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  • Jamie Shannon

Guizhou province. Every day seems a real struggle now. Difficult days in China

I’ve just come back from a walk to the town centre of the place I’m currently tucked up in – a town called Debao, just across the border from Vietnam. I’m so close I can almost smell the dogs being roasted from my hotel. With the actual border crossing still more than 200 km’s further east though, China is apparently not done with me yet.

That was possibly the most awkward three km’s I have ever walked. I’m really not joking as at times, it seems like the entire population of the city is looking at me. People very nearly fall off their scooters what with the amount of times they look back to get that cursory second or third glance in. I don’t know how many photo’s taken from smartphones I’ll appear in but it’s safe to say that I haven’t signed any forms giving my written consent. It really infuriates me sometimes. I cannot express in words how uncomfortable it can be to be treated almost like a museum exhibit but alas, I can only stare back. Anyway, two days more and I’m out of here. Apparently there a millions of tourists whom come to China every year, but in my quest to avoid all major cities, I haven’t seen one since I left Kashgar over 40 days ago. I need to see some familiar faces and I need to speak English in real time urgently. I need to get to Vietnam.

Mist in China
Misty and cold weather in China

Continuing my journey through China - travelling by bicycle isn't easy!

After a wonderful night’s sleep with a great view across the lake, I woke up in high spirits . Not only was my bicycle now fixed, cleaned and more importantly not squeaking every time I turned the pedals but I had the prospect of a long downhill having climbed for what seemed like an eternity the day before.

Opening the tent was the first sign that things weren’t going to be as easy and as comfortable as I had hoped. The mist/fog/pollution covered my world and it was noticeably colder to boot.

Back on the road, I couldn’t see more than 30 metres ahead of me at some points. When I started to cycle, it didn’t quite feel right. I was going uphill! Bloody hell. What the f**k! How could I still be climbing? This is ridiculous! What sort of a country has this many mountains and yet still a population of 1.5 billion!?

I chewed away at the gradients all morning. For three hours I only went up. The road was wet. It was far too misty to be cycling and it was fiendishly cold. I was having no fun at all. On top of that, I had to walk the bicycle through three extremely long tunnels on footpaths that were missing lots of paving stones meaning I kept having to lift my bike onto the road and back up again countless times. These were excellent opportunities for the trucks to have a field day with their horns too as I went about my task.

I arrived in a small town at around twelve, thoroughly deflated and freezing cold . I bought vegetables and some other things whilst some people looked at me as if I had two heads or something and debated whether to call it a day.

A man showed me across the road to a hotel that actually resembled a laundrette on the ground floor. I was quoted 100 Yuan which I thought excessive for a room in a laundrette and so I got up to walk out which immediately helped lower the price to 60 and then to 50 Yuan. I actually got him down to forty but when I looked in my wallet, I realised this was all I had left; forty measly yuan. It was either a bed or food and so I chose the food.

I thus set off again wrapped in almost everything I owned and by about three, I had at long last reappeared in civilised temperatures once again.

When I came to Denang, I really wanted to skirt the city as much as possible and so I went into a petrol station to ask about a small G road on my map that looked like it did just this and linked back up with the road I wanted ten km’s further on.

Beautiful landscape, China
The landscape was pretty dreamy

I only wanted some information but I was quickly requested to take a seat after which I was given numerous cups of tea. It felt like I was back in Turkey. I was then given some instant noodles to munch on. Nope I was still in China. Two very different countries in every way possible but the hospitality was one thing they do have in common and just like in Turkey, I wasn’t even charged for my petrol. Somehow I do not think this would happen in some countries in Europe.

I cycled as far as I could but, with the light fading and with crash barriers on both sides of the road, I took an exit down to some farmland where my magical Chinese note came in handy once again.

I watched the sun set over a power station on this night.

I continued on the large and relatively flat highway in the morning with wonderful misty views to accompany me along the way. I also stopped off at a traffic police compound where I was able to fill up on water. I had been told back in the petrol station that the expressway to Guiyang could be cycled which I had thought unlikely but decided to ask here just in case. As soon as I approached anyone though, they would all walk off in different directions which I thought was rather lame. In the end, a member of the public helped me but I still left none the wiser as to whether it was even possible or not.

I came off the highway sometime later and once out of the slip road, found a hospital where I thought I’d just check If this was indeed the G road I needed to Anshun. The same thing with the police officers happened here too though; the nurses behind reception completely ignored me. I thus tried my luck at the other reception desk instead and I got the answer I wanted. Back on track.

Having swatted away the small crowd that had gathered around my bike outside, I was on my way south again, feeling a little queasy by not knowing what sort of terrain lay ahead.

The views were spectacular and I came to a huge picturesque lake that straddled the surrounding hills. After I had crossed a bridge I had to climb up some steep roads that had me huffing and puffing and panting all the way up. Then came the mud.

