197: Project jumps on struggle bus

When you look that strange, it's hard to be motivated to do anything at all. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

I've got no motivation.

Another hard bouldering session last night lulled me into a deep sleep that broke naturally around 6:30am. I felt awake, but lacked drive. It's odd to find myself slipping into this valley. Struggling with the project. Struggling with being on the road. Struggling with the most tenuous of feelings.

It's a glorious, sunny morning, but the drone is having issues, so I'm unable to get her up. Instead, I give Leah a ride to work, which is a five minute drive over the hill. Back at the room, Eva is stretching, trying to loosen up her right hip.

“I'll take you to work,” I offer.

When you like someone who doesn't like you back it seems that nice things is all one can muster up, which probably isn't an effective strategy, but it's only one that rings true for me. That, and lots of teasing.

“No, it's okay. I'll take a motorbike taxi.”

“Seriously, it's no problem. I don't mind at all. I was going to head in and get some work done.”

“But the laundry needs to be put up about 15 minutes after I leave.”

“So, I'll come back and do it. I don't mind.”

“I do. It's so inefficient.”

Well, that settles that.

The room has a lovely warm glow to it as the morning sun blasts around the islands in the bay, through a set of thick yellow curtains and onto deep yellow walls.

“So what are you going to do today?” Eva asks.

“I'll probably go to Oasis and work and then roll the dice. I'm too much in control of my life right now.”

“Is that a bad thing.”

“For this project it is.”

“Maybe for your next project you should believe in God, that might help.”

I could pursue the idea that if you were religious, rolling the dice was in fact moving through life at God's will. As he is the Great Designer, it's plausible to argue that giving him something so perfect as a fair die allows him to easily make adjustments to your life. However, I'm not in the mood for the discussion. The last couple of days, Eva has been playing up her deep Christian faith; there's a great amount of emphasis on people being “good Christians”.

I hang up the laundry, mostly Eva's with a couple of my shirts. There aren't enough clothes hangers, so I hesitantly cluster her underwear and sports bras on a single hanger and do my best to get the rest of our clothes up one way or the other, all done with the dread that I am probably doing it wrong.

Another load of laundry goes into the machine, which traps me in the room for 46 more minutes. Restless, I try the drone again, fixing one problem, but running into another. Large Chinese Junk ships, a speed boat and plenty of basket boats float in the calm water of the bay, some headed out for day trips.

I've already talked to Eva about going ahead and getting a room in town for the last few nights I'm in town, not because I don't want to hangout with her, Leah and the rest of the Asia Outdoor gang, who I've become very fond, but because she's wrapping up another chapter of her life and it seems best to give her space to do that. Though she'll see most of them in Hanoi for the bouldering competition, she needs to pack and clean and be free to peruse those relationships and friendships with out me lingering in the background.

Eva didn't like the idea at first, but it didn't take much to convince her it was best.

While waiting for the laundry to finish, feeling terribly underwhelmed with life, I start to pack my bags. Eva leaves town on Thursday, so I we talked about me getting a place for Tuesday and Wednesday night. However, I'm now thinking I'll also get a room for Monday night as well.

She's been a fantastic host, and it's better to leave before I wear out my welcome. It will also help reestablish some balance in our dynamics, as it removes my presence and dependency, which is important.

Not long after taking care of the last load of laundry, I find myself holed up in Oasis Bar Restaurant and Cafe with my laptop, trying to work.

Facebook bings. I've got a message from Eva.

“Where you at?” she writes. “There's a gal here that wants a climbing buddy. Want me to send her your way?”

“She good looking?” I ask, teasing, as well as trying to kick start a little return interest in me. “Kidding.”

I'm shooting pool one-handed in the back of Oasis on the phone with Uki about some paid work back in Chaing Mai when a wavy-haired young woman walks into the bar. I give her a wave.

Marry-Ann is from French Canada. She orders a coffee and sits across from me at the table when I get off the phone. She's a pretty woman with tight, small teeth that look as if they are the product of braces as a child. She's got a great chilled out climber vibe and lovely smile to boot.

“You look busy,” she says.

“Na, it just looks that way.”

She's talked to Leah, who was in the office with Eva earlier today, and they've already agreed to meet up at about 2pm to go climbing.

“I'm in for sure,” I say.

Though I've not be climbing insanely hard, I'm climbing something every day, which is spectacular.

