fun (noun) Definition: pleasure, enjoyment, entertainment Where was the fun in today?
The day had started well, I was in good spirits due to the people I’d met the previous day but I was also buoyed by the fact that I’d be in Xi’an later that evening. It wasn’t particularly cold when I left but certainly a little chillier than the lovely weather I’d been experiencing for the past few days.
The road out of Shangluo rose gradually and I knew I was in for a fairly hilly day as the guys from the cycling club had indicated the day before. I was feeling good and was out of the saddle a couple of times, blood pumping through my veins as I made light work of the first couple of climbs. There was a light wind but nothing to suggest that this wouldn’t be anything other than a routine 130km ride to Xi’an. How wrong was I? The warning signs were there for me to see all too clearly as I went over the top of the second climb and into a valley. Not only could I see nothing but hills in the distance but they were hills covered with thick grey clouds.
To make matters worse the wind suddenly decided to pick up and within half an hour of starting out I was cycling into a very strong headwind. Next came the drizzle; I opted not to get the rainwear out immediately as I wasn’t convinced that the grey clouds ahead were going to hit. This as it happened turned out to be just one of a number of assumptions I got wrong on this day.
Before long the rain was coming down at a very steady rate. This coupled with the icy headwind meant it wasn’t long before my fingers started to get very cold as they gripped the handlebars tightly as I attempted to pull myself up a painfully drawn out ascent. With the wind lashing my face, my hands turning to small blocks of ice my decision to once again wear shorts was not looking to be a good one.
Things were fast turning into a joke but not a funny one. I think it would have been rather interesting to have had a camera on my face for the duration of the ride as I’m sure I was making all number of strange contortions with my face as I battled the elements.
I was beginning to get frustrated, why for example was I a) not only going uphill but also b) the tailwind was favoring those going downhill? It just didn’t seem right; then came the battle cries. The wind had picked up to such a level that on a couple of occasions it felt like I was quite literally pedaling air as the bike came to an almost standstill while I tried to force it upwards. I let out a couple of blood curling cries that wouldn’t have been out of place in Braveheart.
Eventually the rain ceased and I was able to reach into my panniers, take off my slightly wet top, put my jacket on and also a dry pair of gloves. Having ridden upwards for what seemed like an eternity I was faced with a long tunnel and was pretty sure that the through this on the other side would signal the descent and I could enjoy rolling freely downhill.
I was right in one respect, the descent was on the other side but stretched out in front of me was a narrow valley. The valley created a wind tunnel effect so that the wind was shooting up through the valley and down over the other side. I began to realize that this was not going to be as easy as I’d anticipated. If anything things had gotten worse. Despite the fact I was going downhill I was still grinding the pedals. This was completely pointless as my top speed going down struggled to hit 11kmph. On previous days I’d enjoyed rolls downwards hitting speeds of 40. What made matters worse were the huge trucks which would pass every minute or so swirling up more wind that caused the bike to move dramatically from left to right. This was dangerous plain and simple. I really had to concentrate on what I was doing as the wind gushed straight into my face.
The lush mountains nearer the top gradually gave way to gnarly rock formations which jutted out into the road. Long curvy bends gave way to sharp break corners. It was as if I had to creep the bike around these corners and once around the wind would just hit you smack in the face. At one point things got so stupid and dangerous navigating my way through these rocks and downwards that I thought it actually safer to get off and push the bike. Pushing a bike downhill what had things come to!
The tunnels were no better, most of the ones I’ve encountered so far have been well lit and besides I always make sure I turn my lights on when I enter. These ones however were much shorter but totally devoid of light. It was like entering a black hole and again I could barely see anything. In this situation the last thing you want is a massive truck coming up behind you all horns beeping but this is what I had to deal with.
In all I’d spent the best part of 5 hours going up and down this mountain and by the time I’d got to the bottom I was certainly more mentally drained than physically. When I looked back upon the mountains from a distance they had a rather sinister look to them, covered in what appeared to be a permanent grey cloud. I was as you can imagine glad to see the back of it.
All I had to do now was negotiate the flat 50 odd kilometres which would take me into Xi’an. I obviously received no rest bite from the wind. There was however a sense of achievement as I made my way under the city wall of Xi’an. Covered in dust, windswept and tired I made my way through the bustling early evening traffic and to the hostel. I think I’ve deserved to put my feet up for a while here in Xi’an as I prepare for the next leg of my trip to Lanzhou and then onwards into the Gobi desert.