Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Posts from — November 2008

Day 242 (China): rest day in Xian (ticket, baggage allowance and the like)

A short night of sorts and I so wanted to rest up. I couldn’t sleep well … maybe it was the coffee that I usually don’t drink but didn’t feel that I should refuse yesterday. No laundry at the hotel and I didn’t feel like looking around for a place so I did it myself and then set out to take a look at the city.


There were even more hairdressers than I thought and many, many modern buildings that are supposed to look old. Xian strikes me - at least in the center and the main roads - as a modern place and one that has shed part of what I assume is its old glory. Once you wonder into the side streets things tend to get a lot better though.

But I had two missions today: get new spokes just in case and look into return flights. The first one was easy (though the length wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but it was within range), the second wasn’t. I was sent from this place to the next and finally got to a place that would do the booking on the spot. Good. What should have taken 15 or 30 minutes was in the end a three-hour affair. No fewer than six people handled the issue. Now, understand that Xian gets a lot of tourist traffic and this was supposed to be the place where the foreigners usually go. One guy spoke broken English, everything was complicated … even questions as to whether what the situation was to fly back from Shanghai instead of Beijing caused concern. And took a long time to answer. And I got a total of six answers as to whether I can take the bike on the plane. From: sure, no problem to everything over 20kg will be 35EUR/kg and no oversize boxes. We shall see what happens.

So, after two hours we were set. I plunked down my credit card and said here you go. The card didn’t go through they said. Then they figured out that they used the wrong slot on the machine. Only one person in the office was allowed to use this machine and she didn’t have a clue. It was classic. All I wanted was a ticket. In the end I went to an ATM and got cash out without a hitch. This meant that the day was shot really.

With the ticket and the spokes secured I didn’t care much though. Things were settled and I am bound to fly out just after mid-December. Updating the website and just relaxing was the order for the remainder of the day.

Here is the last picture (and this is best viewed large, so click on it and then the plus icon on top of the picture).

November 20, 2008   No Comments

Day 241 (China): where G70 and G312 meet again after that one tunnel - Xian (cold nights, nice priests)

daily distance: 140km
total distance: 14,240km
riding time: 8-9h 

So, for the last few nights I have been saying that the nights were cold. This one was really, really cold. The night was OK, but the morning saw this …


It wasn’t nice. The site was in the shade which didn’t make things much better and the shoe that had gotten stuck in the mud last night was frozen. My shoes being leather this wasn’t a good thing. What to do? The sandals weren’t good enough for the temperatures. It was good that I had wiped the shoes clean last night and so I stuck the shoe under my jacket while packing up and warmed it up to make the leather more pliable. It worked and without cracking the leather things went from there.

The tent was wet though - or rather full of frost as I packed it up. I tried to get most of it off, but there was still plenty of moisture on the inside left. The inner tent had a good crust of ice on it - not sure what I could have done to prevent it.

So I set out in the freezing temperatures, it was now -12C as I was heading up the hill. Which was good because it meant that I could warm up without a downhill to contend with. After a period in the shade I got into the sun and found that the spot that I had chosen had been the best among bad ones as the valley was narrowing considerably and no real space to stay for the night.

The remainder of the day was warmish then. After getting over the climb with lots of nasty traffic and bumpy roads I passed a series of towns as I was heading to Xian. The street signs were fun to follow …


I had had no intention of getting there given the slow morning. But then it became apparent that Xian was within reach and Xianyang beforehand was another metropolis meaning that I really didn’t have a chance to camp anywhere and may as well run things in.

It would be a close call. But then I saw a church in the distance and as I was approaching I couldn’t resist to check it out. I was given a quick tour by the priest, followed by some apples and coffee. It was time for me to head out though if I wanted to have a chance to make it to Xian. It would now be an even closer call. But it was well worth it.


Then the maelstrom of the big cities started and you sort of get sucked in … unless of course another spoke goes bust in the process. I was doing well in terms of daylight when another spoke gave up. This time I fixed things up within about 10-15 minutes and was back on the road now racing … but of course it was futile. I took this when I was still 20km out - and I was supposed to be really close already.