Marry-Ann finishes her coffee and heads out to explore the town for a bit, while I return to my work. From time to time, I find my way to the pool table to shoot.

A stocky, middle-aged Vietnamese guy in a Germany football jersey challenges me to a game.

He pulls out a 20,000 Dong bill, which covers the costs of a big water.

I give him a nod and rack up the balls.

He brakes hard. Neither one of us plays a particularly inspiring game, both missing clear chances to clench a win.

On the brink of winning, part of me starts to feel guilty about taking a local's money this way. Though I never consider throwing games, I do consider not accepting the money. Then again, he'd take the money if I lost, so I sink the eight ball and collect the blue bill. I win the second game and am slightly relieved to lose the third.

Last game, I signal to him, as it's quickly approaching two and I have a couple things I need to wrap up for work.

Much to the amusement of a few of the man's co-workers, I bag the last game – again not the most impressive of games, but good enough.

Marry-Ann's hands hold me just above my soft love handles as Donkey takes us to Butterfly Valley to meet Leah.

It's a lovely 20-minute drive. After pumping through the rough gravel road along the freshly blasted limestone cliffs, the road cuts through a couple small communities before turning into a narrow cement affair. The deciduous forest brush pushes pleasantly in against the road. The limbs of a single Asian Persimmon tree wiggle away from the trunk, bare of leaves, but sporting fist-sized orange fruits that smell and look like home in Fall.

There is a crispness to the afternoon air and a golden glow to the pasture that spreads out at the base of the privately owned crag. The crag, maintained and bolted by Asia Outdoors, is owned by one of the locals in the village in the valley. A fee is collected by Asia Outdoors, part of which goes to the family, providing an additional source of income, while preserving the balance between locals and the climbing community.

A few Brahman cows, brown with red hues, nibble at the short grass in the field. Nearby, a flock of docks plays in a shallow pond. They are joined by iconic white egrets.

Nate, Conner and Arjun are gardening on the far left of the wall, clearing back trees and vines as part of the route cleaning process.

There's a sharp pain in my stomach as my abs cramps from laughter. Leah with her nearly monotone stoner voice and sly, wide smile is cracking me up. Perched on a couple of chunks of limestone at the bottom of a route, we are brainstorming ideas for Belayer's Magazine.

She studied communications at university. Technically, she studied agricultural communications with a specialization in equestrian communications. However, the office job was a bad fit. The idea for the magazine is hers, but I'm completely on board.

The pain eases. Another idea for an article and section of the magazine is tabled. I can't remember the last time I've laughed this hard. It feels like I'm with an old friend and we're digging up inside jokes over a mug of cider out in the woods behind my childhood home in Sanders, Indiana – don't look for it on a map, because it's not there.

High above us, Marry-Ann is doing good work on a route that's pushing her level as a lead climber. Thankfully, and surprisingly, our raucous laughter and constant chatter isn't bothering her.

Eva put Leah and on wine duty, which apparently is a necessity as there is a staff meeting tonight, and being drunk is the preferred way to numb one's senses to the experience. To limit the number of unnecessary minutes of sobriety after our climb, I'd been trying to track down a bottle of whiskey for the Marry-Ann, Leah and me to share. However, I failed.

Though we'd hoped to squeeze in one more climb today, the sun is quickly fading by the time Marry-Ann wraps up the climb and joins us at the base. Jacob, who was climbing with another Asia Outdoors staff member on her day off, joins us for the short stroll back to the bikes.

“Okay, we'll grab whiskey and wine at the place next to the Asia Outdoors office,” Leah says.

I can feel Jacob's headlight chasing me back to town. He drives faster than I do, but now we know each other well enough for a little playful, boyish racing. I give Donkey more gas, trying to keep him off my backside. At this point, the road is too narrow for him to pass anyway. However, once it widens he pulls up next to us, offering to share his headlight. Poor Donkey isn't the brightest of creatures.

Earlier at Oasis, I'd nearly bought a bottle of tequila for Eva and me. It's her favorite drink. Though she was game for the idea when I first suggested it, last night she pointed out that though she'd love some tequila she just didn't want the consequences. Nonetheless, I rolled: do I buy a bottle of tequila now?

The answer was no.

