1000km solo trek vietnam
Dec 4, 2019 · 10 min read
In late 2018, i joined the beta-tester program for a funded startup, Eastnine [available on iOS]. Full disclosure, i’m Jason’s (one of the co-founder’s) first cousin. Little did i know, this would set off a huge health and fitness chain-reaction.
As i started interacting with the app and the club, my usual exercise-related procrastination excuses were ineffective; Jason would retort with Mantras that are now deeply ingrained in my mind:
“There’s always time for your health”
“Exercise is nature’s way of making everything better”
The seed was planted.
On runs, tips and advice were always perfectly timed. “Keep your head up” said coach Vince “small strides, kick back a bit more, and keep your legs spinning under you like a little steam engine”. Getting the right posture is vital to actually feel and perform like a runner.
I’d often run out of air before reaching the finish line. “Slower is faster” said coach Alexa. Apparently our bodies need a slow jogging pace to build aerobic resilience.
I also started commuting to work on foot; 6km each way. I figured i could do 70% of my commute through London parks. The green and fresh air became the favourite parts of my day. As a dev, i needed the fresh air to counteract all the sitting.
Replacing a stressed underground commute with plenty of greenery and fresh air did a je ne sais quoi: daily stresses alleviated, i started having longer and more intimate and in-depth phone conversations, listened to more quality podcasts, read, thought, planned or simply allowed my mind wander.
Thanks to the running routine being established by Eastnine, within 6 months i went from 0 to 10k. Running became my way of shaking the etch-and-sketch of my day. The amount of mental clarity i got from going for a run after a London workday was equal to none.
With hindsight, i now see i was laying the foundations for what was to come next..
I decided to go travel in Vietnam, as i’d started a low intensity remote contracting gig. I despise the tourist trail. A week in, bored out of my mind, out of the blue, i jot this entry in my todo list:
The fastest road from Cat Ba to Da Nang is 850KM.
My reasoning went like this: if i can easily commute 12KM per day, then i can easily hike 24KM per day, which would cover the distance in 35 days.
The actual trip turned out quite differently:
That’s an average of 34k per day; an ‘ok’ performance. As my feet got used to the distance, the mileage increased on an upward trendline, with bigger pushes followed by shorter rest days. Biggest day: 65k.
Now rather than boring you further with details of my trip, i’ll make the next section more instructional. Please know this is what worked for me. Results may vary.
Very light packing was a huge priority, so i did my laundry by hand daily.
The perfect footwear setup for me: plenty of regular thin socks (not thick sports socks). Plenty of spare in-soles (you can even use 2 insoles at once for extra padding), and running shoes as they are flexible and espouse the shape of your feet.
Thin socks glide smoothly against a leather-top insole. You want this gliding to take place, as it reduces friction between your sock and the insole, and prevents friction from reaching the soles of your feet.
This gliding can result in holes, which is where the many spare socks come in. On a 1000KM trip, your clothes and footwear will exceed their intended lifespan and lots of stuff will need to be fixed, replaced and thrown away.
Ultra-light packing is required. No excessive weight to be found.
Make sure your bag has chest-straps. The more pockets the merrier. Organise your bag, remember where everything is, and keep on improving your bag unpacking and re-packing routine as you’ll use it throughout the trip. Your bag is your new house, keep everything handy, and know how to navigate it even in the dark.
Practice living out of your bag for a week before leaving. Stuff you end up not using will weigh you down, and you end up giving it away or dispensing of it.
You’ll deeply miss stuff you should have brought and didn’t. Although you probably need a lot less than you think. Bring a big charger for your phone, and spares for cables and wall sockets in case of loss.
The GPS on your phone can save your life if you happen to get lost in a low-population density area, so making sure your phone and battery are fully charged is a priority. Google maps has an ‘offline maps’ feature. Learn how to use it.
With the right diet, walking strips you of all your fat stores quicker than any other activity. If you intend on trying this, measure your fat mass before and after. Also bring an HR strap, as i think my HR dropped a lot over the last month, however i do not have the data to measure this.
Walkers get instant street-cred, so everybody on the way is nice. People call you over for tea, coffee, water, or a moment shared.
Sometimes i didn’t feel like walking. I felt in pain, tired, and drained of all my energy. I’d put on my exercise spotify playlist (my running playlist that i’d built up in London), and within the space of 2 or 3 songs would become a new person.
My pace would be back up, and i’d be full of energy, sometimes i’d even start jogging. I was truly amazed at our mind’s ability to override how our bodies feel.
I deeply believe we all have nomad genes that flip to ‘on mode’ during long walks. On my 65km day, when i reached km 55 upon reaching Da Nang, i laughed as i got filled with a big burst of energy that made me easily breeze through the last 10k with ease.
I’d missed the point all along: the longer you walk; the easier it gets. The hard part is getting the initial momentum going.
