The last couple of cycling days, we've hurried... 122KM yesterday, and 112KM today, this to make up for the deficit days (not making 100KM per, our everyday goal).
Yesterday from 'Strange Lu Town,' don't know real name (we met a lovely young Chinese woman Lu, who guided us out of town) to Gushi, Henan Province.
We had stayed in the 'Post Hotel' (a 'chain' owned by China Post). We'd looked at a couple hotels, but the first, inviting from the outside, had no hot water. Then the second, KTV (a no, no, because of the noise). We were going on 'to the best,' when Tom spotted the 'Post Hotel.'
They say had 'heat, and hot water,' for 80RMB (they lied). And the room on the first floor was an easy deal with our bicycles parked right outside our door. It turned out, however, to be a 'dump,' with nothing working, except the heater (although not very warm). The bathroom plumbing, well... I always want to ask... Why can't plumbing work? Additionally, they lost electricity, so I had to use the battery to get online. Amazing, the China Unicom service in this town fairly fast.
In the morning, we were off to breakfast, ending up in another hotel's dining room. This Tom's idea, and a good one, as turned out we were they only customers (unusual in China). Here they were decorating for a wedding reception.
I had discovered on the way, that my rear tire had worn through (the sidewall), and I was about to blow the tube! Gosh, to have 20 flats in 11 weeks, now losing a tire.... This, an example, of why you must purchase the most expensive European tires and tubes)! I was cursing the tire manufacturer (Taiwan), when I discovered the reason (not their fault). The 'mechanic' in Xining, who had adjusted my brakes, had made a mistake, and part of the brake had been rubbing on the sidewall of the tire (all the way from Xining, the last 1,000KM). I'd noticed the 'scoring,' on the sidewall but for some reason didn't pursue the cause (stupid, and another lesson). Now, what to do... ?
Certainly, Mercury, in retrograde, and a rising moon hasn't helped. It's been an arduous and challenging week, between slogging through the rain/mud and flat tires (five with this tire problem)!
My plan was to go to 'the best hotel,' and wait for Tom to see if this town had a bicycle shop that sold 26-inch (most old Chinese bicycles are 28-inches) tires. Additionally, if none in town, I thought we should have one sent from Xi'an (no doubt taking atleast 2 days, and costing us hundreds more RMB).
But, Tom had a better idea. He suggested we find a bicycle shop together (me not waiting in the hotel we didn't know where). Additionally, we hadn't gone 300 meters when Tom spotted a sidewalk 'mechanic' right on the main street. I was dubious, but I said 'ask!' And guess what? The man said he could repair the tire! And for 10 Yuan / $1.25U.S.! Better, Tom suggested that we exchange his front tire (unworn with no weight), with my about-to-be repaired rear. I thought, brilliant--just the thing to do (as much weight on the back of my bicycle)!
While the 'mechanic,' was working a crowd formed around us, full of the usual quesitons! This is where and how we met 'Lu,' a smiling Chinese woman! She wanted her picture taken with me (most Chinese do, making you feel like a celebrity).
After all the work was completed (1000 hours), the Chinese 'mechanic' re-adjusting my brakes, we paid him 50RMB (left him happy), waved to the crowd and followed Lu to highway #312. We found out she works for 'electricity,' is Tom's way of explaining. I asked, 'For the Government?' and yes came the answer. I would like to hire this woman!
On we cranked, everything O.K., the repaired tire working for Tom.
I forget where we had lunch, but I remember the tofu was not the kind I like (soft with no 'skin').
The afternoon fell into darkness before we knew it, and we put on our lights. This time of year it 'falls,' at an ever increasing rate, and suddenly we were having to deal with the oncoming 'high beams' from trucks and buses! I curse them! Bur, I's put new batteries in my headlamp, and Tom's rear was flashing, so more safe than usual. Additionally, the highway was good here (wide shoulder with white line still evident).
But, at one place we came upon a huge truck unloading, parked right on the highway. It had no reflectors nor lights, and loomed as a 'monster,' that they are! I cursed them as I passed on the left yelling, 'Stupid!' But, later thought maybe there was something 'illegal,' going on and they were unloading in the dark not to be seen! Even more stupid!
The insanity of Asian streets and highways you have to experience from a bicycle! 'Chaos' in one word, 'dangerous,' another!
We arrived in the town of Gushi, about 1900 hours / 7 P.M. But, the last 4KM into town maddening, as dark with no white lines! I cursed continually, dodging everything from pedestrians who walk on the street in dark clothing to huge trucks (the real 'monsters') as best I could, bouncing up and down through pot holes I couldn't dodge (as couldn't see). I say my prayer over and over, 'Protect us from harm and evil, master, Lord, and God!'
We got lucky and found a hotel on the second attempt. They were very friendly here, although wanted to see my passport. We've now stayed in 75 different hotels, and they only ask for such when new dealing with 'lowei' (foreigners).
We put our bicycles in the security men's room, and I gave the man 10RMB for safe keeping. He refused then accepted (they usually refuse).
The following morning, the buffet breakfast was the best ever (I had Tom compliment the manager). This included sweet potatoes, hot milk, rice porridge, fruit, and 'chao mi fan' (fried rice).
After cleaning, and loading our bicycles, we asked for help finding highway #312. A nice man (like Ms. Lu in preceeding town) led us on his motor scooter to show us the way. It was sheer madness getting out of town, however! Normal chaos to the Chinese, sheer 'honking madness' to Haqi!
The morning version of our highway 312 wasn't so good, but we managed 50KM in 3.5 hours. This was lined with duck pond, after duck pond!
Then lunch at one of those non-descript, yet surprising places, where the woman proprietor, was so nice I wanted to hug her--such a sweet woman! Also, she brought all her friends (with babies) to see the 'lowei!' Her food was great too.
After our usual group photograph (Haqi with mothers and babies), we were off on a wonderful concrete version of 312 (I thought the expressway at first--made Tom ask), with a wide bicycle lane. I thought it was strange as there was little traffic too! So, we 'zipped' along, now the terrain rolling hills, as we drop down into the Yangtze River valley.
We've returned to the land of bamboo and palm trees, the weather cool, but certainly not cold (like where we've been). This is about 33 degrees north latitude, or equivalent to Austin, Texas (in the U.S.0.
But, darkness caught up with us about 20KM from Luan. We stopped and rigged for 'night battle!' I hate cycling at night on these Chinese highways for many reasons. One, they know not to dim their headlights, making it dangerous (as you're blinded).
In Luan, another large city, we had to 'shop' four different places for a good hotel, but finally our luck held! Tom's 'instinct' good about such, and we ended up in a very large room, with good bathroom, heat, hotwater, and the second shower stall I've partaken of in China (after roughly 100 hotels). All this for 136RMB, or roughly $15 U.S.
I thought it perfect until the man next door turned up the TV so loudly I thought we'd made a mistake and had ended up where there was KTV (karioke bar). Tom, however, went next door and asked the man if he would lower the volume. Amazingly, he did, and we had a good night's rest.
Tomorrow, on to Hefei, the Provincial Capito of Anhui Province. This only 73KM distance.
After day we get closer to Shanghai!