At the little shop next to the office, I find a bottle of Jose Cuerrvo for half the price they were charge at the bar, where Eva had originally suggested I buy it. Good die.

I pick that up and a small bottle of Wall Street Whiskey. Leah buys a bottle of wine, while Mary-Ann takes the responsible route with a single beer.

Tables butted together stretch from the entrance of Good Bar, below the Asia Outdoors office, to the sidewalk.

Eva, wearing a her green shell jacket, gives me a half hug when she spots me in the office.

“What I don't get a hug?” Rob asks, ignoring my bro hug attempt.

“See that's a real hug. Eva gave me all shoulders,” I say once we let go of each other.

“Uh, nice to see you too,” Eva says, sometimes she takes teasing better than other times.

“Come here.”

This time I get a full hug. Her small body feels so nice wrapped up in my arms, though I can tell she's not a huge fan of having to hug me at the moment.

“Food down stairs?” she asks.

I look at my hand, holding an egg sandwhich.

“This is my second one already. I skipped lunch.”

The entire team, plus Jacob, Marry-Ann and two Spanish girls settle into chairs around one of the long tables downstairs for food and drinks.

The small bottle of whiskey is gone in under ten minutes after I split it up between several glasses and top it off with a single coke.

Rob, who nearly never drinks spirits, bows to the temptation with the staff meeting looming above him. Eva buys him and herself a passion fruit mojito. Though she's mostly flirting with Rob, who she's already decided she'll be naming her son after, I'm happy to even have a little knee-to-knee contact when she does turn her attention my way.

Leah's eyes are sparkling as she pounds back drinks. The conversation grows louder and louder as more staff members join in the drinking.

“I think we need more whiskey,” I say, shaking the empty bottle. “I'll pick up another bottle of wine for too.”

Pineapple shakes are ordered as mixers. Each drink, two or three shots deep, has barely enough shake to develop a Polaroid picture.

Rich the manager for Asia Outdoors, who I recognize immediately by his ears, though I'd yet to meet him, shows up.

The meeting is canceled.

At this point, even Leah, who apparently is a champion drinker, and the rest of the group is getting too wild and drunk for being in front of their place of work.

Connar, Maiju and Arjun are all trying to get the group to leave, but without much success.

I jump in and eventually, we get tabs paid and everyone headed the same direction: down the main street toward Beer Hoi. Leah, Rob and Markus are all wearing helmets, presumably they were prepared to drive or be driven instead of walking.

Someone smacks Leah's helmet, which turns into a head smacking frenzy as anyone with a helmet forfeits their right not to be bopped on the head. The helmets are taken off and jammed on to the head of some other drunk, unsuspecting member of the group. The game continues as we all make a scene, walking, stumbling and barely surviving our journey to a little beer garden setup on the sidewalk in front a the bridge to a tiny little island where the fishermen port is located.

Leah is nearly killed several times by the limousine-length golf carts for one of the nicer hotels' transfer service. Though she's the most prone to wandering in front of the golf cart, several others are also nearly hit.

We settle down onto plastic chairs around short plastic tables and order a round of beers. Who ended up paying for mine, I couldn't tell you. I'm tossing bits of fish chips at Leah as a web of conversations is woven across the table.

More people join us, taking up chairs between Eva and I. I feel completely at home with these people, it's a good jam. I miss good jams with good people who can kick it and laugh.

Leah's hit a struggle bus.

“You take care of my roommate, I'll find another way home,” Eva says.

“I'll take her home and be back. Don't worry,” I say.

I don't know what it is, but ever since my study abroad in Ghana, I have a knack for allowing responsibility to sober me up. I'm nearly always the person tucking people in, making sure they have water and are home safe. I'm also the one that made them do three more double shots when they probably should have stopped a half hour ago.

Leah's helmet comes flying off as we descend into Beo Bo Bay, but we push on to the hotel.

Once I have her tucked in, I hop back on the bike, pop over the hill and return to the party.

By this point, Eva is nearly done for.

“I'm ready to go home too,” Rob says in his soft New Zealander accent.

“Okay, we can ride three on the bike,” I say.

As we're pulling out, Arjun and Conner are arriving on the scene.

Rob heads to his room for a little smoke and bed, while Eva jumps into Leah's bed for cuddles.

“You too,” Leah says to me.

I crawl into bed, pulling both of their warm bodies close. Fully dressed, still wearing jackets, we lay there for a couple minutes.

