The days following Michael’s departure follow much of the same routine as before. Paul continues to search for a buyer for Tangerine Dream, and I get rid of items I no longer need whilst also buying some that I have been unable to find in smaller Vietnamese cities.
We follow in Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps and have lunch at the famous Lunch Lady. We stock up on our favorite snacks – Tyrell’s for the two of us, gummy bears for me – and finally watch the Top Gear Vietnam special. I stroll through the streets visiting little shops, and we have beers afterwards. Our daily routine may not align with a typical tourist’s schedule, but it is very “us” and it makes me happy.
Eventually, Paul is able to sell Tangerine Dream, and he makes arrangements to leave the city. I decide to leave on the same day. Before I know it, the morning has come around. We check out of the hotel later than intended. Paul’s flight is soon and he is running late. I leave my bags in the lobby, he is packed and ready and soon enough we are standing on the sidewalk hugging goodbye as his taxi waits. I find myself feeling grateful that our goodbye is this rushed. If we had more time, I would be left feeling far too empty. Instead, we say “see you soon, dude,” and he walks to the car. I stand and watch for far too long, waiting until he is in the car and it pulls away from the curb. Sucker. I snap one final mental picture and tell myself: alright. That’s enough, time to go.
I put on my helmet and head straight to a mechanic. I’ve had trouble finding a mechanic that wanted to service Jackie (why, I do not know), but this one finally says that he will. I spend an hour at a nearby café double checking my route and my plans for crossing into Cambodia.
Once my bike is repaired I race back to the hotel, strap my things onto the back and head out of Ho Chi Minh City for my first ever real solo ride. I have decided to go to Can Tho, to visit the Mekong Delta. 172 kilometers; about 4 hours. It seems like a pretty manageable start.
The ride as such, is uneventful. My brain is, for the most part, occupied with memories. As the kilometers disappear beneath me I am vaguely aware that I’m doing it, I’m riding alone, but really my mind is both there and very much gone. I notice that my roadside breaks feel different without anyone there to talk to. Rather than sharing tidbits about the ride, I sit and think, or I swing in a hammock, watching the cars pass me by.
It is only once I get closer to Can Tho that I feel my senses begin to awaken. As I get closer to the delta, there are more and more waterways. I cross one bridge after another, and with each one I cross I wonder whether this is the Mekong river, or whether that is. I remember my boat trip in Laos, I remember traveling with my best friend Louis. I remember meeting Paul.
I am close to Can Tho now, and there is a larger river that I need to cross. The bridge over the river is enormous, rising before me like a mountain. I begin my slow ascent, and as I climb, chasing the other side under the setting sun, I am suddenly euphoric. I come down the other side and before I reach the end I can’t help myself. My left arm goes up in a fist of triumph, my very own Breakfast Club moment, and it is cliché and I am laughing at myself, but my energy is so electric that it feels as though the only place it can go is out.
I am struck once again by how free I feel, and I am yelling into my helmet as I have done so many times before. I am bathing in my glee, I am soaking in my youth, and as I race down the bridge towards fields of green I think: the guys would have loved this, too.