China by Bicycle :: April - October, 1998

Subject: Wheeling in the Wind
Date: Tue, 28 Apr 1998 10:21:22 -0700

07:26 Cangzhou Guesthouse, Cangzhou; Hebei -- China :: 16 APR 98

The cyclist's worst nightmare, at least this cyclist's worst nightmare is a headwind. Hill's are a slog, but they always crest and there's usually a refreshing descent to follow. Rain's a real drag, but the proper gear in even a hard rain minimizes the grotty sogginess. A headwind, however, can dog you all day, tormenting you with its buffeting.

We woke today to another windy day, not a stiff breeze but an even 25-30km/hr blast. Visions of the previous century plagued our thoughts: a 20-25km/hr wind out of the West/Northwest and our compass heading was North/Northwest. An ugly grind. I checked the map for our day's ride: in the beginning due North then angling to a Northwest diagonal. It looked like an ugly day ahead. At least only 76km separated us from our next destination.

We packed up our gear, did some much needed maintenance on our drive trains and headed out of town due East. The wind swirled fiercely around Heimin's buildings, kicking dust, grit and plastic bags into our faces. This could get ugly. At the edge of town, our route turned North and...

T A I L W I N D !!!

Oh, yaassss! A 30-35km/hr tailwind, coming from directly due South. Oh my. The cyclist's BEST friend. At a 30km/hr pace, the safety flag on the B.O.B. trailer ripples lazily, the flagpole standing upright. WEEEE-HAAAA! At 35km/hr we overtake the wind and finally feel the air in our faces. It's an easily maintained pace and the countryside whizzes by.

Adding to our buoyancy is the sun beaming down through the cottonwood canopy of the narrow, unlined roadway. In the open farmland, with few buildings in sight, the scene's reminiscent of the treelined roadways criss-crossing the French countryside. We pass an old man, pedaling with knees bowed out, wobbling slightly due to unsteady stearing and a rickety bike. Put him in a beret; add a basketful of baguettes. But he is no less charming as a an old Chinese man cycling through Rural Hebei province.

We are reminded of our fortune by every cyclist taking the opposite heading. Jackets rippling, heads bowed down, bodies swaying with every grinding effort to spin the pedals another half circle. We taste a bit of it ourselves when occassionally our route jogs to the West or, painfully, to the West/Southwest. But soon enough we turn Northerly again and the wheels roll almost of their own volition. We cover the first 43 kilometers in an hour and a half, including a stop for water, and to recheck our route in the guide, and to retrieve the tail-light which bounced off the back of my bike, clattering to a halt beside the roadway.

Neither the cottonwoods nor the tailwind last the day. The second 43 klicks introduces us to a much more heavily used throughway, and our heading changes from North/Northwest to Northwest with frequent westerly jogs. Still, we cover the 76 kilomoters to our guidebook's scheduled destination, Yanshan, by 3:30 in the afternoon.

Yanshan's a place offering little of interest, says the guide. A fact plainly discernable with a glance of an eye. The next day's ride would be just 47 kilometers to Cangzhou, a much larger town with greater potential for interest. We opt to push on and, despite the many westerly jogs bringing us into fierce crosswinds, manage to make Cangzhou at sunset. 123 kilometers in a little over 6 hours, including stops. Another century.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~

The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.

The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.

  graphical element Attributed to Lao Tse
The Tao Te Ching
Chapter 7.
trans. Stephen Mitchell