Don’t close your eyes

or: How I finally stopped envying people going by bus

Countless times I watched in envy the buses that are zipping past me. Full of tourists that don’t have to do anything to get to the next place – apart from buying a ticket, taking their seat and waiting. And then – by magic – they arrive. While I was working my way along the road, up the hill… feeling tired.

(And of course there were the times when I thought how lucky I am not to depend on buses, independent and loving cycling – otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it again and again.)

But now – I was one of them! Sitting on this bus, finally getting around to answer all the messenger messages I got, have a nap and listen to an audio-book. Apart from listening to the audio book I wouldn’t do any of them. I would even get a caffeine drink to make sure I keep my eyes open when we had a break.

Before: I am standing in front of the bus. The boot is almost empty, plenty of space for my bike, my bags and other people bags. But the bus driver is shoving me away, shaking his head, twisting his hands – not saying a word. While everybody else is shoving their luggage into the boot. Which is slowly but surely filling. My bike still waiting outside. That’s when I spot the blond guy I’ve seen before in the hall. He’s on the same bus. I catch is eye over the top of the head off the other travelers. „You speak by any chance Chinese?“ as the bus driver was ignoring everything I was saying, only twisting his hands in the air while I was getting more and more frustrated. He didn’t. But his girlfriend. Fluent in Mandarin-Chinese and English. My saviour. To her the bus driver talked.

His refusal to talk to me came out of his not being comfortable speaking Mandarin-Chinese himself – as he is usually using the local dialect. It’s something I so easily forget. For many people Mandarin, the language I learned, it’s also a language they learned at school and speak at home, at work, with their friends and family one of the many local dialects or languages. One of the Chinese words used for Mandarin-Chinese is Putonghua – basically meaning „the correct language“ and schools would have signs up reminding the students to only speak Putonghua instead of their family language. Some of these are very similiar to Mandarin, others have about as much in common with Mandarin as English and Finnish.

So my poor Mandarin got him worried about me not understanding him, so it felt better for him to not talk to me. This way, we won’t have any embarrassing misunderstandings. Imagine me taking a deep sigh at this point.

So eventually, he agreed. Paying half the price as I paid for my ticket I was finally granted putting my dismanteld bike into the trunk of the bus. Happily I took one of the last free seats in the back of the bus. As we drove on a straight road out of the city, the girl in front of me was already crunched over her plastic bag, her face pale. I was reading a bit on my phone about Lugu Hu, the glacier lake I was headed to.

We got into the mountains, the roads went around one bent after another and I realized I better keep my head up. The girl in front of me didn’t have anything left in her stomach but didn’t look any better.

Another corner, another time the bus driver hit the gas and brakes shortly after another, I stopped reading and braced myself. The girl was kneeling on the floor, her upper body resting on the seat. She seemed to be dozing off and I really wished for her she was.

I closed my eyes for a bit, dozing off felt like a great idea. I was tired and sleeping felt like the best way to pass time on a bus when you can’t read or write. In an instance I opened them again. We went around another corner, the bus driver kept playing his own stop-and-go game. No way I could stop looking out of the window for more than the time I needed to blink. No way I could let my neck relax. The girl in front of me wasn’t dozing anymore. She was back in her misery and even worse. And by now, even blinking became difficult for me. My brain needed the information I got by looking out of the window to calculate the position of my body sufficently to not feel sick.

When we stopped for a break, everyone that hadn’t thrown up yet was talking about feeling sick and I downed an energy drink to keep awake for the rest of the ride.

Changing Emotions

„I am looking for a place for my tent and…“ I can hardly finish this sentence – and that’s not because my Chinese is too bad, I am pretty good on this sentence by now. And planed to have it followed by „Can I put my tent over there?“ pointing to the far end of the restaurant where it has a small parking lot. „Of course. You can put your tent here. Choose a place.“ I get interrupted by hte young man I was adressing. WOW!

I just cycled past this beautiful gorge – like, beautiful in a sense that I could hardly keep going as it was taking my breath away and I had to take pics of the different views, when I saw this restaurant with a terrace right next to it. I pondered. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Still I always have to give myself a small push before adressing someone for help.

