was clearly do-able, and my plans were firming up.

Although capital to capital -- Saigon to Hanoi -- sounded nice, Mike had commented that it got a little barren north of the DMZ, at least up until a place called Vinh. Mike had also suggested heading inland, to Dalat, rather than heading straight to the coast from Saigon. Although both company's tours were capital to capital, each tour was fully supported -- the riders carried no baggage, and hopped into the bus whenever they got tired. I decided that, since I was planning to bicycle alone, carrying all my own gear, I didn't have to make it all the way to Hanoi. I had asked Mike about the winds. "Not a problem," he responded. "At least below the DMZ." My objective was clear, then -- the DMZ -- the old border between North and South Vietnam, and the site of some of the most ferocious fighting during the Vietnam war. I measured it out on my map. It was about 1300 kilometers, or 800 miles, from Saigon.

Ten years earlier I had toured Europe.  
I had slept under a tarp...
which qualified as roughing it...  
but riding Vietnam would be upping the ante...


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