After 12 days, 415 kilometers, 9 different hotels, one overnight train, two flooded towns, and three flights on Vietnam airways it is time for this amazing group of 37 Flinders fundraisers who have raised over $185,000 to say farewell! After our very long ride we had a few days to enjoy this fantastic country and did it in style. No one really knew how to get on with their day not having a morning briefing but we managed, and we did it together. You would never guess that most of us only just met. An experience like this really does bind people.
As I have said many times before, this element of camaraderie and team spirit is probably my favorite aspect of our Inspired Adventures. You can take 37 near strangers, chuck them in a foreign land together, and within days they will think like a team, act like a family, and joke like lifelong friends. It is truly life-changing.
Below are a few pics from our final dinner. Now get ready to welcome everyone home in just 24 short hours. Finally...
The serious challenge of 415 kilometers cycling behind us, it was now time to take in some of the culture, insights, and history of this spectacular country. That started with a full day of rest in Nha Trang and continued with an internal flight to Saigon, where he headed immediately to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Situated just 45 kilometers from Saigon, this network of more than 250 kilometers of underground tunnels was a bastion of Viet Cong site capability in the south and a major headache for US, South Vietnamese, and Allied troops during the American War (what we call the Vietnam War).
The tunnels themselves range from 3 meters to more than 10 meters underground and are roughly 60 centimeters high and 40 centimeters wide. They once linked underground kitchens, arms depots, bedrooms, wells, booby traps, numerous hidden ways in and out, and even water entry ways into and out of the Saigon river. It is an architectural and logistical wonder as well as a significant site for the war itself.
After crawling through the tunnels ourselves, learning about its structure, and getting a first-hand look at every aspect of the war we hopped back on the bus and zoomed toward Saigon. Dinner this evening was at leisure and tomorrow several of us will be heading to Long Tan, site of the most significant battle fought by Australian troops during the war.
We've still got Flinders, our accomplishment, and all of our friends and family on our minds! GO TEAM!
It was yet another Brilliant day for cycling as team Flinders took the road on the last of our 6 cycling days. Today's distance was 91 kilometers, which would put our cumulative achievement at 415 kilometers! Today's theme was open-ended, allowing each individual to reflect on what had driven them to take on a challenge like this for a charity like Flinders. While that reflection became quite emotional, it was clear that the group appreciated the opportunity to collectively think about what this serious adventure was really for. For a few brief moments - a few short days in rural Vietnam - you can feel like you are not alone in this, and that can actually do something to help.
We flew through the first 50 kilometers! It wasn't easy but with so many Ks behind us, we were now fairly seasoned cyclists; a whole army of little Lances in training, Louise and Thelma said! Lunch was the usual scrambled eggs, tomato, cucumber, cheese, and peanut butter on fresh baguette (don't knock it until you've tried it) and from there we transferred by bus to the top of a hill to begin our last cycle of the entire trip.
The first 11 kilometers were some of the steepest we have cycled and it felt good to have the wind swirling by! At one point Juliette registered 57km/hr on her bike computer. WOOHOO! As we descended into the coastal valley region of Nha Trang you could feel the heat and humidity descending with us. It was like a big sticky hot hug. After a quick water break we began the final stretch and my goodness, was it tough. A nearly constant incline of 2 or 3 degrees, the grueling accent was paired with the hottest temperatures we had experienced to make sure that we would have to work for every last kilometer.
We stopped one kilometer before the finish line to regroup and ride in as a team. There is no way any of us could have done it without the love and support of not only our family and friends at home but, after 8 intense days together, the love and support of our amazing, incredible, inspiring team. Passing that finish line brought cheers, tears, and everything in between. It was a beautiful feeling that will bind these 37 people forever.
Special shout outs today go to two incredible people who cycled through some serious pain to finish with the team. Thelma blew out her knee around 20 kilometers into the day and pushed through (albeit with lots of pain) to bring it home. Nick was fighting what we thought was gastro then thought was an appendicitis but turned out to be an intestinal infection to bring it home for the team as well! In addition, Rachel, Robyn, and Sue led us across the finish line - a fitting moment for our three hardest workers. While it may seem like a holiday going away to Asia, Inspired Adventures are a whole lot more. 415 kilometers cycled, hundreds of thousands of dollars raised, and lives genuinely changed.
With the cycling behind us, we celebrated with a massive Vietnamese barbecue, cocktails, and a dance party. The group thanked our absolutely incredible crew and showed some love for Juliette, who was there every step of the way to support the team from Flinders. From here, it's onward to Saigon to visit the Cu Chi tunnels and Long Tan.
For real, GO TEAM!
It's official! We just finished all 415 kilometers! Look for the full story tomorrow. Right now, it's time to celebrate!
What is amazing about cycling extreme distances is that it makes what used to be extreme distances feel like a relaxed cruise around town. Today we put in a solid 45 kilometers through yet more "undulating" (read: hilly) terrain. It was a terrific ride. The afternoon sun kept us warm while a slight breeze ensured we weren't too warm! At this stage the entire group is fairly expert at dodging cows, motorcycles, large trucks, small trucks, children, chickens, dogs, potholes, and just about anything else that rolls into our path. If it is not bolted to the ground, it is most definitely making a run at one of us!
