the one-day hà giang loop ride from hell

The Hà Giang Loop is a scenic three-day motorcycle ride through the northern mountains of Vietnam that touches waterfalls, remote villages, and even China.

What I experienced was far from that.

The day started off as well as any other with an hour of riding through small towns and villages emerging into a beautiful stretch of mountains and winding roads before the weather decided not to participate and the rain started to pour. Not dismayed (I did have a thin rain jacket to protect me after all), I continued to toot along at my favorite speed of 30km/h, though what I didn’t see coming was the cold of the mountains coupled with said rain. Within minutes I went from being a bit chilly to being cold to shivering uncontrollably to being convinced I was going to catch pneumonia.

After pulling off into the first town to try and dry off/warm up/eat lunch, I realized I wasn’t enjoying myself enough to continue riding for three days in thunderstorms. Instead of backtracking the road I took, Google Maps (up until that point one of my best friends in Southeast Asia) presented me an alternative that would only take “38 minutes longer.”

Lesson: However long Google Maps tells you it’s going to take, double it. At least.  

Why not right? It’s 2 PM, so I can’t possibly get back later than 5 PM this evening.

Wrong.

After a beautiful first 45 minutes driving through empty roads past quiet villages and beautiful nature, my trusty navigation told me to turn onto a rock and mud path. As I was too far to turn back and there was no possible way to cut across the river, I began to climb switchbacks buoyed by a local kid on a motorbike nodding his head when I pointed and mentioned Hà Giang. Following me for a kilometer or two, our last point of contact was when he shouted and I turned around to see my bag being dragged in the mud.

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At this point still relatively confident I would make it back, I continued climbing up roads that to be called hiking trails would even be generous. Large boulders and tracks of mud abound, I saw no other people for about an hour and a half. That’s when things got a bit wild.

The sun was slowly creeping away, my bike ran out of fuel, and the phrase “are we there yet?” was in full swing. Every time I looked at my map it was as if I’d made no progress, and the reality kicked in that I was in the middle of the mountains about 30km from society with no emergency exit: there were no side roads to cut through, no food or water, no small villages, no abort button. Even if I had a working cell phone, there was no possible way anyone would be able reach me except climb said path in the dark, which wasn’t going to happen.

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Note the distance left at 5 PM after a 2 PM start.

The range of thoughts included:

“Am I going to have to sleep in the bushes somewhere?”

“There’s no way I make it down in time, and when the sun goes down I’ll just have to push the bike 20 miles home.”

“Google Maps is trying to fucking kill me what was it thinking sending me here.”

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When the road finally began to improve.

To spare you all the details, after five hours of riding down hills with the engine off and up hills with the engine on to conserve what little fuel I had left and falling over and losing a bike mirror in the process, I managed to find a hut that sold me enough fuel to make it back in the darkness. Six godforsaken hours later I made it back.

Ride safe y’all.

Tl;dr It started raining while riding through the mountains and I got too cold and wet so had I to take a detour and get lost in the middle of the mountains about 20 miles off the path with no gas and the sun going down.

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