Posts about Unicycling

Vietnam Conclusion

April 20th, 2008

So I’ve been back in the states for some time (nearly a month now). How was the trip? Was it hard to readjust to American life? What happened on my flight back? Let’s see!

The Trip Itself

Riding in a FieldThe short version is that the Vietnam unicycling trip was absolutely amazing. I’m glad I went. To be honest, I was a little worried in the run-up to leaving: Had I trained enough? Could I really do this? I really started to enjoy myself after the first few days of riding when I realized, yes, of course I can ride 300 miles across Vietnam.

The longer version is more multifaceted. The trip, at some point, was the the most fun I’ve had in a long while, the easiest thing I’ve ever done, the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the most un/comfortable thing, and so on. You get the idea. Sometimes these feelings were even simultaneous. When saddle soreness was its worst, you could still look around at the beautiful landscape and still smile when children come running up to say hello. Even when things were hard, I could still find myself right in the middle of the Vietnamese countryside.

The People

One of the great things about the trip was the people who went on it. It turns out that the kind of person who puts their life on hold for three weeks in order to unicycle across Vietnam is the kind of person who is also awesome. Everyone was different, but there was a certain mindset that we all seemed to share. It’s like we all managed to experience the world on our own terms, not the world’s. After all, simply accepting how things are “supposed” to be in life is not very conducive to unicycling.

So Why Do It?

The View BehindI made an in-flight post, leaving America, where I wondered about the purpose of the trip. There are the obvious reasons for going–seeing sights, learning more about the world, etc–but what’s the point of the whole thing? I didn’t really have an answer then, but I’ve thought about it quite a bit since.

I think we choose to do hard things because it makes other things easier. “Hardness” is relative, of course, but that’s exactly the point. This tour was very hard for some people, but quite easy for others. For instance, the multi-mile uphills killed me, because I haven’t done anything like that before, but compared to something like Alps Unitour the hills were actually very minor.

If you boil everything in life down to a single easy->hard scale, doing something on the hard side of things will make everything below it seem easier later. Compared to unicycling across an entire country, other things–starting a business, finishing a project, saying hello to the girl across the bar–are going to seem less daunting. I noticed this same sort of effect years ago when external pressures appeared in my life. After it passed, suddenly other things didn’t seem so worrying (most readers probably know what I’m referring to).

Adjusting to America

I didn’t actually put any thought into adjusting to American life. Obviously I was thinking about adjusting to Vietnamese life on my way there–food, attitude, culture, etc. But for some reason I didn’t consider the adjustment period in coming back.

The first thing that happened was actually a traffic incident at LAX. I was about to cross from the shuttle stop to the terminal, which was across three lanes of traffic. Cars were stopped at the curb in the one lane, another lane was completely empty, and there was a single car beginning to pull out from the curb in the other lane. A totally benign situation. So I started crossing, eager to get to the terminal. If the one moving car hurried up, there might be a conflict, but of course I’m completely visible with my gigantic unicycle bag.

What I didn’t account for was the traffic cop, whistle in mouth, vividly gesturing for cars to keep passing through. He freaked out when he saw me step into the road, practically running towards me, white gloved hands extended, palms outward, with a desperate “Sir, stay back!“. I thought to myself, “Oh yeah, I’m back in America. We’re totally retarded here.” After waiting just long enough for me to get the message, he began gesturing my way and let me pass.

(I missed my connection anyway, as my Taipei flight was late, and stayed in the night in an overpriced LAX hotel so I could shower and eat. It was lame.)

The other thing that struck me, over the next few days, was just how damned lazy Americans are. It’s like we gave up. Maybe the country wasn’t actually this way, but in school they paint the picture of the mid-20th century as a time of action. Americans were eager to prove themselves to the world as a dominant force: militarily, ethically, and intellectually.

Now, though, I feel like the majority gave up. Today Americans seem eager to watch the next American Idol and get fat.

What’s Next?

I haven’t been riding much since I’ve been back–although mostly because I’ve been moving in with Crystal–but I am eager to hit the 36″ before it warms up. My legs are itching for some action, and I feel like I could do a nice multi-hour ride with minimal soreness at this point. Looking forward to it!

I put down a deposit on the Africa unicycle tour happening next June. The adventure continues…

Hanging Out in Saigon

March 24th, 2008

With all of the riding finished up two days ago, in Nha Trang, I had some time to kill in Sagion. We got here Thursday night, had a great last dinner together with the entire group, but I leave on Sunday. That left all of Friday and Saturday to explore the city. Ho Chi Minh City is 8 million people, and much more western-feeling than Hanoi. It’s broken up into districts (technically “Saigon” is districts 1, 3, and 5—think Manhattan vs. New York for semantics).

