Getting to Linxia
14 Aug 1998 22:26:15 -0700
A fragmented and rough recap...
15:49 Ying Bin Hotel, Lanzhou; Gansu--China :: TU 11
I've just finished re-reading Prayer
Wheels. Tears stream. I'm choked up, again, as if still there, the
wheels turning, turning, clockwise round. Gathering, gathering myself.
There are places in the world, places and people, that touch
us in this way. The traveler's bane is that we cannot collect these places
and people and bring them with us. We move on; we leave behind. We carry
away with us images, souvenirs, recollections, then use these to evoke
the experience, the connection, if we can. I smell sandalwood prayer beads
on my right wrist. I fidget restlessly with the buddha pendant dangling
on my chest. I call up the blue, green and gold of the valley in my mind's
eye, the purple robes and gleaming faces of young monks curiously studying
the compass on my wristwatch band. I read my own words. The harmony, the
beauty well up inside, overflow.
I knew when I arrived in Xiahe it would be a difficult place
to leave. Eventually I did, yet I carry it with me. But I haven't gotten
you there yet.
20:49 Some posh hotel lobby, Lanzhou; Gansu--China ::
TU 11 AUG 98
From Lanzhou to Xiahe was four difficult days of riding through
some spectacular countryside. Terraced mountainsides, dirt roads, mountain
villages, people everywhere. The Dongxiang, perhaps darker and narrower
in feature than the Han. The men in their pillbox white hats. The women
in green, white or black veils. Some spoke less Mandarin than I.
Leaving Lanzhou we gently declined for twenty five kilometers
in a drenching rain, then climbed for another 25 under gradually clearing
skies before the 25 kilometer descent to Yongjing. The last 50K were quite
memorably pretty: mountains and villages and terraced fields. A day at
Binglingsi, across the reservoir from Yongjing, will be described elsewhere.
To reach Linxia, two days. The first a grueling day of 35 kilometers,
nearly all climb high to the ridge line we'd follow all the next day.
Emma rides up to a water break asking, "Can I cry yet?" She's seen the
serpentine roadway high above, impossibly high above. "Don't worry. We
take it a little at a time. The grade gets no steeper than this. A little
at a time." We climb and climb, break once or twice and climb some more
and, in time, reach that impossible bend. I'm waiting, perched on the
inside embankment above the road, camera in hand. "Emma, stop there and
look down the valley." <click> "Okay, now turn towards me, raise
both hands and shout: WHOOEEE!" <click>
Besides this little victory, some other highlights: a busload
of western tourists actually stopped and, as I puffed and mantra'd my
way up the steep incline, wildly applauded my efforts. Emma, some few
minutes behind, received similar approbations. Makes the bike seem a little
lighter, the breeze a little cooler, the air a little sweeter.
Running low on water, a remote set of buildings around a large
courtyard and the inhabitants gathered by the roadside to watch me pass.
"Shui?" I ask, inserting the inappropriate western tone of query, but
they understand and enthusiastically wave me inside the gate, tell me
to pick a pear from the shade tree while I wait. Soon enough, boiling
water into plastic bottles, deforming, too hot to hold. "Lianga ren,"
I tell them, two people, two of us, and walk back outside the gate to
watch for Emma who shortly arrives. "Did the bus give you a standing 'O?"
I ask. "Yes. Shui," she huffs. Inside the gate they're already boiling
more water. She picks a pear off the tree.
How odd we must seem to these people, I think.
A little further on the pavement suddenly ends, but the unsurfaced
roadway is smoothly graded, for the most part. Tomorrow I'll reach 52
km/hr dropping down into one of the ridge saddles.
While waiting up for Emma at one point I managed to befriend
an entire village of Dongxiang. By the time she arrived I'd explained
to them my routes through China, both completed and proposed. They complemented
me on my excellent Chinese, but I only need the names of some cities and
the Chinese words for bus (gonggongqiche), train (huache), fly (fei),
bicycle (zixingche), and car (che). I yanked out the camera and motioned
for a group shot. In the past this has almost always resulted in a scattering
of humanity as if I were waving a machine gun, but the grey old man who'd
been leading the conversation for the villagers eagerly accepted and several
others lined up while Emma snapped a couple pics in the dying light.
That night, a campsite clinging to green slopes high above a
little village. We'd stopped in another Dongxiang village to fill up one
of the two nifty Ortlieb water bags Emma brought from Korea. COOL! But
the villagers were struck dumb by the grimy, sweaty laowai asking for
shui, water, and took no interest in the bags.
