Into The Mist

By Stephen Ewashkiw | November 8, 2013

7,451 km so far.

Chongqing is a very hilly city full of overpasses, tunnels, and one-way streets. It seems to be built on an endless number of small peaks, and to get anywhere in the city you have to climb several leg-burning slopes. We had a long slow climb up and over a particular nasty, steep one to get out of town this morning.

It just went on and on, until at one point, I found myself yelling in despair, “I guess this hill just keeps going forever!”

About 200 m later we came to the summit.

Smoggy Day, Keep The Sun Away

Once again, the entire landscape is draped in smog. It feels as if the sun can’t really be arsed getting up today, so it’s just kind of hanging out somewhere near the horizon and letting the “fog” rule the day.

View of Chongqing from the summit of our first hill today.

View of Chongqing from the summit of our first hill today.

Combined with the painful climb, the smog had my eyes and lungs hurting before noon. This is the first time I’ve felt this, and it’s not making me happy. I was thankful we had planned a short day, grateful for my RZ Mask, and happy that by lunchtime I would be able to take out my contacts and relax on the ferry.

We have based our route along the Yangtze on an organised bike trip itinerary we found online. Their route from Chongqing heads to Mudong where they hop on a local ferry to Changshou. This sounded like a good plan, and would be a fun, inexpensive way to experience our first Yangtze River boat ride.

However, when we got to Mudong, which is set high above the river, there was no ferry dock to be found.

A Yangtze tributary near Mudong.

A Yangtze tributary near Mudong.

After talking to a young local who was eager to practice English and help us, we discovered the ferry didn’t run from here. He gave no indication that it ever had. His best suggestion was that we go back to Chongqing.

Most people in China don’t really ‘get’ cycle touring. They don’t seem to understand that we can’t really turn around and ride back 50 km the way we’ve just come. They don’t get that we don’t want to hop on the bus.

During our brief conversation with the young English speaker, about 15 older women appeared out of nowhere and stood around watching us, one of them actively trying to engage Jane in conversation. Needless to say the conversation didn’t get far, though it was clear she was trying to impart some very important information.

Not knowing what that information was, we came to the conclusion that we’d just have to keep riding.

Bridge Over Murky Water

Mudong is on the south side of the river. Changshou is on the north. A few maps I had looked at online showed a bridge that would take us to Changshou, so we soldiered on.

Despite dawn flowing directly into dusk today, with no daylight in between, the views this afternoon were beautiful. Quaint villages, misty mountains, and bamboo forests.

Terraced farmland on the Yangtze near Changshou.

Terraced farmland on the Yangtze near Changshou.

Much of the land was terraced and people were growing rice, cabbages, chillis, and sweet potatoes.

Ghost Road To Changshou

Several times today our road overlooked a brand new still-closed freeway. We would have loved to ride on it, and Jane told me of a cyclist who had been allowed onto one of these brand new freeways in China. We would have tried our luck, except we didn’t know if it was complete, or if it went where we were going, or if it ended in a half-bridge across a river somewhere.

We we reasonably sure we were heading in the right direction all afternoon, but we weren’t positive that there would be a bridge to cross the river. Then, we finally saw a sign for Changshou, which led us to believe the bridge was real and still in existence.

Dark Days

As we got closer to the Yangtze, construction projects reappeared.

Typical roadside rest break in China, near Changshou.

Typical roadside rest break in China, near Changshou.

They are expanding Changshou onto the south side of the river and new apartment buildings are popping up all over. One of the construction sites had its own cement factory, something I hadn’t seen before.

We next came to a massive (like massive massive) iron and steel factory, almost certainly one of the main contributors to the darkening “weather”. I have been through Hamilton, Ontario enough to know how enormous steel factories can be, but this was obscene.

Then, just past the factory, the bridge appeared. Brand new, colourful, and exactly what we needed. Phew!

We rode over the Yangtze, which was busy with tankers, container ships, and mix of small punts, motorised sampans, and ferries.

And then we arrived in Changshou. Like Chongqing, Changshou is a hill town. I thought the climb from the bridge into the town, like our start to the day, would never end.

Three Hotels And One DJ

Finally, we were in town, and we spotted a hotel. Exhausted and dirty, but in need of a room, I went in and negotiated a reasonable rate. Except, 20 minutes later, during check-in, they decided we couldn’t stay. We think they didn’t know how to put our foreign passports into their system.

They said we had to go to the 4-star hotel in town. When we assured them, using Google Translate, that we couldn’t afford a 4-star hotel, they laughed and then said it would be the same price. Yeah, right.

Obviously they felt bad about turning us away though, so they sent a staff member to lead us down the huge hill we had just come up. Great. When we arrived, I asked him to come inside and help us check in.

As I suspected, this hotel, with its ostentatious lobby and uniformed doorman, was twice the price and well beyond our budget. They would not give us a special deal, but they did spend 20 minutes to-ing and fro-ing until they’d found another hotel for us, which we could afford.

Jane’s note: I will never understand why half-empty hotels would rather have us go somewhere else than just give us a deal on the room. Even the cheap places do this. If anyone can shed light on this, let me know.

Our guide told us to follow him. Back up the killer hill. Joy!

But, we found a place to sleep.

This hotel is huge, formerly glamorous, and now seemingly empty. Most of the lights, including the sign that would indicate it is a hotel, are off. Only one of the two elevators is on. There is space for a large restaurant on the main floor, but it is closed. We think they must have recently fumigated, since we saw a dead cockroach in the hall next to our room. It felt like they had just opened because we were coming.

It’s not the best room we have had, but we are exhausted after our long day, and I just want to get my contacts out, have a shower, and go to bed. After we eat.

We had a delicious meal that was just around the corner from the hotel. The place was run by a group of women, and they helped us choose a few veggies and tofu from their fridge, which they grilled up into an surprisingly delicious feast for us.

fresh peanuts in china

Fresh, damp peanuts, in Changshou.

I also had the first dark beer I have found outside Beijing, called Chero. It was excellent, so I had two – one for each ride up that killer hill.

Soundtrack: Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP2 | Common Prayer, Frame The River  

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  1. Comment by Kimberly

    Kimberly November 13, 2013 at 9:08 am

    It’s so sad to hear of the chronic air pollution – it’s just believable the amount of toxins the Chinese must be exposed to. And I completely know what you mean about Hamilton, Ontario. I live south of Buffalo, NY and pass through Hamilton/Burlington on our way to Toronto and north to Lake Nipissing and the steel production seems to be in full go mode in that area. Also, the piles of coal and ash continue to grow bigger as demands for coal as a cheaper energy source continue to grow. So. Unsustainable. So. Sad.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen November 16, 2013 at 5:38 am

      Ah “clean coal”. “Natural gas”. Frak that.

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