China by Bicycle :: April -- October '98

Subject: Lovely Horse
Date: Mon, 20 Jul 1998 23:43:08 -0700

22:18 City Hotel, Xian; Shaanxi--China :: MO 20 JUL 98

Well, I've been hacking away at the English Teacher story to little success. Time for a change of pace. A new travelling companion as well, and a new leg on the journey, so plenty to talk about.

It was way back in late May that I began seriously considering the option of cycling the Silk Route to Kashgar. The primary concern was finding a companion to share the hazards and loneliness of China's remotest areas. It took a while but after posting messages all over the internet I found Emma's simple message on a cycling page titled something like "China Ride Partner." Needless to say we were both rather ecstatic at the unexpected success.

Now it's nearly two months later and Emma's joined me in Xian. The past couple of days we've spent checking out the sights in Xian, eating a ton of food in street stalls, restaurants and hotel buffets--all in the process of feeling each other out. Seems like an auspicious enough pairing. Emma brought a cribbage board (cribbage games won: Patrick--1; Emma--0.) and the cards from one of those dinner-party get-to-know-each-other games. We've been responding to queries like, "Talk About Responsibility." and "What do you think is your purpose in life?" and "Describe the kind of car you would like to own." To these we've added a few of our own like "What 12 items would you want to wash up on shore the uninhabited South Pacific Island on which you've been stranded."

We've established that I'm a fast walker (no surprise there) and, relatively, a morning person. We share a similarly droll sense of humour and an appreciation for sappy Hollywood films (during which we'll both cry).

Both our bikes are currently way overburdened and yet we continue adding new items to our travel belongings. Among our common frivolities is a library now totalling in excess of 12 books. It's fun to imagine the first major climb and all the 'essential' gear we'll be shedding. Somebody get the strip-tease music ready, please.

As for route-planning, well there are very few options for connecting Xian and Kashgar, way out there on China's western frontier. Yes, it's at least 3,500 km away from this cozy, air-conditioned hotel room, but there are only two roads leading into Kashgar and one of these presents no alternatives within 1,500 kilometers of Kashgar and the other within 1,000 kilometers.

The other concern is that my way over-extended visa allows me to remain in China no later than October 20th. Vivian managed this concession from an understanding Foreign Affairs Bureau officer in the Provinical Public Security Branch. We were lucky as the two local PSB offices in Xian and Xianyang had adamantly refused to grant extensions any longer than the 1 month (which would take me through the end of August) allowed by Chinese law.

So, the bicycle turns into a pumpkin about 90 days from today. It's possible to fly back to Beijing and acquire a visa for Pakistan, Kyrgzstan or Kazakhstan, or hop over to Hong Kong and apply for reentry to China, or just depart the area altogether for some other world destination. Who knows? It's great that Emma's as unconcerned about what happens after 92 days as I am. I imagine as the end of September draws near, we'll start thinking about it. For now, we have 92 days to spend riding into the remote west and Kashgar is the jewel destination. Well, my jewel destination. Emma's fancy is more general and she is so far willing to follow along on my fanciful dream.

If we can manage to maintain the 100km/day pace I managed for 13 riding days from Beijing toward Xian, then more than 1/3 of those 92 days will be spent in full flight cycling along the Silk Route. Remote as it is now, this was once arguably the world's most important trade route between the world's most prosperous and advanced cultures, and the route's significance lasted for a millenium...or more. Spanning several Chinese dynasties, control of the Silk Route circulated among Muslims and Buddhists, Tibetans, Uygers, the Han Chinese, Mongols, the Huns and countless others. Lost cities lie under sifting sands; enormous complexes of caves have been excavated and filled to brimming with Buddha images and art; the Great Wall's Ming Dynasty western sweep ends at the Jiayuguan fortifications; Turpan lies adjacent to the second deepest land depression on earth--only the Dead Sea is lower. At the end of it all is the anachronism: Kashgar, where the bizarre and the bazaar are of equal renown. Hopefully the nearly 60 days we won't spend in the saddle will be enough to explore all these.

Time to gather sleep for tomorrow's final gathering of supplies. Wednesday we depart.

~~~ Responses, Please ~~~
A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn't waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man's job?
If you don't understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.
  graphical element Attributed to Lao Tse
The Tao Te Ching
Chapter 27
trans. Stephen Mitchell