Mind or Matter? 

So, we all know the old proverb mind over matter. The phrase has somewhat lost its original sense of meaning, which was to do with the evolution of man over animal, but is now more commonly used to express the test of human willpower or ability to overcome challenges…….passing driving tests, running marathons etc. Now, over the past few weeks I’ve thought about this proverb countless times in relation to my adventure, come on Fenja you can do this, Fenja why are you struggling so much today just put your mind to it. That sort of thing. 
For weeks I’ve tested the theory and it has tested me in return, and for weeks I couldn’t find any correlation. Sometimes I’d start the day feeling great after a solid nights sleep and a hearty breakfast, panniers perfectly packed and feeling great about the day’s ride, but as soon as I’d start riding the struggle was instant. On the flipside, I’ve woken up a bit groggy from one too many beers the night before or feeling the effects of food poisoning, with a huge ride ahead of me and I breeze through. I’ve pondered time and time again and for weeks I couldn’t make sense of it. 
But in the days after rolling out of the haze that was Hanoi, I finally found the answer. 
Actually, hold that thought, I just want to touch on Vietnam, I’ll come back to the mind and matter thing. Vietnam has really left me with mixed feelings, I’m still trying to work out whether I liked it or not. My final days in Laos were wonderful, spent riding with dad, in the glorious heat, surrounded by stunning limestone mountains and encouraged by the friendly locals. The border was at the top of a ridge of mountains and as we crossed the border both the climate and landscape changed dramatically, so far on my journey there hasn’t been a more stark contrast between two countries. The western Laotian side of the mountains was dry and craggy, a bit like a scene out of a western with limestone outcrops and dry river beds but the eastern Vietnamese side was instantly cooler, wetter and was like we were up in the cloudy canopy of the amazon rainforest. We had a 25km descent down a road with hundreds of switchbacks and my cheeks hurt by the time we got to the bottom from smiling so much. It was a magical feeling, I felt so small in comparison to the huge vertical structures that I was leaving behind me, and to be entangled in the cloudy mist was quite something. 
When we got to the bottom of the hill and into civilisation immediately I felt tense, it seemed as if I was being watched by suspicious eyes, it felt hostile. I could tell that dad felt it too. I thought perhaps it was just because the Laotians had been so incredibly friendly that anything in comparison would feel unfriendly, but the feeling remained. Adding to my feeling of tension were the roads. The drivers in Vietnam don’t suffer fools, they don’t necessarily drive that quickly but they make a hell of a song and dance as they do it, beeping constantly and making all kinds of manoeuvres at junctions, it took a little while to get used to their interesting take on the rules of the road and even having worked out how the system works it was mentally draining as it required such concentration. Oh and then you add in the potholes as well, gotta keep your eyes peeled for those. 
The first couple of days ride out to the coast were pretty nondescript, the scenery wasn’t particularly notable, the roads were fast, the weather was overcast and moist. We stayed in a lovely, but deserted, hotel out on the coast and enjoyed dinner in a vast hotel restaurant as the only customers and were served our french fries as a starter. It made us chuckle. When we came down for breakfast in the morning, once again we had the restaurant to ourselves. It all felt a bit strange, like we were in one of those wind-up TV shows and someone was about to pull a prank on us. So far, Vietnam wasn’t scoring a huge number of points for me, I was just pleased I had dad with me. After a mammoth 125km ride north, we spent Christmas Eve in another slightly odd hotel, the breakfast the following morning was limited to egg mayonnaise sandwiches, rivalling the pork pie Christmas breakfast I served my family a couple of years back as the oddest Christmas breakfast ever. 
Next we got to Ninh Binh, the sun burnt through the clouds momentarily and we spent a wonderful Christmas Day and Boxing Day exploring the dramatic karsts, climbing mountains, paddling through caves, relaxing in our hammocks and eating delicious Vietnamese food. Ok Vietnam, you’re starting to score some points now. Next was Hanoi. Dad and I spent a couple of days exploring the bustling streets and instantly we loved the city. Dad wanted to buy all the things in all the shops and I was just enthralled by the energy and life of the place. After saying a very sad goodbye to Dad, I spent a few more hazy days in the city eating and drinking with people so wonderful that it made me feel the acuteness of the one negative of travelling – that you all have to keep moving and that invariably means in opposite directions. 
New Year in Hanoi brought with it a mix of emotions and a slightly contemplative mood, the incredible journey of the past seven months, the comparison of the darkness of where I was this time last year and the light that fills my life now, thoughts of crossing the finish line, wondering what my next move will be. I rode out of Hanoi feeling like I’d been ravaged by a grizzly bear (oh no, that’s the next trip!) but I was pleased to be back on my bike and alone with my thoughts. 
I rode out to Halong bay over two days, during which I was propositioned for sex numerous times. Funny now that I’m riding alone these otherwise quiet men have found their voices all of a sudden. I’m on a little local ferry, crossing a small river, and three men ranging in age from about 35 to 70 start gesticulating at me and it transpires they are inviting me for a foursome. Hold on, let me have a moment to consider your kind invitation………errrrr maybe another time lads, I’m a bit sweaty today! Vietnam, you’ve just lost a few points! I did however meet more lovely people in Halong bay and the scenery, even with a slightly cloudy sky, is breathtaking. Two days later I was at the border town with China, where my ambition was about to be realised.
So I’m still undecided about Vietnam. If it wasn’t for the amazing people I shared my time with in Vietnam, I don’t think I’d have such a positive feeling about it. The food is incredible, that’s a positive. And it has been the gateway to me reaching my goal, which in itself has been very emotional, so I think I’ll always have positive feelings about Vietnam in that sense. There is without doubt some stunning natural landscapes in the country, a few of which I got to see. Perhaps if I had more time and more energy I would have explored more of the natural beauty of the country. The weather wasn’t great so that may have had an influence. I’ve realised I really need the sun, it has such an impact on the way I feel. But then the roads, the sexual intention of the men and the slight feeling of hostility have left me unsure about Vietnam.
Sorry, that was a longer than planned deviation, back to mind over matter……
So I emerge from the oblivion that was Hanoi. I’ve not ridden my bike for 10 days, I’ve drunk my body weight in beer, smoked countless cigarettes, Nancy is feeling a bit rusty and so too am I. My route is a flat 105km along a dual carriageway, the weather is mild and there’s no wind. Now typically I would think that this would be a day spent slogging it out and simply riding for the destination. But on the contrary, I churned the miles out, my thighs in a happy and effortless rhythm, unaware of the hours in the saddle, I made it to my destination having shaved 14 minutes off my previous fastest 40km record. What a ride. 
The following day, exactly the same conditions along a flat fast road perhaps a slight headwind but nothing that would affect my riding, and the entire day is a slog. I only had 67km to do but I felt each kilometre. I checked the time, hours ridden, distance covered and elevation time and time again. My legs couldn’t find their rhythm. A totally different ride.
So is it about mind or is it about matter? I’ve tested the hypothesis and conclude that in the case of long distance riding it is in fact about neither. The day I left Hanoi, my body felt great despite the drinking and smoking, the rest had clearly done me a world of good and I settled into the ride so comfortably that I didn’t notice the physical exertion. And my mind was so full of thoughts that I didn’t think about the distance or destination, the hours just whirled by in amongst hundreds of exciting and exhilarating thoughts. 


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