Waiting For The Fun To Start

By Jane Mountain | November 1, 2013

7,150 km so far.

We had a long session with guide books, maps, and PocketEarth last night, picking out all the sights we were going to see between Guangyuan and Chengdu. The realisation hit us that nothing on the route really seemed that enticing, and the weather was promising more cold and rain. So today we did what any smart cycle tourist would do.

We hopped on a bus to Chengdu.

Isn’t That Cheating?

Part of the fun of cycle touring is that if you don’t like where you are, if you don’t like the weather, or the food, or the terrain, you are free to go somewhere else. We’re not trying to set any records, so a bus trip here and there is just a practical way to make sure we keep enjoying our time on the road.

Getting on the bus is always a little fraught, but the Guangyuan South bus station was miraculously well organised, and while the ticketing staff didn’t speak any English, they definitely had experience dealing with foreigners. They wrote out the price and bus times on a piece of paper for us, so we could easily make our decision.

With tickets in hand, we followed English signs to our departure point, where the only big task was to fit the bikes under the bus. This is always a fun exercise in spatial reasoning.

Today, as is usual, we had several helpers, all trying to wedge the bikes into places they obviously could not go. Stephen and I finally took over and loaded the bikes ourselves, bracing them in the bottom of the bus, in a way that I was pretty sure they would not shift through the bumps and sudden stops that were sure to follow.

They were sharing the space with eight live chickens, so I wanted to avoid any bike-on-chicken carnage.

We had comfy spacious seats (if only the plane had half this much leg room) close enough to each other to communicate important pieces of information, but far enough from each other to give ourselves some much needed time ‘alone’.

What Is Fun, Anyway?

There have been a few days in China when I’ve very much enjoyed cycle touring, but most days we have been confronted with either dismal industrial landscapes, or freezing cold rain. It’s not what I would call fun. Interesting, yes. A valuable experience by all means.

But fun? Not really.

And then there’s the hectic daily chore of finding food and a place to sleep, which would be easy anywhere else, but is always a hassle here. It’s exhausting, and I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever find my stride in this environment. Maybe cycle touring in China is just not a great idea?

When I think back to the first few weeks in Italy, I remember feeling pretty much the same way. We had the same dismal weather, the same exhaustion after a day of cycling, and the same difficulties finding accommodation. We weren’t quite so lost because we could understand signs and the odd spoken phrase here and there, but still, it was tough and a little disheartening.

So, I’m pretty confident this is just the breaking in period. Before long we’ll be acclimated and I’ll be having fun again. In the meantime, I am relishing every second of cultural experience and every food adventure as it comes. And we’re making good use of public transport to whisk us away from bad weather and bad roads, to (we hope) something a little more cycle friendly.

Burning With Pan-ticipation

Our guide book had informed us that the bus ride today would take six hours, so we were pretty pleased and surprised when after just four hours we had arrived in Chengdu. It was the first clear, sunny day we’ve seen in weeks, and therefore a completely stupid day to spend on the bus, but I was just as glad, as we wove through the city streets on our way from the bus station to a hostel, that we weren’t contending with rain.

Chengdu, though you may have never heard of it, is about the size of Los Angeles, population-wise. Half of the residents seem to be roaring around on scooters, while the other half is in cars, trucks, and little white vans. To find the centre of town from the bus station, we half-followed our map, half-followed the bumper to bumper scooter traffic. This led us under big highway overpasses, through tunnels, and down long streets filled with market stalls, while the car traffic zoomed along on the raised roads overhead.

It was a great place to ride, and we got a chance to see some of the real Chengdu before entering the tourist-friendly city centre.

To our surprise, the first hostel we tried was full and the second only had dorm beds. We have decided to avoid dorm rooms if we can, since Stephen can never sleep in them, and rest is of the utmost importance to our continued sanity (and to our marriage). The third, Lazy Bones Hostel, had a decent double room for us. As we were checking in, with the fluent-in-English staff, we both had to admit it is such a relief to be able to use our native language, ask questions, and understand the answers.

Now that we are here, there’s only one thing I can think about: Chengdu’s major tourist attraction, the Giant Panda Research Base! I cannot wait.  

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  1. Comment by michael moldofsky

    michael moldofsky November 3, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    so the 7,150 km so far includes the bus or is that biking KMs only?

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 4, 2013 at 12:18 am

      Biking only! We are not cheeky enough to include the bus in our stats… or next we’ll be adding in our plane trips too.

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