Hairy E-bikers Travel Blog (The days are in reverse order!)
Day 20 Quanzhou to Guilin (Distance to date 1906 km)
Danny’s luck didn’t improve much as he then fell sick, which grounded us in a nowhere town called Quanzhou for the following 2 days. To add insult to injury, rub salt in his wound, a monumental kick in the proverbials, when we finally pushed the bikes out to continue 3 days after Puncture-gate, his back tyre was once again, against all odds, yep you guessed it, as flat as a pancake in the woods. To make matters worse, I had begun to feel the familiar stomach quenches and experienced an increased familiarity with the bathroom walls myself. With 78 miles ahead of us, and without a moment to spare as our visa cut-off date loomed, we found the nearest repair man. Unbelievably, he fixed it in the time it took me to walk into the local bakery and grab some sweet breads for breakfast. Speedy Gonzalez, the back tyre-slinging maestro, only charged 10 Yuan for his troubles, about £1 (Danny ever the philanthropist tipped him a generous 100% for his heroics). Danny’s sickness had succumbed, 2 working bikes, and the weather, against the forecast, clear, warm and sunny we set off. There was literally no time to spare, so I clenched and pedalled like a man possessed.
The app we use to navigate, “Komoot”, has proven to be reliable and incredibly well informed about China’s back alleys and cycle-able routes. Such varied paths has it taken us. From China’s muddied potholed country lanes, to single track routes through the wilderness, to roads that no longer exist, and dusty highways that stretch for 100s of miles. You never can second guess what that day’s route is going to entail. This particular day however was a standout one. It was one highway more than 100km long, which is great because it’s fast and relatively flat to cycle, this would usually mean sacrifices to the natural beauty, but not today. It was getting hot as we headed south into the tropics, around 28 degrees on the last day of March. But the road was shaded by luscious green trees, ran for some 10-15 miles next to a weird, yet cool, blue-green coloured river and punctuated by these most unnatural looking mountains that were taller than they were wide and just seemed to shoot out of the otherwise pretty flat flood lands of the river basin. The sharp limestone cliffs are covered with trees and the occasional shrine and temple, making for an utterly unique and breath-taking welcome to our final province named Guangxi – an autonomous region of China like Hong Kong and Taiwan, which borders Vietnam. I made it to Guilin with clean underwear and a feeling of accomplishment and melancholy as I realised that this incredible leg in China was entering its final chapter.
Day 17 Henyang to quanzhou (Distance to date 1786 km)
Yes, it’s true, I’m sure you’ve heard by now; we hit 1000 miles. That’s more than a stone’s throw where I’m from, and it feels pretty great. However we’ve met a new enemy, one that I’m surprised hasn’t showed its face until now. Punctures.
The first thing that happens is the road starts to get really bumpy. After a second you look down and see that the road isn’t bumpy at all; it’s the flattest, most perfect surface you’ve ever seen. You check the front wheel, still going strong, perfectly round, supporting its weight happily. You check the back wheel, and your stomach drops as you see the tyre, flat against the tarmac, pathetically flapping against the road as it turns.. This happened to me four times. My back wheel. FOUR times. Two days! Just thinking about it makes me squirm.
The first time we thought, ‘no big deal, it’s about time’, gave it a quick fix and continued. Second time there’s an air of frustration, but we deal with it, assuming our first fix wasn’t sufficient as neither of us have too much puncture fixing practice. The third time the invisible bumps appeared in the road I looked back at my tyre and saw that the inner tube was bubbling out of the tyre like it had the bubonic plague. This was getting pretty old and I took most of my anger out on my innocent helmet who took quite a beating over the last couple of days.
We now had to find someone who could remove the back wheel and replace the tyre. Fortunately this incident had occurred in a village rather than at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere so we managed to find someone reasonably quickly, who managed to fix the problem reasonably slowly, and by the time we were moving again, we had reasonably few hours of daylight to catch up on quite a reasonable amount of miles.
But then there was a fourth puncture. How was that possible? It was my back wheel again but it was a new tyre and a new inner tube, installed not by one of us, but by a competent man who did it for a living. We discussed the possibilities, checked for sharp objects in the inside of the wheel and mudguard, thought it might be my riding technique and stood perplexed. Until we found the culprit. A large nail poking right into the tyre, I must have ridden over it seconds earlier. Just an unlucky coincidence it was that tyre again. Another few daylight moments wasted (this time in the rain) and we were off again. Finally finding a place to stay, and hopefully with four fully inflated wheels to take us to Guilin tomorrow.
Day 16 Pingxiang to Hangyang (Distance to date 1515km)
The big one. We had some making up to do after yesterday’s eventualities. 92 miles to be precise.
The previous record was held on day 2 of the trip. That was another case of making up, but with very
little experience of long distance cycling on e-bikes and the immense shock to the leg muscles at that
point, the 88 miles cut deep into our thighs and pre-trip optimism about an easy ride. This time
however, it was on the back of four days without rest, not just one, and we felt every mile of those
We were saying things like “right, let’s split it up, so we do 30 miles then have lunch, then another
30, quick snack and we’ll make it to Henyang by sunset.” Idealistic to say the least. My phone which
has been our primary navigation tool and was fully charged when I left, decided to have an off day
and shut down as we approached the first marathon mark. We made the decision to bring our
designated lunch time forward and let my phone recharge.
