Thursday, June 12, 2008

Month 2 - Sichuan to Beijing

Looks like I'm getting a bit behind, so let's catch up a bit. Just before the earthquake I was in an old Tibetan town called Songpan. Rode up into the mountains with some Tibetan guides for three days. Got some great pictures. It's funny - everyone in that town speaks Chinese, being taught that from birth, and it was nice to be able to converse a little bit with the guides using the basic Chinese that I know. But I was so surprised to see how big the smiles were when once I said thank you in the only Tibetan word I know (tashideleek). Anyway, here's probably my favorite pic from the trip.

After this, well, of course the earthquake. Here are some pics of the earthquake in action.

In the last one, you can see the wall that fell over in front of me. Initially that was my only indication that something weird was happening. I saw that wall fall, and was expecting to see some construction equipment behind it pushing it over, but saw nothing but a few people that seemed to be direly confused. Then I myself started to feel some shaking. Thinking oh crap I broke a spoke, I got off the bike to look at what was causing the shaking. Of course as soon as my feet hit the ground I realized what was going on.

And here is one that I think is far more interesting -- two days later once we got a generator working, watching the news on TV:

From here was the rush out of Sichuan and into Gansu province, which I still find to be (by far) the most beautiful of the Chinese provinces, especially for bike touring. Great roads, no pollution, and while it lacks some of the giant peaks of its southern neighbors, many great hilly regions, somewhat reminiscent of New Mexico or Utah. Blue skies, green trees, and a Santa Fe brown to the earth. I really didn't get a ton of pictures here, as I was somewhat in a hurry, and somewhat too overwhelmed by everything to stop and take some crappy pictures.

That feeling mostly continued on into Ningxia province, the small niche that the Chinese government carved out for the Muslim people (though 80% of Chinese muslims actually live elsewhere) (Bonus points for anyone who knew that China had a sizeable Muslim population) (Yes, most look exactly the same as Chinese, but just dress a little differently, at least in Ningxia province. As you go farther west, the Uigher muslims look a lot more like Afghans, supposedly, I haven't been there yet).

From there, on to Shaanxi province, which was mostly desert in the area I went through (and I can't believe I actually went through Shaanxi province without going to Xi'an -- it was perhaps the most important city in all of Asia for over a thousand years, and I just skipped it). And then, into Shanxi province. This is the province that contains the heart of modern China. Coal. Lots and lots of coal. Lots of huge loud coal trucks running you down on the expressways. Lots of roads that have been torn apart by way too many, way too heavy, aforementioned trucks rumbling down them. Coal in the air, coal on the ground, coal on just about anything that lies anywhere within the remotest blowing distance of that province. These were long days that consisted of not much more than avoiding trucks and banging across roads that looked like they had been clusterbombed, trying to look any which way but straight and getting coal into my eyes, which needed huge gritty coal boogers peeled out by my black sooty fingers every thirty seconds.

I remember entering the province, and thinking how ugly it was, and how dirty I got at the end of the first day. As much as I had been complaining about the rest of China, this was something on a whole different level.

I couldn't believe that day two was actually worse:

And then there was day three. . . .

That got me to Fenyang (the beautiful city in the above two pics), from which it was an easy 40 km ride over a fairly nice road (not on the main coal route) to the old historic walled city of Pingyao the next day. I got to play tourist there for a couple days before heading north, again over not-so-terrible roads (though still not great), theoretically toward Mongolia.

Now however I'm in Beijing. On the fourth day of my ride toward Mongolia, I somehow experienced four flats in under 48 hours. This, having only had one flat in the entire 70 days prior. I'm still not sure what happened, as some of the punctures are on the rim side of the tube, not the tire side, yet I've run my finger all along the rim many times and can't feel any protrusions. I'm wondering if perhaps the first flat was a regular puncture, a nail or whatever (I just threw the first tube out without checking where it was punctured), and maybe a piece of metal or glass or something somehow got caught between the tube and the rim when I changed tubes, which could have then caused the subsequent flats. Anyone that knows much about bikes feel free to speak up here.

Anyway, in Beijing I did manage to find two new tubes for my wheels. Note to any other prospective cross-Asia bikers: when selecting a bike, take rims that fit schraeder valves. Had my rims fit schraeder valves, I could have gotten new tubes on virtually any street corner in any small town in China. However, with prestas, even in Beijing, I've so far only found one shop that sells them, and they had two in stock.

So, I've managed to find a couple more bike shops online, and I'll stop by those tomorrow and see if I can pick up some more tubes. Then, time to see if that fixes the problem, or if I'm going to have to revamp my wheels completely. Yikes.


Tara said...

Wow - I can't believe how covered in soot you are. Sorry about your flats, hope that was a fluke! Thanks for the update... I think about you every day! Love you.

Jmiller said...

You do not know me, but I am a friend of your sister's and just wanted to say that your blog and pictures are amazing. I look forward (as do many of my peers) to reading each update you post. What an amazing journey you are on and told so and I thank you for sharing it with us!! God speed and good luck!
Jay Miller
Florence, KY

Carolyn said...

Your blog update and pictures are amazing! Thanks for finally updating it and sharing it. Many people look forward to your updates about your adventure. Stay safe and I'll look forward to the next post. Love you so much, you are an amazing person! Mom

turner4546 said...

Dax, you do not know, but I am a friend of your mom. She has told me so much about you that I feel like I know you. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your amazing adventure with other people. My grandsons are 8 & 10 years old, they have looked at your pictures & read about them on this site. They are fasinated with you. Please stay safe. Our prayers are with you. Helen Turner Bright, In.

pa said...

Hi Dax! I read bits of your adventures (I can't read all, since I try to save my pennies for the following month travelling), I'm with you! I'm currently in Belize City and will cross the border to Guatemala in 2 days. Our trip seems easier than yours - few mechanical problems and, as you such, a lot of blue skies although the rain season is coming upon us. Best of luck, traveller!


Jean said...

Dax, glad to hear that you are safe and continuing on your journey. What a physical and emotional roller coaster. Keep up the spirits. Hope you got your flats fixed.
I'm currently in Bangkok and one month from the end of my trip. Not thinking about the end yet!