Tag Archives: Biking

Cycling in Vietnam – Hanoi

Day 1:  Our jet-lagged party of six was greeted by our friendly guide Nam upon landing at Hanoi airport in Vietnam  and we felt instantly in good hands. On our trip from the airport to the Authentic Hanoi Hotel, my first thought was “where is the sun”?.   The hazy sky of Hanoi seemed a combination of exhaust, smoke, and humidity, and it was hard to pinpoint where the sun actually resided.

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A roundabout near our hotel

Hanoi is a crazy chaotic city with an astonishing number of small cars, trucks,  scooters, bikes, pedal cabs and people that drive, walk, cycle and park in whatever direction they want, on the roads and sidewalks.   The majority of vehicles are scooters, which carry up to four people, and are often used to carry huge loads including fish traps, produce, poultry, eggs, and building supplies.  Whole families with the dad in front, mom in back, and two small children sandwiched between them are seen everywhere.  Most intersections are  uncontrolled and the infrequent traffic lights are largely ignored.  There is a constant cacophony of honking, and weaving going on, but there’s a certain rhythm to it all that works.  Paul summed up the rules of the road as “Everyone has the right of way;  just don’t hit anyone.”  Road rage seems nonexistent.  But more than half the scooter riders wear face masks to filter out the fumes.

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Intrepid pedestrians

Crossing a busy road for the first time was a life-altering experience.    Traffic will never stop for pedestrians, even at a crosswalk.  Our guide Nam instructed us to raise a hand, move into the fray (and pray), walk slowly but steadily, make no sudden moves,  and weave in between the traffic.  The ‘raise your hand’ step didn’t seem to  be used by the locals, but perhaps helped the locals recognize us as tourists and make some allowances for us.  The method of  give and take, ebb and flow, seems to work.   Nam shared with us a story of his friend who got a ticket from the local police for not stopping at a traffic light.  The police asked him “Did you see the light” and he said “Yes’.  The policeman then asked”  So why didn’t you stop” and he said  “because I didn’t see you”.  Wrong answer, followed by pretty large fine.

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The 1000-eyed Buddha might have foiled the pickpocket

I wasn’t paying attention on the first day while walking in a crowded tourist area in the Old Quarter, around Hoan Kiem Lake,  one hour into our first outing, and  had my wallet stolen from my purse.  Cancelled the cards quickly, but lost some cash.  Took a day to shake off the funk, but it was a reasonably inexpensive lesson.  After several tips with my bag zippers pinned together, I had grown careless.

Dinner out at a nice restaurant with nearby croaking frogs.  Great spring rolls, beer passable.

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The sacred unicorn

Day 2: We also had the second day on our own, so we visited the Museum of Natural History, where we discovered the four most important sacred animals for the Vietnamese – the phoenix, unicorn, turtle and dragon.  Of these, only the turtle closely resembles the western concept.    We now had our “Hanoi legs”:  using bottled water, finding our way around the restaurants and local shops, figuring out the money  (15,000 Dong = 1 Canadian dollar) and how the ATMs work, and returning to the correct hotel at the end of the day.  Still, we kept forgetting to watch for mopeds traveling counterflow on both sides of the street, and seriously doubted our sanity when we contemplated a city tour by bicycle the following day.

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About one ATM in five honoured our cards

We failed to notice that the Temple of Literature was on tomorrow’s tour agenda, and spent a couple of hours marveling at this centuries-old university.

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At the outskirts of Hanoi

Day 3: Our single day of cycling in Hanoi consisted of a visit to crowded cemeteries and rural pottery plants, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (closed Mondays and Fridays, unfortunately for us), the Ethnology Museum,  the One Pillar Pagoda, and the Citadel.  As with almost every meal on this tour, we enjoyed a copious set-menu lunch at a nicely appointed restaurant revealed to us by our guide.  Still enjoying the spring rolls.

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Excess kumquats

After our first and only day of cycling 30 kms within Hanoi, at the end of the day were amazed at how well we had done in the traffic, without feeling the  panic we would have felt doing the same at home.  The relatively slow pace of the cars/scooter/bikes probably made this workable.  Speeds ranged from 10 kph for the latter to 30 for the former.  We finished the day with a colourful water puppet show just a block from the spot I last saw my wallet.