The true champs today were Nick, Adam, and Robyn. Nick was struggling with gastro and powered through despite a fairly frequent need for a "happy bush." Adam was suffering from some lingering heat stroke but recovered well and finished strong. Poor Robyn lost her balance right at the 20km break and gave us a brilliant stack that left her feeling fine but a touch muddy!
Even with that awesome cycle on the books, I think the highlight of our day was definitely the visit to the orphanage this morning. The group pulled together over $1,200 to buy supplies (thanks heaps to Sue for raising $900!) and we were able to buy:
-600 kilos (1300 pounds) of rice
-70 kilos of powdered baby milk
-70 kilos of washing detergent
-100 liters of cooking oil
-5 kilos of dried fish
-5 kilos of peanuts
-10 winter blankets
-22 double mosquito nets
-300 choco pie candy treats
That's a whole lot of stuff and it took a separate truck to deliver it and all 39 of us to carry it into the facility, where we were greeted by several wonderful nuns who told us about their work with the children (219 at present, all needing a home). After learning a great deal and officially handing over the goods, the kids welcomed us into their mess hall singing all sorts of great songs!
We spent several minutes on two separate sides of the hall, everyone unsure of exactly how to proceed. Finally, I just darted across the room and swept one of the kids into my arms. From there, it was absolute mayhem! We laughed, we joked, we chased, and we laughed some more. I think those who have kids at home were particularly touched, as an experience like this reminds us of how fortunate we are and how much we can do to help. We said goodbye by singing "YMCA" to them (not a pretty site!).
It was an amazing morning and I think we would have been happy to hang around a few more days to play but alas, adventure called. Still, I have no doubt this morning will stay in people's thoughts long after we have left Vietnam. I mean, honestly, look at that face!
90 final kilometers to go tomorrow AND we get to sleep in until 6:30am! You know you are working it went that sounds like a treat. GO TEAM!
Today's shout out goes to Louise, who made some friends along the way and nearly picked up a ride! She also took a rather interesting photo for her donors back home. You'll have to check Facebook for that one!
After a very laid back night in our very beige hotel, it was an early start for this group of 37 ragtag Aussies, as there were 100 kilometers of tarmac to cover before nightfall! Today's theme was "Doing it for the team" and everyone definitely brought their A-game.
The morning cycle was 56 kilometers through what the guides have been describing as "undulating" terrain (read: steep uphills and tiny little downhills) that once again stretched through terraced rice paddies, villages, and, for the first time, jungle. Every single person did a fantastic job conquering every last kilometer. Jacinta (Jax) stayed right up front, showing the boys a thing or two every time we hit an uphill. Juliette tried strapping her video camera to her handle bars and had great success, which means some very lucky people will get to sit through several hours of footage! Symon and Shane stuck together, really looking out for each other. Yo-Yo had the one-liner of the day. She zoomed past me on a fairly serious incline, turned her head to look back, looked right in my eyes and said "eat my dust" then growled. She is one of our oldest participants.
We had another massive lunch of egg and tomato sandwiches, laughing cow cheese, peanut butter, and sugary drinks before a 2-hour bus journey to the starting point of our afternoon 52 kilometer cycle. You know, just a leisurely cruise through the countryside! Thankfully, the first 12 kilometers were almost entirely downhill, which offered some sweet relief to tired legs and bums. The real challenge came in the last 20 kilometers, which was make-or-break for everyone. Having come this far, no one gave up and all of us eeked out every last kilometer, with many of us finishing in the darkness of nighttime.
I can't quite describe the feeling of seeing 37 people complete what was for many, the challenge of a lifetime. There are several cancer survivors on our trip. They are people like Beatrice (above) who were in chemotherapy just 12 months ago and now they are cycling half-way across Vietnam. If that doesn't move you, inspire you, and encourage you to accomplish anything, I don't know what will! Of course, that's what these Inspired Adventures at all about. Early to bed tonight as we are up at 6am again tomorrow to visit an orphanage before putting another 45 kilometers behind us. Go team!
Finally, the shout-out of the day goes to Sarah, who came out of what she thought was the toilet at lunch saying it was "the smallest toilet she had ever seen." Turns out it was the shower and that "tiny toilet" was the drain. Oops!
We awoke to the sounds of city life - motorbikes whizzing by, roosters crowing, children laughing, and every other sound you would expect to h in Vietnam. Today promised to be filled with beautiful scenery and my goodness was it true. This time, the rice paddies and small towns were paired with flowing estuaries filled with fishing boats of all shapes and sizes. If there was anything to keep our minds off of the endless kilometers, it was certainly the sights, sounds, and smells (not always good) of Central Vietnam.
Today the skies were blue, the breeze was light, and the temperature was HOT. For some it was a blessing to get out the rain and wet while for others, the heat proved to be the biggest challenge of the day. It seems the grass is always greener on the other side of the Hai Van Pass! With the sun beating down on us it meant we had to hydrate a great deal more and a lot more frequently. What was maybe a liter in the course of 50km became a liter every 10km!
