North of Khe Sanh on my 3rd ride across Vietnam: June 2012

“I battled the network of growth back to the bike and made my own slow breeze over the lane. In a few miles, I found a clay trail cut into the other side. I persuaded the Fat Boy over the lumpy path that twisted over hills and through clearings. The mush of a spring turned me back from the path less traveled. The forest was no less dense than the other side, and I reconsidered a trudge into the bush. Instead, I called for a formation. “Brothers,” I commanded, “FALL IN, it’s time to go home.” But of course my call went unanswered. In the presence of MIAs, sorrow overwhelmed me.

Sadly, I left them and the battlefield behind but carried their memory and their spirits. We had tracks to lay. I loaded up with bakery snacks and two jugs of gas. I passed the monument and the combat base with the flower song in my head. My tires bit into concrete on the Western Branch and the footboards skipped into curves. Sunshine glittered off a rocky stream, and across the valley, I saw my trail slice into the jungle. I got a rush of excitement for The Trail ahead. The flower tune bugged me: who the hell sang it?”

A few hours later.

“Deep into the peaks, a fluffy disturbance rolled on my horizon. I pulled over below a leafy cover for a snack and to dress for the occasion. Then another disturbance floated into my thoughts. Those dog tags belonged to a soldier’s family; they were not to be pawned as souvenirs. I cursed myself for not buying them. Then a wave of raindrops swept in. I zipped up and put on my safety glasses to prepare for the worst. Dark clouds boiled but feigned a blast. Around a turn, sunshine glistened off the drops on the leaves, and a swelter steamed from The Trail. My smile of relief slid through the breeze while my rain gear dried, but they would be the last rays of the day.

A twist in The Trail brought me into the face of a torrent. Raindrops in the frontal blast exploded on the concrete; a moment later, they splashed into a sheet of water. Lightning sizzled and an immediate rumble shook me. I crept through turns, awed by the intensity as jungle faded behind sheets of rain. It pounded like it did on that night ride from Bao Loc. Its beat overpowered the idle of the Rinehart, and I shut it down to admire the splendor. Then I did what any well prepared biker would do: I pulled out my umbrella and my GPS. In the midst of a monsoonal downpour on a remote jungle trail, the satellites found me. North 16 degrees 58 minutes 8 seconds, East 106 degrees 38 minutes 1 second. Smack dab in the DMZ.

I ducked at another ear-splitting crack and rumble, and swore the mountain shook with me. I wandered through the drench of nature’s wrath. Palm and banana leaf bowed in reverence and trees stood in submission. Ferns on the mountain wall danced with raindrops, and a thousand streams trickled behind them. If a slope was going to slide, I hoped it was on the other side of the ravine. Another crack and rumble ripped and roared; I cheered like a wild fan and shook my fists with a call for more. I was exactly where I should be.”

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