Touristy Things

With so much time, I could easily accommodate both individual exploration and group tourist activities. Many of the tour riders were sticking around through the weekend, so 11 of us got together and rented a bus to head out to the tunnels. The Viet Cong built a gigantic series of tunnels, initially to fight the French, and then expanded them in the war against America. They’re pretty wild.

The tunnels they take you through have been expanded, thanks to fatty tourists, although one section is supposedly original size. Some of us went through short sections of the tunnels. It’s definitely not the place for anyone with claustrophobia. They have them lit, of course, but it still gets awfully dark, hot, and cramped in parts. We emerged sweaty and grimy. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like scampering through those tunnels in the midst of summer with the chaos and death of war around you.

Saigon, Daytime

I also went around the city’s various sights by myself, spending a few hours each day just walking. I saw the Reunification Palace (bombed by a VC spy in the war, who reportedly works for Vietnam Airlines today), the War Remnants museum, went to the big markets, and generally experienced much of the city. Everything is much more expensive than the rest of Vietnam, but you can still have noodles from a street vendor for 10,000 dong a bowl, or about $0.66. One night we went to a nice Indian place with a group of ten, which was 2,000,000 VND, including plenty of beer. It’s much more than a dinner elsewhere in the country, but of course still less than the states.

Saigon, Nighttime!

I had a new roommate for the last two nights—Geoff, from Australia—and we were both getting tired of the tourist routine. Of course, we still had time to kill, so what better way than to set off into the city for a random night of drinking and shenanigans? I think we left the hotel at 5pm and returned at 3am. Our night included:

  • Steak dinner, only marginally delicious
  • Drinks at the top of each big hotel
  • Congratulating a just-married bride and groom (including a kiss on the cheek, hah)
  • 232,000 VND glasses of cognac
  • Dancing at a jam-packed club named Apocalypse Now
  • Zipping around town on motorbike taxis
  • Spurring our last two bikes into a race (“no, no more money—losers don’t get extra money”)

It definitely accomplished our goal of killing time until we had to leave, especially because the next morning was shot. Without much sleep, and strained livers, it was all we could do to pack, wash our unicycles, and get some food. I left the city at 2pm; I’m actually writing this in an airplane, some 32 hours later, but that’s a sob story for the final Vietnam post…

Vietnam Panorama

March 19th, 2008

I didn’t bother taking series of photographs of panoramas.  Maybe I should have, as they’re awfully sweet, but mostly I was just busy pedaling.  I wanted to take a “candid” one, though, to give people an idea of what an average situation might be.  I stepped off the road yesterday to relieve myself, maybe 10 paces, and this is what it looked like:

Made with the amazing Autostitch.

The Long Day: Complete!

March 19th, 2008

Today had two distinct characteristics. It was long. And it was hot. In fact, it was the longest day of the tour (100km), and it was definitely the hottest (we’re moving south, so things are getting warmer).

Ride, Ride, Ride

I spent 6 hours and 15 minutes pedaling today. Total time, including the short breaks and lunch, was 10 hours. The riding was nice, with some great scenery and mild traffic for much of the day. I took some more photos to give you an idea of how the terrain is changing. By the way, nearly all of the photos are actually taken while riding. It’s gorgeous out here!

Saddle soreness was a big issue for me today, especially before lunch. I stood up and pedaled, played music, and shifted my weight as best I could, but old man gravity just wouldn’t let up. This probably comes as no surprise, but unicycling vast distances is very, very uncomfortable. You may think you can imagine it, but believe me: You can’t. It’s something you need to experience firsthand.

The Heat

It seems like the heat was the major problem for many of the other riders. I made out alright, thanks to my acclimation to Phoenix, but it was still a lot of time in the sun. I’m developing a delightful tan line of my riding shorts/shirt. Most of the time we had a breeze of some kind—even a headwind was welcome—but there were stretches without wind that were just brutal. All told, I think I drank 6L of water today. Everyone has salt cravings come lunch time.

One More Day!

The beach is right across the street from our hotel, so everyone jumped in for a swim to cool down. Next we’re off to our group dinner, before cashing in for an early night. Tomorrow is the last day of riding! Our daily distances have changed from the initial plan, but I think tomorrow is still a measly 60km. It’s not a hard distance, and combined with the light at the end of the tunnel it should be a fantastic day.

We spend the night in Nah Trong tomorrow, and then head to Saigon the following day. Initially we were supposed to take a fancy 12-hour train to get there, but unfortunately the train schedule changed to overnight. There’s not much point in staring at blackness for hours on end, so now we’re flying instead. There’s a night in Saigon included on the tour, and then it’s officially over on Friday morning. I’m hanging around two extra nights to wander the city, and then I return! It’s been a wonderful trip, but I’m definitely looking forward to getting ack to my life too…