PEDAL POWER: 67-year-old Đặng Thanh Hải poses with his bike with which he has conquered four trips across Việt Nam and four of the most daunting passes in Việt Nam’s northwestern region. — Photo Hai Dang's Facebook
by Phương Hà
He has cycled across the country four times, covering thousands of kilometres, and has conquered four of the most daunting passes in Việt Nam’s northwestern region by bicycle. One would think such achievements belong to a young sports enthusiast, but these feats were actually accomplished by 67-year-old Đặng Thanh Hải in the northern province of Sơn La.
Many Vietnamese long-distance cyclists are familiar with Hải. He is now the member of four cycling clubs, namely Sơn La City’s Cycling Club, the Great Circle of Việt Nam Clubs in the north, centre and south, and the Backpacking Clubs in the north, centre and south.
However, Hải is not a professional cyclist. He started riding a bike just 10 years ago after retirement, and finished his first trans-Việt Nam cycling trip four years ago when he was already 63. Since then, he cycles across the country once a year.
He finished his most recent trip in February, cycling from HCM City to Hà Nội along the 2,000km Hồ Chí Minh Highway. Before that, he cycled from Móng Cái City in the northern province of Quảng Ninh to the southernmost tip of Việt Nam, Cape Cà Mau, along the 3,260km coastal road.
In 2017, the 67-year-old cycled from Hữu Nghị Border Checkpoint with China in the northern province of Lạng Sơn to Cape Cà Mau, conquering the 2,875km road.
Hải embarked on his first trans-Việt Nam trip cycling from Hà Nội to Đà Nẵng in the scorching heat of June, 2016. On the third day of the trip, it was so hot and sunny that Hải and other cyclists had to take a break at 10am and continue the trip at 3pm.
On the following day, they had to start their trip at 2am to avoid the heat and constantly battled against the strong wind while cycling to the central province of Quảng Bình. They finally reached their destination – the central Đà Nẵng City – after six days.
Despite the difficulties, Hải said he was still happy to realise his dream of cycling and contemplating the beauty of the country.
“It was the first time I conquered the Hải Vân Pass. Reaching the top of the pass in the early morning, we could see an ocean of clouds floating under our feet. The pass embraces the sea, and the scenery was stunning. It was happiness that I didn’t have the chance to experience when I was young,” the cyclist recalls.
In early 2017, not long after finishing his second trip across the country, Hải conquered four of the most daunting passes in Việt Nam’s northwestern region with his bike. The trip passed through 12 northwestern and northeastern provinces and then back to Hà Nội, with a total length of 2,300km. “It was also the first time I conquered four daunting passes,” Hải says.
The four passes in Việt Nam’s northwestern region include the 30-km Khau Phạ Pass in Yên Bái Province, the 32km and 1,600m-high Pha Đin Pass bordering Điện Biên and Sơn La provinces, Ô Quy Hồ - the longest pass in the southwest, connecting Lào Cai and Lai Châu provinces and Mã Pí Lèng, a dangerous pass of 20km in length and 2,000m in height.
“A coward will not dare look down from the top of those passes,” Hải says.
“The Nho Quế River below Mã Pí Lèng Pass is 1km deep. Descending the pass, I kept looking forward, daring not to look down to the river. It took me and other cyclists 15 days to conquer the passes. I was over the moon on discovering that I could accomplish more than I thought.”
Hải also reveals that he is planning to conquer those four passes again from the East to the West in 21 days in October.
ACROSS THE NATION: Đặng Thanh Hải reaches Cape Cà Mau in the southern province of Cà Mau during his trans-Việt Nam cycling trip. Photo vietnamnet.vn
When there’s a will, there’s a way
Hải joined the army in 1971 and was discharged four years later. He then studied at the Việt Nam University of Commerce. After graduating in 1980, he was assigned to work for Sơn La Province’s Department of Commerce.
“I was interested in travelling when I was young,” Hải says. “I always hoped I could enjoy the beautiful sceneries from the north to the south, particularly those in the provinces my comrades and I used to operate in. Traffic used to be difficult at that time and only state companies and organisations owned cars. I got married in 1981 and then had children. The difficult life made me gradually forget my young dreams.”
After working in Sơn La for 30 years, Hải retired when he was 57. When his mind was set free from financial burden, he started to think about the hopes he had many years ago.
“I dedicated 30 years of my life to my career, family and children. Now I finally have time to think about myself and what I want to do. Being able to do what we enjoy makes life meaningful, not money or social status,” he says.
But his advanced age meant it was difficult for the 57-year-old to easily realise his aspirations, so he started to seriously work on his health and fitness.
“Cycling was tiring for me at first. I had to strive every day, cycling 15km at first and gradually increasing my target,” Hải recalls.
For ten years he has cycled every single day, even at weekends and no matter the weather. He cycles around 90km per day – 60km in the morning and 30km in the evening.
“If we rest for a day, we will feel discouraged. Only by cycling at least 90km per day can one travel across the country by bike. A trans-Việt Nam trip forces a cyclist to cycle over ten hours a day. Even a 20-year-old will find it difficult without practice. To realise my wish, I had to prepare thoroughly both mentally and physically,” he adds.
Hải says he doesn’t think it was too late to fulfil his dream at the age of 63.
“I have fulfilled my dream of cycling a length equivalent to five times the circumference of the Earth. When there’s a will, there’s a way.”
The veteran cyclist is now planning a cycling trip with his war comrades to Việt Nam’s 63 provinces in six months.
“We will both re-visit our battlefields and go sightseeing. I have been to 63 provinces but in groups. Now I want to travel with only one or two of my comrades to each province where we plan to stay for two days to understand the local customs and contemplate the beautiful natural sceneries there,” he says. VNS