Sunday, February 6, 2011

We Have Stories to Tell

After riding bicycles over 600 miles through Vietnam this year, we have compelling stories to tell.  Stories from the open road.  Stories of encounters with people in city and countryside.  Stories of what our Vietnamese friends are experiencing.  Stories of grace breakthroughs.  Stories of fascinating landscapes, intriguing culture, beautiful people, and forward-looking hope. And with our stories, we have some inspiring photos and videos.

Already some of our group members have shared compelling stories and images with school classes, business and civic/service groups and chapels.

Our team members are available to share briefly and succinctly with your group (small or large).  You may contact John Hay, Jr. to arrange a presentation by one of our group.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Video Flashback: Vista at over 3100 Feet Elevation

video
On our tenth day of riding in Vietnam's Central Highlands, we reached the highest elevation of the 650-mile journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang.  We would crest 3565 feet elevation before noon.  Hard riding.  Redemption was found, however, as we descended rapidly, breathtakingly, to a river valley at just over 150 ft. elevation.  The views from on high were wonderful.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Can You Sponsor a Child from Vietnam?

As the photos and stories on this blog make clear, our bicycle excursion was an exhilarating experience for our team members.  But the main point of our trek was to highlight the possibilities for you--our friends, family, associates, fellow congregants, and interested observers--to make an investment in the life of a child in Vietnam.  Through ICCM, you can begin a $25-a-month sponsorship (that's $300 annually) of a Vietnamese child today.

Children may now be sponsored through ICCM. Their photos/names will not be posted online on the ICCM website.  Anyone wishing to sponsor a Vietnamese child through ICCM may contact ICCM Assignments Coordinator Matt Sauder: call 800-342-5531-ext 228. or email matt.sauder@fmcna.org

ICCM is starting with 41 children available for sponsorship in Vietnam.  This is our first-ever sponsorship initiative there. Over time, we hope to make more sponsorship opportunities available.

ICCM is an international child sponsorship and scholarship organization affiliated with Free Methodists that works with over 12,000 sponsors and 21,000 children in 30 nations, providing support for education, food, clothing and some basic medical care.  Learn about ICCM at www.childcareministries.org.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We are Home

Our Bike Vietnam 2011 team is safely home.  It was a long journey, with two 8-hour layovers in international airports and a flight delay in Los Angeles, but we all made it to our respective homes sometime between midnight Monday and the early morning hours of Tuesday.

Now comes the challenge of adjusting day to what was night and night to what was day.  There is a 12-hour difference between USA-EST and Vietnam's time zone.  Actually, that's perhaps the smallest challenge.  Bigger challenges and opportunities are to put into perspective what we have experienced and share it faithfully with our families, friends, associates, faith communities and all who will listen.

We have compelling stories to tell.  Stories from the open road.  Stories of encounters with people.  Stories of what our Vietnamese friends are experiencing.  Stories of grace breakthroughs.  Stories of fascinating landscapes, intriguing culture, beautiful people, and forward-looking hope. Our team members are available to share briefly and succinctly with your group (small or large).  You may contact John Hay, Jr. to arrange a presentation by one of our group.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Longest Day

Bob Yardy and Daniel Shinkle celebrate at the Vietnam Sea
Our Bike Vietnam 2011 team is on its way home after two weeks and 643 rugged cycling miles in Vietnam.  We are pleased with what was accomplished there.  We are hoping that as we share the stories of our experiences and the needs of children and our friends there, more will be accomplished by way of investment in people who are putting their lives on the line.

We are currently in the middle of what must be the longest day of our lives.  It was officially Monday in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as our plane took off at 12:05 am.  Right now, it is around 12:30 pm where we are in Seoul, South Korea.  We have a long layover in the Incheon International Airport.  We had planned to take a train into the city, but when we arrived it is only 7 degrees F outside. None of us have winter clothing or coats, so we decided to stay onsite.  And it will be Monday morning when we arrive in Los Angeles.  It will be Monday late afternoon when we arrive in Chicago.  And will likely be late Monday evening when each of our team members finishes this trek in our own automobiles.

No complaints.  No worries.  No problems.  We're just looking forward to getting home to our loved ones and, yes, our day-to-day work.  We've worked hard in a different way these past two weeks, but we're ready to resume our God-given places in our families, workplaces, congregations and communities.

