Vietnam postcard

[From January 2009.]

It’s the end of the day, I’ve gone 120k, encounter six or seven late teen boys walking their bikes up an incline, base of a longer climb, should be my last, I approach, roll by grinning, “come on, pedal!” I call. They grin back, then, cryptically, start slapping their thighs, like all of them in unison, then mount up on their bikes, more thigh slapping. I’m cruising alongside mystified, are they celebrating our mode of travel? Complaining about the grade? Then more vigorous thigh slapping, and we’re speeding up, I’m starting to get a certain vibe from them, okay, okay, I get it. Then I’m pointing my nose up the road ahead, lifting my eyebrows, body language shifting into what I hope is the universal sign for “bring it!” In a sporting gesture I leave the bike in the gear it’s in, and we’re off! Out of saddles, leaning straining gasping over the front hub. We’re together for a half k, I’m comfy, we’re like the lead group on a big climb in a grand tour marking each other. All but two are already stressing a bit, then one of the strong ones turns the screws. I match him, the group is shattered, boys on diverse craptacular one speeds getting summarily shelled. Everyone is hooting, laughing, I’m awakened from those so many meditative hours at a steady pace, the climb continues around a switchback, it’s me, Flipflops, and the other kid just holding on. Flipflops lifts the pace some more, he’s pretty fit, what’s this, his school commute? and so I give it 20 pedal strokes and leave them. I can’t observe their reactions, but when I look back a minute later, they’re still in view, losing ground but not giving up.