We leave Trang An in the morning. In truth, we are aiming for Phong Nha where we will meet up with Maeve, but as that is 405 kilometers away, we have split it into two days of driving. We pack up and say goodbye to our remaining friends, then we are off to Vinh, a perfect midway point.
First things first, though, we need gas. We decide to stop for that first and then we can go about covering some ground. As we drive away from our farmstay I am feeling full of energy and excited for what the road will bring.
It does not bring us much. It does not bring us much because about 3 minutes into the drive, I run out of gas.
We cross a bridge and as I do so I feel Elektra begin to jerk ever so slightly. Strange. I’ll just accelerate more, that will fix it. She begins to shake, and we do not gain speed. My fuel gauge is iffy at best but I stare at it, hoping it will give me the answer. Surely this is not happening right now. I accelerate more. More shaking and a loss of speed, and:
The guys are up ahead and about to round a bend. I honk once, then twice but they don’t hear me. I stop along the side of the road and sit in my own laughter. They’ll notice soon enough. It’s like clockwork. They look back, see me, turn back. They find me giggling, shoulders raised up in apology.
“I guess there was less in the tank than I thought.”
Paul offers to go get some gas for me. At least enough to get me to the next gas station. Clay and I wait on the side of the road, laughing at how remarkably short this road trip was. He takes a photo of my guilty face (pictured above).
Soon enough Paul is back with a jerrycan hanging off the back of Tangerine Dream. The jerrycan has a crack in it, so pouring the gas over is tedious, but Elektra gets what she needs. We finish laughing and making fun of me (justified) and get moving again. One quick stop at the gas station for a proper fill up and then we are on the road for real.
We soon hit the highway. The infamous QL1A or Highway 1. When you ride from north to south in Vietnam there are, of course, different routes you can take. Ultimately, however, there are two roads you will have to make a choice between. Highway 1 is one of them. It is a stretch of highway that takes you along the coast and is said to be well paved. The downside is that it is infamous for the high number of trucks and sleeper buses driving at breakneck speeds.
We hit the highway and I happily confirm that the road is indeed smooth. I am less happy to confirm that the number of trucks and buses is absolutely maddening. Have you ever had an enormous transport truck honk it’s even more enormous sounding horn right beside your shoulder as it has rumbled past? I have. Have you ever had that happen one hundred or more times over the span of 5 hours? I think you see where I’m going with this.
There are moments where as they pass me I can feel the wind that follows in their wake, smacking me in the chest. You can feel it coming, the rumble of an enormous engine, massive tires crunching gravel underfoot, then the force of air and the sound it makes. How do you describe that sound? That’s something I wonder while I drive.
It’s in those moments that I also briefly wonder what the hell I am doing out here. Am I aware of what I have gotten myself into? Can I really do this for upwards of 1700 kilometers? The thoughts are there, but they are fleeting because I know there is really no place I’d rather be.
Though the honks of transport trucks and sleeper buses slowly drives me mad and the threat of imminent death keeps me on my toes, I am thoroughly enjoying the ride. These rides have been like that. Many moments of “oh shit that was close,” or “what have I gotten myself into,” but immeasurable moments of absolute enjoyment. I suppose that’s what you call balance.
I enjoy our ride even more when we have our second breakdown of the day. We are two hours in when suddenly Clay falls behind. A quick turn back to find him and he tells us that Ducky is acting up. Hooray, our first team trip to the mechanic. No joke, I am genuinely excited for this part of the experience.
While the mechanic busies himself with the repairs, we sit and spend time with some of the locals who are hanging out there. Clay has a ukelele with him and as he plays, the men smile, giving us thumbs up. A reminder that much like a smile, music is a universal language, too.
Once Ducky is in working order, we hit the road again, but surprise surprise: less than five minutes into it, Elektra runs out of gas. Again. That makes breakdown numero tres. Guys, we are incredibly good at this whole road trip thing.
Good news is we know the drill now. It isn’t long before we hit the road again. The kilometers disappear beneath us and soon enough we are pulling into Vinh. We check into a hotel – a hotel, you guys! – and have much needed showers.
We go out for dinner and find the perfect place. Plastic stools on the sidewalk – my absolute favorite. We have no idea what is being served but we order three of it. And three beers, of course. I kid you not, the food that is dished up is some of the best food I have had in Southeast Asia so far. I would still not be able to tell you what was in it. Was it a stew? Was it beef? Pork? Chicken? There was an egg in there. We order seconds.
We walk home feeling full and happy. We stop at a corner shop and buy chocolates, candies, cookies and beer. When we get back to our hotel room, Paul reveals that he has also bought a Lego toy. As we sit and play with Lego, gorging on candies and chocolates, I look up at these guys and I think:
We’re going to make a great team.