DAY 112 – With a big day ahead we got up before sunrise and ate a rice and fried egg breakfast at the guesthouse before setting out around six thirty. Grace left about fifteen minutes before us, saying she preferred not to eat so early in the morning, so we set out alone thinking we would see her again at some point during the day, as we had done the previous day. We sailed downhill for the first three kilometres before the hard work began in the form of a twenty kilometre climb, which would gain us around seven hundred metres in altitude.
Thankfully the gradient remained manageable, with only the occasional short ten per cent grade stretch to contend with, so we managed to maintain a steady pace as we gradually rose through the valley, cycling through numerous H’Mong villages along the way. After an hour or so valley opened up and we could see the road snaking upward towards the top of the first climb high above us. Although it looked a long way off, I actually preferred being able to see the top as I find it frustrating climbing when the road twists and turns with no clue or indication as to when the climb will likely end. I only later realised that we could see the top of the road because of the massive deforestation that has occurred here, with locals chopping down the native trees to use as firewood.
We inched closer and closer, stopping to rest and catch our breath at regular intervals before finally reaching the top of the valley and the restaurant at the summit. We stopped for a banana break, then resumed the climbing towards Phou Khoun. A few kilometres before the town we passed an Englishman on a foldable bike and in town we saw a Korean man on Yami’s dream bike – the Surly Long Haul Trucker. We asked both if they had seen Grace passing, and they both said no, so we imagined something happened with her bike so had taken a lift with a passing truck.
We stopped in town to pick up some sticky rice and pork chops for lunch, which we tucked away for later on. Soon after leaving Phou Khoun we had a great downhill section which lasted for about seven kilometres. Unfortunately, we reached the bottom far too quickly and then had to start climbing again! I had read that the H’Mong always have their villages at the top of the hills, which worked out well as we found a shop at the summit of the second climb, where we stopped to eat our packed lunch at half past ten. By this time we had covered around forty kilometres after four hours riding, a lot slower than on the flat but still good enough to ensure we could complete the seventy kilometres to Kiu Katcham by afternoon.
The road maintained the ups and downs through the rest of the ride, with another quality downhill which took us down to the bottom of a valley, before the road snaked back up to the top of the valley on the other side of the river, giving us a tough five kilometre uphill. From the valley floor the final twenty kilometres into Kiu Kacham were virtually all uphill as well, and by the time we arrived at three in the afternoon we had well and truly tested our legs.
We found a basic guesthouse in the centre of the village for 50,000 Kip (US$7) and spent the afternoon relaxing after a long hard day in the saddle. We didn’t see any sign of Grace in any of the villages, so our suspicions grew that she had taken a lift to Luang Prabang.