Right now, I am so glad I did. I am full from a nice hot pot dinner with the extended family, had a bit of conversation with the daughter-in-law – who is an English teacher! How do I go for always meeting English speaking people everywhere, huh? – and let her two-year-old explore my tent. She was deadly curious when I started putting it up and very exited when she was allowed into it. Even though it was empty. A bit later we found out that my sleeping mat makes for an excellent trampoline.

I left with this weird mood this morning that I tried to describe in the other blog post. I didn’t feel like cycling, I was doubting my route and I had a not very yummy breakfast. Exchanged some messages with my best friend back home – who was just about to go to bed as I started – how miserable and lonely I am feeling.

Now, 75km later, I am so happy I went out of the hotel and this way. So many cool things happened. I saw awesome landscapes, stepped up to someone to take my pic after I climbed the hill – a bit later we had a group photo with everyone else who was at this praying-parking spot and the crazy cyclist. I stuck around a bit more, admired the prayer flags, ate the gifted oranges and asked a women in the traditional dress of the Mi-minority for a pic which she granted me.

This is the magic of bike touring for me. Emotions pass. You never know what the day holds for you. You have amazing moments. The food tastes great. Once you found a nice camping spot you are happy and if you meet families like this one – it feels like the best that could happen.

Plan changes

At the end of the described night, I put down my tent, let the ice melt in the morning sun while reading and enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Gesala Eco Tourism Zone, got gifted some cooked potatoes by a group of militairs and set for the down-hill.

This trip is different. Or this part of the trip, however you see it. The part, since I left Kunming. I had a plan and a place I was headed as usual when cycling. Like the first time I was going from Shanghai to Singapore. Or when going from Bangkok to Yangon. Or when going from Hong Kong to Hong Kong. I like this. It somehow makes life easy and straightforward when biketouring. I am busy with stuff like getting food, finding a plae to sleep. But I always knew where I was headed.

This time, I had to change my plans a couple of times as I am going to meet friends and we had to change the location. By now, it feels totally messed up how I am zigzagging around. So I was going straight for Litang in Sichuan – part of the famous Tibetan-Sichuan-Highway.  The distance should have been okay but.

At this point, take a moment for this: Have you ever seen pictures of Tibet? Try to remember them. Try to remember the scenery. The landscape. You see mountains, right? Friggin high mountains…

Before I started in Kunming I was worrying that the hills might be bad. And that I will be awfully slow. But how many times do we worry about something being bad and then it’s actually not THAT bad, right? Well… the hills were that bad. I sent stuff off on my rest day, about 5kg. Hoping it would go smoother and for the first day it was. But still…

One day I managed 26km from my starting point. And I climbed 1334m. I felt stressed about the distance I made. I was slow. I was exhausted. I was tired. That night was bad. I pitched my tent at a great, hidden spot around sunset and was inside my sleeping bag at 6.30. But not sleepy-tired yet. Wearing all my clothes, my raincoat stuffed at the bottom of the sleeping bag to keep my feet kinda warm, I patched a heatpad onto my shoulders. Still cold. Reading an e-book and sending some voice messages with friends I felt lonely. And defeated. And bored! I was headed for a tourist attraction not so far from last nights hotel but didn’t make it. It was 3km and therefore about an hour away from my camp spot. I couldn’t do anything but reading since I wanted to stay as much in my sleeping bag as I could. I only got my hand out to get to the next page in my e-Book.

I played around on maps.me on where to go and decided to aim for Xichang. Not to many climbs and a bus to Lijiang.

So, that’s what I am doing now. And it feels weird. It feels like I am cheating myself out of the hard stuff. And away from all this amazing views. On seeing this very different part of China.

Maybe it was just a fluke? Maybe it was just that moment? I don’t know.

It’s the small things in live that count.

Da-dong. Da-dong. Da-dong. Something is not right. I can feel it every time my backwheel turns while I’m working my way up-hill. I am 15km in into a 21km climb and awaiting an equal descent. Started yesterday in the afternoon, I woke up to a flat tire this morning. Couldn’t find what caused it and just put in my spare tube. And now – again. Of course I checked to make sure it’s nothing stuck into the tire that would cause the next flat. But here I go. Another one. This time, I will have to patch. I sigh. I hate this. This is the part of bike touring where I can’t be matter of fact see it as part of it.

