A glorious day for riding bikes and a not so glorious one.
A glorious day on the bike．
I got an early start out of Yongshou and was out beating the streets by 7. It makes such a difference if you can get out before day break. The streets are so different at that time of day. Once again I managed a good 9 hours sleep last night. It’s not great sleep I have to say, my body doesn’t quite know what to expect in terms of beds. Most of them are hard but I think my back still longs for my old bed in Xiamen.
Being up and out so early I was able to watch the sun come up. Like I mentioned before the landscape is changing dramatically. The lush and fertile green hills are slowly giving way to massive sandstone rock formations and huge deep canyons. There is cherry blossom everywhere and it’s once again a shame that I can’t show you the pictures of it today. For the first time on this trip I think I could quite easily describe some of the scenery as breathtaking.
Most days seem to start with a climb and today was no different; one of the things you are never quite sure about a climb is will it flatten out at the top or go down. I was in luck today and was treated to a free 12km of simply rolling downhill， marvelous! The only downside was that I was going through one of those sandstone valleys I’d mentioned earlier and what with it still being early morning the sun had yet to rise above the mountains on my right. As a result my ride downwards was extremely cold. So cold in fact that once at the bottom I was forced to go into a petrol station and ask them to fill my cup with hot water to which they duly obliged. My cup has been home to many things during my trip, mostly food but also lately moisturizer as I try to maximize space in my bags as a result this mornings cup of coffee had a faint perfumed smell about it.
With the sun beating down on me it was time to break out the short sleeve cycling shirt. It was hot today but this is just a taster of what is to come. Cycling in the midday heat is never a good idea so I pulled up by the side of the road and found a nice shaded spot overlooking green fields to enjoy a lunch of water, peanuts and raisins. I think I could quite easily get used to these midday siestas.
As I continued along my way I’d totally forgotten about which province I was in and a quick look at my GPS now actually informed we I'm in Gansu province. Having missed out on camping the night before I was determined that tonight due to the fine weather I was going to camp out. Having passed the 100km for the day and well stocked up on water and food it was just a question of finding a suitable place.
I found it on another downward section of the road, my thinking here was that it would be good to start the morning going down for a change. I spotted a small place on top of a hill with plenty of foliage; a suitable place and certainly one where I wasn’t going to be disturbed. It was a little bit of a struggle getting the bike up and through the trees but well worth it when I got to my spot, definitely a room with a view!
I set about setting up camp as quickly as possible, anyone who has seen my tent knows that it doesn’t take a long time to put up. Having done so I cooked up some spaghetti with a garlic and chili sauce and threw in some chopped tomatoes for good measure, Jaime Oliver eat your heart out. Tent up, dinner done it was time to sit back and watch the sun go down over the valley; this was certainly what I signed up for!
I actually slept pretty well, as well as in any hotel so far that is. Unfortunately the great weather I’d gone to sleep to didn’t materialize again in the morning and while I set about making some breakfast it started to drizzle. I ran around busily trying to pack everything away and managed to do so before the drizzle turned into proper rain. I can’t understand this weather and coming from the UK that’s saying something. Thankfully I knew I was only in for a short ride today of around 90km to Pingliang.
Driven on by the once again appalling weather I started to eat into the kilometers, this was certainly not the weather you want to be hanging around in. Along the way I passed another cyclist who I’d see the day before at the side of the road chatting with an old Chinese guy. He didn’t seem that interested in chatting when I first saw him and today was no different. Nevertheless I decided to stop and join him in the little cow shed he was using for shelter. I soon ascertained that he didn’t speak English and that might have been the reason he didn’t want to stop and chat. I did my best to speak to him in Chinese but when you don’t speak fluently it’s very hard to talk about anything meaningful. I kind of got the idea that he wanted to be on his own. Once the rain had eased he suggested that we get back out on the road, I think he felt a certain obligation to invite me to ride with him. We rode along for about 10 minutes, me following him but the pace was much slower than I’ve been used to.
I rode past him and indicated for him to follow. When I glanced back over my shoulder 5 minutes later his red jacket was a small dot in the distance. I was caught in two minds here, wait and slow down or simply carry on. I decided on the later course of action and continued onwards. Perhaps if we’d shared a common language it might have been easier to ride together but it felt a little forced and like I said I think he was more than happy being on his own.
It’s strange how good weather and good roads coincide with each other and at the same time bad weather and bad roads go hand in hand; today was no different.
I’m now on the G312 which is the road I shall take all the way to the North-west of China, so there should be very little chance of me getting lost. To make matters worse today the 312 runs adjacent to the Gansu expressway, a beautiful piece of road; wide, evenly tarmacked smooth surface, on which one can only imagine how my wheels would roll.
The G312 on the other hand varies in states and today it was the farmhouse section again, massive potholes, small uneven ramps and plenty of debris just lying around waiting to puncture your tires. I managed to make my way through it all and my poncho kept me dry. I was cycling in shorts again which seems to amaze Chinese people. “ni leng ma?” are you cold seems to be the question of the day? My reply “bu leng” (not cold) seems to surprise them, again they forget which country I’m from. The decision to wear shorts in this weather I think was a good one. If I was wearing trousers then they would have gotten totally soaked and would therefore require hanging up and drying.
What it did mean though was that my lower legs required a thorough scrubbing down to remove the thick layer of mud and grim that had built up on them. Today was also the day that I got splashed from the side from one of those massive trucks as he sped through one of the many huge puddles on the road. I’m sure he knew what he was doing!
I like to think of myself as a fairly considerate sort of person and with that in mind I always try to make sure if it has been raining then I’ll take the bike for a quick wash down before taking it to a hotel. There is no way anyone would have let me in anywhere today with the state the bike and bags looked. Once I’d got the bike cleaned I managed to find a hotel after several attempts. Again the young receptionist girl insisted that I leave my bike around the back with the security guard, who incidentally was sleeping when I went around there. This didn't fill me with confidence. In my best pleading Chinese I managed to let her agree to me taking it to my room. I’m not being funny here but the hotels I’m staying in are not exactly the Ritz so a bike in the room really isn’t going to make much of a difference.
I waited till it got dark outside before heading out again, by night I’m far less conspicuous. The population of the people is becoming far more mixed with Muslims becoming much more prominent. It can also be seen in the architecture of the buildings and I passed at least two mosques as I entered Pingliang.
I ate some amazing noodles with beef, onions and peppers for dinner at a very friendly local Muslim restaurant. The boss and I had a brief chat and he asked me where I was from. I told him England to which he replied “Do you have Muslims in England?”
He was so pleased to have a foreigner in his restaurant that he invited me, the chef and him to have a photo taken on the doorstep of the restaurant. I agreed, so much for being conspicuous!
Today was the sad day as I mentioned in my previous blog that my computer died. When I get to Lanzhou I will take it to a computer store and have somebody look at it, after all Chinese people are amazing at fixing things but deep down I know it’s gone already.
While it might make blogging a little harder I’m not sure what effect it will have. It’s been nice to have it but then again not every hotel I’ve stayed in has had Wi-Fi. I was only thinking the other day what doing this trip ten years ago might have been like without all the technology that we have today. Having the computer has made writing the blog easier, even when I don’t have Internet access I can still get my thoughts down and then simply copy and paste at a later date．For the time being it looks like I'll be going back to the tried and trusted pen and paper method, it served us well for many years and continues to do so. We live and adapt to the situations we are in and this is just another case of that. I feel strong the bike is still strong and at the end of the day that is all that matters. Perhaps my last blog before Lanzhou, I should be there on Thursday.