It decided to replace the asphalt and because of the way the cars and mostly trucks had churned up the ground, I was soon plastered in the stuff. I felt rotten. More hills and mud followed and by early afternoon my good mood that had reached its zenith by the lake had once again slumped to a new low. Everything was wet and covered in mud and with no prospect of any sun in the coming days, I just felt rotten about having to sleep in a wet tent and having to ride in wet and muddy clothes for the next few days.

Roads made of mud, China
Not the best road to cycle on

I decided to stop in a very small town around three to nip into a bank in order to see if they could change some dollars I had. Before I even stepped inside and onto the immaculate white floor I apologised vigorously for what was about to follow but the young bank manager seemed unfazed and just ushered me in. They couldn’t change my dollars here but, seeing that I was on a bicycle and the nearest place I could change my dollars, was the city of Guiyang, the manager offered to change them himself personally. I even told him to give me ten yuan less as a sort of commission but he would have none of it. The guy also spoke very passable English and with opportunities like this not knocking on my tent door every day I asked him a dozen questions and in the end got shown to the guesthouse next door where I parked my ass for the rest of the day and much of the following morning too.

Landscape of Guizhou province, China
Landscape of Guizhou province, China

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I peered outside the next morning. Was that sunlight I could see? My god it is. It’s arrived! And to think of all that time I had wasted in the hotel room drying my clothes with a hairdryer! Silly me.

The sun was shining, the scenery was great and I had had a shower. It was a wonderful morning. I didn’t even stop until I had done about twenty km’s either such was my good mood and it was here I was finally able to dry out my mouldy tent after many days of being completely soaked through.

I entered the large eight lane road into the town/city of Zhijin by which point the traffic had begun to flow again. With so much room and flat road to cycle on, I even raced a few cars as the passengers smiled back at me. I do like it when they wave instead of beeping at me. Much more humane.

As I was cycling through the city, I had a man cycle next to me and who wouldn’t stop talking to me in Chinese. I had to tell him to shut up a few times as I pointed to the numerous vehicles converging all around us. Eventually we both stopped and he took his customary photo but I was not given my customary drink. Yes I think I prefer to get stopped by cars in this case. At least there is usually refreshment at the end of it.

Ten km’s on and I began to climb steadily up from the valley I had previously been cycling in until I eventually rounded the last village and was faced with some very steep roads indeed.

Lake, China
China has sunshine!

With my cup of tea gone and with no more reasons to put it off, I set off and crawled my way up there. Needless to say it was tough work. I even had to stop a few minutes later to remove my trousers which I think was the first time since the end of Uzbekistan I had done so. I felt much better in shorts and with the extra air cooling my legs, I cycled on and on and on and on.

Up and up I went as the trucks and suicidal bus drivers blew deafening horns in my ear.

The next day turned out to be another gem as far as the views and weather were concerned. Sure it was a tad misty in the morning and the dogs didn’t leave me alone but the views were simply staggering. Huge hills blanketed in forest rose majestically in every direction. They really looked out of place and I think this was the image I had had in mind when I had imagined this part of China and indeed Vietnam too. The mist only added to the mood.

It was turning out to be another glorious day though and with the sudden appearance of the sun came the sudden appearance of many roadside stops where I was amply rewarded with drinks of, how should I phrase it, questionable taste. Pea and corn juice would be among the flavours on offer today.

Even though I was now sweating profusely from the heat, the many drinks that came my way kept me hydrated and the rather odd things I encountered along the way kept me guessing; I saw a dog hopping across the road with only three legs and a man scraping off the hair from a cow.

When I came to the large town/small city that marked the point where my smaller road linked back up with all the rest of them I became a little confused as to which route to go. I went on over to a gas station where the three girls whom worked there were able to point me in the right direction. I added two more drinks to my bags here too.

I was now in an area of flat land for once and for that I was eternally grateful. It was blissful riding and with the area being completely given over to nature for a change, I wasted no time at all in pushing my bike down onto one of the paths that led into the nearby fields and found a peachy spot of grass to put up my tent.

Stealth camping, China
Not a bad spot to pitch for the night

It wasn’t until later that I realised that the most probable reason why this area wasn’t populated was that I was camped out directly under the flight path for the local airport.

Being woken up by curious locals - problems with stealth camping

An elderly man whom was beating a cow with a stick came by later on. He also beat my tent with a stick too but he was just a little curious as to how it stood up I guess.

I was again woken up at about midnight when I found a couple of torches shining on the canvas. Having only just woken up, I was a little dazed and confused so I didn’t really know what was going on at first. I instead just pretended to be asleep but when the wandering torches continued their search, I decided to unzip the tent. I just saw two figures walking off in the distance and I was asleep soon afterwards. My bike as ever was always locked up. Again, they were probably just curious.