1000KM arrival point.
Where did you sleep?
I slept primarily in Hostels. They are very easy to find in Vietnam, are called ‘Nha Nghi’ and cost around 200K VND per night.
What did you eat?
Whatever i could find. I was burning around 6000 kcal a day total so felt quite hungry the whole way. Vietnamese food is delicious, and nutritious, but is very carb-heavy and protein-poor. Portions are small so often 2 portions hardly made me feel full.
I wolfed down all the snacks i could find, which included nearly uniquely sweet tasting carby calories. Drank lots of sodas and RedBulls. You cannot buy anything nutritious in road-side shops, only sweets and carbs.
Malnutrition is a big issue in rural Vietnam.
Did you lose weight?
Yes, about 2KG. I lost visible weight in my face, and in many places in my body however my visceral fat was boderline on arrival, most likely due to the sodas, RedBulls and all the carbs, and macros being totally unbalanced.
Did you struggle at any point?
Absolutely. I wore out the inside of my right shoe after the first 100KM, which rapidly lead to a blister, then a very prominent cluster of blisters. When it rained, the skin around the blister would swell and those days i sometimes nearly felt like crying out in anger.
What motivated you to keep going?
Once i get a goal in my mind, it can get completely locked in, and i’ll become totally obsessed with achieving that goal. As software developers all know, getting a goal locked-in and following it through obsessively comes with the territory. So keeping going, and moving forwards strategically daily was actually pretty easy, even on difficult days.
In addition to that, i committed to the challenge on my Facebook page, and posted about my progress every other day, and got lots of comments and encouragement. This formed a social contract. I find getting social-feedback on my activities in Strava and Facebook to be very enjoyable and motivating. Feels like taking your tribe on a walk with you.
Finally, i also played mind-games with myself. To illustrate, when i learned how to swim, my dad would make me swim to him, but as i was about to reach, he’d swim further back, and would repeat this process until i panicked.
That’s the kind of the game i played with myself during the walk.
a 1km walk will take you roughly 10 to 15 minutes. About the time it takes to read an article like this one.
a 5km walk takes you roughly an hour. Think of it as phone call with a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.
a 10km walk is roughly 2 hours. You can get immersed in a book, or podcast, or audiobook etc. fully.
a 20km walk is simply double that. After 20km, you’re 4 hours in, and can have lunch and refuel. If you were to stop here, you’d already have a win for the day.
Post-lunch is all gravy. I simply imagine myself being past the midway line, so the distances are shrinking rather than growing.
at 30km you’ve exceed your feel good distance by 10km.
40km to 50km: the trick is to take a quick break to refuel, and change the scenery and pass-time activity. That feels like resetting the counter to 0km all over again.
i only crossed the 60km distance once, and got filled with energy. Looking forward to doing so again in the future.
Now here’s the important bit: i would at most only think 1km to 5km ahead while walking. Thinking of the whole distance can feel overwhelming, so i’d have a “another 5km” mentality the whole way. Intellectually breaking down the walk into these manageable chunks was hugely important and effective.
What changes did you notice in you during the walk?
My morning ritual changed from craving caffeine to craving a good nutritious meal. The walk curbed my internet addiction quite a bit.
I also learned how to respect my time a lot more. My self-discipline increased a lot, because i needed to have near military levels of discipline for my daily routine: daily checking in, unpacking, hand laundry, looking after my body, plenty of sleep, nutritious food, packing, no time-wasting, planning, committing, following through, risk assessment, adaptability to the terrain etc.
My usual day to day is nowhere near that.
What thoughts were whirling through your head as you were walking?
All kinds. But primarily, i’m convinced walking is deeply ingrained into our genome. Our ancestors would have had to migrate multiple times in their lifetimes just to survive.
This contract of starting from X and arriving at Y would have been a matter of survival for entire groups of people. So the whole process felt extremely natural, and more like reconnecting with an innate ancestral tradition.
The sheer number of people i met on the way, hours spent outdoors, exercising, and time spent communing with nature would often bring me profound moments of deep happiness and contentment
Will you do it again, if so, where?
Absolutely. I’m planning on 100km weekends as soon as i return to a more stable work routine. I’m also planning on week-long trips to the coast or mountains as soon as early 2020. I’m aiming for 40km+ average per day this time. I’d also love to send adequate keto-style food to myself in strategic locations.
I’ve gained such a better understanding of how to do a 1000km that the logistics will be a lot easier to handle next time around, and my time should be quicker too.
It’s a big world, with so many places to see. It’s a cliche but with walking it isn’t about the destination, but truly about the journey.
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Shyal Beardsley is a software developer by trade. Beta-tester, and sometimes does a bit of R&D for Eastnine.
Web: https://ioloop.io, https://shyal.com
Contact: shyal at ioloop.io.