Hairy E-bikers Travel Blog (The days are in reverse order!)
Day 6 Chun’an to Huanshan – (Distance cycled to date – 418km)
Day 4’s free breakfast wasn’t our only stroke of luck that day. We woke up in a luxurious hotel on day 5, for the first time thankful for China’s strict licensing laws on allowing foreigners in hotels. We had booked a hotel in Chun’an but on our arrival were informed that they couldn’t accept foreigners. I was immediately taken by exhausted anger. ‘Well why could we book it then!?’ I demanded. I needn’t have got upset, they were straight on the phone to a friend of theirs. This friend owned an amazing £160 a night hotel that he was happy to let us stay in for the price of the hotel we’d booked. A modest £18. Needless to say we woke up on day 5, well rested in our marshmallow-soft beds, glanced through the window at our glorious view of 1000 Island Lake (aptly named after the number of islands scattered all over it) and grinned at each other, excited for another day.
Unfortunately not that much ground was covered initially on day 5.
Tom’s bike had a mechanical issue and although small, prevented us from getting much road behind us. The thing that struck me hardest on that day was the Chinese instinct just to to help. A man whose house we had stopped next to, so that we could continue maintenance of Tom’s bike, was absolutely determined to see that we got every bit of help he could provide.
He took Tom and his bike in his car to find a friend of his that had the parts we needed, while I stayed behind with his family, who fed me juicy fruit and sweet bread. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day so I sat on a rock outside the house playing my guitar, waiting for my friend to return, and breathing in the excitement of this unpredictable trip.
Eventually Tom returned with his bike fixed and we headed to the next town hoping to find a hotel. The hotel we did find at first told us it was fine for us to stay but then realised they were fully booked. Perhaps embarrassed by this, the man on reception, possibly the owner, would not rest until he found us somewhere to stay. Our gratitude when he succeeded, after what had been a pretty tough day mentally, was inexpressible, and the two of us resorted to hugging the confused yet delighted man. China is full of people who just want to help.
The next day held no real story, just an endless series of breath-taking views. Every corner we turned I was reaching into my pocket, grabbing my phone so I could try and capture the stunning scenes before me.
We passed lakes that reflected the bright blue sky, mountain ranges that continued on to the horizon, cliffs that seemed to be growing gardens and infinite farms from their various ledges and cracks, and thousands of happy Chinese faces, taking a second from their day-to-day lives to watch us pass by on our way to Huangshan. The home of The Yellow Mountains, and the locations of our long awaited second rest day.
Day 5 – Tonglu to Chun’an – (Distanced cycled to date – 355km)
Setting off bright and early is becoming slightly less excruciating every day. Tom managed about 10 hours sleep so bounced straight out of bed at around 7am and eventually convinced me to do my version of the same. We thanked our bemused hosts and headed further into the depths of this mysterious country.
The further we get from Shanghai; the more fascinated locals are by us. The reactions vary from a quick double-take, to stares of bewilderment, and sometimes just a friendly point and laugh. My favourite reaction, however, occurred this morning. It was free food. It started with another case of building misidentification. When we asked the people in the ‘not-restaurant’ for food, they were determined to get us some. Eventually they prepared a huge, royal feast of greasy bacon, stir-fried mushrooms with chillies, pork in a rich tomato sauce and a mountain of egg fried rice. They vehemently refused to take any money from us so all we could do was thank them, and get back on our way, our stomachs warmed by a hearty breakfast.
We’ve started to really get into the mountains now. So far I’ve learnt that up-hills are less fun than down the higher you are the colder it gets; and the mountains in China are stunning. We managed to reach almost 100km today before 3pm and the hills and lakes go on forever. Every few miles we stopped just to exclaim appreciation for our surroundings to each other, or just to give one another that knowing nod and look ‘this is amazing’.
The trips just begun and I feel like it’s all I know. Tomorrow the weather’s supposed to be crystal clear, meaning our next step through the mountains should be even more beautiful than today’s. Can’t wait.
Day 4 – Hangzhou to Tonglu – Distance cycled to date – 265km)
We’re flying now. China flashes by either side of me in a stream of vibrant technicolour. The strain in my legs only adds to my exasperated enjoyment as I breathe in the air at the top of each climb. It’s only just starting to hit me what we’re doing, and it’s exhilarating.
The weather was abysmal on Wednesday. We spent the day weighed down by soaking socks, grimacing through the lashes of rainfall and praying for some warming rays of sunshine. Despite this we were able to keep our spirits up. I captured Tom on video chuckling away as he wrung out what seemed like a gallon of water from each of his socks and we jokingly sang the line from Frank Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me ‘Weather-wise it’s such a lovely day’.
That’s not to say we weren’t relieved when we finally found somewhere to stay, whether it was a hotel or not…….. we’re still not completely sure. We entered the building we thought was a hotel and the elderly couple within greeted us with a mixture of confusion and suspicion. Undeterred we ‘sign-languaged’ that we wanted a place to sleep (they did not speak a word of English, nor do we speak a word of Chinese). When they recommended that we go to another hotel, we should maybe have realised that we weren’t in fact already in a hotel. But we continued to mime that we wanted to sleep here. It was only when they lead us to a bedroom that we realised that the building we were in bore no resemblance to a normal hotel, and we never had any real reason to think it was one. What we think might have happened is that the poor owners of the house eventually just got tired of trying to explain that they weren’t a hotel and resigned into letting us sleep there anyway. We felt bad, but the exhaustion trumped this emotion and we gratefully accepted the room, paying the 60 Yuan they asked for (around $4 each). We thanked them profusely and left as friends.
