roughing it

CNY Part 3: Revenge of the Bike Seat

After the most deep and full night sleep we’d had on the trip, we decided due to the unknown problem with Ruth’s derailleur we’d take the train from Zigong back to Chengdu. The problem was resulting in our inability to climb steeper hills because her chain jumped off the cogs and lodged themselves in between the spokes and hub. The distance between Zigong and Chengdu is about 200km, but there are some rather large hills (mountains) spread through the area and no direct route by train, so it would be 6hrs

Zigong was pretty close to us still; we’d definitely make it on day 6. We’d checked the timetable and could get the overnight train back to Chengdu. So we’d take our time enjoying the route but still had to get to the train station for about 6. As we rode along we crossed through many small roadside towns and we decided to grab ourselves a last helping of water before Zigong. We stopped at this store full of people, a family, eating outside and very friendly. They also had an amazing looking little special needs puppy! It was so inbred and ridiculous! It was enthusiastically falling over itself and winning me over with it’s antics.

We had quite a number of small arguments throughout and when our turn of bad luck returned. We arrived at the train station and it looked very, very closed. I started asking around, enquiring whether the station was open or not. Fending off all the usual chit-chat questions and conversation; “Where are you from?” “Your Chinese is really good.” “What do you think of Sichuan food? Spicy?” “Where are you going?” … I was fielding many questions from various people while asking all my own. Ruth got impatient and wandered off to go into the station and check. The security guards didn’t raise a question to her, which is why we hadn’t attempted originally!

After establishing with the folks outside that we would have to return early the next morning to get our bikes onboard. I went into the station to tell Ruth the good news. I found her sitting after having spoken with the ticket man who just told her no no no no. With the information I knew from locals and the fact there was a baggage/freight office at the station we’d be able to take our bikes.

I had a turn at the window, speaking to the man and then another woman, we established that what was meant that it would be impossible to get the bikes on the late night train because the other office had closed. So I returned to the line and dealt with Chinese people and their frustrating cultural difference of “me first” so cutting in line. Thankfully, my Chinese has improved enough I can have small arguments and make it very clear I know what’s up. Successfully purchasing our tickets for the 9am train I went back to Ruth.

We had another falling out, because she wanted to find a place to camp, but my argument was we couldn’t camp in the city very easily at all and leaving city limits to try and find a camp would also be so difficult. So if we didn’t get a cheap nearby hotel we could all night it at the station. We did have camp mats and all the things to have food and stay comfortable. Very reluctantly, we booked a hotel nearby for the night.

The next morning we were up early and at the station before they opened. Checking our bikes into the train put my Chinese past its limit! After some round and round discussion, we paid 60rmb total and were told we weren’t going to be able to get the bikes right away at the other side and ride home. They would HAVE to be delivered to my home.

Another small bit of trouble occurred when we decided to keep hold of our gas canisters hoping to get away with it. NOPE. Berated in Chinese and then my passport photographed we were away!

The rest of the trip was a little boring and lonely, since my partner in crime became very quiet. This wasn’t so fun as the trip was still long way from done.

After about 2 hours I hear “外国人 -Waiguoren…” and I replied “不对,我是中国人 – Budui, wo shi zhongguoren” … The little girl looked shocked and ran away, she kept coming back and forth before deciding to show me her English homework and we ended up speaking for over an hour. She didn’t have an English name and I gave her one, Joanne. Her name was Jiu Yuan, so it worked! But bless her she was telling me she didn’t have many friends and her classmates called her ugly!

When we arrived in Chengdu, I rushed up to the freight area and spoke with the guys about how to get the bikes at the station rather than wait. They told me where to go, Ruth and I were soon back on the road sleepily and quietly riding back to our places. Mostly silent, we got back and said our goodbyes. I immediately ordered a take away and sat down and began considering washing my stuff and unpacking.


There and Back Again… A Cyclist’s Tale Pt.1

A couple weeks before Chinese New Year, my friend Ruth and I were talking and both had our reasons for not being able to leave China (passport stuff)… so we talked about maybe doing a bit of a bike tour during the holiday.

