Hustle and Cuss
I could spend an eternity exploring Hanoi. But as soon as I had my motorcycle in hand, I was like a junkie with a score: I couldn’t wait to put it to use. I had to get out of town as quickly as possible.
I picked up the bike at 9:30, and after a thorough inspection and discussion about troubleshooting and maintenance, I had the bike. It took me some time to get my pack loaded and tied to the bike; something I’d shoot to be faster and better at with each passing day.
A GPS is a new addition to my travel gear. Reluctant to manage more gadgets, I’d resisted in the past, but am now quickly falling in love with each new addition. The GPS world is still a scattered industry. There is an open-source effort underway to provide free maps to the world, and there are numerous other groups who have created their own maps which are obtained in some cases by joining the creator’s forum or website, or purchasing the maps for varying prices. Similarly, instructions on how to obtain and merge maps into existing devices are lackluster, often requiring unusable software. I’d run out of time trying to get one of varying Hanoi maps installed on my Garmin. I had the Vietnam road atlas, so I could do it old school.
All I needed to do was leave Hanoi. Hop on the Highway 6 heading west.
Easier said than done. With my Garmin telling me only where I’d been, I watched the screen as I left a blue trail winding every direction but toward the highway. I circled for two hours, getting no closer to anything that looked like a freeway entrance. I pulled over and pulled out my 1st-gen iPhone. It slowly ticked along on the Edge network, for some reason unable to give me a precise location.
I was getting frustrated. If I spent too much time getting lost on my way out of Hanoi, I might as well just stay another night there, rather than have to drive in the dark. But I was packed up and on the road. I wanted out of Hanoi NOW.
There are many subtleties in city navigation when language is a challenge. When a doner kebab stand’s owner gave me directions, he explained that I just needed to turn left and then right. But as I proceeded down the street, there were dozens of seemingly viable lefts and rights.
I finally found what had to be the right freeway. I drove parallel to it on gravel maintenance roads for what seemed like miles, looking for an entrance. I began to sweat in the hot sun and the dust from nearby motorcycles and construction equipment burned my eyes and stuck to my skin.
When I finally found an onramp, it had a no-motorcycles sign on it. Deep breaths. Perhaps it wasn’t the right highway after all. I continued on, so close to being on the road, but dangling just out of reach. I took this trip to relax, to regain control of frustrations and a temper I felt surfacing at my old job. I felt my head begin to throb; I cranked the accelerator, and picked up speed. Where the hell is an onramp?!
My frustration boiled over. I looked around and it appeared that no one would hear me so I let out a scream at the top of my lungs, guttural and with all the volume I could muster. Suddenly I saw a man jump up from behind a disabled van on the side of the road. I’d scared the hell out of him. Oops.
I turned around and returned to the no-motorcycles onramp. If a cop pulled me over, I’d play ignorant tourist. Finally, I was on the road, heading the right way, and as the road lifted up above the chaos of Hanoi, I felt my frustration abate.
As late afternoon arrived, I saw a sign indicating that I’d exited Hanoi. Not the most triumphant of beginnings, but I was on the road. First stop? Whatever city I arrived in next.