Bicycle Around the World


Index: Letters By Date | A Unique Opportunity | The Last (?) Bike Ride
July 11, 2002

XiJi, NingXia Province, China
            You get what you need.

...and yesterday had a couple of good examples.
There are a lot of hills on the route I am on now. Maybe more about that later. There are also occasional apiaries (I guess that is the name for groups of bee hives) along the road. They are clearly temporary, and I guess there to pollinate the crops. And there are lots of crops. More about that later too, maybe. The beekeepers live in tents, about 7 feet by 10 feet. One tent per group of hives.
Most of the time, if the beekeepers see me, they just wave and smile, and sometimes say, "hello," in English. Yesterday, as I was climbing past one of those apiaries, one of the beekeepers ran out and hollered that I should stop for a rest. I did. At first we talked a little, but my Chinese doesn't work for long conversations, so I leaned back a little on the bed I was sitting on, and the next thing, they had a pillow and I took my shoes off and stretched out. It was getting on lunch time, and they were chopping vegetables and cooking rice in a
pressure cooker. This is noodle country, so rice would be unusual, but it turns out they are from SiChuan, where they eat rice. Anyway, they invited me to stay to lunch, which was the rice, string beans fried until some of them were black, hot peppers, and some stems like from green onions, but much finer, plus tomato and egg soup.
Almost everyday since I left Lanzhou, I have arrived at a town or village that was big enough to have restaurants just about lunch time. Yesterday there were some villages, but none very big. There might have been a restaurant in one of them, but because of the beekeepers, I didn't need to ask.
Because of the hills, most days since I left LZ I have not covered much ground. Yesterday was longer than usual because I wanted to finally get to a city, and on my map, there were no obvious stopping places on the way.
A little ways from XiJi, there is a turn off to some other place, and a sign saying what the city is, and how far. The other part of the sign points straight on and tells how far it is to the next major city after XiJi. This I am interested in, because I am thinking about trying to make it in one day. I tried to remember what the last distance marker said - and I hope I am right, because the rest of the way into town is road construction, and they have taken up all the markers. I did the arithmetic to mile marker for GuYuan, and while I was doing it several men came up to see what I was doing. They told me it was 7km to XiJi. That means I have 60 to go tomorrow. I think the hills are getting
easier (wishful thinking?) so I should be able to make it. I did 50km yesterday.
Some of the construction was rideable, but as I got into the outskirts of the city, things got more congested, and I started walking. About the place where there was a sign that said 1km to the city center, this young man came up and asked (in Chinese) if I spoke Chinese. This is a new experience. Mostly if people approach me this way, it is because they speak English.
I told him that I spoke a little, and that I needed a hotel, and Internet access. We hadn't gone very far when he pointed to the second floor of a row of buildings at the side of the road. There, he said was Internet access. Not easy to get to, it turns out. As part of the construction, the road is no longer level with the sidewalk. In fact I was going to lean my bicycle against the four-foot drop off while we went in. But Mr.Yang said no, and together we lifted it up to sidewalk level and parked it behind the buildings. This Internet connection
wouldn't let me log on to Yahoo. I got the logon screen, but after I put in ID and password and hit signin, I got the screen (in Chinese), that says you can't access this site. So we took the bicycle back to road level and walked on. This time for a hotel.
Yang seemed to know where he was going, and we came to what looked like a pretty nice hotel. We went into the lobby. No rooms, they said. On to another.This one was closed for remodeling. Around back to the main street, to another that looked pretty nice. Again, no rooms. I think mostly though, that they did not want to have to deal with a foreigner - especially one wearing a bicycle helmet, and looking generally grubby after a long day's ride.
Next we went past the bus station. There should be a hotel there, I reasoned, and sure enough, in pinyin (the Romanization of Chinese characters) was the name of the hotel. I pointed it out, but Yang said it was not good. A little farther on we found another one that was not good, but that is where I am. He had to talk the money taker and key holder into taking me, but finally she relented. The price is right, the beds sleep the same as other beds I have been in lately, and there is running water and a public shower, that came to lukewarm after I let it run a while. Just right after a day of cycling.
After he helped me carry the bicycle to the second floor and I was established in my room, I asked if there was Internet in this neighborhood. He said yes, and when I asked how far he said about 300 meters. We had walked at least 10 times that together already, but all of a sudden that sounded like a long way. At first I said I didn't want to go, but then changed my mind. He said I should eat first, and took me to a noodle shop next to the hotel. While I was eating he must have done some dickering, because when we went out again to go that 300 meters, he produced keys to a motorcycle standing there, and that is how we got here (and back). Since then, I have walked it twice, and it
doesn't feel so far now.
I have a topographic map of this summer's route. The part I am on now, shows mostly green. The legend says that green means the elevation is mostly the same, regardless how far above sea level. The contours run mostly between 6000 and 7000 feet. But these maps were made for pilots,
