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Archive for August, 2007

Bikes and Time

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Here we are. Three short weeks away from taking off and still lists and lists of undone tasks litter my house, desk, work, and dreams. No matter how simple the task, it seems that it must needs complicate itself according to those inscrutable principles known as Murphy’s laws. Did he ever develop any bike-trip specific theories? I’d probably just as soon not know. Wheels take longer than promised to be made and are weaker than the ones I ordered. Seats and seat posts are stolen. Finding seat posts requires multiple trips to different bike shops and then somehow I choose one that’s too long. Taking a bike on a plane as extra luggage costs as much as buying a cheap domestic ticket. The visa company gives us sixty instead of ninety day visas. Brakes don’t. Web sites fail to cooperate. And we haven’t even started yet!

But, I have a bike. I have a ticket. I have a visa. I’m going to China. I can’t wait to dispense with the worrying, the scurrying, the errand running and sand blast all of those lists out of my head with a healthy dose of Chinese road dust. My previous bike trip in China offered a similar planning experience. Everything is extremely hectic until you leave, and then you’re out on the road and the only thing you have to worry about is the burning in your legs and the numbness in other places. Give me numbness over visa woes any day. Well, almost any day.

Beijing to Tianjin

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Last week, we took a 3 day test ride from Beijing to Tianjin, a city about 120km southeast of Beijing. Let’s see, with a baozi breakfast on plastic chairs outside on a dusty sidewalk, we left Wudaoko at about 8:30am and reached our destination by 8:00pm. My muscles weren’t crying, they were shrieking obsenities at me, and i was in turn shrieking obsenities at Drew and Peter for riding like speed demons with no rest. I am no athlete. I like lipsticks and high heels. Skaterboys and garage dance clubs. So this, being my first taste of what is to come on my one year bike trip around the world (never rush into anything), was the first realistic glimpse of what its going to be like. I could feel myself breaking down emotionally as i wondered when and where the end was, then pushing myself to go faster and then getting a little ahead of Drew and Peter (the real athletes on the trip) and then feeling a rush from my body’s accomplishment and riding that rush like a new muscle.

Apart from the physical strife, other aspects of the trip felt like breaking muscle fiber as well. The second lu dian (inn? minimalistic motel in rural China? use your imagination) we stayed at had a shower equipped with a large bin for rain water and a dirt floor. After riding in the loose city dust and being licked by China’s strange sulfur oxidic tongue for 4 hours, i scrubbed my heart out.  

But this was also after riding through Tianjin’s markets varnished by the rain that fell as we rode into the city that morning. The light from beneath the tarp awnings of the baozi and bing stalls dimmed and glazed beneath the fuzz of the rain, umbrellas became walking lamps, old european buildings split open by weeping willows crawling up through them became secret gardens with doors that framed pictures of daily life, the fish in 4 inch tall square tanks had to swim sideways to breathe, a small lady sitting in the middle of the street next to her vegetables touched my arm lightly, and smiled as if to bring my awe down to earth. touch. intimate. like a pinch.

i guess in pushing my body and my comfort zone to extremes, im definitely more aware of myself. I’m feeling my muscles, im feeling my exhaustion, my senses overloaded as i smell market food, my emotions oscillating between intense disappointment and anger and then exhilirating pride.  i’m present. i have to be, or I’ll get run over by a bus.