Mr. Iik & bike
If you followed reports from the ultralight cycle-touring page, than you know a certain Mr. Iik - a man with two distinctive features: he rides bicycles and has a charming, irresistible smile. After touring for two consecutive years in a civilized manner in France, this year Mr. Iik opted for a more exotic ground: Vietnam and China. What was the motivation for such a tour, he now cannot fully recall, but the highly probable guess is that it was not to lose touch with "true" cycle touring - means adventure, cultural shock, cheap accommodation and food, stealth camping, self-sufficiency, suffering and that sort of thing. As a certified guru of ultralight cycling, he felt compelled to make another weight record for a camping tour: 3.9 kg of luggage, and 13.8 kg including the bike. Here's what he had (weight in grams):

Bicycle 9824 g:
bike 9300
1 bottle cage 26
rear rack 364
lock 44
mirror 30
computer 60
Carriers        256 g:
front bag on the handlebar (a camera bag) 40
small dry-bag for a tent 26
compression bag on the rear rack 82
water bottle 42
bungee strap 66
Wearing 674 g:
cap 30
glasses 20
cycling gloves 30
jersey 138
cycling shorts 166
socks 22
crocs with rain foil 268
Other clothes 1072 g:
wind jacket 136
shorts 188
undershirt 56
leg warmers 104
arm warmers 62
waterproof socks 80
light fleece top 186
gilet 144
nylon socks 10
bandana/towel 26
rain shell gloves x 2 8
warm gloves 38
bathing trunks 34
Night riding 36 g:
front light 18
rear light 18
Photography 142 g:
camera 118
battery charger (USB cable) 24

Tools & spares 254 g:
2 x pump 80
2 minitools (allen keys, screwdriver, chain tool, hex keys, spoke key) 84
duct tape, patch kit 20
spare tube+2 tire levers 70
Camping 1262 g:
tent (without the storage bag) 770
sleeping bag 480
plastic cover (piece of bubble wrap or palstic bag) 12
Cooking 0 g:
plastic spoon 0
plastic toothpick 0
Medical, hygienic & sewing kit 32 g:
tooth brush 6
razor 4
skin ointment 10
white medical tape 10
needle with thread 2
Miscellaneous 216 g:
spare glasses 40
cue sheets 6
pen water filter 20
compass 2
notes, pencil 24
lighter 12
ID, phone card, credit card 64
keys 48
Total 13768 g
Total, without bike 3944 g

Iik's Navigation App for this tour.
Note some minor, ingenious upgrades to his cue-sheet concept,
like color-coded items and top-left notch for quick card orientation
(which might also be used as bottle opener). 


Day 0 (6-October-2013): 3 km. Mr. Iik's plane arrived to Hanoi in the early afternoon. His trip oscillated between watching comedies on in-flight TV and rushing to catch the connecting flights in time. There is a huge crowd travelling around now-days and it is truly fascinating how the schedules, which are stretched to the limits, are working well. The good news is that he paid only 30 Eur to transport the bike from Europe; that kept smile on his face for the whole 35 hours of the trip. A smile of a millionaire broadened after he exchanged the money at the airport: he got 2.8 million dongs for 100 Eur. A bit groggy from the jet-lag, he assembled the bike in slow motion and cycled a couple of km to the hotel he had spotted on Google Earth. A shower, telephone call home and ice-cooled beer completed the day.
A street in some Vietnam town.

Day 1: 137 km. He woke up enthusiastically with the expectation of the really big day - he aimed at 200 km today. This calls for more aerodynamic posture, so he decided to lower the handlebar a bit. In doing so his 4 mm Allen key broke. He wasn't particularly upset as his second tool also had a 4 mm key, but what he didn't know at the time was that this little incident represented a small snow ball that started rolling, eventually growing into avalanche and turning this tour into catastrophe.
Things were working good for the first 50 km on QL3. The traffic is high, composed mostly of motorcyclists with few trucks and buses and fewer cars, but everybody is driving in predictable manner, so everything is flowing smoothly. 10 km before Thai Nguyen Mr. Iik takes a secondary road, more peaceful but with more potholes. Suddenly, there is a big bang and his water bottle was thrown to the ground. He had run in full speed into a pothole that was hidden in the shade. He stops and checks the front tire: flat. The rear one: also flat. Double puncture in first 2 hours of the tour! An absolute record. And what was even more miraculous: both "snake bites" were about 3 cm from the valve. He needs 3 hours and all of his spare patches to repair the punctures. The first thing he did in Thai Nguyen was to buy 8 more patches -  that shows his trust in lightweight and soft tires that he put on for this trip. By the end of the day he reaches Bac Kan and in the evening he went for a beer. The group at the next table was having a party with a whole crate of beer and  a pile of food cooked in banana leaves.
The first lunch.
Enjoying the mud bath.

