Wrath of the Gods
28 Apr 1998 10:26:58 -0700
23:38 NOT the Jinghai Binguan, Jinghai; Hebei -- China
:: 16 APR 98
Sometimes it's just plain unwise to tempt fate.
Yesterday in the late afternoon nearing Cangzhou, tailwind driving
us to our destination, I noticed an unbroken line of clouds approaching
from the North and pointed them out to Jay. "Change in the weather coming,"
I told him. He didn't really believe me. I didn't really think about it.
It was still pretty windy in Cangzhou through the night, whirling
about through the streets as we looked for something to eat in the late
evening. And a definite chill came into the air since we'd checked in
and showered just as darkness fell, while all day long we'd sweated hard
on our ride, emptying water-bottle after water-bottle. Still didn't clue
This morning, shortly after waking, I looked out the Hotel window
and saw on all the cars a thick layer of yellow/brown dust. The atmosphere
itself had taken on a lighter hue of that dusty colour, graduating from
a typically dull, overcast sky overhead to increasingly dusty at the horizon.
I should have understood what this meant. Even before we took the lightly
dusted bikes out of the storage room, with its one door open to the elements,
I should have recognized what was up.
But it wasn't until we turned North up Jiatong Lu (road) that
it struck me. Of course, the wind had changed 180 degrees from out of
the South to out of the North/Northwest. A mighty headwind equal in fury
to the previous day's tailwind.
The storm front I'd seen the night before represented the wintertime
prevailing weather condition. I'd read before that all winter long a prevailing
Southerly wind would scrape the sand and dust from the Gobi desert and
deposit it on Beijing 100s of kilometers away. Of course, the dust storms
don't just stop at Beijing, and there's plenty more dust to pick up on
the dry, winter plains south of the great city. Heading due North toward
Beijing, we were directly in the path.
This dust storm packed the same ferocious 25 to 35 km/hr winds
that had favoured us so marvellously the day before. Today would be a
07:03 NOT the Jinghai Binguan, Jinghai; Hebei -- China
:: 17 APR 98
[Notes for a review: skip to "End Notes" if reviews
20:01 Langshan Binguan, Langshan; Hebei -- China :: 17 APR
A couple difficulties have surfaced with the guidebook we're
following (Roger Grigsby's "China by Bike," published by The Mountaineers).
It's obvious the routes provided do not benefit from any real research.
Rather, the author picked a route linking two or more desireable destinations
from a map and meticulously documented mileage in his logbook along
with a few tidbits of local information. This log forms the guide's
backbone, along with simple but effective maps which name significant
towns and villages along the way in both pinyin (phonetic spellings
using the western European alphabet) and Chinese characters (very useful
for those occasional "I think we're lost" moments--point out the Chinese
for the next town to a local and you're no longer lost). I'm amazed
at the accuracy and clarity of the directions, particularly after the
dismal performance of the Route 66 guides I'd attempted to follow last
summer. Some minor mixups and errors occur with whether an intersect
is a Y, an X or a T, but the mileage at which the intersection has proven
to be very accurate. Not much confusion so long as you trust the mileage.
However, I definitely belong to the "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance" school of route selection: when looking at a map, thin
black lines are good, thin red lines are OK, thick red lines are undesireable,
fat multi-coloured lines are strictly verboten. We've pedaled far too
many kilometers on thick red lines, that is, on heavily trafficked truck
routes. I would describe only one leg of the six we've completed so
far as particularly worthwhile for sightseeing (the stretch between
Taian and Zaoyuan). And Chinese truck horns, seemingly in constant use,
can compete with any train whistle for shrill, hair-raising decibels.
Sharing a narrow road with these maniacs passing three abreast, klaxxon's
blaring on a two-lane highway does not make for a joyous ride. There's
no need to spend an entire day on such thoroughfares.
Some sketchy supplemental information about the destination
towns--where to stay, what to eat, what to see--completes China By Bike.
Often a town map is also provided. Much more research would be welcome.
For some key towns, such as Huimin in Hebei province, the guide provides
no map. We took an alternate route into town and had a difficult time
finding the recommended lodgings.
Inexplicably, Grigsby's town maps provide only the pinyin
for street names, hotels or other locations of interest--no Chinese
characters. We had to muddle through with our mispronounciation. Also,
tonight we pulled into the Jinghai Binguan (hotel) only to find it fully
booked. Phoning ahead to book reservations is unnecessarily difficult
because the book offers no contact information for the hotels it recommends.
Our difficulty was doubled because the guide gave no secondary hotel
recommendations in Jinghai. The desk clerk at the hotel either didn't
understand our entreaties for directions to another hotel, or she just
wasn't interested in helping. After a short, vain attempt to find one
ourselves, we returned to the Jinghai Binguan where a registered guest
directed us to our hotel. (It turns out Grigsy's brief but useful phrase
book, an appendix in his guide, offers the Chinese characters for "Can
you direct me to another hotel?" That would have been useful since the
Berlitz phrase book we've been relying on, unfortunately, does not.)
Well, enough of that.
So we're heading north into a nasty dust storm. It doesn't help
any that we're on one of those nasty thoroughfares the guide fails to
avoid. It doesn't help any that the scenery is only slightly more charming
than the dreadful first leg from Shanghai to Suzhou. The few bright spots
were achieved whenever we managed to catch the draft of the brick carts:
large motorized tricycles with a pick-up truck bed loaded to the gills
with bricks. These travel at about 25-30 km/hr which is about twice the
pace we were able to run unassisted and a fraction of the effort. Usually.
Our first draft lasted a marvellous 15 kilometers. Well, it
was marvellous for Jay but I had to pump pretty hard to keep up. Jay was
incredulous, "Oh, come on! Look, pump for four seconds and coast for four!
We're gravy train." I'm thinking, "Yeah, right. More like pump for eight
seconds, coast for two, then pump to exhaustion to recatch the draft."
As if that weren't enough, I noticed the bike was 'feeling the road' more
than usual. Little bumps seemed to be accentuated.
"Jay. (huff-puff) Check the trailer for me will you? (puff puff)"
Jay drops back a little, looks over his shoulder. "Yep. Still there."
Then, nearly effortlessly, surges back into the draft.
So I keep twirling the pedals. Hamstrings tighten up, getting
painful. Working, working it. (puff puff) Keep twirling. Just keep twirling.
We're making really good time, and Jay's having an easy go of
it. We speculate about the extra drag I must be feeling due to the trailer.
Air must be blowing in from the side, or underneath the trike, catching
the trailer. Yeah. That's it. I just keep twirling. (huff-puff)
Jay's obviously disappointed when our ride pulls off our route.
I'm not. I signal a stop for a rest and stretch. As we pull into a market
square I begin to dismount. A couple of locals are pointing to the trailer.
To the tire of the trailer, actually. Which is completely flat on one
side: the bottom. And which has no doubt been that way for the last fifteen
When we get back on the road after a quick patch job, I remind
Jay about checking the trailer. About the comment he made that it was
still there. "Oh, you wanted me to check the tire too?"
So it's the next evening now, and our penance for being so cocky
about a headwind has been paid in full. Today the gods elected to be kind
and provided a warm, sunny day; cottonwood balls floating from the trees
lining the highway; pretty farmlands, quaint little villages. And only
the slightest of breezes which sometimes favoured us and sometimes not.
Just a reminder.
~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.