Bicycle Around the World


Index: Letters By Date | A Unique Opportunity | The Last (?) Bike Ride
August 18, 2002

The last of China
QingDao, Shandong Province, China

It has been a long time since Anze and except for the last couple of riding days and a few highlights everything is a kind of blur.

The main highlights are road construction, trucks, the long easy grades coming down out of the mountains (finally) to nearly sea level, and the heat in HeBei Province.

I remember that coming out of Anze there was more climbing, but not too serious, to just north of ChangZi, the next big city along my route. That is when the trucks started. A steady stream of them. I guess going from ChangZi to HanDen, in the center of HeBei because after I got past HanDen two days later they had disappeared.

Just before I got to the SheXian, last town in ShanXi, there was more construction. I have already mentioned that the Chinese are constructing their new roads to *last*. And when they are finally finished they are really nice, wide, smooth, and really nice to ride on. But they haven't yet figured out how to maintain traffic while they are in the process. Basically when they get ready to replace an existing road, they just tear up miles and miles of it, then start on
construction a little bit here, a little bit there until eventually they get it finished, letting the traffic that wants/needs to use the road fend for itself.

As I came to this bit of construction I saw, to my left, what looked like a bit of partially finished new road, and it is usually a good choice to head for that bit to see where it goes. I didn't this time, and ended up in the dust again. This time surrounded by trucks. I followed a motor scooter along the edges of this for a little while but then there wasn't any edge anymore so I crossed over to where I could see a place to get on the part that I passed up before. Turns out that was the end of smooth, but at least there were not any trucks up here and eventually I ended up in the city.

With directions from the locals I got out on the other side where the construction was (mostly) finished. I found myself on a two-lane highway, that was painted as if it were two lanes of a divided highway. That is, a wide "breakdown" lane on the right, two regular lanes, then a narrow strip on the other side. Then came some grass and small trees. Past that was another two-lane highway with a narrow strip, two regular lanes and a wide "breakdown" lane on the far side. Both of them had traffic going both ways. It looked as there was some kind agreement - if not a rule, that kept most of the trucks on the road on the right, so I moved to the road on the left. We climbed some more, but then came the down hill run. The roads separated even further, and I was glad I was on the one I was on. I could see the truck one off to my right, and that they were beginning to get blocked up. There was a long line of trucks that went on and on, as I continued to coast down and down and down. A little payback for all the climbing I did during the past few weeks.

Finally I got all the way down, and into HeBei Province, stopping along the way several times to ask which way to HanDen. The distance markers were gone because of the construction so I needed reassurance that I was still going the right direction. The last place I stopped was at an overpass where two lanes were finished and two were under construction. On the unfinished lanes was another ice cream vendor so I stopped for a rest and to have him look at my map. He showed me where I was, and it was not anywhere near where my road 309 is shown on the map. He said it was a "new 309." On the road below us was what looked like a hotel, which the ice cream vendor verified. I think if there had been actual access roads I would have stopped there for the night, but all I could see were trucks and buses kicking up huge clouds of dust on rough tracks they had worn into the dirt as they made the transfer from down to up and vice versa. I decided that I had had enough dust for the day, and since I was still going mostly down hill I would continue.

Ended up in WuAn, at the WuAn Bing Guan, which was blessedly air conditioned, though only barely. It was built many years ago with central air, which was getting a bit tired. I didn't have a thermometer, but I don't think I have been anywhere as hot since I was in Turkmenistan in 1996. The next day was overcast, so not so hot, but very humid. Even though I rode right along, thus creating a breeze, my shirt was soaking wet by the end of the day.

Then came Shandong, and what I had hoped would be smooth (finally finished here in the east, I thought) roads, but no such luck. Yes, the roads that were finished were smooth, but it seems that everywhere I turned there was more construction. Even the road that I went on to avoid construction in one place ended up being under construction itself on another place.

The only thing worth mentioning before the last couple of days is the route into JiNan, the capital of ShanDong. It was time to cross the Yellow River for the third and last time. When route 309 enters ShanDong, it is well south of JiNan, but then goes well north of the city to cross the river. According to the map, there is a small road that crosses without going so far north, and then joins the main east-west road across the city, without having to go clear through the city from north to south as well. And sure enough where that road branches off there is a sign that say something about western JiNan, so I took it. The next thing I knew I was on top of a levee looking down at a pontoon bridge across the river. I crossed, and then climbed onto the levee on the other side and rode on that for about 20km into the city. From there it was a straight shot through and out the other side, all in the same day. I so dislike being in big cities on my bicycle.

One more rest day before a final push to QingDao. After a day of mostly smooth roads and good progress I rode through a small town just next to the highway, looking for yet another basic, cheap motel to spend the night. One I found was not suitable, and no others seemed to be in business any more. Back on the highway I stopped at a gas station for a break and noticed a new hotel next door (probably another sister relationship like the deal in LinFen). They had a nice clean four-bed room for a little more than I usually pay, but worth the price. And they were so friendly. Again I got what I needed, because when morning came I realized that all the construction had taken more out of me than I realized, and resolved to stay there for another day.