Day 2: 132 km. A rich day. After the first climb and descent, Mr. Iik stops in Na Young for a pho (noodles). Excellent! He carries on on the secondary road, as usual with less traffic and more potholes. Immediately, there is a new, strange, squealing sound coming from the bike. A quick inspection reveals that the rear rack mount is cracked. He turns back and slowly pedals, while holding the rack with one hand, to the nearest mechanical shop. (These are numerous in Vietnam, which is not surprising, given the number of motorcycles on the road.) In less then half hour and for less then 1 euro the rack mount is welded and repaired, and Mr. Iik can resume the trip. The rest of the day was filled with innumerable climbs and descents with steep gradients up to 20%, asphalt and stones exchanging all the way. All that in fantastic, famous scenery of limestone pinnacles. Steep climbs slow him down, so he gives up hope to make it to Bao Lac today and rather takes a longer lunch brake. Just before dark he finds a rare camping spot and puts up the tent.
A stop for a pho.
Karst 2.

Day 3: 107 km. In the morning Mr. Iik notices the rear tire is flat. He changes the tube, but can not find the cause of the puncture, nor the hole of the puncture itself. The ups and downs follow the rest of the day, as appropriate for Vietnamese Alps. Few kilometers before Meo Vac, he has another puncture on the rear wheel. It seems the puncture is on the inner side of the tube, facing the rim, but again, he can't find the cause. In Meo Vac he finds a room in a rather posh hotel with a couple of white faces hanging in the lobby. In the middle of the night he wakes up with a brilliant idea: to wash his bike in a shower. Showers in Asia usually drain to the floor of the bathroom. This is quite inconvenient, because you are always left with wet feet, but for showering the bike, it is ideal.
Limestone pinnacles.
The only advantage of Asian bathrooms: convenient for washing the bike.

Day 4: 120 km. From Meo Vac there is a climb to 1200 m. That's about the highest point Mr. Iik reached in Vietnam. The passes are not high but are steep and difficult, and the disappointing thing about them is that they don't have a name, are not signposted and nobody will know that you ever climbed them. Even you yourself will forget about them after a while. The scenery is stunning, though. Just as he starts to enjoy it, there is another puncture on the rear wheel. He finally finds the cause of these punctures: the rim tape was only partially covering one spoke hole, which had a sharp edge and that's what was puncturing the tubes. To make the whole thing more Murphy-esque, the valve of the spare tube seemed to leak at high pressure. An hour and a half passed before he could move on. Mr. Iik is a little bit angry about the whole thing: these things should't happen to such an experienced tourer. He gets recompense in a long and fast descent that continues along the river for quite some km. He thought he could reach Ha Giang today, however when deciding between two roads, he chose the one that lead him into dead-end. Lost at the end of the day, he puts up the tent in a tiny space between two rice fields.

Pinnacle scenery.

Day 5: 106 km. Next morning, a return from the dead end, the last big climb to 1100 m and a long, long descent all the way to Vi Xuyen. Down in the plane he realizes how hot it really is: 38 degrees C. Mr. Iik is delighted to the sights of smiling youth, returning from school, holding umbrellas while riding their bikes; it made it easier to bear the heat. In Vi Xuyen he finds the cheapest hotel so far. It was also the best one. And the only one where he didn't have to fight with receptionists to take his bike into the room. There is a certain charm to cheep hotels, much of it coming from a satisfaction of a good deal.
Along the river, ...
.. and on to Ha Giang.
A nice hotel room for 7 Eur.
Day 6: 179 km. Yesterday, his left Achilles's tendon started to hurt. He was pushing too hard on the climbs last few days, and an old injury reoccurred. He finished the Vietnam leg of this tour with a long ride to the border town of Lao Cai. Mostly on flat roads and with several food stops. The last part to the Chinese border features higher traffic, dust, smog and smoke from exhausts and burning hay. As it turned out, appropriate introduction to China.
In the rice field.
Transporting pigs.