We all have stories to tell.  We hope those who have followed us will consider inviting us to share our inspiring story with the groups you are a part of.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday in Da Nang

Saturday in Da Nang began with an excellent Vietnamese buffet breakfast at our little hotel near the beach. Afterward, we met with some of our Vietnamese friends to share stories, talk about ICCM sponsorship, share gifts and water filters and encourage one another. Our friends were happy to receive the well-traveled bikes that three of our team members offered to leave in Vietnam.

In the rainy afternoon (the only rain we've had here in two weeks), we traveled south to the ancient town of Hoi An and browsed its quaint shops and cultural center.  The evening was spent boxing bikes, walking to the beach and debriefing on our journey and experiences here.

We are now packing and getting ready for the journey home.  Our flights from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City to Seoul, South Korea to Los Angeles International to Chicago O'Hare include some significant layovers.  We're hoping to tour a bit of Seoul during an 8-hour layover there.  If all goes as scheduled, we should be touching down in Chicago sometime early Monday evening and home by midnight.

Friday, January 14, 2011

We Made it to Da Nang!

Our team started this journey in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on January 1.  We did not know much of what was ahead of us.  We knew we would ride long hours for eleven days.  We knew we faced hilly terrain.  We hoped we would reach our desitnation--Da Nang--intact and without mishap.

Today, we rolled into Da Nang after a 47-mile ride from Thanh My.  We passed miles and miles of rice fields--something we saw only sparsely in the mountains.  The river plain between two mountain ridges provides a wide and fertile place for cultivating rice--a product Vietnam now produces enough to be a major export.

Along today's route, we made a small detour to visit a waterfall that a man at whose little outdoor vending stand told us about.  We weren't sure what it might be like.  The two-km ride up a steep hill was worth it.  We came upon a waterfall that cascaded over 1000 feet from the side of a mountain.  We climbed up among the rocks and stream to get a good look...and a drink from this fresh mountain stream.

Our bicycle train wove its way slowly through the busy thoroughfares of Da Nang, passing through the heart of the city on our way to the beach.  When we finally saw the turbulent surf and waves crashing on the sand with Monkey Mountain just to the north, we knew we'd made it safely.  We rolled our bikes across the sand to the water's edge, dipped our wheels in the Vietnam Sea, then hoisted our bikes overhead in celebration.  John dove into the surf for a brief swim.

It feels good to have pedaled 643 miles and completed this portion of our journey safely.  We're grateful for all the help and support we've received along the way.  Subsequent posts will convey some of the specific ways we've been graced.  For now, we're just glad to have reached our destination.  I think we're all due for a good night's sleep...without expecting to rise at 5:00 am, load up the van and climb on the bikes for another long day of pedaling.  Who knows?  We might just sleep in.

At a Waterfall High in the Mountains

This group photo was taken on Thursday during our ascent to the highest altitudes during Bike Vietnam 2011.  We came upon this fantastic waterfall, not knowing it would be there.  It was like a gift for our toil and an inspiration for the rest of the climbing.  The group endured the mountains.  We are tired and sore, but satisfied with our accomplishment on wheels.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Epic Day

From Dak Pek to Thanh My, Vietnam; 74 miles
Conditions: from 55 F at 7:00 am to 70 F at 4:30 pm; strong headwind, sunny in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon

The Tour de France always has its “penultimate stage,” the one that is at the same time most difficult but most glorious.  That describes our day today.  This is not a race, but it is a tour.  Today was not a stage, but the 10th day of our tour.  It was the most painful and it was the most beautiful.  It was the most difficult and it was the most rewarding.  All of us are very weary from the ride.  But all of us agree that this was the best day of all...so far.

We started riding before 7 am and within a few miles we were climbing and climbing and climbing.  This was “granny gear” day for those of us who had the third small crank on the front cluster.  Up and up we went.  2500 feet.  3000 feet.  3100 feet.  How much higher would we go?  Before 8 am we were at 3300 feet and by 9 am we had crested the highest pass at 3565 feet above sea level. Not Rocky Mountain high, Vietnam highlands high.
And what we saw as we climbed were the best vistas of the entire journey.  We were literally in and above the clouds.  Lots of “oo’s” and “ahh’s” as we climbed.  The realization that we were climbing into glory made the pain almost bearable.

One reward for our toil up the mountain?  Flying down.  No roller coaster ride can compare to the thrill of sailing down a mountain road at somewhere over 30 mph.  We would fly down until the road turned upward for the next climb and then grind way until we crest the next hill and then fly down again.