“I'm going to go find my flip flops,” Eva says.

“I'll come,” I say.

There's a lovely darkness on the roof of the hotel. The krast islands are dark black shadows under a starry night.

Once we find Eva's shoes, I pick her up. Her legs wrap around my waist and I look into her eyes.

With trepidation, Eva avoids direct eye contact, afraid I'll lean in for a kiss.

“One kiss?”

“No, I can't do this.”

Then it all starts to come out. Everything I'd been planning on writing to her in a letter and tucking into her bag as I was leaving, starts to tumble out from between my lips. Her drunkenness is probably more of a confidence builder than mine. I'm comfortable saying what I want to say. Of course, it's not anything I have to say. I could stay silent, but I don't want to, as unfair as that might be.

“So remember the other night when you asked me to tell you honestly if I liked you when we were in Phuket. Remember how I didn't answer the question, just said that honesty wasn't my strong suit? I said that because you used the past tense.

“I still like you Eva. I planned to put this in a letter, but I'll tell you know. I know that words from one person can't protect you from your insecurities and I see them. I see when you're posing and posturing. But you're an incredible woman. Your stunning, you have a beautiful faith and you're smart. You're incredible.”

“Why now? You had two years. Why now?”

“Because I saw things that made me think it wouldn't work. Whether you've changed or my perceptions have changed, I don't know, but I don't see them now.

“That's the past,” she says. There's a bewildered, emotional desperation in her voice. “I don't have a heart any more. It's gone. It's all gone.”

“That's fine, I'm not here for your heart, I'm here for you. The Die took me to Vietnam, but I'm in Cat Ba for you.”

“You're lonely. I think you're lonely.”

“That's part of it. I know it is. I'm primed for love, but that's not everything Eva. It's not everything.”

The conversation goes on, mostly me murmuring words and thoughts, trying to explain so many sides of me that she has misunderstood.

“Stop. Go back to being an ass. Don't be nice. Be an ass. I can handle that,” she says.

“Don't want to. I want to take care of you. I want to be here with you right now.”

“I need to be alone. I came here to find myself, but I'm lost.”

“Let me stay here with you, we can pull up the crash mat and look at the stars, we don't have to talk. Give me your cheek.”

I kiss it.

“Give me your other cheek.”

I kiss it.

She turns her head when I lift her chin to find her lips.

She momentarily concedes the point: I can stay be her side. However, it doesn't last.

“Please. I need you to respect that I need to be alone.”

Her tone has changed.

“Okay, I understand.”

I don't want to leave, my protective instincts have kicked in. All I want to do is spread out my wings and shelter her from the pain and feeling of being lost that she's battling. Of course, it's her ex-boyfriend, who she needs, not me. And though he would love to be here for her, it seems the timing of everything is a struggle. Right person, wrong time.

Downstairs, I pull out my sleeping mat and the curl up in bed with Leah, waiting for Eva to join us.

She doesn't.

“Feels so good. Don't stop,” Leah purrs.

“Yeah, girl say that when I give them massages, but never when it's sex.”

My fingers are working along her shoulder blade and into the soft tissue behind it. It's a one handed massage, as my other arm is tucked underneath me. Eyes closed, we wait for Eva.

“I'm going to bring a water up to Eva.”

Eva's not upstairs. I walk the entire roof, holding my phone up for light. No sign of her at all. So much for needing alone time.

“She's not up there.”

We give it a 90 per cent chance she's found her way into Rob's room.

“You're giving it a 90 per cent chance, but the other 10 per cent is everywhere else,” I say.

Leah and I laugh. It's true. It's hard to imagine where else she could be at this time of night.

Leah peels of her jacket at some point. Still fully clothed, we cuddle up in bed and try to get a little sleep.

At some point in the night it occurs to me that maybe Eva went skinny dipping somewhere, as she was talking about that. I also wonder if I should be finding my way to my own sleeping mat, this won't look good in the morning. But then again, nothing is happening and I can only imagine what Eva's gotten herself into.

#romance #Vietnam #DailyUpdate #Climbing

The Proposition

THE premise is simple: Allow die roles to determine the majority of decisions faced while motorbiking throughout the world with a limited budget for an entire year.      It’s 365 days of tempting fate, enticing serendipity and letting go of free will – if such things exist at all.

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