Following Red river.
Day 7: 129 km. First thing to do in the morning was to have a coffee. What a fantastic experience it was! Mr. Iik heard that Vietnamese coffee is renown, and now he can say it is with good reason. The coffee is delicately served in two cups, slowly filters from the top pot into the bottom cup where it mixes with melasa. The best coffee he ever had! All that in solemn atmosphere while watching on TV the funeral of a general that fought French in Dien Bien Phu. After the coffee, he went to have his last pho. Great food too! He exchanged what was left of his 2.8 million dongs and then went across the border. The Chinese let him into the country through the passage in the back stage; the entrance through the big stage is not appropriate for someone on a bicycle. The Chinese border town is Hekou(河口), a big town like all Chinese towns. He takes the road that follows Red river, rides through banana plantations and finally arrives in Xinjie, a little crossroad town which is like a plug: traffic that comes from various directions is stuck in the middle of the town in disordered mess of trucks, cars, buses and motorcycles. Thanks to his lightweight concepts (like carrying bicycle over his head) Mr. Iik is out of this traffic mess in few minutes, leaving less fortunate participants to wait in heat and exhausts for hours. After Xinjie the road G326 becomes X102, a road of lesser grade, but much, much better, so Mr. Iik makes fast progress until the wild camp below a viaduct.
Through banana plantations.
Traffic plug in Xinjie.
Day 8: 109 km. After Nansha (南沙)Mr. Iik takes right turn to the north to one of the biggest climbs: 1850 m of altitude gain in 40 km. There's much less water along the road then in Vietnam. The villages are, also unlike in Vietnam, self-centered, houses closed, no restaurants. The region is very industrialized: means dusty and dirty. Entrance into towns is usually accompanied with small traffic chaos and wet mud on the road. And his Achilles's is swollen. He doesn't sound too optimistic today, and it's exactly how he felt.
Beginning of a ...
... climb.
Day 9: 133 km. He spent last night in Jianshui (建水). To start the day with, he orders a big bowl of soup with noodles in a workers restaurant. There are all sorts of things swimming in it, including pieces of liver and a bone with something similar to meat hanging to it. The way out of town is not difficult to find, you just have to ask a few times. With Mr. Iik's cue card, having town names written in Chinese, it's a piece of cake. He rides through Tonghai (通海) and ends the day in Yuxi (玉溪). In the first hotel he was refused, and after five policemen (two in blue and three in black) and a translator came to resolve this big problem, he was advised to check in a five star hotel. In the end he did find something more suitable.
Jianshui. Practicing taiqi in the morning.
Every piece of ground is used to grow vegetables.
Day 10: 119 km. Huh, what a day! He fills his morning energy reserves with a bowl of dumplings. He will need a lot of it this day, as he is about to break his way through dust, dampness and mud. The habit of frequent washing of the truck is disastrous, as it renders the road covered in a layer of black mud and you can imagine what that does to your bike and clothes. Fortunately, the part of the road follows a lake where he can clean himself to a respectable degree. In Anning (宁) he loses way in a labyrinth of new rising suburbs, talks his way out through some minor local roads and roadworks on a highway. He has another puncture. And is refused in another hotel. He's now used to these things and it doesn't bother him any more. A drizzle starts just when he finds a place for the night in a small hotel (a truck stop). 20 yuan for a room and the same for a dinner. It always ends good.
Through dust ...
... and mud ...
... with a smile.