But: good news … despite the darkness I managed to get into Xian amidst the traffic and lots of other cyclists and found a hotel within 5 minutes that would take foreigners in. It wasn’t any of the hotels that I had been told about (one of them was indeed hard to find), but the place I am in has plenty of room and a good hot shower.

The first thing that struck me about Xian (apart from the huge walls surrounding the city) wa the plethora of hairdressers. More about Xian tomorrow. The idea to make it all the way was to rest for a couple of days in one place, drying things out and not worrying about finding a new place. It worked out in the end though I do need the break now.

Note: I have been able to access flickr again, but still can’t access the larger size pictures that I used to post. For the time being, this is the best I can do. If you click on the pictures, you will get to the larger sizes. Thanks for bearing with me.

November 19, 2008   No Comments

Day 240 (China): km marker 1738 on G312 - where G70 and G312 meet again after that one tunnel (how much is life worth in China?)

daily distance: 133km
total distance: 14,100km
riding time: 8-9h 

I thought about putting: “Police car giving me chase” as the headline for today, but the other one kept me occupied much longer. You will see what I mean. Plenty of things happened today.

I left my place, the temperature again lower than yesterday, now standing at -6C and again, it felt much colder on the bike. My core body temperature is mostly OK - it takes a bit to get warmed up, but the hand and feet are a bit iffy for a while. Today, I was also cold all the time. Maybe I am too skinny or just had a bad day. Who knows. But I was almost fully clothed all day long. Here is what my sleeping quarters were last night. The view was nice though.  



Early on I passed the 14,000km mark:


So, only 1,000km more to go. Or so you may think. But it seems that I can reach the ocean under my own steam. And it will be a bit more in the end.

In Jungchuan I saw this


and this


But I wasn’t allowed in as some local bigwigs were arriving and so I couldn’t go. Too bad. But I saw this … the food in the market was great …  



Back on the bike I was wondering whether I would be riding in a valley for the rest of the time. No sooner had that thought formed did I climb for a good long while. And then remain on a plateay with lots of people selling apples all over.

I then entered coal country. Big time coal country. The towns looked like this.

And this where things happened to prompt me to write the subject line. I was just coming into a part of town and saw someone directing a truck backing up into the street. He saw me, acknowledged my presence and saw me closing in fast. Yet he still directed the driver to back up into my lane. The other side had oncoming traffic. Too late to brake and come to a stop. Road slippery. Not good. Bike acrobatics and two near-misses. I was glad to have made it. But I was fuming. The guy saw me and still almost got me hit. And it wouldn’t have been pretty. I was yelling and screaming at him. He turned around and didn’t care. Didn’t give a damn. I was told by another guy directing traffic that I should move on, they had business to do. I couldn’t believe it. Now I understand that I am on the bottom of the food chain. But this was a bit much. And I wasn’t sure what made me angrier. The fact that it happened or that he didn’t care. I couldn’t do anything but move on.

I wanted to leave this town badly then. I was directed by police a certain way which proved to be wrong. Completely wrong. It meant a big detour to go back and over the hill. I didn’t feel like it. There was a tunnel and a highway. And there are always ways and means to get onto one. So I did. I knew I wasn’t allowed to. I did this with full intention. And hoped I would get by. Then, entering the tunnel I saw the cameras. More and more. Halfway through I thought I may make it. Then I heard the siren. Darn … I was in trouble. I was told to stop outside the tunnel and thought about the situation. What did I care? Would they fine me, throw me out of the country, go to court? Nothing of the sort. The guy said something, I said I didn’t understand - pointed away from the highway and he nodded and let me go. Good one.

Then he passed me again, there had been no way out. But nothing happened. I passed the highway patrol building and got by without a hitch. Then I was hunting for a spot to pitch, got my feet wet in the morast as it was dark and pitched randomly. But I knew it would be cold and the area was moist. Not good. I had little appetite, though I was glad that things worked out with the police. But I was still wondering how much life is worth in China.

November 18, 2008   No Comments

Day 239 (China): km marker 1880 on G312 - km marker 1738 on G312 (decision time)

daily distance: 121km
total distance: 13,997km
riding time: 7h

I essentially had a lousy night, there simply wasn’t enough space. Despite having lost so much weight it seems that I need some space at night.


