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  • Writer's pictureFlora Le

The Route

After spending a few hours exploring the streets of Hanoi on my motorcycle, I headed back to my hotel.

Around 3pm, I went to meet my guide. We sat in a café near the store. At a tiny table, I opened my map to discuss the route.

Trung ("Tchung") is a 19-year-old mechanic. He studied classical guitar but has been working as a guide for about a year. His English is rudimentary but we manage to communicate the essentials. His smile and his calmness inspire me with confidence.

I explained my plan to do a loop in the north of Vietnam which would end in Halong Bay. After listening to me attentively, he draws a route on the map.

Our first destination will be Sa Pa, a mountainous village near the Chinese border from where we can see Mount Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam. It will take us two days to get there. We will then head east towards the majestic Ba Be Lake. Then, two thirds of the way to the coast, our paths will separate. He will return to Hanoi while I will continue my journey.

In light of this route, I decide to hire Trung for five days. He will spend the first four days with me; the fifth day will be used for his return trip.

Back at the store, Anh Vu asks me:

- When do you want to leave? Without thinking, I answered:

- Tomorrow.

Why did I answer like that? I had no idea. The word had come out of my mouth like an automatism.

The decision didn't make sense. I had been in Vietnam for only two days. I was still under the effects of jet lag. I had not visited any monuments in Hanoi. I also didn't have the necessary equipment for a motorcycle trip in the cold climate of the northern mountains. A reasonable decision would have been to take a few days to rest and prepare myself for what was going to be a demanding trip. However, part of me wanted to pack up as soon as possible.

This impulsive decision was the right one. Since my arrival in Vietnam, I was completely out of my comfort zone. Now that I was there, I was petrified by the idea of doing this motorcycle trip. I started to think about all the risks. I imagined myself freezing to death, lost in the middle of nowhere at nightfall. Or even worse. Fear controlled my thoughts to the point where I began to doubt the feasibility of this project.

I know that feeling of being so scared that you lose the strength to move forward. It's a feeling you often get when climbing. When you find yourself stuck on the wall, you must not stop. You must redouble your efforts and continue to advance.

The body in movement occupies the thoughts. And when the body moves, fear loses its power to occupy the mind. So, to fight anxiety, you have to fight inertia.

I didn't want fear to stop me or change my plans. In fact, I didn't even want to feel it. That's why I had to get on the road as soon as possible.

I agreed with Trung to leave at 9:00 am the next morning. I had a few hours left to find a coat and winter boots.


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