Trials and tribulations of bike touring across China
Special to the Sun
and#8220;Wow, that was the longest bike ride I have ever been on!and#8221;
That’s what Adam Selby told me after our first day pedaling our bicycles out from Urumchi in the JingJang Providence of China. We had done a little over 100 kilometers that day.
Adam has been my traveling companion for the past four months. We had started out climbing our way across southern Asia, but for the last month here we have traded our climbing gear for gears and pedals and have set out to bike across China.
When introducing someone to their first long-distance bike tour, it is best to keep the challenges easy and comfortable. Especially if you want to save any lasting friendship afterward. For Adam, this would not be the case.
After just one week on the road Adam suggested that, and#8220;Maybe we should see how much it would cost to change our plane tickets, cut our losses and go home.and#8221;
Honestly, the same thoughts had been spinning wheels inside my head as well. Our spirits had taken a beating and were barely pulsating with the faintest signs of life.
During that first week we would be incarcerated by the police, twice, and detained for over 30 hours before being forced, at our expense, to take busses hundreds of kilometers back the direction we had just worked so hard to leave. Then, despite all the information that we were able to gather telling us the Takeshen border crossing into Mongolia was open for foreigners, we were ultimately turned around with little explanation. This completely crushed our dream of biking across Mongolia and had us riding around in circles in northern China.
I pleaded with Adam to give it one more try: and#8220;If we get picked up by the police one more time, then that’s it, we can go.and#8221;
We decided to make the best of our situation and quickly devised a new plan. At the time we were near the most land-locked place in the world, meaning that one cannot get any farther away from an ocean than we were then. We decided that this would be our new goal: bike to the ocean. We were happy to be moving, with a direction to point our tires.
I wish I could say things got easier after that. But our second week on the road only brought on its own new set of difficulties.
We would ride through and be pinned down by sand storms raging across the desert. Climbing from below sea level to 10,000 feet, we would get to sample some of the flooding that is devastating the Gansu Providence along with the rain and wind that come with it. At times the winds were so intense it would bring our pace down to an infuriating 4 kilometers per hour. We had to ride through sewage and swarms of bees so thick they darkened the sky around us.
It has been a wild ride to say the least, and Adam Selby has impressed me around every corner. He actually thanked me at one point for talking him into continuing. If you were to ask him about our trip he wouldn’t mention anything about what I have already told you, but what stands out most in his view: The genuine smiles from the people we have met, their warmth and above all, their unbelievable kindness.
We have not met many other travelers along our road, and of the few we have met, only three were cyclists. One, Ruldoff from Slovakia, explained to Adam that, and#8220;Touring China is not for the weak of heart and mind. This (China) is a very difficult environment for the touring cyclist.and#8221; Along with everything else that Adam and myself have had to overcome along the way, Adam has also had to deal with the anxieties of traveling in a foreign country for his first time.
The other two cyclist we encountered were a couple from Germany who were taking a week to bike from Hami to Urumqui. and#8220;We are taking it easy,and#8221; they explained. and#8220;This is my first bike tour in China.and#8221;
Adam, with a huge smile on his face stated, and#8220;This is my first bike tour!and#8221;
and#8212; Sam Skrocke is a Truckee resident and former member of Biking for a Better World.
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