Day 2 was our longest day and day 4 was hopefully our wettest. We’re coming to terms with what a mammoth trip we have before us now. You truly can’t understand how big China is until you cycle all day (even on a Wisper e-bike!) and see what a miniscule portion of the map you’ve covered afterwards. But every time I get on the bike I’m raring to go further and see more.
Day 3 – Rest Day
Day2 – Almost Jiaxing to Hangzhou (Distance cycled to date – 196km)
For less than £10 a night you can find a large, very comfortable lodging in a hotel in China. The problem is finding ones that have the license to accept foreigners, when you do however you are rewarded in value and comfort, which we eventually managed to do last night. Yesterday’s late start and huge thunder storm left us with some making up to do. We were still some 20 miles from our planned first stop in Jiaxing. So with just a few hours of sleep in the grey splatters of rain, reminding us of yesterday’s storm and shortcomings we set off at 7 for a long one. Legs already feeling the burn from day 1’s shock to the system, and no sign of a quick breakfast, the e bikes kicked in and reassured our freezing fingers.
The free app we are using is serving us well – Komoot is the name and unbelievably it is guiding us in a country where google maps is banned and most of the mapping apps do not have English options, solely with cycle-able roads and highways. These cycle ways in China are some of the best I’ve seen in the world. They are ever-present, with traffic lights for cyclists turning left (they drive on the right here) and they are well-paved. Mainly used by e-bikes which in China look more like scooters and are powered by throttles, but speed wise, our Wispers generally get the better of them, and acceleration-wise from the stop points, we always are the first out of the blocks! Landscapes are vast, we seem to be in the industrial belt of China with flat barges on all the rivers and a “Ctrl+V” feel to the housing and skyscrapers strewed with piles of rubble. I am looking forward to those Huangshen Yellow Mountains and some greenery!
As mentioned above we had to make some miles today. 88 in total! Got into the city of Hangzhou around 6:30 pm and felt like kissing the asphalt! Hotels weren’t any easier to come across though, the first 7 said ‘no foreigners allowed’ – eventually, surrounded by darkness and severe leg pain we found one for about £8 a night, not as good as last night’s but still perfectly acceptable. We will set out on a walk tomorrow, so as not to seize up completely, and stroll down to the famous ‘West Lake’. Still, we are raring to get back on the bikes the day after and start heading up some hills toward those Yellow Mountains. Bit of much needed rest first though!
Day 1 Shanghai to (not quite) Jiaxing via The Bund March 4th 2018
This is one of those trips that you’ve been planning for so long, you forget you actually have to do it. When the alarm went off this morning it took us a second, ‘we leave today…SHIT WE ACTUALLY LEAVE TODAY!’ As we write this now, 11:45pm, it seems impossible that that was only this morning; it’s somehow still only day one, and it’s been one hell of a day.
Our starting point was The Bund; an impressive waterfront area with iconic skyscrapers where the British and American ports were established after the British won the First Opium War in 1842.
It has become a relic to westernisation of China due to this historic significance, and seemed a fitting starting point to our journey. The sky over Shanghai was the misty baby-blue I’ve only witnessed embracing Asian landscapes, and we rode through the bustling streets under the cloudless dome with grins on our faces as wide as our handlebars.
Mishaps a-plenty (such as my panniers with all our clothes falling into the middle of a busy road) tried to taint our morning, but our discussions when we stopped for lunch were optimistic and excited. It was later on, as afternoon rolled into evening, that things took a turn for the worse and a large, obvious omission in our planning became glaringly apparent. We hadn’t waterproofed anything, our bags, full of equipment and clothes, were at the mercy of the elements, and the rain decided to expose our short-sighted-ness with a fury.
We had to find some shelter, it was getting very late and we were still about 20 miles from our destination. We found a hotel, planning on sleeping through what had become a pretty terrifying thunderstorm and finding a way of waterproofing our things in the morning. This lead to a new, quite distressing discovery: we learned that most hotels in China require a Chinese ID to stay. Unless the hotel is of a certain standard, they have no license to admit foreigners. Pretty defeated by this news we sat down for a quick meal and discussed our options. We had no options, we had to keep going. We strew plastic bags over our bikes, pulled on our rain coats and faced the rain; grimacing through the typhoon-like downfall, and watching in amazement as the lightning lit up the surrounding plains for miles. Eventually, as I started to consider finding a nice car to sleep under, we chanced upon a hotel that would take us in.
Our Wisper bikes have been great. We are exhausted now but nothing like how we would feel without the great assistance from our e-bikes. The batteries still have 60% capacity despite carrying not an inconsiderable load (me and all my kit – guitar included).
We are now almost overwhelmed with relief that day one is over…bring on day 2!