So, first thing I do, is eating some soul-comfort chocolate I bought at an international supermarket in Panzhihua. Then I get to work; tools out, bike apart, detecting the pinch and so one.

But, It’s the small things that count in live, right? I empty my tool bag. I empty the pannier where I store my tool bag. I can’t find it. This tiny piece of sand paper needed to roughen the tube so the tube, patch and glue become one. I use stones instead but to no success.

There I am, grand-daughter of a galvanizer, all alone, somewhere in Sichuan, not able to fix a simple flat tire.

More chocolate, packing of stuff and pushing of bike. What else could I do? No-one there to pick me up if I a) throw a tantrum or b) break down crying and I feel like I might need my energy.

On two kilometers of walking I meet one woman who totally ignores me and two men who try to help but can’t and learn the Mandarin word for sandpaper before approaching a young guy who simply puts my stuff into his truck and gives me a ride to some colleagues of my grandpa. (And yes – I am soooo close to the summit and do the whole downhill in a car…)

I buy sandpaper and fix the tire. Easy, as I know where it is broken. But by now, there is another pinch, and another one and another one… We eventually find 8 (!) more holes… And decide that this is madness and I walk into Yumen where there are two stores selling bikes. And that’s what they do. They are selling bikes. But not bike parts.

„Go to Panzhihua. There you can buy new tubes“

Laughing? Crying? The man who helped me find the second bike store feels sorry for me and explains me, I could just take a bus. For his sake, I try to look not-totally-devastated, nod, thank him and wonder, if I should just abondon this trip and my crazy idea to cycle north from Kunming while walking past Yumen’s beautiful lake.

Back at the work shop I am in for a – good – surprise. The other tire has been fixed!

Off I am, finally cycling again and getting another 25k done.

So, distances this day: cycling 27km, pushing 2km, walking 3km, car 23km.

Trying to get to Panzhihua

How I finally get my rest day after being turned around on the road twice and totally exhausted by all these mountains.

Puh. Was this a good idea? I am out of training. I am carrying lots. And it’s hilly as …. Well, to be honest, these are mountains. Six days on the road and I am exhausted. The higher I get, the lower my mood and moral get.

When bike touring, it’s always the first week that’s the hardest but maybe all this is too much A cold start after two months rest in Kunming, right into the mountains with a loaded bike? Having done 10k in like two hours is frustrating as… frustrating can be, I assume. Fitter or on flatter ground, I get a kick out of having down some k, seeing a bit of the landscape, passing villages, getting food. But with this speed, the landscape is not changing that much, I only came past a few houses and didn’t have an opportunity to stock up on food or water.  

Cyclist with helmet and filter mask in the foreground. Burning trash in the back ground.
What’s the problem about using plastic? It burns so well, doesn’t it?

Okay, on the bright side – it never got so steep that I had to take the bags off to first push the bike and then get the bags. Or the other way round. I could always ride the downhills. No flat tires. But no piece of flat road either.  Sometimes I am even cycling up-hill, but have to cross to be able to do it. So whenever a truck comes, I have to stop. And push until the next only extremely steep – as in compared to really extremely steep – part comes to get back on the bike. On the other parts this attempt will only get me to fall.

Yesterday I was turned around again. The small Y-road that I was going was closed and I had to take the big G-road around the valley. Two hours after I started cycling I past last nights camp ground. Another half hour I came past the small village where I bought water and had a small chat. More hours later, I was back on the G-108 where I turned off the night before. So after cycling for 70k my goal, my rest-city, is only 10k closer.

maps.me feels like a life-line. I keep checking the topo, how many more k of this uphill?? The last part until the outskirts of Panzhihua will be a total drop. I am almost at the border off Yunnan and Sichuan. The road will cross it a few times at it’s highest points. The sun is burning. the view is stunning – I force myself to look up from time to time – I am out of food and slow.

And then –  a car stops. A door opens. A young guy walks smilingly towards me. He offers me a lift and I am far from saying No to that. Happy, relieved, thankful – we manage to get everything into his van. He invites me to lunch (and orders more food than a starved cyclist can eat! I am impressed that this is possible) and once we are out of the worst part, I hop back onto the bike. I don’t want to miss out on all of the downhill I worked so hard for! 

