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West from Japan
By Adam Dodge and Beth Hamilton - (contact)

September 30: Broke the unbroken streak of riding

Sunday September 30, 2012, 62 km (39 miles) - Total so far: 2,338 km (1,453 miles)

Beth wanted to hang out in Dejiang for another day, so for the 29th we stayed there and watched videos off of our netbook and finally finished up the second and final season of V. Yeah, the first half of the second season was pretty lame, but it really picked up in the latter half, only for it to not be renewed. 'Tis a shame.

So this morning we packed up our stuff and left the hotel, finding a nearby shop serving noodles, which ended up being decent. Most noodle meals aren't particularly good nor bad, and this one was no exception. After finishing up breakfast we went out in search of the country “X” road that we planned to ride on today.

For most of our trip we've been trying to stay on the provincial “S” roads, as we've found that while they may not be quite as direct as the national “G” roads, they have a tendency to have less traffic and overall be a more pleasant bike ride than G roads. And with the exception of under-construction areas, S roads have consistently had pretty good quality in the provinces we've ridden in so far. But today we decided to take X roads. Why? A 40 kilometer shortcut, that's why.

S303, the road we've been following, does a curve to the northeast before going back west, while there are X roads that together go in more of a straight line. Going in that straight line would cut 40 km off of the route. There are two main problems with taking X roads, however. Problem number one is that our map doesn't list X roads' numbers, and even if you know the number it's sometimes hard to know how to actually find the road and get on it. Number two is that while it seems to be more or less guaranteed that G and S roads will be in good condition (with some exceptions), what you'll find on an X road is a mixed bag. But 40 km off was a good enough reason for us to try and risk it.

The first step was finding the road itself, so we meandered westward through Dejiang (this is where the compass comes in handy) for a few kilometers until we had an inkling that we should be near the turn off. To confirm our suspicions we pulled into a gas station to ask for directions. A guy with his family who was getting his dump truck gassed up looked nice, so I went over and pantomimed out, with map in hand, what we were looking for. The man and his wife got the picture, but they then looked over to our bikes and shook their heads no. No, you shouldn't try that road on bicycles. Why not? They wrote something down neither I nor Beth understood. After a bit of back and forth they motioned for us to follow them to the X road, as they lived in a village on said road and as such were heading to it anyway.

We followed them for a little bit, but once we hit the X road they pulled over and motioned for us to put our bikes and gear in the back of the (empty) dump truck and hop in the cab. Beth and I had a brief conversation that ended in us deciding to break our track of traveling purely by bicycle from Shanghai and loaded our stuff in the back of the truck. All five of us packed into the cab, and we were off!

Over the next 20 kilometers of road, we became pretty happy that they offered to give us a (very bumpy) ride, as nearly the whole stretch of 20 km was uphill. While riding the mom and I attempted to have a conversation via writing, but it was too stinkin' bumpy for me to write anything but squiggles. We started the day at about 350 meters elevation, and by the time we arrived at their village and got out the truck we had climbed to a hair under 1000 meters elevation. We figured that a free pass up 650 meters of elevation was a pretty good start to the day. We said our goodbyes to the family and set out to climb uphill some more.

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Beth with the mom and the son in front of the dump truck. The dad didn't want to be in the picture. All three of them were exceedingly nice, and on the ride up the kid kept on excitedly trying to talk with us despite us having no idea what each other was saying.

At this point in time the X road consisted of very old pavement. That was good enough for us. But after a few kilometers it got more and more broken up until we were more or less just riding on rocks. These weren't gravel rocks, they were just rocks, and the rocky path led up and up. We had hoped that once we got up to the 1000+ meter section of the road it would be generally easy riding, but it ended up that there was still plenty of climbing left to go, and much of that climbing was on unpaved and/or muddy difficult-to-ride-on path-not-quite-a-road. It wasn't particularly easy riding.

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Rough riding on the X road. The picture doesn't quite do the rough road surface justice. It was pretty slow going.

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11 o'clock photo of Beth working her way through the mud

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Beth using a leaf in an attempt to clean some of the mud off of her shoes. It didn't work very well.

Now, this is the kind of riding that, while I don't want to do it all the time, I look forward to and enjoy for both the challenges and the “getting away from people and built up areas and out in nature” that it brings. However for Beth, this type of riding is difficult, tiring, and overall very much not her idea of a fun time. I very much enjoyed it. She very much didn't. There was a highlight, however, when we were pushing our bikes up a section when my bike suddenly felt quite a bit lighter. I looked behind me to see a kid, around 13 years old, helping me push my bike up. I smiled at him and pointed over at Beth, a little bit in front of me, to which he understood and helped Beth push her bike up the remained of the hill. Thanks kid, whoever you are.

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On the plus side, the X road gave us some of the most expanses of nothingness that we've come across in China

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Steep grade + rocky road = pushing the bike

We ended up going around 25 very slow kilometers of difficult and tiring riding on this road, surviving the on snacks and fruits we had brought along with out, as we didn't see a good place to stop for lunch. Finally in the afternoon the X road ended and met back up with good ol' S303, which rewarded us with some nice long descents only to turn back on us and head right back up. Way to tease us, S303.

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Hello S303 and glorious smooth pavement!

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The pavement may be smooth, but the climbing continues

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It's a good feeling seeing the road continue that far downhill.

Late in the afternoon, a few kilometers outside of the city which was the goal for the day, a cop car drove slowly by us, pulled over, and the officer got out. He saluted us with a smile. We both smiled and waved back. With thought that was it, however about a kilometer later an unmarked car pulled over, two officers got out, and motioned for us to pull over. We were a bit worried, as we've read about people being turned away from “no foreigner” zones, however we needn't have worried, as once they called a friend who spoke English, we found out that they were going to escort us into town and find a hotel for us. Well, that works then. This all took about half an hour, after which they escorted us into the city. And led us to a hotel. I said that we were looking for a hotel in the 40 – 50 yuan range, and they complied.

Recently, most hotels just write down our information in the registration book used for domestic residents, even though foreigners are supposed to be registered differently. These officers took it upon themselves to do things properly, however doing things properly meant that we sat in the hotel lobby for an hour and a half waiting for them to do everything completely by the book. With our passports back in our hand, they then enlisted yet another officer to take us to dinner. He did so and, slightly disconcertingly, sat next to our table for the whole dinner, doing nothing. I offered him food, but he refused. He then took us back to our hotel, and finally, over four hours after first coming across the officers, became free again. While we both greatly appreciate the help they all gave us, after awhile they began to feel more and more like babysitters and a bit stifling.

In the end we climbed 1060 meters today, much of which was on that rocky X road. Taking into account that had the dump truck not given us a ride up that first 650 meters, we likely wouldn't have made it into town until well after dark, a prospect we'd prefer to avoid. So thank you family with the dump truck—you helped us out more than either of us realized.


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"West from Japan" Copyright © 2012-2014 By Adam Dodge and Beth Hamilton - (contact). All rights reserved.
Page was created on October 1, 2012 00:40 PDT, last updated on October 5, 2012 15:35 PDT
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