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Nam, our guide for the North

We especially enjoyed the personal stories told us by Nam:  how he’d helped a friend dig up his ancestor after three years in an overcrowded cemetery so his bones could be reburied more compactly;  how he’d paid for his condo with a backpack full of Vietnamese cash (worth about US$ 38,000) delivered by scooter;  how he’d paid his bride’s parents about one percent of that for the ”bride price,” and a bargain at any price.  Friends of Nam’s, faced with a bride price financially out of reach, did an end run around the parents by getting in the family way.

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At the Museum of Ethnology (Objects not to scale)

We were most fascinated by the Ethnology Museum, where we learned a little about some of Vietnam’s many ethnic groups, some male-dominated, others ruled by the women.  We would run into several of these groups during our rural cycling in the days to come.  We tried out some of the houses on stilts, not unlike one we would later spend a night in.  We fell asleep dreaming of the quiet country roads we hoped were in our future.

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Several ethnic minorities live on stilts

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Changing of Ho Chi Minh’s guard

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Kedging for Fun and Non-profits

In sailing terms, kedging is the process of moving a ship forward by sending an anchor out ahead of it, and then pulling the ship forward by hauling on the anchor. This slow and laborious process can be repeated indefinitely.

“Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond”

As the book “Younger Next Year” explains, the same process can be used to pull yourself through the slow and laborious process of a daily exercise regime. The idea is to set a physical stretch goal that will keep you moving forward when the couch is softly calling.

Last year, I had used our upcoming fall cycling trip to the hilly Dalmatian Islands as my kedge, and the thought of those climbs got me out riding our local hills on many a summer’s day.

This year, I elected to participate in a late-August two-day bicycle ride to raise funds for cancer research. However, the real fun began when I elected the optional “challenge” route of 290 km (180 miles.) The longer Day One would be close to double the longest ride I’d ever done.

As I started my training rides, I soon realized that my trusty hybrid cycle was not up to the task. At a top average speed of perhaps 22 kph, I’d be at risk of not finishing before dark. I also wanted to join the local road-riding club for extra weekly motivation, and they had a “no hybrids” policy. So, in April, I acquired an entry-level road bike, the first since my 20s. Shortly after that, I persuaded myself to try “clipless pedals” – so called because the cyclist’s shoes are clipped into the pedals – go figure!

As anyone who’s had their feet attached to the pedals can tell you, a few slow-motion falls are to be expected, especially on days with high cross winds. It hurts a lot less if you land on flat ground rather than a roadside planter. Ouch!

Trying out the new "clipless" pedals

Trying out the new “clipless” pedals

As spring headed towards summer and I worked my way towards 225 km a week, I inched my average ride speed from 22 to 24, then 25, and finally 27 kph. That was the point I’d told myself I’d be ready to join my first group ride. An informal ride was advertised for Tuesday morning: “Pensioners’ Easy Ride.” That sounded good.

I arrived at the meeting point with a slightly bloodied knee – remember those cross winds? The collection of sleek carbon-fiber machines looked intimidating, and some of those “pensioners” must have taken very early retirement. For 20 km, I managed to keep them in sight – although it nearly cost me a lung – after which, they disappeared from view. At the end-of-route coffee stop, they gently suggested the “other” club might be closer to my speed.

Towards the end of the summer, I did manage to get out with the “other” club a few times, and while the rides kept me moving, I was able to hold my own. Good thing! I had my hands full learning the hand signals and other techniques for riding in close formation. This was a very different style of riding than what we do in our recreational club, and I came back from a few “white knuckle” rides with aching fingers.

Fellow riders on the bike trail into Cascade Locks, OR

Fellow riders on the bike trail into Cascade Locks, OR

Meanwhile, our recreational club kept Cheryl and me busy this summer with a number of great rides including a three-day circuit of Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, a multi-day exploration of the BC wine country around Oliver, and a couple days of riding on Washington’s Whidbey and BC’s Pender Island. I knew my training was starting to have an effect when fellow riders remarked on how my hill climbing had improved, and sometimes complained that my “easy” pace seemed to be quickening.