The next day, I stopped outside a security guard booth outside a huge building just to check I had taken the right turning and was now on the road I needed and was given 20 Yuan for breakfast. Lots of people are helping me daily now it seems and with the weather improving everyday, it looked like the latter stages of my charge through China was only going to get better.

Sunset from the road, China
Sunset from the road

I turned onto a road that eventually led out to a cliff face that overlooked this astonishingly deep valley where a bridge took the expressway right the way across it. It didn’t take much working out that my road continued all the way down to the valley floor which, although was a lot of fun, I just knew that I would have to climb all the way up again on the other side. This is exactly what happened. Another humungous climb from the valley floor and up over another mountain. It was heartbreakingly difficult, particularly in this new heat.

On the upside, a car pulled over as I was taking a picture. Thinking they were just taking the picture from their car, I didn’t even bother to turn around but then they shouted to me and so I glanced behind me to find the driver holding out a huge piece of bamboo. I’m not sure if he had just seen the big stick on the back of my bike and thought this would be of more use or if he just thought I would like a big stick. It’s a strange thing to give someone after all.

A good couple of hours went by as I climbed ever higher and I soon entered a valley of sorts. It was just so beautiful – perfectly manicured and lush – that I couldn’t stop taking photos. The forested peaks rose again all around me and this really was beginning to resemble the image of China I had before I came.

Later in the day, I came to a junction in the road and promptly walked over to some old men playing cards in a café. They all smelt like they hadn’t stopped drinking since before I was born but I managed nonetheless to get the correct road out of them. They wrote the directions on one of their playing cards which I still have. I wonder if they’ll remember where they put that come the point they start looking for it.

Every single patch of earth was in use and so, thoroughly knackered and with my ass hurting too, the tent went up on a small path leading up the hillside and by the time I woke up in the morning I and everything else in my tent had managed to slide down to the bottom. It was a dreadful nights sleep if I’m honest.

Also had a visit from a man hitting a horse with a stick in the evening here too.

I set off the next morning with a heavy heart. Every day was a struggle now, physically speaking. I never quite realised a country could be this hard on your legs. If this was to be my lot from here on out in China then I needed a plan. I needed to find a way of doing more than 70 km’s per day if I was ever going to get to Vietnam. It may have been reckless but I needed to do something drastically different now. I needed to cycle in the dark.

Thus I set off at a little past six in the morning and spent the first hour cycling up and down in the darkness. I delicately pushed the pedals as I passed every house I saw for fear of setting off a vicious dog and carefully watched my mirror for headlights coming behind me.

I reached a small town by mid-morning where every building seemed to be enveloped in a kind of bamboo scaffolding. It was quite the sight. Traders lined the streets and school children walked amongst them whilst deliciously smelling food wafted through the air but I couldn’t stop. I just had to keep going. South East Asia would not come to me.

Amazing views in China
Descending to the bottom of the valley

More beautiful scenery followed until I rounded a few more bends and was greeted with one of the most arresting sights of the trip so far. I faced a valley so deep and shrouded in mist that I couldn’t even see the bottom. I saw the mountains tumble away in the distance for hundreds of kilometres ahead. I stood there dumbfounded and awestruck and I remembered saying that I will be a very good boy in life if only I didn’t have to cross this valley.

View across a gigantic gorge, China
Thats one big gorge, gulp

It was never going to happen that way though. I must have spent about forty minutes speeding down to the valley floor below dodging chickens and dogs in the process. I stopped from time to time to look at my compass and map too, hoping in vain that my road led along the valley floor and not directly through the other side. My heart sank. Yes I was going to have to go all the way back up again. Just build a frickin bridge!

I arrived over the other side sometime in the early afternoon and promptly came to a small town nestled up there. It's at moments like these when everything seems against you and no light seems to be at the end of the very long tunnel that travelling by bicycle really does open up doors you would never otherwise have access to. A car pulled over and beckoned me to follow him after which we came to a small restaurant. I was treated to some of the most delicious food I have yet to gobble down here in China and was quickly surrounded by a group of people whom were interested in my trip. With a translator on hand to help, the whole experience went much more smoothly than it usually does and I was able to answer some of their more probing questions.

I passed through more interesting karst rock formations later which were always pleasant to look at but I just kept on pushing myself as much as possible. I was going to cycle 100 km’s today even if it kills me.

Highway, China
Back on the main highway

With the little roadside kilometre markers indicting my distance and having been on the same road since morning, I had a pretty good idea of when I should reach one hundred. In a populated area such as this I would usually just camp where I found a tent space regardless of if I had done 70 or 90 km’s but today, I carried on until that magical 100 km mark had been accomplished but as my damned luck would have it, there wasn’t a sniff of land available anywhere. I ended up hauling the bike over some rubble by the side of the road to an area behind some large rocks blocking myself from view. It wasn’t perfect but with my earplugs in surely I would get some sleep.

Highway, China
Nearly finished for the day after more than 120km's

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