So we landed in Da Nang, after flying down the coast from the North. This was the area where most of the fighting was, so many decades ago. You couldn’t tell, in town. We only stayed for a minute, before hopping on a bus to Hue. My face was glued to the bus window, only partially because I had forgotten my book in the baggage that now resided in the baggage compartment underneath me.
Hue was mostly a jumping off point for day trips to nearby temples, of which there were many. Emperors of dynasties past resided permanently behind and beneath giant stones within. We hopped on a scooter, and were guided to three of them in our first day there.
Three: Thien Mu Pagoda was the home of Tich Quang Duc, famed for self-immolating in protest of the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government in 1963. The blue Austin can be seen in the background of the photo of him on fire, and is the car he drove himself into Saigon with.
The next day we visited the Royal Palace in the center of Hue. A formidable sight from any angle, it was the location of a significant amount of fighting during the war. Bullet holes and blasted back steel still remain as stark reminders of what once occurred there. The palace is being restored to its original splendor by craftsmen who are doing all of the painstaking work by hand, as it was done the first time.
Street food was available everywhere, along with 24-hour massage parlors and special deals for guests of our hotel.
After getting our fill of Hue, we raced a storm back through Da Nang, to Hoi An.
From there, we took a day trip to My Son, a site in the woods that was a temple, then became a Viet Cong base, and was then bombed into the ground. Parts of it are being rebuilt with different color stone, to show the original shape while attempting to preserve its current state.
Hoi An itself is as much of a tourist trap as we could find in Vietnam, but still retained a charm not found in the many other such places I’ve been. It still felt like a sleepy little town on the water, but it never really slowed down, active late into the night and early in the morning.
We rented a scooter and tried to get lost, succeeding only in finding a construction site on the beach and a resort hotel with a view of the ocean that brought us back again the next day.
Night in Hoi An was my favorite, by far.
…and just like that, Hoi An was behind us, and Da Nang was hardly a blip on the radar before we left it, too, and headed further south to Ho Chi Minh City.
I turned left, away from San Francisco, and drove down the coast as far as Santa Barbara. Then, I turned around and drove back up. I spent a few nights lazily meandering up and down the 1, pulling to the shoulder to crash for the night, then doing it again. I wandered down to the water and napped on the rocks during the day. The days blurred together again, save the hundred miles I drove with a hitchhiking passenger, listening to his life story and plans for the future.
Then, one day I woke up and decided I was done looking at the ocean, and I wanted to see some mountains. I turned inland, and drove until the roads turned to dirt. There went another blur of days drinking beer near rushing streams, sleeping in windy valleys as the truck rocked back and forth, and resting the afternoons away in my hammock.
Somewhere in the mountains my motor started overheating, and I popped the hood only to be greeted with the spray of steam and boiling coolant from a busted radiator hose. I fixed the hose, and the radiator blew its top. From there out it was a healthy mix of coasting and driving to get out of the mountains. I arrived at a shop in the foothills at 4:50 on a Friday, and for a case of beer and $60 cash, 5 guys replaced my radiator in 10 minutes flat. Efficiency is easy when you want to get the hell out of Dodge.
I decided that the truck had had enough of the mountains, and spent a night in the desert before heading back for another go at the weirdness of Los Angeles.
One night was all it took, and it was East to Vegas for a night, then Hoover Dam and a straight shot back to my busted bike in Henrietta.
I finally got a look at the damage, loaded it up, and hauled it back to DC in a night.
It had been just over three weeks since the race at Laguna Seca, but it felt like a lifetime.