19 January 2019
After one night in Vinh we get on our bikes to head towards Phong Nha. 195 kilometers; piece of cake. I put on my layers (it’s still cold out), strap on my bags and we’re off.
The ride is wonderful. We head inland and pass through smaller towns. School has been let out and an enormous crowd of children in uniform swarms the street. They hop onto their own scooters, often two to a scooter and as we pass one another on the road, they shout “hello” and smile. A group rides alongside me and asks me my name.
Somewhere along the way, we stop for gas and as I open Elektra’s seat up, the entire thing comes off. Standing alongside of the road, watching the guys strap the seat back on with duct tape, howling with laughter, I take another moment to remind myself that this is real. Life is actually this good.
Our drive eventually takes us through a national park – Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. The road climbs upwards and we are surrounded by green. Breathtaking. I see Paul and Clay turning their heads this way and that, taking it all in. I don’t. I am laser focused. I may have ridden +/- 300 kilometers by now, but I am painfully aware that this is only my fourth real day on a motorbike. I just don’t feel confident or comfortable enough yet, and so all I do is take tiny peeks. Peeks just to confirm that yes, it’s true. It is gorgeous out here.
On one of our stops I ask the guys a few questions. First of all, which gear should I be in when I’m going up an incline? Day four, remember? So, sue me.
Second, how can I best maneuver the bends in the road? The road we are on is beautiful but it is winding. Left and right, in and out. The turns are usually quite gradual, but between turning and the incline I know there is something I’m not doing quite right. I’m feeling tense, I can feel my shoulders squared, my back beginning to ache. Anticipating the inevitable collision. Surely there has to be an easier way.
Paul chimes in, “so the thing is, you need to not look at where you are, but you need to look at where you want to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you’re reaching a bend in the road, don’t look at the bit of road you’re on. You’ve got to look into the corner of the bend. The furthest corner you can find. Just stare at it. And just looking at it is going to make you and your bike go to it.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
That sounds absolutely ridiculous to me. But, it’s Paul. Paul. And though I may kick up a fuss, I will ultimately do whatever he says. I can say nothing more than that it is an unwavering trust.
He finishes with, “I know it sounds counterintuitive, but don’t look at where you are or where you’re going, look at where you want to be. It’ll take some getting used to but just trust me.”
“For fuck’s sake.” But, I do.
We get moving again and I put into practice what I’ve been told. It feels counterintuitive as anything, but I stopped looking at the gravel below and the rock face I could potentially smash into and instead I began looking for the corner. Focusing all my concentration on that corner, and whoosh. Flying through with ease.
Look into the corner, look into the corner, whoosh.
Look into the corner, look into the corner, whoosh.
My shoulders relax, the muscles in my back loosen up. I follow the guys through bend after bend, going up, up, up. I put Elektra through her paces and she begins to climb with more ease. Together, we feel unstoppable.
I begin to look around, as well. Not in corners, of course (looking and swooshing, remember?) but on longer stretches of road I find that I begin to feel comfortable enough to turn my head and take it all in. I take in the cold and the smell of earth, I take in the view of rolling hills and trees. Trees, so many trees.
And just when I think it can’t get any better, we reach the most beautiful stretch of highway I have ever seen.
This is not hyperbole, or creative license, or exaggeration. Even now as I write the words a full three months later, I stand by it. This road is perfection.
It catches me entirely by surprise. We are speeding along, and I am examining a rock face to my right. Exposed rock with the most beautiful shades of red, pink and grey. I’ve got goosebumps and I’m wondering how on earth I am going to remember how beautiful this all is. That’s when I turn my head and see the road ahead of me.
It’s a straight road, stretching on and on and on, all the way to the horizon. It is lined with green fields and trees and beyond those lie a mountain range. Enormous lush green mountains, more than I can count and farther than the eyes can see. The clouds are low and everything is cast in a grey-blue haze.
It is absolutely breath taking.
We park our bikes and my mind is buzzing. Ablaze. It seems I’m not the only one. The guys are beside themselves, too. I am squealing, jumping up and down, dancing. Clay hollers into the silence, his voice bouncing from peak to peak. Paul shakes his head as only Paul can, a wry smile on his face. It seems we all agree: this is unbelievable.
I take endless photos. Photos of the mountains, our bikes, us. I know it then as much as I know it now.
This is a moment I will want to suspend in time, forever.