Special shout out to Rachel and Sue, who were really feeling the heat this afternoon but took a moment, regrouped, and finished every last kilometer for Flinders! Just two years ago Sue was fighting off breast cancer and here she was today keeping up with even the big boys (and our token kid - 16 year old Oscar who is cycling with his Dad, who will have renamed "Oscar's Dad) and holding nothing back. Talk about inspirational!
We arrived at My Lai just before 4pm to visit the museum and memorial dedicated to the site of the worst American atrocity committed against Vietnamese civilians during the war. On that site in the late 1960s, 514 civilian men, women, and children were killed at point blank range. Three soldiers, seeing how wrong this act was, actually commandeered a helicopter and flew 10 people to safety. The Commander of the operation officially apologized in 2008. It was a chilling reminder of the evils of war and a true testament to the perseverance and spirit of the Vietnamese people.
From there it was 10 short kilometers into the sunset to our hotel in Quang Nai, where we are now hunkered down eating and sleeping. There are only 3 activities on this trip - eating, sleeping, and cycling. As I told Symon and Shane today, just do as you are told and you will have a much better time. Did they listen? I'll let you tomorrow. Until then!
One final shout out from Della to her class back in Australia. She wants to make sure all of you are doing your assignments ON TIME and also sends a very big hug your way!
As the last of our massive group of 37 reached the summit of the Hai Van Pass, the entire team breathed a collective sigh of relief while simultaneously cheering our incredible effort. My goodness was it an intense day, but we made it through and we did it all for Flinders!!!
We were cycling away by 7:30am, with 50km to go before lunch and the 10km, 12% incline, unrelenting, unforgiving, nothing but up Hai Van Pass. The first 40km whizzed by, as we cycled through luscious rice fields, rural farms, and small villages that were dotted with a see of children screaming "HELLO. WHAT IS YOUR NAME?" as we passed. Once again most folks started plotting as to how they could sneak an adorable Vietnamese kid home in their suitcase.
The last 10km was, as the guides described it, "quite undulating." it was god practice for our afternoon ascent, as was the onslaught of rain that joined us on our final portion of the journey! Boy did it feel good to hop on that bus, escape the rain, and head to lunch! We munched on delicious seafood spring rolls and noodles while watching the waves lap against the Vietnamese coast before saddling back up at the base of Hai Van Pass and churning up, up, up, up deep into the clouds, the cold, and the stunning views that such elevation offers.
It took nearly an hour for the first of the group to finish and nearly everyone else followed in due time, far exceeding any and all expectations that had for their own abilities. Louise was doing in memory of her mother Marjorie. Briony was doing it for her sister. 12 months ago Beatrice was in alternating rounds of chemo and radiation. Today, she cycled up one of the most intense routes in Asia. Take that cancer!!! Everyone is here for a veery important reason and that positive energy is definitely propelling us forward.
Our theme today was "doing it for Flinders" and the team certainly brought their A-game! We finished in Hoi An, checked into our hotel, and hot the town to celebrate a successful day. Tomorrow promises to be another killer, with 70km ahead of us. For now, it's food, drink, and laughter!
P.S. Thelma and Louise (below) said I could be there Brad Pitt! Score!
We awoke aboard the reunification express to find the water was creeping right up to the tracks! Apparently a cyclone haas whizzed through in the previous days and the aftermath meant that large parts of central Vietnam were submerged. Still, the train pressed on and so did we! It was a quick change at the hotel where we all came dressed to impress in our brilliant cycling jerseys provided by Flinders.
Fitting the bikes was quite an exercise and took the better part of an hour. The BRILLIANT mechanics swapped seats, adjusted handle bars, pumped tires, and set up bike computers until every bit of equipment was just right. From here it was time for a safety briefing on what to expect. If anyone has ever driven, cycled, or walked on the roads of Asia, Latin America, or Africa you know EXACTLY what we were meant to expect: utter chaos, everyone violating every road rule, merging farm animals, and a complete disregard for traffic signals. It's all part of the adventure!
We set off in a break from the rain and it took only 3 kilometers for Kevin to take the award for "first stack." It was a brilliant one as well. He went right over the handle bars up on the sidewalk. Thankfully, he had only one small injury. We quickly patched it up and cycled on. It was a solid 2 more kilometers until the second stack of the day. This one belonged to Nick, who also thought it pertinent to fly clear over his handlebars. Again, injuries were minor and we were back on our saddles within minutes.
Today we explored a thousand-year-old Buddhist temple, a thousand-year-old imperial palace, and some of the most spectacular countryside one could imagine. We criss-crossed through rice paddies, cemeteries, and small villages, 37 jersey-clad Aussies ready to bring their all for Flinders. It didn't take long for the adrenaline to start pumping and the energy levels to shoot sky high. There is something simply magical about cycling through the back roads of the Vietnamese jungle in the pouring rain. It's just out of this world.
Early to bed as we have 80 kilometers tomorrow, including a 10km section that is entirely uphill. Wish us luck!
Today's Totals: 32 kilometers cycled, 5 stacks.