Bicycle Around the World


Index: Letters By Date | A Unique Opportunity | The Last (?) Bike Ride
July 23, 2002

Update from FuXian

I have Internet access again, so I feel compelled to write more about my adventure(s). Lots of small things to write about, but no major stories, so maybe it is time to tell about the terrain between here and Lanzhou. That is 500 crow-fly kilometers from here, 820km by road.
The name of this town (small city) is FuXian. It is exactly 273km north of Xian - home of the famous Terra cotta warriors, and about 80km  south of Yanan, the city where Mao Tse Tung and the other Communists fled  to in the thirties. There they consolidated power for an eventual takeover from the Nationalists after WWII. Everybody asks me if I am going to Yanan - because they think it is an important historical place - but I am not, as the road I am on goes east from here, not north.
Imagine yourself on a beach with a sand bucket - but one with sides that are not as steep as a regular sand bucket. Now fill the bucket over and over with wet sand and empty it down on the beach. Overlap  the footprint of each bucket some with the ones around it. As you go  along round off the tops of the mounds so they are no longer flat like the bottom of the bucket is. That is the shape of the hills that go for miles and miles and miles east of Lanzhou. There is an occasional river through these hills, but there is no valley for any of the rivers. The actual water is at the bottom of a 200-300 foot canyon that is the exact  width of the river flowing there - or in the summer, probably not flowing at all. The river level is about 5000 feet above sea level, and the tops
of the hills are about 7000 feet above sea level. The road runs  between maybe 5500 and 6500 feet and there is not a level stretch for at least 300 miles. It climbs 500 to 1000 feet over one hill, then drops straight down so it can start another climb up the next. All the grades are the maximum allowed by whatever national or international road-building standards so that loaded trucks (and touring bicycles) can just make it up in their lowest gear.
Everywhere you look there are crops. I am not good at judging sizes of pieces of land, but maybe a typical field is 1 to 5 acres, with a large one being 10 acres. Some of the fields are on terraces and others are just on the slope of the hill. I think the deciding factor is that if a man and a pair of mules can stand on the slope without falling off, they don't bother terracing. Scattered through this are isolated homes and small villages of the peasants who work the land. When I got to the top of one of the hills, or was part way up (or down) and rounding a bend that gave a good view I just had to stop and have a longer look at the mosaic of colors that the different crops provided. Tan for wheat,
green for corn, yellow or violet for some kinds of weeds, and in between colors for other crops.
As I went further east, the hills gradually got a little lower, and the grades a little less steep until finally I climbed to 5000 feet one day, and there were no places higher; and the road was flat for the rest of the day - about 30 - 40km. From there it went straight down to a river, but this time there was an actual valley. The road followed the valley down, then met another river and followed that valley up. Finally that valley ended and there was a serious climb, but not so long or steep as before. And that has been the pattern for the last
three days. Two of those days even had tunnels at the top of the  climb, to avoid the last several hundred feet of climbing. A nice plus for touring cyclists.
It is also looking less like a desert and more like a forest lately. I guess more rain. Maybe more rain also accounts for the hills running together and the valleys being wide enough for roads and crops. Here  we also have rice growing, which is new the last few days.
In the You Get What You Need... category, I finally realized what my front rack needed to be properly mounted. I got one side cinched up good. But when I got to the other side I found that the mounting strap had broken so I wired it with some wire I have been carrying since I left Japan in 1994. It worked but that wire is not very heavy. I decided to see how long it would last anyway, resolving to figure out what to do next when it broke. It broke early in the day I arrived in Sancha.
When I got to town, another English teacher took me under his wing as I was eating lunch. He invited me to his school - what else. I agreed, but first, I said I needed some help with bicycle repair. I am sure that I could have worked out how to do this by myself at some repair shop, but having him do the talking made it a lot easier. After trying several things that didn't work we finally ended up just using heavier wire. So far it is holding OK.
Ultimately I spent the night in this guy's room at the local middle school, after meeting with two groups of students - over 50 in each class. In the morning, one of his colleagues fed me breakfast of fried bread, cold string beans and pickled onions. After breakfast we had a photo session with the local photographer and her Nikon SLR  camera... me and the two English teachers, me and students in groups of half a dozen or so, and me holding babies. Such a deal. I had her take a couple of the baby ones with my camera.
Just as I was getting ready to leave I discovered the need for another repair that I had not anticipated. This was to replace a brake cable. Getting this done might have been a little more difficult, but with the help of the colleague, I got it done. Neither repair man would take any money.
This in contrast to the English teacher who found me in another town just as I was getting ready to go to bed. This one could barely speak English, and could understand almost nothing that I said. He wanted  me to talk with him in Chinese. My reaction to that was, "what's the point." At first I said, "no," when he asked me to go to his school, but it was just across the street, so I went for a few minutes. He took me to the room he shares with his wife. Not much bigger than the living room in a typical American house. In there was a double bed, a  couch, a desk, a cupboard/wardrobe, a couple of straight chairs, a TV and some shelves on the wall. There was also a wire stand for a wash basin,
and above that in wire shelves were cups and tooth brushes and soap and
shampoo. No running water. The toilet was somewhere on the school grounds, but I didn't investigate exactly where.
Among other things of note was another visit by police. Not a serious issue, as I am sure they are doing it just because they can and probably don't have anything better to do. I am fully legal so they cannot do anything about my presence in their jurisdiction. However this one was at 11:00 at night, waking me out of a sound sleep. There I was sleeping away, when the lights came on (remember that the  innkeeper has all the keys) and there were four men standing there looking at  me.
At first I thought they were there to occupy the other two beds. Such would be out of the ordinary, but not out of the question. They wanted to see my passport, they wanted to know if I could speak Chinese (and in this kind of situation I most certainly don't) and they wanted to know, "what are you doing." I tried all kinds of answers to the last one, from, "trying to sleep," to "riding my bicycle to QinDao." None seemed to work - then they left, but the one who could speak English came back and pursued that last question. Finally after some time and effort we got it changed to the present tense, as in, "what do you do." This so they could fill in the box in their form about my job. All forms in China, it seems have to have a place for the form filler's job.
On the positive side are the less steep grades and tunnels already mentioned, plus two small-town motels in a row with real showers with hot water. The price was a little higher than I had been paying at such motels, but with the shower it was worth it. And in one case, when it was time to leave they wouldn't take my money. The night before, as I was hanging out in the courtyard writing in my journal one of the family asked me if I wanted to climb the mountain (shang shan) for the view. I said no thanks, that I was tired from cycling. No, "by car," she said, so with me in the front seat and six others in the two back seats of this mini van, up we went to a new lookout tower on top of one of the nearby hills. Nice view. I think they are trying to generate some
tourist traffic. I wish them luck. In the morning they invited me for breakfast. Rice porridge, eggplant fried with red hot peppers, shredded potatoes fried with green hot peppers, boiled fish, and steamed bread (called mantou). That was my last day in Gansu Province.
The next night was the second with the shower. One member of the family
there is an economics student at Yanan University. Her English is passable and she wanted to take advantage of a chance to practice a little. They invited me for supper and for breakfast, but when it was time to leave they took the ten yuan payment for my room.
I guess that is about it for this time. In about two days I expect to be in Shanxi Province. That translates directly to "mountain west."  The one after that is Shandong, which translates to "mountain east." After that it will be off to Korea.

Edited by Shirley Salas
July 23, 2002