D23: 安定→石湾 - Me China Red - CycleBlaze

April 10, 2021

D23: 安定→石湾

I get a late start to the morning not because I'm me and I don't like waking up early nor because I dawdle over coffee (though coffee does happen) but, instead, because the lovely young man from yesterday's bike shop and a relative/fellow member of the bike club drive out to meet me for breakfast.

I'm so close to the city still that the gap between "hey we're on our way" and "we've found the hotel" isn't even long enough for me finish getting dressed, though—in my defense—the room is unheated and the bed is not. Although I do not actually manage to shower (instead of Hot and Cold, the choices in temperature are Cold and Arctic), my brief gummy eyed mistake in turning the shower on guaranteed that I was very awake.

A half dozen rounds to check and make sure I've definitively left nothing in the room despite my not actually unpacking anything¹ and I'm ready to join them for a nice big bowl of Local Noodles at the same place as I had dinner last night. These are nicely filling but the more often I go with a vaguely western breakfast of instant oatmeal and stuff², the more I'm thinking I don't want spice or pickles or spicy pickles for breakfast.

They were originally going to meet me at Next Town Down the Road but something has come up and the older of the two (who pre-Covid had a substantial amount of self supported touring experience traveling with his wife in Southeast Asia and who is one of the first Cyclists I've talked to in ages to actually understand my glacial pace) has a car, so they drive to meet me for breakfast instead of biking to meet me for lunch.

Once I'm on the road, the signs of impending upgrade to National Road are far less obvious than they were the day before. It's obviously still happening but it's still surveyors' stakes and occasional squiggles of neon paint as opposed to the 拆 拆 运 indicating what shall be demolished and what shall be moved.

I've been on similar roads before and after an upgrade and there's a bit of me that thinks it's unfortunate how much local character and charm will be lost. The rest of me, however, thinks that bit of me is a selfish asshole. Especially since it's not going to be a trucking route and it's not something that any future expressway might someday supercede, the Road is something to be happy for as it brings conveniences I take for granted (like basic medical care or plumbing) at nothing more than the cost of a few architecturally unimportant buildings ranging from the late 19th to mid 20th century, some scraggly trees, and some ephemera from the past 25 years.

The Road will also accelerate the flight of productive labor from the countryside to the city and the mechanization of the countryside but, with perhaps the rare counter example of the Amish, no one who is currently plowing with a donkey actually wants to not be using a tractor.

Despite the big climb actually being before the turn off that I took three years ago, and despite that having been "one of the prettiest" roads I'd ever cycled, I decide to stick to the main route. The sky is far too gray to be bringing out much detail in the stripey red danxia, the trees are blushed with the promise of green not yet arrived instead of fiery with autumn, and it stands to reason that the stuff nearby to something beautiful will also be beautiful.

Mostly, though, it's brown.

The temple I skipped last time has been so thoroughly covered up with aluminum construction fencing, I wouldn't know it for a temple if I hadn't known it was there. There's another temple not too far down the path I take that itches in the back of my brain as maybe having been a name (Stone Buddha) that I saw on a map in 2018 and maybe having led to my wondering at that time if I'd made the wrong choice going the way I'd went. 

Whether or not I'd been considering Stone Buddha last time, I definitely get to visit it this time. It's mostly modern with two door guardians that I don't at all know the names or stories of but who I recognize from their occasional intermittent appearance at other temples in the northwest. After all, it's hard not to remember a guy with laser beams shooting out his nose.

In through the entrance and there's immediately a rickety metal ladderstair to a God of Wealth shrine tucked in a low but wide and deep niche about twenty feet above the ground. The God of Wealth and the freestanding shrines outside the main ground level grotto are completely modern as are the three Buddha in the main grotto. Although the main grotto has been renovated, a line of 16th century mini Buddhas near the ceiling, two door guards, and an inscription remain intact. The stone around here is less frangible looking than most of the other grottoes I've been in recently but the presence of heads and faces on the statuary and the handful that have melted into lumps tell me that the faded "自力更生"³ Cultural Revolution grafitto just outside the entrance probably isn't the reason for the missing originals.

There's not much else of interest between leaving the temple and arriving at my evening destination: a police check still set up for this year's Chinese New Year with signs that everyone coming into the countryside from the cities would need to show a NAT less than three days old; sunbeams showing up just as I came upon a particularly large danxia formation; some obvious grottoes that I couldn't find roads to (two of which very definitely had actively-in-use structures attached); some brilliant family planning education mosaics; a "serve the people" slogan on the front of someone's house in a place that made it awkwardly unphotographable; and, a new cliff carving of a Mao quote from the 1930s which—rather shockingly—used a "Mao's handwriting" font. 

With the GPS set to take me to the closest of the hotels in Shiwan, by the time I'm passing the Farmers' Co-op, I'm quite certain that I've actually passed the place I stayed last time. Checking my track from last time, it looks like the same point that's currently my destination was my destination last time and that I'd turned around and gone back to the spot that felt like the right spot. 

So, without even trying to find what my wiggly track tells me I either didn't find last time or didn't like last time, I turn around, go back to the right spot, and—before I've even leaned my bike up against the wall to come inside—am greeted with a "welcome back".

¹ Ever since forgetting my work laptop amd having to go back for it, I'm extra double careful about the checkout room check.

² Right now, most of the instant grain that is currently making up my hot cereal is actually rolled green peas cause my previous resealable food container had been damaged and—unlike the oatmeal—it came in a resealable bag.

³ Self reliance on one's own capabilities. Same thing I saw carved into the wall at this morning's first grotto.

Today's ride: 51 km (32 miles)
Total: 882 km (548 miles)

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