Several years ago, I travelled to northern Vietnam to be part of a week-long bicycling trip. I had found the opportunity on the internet and was drawn to it because it looked to combine my love of cycling with my love of travel. I couldn’t wait to experience the culture as well as the physical challenge.
I trained as much as possible beforehand, but given my full-time work schedule and parenting duties, I knew I was not in my best shape. It was billed as an “expert” course since it went through the mountains…but, hey, you only live once!
We flew into Hanoi and travelled overnight by train arriving close to the Chinese border. Our group of four dropped off our luggage at our hotel and prepared for our first day’s ride. It was then I realized that this trip was as much off-road biking as on-road. Uh-oh. I had cycled many miles on a road bike but only a little on a mountain bike…and only on moderately rough roads. This was different. I knew I was in trouble.
We started off in the cool of the day, but by the time an hour or two had passed (along with several VERY steep hills) the temperature had climbed by double digits. Trying to be as culturally sensitive as possible, I had decided to wear cycling pants, a jersey and a vest. I was hot as…you know what…
We approached a very step downhill on a very rough dirt and sandy road. It went through a village of around 5 houses and a small store. I tried to keep it together, but I was constantly cursing under my breath due to inability to change gears quickly on the up and downgrades.
As I rounded one corner, I spotted a troublesome scene down below. There lay a large dog in the middle of a narrow path surrounded by water on both sides. Next to the sleepy fellow was a large rock. (Mental note to self…steer clear of rock and dog ahead.)
Continuing to curse all the way down, I tightened my grip as I tried to maneuver through the obstacle course. But, as it turned out, luck was NOT on my side that day. In trying to avoid crashing into the dog, I hit the rock instead and BOOM! My bike and I went flying in the air, landing in the water bike and all. The only thing? I quickly came to find out, this was NOT water…this must have been the largest pigsty in the world, and there I was covered in pig &*$%!!
As I lay there laughing hysterically, completely immersed, I realized there were some very important life lessons to be learned in the middle of this unsavory mess:
- No matter how much you prepare yourself in life, sometimes you may find yourself in the middle of a pigsty. The thing is…it’s not the end of the world. In my case, the “stuff” in the sty actually padded my fall!
- If and when you do find yourself in that kind of situation, having a sense of humor somehow makes the stench of it all seem a bit more bearable. Laughter helps keeps everything in perspective. When you think about it, what could be more hilarious than to actually be sitting in a proverbial pile of &*$%?
- Letting others help you in the midst of a smelly situation can help you get back on track. In my situation, the villagers immediately came to my aid, helping to pull my bike and me out of the sty. Then they graciously appeared with bucket after bucket of clean water to help wash me! That leads me to the next lesson…
- Even some of the smelliest messes can be cleaned up. Joy…In my case, I did have to ride on with some remnants on me before I could take a shower. We were still 20 miles away from our hotel, and many of them were uphill. The heat of the day helped to bake on whatever was left on my skin and cycling clothes. As I rode out of the village, word of my spill had gotten around and small groups of women waved me on, pointing and giggling all the way. Bonus…I provided entertainment for the villagers!
There were many more adventures ahead in that trip—vistas too incredible to describe in words, and welcoming encounters with people in some of the most remote areas of the world. But the lessons I learned from my brief stay in a Vietnamese pigsty are gifts which I will carry in my heart forever.