I also had two bad dreams last night, one dealing with the local people finding me and stealing my cycling shoes and a bunch of other things. As it turns out though they looked decidedly Southern European rather than Chinese. So much for that. The other dream dealt with completely banged up rims front and back, but the image that I had in my mind was that of completely flexible rims, entirely wobbly. Nothing nice to think of … so it was time to get up. Only to realize that things were much colder outside than under the protection of the greenhouse. A nice snug 2C was replaced by a -5C once I was outside. Brrrr …. and riding into the oncoming wind didn’t make things much better at all. But what brightened my mood was the face of the guy who turned me away last night and gave his dogs some fun while doing so when he saw me pedaling past him in the early morning.


In Longde I warmed up with some more food and talked to the guy who made them. He was tickled to have the foreigner like his daudse - and they were delicious and when he saw the map, he was even more tickled to find Longde on it and tell me where I was.

Then came a long and sometimes tough uphill. Tough because it was decision time. I had been pondering the route for a while. Remain on the G312 until Xian and then turn to the G310 and on to the Yellow Sea or stick to the old idea of getting back to the G309 and head East that way. I pretty much had made up my mind to do the latter, but wavered given the terrain that was awaiting me, the altitude and with it the temperatures. It was getting really cold, every day seemed to be colder than the last. Especially the early mornings. And then there were the constant ups and downs all the time. I was already feeling a little sick and this wouldn’t be getting any better soon. The last straw were the temps on the downhill … it was not just cold. And so I passed the turnoff to Guyuan and stayed on the G312.

I will thus be heading to Xian and then follow the Yellow River for a while. Or at least its valley. Call me chicken for all this, but it seems to make good sense to me. Sure, the other one would have been more off the beaten track and less crowded and I liked that, but there were lots of reasons that mitigated against taking that route.

So, on past the now almost regular pollution as I descended from 2300m to just above 1000m at the end of the day.


In Pingliang there was more food waiting in store, a long internet session and then came a ferocious two hours on the bike. I covered almost 50km in just over two hours, aided by a massive tailwind. It was great and it was a bit warmer than the previous nights.

Taking the easy way now means that I might have more time along the route though I must say that I am a bit anxious towards the end of the trip. And there really isn’t much to do in the towns. But for the remainder you will continue to get more episodes of what one reader has called the soap opera that he is hooked to. Thanks … I do take it as a compliment.

Note: The picture quailty is lousy … I cannot change that for the time being. As I am posting this I am in Xian and couldn’t find an internet cafe which even allows me to access the flickr site. This is hopefully temporary and I will try to remedy the situation as best as I can once I have access again.

November 17, 2008   No Comments

Day 238 (China): km marker 2010 on G312 - km marker 1880 on G312 (jumping kms all over)

daily distance: 125km
total distance: 13,876km
riding time: 6-7h 

I had a really good night and slept well. Here is where …

I packed up my belongings, looked for some food in Huining and headed out. But the best part of the day was early on, even before getting to the rather drab city (as most cities are here I feel). I came around a corner, a family of three standing there. Man, wife and 5-year old daughter. The three of them see me and all, at the same time, give me the thumbs-up sign. It was something I held on to for the rest of the day … when things weren’t so good. Like when this one driver almost ran me over. It was a bit of a close call.

Past Huining it was long uphill climbs and downhill sections … just as on the days prior, but they were all doable. This is serious agroland, apples and chili peppers being the order of the day. Maybe I am getting into warmer territory, judging by the fruits and veggies that are grown here. But: it was almost always 2C, no warmer. For a brief moment, temperatures rose to about 5C, but that was it.

I get a lot of stares here in China … so what do you? You can stare back, but that doesn’t seem to faze people the least. So most of the time I just wave back. Or move on when it gets too much. This one was different though …

I was watching some theater that was put up for people in the area … not much of a draw I would say.


And corn grow on trees …

The night was a bit special. After being turned away all over the place (you pull up and the hand goes no most of the time without even saying a word), I went into a greenhouse which was much warmer and given the minimum light I had left it was a good choice. Or so I thought at the time. I am not sure what is going on here with the people. Just no sense of hospitality? Or just plain rude? Or just not having ever been exposed to foreigners? This is serious farmland, nothing much going on and people living on little. I don’t know and am at a loss as to what the reasons may be.

November 16, 2008   1 Comment