Bicycle Around the World


Index: Letters By Date | A Unique Opportunity | The Last (?) Bike Ride
July 12, 2002

...and Now I am in GuYuan

It is wheat harvest time in this part of NingXia Province, and I did my little bit yesterday to help with the threshing. On my way to GuYuan, I ran into (not literally, of course) a couple of reaping machines. They travel under their own power, not like the combines I saw in Kansas being carried in pieces on flat-bed trailers. I had to wait for them to cross a narrow temporary bridge before it was my turn. One of the driving rules in China is, "the bigger you are, the more right of way you have/get."
Not long after that, I came to the town of ZhongHe (literally, middle river) where I had a rest at the ice cream cooler, drawing the normal crowd, and then I found a bicycle repairman and borrowed his pliers to snug up a bit of wire that is holding part of my front rack in place.
Up ahead of me was a wagon full of bundles of wheat stalks, with a man on top throwing them down onto the road. On the road was a woman with a big curved knife cutting the bindings so the stalks would lay loose (probably a husband and wife team). In the middle of all this, a truck was trying to come up the road, and seemed almost to get stuck, the wheat was so deep.
As I continued on my way, there was patch after patch, about 100 yds each, of wheat laying on the road. Where it had lain longer and been the object of many more than just one truck, or bus, or motor cycle, or bicycle, the owners were forking the loose straw back into their respective wagons. Still further along, as the process was nearing completion, they were stuffing the loose kernels and chaff into burlap bags to take home and winnow. And I don't know if that takes the husks off the kernels or whether there is another process yet to be undertaken.
And that is how they do the threshing.
Not much else happened yesterday. There were a couple of serious hills, but mostly the road was level or with shallow grades. A sharp contrast to other days since I left Lanzhou. And the road from XiJi to here is new, and not so bumpy, so less braking on the steep downhills. But the guy in the hotel room next to me says there are more hills to come. Anyway, maybe it is time for some more general stuff.
Ruth has said more than once that she wishes she could be with me to share the adventures. Not on a bicycle, of course, but you could experience most of the things by taking a bunch of short bus rides. You wouldn't get people stopping you on the road to give you yogurt and watermelon like happened on the way to XiJi, but you could experience all the different foods and sleeping accommodations and the curious natives. I think most of these things would be OK to someone who is into adventures, but I think a lot of people might have problems with the toilets.
First of all, even in the best places (that is outside of major cities) you will have to squat. In fact I have learned to appreciate that fact, as the only thing that gets touched in the process is the soles of your feet. There are places, like the hotel in XiJi, that have western toilets that you might wish were squat ones instead. That one had not been touched by human hands (as for example to clean) for ages, and there was no working flush mechanism. I finally flushed it by pouring in water using a wash basin.
In the morning, for the part that needs toilet paper, I was going to use the toilet down the hall (for those in rooms w/o toilets), but found it locked, I guess to keep people from off the street out. The floor clerk would have opened it for me (maybe), but I didn't want to bother her so I went back to my room and squatted on the rim of the bowl, in keeping with the "soles of your feet" concept.
But at some of the motels in smaller towns and villages, things are a little more primitive. Some have actual outhouses, with concrete floors that have regular rectangular holes for stuff to fall through. These are the better ones. Others have a four-foot high by maybe six-foot wide mud wall in the far corner of the parking lot. Behind the wall are maybe half a dozen rectangular holes about four inches deep. You can use your imagination after that. Sometimes in the morning the holes are emptier than they were the previous day, and the pile of dirt to the right of the wall is just a little higher. Wonder what else is in that pile.
The motel rooms themselves are generally OK, though pretty basic. Two to four beds that are wooden platforms covered with several layers of blankets and supported at either end by a wooden stand. I use my Thermarest mattress so more or little padding doesn't matter. The pillows are usually stuffed with straw or chaff from wheat winnowing. Sometimes they are sleepable, and sometimes I use my air pillow. It is not any less comfortable than sleeping on the ground in a tent. Motel rooms offer more space to move around in, and if I want to stop early in the day - as I often have after climbing my limit of hills, they are cooler than a tent pitched in the sun would be. There are not many
