We depart the next day with Emmanuel & Nawal towards Oudomxay. Needless to say, It's the longest day of my life. Almost immediately the road begins to climb. It keeps climbing for about 30km. Back at home we live near a long valley road known by many cyclists for being the longest continual incline in England (rising 320 metres in about 9km) . It's called Cragg Vale. We have never cycled up it, but it was on my To Do List. At the top of Cragg Vale is a lovely lonely pub serving Marston's beer. At some point in our three-hour crawl up the road I begin to look forward to that pint. Deluded fool. The only thing waiting for us at the top is the road downwards.
We descend and pass through a few dusty poor villages. We can't see anywhere to eat so fall back on our supply of peanut brittle. And then we climb again. A thigh-buster. No really steep inclines, but after our 110km yesterday and the climb this morning, we're beginning to fade faster than the sun. Gayle, dehydrated and hungry, is hallucinating that we're in the Himalaya. I'd share more brittle with her and my water, if only she would catch me up. At one point I realise I can push the sodding bike faster than I can pedal it.
And then, gloriously, the landscape opens up in front of us and as the sun softens in the haze, we gaze down upon blue hills and a beautiful descending road. We freewheel with all the gusto we can muster almost all the way into town. At the guesthouse Nawal and Emmanuel are looking daisy fresh. We eat together in the evening and Gayle and I make a particular effort to stuff our faces. We stay two days in Oudomxay. It's not a remarkable place but after one rest day we can't resist another.
We wave farewell to our French companions who point their tandem towards Vietnam, and then we go for a short ride without baggage to stretch our legs. After an hour I regret losing my gloves back in Luang Prabang. I also regret trying to be a BMX bandit on a badly broken road. And I particularly regret riding into that sandy patch and falling onto that rocky patch. I'm 42 but I can still fall off my bike like an 8 year-old. Gayle clucks sympathetically whilst making it clear I have only myself to blame. She hasn't seen me fall but I know she's right. I'm covered in dust, grazes and have two gritty palms. I should stick to cycle-touring.