On our last evening in Luang Prabang we meet up with Gill and Bert who we first met outside the China embassy in Viang Chan. "What's your policy on responding to waving motorcyclists?" Bert wanted to know. I must admit I feel no bond whatsoever with Terminator-clad bikers riding noisy farty mechanical warthogs. Dirt bikes, pah. No, we only give our joyous love and kisses to the cycling fraternity, unless they act like shifty sex-tourists. Bert & Gill share ideas about routes through Yunnan. We, as ever, are rather undecided.
The day we ride out of Luang Prabang is the longest day of my life. The road is actually rather nice to ride, lots of small climbs and freewheels, a lovely river to follow upstream, but it's a long road to Pakmong. Along the way we are hailed by the tandem duo of Nawal and Emmanuel. They look lean efficient. I feel like Bilbo Baggins. We have a quick chat and they glide off effortlessly. After 70km we gladly stop for lunch and order a traditional Laos dish - laap - a chopped meat salad that reminds us of Peruvian ceviche. It's a big plate and sets us back more than the 14,000 kip we are expecting. It costs 40,000 kip. There's a world of difference between "sii sip phan" and "sip sii phan", don't you know. In the long afternoon we're glad of the food.
Each village provides cheerleading infants who shout greetings and wave. Later on we pass schools disgorging hundreds of children. Every single one wants to high-five us. By now we're leg-weary and panting up low climbs. It's a struggle just to wipe the sweat off my face. Every little high-fiving boy looks like he 'll knock me over, so I cheat and keep my hand too high for the little scamps. A milestone tells us that we are close to the finish just as two schoolboys make a break from the peloton. Gayle is caught napping, but I mange to catch the back wheel of one. However the lead boy has started his sprint for the finish early and is away. He looks a clear winner, but he's forgotten that last little climb. I get out of the saddle to power into the lead, crossing the line with chest out, fists in the air, the crowd go wild with shouts. Well, no, it's just Nawal calling from the guesthouse I overshoot. She and Emmanuel look like they've just arisen and are ready for a long day's bike ride. We look like we've raced a stage of the Tour De France. Even my socks are caked in brine.
In the evening we meet Alisdair & Rachel at a restaurant. Now we first met this young English couple in a bike shop in Bangkok and then again at Sukothai. They have cycled all the way north through Thailand, crossed into laos and are now heading south to Viang Chan. Along the way they've overcome some technical difficulties (uncomfortable saddle and broken spokes - the things I dread the most) and lived to tell the tale. We're glad to have met them here rather than in passing along the road., but even their youthful exuberance can't keep me from nodding off with exhaustion......