places to pitch a tent anyway, so this is the way to go.
And some people ask questions so here are some answers:
The roads that I am traveling on are mostly asphalt. The new ones are made with proper under layers, and the asphalt is applied with regular machines for that purpose and rolled with regular steam rollers. Older roads don't have the foundation and so get pretty bumpy after a while. My first road in China, the one up the mountain after I crossed the border was concrete. But after the top of the mountain - on the way down, it changed to Old Road, and I was totally prevented from taking advantage of all that climbing because I had to use my brakes so much to keep from going too fast and maybe breaking something - on the bicycle, not me.
Drinking water is not a problem in China. Even down to the smallest village, wherever you go in China you will find thermos bottles full of boiled water. When you go to a restaurant they fill a glass with it, usually adding a pinch of tea. And now, they are more and more using disposable plastic (very thin plastic) glasses. Sometimes they get put into a holder, but sometimes you just have to grab it around the rim to keep from burning your fingers. Any time I need water, I just stop almost anywhere and ask for "kaishui" and someone will fill a water bottle out of one of those thermoses. Mostly I do this at the places where I eat meals. When you check into a hotel (even little motels) the
first thing they do is bring in a thermos of water. These are Large Thermoses.
The water usually gets boiled on a small stove designed to use coal briquets. The briquets are cylinders about six inches in diameter and six inches high, with a bunch of quarter-inch holes parallel to the vertical axis. Another common method is solar reflector. At first I thought they were TV dishes (which there are some of those around too), but for boiling water there is a stand at the focal point to put a large teakettle on. The first time I saw one, I touched the teakettle, and it was freshly cold. In about an hour it was hot enough that I
wouldn't want to hold my hand against it, and not long after that, it was boiling.
As for food, I eat what the Chinese eat. If it comes out of one of those cast iron waks that are usually red hot, I figure everything bad must have been killed. And besides, I took so many shots to go to Africa in December I am sure to be immune to anything that they could come up with in this country - which poor as it is, is a lot better off than the part of Africa we saw in December.
Weather is pretty mild right now. Being at 6000 ft helps that. It gets hot sometimes in the middle of the day, but it is very dry, so natural cooling works pretty well as I cycle along. Had a bit of rain before Lanzhou, and some thunderstorms in XinJiang, but I don't expect much rain for the rest of the trip. It will probably get hotter as I move eastward.
Graydon, the Canadian cyclist I met in Urumqi asked me if I had any problems with theft and I confirmed his experience of not. People out here don't steal things. All the thieves are in the big cities where there is actually stuff worthing stealing. Things are safe in hotels. There is almost no danger of being personally robbed, except for pickpockets on crowded buses. China is basically a safe place to be.
Price of hotels varies, but mostly is in the range of $1.50 to $2.50 per night. Sometimes $3.50 in a place like Lanzhou. The least I have paid is 50 cents, and the most I paid was $11.50 in WuWei. This was an exceptional circumstance.
On the other legs of this journey, I typically made progress at the rate of 1000 mi. per month. It is 3000 mi. from where I started in China, to where I want to end, so I allocated three months for the crossing. This was also based on guidebook information that indicated I would probably be able to get visa extensions to a total of 90 days. In fact I have visas now good for a total of 110 days, but I am still going with my original 90, plus or minus a little. So, I am going to be in QingDao, where the boat to Korea is, at the end of August
regardless. If I don't make it by bicycle by then, I will take one last bus the rest of the way at the end of August.
I expect to be in Korea a week or ten days, then in Japan another week or ten days to get back to Osaka, where I started in 1994. Ruth is going to join me there, and we will spend some time exploring parts of Japan together, returning to Michigan sometime in October.
So, I guess that is about it for this time. Of course you can email me at any time, but no telling when I will get online again to read it, and no guarantee that I will actually respond directly. But be assured that I read all my messages and appreciate hearing from anyone who takes time to write. XiJi was the first time I had email after I left Lanzhou. It happens that GuYuan is not far, and I get it again here, but according to the map, there are no major towns for a long time
after I leave here.

Edited by Shirley Salas
July 15, 2002