After check-in and a foto-session with the hotel’s employees I have one of the best showers of my life. And wear the cleanest clothes ever for dinner.



But how do they do it? – Living in Kunming without knowing Chinese

Short overview of how to get by in Kunming or China in general if you don’t speak Chinese.

My teacher looks at me in total bewilderment. She switches to English and keeps repeating her questions „But… how do they do it? Just… how do they live here?“

I had just learned the word for room-mate in Chinese; it’s literally „house-friend“. Which I think, has a beautiful connotation that the German word „Mitbewohner“ lacks. It just means „person you life with“.

My roommates here in Kunming are Dutch and English. My Dutch roommate knows a little bit of Chinese. Vera is working on HSK Level 2 and Ellen is just on her first words since it’s her first time in China and she just arrived about a week ago and planning on taking lessons once she is a bit more settled in, found an apartment with her – Austrian – boyfriend. He actually studies Chinese and has easily the highest level between the four of us.

So, how do you do it? How do you cope and live in Kunming without knowing Chinese? You can cope, maybe not as easy as in Shanghai but then Kunming-people are incredibly helpful and I came across English speakers a couple of times already.

In General

The wide-spread of mobile phones makes many things easier – and less adventurous. There are some translating apps where you can talk into in your language and they answer in the desired language. But there are still some misunderstandings, sometimes the internet connection is way to slow and it just takes the fun out of things.

Plus, there are a few things that are very good to know: the words for the numbers up to ten, how you indicate them with your hand and how you write them. And there is one sentence that has been vital for me and was among the first expressions I learned. „I want this.“ It opens the door to almost anything – as long as you can point to it. It doesn’t mean you are eloquent or especially friendly – but it helps yourself and the other person in sucessfully handling an operation.

In the following there’s an insight in a couple of everyday situations and how I cope(d) with them without knowing the language as well as coping methods.

How do you take the bus? Or metro?

Amaps is a great help. It’s a map-app designed for China. It not only gives you walking, cycling or driving directions but you can use it for buses as well. Works like a charm….

ONCE you got used to it. Since it’s been designed for China, everything is in Chinese. You have to give it your destination in Chinese. But it can cope with PinYin. Pinyin uses the latin alphabet for phonetic transcription so you don’t need to install a Chinese keyboard on your phone.

Using it without being able to read Characters isn’t too hard either since it’s using a lot of icons for things like „walking“ or „bus“. Plus how it’s made up it’s not rocket science but similar to google maps.

It’s obvious which is the bus number you have to take and it even shows you on which side of the road your bus stop is so you don’t end up going in the wrong direction.

What really gives me a hard time is following it’s spoken instructions as it not only telling you the important things like „turn left“ but asking you to take care on the road. It basically feels like it’s talking non-stop. But if follow the dot on the map, it’s easy.

The only thing giving me a hard time are bus lines that seem to divert. Goingtowards the city centre the bus line number 1 turns either left or right at one point. I haven’t figured out how to tell which of them I am on.

How do you get a metro card?

There are three ways to pay for the bus. Either cash, by app (only an option if you have a Chinese bank account) or by card. The down-side of the cash version is that you throw your money into a box. Bus is 1 or 2 Renminbi so before I had the card I was holding on like crazy to my one-renminbi bills to have enough for the bus.

My first try on getting a metro card wasn’t succesful – even though my Chinese skill were already at the amazing level of being able to say „I want to buy a metro card“ – like I knew all the words AND the right order. But the clerk at the booth just waved me away. So I eventually took a picture of someone elses to point to it. Worked like a charm as it gave me enough self-confidence to walk up to the booth again, smile and ask for a metro card which I hold in my hands minutes later.

But have done the „I want this“ picture thing many times before in China.

How do you buy food?

Apart from a splendid amount of affordable restaurants there are more sources to food: Supermarkets, markets and people selling from the back of a truck.

To be honest, at the start, China was sometimes overwhelming in a way that I didn’t want to deal with any of these options and decided for a pack of Oreo-cookies to be a whole meal.