Now, I should probably set the scene for you reading. The time frame is the final week of January, Chinese New Year, possibly the single largest human migration at any time in the world. So the cities empty at a post-apocalyptic level, the national sites are overrun like some Resident Evil movie. Imagine hordes of people teeming around towns, villages or parks with even the slightest value to Chinese heritage. If you’ve never visited China, or lived here, I can best sum up the Chinese mentality in these situations; Me > you. Me first. Move faster. Personal space? Never heard of that.

Firstly, we didn’t make the 7am departure time. At 8am we were still feeling rather comfortable. I was dozily imagining the frustrations yet to be endured by departing Chengdu in “normal” hours…

As we departed at about 10am, we were greeted with the standard chorus of horns and bells from everything on the road (or sidewalk) that can make a noise. For those inexperienced with China, bells and horns are not last resort “Move-the-fuck-out-of-the-way-you-idiot” as we know them. They are sharing the “I’m-here-please-oh-please-don’t-just-pull-out-you-fucker” feelings of the vehicle operators.

Early on we had frequent stops to work out the route, Chinese maps are notoriously inaccurate at times and where really built up rather unclear. After about an hour and a half we had passed through the Chengdu south toll-gates and were off!

Fortune was in our favour, we had uncharacteristically warm and sunny weather following us all day. Our first official stop on the trip came after powering down the highway a few dozen kilometres. We stopped for lunch, which was a total DIY noodle + vegetable combo in a little nook next to a road works fence. Complete with a poo just sitting in the corner keeping us company.

Arriving in the first larger town, apparently famous for strawberries, it was necessary to use my alarm call “HEY, MOVE! NI MEI ZHANG YANJING MA?!” or “BEEP!BEEP!HONK!”… The number of people and vehicles aimlessly moving across the roads was a little staggering. Almost immediately I was over it. I really just wanted to get on and out back onto navigable roads.

Hills. Oh the beginning of a strong -session of swearing at hills. (Spoiler, we got mountains later… so by comparison, fine times!) Alongside the road ran very deep ditches, about 2metres deep, v-shaped ditches. Across these sporadically were small bridges crowded with strawberry sellers.

This created the real problem with hills. Regularly cars would suddenly cut us off, to pull up to the sellers to check out the strawberries. Often this meant we’d have to stop and get going again on a steep incline or awkwardly pedal out into traffic that was already rather chaotic. Eventually, I created a bit of a gap between Ruth and myself, so it seemed like a good time to pull up and wait for her while eyeing up some delicious looking strawberries. After a bit of a misunderstanding we had nearly 3kg of strawberries for 70rmb. And worth every single mao, so delicious!

Pushing off and upwards we kept riding, fatigue getting to us after nearly 60km when the furthest we’d probably ever rode was 20km in a day. This time laden with gear and food! We weighed my bike in at 40kg so I was good and ready to find a place to settle for the evening. We scouted out a place nearby this big river crossing and decided to wait for it to become a little darker before wandering off to find a campsite. We crossed back under the bridge we had come over and started pedalling down this underused dirt road that was crossed behind, what appeared to be, an abandoned industrial estate. As we got further along we found our path unexpectedly blocked and overrun with goats. Lots and lots of goats. The friendly farmers cleared us a path and we kept going. Eventually we found a nice little spot that was hidden from sight from 3 out of 4 directions.

With complete confidence we’d not be disturbed, we started setting up camp and got dinner cooking. Ruth whipped up a sort of on-the-road version of a pad thai curry. It hit all the spots!

At the beginning of our trip, I had foreseen just sitting in camp or laying in the tent reading, the actually truth… Ruth and I were far too tired so fell asleep almost immediately!

Suddenly, there were CPR-like compressions on my chest. Ruth was hissing at me about a flashlight shining all over the area and the voice of someone talking loudly. As my adrenaline pumped I started clearing sleep from my eyes and taking in the situation. It was incredibly bright outside the tent and the man was very loud.