The next town was a small, dusty roadside collection of a few shops and one or two restaurants. It
felt a bit Deliverance. Big toothless gawps welcomed us, and crowds were drawn simply by the act of
two men ordering and eating lunch. We requested ‘Chow Mein’, which we had finally got our head
around the pronunciation of. With hindsight of course it’s not the British style “chow meen”, instead
you pronounce the final syllable sounding more like “chow me-en”; a realisation we finally came to
after weeks of malpractice. What came out wasn’t fried noodles at all but noodle-soup broth with an
unknown meat gracing the off-white sauce. It was delicious so we chow-ed it down without fuss.
Then I came across the final lump of meat on the bone. I tore off a chunk, what was it? I thought. It
had the consistency of lamb, but a far weaker flavour. It wasn’t as chewy as beef and then I looked
up, and to my horror there were pictures of dogs on the wall, a delicacy in this part of China. They
put a kind of children’s book illustration picture of the animal you are about to devour on the wall,
which has come in handy for us to point at in the past if we wanted pork, beef or chicken in a certain
dish. I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth or stop thinking about my beloved pet Labrador, Sally.
So I rushed down the street and sought out a chicken burger, it didn’t touch the sides as I attempted
to conceal the distinct yet unfamiliar and ominous flavour. Hoping that it was just a big canine-
aficionado I didn’t ask the restaurant owner if it was or not. Better to live in hope and denial, and in
Sally’s good books, I guess.
After our nourishing and relaxing lunch we set off again with Danny debuting as chief navigator. My
phone had only charged a measly few percentiles in the backwaters of rural China’s electrical grid.
We had wasted more than an hour of an already long day, it was good weather however, and for
me, even without phone music or podcasts, as are usually the norm, we enjoyed an incredibly scenic
route with good surfaces. It reminded me of holidays in Dorset with small streams running by the
streets, quaint little bridges and beautiful flowers gracing the fields, peaceful and also inhabited by
toothless people who are almost completely incomprehensible. With the sun setting in front of us
we made up the last few miles and felt a rush of achievement and joy at seeing the neon,
cosmopolitan city of Hengyang unveiling itself to us. We looked forward to a recuperative and fun
filled weekend ahead, with Danny’s birthday and 900/1500-ish miles under our belts. We were well
and truly over half way!
Day 15 No name village (Distance to date 1333km )
All Tom and I wanted to do today was cover half the distance of the remaining 130 miles to the next big city, Hengyang. 65 miles is a pretty comfortable distance by our normal standards, especially if we’re met with the flat, well-maintained roads that our prevalent throughout China. However, the day, eventful and intermittently enjoyable though it was, did not go to plan.
First of all we both needed an adjustment on our brakes so asked the reception where the nearest bike repair shop could be found. After a few minutes searching we saw a woman walking her bike and asked (using google translate) whether she knew where we could find a bike shop. She indicated for us to follow her as she jumped enthusiastically on her tiny fold-up bike. We proceeded to join her on an endless ride from closed shops to dead ends and from motorbike repair shops that couldn’t help us, to restaurants full of bemused patrons, who reacted to the site of us with the bewildered stares that we’ve grown accustomed to. This kind-hearted, selfless stranger was trying her hardest to help, and out of gratitude and British awkward politeness we obediently followed her long after we had lost all belief in her abilities to acquaint us with someone capable of sorting our problem. Eventually she gave up, and we resolved to give the bikes a temporary fix ourselves, which in itself managed to draw a reasonably sizable crowd.
This whole ordeal meant we were well into the afternoon by the time we left Pingxiang and had some serious ground to make up. We were met today with an obstacle that I’m surprised hadn’t been more of an issue previously. Mud. Our bikes are hybrids, ideal for on and off road, but today we found ourselves on a road that was still under construction. No bike is ideal for that situation. We ploughed on through thick, sticky mud, dismounting regularly to push through the largest pits of filth. The sandy mud, with the surrounding mist gave the place a Mad Max feel and we were desperate to get back to reality.
Eventually we saw a road, but between it and us was a high bank of dirt with an incredibly step incline. With no other option available to us we removed our luggage from our bikes and carried it to the top of the bank.
We then, completely uncertain of our chances of success, proceeded to attempt to carry the bikes, the two of us sharing the weight of one bike at a time. The process was exhausting, both of us falling to our knees multiple times but keeping the bike aloft with at least one outstretched arm, and eventually staggered up to the top of our stairway to tarmac heaven. Despite having to now use our screwdrivers to pry mud and rocks out from under our mudguards, before our wheels would actually turn, we were relieved to be over another hurdle. Serendipity struck moments later when a lorry driver pulled up and produced a powerhose that he used to clean his vehicle. When we gestured to our bikes he happily hosed them down, and set us on our way with bikes cleaner than they had been in weeks.
It was now quarter past 5 and we had only gone 20 miles. We stopped for some very late lunch and reluctantly headed off into the night, trying desperately to put some miles behind us before tiredness overwhelmed us. Worried that we wouldn’t find anywhere else to stay we stopped at a hotel in a tiny village significantly short of our 65 mile target. The village was so small we couldn’t find it’s name anywhere. Tomorrow we have 88 miles to cover; a premise that both excites and terrifies me.