The ride after our rest day in Buôn Ma Thuột (BMT) was a short one, just 49 kilometers to Liên Sơn, a town situated on Lak Lake.
Despite the small distance, I was nervous.
When I did this ride the previous year I had pulled my quadriceps while we were cycling out of BMT.
I still didn’t know why this had happened, and I was hoping it wouldn’t happen again.
At the start of the big downhill leading out of the Central Highlands
The rest of the team was in good spirits though, as the end was almost in sight.
Less than 20 minutes into the day, I came up lame again.
I threw my bike into the rear support van and immediately knew my ride was over.
I was furious, crushed and confused.
Why was I able to ride so far without pain, and then just a few days away from Hồ Chí Minh City have everything go wrong?
Fortunately everyone else was fine, and there was some nice scenery as they made their way to Liên Sơn.
We attempted to stay at the Lak Resort there, but this ended up being a perfect illustration of the incompetence of Việt Nam’s hospitality industry:
The place was empty, the pool had no water in it, and neither the wifi nor the cable was working.
We asked for a discount on the overpriced room rates, since we would be bringing in 20 people, but they refused.
We stayed at a cheaper place and prepared for day 22, a 100km cycle to Lâm Hà.
This ended up being a complete nightmare of a day.
Scenery on the way to Liên Sơn
The team took off in the morning, and I was stuck in the rear van, unable to ride.
I got a call saying that one of the riders needed the spare bike that was in the van since she had been in a crash.
We arrived at the accident scene and saw her bike crumpled in the middle of the road next to a motorbike lying on its side.
There was already a big crowd hovering around us.
I learned that two of our riders had been out front, when they noticed rice being dried on the road.
It took up their entire lane, so they moved slightly into the wrong lane in an effort to avoid riding over it.
This was a lightly-trafficked country road, so there wasn’t much oncoming traffic to worry about.
Then, a motorbike coming from the opposite direction drove directly into the lead rider’s bike without even attempting to swerve.
The young woman on the motorbike fell off and was removed from the scene by locals before anybody could even ask her any questions.
The police arrived soon after, and this is when things started getting comical.
They used spray paint to outline the bikes, as if this were a murder scene on CSI, and began taking nonsensical measurements, for example the distance from one of the bike’s front wheels to a random electric pole a ways down the road.
More nosy locals continued to arrive.
I sent the rest of the team on their way since it was a long day, and stayed behind with the two riders involved in the accident and our Việt-Kiều rider, who is fluent in Vietnamese.
The cops continued their hilarious post-accident procedures, and we were informed that we would have to wait for the state police to arrive, since foreigners were involved.
After a few hours of standing around in the blazing heat we were then told to return to Liên Son, which we had barely even left, and go to the police station.
We had no idea how horrible the rest of the day would be.
After arriving at the station the police began questioning the rider involved in the accident.
At this point nobody had her asked if she was alright, they only seemed to care about the woman on the motorbike, who they claimed was in a hospital somewhere bleeding from the ear.
After a few hours of talking in circles they told us we would need to go see her in the hospital, two hours away from town.
We said this was impossible, as we had none of our belongings (they were in the front van) and we had to be in the next town because we were on a tight schedule.
Questionable police work
The police had no concern for us, or anyone in our group.
With darkness coming most of the team was still out on the road.
It had rained, and there were no lights on the highway they were on.
We insisted that we needed to go, since the rear van, which was still with us, had to catch up with the team.
They said the family wanted to meet us.
I offered to buy them bus tickets to meet us in Sài Gòn after the ride ended.
No, now they said.
The family called and said they were demanding VND3 million from us, to help cover medical expenses.
All of the blame and responsibility was placed on us.
And still, no one had asked our rider if she was alright.
Then the family called again and said the woman was ‘bleeding more’, and demanded 9 million.
We were livid, as we couldn’t get any solid information out of everybody.
Where was this supposed hospital, what exactly is wrong with the woman?
Eventually an uncle arrived and we settled on 5 million.
It wasn’t about the money for us, it was about the horrible way we were being treated.
The police treated us like dogs, and the woman’s family saw us as nothing more than walking dollars.
We were convinced this had been nothing more than a scam.
The woman was probably fine.
We should’ve just done what most people do and left as soon as the accident happened.
This is what we got for trying to do things right.
After 12 hours we were finally on our way.
Luckily all of the riders had arrived in Lâm Hà hours earlier.
In my three years in Việt Nam I had never experienced anything like this.
The next three days were uneventful in comparison.
I remained unable to ride, but everyone else did well.
Finally day 25, the last one, arrived.
The team was ecstatic, and rightly so.
They had cycled all the way from Hà Nội, over mountains and through rain and heat and around idiotic drivers.
We had seen parts of this amazing country most foreigners never do, and had met incredibly friendly locals who fortunately helped us to forget the few that didn’t treat us well.
We gathered at the gates of the city zoo and rode down Lê Duẩn to the Reunification Palace, where a big crowd of friends and supporters greeted us with food and drinks.
It was a raucous reception.
We were home.
What an experience!
Of course, H2H is all about charity, and when fundraising ended we had $38,000 for the organizations we support.
Thanks everyone for your support!
By MICHAEL TATARSKI