 ot bicycle riders, and you can get a lot of hills in a 1000 feet of elevation without showing any difference on a map that has contours every 1000 feet.
This is what I have been experiencing. From LZ there was a climb on the main road to Xian, before route 309 that I am on now turns off to the northeast before heading generally east. I had another encounter with an English teacher in the town just before that turn off. His speaking is OK, but like many who don't have a chance to practice with native speakers, his listening was pretty weak. He helped me order lunch in a noodle shop, but missed the "don't want" part of the "I don't want want hot peppers." I would have been better off without him in that case. Then he wanted me to meet with his students at 4:30. With some effort I explained the consequences of this. I would need a place to hang out until then, and then it would be too late to do any cycling. He finally
got the picture, and said he was going to be busy this afternoon, and I went on my way.
After the turnoff, there was a gentle downhill to the next town. One of very few "gentle" downhills since. From there it was straight up hill for the rest of the day and part of the next. I didn't even make it to the next town until lunch time, but found a nice place to camp that night. Not many of these either, as most flat spots and a lot of spots that are not flat are taken up with crops. This was the first time that went to sleep without earplugs. This road, in spite of its hills is so quiet that it is a joy to be on after being constantly bombarded by the
very loud horns of a constant stream of trucks and buses all vying for the same space on the road. Here there is very little traffic, and though it is traditional for Chinese bus drivers to honk at anything that moves, or looks like it might move any time in the next century, they often pass me without honking. This is a real blessing. And according to the Canadian cyclist from Urumqi, there are lots of hills on the other route too, so I think I took the better choice.
And yesterday, it seemed as if the hills got a little less steep, at least some of the time, and there were spots that were almost level for more than half a mile at a time. I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.
The day after that first long climb, I came straggling into the next town around lunch time. Found a restaurant, ordered what I will call fried noodles - though the same words do not always produce the same results.
Again, the English teacher showed up. He helped me find the motel in this town, though that has not been difficult using only sign language even. I made it a short day and rested that afternoon. More important, is that the English teacher showed me the public shower. I had him write down the Chinese characters, and I have asked in other towns and villages, but so far this is the only one.
To use this, you pay your money, the attendant starts a pump to get the water running to the shower head, and fusses with the hot water tap at the sink for a while. I think this means you are supposed to have warm water, but either I did something, or waited too long, by washing my shorts in the sink first. By the time I got ready to wash my body, no warm water. But I have taken cold showers before, and while the process is not as pleasant, the result is the same.
This is getting long, so maybe I will save a description about motels and the hills until another time. The last encounter to mention was when I was in the town before this city I am in now. I walked through nearly to the end to get a look at what was there, spotting the sign for the motel on the way. I finally figured out what to look for the day before. As I was walking back to go to the motel, a young girl - middle school student - approached me saying, "hello," in English, but not the same way that I often get from the side of the road wherever I am. She actually wanted to talk with me. This is unusual, because most middle school students, while they have studied English for a number of years, are reluctant to speak to a foreigner.
She wanted to talk with me, and to help me in that town. Again, it was an early day, so I could rest in the afternoon. She took me to the motel and established a price, and then promised to come back an hour later to take me to an appropriate place for lunch. After an hour and a quarter, she hadn't showed, so I found my own place. Then she found me, and invited me to her home. We went and spent an hour or so with her practicing her English.
When she asked me what else she could do to help me, I said to recommend a restaurant for supper. One that served rice. Turns out there are none such in that town, so the family invited me to supper. I went back to the motel and rested some more. Just as I was leaving to go back to the student's home - which is either one or two rooms in a building at the school (her father is a teacher), the manager of the motel approached me.
There are four beds in my room, and with not a lot of effort of saying numbers and using sign language, he indicated that because I was there, he couldn't rent out any of the other beds, and I should pay for all four beds. This would mean for a pretty mean place to say, I would be paying more than I paid for relative comfort at the Lanzhou hotel. I said absolutely not, and even started to pack up my bicycle threatening to leave. I think in retrospect, that he was just trying to see what I would stand for, and quickly backed down, especially when I said I didn't have a problem if he put someone else in one of the other beds. He never did.
I guess there is still more to write about, but that is all for this time. I am sure there will be Internet in GuYuan, but whether I will find it or not, or have the energy to write more when I get there remains to be seen. If I have comfortable quarters, maybe I will take another day off when I get there.

Edited by Shirley Salas
July 15, 2002