I may never again travel without my bicycle.
Life gets a bit more high-maintenance when you pack your life onto your bike, it’s true. I have to be constantly looking for places to get food and water. I had two showers last week. Three days ago, I spent 30km finding a place to sleep.
These things sound like inconveniences, problems to solve, but they’re not. Taking time for little everyday things slows life down, it relaxes you, it gives you time to think and to look at the world around you. Traveling slow reveals distance and connection that you miss through the window of a car.
This past week, traveling by bike has given me another gift, this one truly precious. I never thought there would be a circumstance in which it would be easy for me to bond with strangers, but the usual barrier of mutual intimidation that separates traveler from local disappears when I roll into town on Hester, covered in sweat and road dust. The second I stop for a moment, with a smile on my face, I get a question. If I ask questions back and am lucky with my Chinese, I have a fast friend. If I ask about a place I can pitch my tent, half the time I end up sleeping in someone’s extra room, or their garage, and oftentimes also half-reluctantly accepting delicious free food.
This week has brought plenty of surprises, some of them unpleasant (the Guillermo del Toro-esque giant centipedes of the Hunan countryside move like a cross between a spider and a raccoon, and encounters with Chinese police can undo entire days’ worth of riding and leave one without all the nice pictures one took, though mostly because of one’s own actions and oversights).
But that doesn’t matter. Because bicycles and new friends.
Touring Notes: The road from Jishou to Fenghuang was very rough, and a bridge was out that required a small detour. Fenghuang to Huaihua was beautiful, with a nice road and a good amount of climbing. About 40km south of Fenghuang city, just before you cross the river for the final time before the pass, there is a nice beach to camp on. DON’T try to travel south of Huaihua withing Hunan (Tongdao, Huitong, etc.), I went about 60km south and got carted all the way back. Apparently you can go west a little ways over the border to the neighboring province, but I didn’t have time to take that route with the time left on my visa. Anywhere in Guangxi in fine, as far as I’m told.