Despite all this, by August I was growing concerned that I still hadn’t proven to my own satisfaction that I could do the ride at month end. So I pushed myself to do longer rides, and ten days ago, I completed my longest ride ever. Although I was still only at 75 percent of Day One, I knew I still had the reserves to do that last 25 percent — and before sunset to boot. Not a moment too soon, as our training advisors soon told us it was time to taper down for event day.

Now, with the ride only a few days off, the kedge has done its work. It got me out cycling on the days I otherwise wouldn’t: when it was too hot, or sprinkling, or when my road bike needed repairs and I needed to take my hybrid. It got me out earlier, later, and longer. My attitude towards hills shifted from “OK, if I have to” to “Bring’ em on – I need the practice!” A 70-km cycle went from being a full-day’s outing to a shorter morning ride.

Cycling Friends, on the ferry to Lummi Is, WA

Cycling Friends, on the ferry to Lummi Is, WA

It got me trying new things such as close-formation riding on a new type of bicycle. I met a whole new set of people I wouldn’t have found otherwise. And it kept me focused on my goal while dealing with a number of mechanical problems such as bent derailleurs, broken spokes, and the need to replace a wheel. And ergonomic problems – I had to hire a bike fitter to implement the recommendations of my physiotherapist. It’s definitely helped my fitness, including loosening a couple of joints that had been over-tight since last October.

This particular kedge has also done something else. It’s allowed me to raise several thousand dollars towards cancer research. For many riders, the fundraising part is the hardest – and many struggle with it. In my case, a number of generous friends, associates, and family members made the job painless. All I had to do was keep them entertained with my painful cycling pratfalls.

Taking a break from cycling on Pender Island, BC

Taking a break from cycling on Pender Island, BC

With only a few days left, I’m looking forward to my weekend ride – forecasts of showers notwithstanding – and already wondering what my next kedge will be. While Cheryl and I plan a 400-km cycling trip in Vietnam early next year, it doesn’t seem solid enough for the purpose. So, I’ll have to come with something else. Stay tuned. I’m off for an evening training ride.

What experience have you had with your own kedges?

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Younger Next Year

Paul is almost half-way through his first year on the Younger Next Year program.  Here’s his interim report…

We were headed out on a multi-day hiking “summer camp” with our outdoor association.  For reading, I had along a copy of “Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge.

There must be some magic in the book.  Despite reading admonitions like the following, I resolved there and then to start the program.

“If you thought there was no easy answers to getting Younger Next Year … um, you were right. It’s a torture. And it lasts the rest of your life.  Serious exercise, SIX DAYS A WEEK, until death. How about them apples? How in the world do we sell a single book? But here’s the funny thing. We sell a ton of them and have, from the beginning. And readers write these amazing letters ALL THE TIME. About how much they like their new lives. And new waist lines. And the look. And the book. Weird.”

Cover of "Younger Next Year: Live Strong,...

Cover via Amazon

My experience has been similar.

I wasn’t exactly a couch potato six months ago.  Despite being a nerdy non-physical kid, long before my 60s, I was a committed exerciser.  I had acquired a Concept 2 rowing machine, which I used almost daily.  I aimed for and generally achieved three to four hours of aerobic exercise a week, and supplemented that with another four to eight hours a week of hiking and biking in the summer.  Getting out more on weekends got easier after we’d joined an outdoor club the year before.

Still, all this activity hadn’t been enough to combat the effects of growing older on maintaining my weight.  From around 155 pounds in my 30s (down from 175), I’d crept up over the years, and was on track to enter my 60s at over 200 pounds.  In 2010, I’d discovered alternate day dieting (a variant of intermittent fasting), and just before Christmas of that year, got back to 155.  I blogged that journey elsewhere.

Staying in that region for the next couple of years proved challenging, but possible.

Then, last June, a friend recommended Younger Next Year.  He wasn’t on it himself, but had received strong recommendations from others crossing the six-decade threshold.

By mid-July I was reading the book in the tent at the summer camp.  The prescription was pretty simple:

"Snow Camp": our group passing scattered snow at one of the summits in July.

“Snow Camp”: our group passing scattered snow at one of the summits in July.

