Call it my competitive nature, but I tend to be a bit over-gratuitous when it comes to my perception of physical limitations. So when I heard about the incredible Kuang Si waterfalls, 37km (22 miles) from Luang Prabang, I figured my once-a-week spin class was more than enough preparation to bike a distance that a saner person would choose to drive or motorbike. Kaela and I got up early to beat the heat, however, our version of “early” was 9 o’clock, and by 10, the sun was already beating strong against our backs. Still, the first half of the ride flew by gloriously as we cruised down smooth paved roads through hills so green, and under skies so blue, I felt like I was seeing everything through one of Instagram’s tinted filter effects. We mastered the art of riding with no hands as we high-fived the eager hands of local children on their way to school.We started feeling so confident with our re-discovered mountain bike skills (mind you, it had been about 10 years since either of us had shifted gears on a bicycle) that Kaela decided to shoot a little moving cinema of our flight down a windy hill. I was following close behind when a rickety wooden bridge popped suddenly into sight as we rounded a bend. It wouldn’t take a fortune-teller to know how this short-lived film would end.
Kaela hit the wooden slats with way too much speed at an angle that was utterly wrong and the bike hurled to the ground, taking Kaela with it and sending an array of objects flying in every direction. I rushed to help pull the bike off her and assess the damage. Luckily, she was ok, relatively speaking, and no cameras, sunglasses or other valuables she was holding had plunged into the river below. Only one problem – the bike’s alignment was so disfigured that the only way to ride it was to twist the handlebars sideways in order to get the front wheel facing forward – and we still had another 11 miles to go. I tried to think positively, but we were in the middle of nowhere and I honestly didn’t know how we were going to get anywhere with Kaela’s mangled bike. Luckily, we passed a small store/shack and noticed an assortment of tools strewn about. A good sign, except neither of us are really “tool-type” gals. With out an English speaking local in sight, I started picking up random tools and gesturing towards the bike. We weren’t even sure what part of the bike needed to be fixed, but by an absolute miracle we not only found a tool that loosened one of the screws on the bike, but that happened to be the screw that astonishingly allowed us to get the handlebars facing forward. We were on our way again! Other than trails of blood slowly flowing from Kaela’s arms and legs, all was good as new.
We peddled onward under the high-noon sun, with a layer of sweat, thick as Crisco, coating every part of our bodies, and started to feel the effects of dehydration and exhaustion as we endured heat that no California summer ever could have ever prepared us for. We finally reached a road sign that announced the 1km mark to the finish line, but that 1km might as well have been 100, as we dragged our bikes up this last, long hill, pushing every thought but the promise of rushing water from our minds.
At LAST we reached the summit looking like we’d been to the depths of hell and back—and at that point, we had. The amused locals asked with a bit of reverence, “You bike all way from city?” We nodded our beat-red faces and mumbled an affirmative reply. “You want tuk-tuk back?” he asked. This was truly music to my ears, for at that moment, the idea of biking back was incomprehensible. We headed to the falls, striping off layers of sticky clothes as we went and dove straight into water so refreshingly cold it took my aches, pains and breath away. We frolicked from one tiered pool of the falls to the next, entirely submerged in a beautiful jungle, complete with a rope where we could swing like Tarzan into the deep rushing water below.
Check out the gallery below for more awesome pics!