Hairy E-bikers Travel Blog (The days are in reverse order!)
Day 12 – 14 Nanchang – Gao’an – Xinyu – Pingxiang. (Distance to date – 1303 km)
Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, RAIN, it’s still raining, I’m already wet, mud.
…go away But before the soaking socks and muddied shins we had a brief, dry and recuperative rest day that fell over a Friday and Saturday. Nanchang, oh you beauty, a day off in a metropolis in China, that means McDonalds, that means 20 beers for £10 in a bar, a trip to the cinema if sir feels so inclined, hot coffees and most importantly, that means, leg recovery exuberance.
It was Sunday when we realistically had to set off again, visa restraints and the long, long road ahead acted as our motivator once more, but it was pouring, Asian style. Puddles in your shoes. So wet a fish would be like ‘hey man, how about saving some for the rest of us!’
Worse was still to come. On the second day of rain we also ran out of luck with road surface. So far it had been almost always good to acceptable. That second day of rain between Gao’an and Xinyu, clothes and shoes already soaked through from the day before, led way to relentless potholes like muddy chasms in the road. A labyrinth of cracks in the pavement filled with brown murky ponds, which made cycling and trying to stay dry like trying to dodge a stampede of elephants in an alley. With trucks and cars rendering your efforts completely useless as they splashed their way past you seemingly oblivious to your strife.
Arriving at the hotels in Gao’an and Xinyu meant a hot shower and a chance to dry off. Tomorrow is just going to be cloudy and cold, that’s great I can deal with cloudy and cold so long as it’s cloudy, cold and dry. Pretty much flat and straight roads meant we were able to skip a stop and make up 75 miles. With another glance at the coming weather, which is set to stay dry and even become sunny over the next week or so, we eagerly await good times ahead and this time we promise ourselves to fully appreciate our change in fortunes.
Day 11 Nanchang (Distance to date – 963 km)
The weather is a huge factor on our moods. A day of rain can be a smile-free affair, whereas the clear sunny days have been full of jokes and laughter. This day was an interesting combination of the two.
The forecast said it was going to be sunny all morning and into the afternoon, an hour of scattered thunderstorms at 3pm, followed by more sun. This rather bizarre forecast was very worrying, and our experience of Chinese weather predictions thus far had shown them to not always be too accurate. So we prepared for the worst and left early with our raincoats on and our bags waterproofed.
The sun shone bright all day and we had one of our best trips yet. The huge landscapes were captivating when properly lit by the sun and we were restored to the joyous moods the rain had postponed. Best of all was when 3pm came and we still saw no cloud in the sky.
It was such a good day that when we got to our target town Datangxiang we decided that we could push on the next 30 miles to the next day’s destination ‘Nanchang’. This proved to be unwise.
With around 20 miles to go, as the sun was setting, I pointed ahead and asked Tom if it was rain or mist that I could see in the distance. We decided it had to be mist and carried on. Soon the wind started picking up. The fog ahead started approaching fast. Then we saw lightning. Not just a few strikes – a constant display of explosions like a fireworks display lit up the sky continuously, and was moving closer. Within minutes we were soaked, with the wind pushing us into the road, and the constant crashing lightning all around us.
We pulled over with about 15 miles to go to Nanchang, dripping wet, overwhelmingly tired and without the silver lining of reaching our goal. Instead we finished the ride first thing in the morning and saw some welcoming reminders of home that we have been without for so long. Starbucks and Mcdonalds.
Day 9 Poyang (Distance to date – 863 km)
My misconception about China was that it was going to be a huge, desolate landscape with large cities and nothing in between. I was proved wrong throughout the first 500 miles of our trip and China has shown itself to be one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world. In the last couple of days however, I saw more of what I had previously expected as we’ve surged on (and on) down grey highways surrounded by a pylons and very little else.
When it gets like this we have to look elsewhere for entertainment. Listening to music is great and I’ll be writing about that in the future, but the best time consumer for me has been podcasts. Here’s a few I’ve enjoyed.
THE ADAM BUXTON PODCAST. Adam Buxton is a comedian and actor who used to be on the radio with his buddy Joe Cornish. In this podcast he has ‘ramble chats’ with celebrities about basically whatever comes up. They’re always hilarious and Adam Buxton’s warm personality makes it all quite comforting. The one exception is when he interviewed Hassan Akkad, a Syrian refugee, about his epic and harrowing journey to the United Kingdom. I genuinely had tears in my eyes as I listened, which is not safe when cycling on a busy road.
