It’s still taking a little while to sink in, but I have now reached Beijing. It seems a very long way from London – over 15,000km actually – and it feels a bit weird, walking around, meeting people who are complaining about the jetlag from the flight to London. Oh yeah? I just got in from London too…
Some tough, but extremely beautiful riding from Pingyao up to Beijing, following the G108. Patches were really tough, with massively cracked up pavement, enormous lines of coaltrucks, huge mudbaths to struggle through – but then at some points the trucks took a different route. Suddenly the road was beautiful new seal, through glorious rural valleys, just a few small villages, hardly any people. Really glorious riding.
But tough tough tough. At one point they were resealing about 20km of the road, and I had to wait for a while as the machine laying down the seal went past. Had to haul the bike up the side of the road past the hot stuff, then where it was a little cooler, I could ride by myself, on brand new seal, on a road blocked to traffic. Great right? Except it was a 20km uphill climb, winding around switchback after switchback, grinding my way up a never-ending slope. Finally reach the top, huge rows of mountains stretching off in the distance. Ridiculously steep concrete roads wind down to villages precariously perched on steep slopes.
Of course, all that uphill built up my credit…and then it was repaid…70km of downhill, through a glorious valley, with huge amounts of slate piled up on the side of the road, being cut and polished, before being boxed in crates to be shipped out. Getting later in the evening, decide not to stop at the obvious place, instead head up a tough, but short, slope into the deepening gloom, spying a small town at the outskirts of Beijing. Pull up at the place with a hotel sign, but some other locals say that I can’t get a place to sleep there. But don’t worry, come and have something to eat at our restaurant, and we’ll sort something out.
It’s now full dark, and I no longer have any lights, after one went missing (stolen/fallen off, not sure) the other day. There is another climb coming up, and no obvious places to stay coming up. So yet again, I put my trust in the locals, figuring that something will work out. This works surprisingly well, having only let me down once. But sometimes it’s a leap of faith, especially when you are having trouble communicating, and you’re not sure if you’ve got the message across.
So shortly I’m being given hot tea, to warm me up, and I’m recommended a dish. I haven’t learn any Chinese words or characters for foods yet, instead either pointing at dishes, or just picking a dish from the menu entirely at random. Sometimes that results in me getting a bowl of cold noodles and tripe, sometimes it gets some really nice stuff. For some reason I often get dishes with a lot of chillis in them, not sure why.
This time I end up with duck soup, with a ducks head floating in it, one eye staring up at me. Hmmm. How do I eat a duck’s neck with chopsticks? Oh well, tuck in.
The 6 year old daughter comes home from school, and is shown the foreigner. She is shy at first, but then out comes her English language book, and she is going through it with me, practicing the words. Her mother is also learning. Lots of fun. And then at the end of dinner, someone says “Come with me for somewhere to stay” – OK then. We pedal off into the dark, down some dodgy streets, into a dark residential area. Hmmm. But no worries – we turn into what seems to be some sort of place that I think is set up for slightly longer term apartment rental. I’m shown a great room, hot shower, all clean and nice – and they have a photo of another cyclist who stopped there! All costs the same as the 6 bed windowless dorm I’m staying in here in Beijing. The trust thing worked out again. The next day, it was a relatively easy 40km ride to the centre of Beijing.
My birthday is coming up shortly, and I believe that you should always have your birthday off. I’ve done this for several years, and see no reason to change. So I’m going to have some more time off in Beijing, and do a side excursion to Hong Kong by plane, to sort out a visa, and maybe buy myself some birthday presents.
Assuming that all goes well, and it’s not too cold, I’m then going to head to the coast – to say I’ve crossed the Eurasian continent – then down towards Qingdao, to have a Tsingtao.