Supermarket feels the easiest as it involves the least interaction. You go through the store and put everything into the basket you’d like to have. You can go to a small one in your neighbourhood or to a big one of a foreign chain where you will also get loads of imported products. The smaller ones in many places don’t sell vegetables and fruits though.

So you will want to opt for going to a market. It feels scary at first – I felt a bit vulnerable and unsecure. Going to a market stall involves a lot more communication then I could master. It works with pointing, taking the food as well. The situation is pretty obvious actually. Many stall owners would have a calculator to show me the price if I didn’t understand it or I would just give a rather large bill.

Buying from the back of a truck is working pretty much the same – it’s just that they have less variety. Here in Kunming, most times they are selling one or two kinds of fruits.

It’s worth the bit of akwardness as I get a load of nice veggies for a really good price.

But of course, I don’t want to cook everyday.

How do you order at a restaurant?

Yunnan has the best invention ever, when it comes to ordering food without any language skills: Fridge restaurants! All the food they have is on display, you just go and point what you want to have, sit down and get surprised which food has been fried, cooked or become a soup. But it’s the best way to really get what you thought you ordered.

Other places offer a a variety of options. Many places have pictures of the dishes so you can point at them and hope it turns out what you think it is. Most times it works out alright – it’s more noodles and less vegetables most times.

Another option is to point at other peoples food and indicate you want that kind of dish. Sometimes the staff hands me the menu, completely in Chinese. I explain that I can’t read but they insist. So I just point to a couple of dishes and hope to not get Chicken feet. I opt for the cheaper dishes as they are most likely to be vegetables and/or eggs.

The English Speaker

Many times, when it got more complicated, „the English Speaker“ evolved. Like the other day at the pharmacy – many times when I was somewhere and there were some conversational issues – the English speaker would show up. It would be someone being called from outside – like this one lovely time when I was in a small store in a city somewhere between Hong Kong and the Vietnamese border – a young student who loves to watch English movies and speaks a conversational English was fetched from the street to assist me. At other times, someone would overcome their shyness in speaking a foreign language and simply go for it. If the English speaker can’t be found among the people that are there, she or he will be called on the phone to translate. Like this one lovely day on my first biketour, just outside Xiamen, when I was sad and lonely, eating an early lunch and I think, the people around could tell I wasn’t in a good place. They called an English speaking friend basically so she could ask me if I was okay and if they could do anything for me.

The last resort: calling a bilingual friend!

This is the best joker ever if you are in China and you can’t speak the language. If you have a Chinese speaking friends who also knows English (or German or… whatever language you have in common). It’s pretty much the reverse version of „calling the English speaker“ as you are calling „the Chinese speaker“. Many times one of them saved me when I was desperate because something just wouldn’t work out. This summer, when I arrived in Qingdao, I needed to take a ferry, was totally exhausted by that time and couldn’t figure out where to buy the tickets. Even though there were people trying to help me. So eventually, I called Huan who helped me out by translating. Within a minute all the communication issues that had been going on for twenty minutes were solved and I got my ticket.

So

Yes, it’s much easier when you are in a country where you speak the language – but it’s also less fun at times. Plus: whenever I handle a situation here I feel a bit like a hero. And the sales person as well. Or she is simply smiling with relief when I walk off with the desired item.

VISA! – and a ferry that leaves earlier than expected. Like, a day earlier…

And again – it’s not about what happens to you, it’s about the way you look at it. That’s how this days events changed from “meh” to “yeah”! Oh and this blog post is also about the stubbornness you develop when cycling. Or maybe I have always been stubborn but now it really shows?