After about four hours, we had climbed as high as would go and the general descent began.  For all the climbing of the morning, most of the afternoon was downhill along the Ho Chi Minh Trail as it follows this mountain river toward Da Nang.  We descended from over 3500 feet to just over 150 feet above sea level by day’s end.  That’s a lot of fast, breath-taking riding.
So, 74 miles later we rest, satisfied that what has just occurred will live with us the rest of our lives, something we’ll be telling our children and grandchildren about.  It was an epic day.

What we may NOT be telling anyone much about is the huge amount of salts and sugars we have taken in during our breaks in riding during the day.  Well, here's some of the evidence.  Crackers, cookies, dried fruit, and chips along with bananas, oranges and whatever native Vietnamese fruit our friends can find--these have sustained us with some quick energy as we ride.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Deeper into the Mountains

From Kon Tum to Dak Pek
Conditions: from 65 F @ 7:00 am to 80F @ 12:00 pm to 65 F @ 4:00 pm

Our journey today took us into a truly mountain environment, as we drove northward along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  It was our longest day in the saddle—nearly 6 hours—and our longest one-day distance—75 miles.  The terrain was hilly.  We had a strong headwind.  We rode into tribal areas few Westerners ever see.



This was the most remote area we have ridden through.  The level of poverty was high.  Evidence of simple tribal ways was everywhere.  Still, people were gracious.  Children yelled “hello” on their way to school.  But as we moved further north, deeper into the mountains, villages were few and far between.  We felt fortunate to find a small hotel on the edge of Dak Pek in which to spend the night.

Route 14 north of Kon Tum follows the Ho Chi Minh Trail exactly.  The dirt path that was the main forest-covered supply route from Hanoi to the Saigon area during the American War (what it is called here).  It is a hilly, difficult route.  It is said that soldiers would begin their journey in Hanoi with a 70-lb. backpack of supplies, a rifle, and anti-venom and would arrive (if they survived B-52 bombings all along the train) six months later north of Saigon.  The route changed and improved throughout the war so that by war’s end, the time for the 1200-mile trek on foot was down to six weeks.

All along the way, we've observed this cone hat as a basic fixture for working women in towns, villages and countrysides.  Here, Bob Burtch tries one on for size

Look to the Hills


These are the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Here, coffee and rubber are grown in carefully-planted groves that cover every hill. Here, mountain-dwelling villagers tend these orchards, collect latex, dry coffee beans in their front yards, and live ever-so simply.  Here, children walk or ride their bikes to and from school and young people (who isn't young here?) get around villages and towns on Honda motor bikes by the hundreds of thousands.  These are the kinds of hills, we are sure, that might have inspired many a Psalm. This particular region of this beautiful country has been our primary place of toil for seven of the past nine days of cycling. We are now following the historic Ho Chi Minh Trail, the mountain forest supply route on which US B-52s dropped more ordinance in the 1960s than all theaters combined in WWII.  We'll grind our way up and sail down these hills for at least one more full day before heading east toward the Vietnam Sea (South China Sea) coast and Da Nang.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No Two Days the Same

From Chu Se to Kon Tum, Vietnam; about 55 miles
Conditions: 65 F at 7:00 am; 82 F at 1:30 pm; sunny, headwind (wind out of northeast)

Scanning at our blog, it might seem that we're just pedaling from place to place, day after day, riding the same road along the same terrain. But no two days are the same. Each day brings something we haven't seen before, some unexpected vista, some new experience, different dynamics, a twist.  Even what is familiar--a mountainous terrain along Route 14 headed north and northeast through Vietnam--is experienced afresh every day.

First, we awaken every day to the thought: I am in Vietnam. Our journey is unique and privileged. Few Westerners come into this area, much less bicycle together as a group. We know we are representing something greater than ourselves.  So, we ride each day with gratitude and purpose.

Second, every village, town and city has its own uniqueness. Some these towns are built on the crest of a hill, or on the leeward side of one.  Some are built in a valley beside a stream or river. There is similarity in architecture, which is very functional and only minimally ornate, but the work and business and goings on in each hamlet we pedal through is compelling to observe.