Day 11: 128 km. In the middle of the night he woke and saw a white cloud in a colorless sky. "Maybe it will be clear tomorrow", he thought, but in the morning he sees that it is a cloud coming out of a factory chimney. More peaceful day today, as G320 splits into separate roads for each direction, with a couple of short but dark tunnels.
A village on G320.
Day 12: 121 km. Diarrhea! Iik spent half of the night in the toilet and second half in bed, pondering what to do. In the morning he decides to move on. Before leaving Chuxiong (楚雄), he changes some money in the bank. A very long procedure indeed, so much longer because he left his bike outside the bank, unattended and out of sight. This is one big disadvantage of traveling alone. After 40 flattish kilometers the road starts to rise and asphalt disappears. He notices big increase of traffic, it's like a rush hour. He soon discovers the reason: portion of the highway that was running in parallel was closed for repair, so all of the traffic moved to Iik's road, lifting clouds of dust. A Chinese cycling comrade, that Iik met in this leg, wasn't satisfied either: "Bu hao" was his comment. Mr. Iik couldn't agree more, it was "the bu-ist hao", "buissimo hao". He enjoyed the revenge on the downhill part, where he overtook all the cars he met earlier, the cars being stuck in a long queue, waiting for the entrance to the highway. 90 km before Dali he sees a hotel and bargains down the price to 60 yuan.
New residential blocks are springing up everywhere
- is new baby-boom expected?
Stone works are in high demand.
Day 13: 103 km. At dawn he listens to a mystical rite: a short accordion sound followed by a lonely shriek, everything repeating for an hour. Finally an enjoyable day, with two climbs and two descends on decent roads and in fine weather. Across the restaurant where he had a lunch stop was a swine stable and the pigs were having a loud parliamentary debate. Mr. Iik thought at first that it was too annoying, and wanted to leave, but then he listened more carefully to what pigs had to say, and eventually found that quite bearable, even soothing as a background music of a meditation session. He made an early stop in Dali (大理). He tried to make an international phone call, but after inquiring at the hotel and in the police station, he realized it was a task reserved for only a few privileged ones. He was even refused in an internet cafe, and he couldn't pass the security procedure to connect to his personal e-mail at the receptionist's computer. The informational blockade in China was almost perfect. Or was he just the last living mastodon, travelling the world without a cell phone, GPS, computer or i-something?
Waiting for a lunch (across a swine stable).

Day 14: 98 km. Diarrhea returned last night! In much worse form. Mr. Iik doesn't feel quite well in the morning, but still chooses to carry on toward Lijiang (丽江). He had to make around 10, not very pleasant "pit-stops", until he finds a rest in a hotel 98 km from Dali. Toilet attacks followed to the evening, when he finally concludes that it is time to consult a doctor. On his way to the hospital he stops at the pharmacy and after a mime session on the subject of diarrhea, he gets  two boxes of pills administered. He spends another night making innumerable excursions between the toilet and the bed, where he lies with cramp attacks, sweating and wondering what to do. He wouldn't be surprised if he lost two kilos that night. The disease was sucking water out of  his body; in the morning his legs looked like two stilts. He decides to end the tour.
Fishing boat.


Days 15-27 (2-November-2013):  540 km. Mr. Iik had decided to end the tour. He rides back to Dali and takes two trains, first to Kunming, then to his final destination, Chengdu (成都). He soon starts to regret quitting: the pills seem to have worked to keep the disease at bay, his schedule wasn't too bad and he probably could keep his Achilles's tendon injury under control. But, there was no way back. In Chengdu he had a brilliant idea to at least partially save the tour: to cycle to Balang shan pass which is at altitude above 4500 m and only about 200 km north-west of Chengdu. He cycles to Dujiangyan (都江堰) and stations himself there, waiting for good weather to attack the pass. The good weather never came and all he did was to spent his waiting days in daily trips to the base of the pass at Yingxiu (映秀), then finally cycle back to Chengdu and fly back home.

P.S. He later discovered that the road S303 to Balang Shan pass had been in repair for some time and had been damaged in recent earthquakes, so the climb would be very difficult even in fine weather.
This is hardly a school example of proper packaging of a bike,
but it was free of charge on the train.
Yingxiu. Uninspiring weather to start a 3800 m ascent.
Meditation by the river side on a daily trip
Impressions from the market.

Mr. Iik's tour ended in stunning similarity to his last visit to Asia.  He could repeat the epilogue that he already wrote there: to complain about this and that and to conclude that he won't come to the 3rd world ever again. But he is a bit older now, a bit more experienced and has a different attitude. Even so the tour was a "failure", he did learn something from it. He knows now that a far-away tour is not a magical retreat where you get away from your everyday life, "fill the batteries", make a change, have a doze of adrenalin or adventure. You should not idealize it, it is just a continuation of your life. A big positive aspect of it - the remarkable freedom of travelling from a place to place, leaving everything behind you every day - will only be evident once you return home.

This is hardly a school example of the proper packaging of a bike for the flight, but,
weighing less then 10 kg it was free of charge on the plane
and arrived unscratched to destination after 3 connecting flights.
Ingredients & tools required: roll of scotch tape, piece of cardboard and a razor blade.
Pedals and seat were taken as hand-luggage,
tools & tent spikes (not allowed as hand-luggage) were taped to the rack .

Riding statistics: 1727 km, 19702 m of climbing, 94:38 h of riding, 14 cycling days, 0 rest days. Average per day: 123 km, 1407 m, 6:46 h, 18.2 km/h.