But read yourself:

Smiling I enter the elevator after leaving the Chinese Visa Application Centre (CVAC). I got my student visa – 150 days, single entry without any hassle here in Seoul, will slowly make my way to Incheon, stop by one of Seoul’s Goodwill to ease my clothes situation a bit without having to buy newly made things and get to Incheon where my ferry to Lianyunguang leaves on Thursday.
But first, I’m off to get some Seoul streetfood – uhm, just that it started to rain. No, that’s wrong. It started to rain slightly on my last meters to the CVAC which made riding very pleasant. But now it turned into a down-pour. Instead of street-food I opt for the convenience store which is conveniently located inside this building and offers convenient food options.
Checking the route and the details while eating I’m in no rush. Until… I realize the ferry time-table has changed. My ferry leaves today. Approximately 60km of city cycling away from me. And it’s past lunch by now as I slowly took my time with everything – since I thought I had loads of it.
Shoot… I check the route, try to memorize it – at least I know the start anyway – but still. Loads of turns, not very detailed online map unless I zoom in… Needless to say I will have to stop to check. But hey – I am in Korea. The country with the longest waiting times at traffic lights. So many options to check.

If it’s not raining to bad. I am sure it will get better soon. It was so lovely when I started this morning. And yes, it will change eventually. From bad to worse. From rain to thunderstorm. But I have set my mind. I am getting to the port today. I will just keep going until I am there (and to be honest – once you are wet, it sucks to stop. You just get cold and uncomfortable).

I make it to the port by 6pm, I am soaking and getting cold while looking around for the ticket counter to Lianyunguang.. But… it’s the wrong terminal. So I cycle back to the right one. It’s like 6k past trucks in the thunderstorm with a lot of waiting at traffic lights.

I am soaking even more as I get there, getting cold while looking around for the ticket-counter to Lianyunguang. Immigration is still open, everyone is lining up, pushing parcels and suitcases. But… Immigration and the small store is the only thing that’s still open. The information is closed as well as all the ticket counters I see.

Frustrated, I sit around. Not wanting to go back to the thunderstorm and checking the hotel prices is just shocking and the pictures of the rooms are not very encouraging either. Maybe I can camp on the site? I just sit, listening to rain and thunder. It’s back to full force. The hall slowly but continuously empties. Eventually, the cleaning crew appears, grasps my situation and considers I shouldn’t be riding in the thunderstorm. Good, I agree. But what else can I do? Eventually they inform the head of the port who supplies me with coffee („Korean-style, extra sugar“) and a place where I can wait-out the rain. The coffee and the kindness do the trick. After being frustrated and exhausted, my mood lifts. I start to feel a bit less cold, more energy and the rain subsides. I start to change my point of view – away from „failure“ to „another adventure“ and remember just in time, that I don’t have to go to a hotel but could also go to a Jjimjilbang – a sauna, where you can stay the night.
After asking a few people for directions to the next one, I am close enough that one man pities me, gets his umbrella and makes sure I find the entrance. It’s not so easy if you are totally illiterate in the writing system a country uses…
Feeling warm again, I realize I haven’t had dinner yet – only the convenience store lunch. But that’s actually another story – how the lovely staff took care of me, fed me and helped my dry my stuff.

Day 34 – “Did you just say taifun?!”

Fueld with breakfast, I am peddling away, gusts of strong wind making it harder while I am getting closer to Busan and therefore the sea. I noticed them the day before and before that, but they keep getting stronger. It looks as if the water is being pushed inland.
I am peddling through a village and wondering about the irrigation ditches. They are filled to the brim despite that there hasn’t been rain in weeks – but I quickly forget about that as I am leaving the fields to go through smaller lanes and alleys. The houses are painted colourful, with different themes and motives, even though most is bicycle-themed.
Back on the path, along the river, the wind and water lets me think about the storm floods my city back home get’s once in a while, during autumn, when it’s rainy and cold. And not sunny and hot like it’s here. Wind picks up when you get towards the sea. Getting to Busan would be an eighty k ride, which isn’t much but I feel lazy and decide to camp just outside the city, which saves a night at a hostel as well.
So I keep pedalling away, kind of bored, even by my audio book.

Apart from my breakfast hunt, nothing happens. Not even other cyclists seem to be out – since school started and it’s the middle of the week it’s not really a surprise. I sigh and just keep going, listening to my audio-book, when…

.. another cyclist approaches me in Korean. Face and hair are hidden underneath my scarf and helmet, blue eyes behind my sunglasses. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Korean.” normally solves this issue, the other person gets stressed out at having to talk English and cycles off. Not this keen university student who plans to travel the world.

We converse – the usual “Where are you from?”, “Where do you go?”, “How many days…” – when he says:

“I was going to Busan tomorrow. But because of the taifun, I want to go there today!”