One other feature was the concept of a “kedge” – as Younger Next Year defines it, “a serious adventure trip with friends. Hike, surf, bike, ski, run a marathon – whatever turns you on, even if you’ve never done anything like this before (maybe especially if you haven’t)  and get training.”  At the summer camp, we had the opportunity to do more mountain hiking than I’d ever done before, it was the ideal way to kick off the program.  I actually screamed and kicked very little.  I just started – with several 15-mile mountain hikes – and didn’t stop.

One of the finer points of the exercise program is the need for at least two of the daily exercise routines to be strength training routines.  I had no good options at that time, so I decided to postpone that modification until the Fall.  Meanwhile, between hikes and bike rides, I cranked up my rowing program to a minimum of 45 minutes a day – about 10,000 meters at my rate.

I was soon looking for alternatives to rowing, especially during our travel season when I was so often away from my machine.  I can’t run for miles without causing knee problems due to fallen arches.  A good  alternative is hill running or stair climbing, which allows me to get more exercise in a shorter time. By using a heart monitor, as urged by the book, I determined that I could keep my heart rate in the target range by finding a good hill or stairway, and alternating trotting down with climbing up as fast as I could.  One advantage:  it’s much easier to find a hill than a rowing machine.  We have a great set of beach stairs nearby – over 300 steps with a vertical rise of 150 feet.

By the end of the summer, I’d fallen into a good rhythm, and seldom missed a day – and never two in a week.  It was now time to take on strength training.  A shoulder problem showed me the way.  I’d been struggling with some rotator cuff problems since a game of trampoline dodgeball in the Spring.  Massage and physiotherapy were slow in making a dint in the pain and flexibility challenges.  My family doctor suggested strengthening my upper back muscles, so I sensed some synergy here.

I signed up with a very good local personal fitness trainer, and had her design for me a set of

Before I signed up with the personal trainer, Cheryl and I tried one of her boot camps. At the top of the beach stairs.

Before I signed up with the personal trainer, Cheryl and I tried one of her boot camps. At the top of the beach stairs.

strength training exercises I could do with little or no equipment.  I wanted a routine that I could take with me on trips, and not tie us to destinations with fitness equipment.  PJ came up with a couple of good one-hour high-intensity workouts that involve a lot of plank work, as well as one-legged and asymmetrical arm exercises.  One of its virtues – if you can call it that – is that it’s high enough intensity that I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself or even think about it much until it’s all over.

I’m now two or three months into incorporating these workouts into my daily exercise routine three times a week.  The results were apparent quite quickly.  Within a couple of weeks, I was making progress on both form and repetitions.  The icing on the cake came at the Christmas party for Cheryl’s swim team.  When her swim coach showed up, it was the first time I’d seen her since last year’s party.  One of the first things she said was, “You look like you’ve been bulking up.”  So, in just two months, I’d put on enough muscle mass on my upper body to be noticeable to a trained professional.  Sweet!

It’s a bit early for hard evidence, but I’m also expecting this routine to help with the weight control.  As I’ve been adding muscle bulk, I haven’t been adding weight.  So, my waist size is back at its lowest point reached three years ago, even though now I’m tipping the scale in the low 160s.  For just under six feet, that seems reasonable.

Meanwhile, we’re planning our kedges for the New Year.  We have a number of multi-day bike and kayaking tours arranged for the year.  The most demanding will likely be a week of cycling in Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands, with far higher hills than we’re used to.  Despite the challenges of a more time-consuming job, and despite her younger years, Cheryl has been hot on my heals in implementing the program.  And she’s way out front with kedges, signing up for her first half marathon, her third sprint triathlon, and her first open-water 3000 meter swim race this year.

Looks like the views in Dalmatia will be worth the 1600' hill climbs. This is the island of Vis.  (Photo: Bike Tours Direct)

Looks like the views in Dalmatia will be worth the 1600′ hill climbs. This is the island of Vis. (Photo: Bike Tours Direct)

My family doctor thinks this is a great program.  The only problem, he says, is where do you find the time if you’re not retired?  I’m convinced, and the book has played a big role in this, that it’s a matter of not burying one’s head in the sand about ageing.

I’m off to climb the beach stairs now.  What about you?  Will you be younger next year?

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