The Ride - 儋州→海口 Danzhou to Haikou - CycleBlaze

The Ride

I did the math, if I had completed the ride I would have ended up a hair shy of 100 miles in one day. So close to 100 miles in fact that, if I had completed the ride, I would have gone around the block a few times so as to pass that particular milestone.

I didn't complete the ride.

At 98 kilometers there was a rest stop. We had a lot of those. There was a woman even slower and weaker than me on the ride and a fair bit of time was spent waiting for her to catch up. At this rest stop I declared that at the first town past 100 kilometers I was taking the bus home.

It wasn't just because I'd just spent the last 30 minutes at 8kph climbing yet another hill. It wasn't just because the trucks from the banana plantations were really big and really fast and really scary. It wasn't just because this was the farthest I'd ridden on a bicycle since I was 16 (my dad confirms it was the farthest I'd ridden on a bicycle ever). It was also because I was hosting a dinner party for fifteen in slightly over two hours.

So, at 106.8 kilometers, in a village just inside the limits of Chengmai County, my bike went into the back of a pickup truck and I got a ride home. I'm not entirely sure how a pickup truck was arranged. I was left in the tea shop while the trip leader flagged down a bus for me. I'm not sure whether it was my blond hair or my comparative lack of Chinese that was the deciding factor behind my lurking in the shadows while vehicles were arranged.

The minibusses were too small for me plus bike plus other passengers. The full sized busses with luggage compartments weren't stopping. And the medium sized bus wanted too much money. I didn't think it was too much money, but I was raised in a different economy.

Just as second medium bus was coming up the road I gulped my tea, grabbed the last pancake topped with sweetened condensed milk, and headed across the road. By the time I had woven my way out through the haphazardly parked bikes and motorcycles in front of the tea shop and gotten out to the road the bus had come and gone. Instead there was an airconditioned pickup truck driven by a Taiwanese businessman who had agreed to take me into Haikou for free.

At 7:30 we'd had a fairly traditional Chinese breakfast. Normally I stay far far FAR away from Chinese breakfasts. Even after more than three years in China I still find the majority of the food totally unpalatable or unpredictably weird. This breakast was no different. Bland rice porridge. Pickled Sichuan vegetable. Corn on the cob. Hard boiled eggs. Two kinds of dumplings (jiaozi and baozi). Dragonboat rice cakes (zhongzi). However, my body had some idea of what was in store for it and instead of listlessly picking at the food, I found myself going back for seconds and even fourths of some items.

By 7:50 the twelve of us had left the hotel and were on our way. At the first traffic light eight of us went straight and four turned right. They were also going back to Haikou but they were taking a different route. My bike and my experience level weren't good enough for some of the roads (and especially some of the hills) on that route. And my group had the librarian with the mountain bike. She didn't belong on any trip without a lot more training (still doesn't). But, the two of us had talked our way into it, and they modified the route plan to let us join.

I learned the librarian's name but I promptly forgot it. It was far too easy to think of her as The Newb. Maybe because the Chinese word for woman sounds so much like the word "new." Her Trek 4500 was so fresh it hadn't even had all of the plastic wrap removed from the frame yet (four months later, still hasn't). The local bike shop had also convinced her to buy a top-of-the-line wireless odometer (that immediately broke), a yellow Le Tour water bottle, the more expensive set of riding spandex, a chic cute Shimano backpack, full finger off road gloves, and a helmet with a visor. I don't know what her husband does for a living but her bike and accessories represented about 6 months' salary for a librarian.

On the trip I had two goals. To hit at least 100 kilometers before giving up. And to do a better job than this woman. I made both of my goals. And I like to think that if I had had the time to finish that I would have done the last 35 kilometers. Though shortly after I got in the pickup truck the old highway met up with the new highway and turned really sunny and really boring. So, I didn't miss too much. And I got to my party with enough time to shower and change before guests started arriving.

The ride started out in countryside that was far beyond the merely beautiful. I struggled up the hills and coasted down the other side. I was either going 6kph in the lowest gear or judiciously using my brakes to keep below 35kph in the highest gear. I've been up over 40kph. It's fun. But these roads weren't 40kph roads. There were potholes, cowpats, and herds of goats to avoid.

Later on the hills became less steep but the flat stretches were few and far between. On the few flats we did have I got to experience something vaguely resembling riding in a paceline. Except for the librarian we were all wearing the same riding clothes (the local shop doesn't have a very wide selection) in the same colors along with bicycle helmets which created quite a stir. A few times I was more than a little worried when the driver of a motorcycle or farm truck turned completely around to goggle at us as he passed going the other way.

At our first stop (noodles, dates, green peas, raisins and barley with ice in sugar water) it seemed like half the town (but probably no more than one or two hundred people) stopped to look at our bikes. So tall. So light. So shiny. Such funny saddles.

The old man who had once ridden from Sichuan to Hainan and who was tanned very very dark kept telling people that he was from Africa and that I was a Uighur Turkic Chinese girl from Xinjiang province. Now that my roots are growing in the blond floof is obviously artificially dyed and I think they believed him. In China, skin that dark generally doesn't belong on people with money. People with money stay indoors. When they go outside they carry umbrellas and wear thin cotton oversleeves. The women use bleach to whiten their faces. Dark skin is the skin of the poorest peasant and goes along with stunted growth and poor teeth. Not matching spandex and a fancy bicycle.

Believe it or not, people occasionally mistake me for being Chinese
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This was my first ever ride with riding clothes. Completely synthetic. Lycra and something else. Not spandex. Ultrex maybe. I'm a big fan of all natural fibers. Linens, cottons, wools, ramie, silk. Normally I hate synthetics. These were different. Having actually gone riding long distances with only shorts and a string bikini top I can say that wearing something like this was better than shirtless. The sweat was wicked away from my skin and evaporated quicker than I could produce it, leaving me cool and dry.

At lunch in Fushan we had a hard time convincing the librarian to eat enough. Even with the example of another Chinese woman pigging out she couldn't overcome cultural training and just picked at her food. She and I were the only ones who didn't finish our first bowl of rice. Some of the men finished a second bowl. My excuse is that it was a big bowl and I don't like cheap rice.

Some of the slenderness of the Chinese is due to much higher activity levels compared to Americans. Some of it is genetics. In city-women a lot of it is due to an amount of dieting and laxative use which would be called "eating disorder" in America. They are afraid to have curves. With good reason. The emerging middle class is made up primarily of people whose parents were poor. They are surrounded by people who are still poor. At weights which we would consider to be barely approaching normal they often get heckled.

At one stop a moto-tricycle driver kept asking me "how much do you weigh,? How much do you weigh?" and when I wouldn't answer him started guessing numbers. I was tempted to tell the skinny little twerp that while I do weigh nearly three times what he weighs I can bicycle 100 kilometers in a day. Something he certainly couldn't. And even if I am an XXL in Chinese spandex then at least the S isn't so big as to hang loosely on my frame. But I kept my mouth shut, and in the end, I think he decided I didn't understand Chinese.

I get this sort of thing alot. My stomach may be a bit rounded. I might carry a bit extra along my thighs and the backs of my arms. But I am not fat. I am large. There is a difference between the two.

I finished with an average speed of just under 18kph for just over six hours of riding. Ten hours from start to finish with all of the breaks and stops.

I can't wait to do it again. Next time I'm going to finish.

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