D43: 乐里→小丹江 - China Blues - CycleBlaze

October 11, 2020

D43: 乐里→小丹江

I am astonished to find that there is a mountain on today's road. I am even more astonished, when I go back and re-reread the entry from 2012 for the nth time, to discover that I mentioned the mountain. It was apparently "an itty bitty little thing with barely 5 or 6 kilometers of climbing".

Now, in fairness, it was coming the day after Leigong Mountain. In fairness, I had relatively recent things to compare it to that most certainly were neither itty nor bitty. However, the mountain so sufficiently made no impression on my memory (and went unphotographed on the basis of a low camera battery), that I honestly thought the road from Xinzhai [新寨] to Leli was Guizhou-flat. 

(Guizhou flat is more along the lines of rolling ups and down that aren't ever steep enough to get off and walk. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, actually flat.)

For today's narrative and the direction I am riding, Xinzhai comes almost immediately after Xiaodanjiang. I will pass through Xinzhai tomorrow, glancing at the many farmhouse restaurants to see if any of them seem to match up with my memory of the one from 2012 or the photo of the outside, but not actually trying very hard to find it because - memorable and special as that evening was - I didn't actually like the owner of the place where I stayed and saw no particular reason to find it.

Prior to my surprise discovery of a mountain, I spend the morning in Leli enjoying both market day and my first sunshine in quite a while. I forget to ask if this is one of those days that's a special Market Day or if it's just an ordinary morning. The hustle and bustle is similar to 2012 but the products are wildly different. Lots of people seem to be getting their regular old shopping in for items like farm tools, rubber boots. As on that last day in Guangxi, there's a table selling handheld radios that have all been set to loudly chirping fake bird noise. Mostly, however, it's women's fashion.

Minority style women's fashion.

Somehow an entire ethnic group, alongside deciding that easy wash polyester is an acceptable daily substitute that doesn't require going full on 'modern', and deciding that machine embroidery is god's gift to womankind, has also decided that hi-vis green is the definitive color for embroidery thread. None of the other 80s palette of colors, not neon pink or neon yellow or even neon blue (much as they embrace all the synthetic creation of all shades of blue that are not achieved with indigo), just hi-vis green.

So much hi-vis green.

Both as machine embroidery and as carefully couched threads alongside individually sewn on spangles and sequins in swirls and twists and all sorts of other patterns that, given the number of stalls selling prick-and-pounce embroidery patterns, probably have (or had) some kind of Significant Meaning that I'd need weeks of effort and a local dialect to Mandarin interpreter to suss out. Because, as is so often the case with this sort of thing, to them it's simply The Way Things Are and you may as well try to explain why bathroom doors must always open inwards.

(Like so many other niggling building code type things, it's one of those rules written in blood and its to ensure that people don't get trapped inside in the event of a fire or other calamity. But most people don't know that. Most people aren't even aware of it until someone points it out and asks.)

In 2012, when the weather was warmer, there were quite a number of women with white sleeves showing out from underneath the blue tunics. Many of these white sleeves were decorated with the finest in geometric blackwork. Many more were plain and undecorated. Blackwork isn't hard the way needlepoint is hard but it's surprisingly hard to program. Machine embroidery has gotten substantially better over the intervening years and there's a stall selling nothing but pieces of already embroidered white cloth to be added as sleeves to a mostly finished garment.

Throughout the whole of the market, I see only two people wearing indigo cotton. Both are easily well into their 80s. 

The man is a bit on the scruffy side and his outfit looks well worn. Lived in. Never having seen a Chinese man in ethnic fancy dress that wasn't clearly costume, I can't say if the lack of fine details on his clothing are because men don't get embroidery or because he's poor or because this is just any old thing to wear to the market. He is wearing three layers of handwoven cotton over a store bought undershirt. 

The woman's outfit looks like she may have purchased the sequins and the shoes. Also some of the embroidery thread is colors that look like they'd be difficult (not impossible, just difficult) to achieve with vegetable dyes. It goes beyond beautiful to downright stunning. Puts every other outfit around her's to shame with the sheer number of hours of labor that must have gone into it. It's hard to say if this is indeed her Sunday finest, but she's definitely wearing it to show off to the others. (From what little I know of this region and these people, I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised if she takes commissions on embroidery and was engaging in a sly bit of advertising while also doing her shopping for city made products.)

The mountain that I thought was itty and bitty 8 years ago rather takes a lot out of me. I am 8 years older. I am only now entering the truly mountainous areas as opposed to coming down from weeks at what my body considers high altitude. I walk most of it. Don't even bother to do intervals with riding as I've somehow not only forgotten to top off my water, I've also discovered that I lost a water bottle (probably during yesterday's tire patching adventure).

The new road is built over top the old road with a few hints here and there of where it was in the form of switchbacks that have been obliterated by the combination of hill cuts and bastions. I wonder if the effort to straighten the road (which is surely much safer for traffic) has increased the steepness or not. Surely the lack of curves means that the total distance is shorter but, at the same time, they've cut deeper into the hill (making the road surface lower) and filled in short places where it previously might have dipped down before going back up again.

From the top, it's down down down down and down some more. There's a wibbly wobbly sensation that something is wrong with my rear which gets me to stop and decide that it's not just the second broken spoke but a slow leak which I quickly pump as solid as my arms will let me so that I can limp the last bit of distance in to lodging.

I've got the likely location of 2012's farmhouse restaurant marked as well as a place about two kilometers past it and here's this nice big tourism centric village with lots of interesting houses and places to wander about and multiple guesthouses and I decide to just stop here because I'm totally going to go and explore after I patch the tire and take a shower. Instead of exploring though, I patch the tire, take a shower, have my daily call with Mike, and go quite soundly to sleep.

Today's ride: 30 km (19 miles)
Total: 2,173 km (1,349 miles)

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