Third, "we may never pass this way again" is in our minds and hearts as we ride.  We will never get beyond a vibrant exchange of "hello!" with most, but we ride with a hope for making an impact with our effort, with the investment in children through ICCM, with the investment in projects our friends have requested, and in the lives of some.  Certainly, a ride such as this makes an indelible impression on our own lives.  And we hope that translates into some long-term friendships and a life-investment trajectory regarding Vietnam.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Scenic 68-mile Jaunt to Chu Se

From Buon Ho to Chu Se; about 68 miles; 5 hrs, 16 minutes riding time
Conditions: Sunny and windy; 70 F at 7:00 am; 83 F at 3:00 pm

Our journey in a northeastward direction along Route 14 continues.  We are following a highland ridge, often seeing valleys and distant hills/mountains on both the left and right side as we pedal.  Though we follow the ridge, the road has numerous climbs and downhills.  We had one two-mile climb today that was a real heartbreaker.  However, we made good time today, as there was less wind and were were gently descending to about 1300 feet elevation.

All along the way each day, we are greeted by small children running to the front of their property and waving and yelling "hello!"  School children do the same.  Adults, too, are friendly toward us.  We aren't sure if this is standard behavior for a colorfully-addressed cycling group passing by or if something else is going on.  We have heard that Westerners are not seen in these parts very often.  Perhaps we're a novelty. That's okay.

Our accommodations at little hotels have been good.  The facilities are clean. Almost all floors in Vietnam are marble or some kind of hard, polished tile.  Shoes are removed at the doors.  The hotel rooms are simple and spacious.  We have had Wi-Fi Internet access all but one night thus far.  And, if any of us have time to watch it, cable TV with all major American entertainment channels. Sadly, Vietnamese are learning about USA through our shallow and trashy entertainment media (John's commentary).

We are a truly international team.  Six members are from USA, one is from Canada (Joe James), and our friends from Vietnam switch off riding segments of each day's route.  We had not anticipated this dimension of our team, but our Vietnamese friends insist on sharing in the riding, rather than serving only as guides.  These two young leaders are outstanding in character, strong in spirit, and knowledgeable.  So, as we ride up through Vietnam, all who inquire realize that what they are seeing is not just some cyclists from USA, but an international cycling effort for the sake of a peace investment.

We don't really know the names of the Vietnamese dishes we have been enjoying.  The food is rice-based and rich in boiled vegetables with either beef, chicken, pork or fish added.  Everything seems spicy and hot.  Chilies rule.  We have Pho Bo (a rice-noodle soup with beef) for breakfast.  Last evening, we ate turtle.  This evening, the treat was snake fish (selected out of the onsite pond) that was broiled and prepared in rice-paper roll-ups.  We also had this chicken this evening.  The chicken was good.  The fish was delicious.

A Headwind to Write Home About

From Buon Ma Thuot to Buon Ho
Conditions: sunny, high-70s, very windy

We looked forward to a rather short-mileage day.  Sunday morning, we took a late breakfast at a cafe, met together for an hour of fellowship, and then hopped on our bikes for a relatively short jaunt to the next city on our route—Buon Ho.  We’d be there in a couple of hours if we rode briskly, we thought.

But we weren’t counting on a 20-30-mile per hour headwind.  As we left Buon Ma Thuot, following the mountain ridge that has taken us northeastward for several days, a strong wind hit us head-on.  Typically, we ride at about 14-20 mph on gently rolling terrain.  But though the terrain today was not too hilly, the headwind reduced our speed to 5-10 mph.  It felt like the tougher hills we climbed in the middle of last week, except when we crested a hill we could enjoy the ride down.  With this headwind, there was no resting, just grinding.

About 5 miles from Buon Ho, the route shifted more directly northward and the impact of the headwind subsided.  We rolled into this Central Highlands town by mid-afternoon, checked in at a local hotel and enjoyed dinner together at a restaurant our hosts selected for us (as we have encouraged them to do).

All along our route, we have encountered many rubber tree plantations.  They are carefully platted and tended to.  With careful cuts into the bark, sap is drawn to the surface and drips into a bowl that is attached to the tree.  When the sap dries in the bowl it is a white substance that has the consistency of latex.  This is harvested routinely.  Vietnam is one of the leading international producers of rubber.  Coffee and rubber are its two largest export products.

Tomorrow (Monday, January 10), we will be back to our 100+ kilometer per day routine.  Our hoped-for destination on Monday is Chu Se, another Central Highlands town on Route 14.