Coffee Break Spanish: Despite showing no ability in the language when I was learning it at school, I decided to have another shot at learning Spanish. It’s a great, light hearted podcast hosted by two friends from Scotland. Over the course of about 15 minutes they go over some basic Spanish vocabulary and grammar. The bike is a good place for me to be listening to it as I don’t have to face the embarrassment of people hearing me desperately try to roll my Rs in words like Inglaterra.
Spontaneanation (with Paul F Tompkins): Paul F Tompkins voices my favourite animated character of all time ‘Mr Peanutbutter’. So when I found out he hosted a podcast I was understandably excited. The rather odd show has Tompkins interview a celebrity or comedian, he then invites some improvisers to join them and together they improvise a scene based loosely on some of the answers from the interview. The premise didn’t excite me too much, I’ve never listened to much improve and assumed it just couldn’t be as good as well written clever comedy; but the haphazard nature of improv, and the truly exceptional comedy minds of Tompkins and his guests makes for a hilarious and truly entertaining hour and 20 minutes. Perfect to get you down those last 20 miles of the day.
Video below: The boys sing the only song you can sing on reaching 500 miles!!
Day 8 Wuyuan (Distance travelled to date – 676 km)
After about 40 miles of steep inclines, incredible views all endured and enjoyed in the late morning sun we went around a corner into another world. As I was navigating the turn I thought to myself on a day of spectacular views, I had a feeling, a gut feeling that this was going to be something spectacular. But even with this, in hindsight, accurate foresight, as the lengthy downhill rounded towards a flat open valley, nothing could prepare me for the sight that beset my eyes as I focused on a sea of yellow in a rich mountainous crevice. As I passed the millions of buttercup head plants with their long green necks and cluster of yellow smiling faces, I saw a stream trickling down feeding the vast meadow, a blue grey indicating its vitality, rich with nutrients and fertility, keeping this small tightly weaved community prospering around this bright spectacle. A seating area overlooked the meadow, designed merely for the community to convene and enjoy each other’s company in those evenings with the sun setting behind them having toiled all day in the hot sun on their economically thankless but spiritually plentiful task. As we rode through the adjoining town we noticed a community of young artisans making stone tablets for which lovers of the ancient art of calligraphy would use to contain their inks and provide a flat surface for their scriptures. In each shop another individual squatted next to a pottery wheel, as their elders worked the plateaus of yellow. A place of such distinct character and peace and unique scenery like I’d never seen was just another short interlude of our epic voyage across China. We sat and shared a light beer (for that is all they seemingly drink here) and soaked up the valley of flowers languishing as long as we could as the setting sun reminded us of the remaining 20 miles ahead. All smiles, re energised by this other world in which we had happened across, we continued on to the scenic town of Wuyuan and found some lodging.
I’ve been asking myself, what is it about this kind of travelling that is so rewarding? Ok firstly touring a country is the only real way to properly experience what the people really are like, and how diverse even a single nation can be. Spending a long time doing that is, I think the best way to get a real feel for the country. China is so prominent in the media, in our history books and we have such a strong idea about the place, and they are pretty much completely wrong. It is so difficult to clear your mind of these pre-set ideas about a place and keep an open mind. Everyone says to keep an open mind while you’re travelling but it isn’t an easy thing to do. It is something that you have to learn. I guess what is the real China? From what I’ve seen so far, of course lovely people and it is a nice culture, quite a belonging culture. People just kind of wander down the streets of the countryside and people seem to greet them and start up conversations and they are really intrigued by us, they’ll pinch our calves, giggle and gesture that we are strong and they’ve helped us so much in the last couple of days. Their version of “communism” in the smaller cities seems to be a flurry of independent businesses, well maintained communities and a collective spirit. Of course it’s easy to be enthralled with a place on such a beautiful day surrounded by incredible views, but I think there is really something there, everyone we meet out of the major cities just seems so happy.
Then it’s just the epicness of a trip like this, it’s never ending, unbelievable scenery unfolding before your eyes. On a motorbike you do get it as well, of course, but to do it on your own two legs, your own sweat through hard work and to not be guzzling petrol and stopping at a petrol station every day to fill up again, it’s a hell of a way. We’re zooming along, 15mph is the average so you can still take everything in, the e bikes are just so good for it, and you’re not so burnt out. Even though my muscles are hurting and I’m tired, I’m still not straining so hard that I can’t enjoy it. I’m not thinking can I make it to that place, because I know I can make it. I’ve got my spare battery and I can do almost 80 miles on a battery, and I know I can make it, so that part of it is freed up by the technology. It’s just down to you to enjoy it after that, and with the weather as it has been the last few days, I can’t see how anyone couldn’t.
The perfect way to travel