Suddenly, it’s here. No time left to train, to procrastinate; even to pull out. Tomorrow morning at 4 a.m., I will take my place on the dimly lit start line for three days of unremitting pain and suffering. This is the Audax Vietnam 1000.
It really wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be trained, tapered and teed up, ready to burst out of the blocks on a 1000-kilometer rampage up the coast to the city of Danang. And yet here I sit, fat, flabby and feeble, my fingertips still red raw from an inglorious tire-changing debacle on a monsoonal ride a week ago and a knee still stiff and swollen from some geriatric mishap I can’t even recall.
I go to bed at 7:30 p.m., when Spanish people are still ordering lunch, thinking to bank some extra sleep in advance of the all-night-rides ahead. Of course, I can’t fall asleep; who could at 7:30 p.m.? I lie there, fretting over the ever-diminishing number of hours, then minutes, until I must wake up and ride 1,000 kilometers. The more the time passes, the more I fret, making it still less likely that I will fall asleep. Hours go by in this way. I glance at the clock on my phone: 1 a.m. I need to wake up in 2 hours. I finally resign myself to not getting any sleep before I have to wake up. I promptly fall fast asleep. Two hours later, the alarm goes off. Exhausted, I haul myself out of bed.
It’s 3:30 a.m. and a fit-looking posse of endurance athletes is assembling at the entrance of the local school. They’re chatting and laughing and smiling like they’re filming a Pepsi commercial. I’m so tired I can’t control the muscles in my face, which twitch like mild epilepsy. I try to make small talk with some of the less ebullient members of the congregation but even their cheeriness saps what little zest I can muster, so I retreat into a dark corner and wait for someone with a whistle or a flag to send us on our way.
It’s a long ride, so I team up with my athletic friend MAM, in the hope that “a problem shared is a problem halved.” Whoever said that was clearly no mathematician. But while riding with MAM doesn’t do much to diminish the pain, it does provide solace in knowing that someone else is also experiencing the same abject misery as I am. This cheers me up to no end. And the coffee stops are also vastly more entertaining than they would be had I just sat there commiserating with myself.
After 200 km, MAM and I are sitting at a checkpoint where you get your brevet card stamped, when this young woman rider arrives. She looks about 16 years old and fresher than chopped parsley. She asks if she can ride with us. And then there were three! For the next 260 km, we ride together, swapping turns at the front of the group, edging ever closer to our destination for the day; and for me, some desperately needed sleep. After 360 km, we pull into a rather well-appointed hostel for four heaven-sent hours of sweet repose. I can barely keep my eyes open. I go to the room, shower and get into bed. Suddenly I’m wide awake. Three-and-a-half hours to go before I have to wake up. Oh my God, it’s happening again. I lie there, in a state of mild panic as the minutes, and then hours, tick by. Finally, with about one hour until I need to wake up, I resign myself to getting no sleep. I promptly fall fast asleep. One hour later, I am woken by the alarm on my phone. It’s Groundhog Day. I feel like I just walked out of a John Belushi all-nighter.
Downstairs, Miss Parsley, who goes by Tuyen Nguyen when not cycling alongside MAM and me, is looking like a million dollars – and even MAM looks good. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I see a pug looking back at me. It’s going to be a long day.
We ride all morning, all afternoon and well into the night, swapping turns like prison guards changing shifts. The sun beats down on us as we climb mountains and toil through sweltering valleys. I get saddle sores, which sting like paper cuts, as I shift uneasily on the bike. Eventually, I try riding standing up to get some respite from the infestations raging deep within the bowels of Mordor. After 370 kms we pull into the final checkpoint for the day and one more chance of a few hours’ sleep. I go to the room, drop everything on the floor and walk over to the minibar. I take a beer, open it and pour it down my throat like a pelican guzzling a fish. I shower and get into bed. I promptly pass out.
Three hours later, I am woken by the alarm on my phone. I open my eyes. Three hours sleep. I want to cry with joy but I’m too dehydrated. So, I just lay there and take it in. It’s beautiful.
Another day we ride, the three of us; swapping turns on the front. The sun continues to scorch the earth beneath us, the hills come steep and often, but I don’t care. I am awake. I am alive. Another 300 km day passes, and we finally reach the outskirts of Danang. It is past 9 p.m. and the end is near. We are each revitalized at the imminent prospect of finally stepping off the bike and sinking our bruised bodies into a soft cushioned sofa, nursing an ice-cold beer. All of a sudden, Miss Parsley jumps on the pedals and starts drilling it on the front at over 40 km an hour. MAM and I look at each other; I shift uncomfortably in my saddle, heave a sigh and we join in. The three of us are hammering it through downtown Danang, sprinting for the finish in a fluorescent finale to our epic odyssey.
It is done. We have hugged and celebrated and retired to our rooms. I shower and get into bed. I look at the clock on my phone. Twelve hours until I have to wake up. I smile and promptly fall fast asleep.
The Saigon – Da Nang Audax 1000 began on October 26, 2023. A total of 91 cyclists finished with times ranging from 64 hours to 76:34. Dale, Michael and Tuyen each finished with a time of 66:34.
From Audax Randonneurs Vietnam: “Audax, or Randonneuring, are names for a style of self-supported, non-competitive long distance cycling events that started over 100 years ago. These events, traditionally called brevets, take place over distances greater than 200 kilometers and are time limited. Brevets are not races, but an opportunity for riders to challenge themselves. All who finish within the time limit are equally recognized.
“Audax Vietnam was created in 2023 in order for cyclists in Vietnam to enjoy audax riding as well as to assist in offering qualifiers for the 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris 2023. Audax Vietnam is a member club of the sport’s governing body, Audax Club Parisien, which has been validating events since 1921.”
The Paris-Brest-Paris 2023 brevet began on August 20 and attracted 6,749 riders, 75.7 percent of whom finished. Nicolas Dehaan of the Detroit Randonneurs finished first with a time 41:46:30. The average time was 78:57:19. X