Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Laos - Going to the sun

The weather forecast for northern Laos was, again, pretty miserable. The roads in the small town we stayed in had turned to muddy streams and quite bloody frankly we'd had enough... High time for some sunshine we thought! As the continuous stream of dark, water-filled clouds came from China and seemed to revolve around the north of Laos, we decided to head south. Vince and Karen, who we had been travelling with wanted to have a look at war caves and thus decided to stay a day.

The ride was, well, interesting! Heavy rain the day before and overnight had caused quite a few mudslides. We found ourselves slithering through thick layers of mud on mountain roads. Riding through mud isn't my idea of a fun ride. Having a bike fishtailing while trying to get up a hill might be fun when you're on a lightweight motocross bike, on a 420kg+ loaded up one it isn't... Even between the actual mudslides we found the roads covered in slimy mud everywhere. The thousands of potholes in the roads were now obscured and a puddle of water could be anything from shallow to knee deep. On top of that the roads in this part of Laos are so poorly maintained that after just 100 km both Mike and I had sore backs, necks and stonking headaches. It's not the big holes causing it but the thousands and thousands of little ones which hammered our suspension. Our top speed was limited to 40 with an average of perhaps half that at best.

For me, the above would have been enough for one day, but the weather-gods had other ideas. 'Why not throw in thick fog...' they thought... nice. Despite our best efforts our visors and glasses fogged up too. The only way to ride was with the visor open... in the rain. Water was running down our faces and dripping from the helmet liners. It was seriously wet. My head felt like a submarine telescope. After 4 hours of this my UClear decided it had enough too. So much water had entered the microphones that Mike could no longer hear me. At the same time we had to be super alert as Laotians think nothing of riding through this without their headlights on...!

The amazing thing is that despite the weather, the cold... oh... I'd forgot to mention that, it was cold too... and the fog, the kids just kept waving us along. While the grown-ups were all gathered around fires to keep them warm, the kids were running around in t-shirts...! Mike said it must be unusual weather, but looking at the massive ditches next to the roads I wondered if it was so unusual.

We'd only just overtaken two small motorbikes when the fog cleared. we stopped to clean my glasses and the visors, and they overtook us again. Shortly after we overtook them again while they were cleaning theirs... only to run into thick fog shortly after and having to stop to put my glasses away... guess who overtook us again? This went on 3 or 4 times, every time we waved at each other:-) The last 80 km or so was much better, yet when we arrived in Phonsavan we were both happy to be alive. Especially the fog had been dangerous. It was a proper test once again for our gear though! The Rukka jackets and gloves were still dry on the inside, the Altberg boots as well. The icon Variant helmets had no hope at all in these sort of downpours as water was running down either side of the visor. The Avon TrailRiders sure saved the day. Their V-shaped pattern, which had already proven itself on the previous Distanzia models, works equally well on the TrailRiders and kept us 'sunny side up'. That evening we had another massive downpour while everything was covered in thick fog again the next morning. See more in the next post!