Before breakfast they brought a bowl of rice porridge to my room, and at breakfast one of the senior hotel clerks offered to wash my trousers and shirt, and at lunch they gave me a fruit plate with sliced bananas, sliced watermelon and grapes. The second morning the whole staff showed up to give me a nice send off.

The rest gave me renewed energy and I set off to see which of two maps was right, a Collins map of China in English (really in PinYin, the Romanization of the Chinese characters) or the map in Chinese of ShanDong province. The former showed, in addition to an expressway from WeiFang to QingDao, a regular road No. 308. The Chinese map showed only the expressway.

When I got there I didn't find any route number 308, and when I asked locally about going to QingDao by bicycle I was advised to continue on 309 a long way further east, then south from there. This was double the distance by expressway, and I had already vowed that if there was no route 308 I was going to find a way to ride the expressway.

I had just over 50km for the day so far, and it was about lunch time. I figured that if I could get another 50 in for the day, I would be able to make it to QD in one more day after that. In this area at least, the Chinese have figured out that there should be services at interchanges and there were lots of restaurants to choose from; hotels and gas stations as well. None (outside of the gas stations) with brand names that I recognized.

Since my experience in XinJiang, I have learned a lot about Chinese expressways, and toll booths so I thought with a little luck I would be able to get onto this one. I had lunch and headed for the entrance ramp, getting there at the same time as a truck and a small bus. Many regular roads as well as expressways that allow bicycles have toll booths. Most of these have room at the far right for small vehicles to go through without having to pass the gates in the pay lanes. This toll booth had the same, but it was completely blocked. I got there just as they were lifting the gate for the small bus and so sailed on through ignoring cries from the attendants.

Even though I was passed by many police cars during the next 50km, no one stopped me. As I approached that exit at 50km, I was hoping for a rest area like they had in XinJiang, but there wasn't one so I got off, getting yelled at again by the toll booth attendants.

I found what turned out to be another friendly and (mostly) quiet motel - with good food even, and got back on the expressway in morning, again by getting up a good head of steam and going through the gate with another vehicle. And sure enough right after the exit was a rest area, if only I had gone around the bend to check before I got off.

This time, I think the toll booth attendants sicced the maintenance crew on me, because not long after I got started there came a maintenance truck (small pickup truck) with flashing lights and siren motioning me to stop. Two guys in orange vests got out and wanted to put the bicycle in the back of the truck. I refused, saying that I would ride to the next exit and then get off. They insisted and I refused several times. Finally I out waited for them and they went away,
saying I should be careful to ride only in the "breakdown" lane, which I was doing anyway.

That was it and I rode all the way to the end of that expressway - about 30km still to go to the city proper, and onto another that didn't have toll booths. Finally onto regular streets. When I got well into the city I stopped to ask where I was and got picked up by an old guy - though not as old as I am it turns out, who wanted to practice his English. Rather than just show me where I was on the guidebook map, he insisted on *walking* with me what turned out to be a long way to my destination. We stopped along the way to have a McDonald's hamburger just for nostalgia's sake - but it also helped me make it through to what turned out to be a rather late supper as well.

So I guess that is it. Here I am, ready to go to the next country and looking forward to tomorrow. So I'll end with another question and answer. This one from daughter Sharon, who says in a recent email, "I've been meaning to email you and ask what you think about all day while riding, besides logistics."

And the answer is:
To start with, it depends on what is happening where I am. Like if I am on a 'no bicycles allowed' expressway I think about what I am going to do if some traffic official stops me and wants me to get off. If I am in a construction area I think about how to get on some part of the new road that isn't open to traffic yet, or maybe finding some of the old road that hasn't been torn up yet, or how to stay up wind of all the dust on the torn up road that all the cars, trucks and buses are driving on. I also think about where I am, and how far to the next
place. If it is late in the day, I count the kilometer markers and tell myself that I can do another five, or ten, or whatever.

If I am going past some settled area I think about whether it is time for a meal, or a snack, or just a break. If I am in hill country I think about whether the next bend in the road will reveal the top of the grade - usually it doesn't, so usually I think that I should not plan on being at the top of the grade yet. It is just another curve in the road. As long as you can see anything above you but sky, you can be sure the road will find a way to go still higher.

If things are going well - smooth road, no hills, not too much traffic, just riding along, I think about what I am going to put into the next newsletter. Some of it makes it to the newsletter and some doesn't, but it helps keep my mind occupied.

Time for supper. My Korean roommate says that Internet cafes abound in Korea so I should be able to write more from there. And to read more too, if anyone cares to send a messages


Edited by Shirley Salas
August 21, 2002