Pedal power

Having cycled up and down Ba Vi Mountain nine times, clocking up a total ascent of 8,848 metres - the height of Everest - in the process, British photographer and writer David W. Lloyd recently became the first cyclist in Vietnam to successfully conquer the ‘Everest Challenge’.

By Le Diem on February 12,2015 10:07 AM

Pedal power

Photo provided by David W. Lloyd.

How did the idea of conquering the ‘Everest Challenge’ come to you?

Photo provided by David W. Lloyd.

Photo provided by David W. Lloyd.

While racing overseas as part of the Topas Travel - THBC team I met another rider who told me about Everesting. I’ve done some long distance challenges in the past, including a 24-hour run across 47 mountains in Wales called the Paddy Buckley Round, and the idea of doing something similar on a bike appealed to me.

Several friends have raised funds for Newborns Vietnam before and one of them is the neighbour of its founder, Suzanna, down in Hoi An. He put us in touch and Suzanna wasted no time in turning my vague notion into action, contacting the British Embassy and convincing Ambassador Giles Lever to get involved. Before I knew it a date had been set and a press conference organised.

Why did you choose Ba Vi Mountain for the challenge?

Ba Vi was the first mountain I cycled in Vietnam, so it’s special to me. Also, it’s close to Hanoi - just 50 km away. Furthermore, it’s a tough, steep ascent and in a slightly perverse way that made doing the challenge there more appealing.

Starting at 3am, it took David 14 hours to complete the Goliath challenge. In total he cycled 195 kilometres, raising more than $4,500 for Newborns Vietnam, a British charity that helps reduce infant mortality.

David has lived and worked in Hanoi for nearly four years. The Guide spoke with him about his cycling as well as his photography and writing for publications such as the New York Times and Footprint Travel Guides.

Did you train a lot?

Yes, I did a lot of climbing in the run-up. Luckily, in the weeks leading up to the event I was on a month-long assignment in Laos for Footprint Travel Guides. In the north of Laos no road seems to be flat for more than a few hundred metres so it was a fantastic training ground.

During the challenge, was there anytime that you wanted to give up?

I never felt that I wanted to give up, but during the fifth of the nine ascents I felt awful and I thought I was in for a very long and unenjoyable day. However, with a little help from cycling friends willing me on and some keo lac (Vietnamese nut and sugar bars) I was fine and felt okay from the sixth ascent to the end.

What were the most positive outcomes?

Besides the $4,500 for Newborns Vietnam, the charity got a massive amount of press coverage for the work they do to improve infant care here in Vietnam. Secondly, it forged some more links in the cycling community, with a number of clubs coming to Ba Vi on the day. Also, a multiple ascent of Hai Van Pass in Danang was organised on the same day by the Danang Youth Cycling captain, Minh Vuong.

What is it like to work as a photographer and writer here in Vietnam?

It is a fantastic place to work. As a photographer, Southeast Asia in general is unbeatable and Vietnam is my favourite place in the region to shoot, not only because of the landscapes but also because of the people here, many of whom are more than happy to chat and be photographed. It is also a good place for a writer as it still has plenty of places that are relatively unknown internationally, while interest in Vietnam among magazine editors in Europe and America is on the rise.

Con Dao Island. Photo: David W. Lloyd

Con Dao Island. Photo: David W. Lloyd

You’ve photographed and written about Phong Nha for a number of magazines. Is it your favourite destination in Vietnam?

It’s hard to choose one place in Vietnam, but it is one of my top three favourite places. Phong Nha is a very special place, surrounded by some of the world’s best caving. Hang En is a magical cave containing a beach in a main cavern that’s large enough to house a jumbo jet. Sleeping in there is a unique experience. The Tu Lan system is a totally different adventure and more challenging in terms of photography. It involves swimming through multiple caves and camping out on small pebble beaches next to small lagoons fed by waterfalls and surrounded by towering cliffs.

What are your other favourite places?

Another destination that I love to return to is Ha Giang. The high mountain scenery there is quite unlike anything else in Vietnam, especially the Dong Van Rocky Plateau. It’s a harsh environment - rice cultivation isn’t possible on much of the land and instead sparse crops of corn cling on among the rocks on the steep slopes. I’ve taken four different friends across the Ma Pi Leng Pass, both on bicycles and motorbikes; I always love watching people’s reactions when they are always totally blown away by the scale of the place.

Another favourite is Hanoi, where I now live. My wife and I moved here planning to stay for about six months but we both soon fell in love with it for its cafe culture, great food, and four seasons. It’s a cliché, but the city has bags of energy and charm; if it gets hold of you, it’s very hard to think about leaving it. It’s also a fascinating time to be here as Hanoi is changing fast and becoming more international.

So do you plan to continue living in Hanoi?

Absolutely, we have no plans to leave.

Any challenges for the near future here?

This year, alongside my editorial work, I will be doing more wedding photography in Vietnam. In the very near future I’m heading back to Phong Nha on assignment to photograph Son Doong Cave.

To see David’s work log on to his website or his Facebook photography page.

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