21:35 Ying Bin Hotel, Lanzhou; Gansu--China :: WE 12
Camping was a trial run for a lot of our gear. The Coleman Peak
I multi-fuel stove gave us some problems switching from white gas (not
available in China) to kerosene (called meiyou in China, and widely available
here). However, with kerosene elements finally in place it fired up on
the first attempt. Gotta love it when something works straight out of
the box. We'd neglected to buy vegetables or much else so dinner was noodles
in beef broth with a mystery spice that had broken open in Emma's spice
pack. The tent ain't quite expedition quality, but should serve us fine
under most conditions. Just gotta hope we don't run into any desert sandstorms:
it flapped a bit in the pre dawn breeze. Actually, I thought bats were
flying back home to the mine shafts dotting our hillside.
I tried sleeping in just the fleece liner for the sleeping bag,
but that proved too chilly. However, with the sleeping bag as a blanket...toasty.
Not that I slept much. Or I don't think I did. Same with Emma. One of
those nights where you keep thinking to yourself, "I have slept
at some point, haven't I?" Impromptu camping can be like that.
In the morning, goat herds climbed the precipice-like dirt road
up from the village below and past our campsite, without comment. Well,
the goats had plenty to say.
The second day followed a ridge line, terraces falling away
to the valley floor far below. This was Muslim country, home to the Dongxiang
and Hui minority nationality groups. Mosques with hipped rooves and tile,
like any Chinese structure, though warped slightly toward more Arabic
forms. Along the road I met some young folks who spoke more english than
chinese, and even less chinese than I.
A village devoted entirely, it seemed, to marketing local produce,
products and livestock. People remarkably easy around my camera. Dead-pan.
Curious, as I clicked frame after frame in the sheep market. Crowd slowly
gathering. We moved into the heart of the commercial strip looking for
water and fruit. Mobbed. Fifty, perhaps more, a crush of curiosity. My
trailer obscured in the crowd. Like a subway car at rush hour.
Transferring water to the bike's water bottles, I hand the empty
bottle to a small boy, gesturing, "hold this." He does, uncertainly looking
to friends in the crowd while cool clear water gurgles in. Another bottle,
and another. His uncertainty becomes pride. But what do we do with the
empty containers? Always a problem in China where the street or sidewalk
are considered trash receptacles. We can never bring ourselves to just
drop empty plastic by the curb. Here, we dole out the empties to the children
in the crowd.
I see only the top of Emma's head as she bargains for pears.
We want eight, but the merchant will sell us no less than 12. Emma takes
four out; he puts four back in. Eight yuan. A dollar.
We ride out of town, oddly exhilarated, fascinated, gob smacked.
Emma's not experienced anything like it. I have, but it's still a kick
every time. We ride a kilometer or so out of town, pick a shady spot and
listen to the village sounds drifting our way on mid-morning sunlight
spilling into the valley below. The pears aren't quite ripe, but we peel
a couple each, pack a couple more in our bags and leave the remainder
as a gift to anyone else choosing this tree for a place to pass the time.
We ride along, down into saddles and back up to peaks, few changes
in altitude more than 100 meters. Sometimes on the east ridge, sometimes
on the west. The valley sometimes greener, sometimes drier. And people
all along. Men in wide straw hats riding horses, clusters of bells evoking
snow and grandma's house. Veiled Hui women, faces framed in black or green
or white. We can't figure out the significance of the colours. Young boys
in shirts and vests call, "Hello, Hello!"
It is a beautiful day, high in the mountain cool looking deep
into the valleys. The scenery is grand, probably the most strikingly beautiful
since leaving Xian more than a week ago. We ride, and ride. Then the reservoir
we crossed two days before, to reach Binglingsi, appears on our right.
Emma: "We've ridden all this way, two days, and not even managed to cross
the reservoir?" It had taken a speed boat much less than an hour to make
I show her the low valley sweeping across our path, its river
emptying into the reservoir. Linxia lies below us, perhaps 800 meters
below, and 30 kilometers up the valley. Pay back time for yesterday's
nasty climb. A maximum of 63K/Hr for me down the steep switch backs. Feel
the air heat up. Falling, falling, braking, turning, falling falling.
Then the shallow climb to Linxia, a dozen kilometers or so.
Emma's ride-end mantra, "Stick a fork in me, I'm done." I'm confused by
the map in the guidebook, and eventually we give up looking for the recommended
hotel. Locals point us to the white tile and blue glass modern monstrosity
next door. Later, after some Sanxiangcha, 'three fragrances tea,' on the
third floor balcony overlooking Minzhu square, we walk back to the hotel.
I notice then that I recognize the neon characters standing atop the hotel's
roof. The Linxia Binguan, they say. The recommended hotel. Life's like
Tomorrow, the 110 kilometer climb to Xiahe, Labrangsi, at 3,000
meters. I'm eager for it.
~~~ Responses Welcome ~~~
Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.
If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.