It clicks. Finally, it clicks. The constant headwind, getting stronger. The gusts of wind. The filled irrigation ditches. My memories of storm floods. There IS a storm coming. Tonight! This night, which I planned to camp at the river close to the sea. Oups.

“Did you just say Taifun?!” I reply buffled. I stopped following the weather report as it was just “hot, hot, hot”, “sunny, sunny, sunny” anyways.

Needless to say, I skip my last night at the river, my new friend helps me order lunch and shows me the bus station to Seoul before heading to a friends place – his university is on an island – not the best place to stay during a taifun.

Day 33/34 – back to camping!

Awesome breakfast at a small restaurant across the street and a shop owner who made sure I found back on the bike path got me into the feeling of bike touring again. Head wind kept picking up, so I felt lazy when I came past an unofficial campsite. A few tents were already set-up and a family of four with two 5-year-old-twins was just setting up theirs as I was still pondering if I should or shouldn’t stay. Next to the other tents and them, with river view I felt safe.

I was a bit on the lower side when it came to food as I hadn’t past anything since I had lunch – but that was a rather late one at 4pm and I didn’t worry too much. Up till now, convenience-stores had been plenty, I could see some houses in the distance. I would have breakfast there and potato chips for dinner. Good enough – I fell asleep at 8pm, despite my efforts to stay awake.
Everyone around me was enjoying BBQ. The smell became part of my dreams and maybe reminded me on the bicycle-museums-movie – so I kept dreaming about being caught in forest fires. At least I didn’t dream of food all night.

Hungry I broke camp, left the path and went along the road to meet the expected convenience store. There was no convenience store. Nor a store. Just like the fanciest restaurant I have seen in all of Korea. I skip it. The next houses are in sight and for sure there will be a store there… No… Just a chicken farm.
I keep going.
In the distance I can see the sign of a convenience store – yeah! Next turn-off of the bike path and BREAKFAST! The sign gets closer, I look for the turn-off. The sign is next to me, I look for the turn-off. I pass the sign, I look for the turn-off.
Nothing. Just a never-ending trench.
In the distance I can see the sign of the next convenience-store – yeah! Next turn-off of the bike path and BREAKFAST! The sign gets closer, I still look for the turn-off. The sign is next to me, I still look for the turn-off. I pass the sign – no turnoff, just the never-ending trench.

I see a town on the other side of the river, right next to a bridge, it even has a church. A place big enough for a church will have a store as well! I can almost smell my breakfast! Excited I cycle towards the bridge. Looking for a way to cross – but… you guessed it: Nothing. The path led me conveniently underneath.

I sigh. I start getting frustrated but just keep going.

Next bridge – and yes! I can turn off the bike path and find a restaurant next to some non-food-stores! I am about to start a victory dance, kiss the floor of the restaurant as I park my bike, head to the door, clutch the handle aaaand – it’s locked. Ok. NOW I am frustrated. So close!

I’ll just follow the road – not going back on the bike path before I’ve eaten! Next restaurant – and PEOPLE! I smile at the woman, mimic eating, point to her restaurant and ask for breakfast. “No no. Closed!” But she provides me with directions to a place where I get breakfast.

The store has the flair of my grandmas basement – that’s the first thought I have when I enter. The ceiling is low, shelves on all walls are stuffed with a variety of foods, electric appliances and different odd’s and end’s. In the middle is a round table, surrounded my garden chairs. A few moments of mutual pointing, mimicking and showing pictures, she leaves through the curtain into her kitchen. Taking her store shoes off before and prepares noodles, two eggs and kimchi.

Day 32 – no camping and an escape from kindness

Like I said before – I planned to camp but wasn’t expecting language barriers, cultural differences and unexpected kindness yet.

Once I put up my tent, a security guard came out, my way, said something and I walked towards him, telling him I don’t speak Korean when he turned away to talk to a guy in a pick-up. Slowly I unpacked when he came back: No. No camping. But I could fill up my water bottles. The pick-up-guy was still there. Coming towards me. Talking to me. Touching my tent. Trying to help me to put it down. I felt uncomfortable. I am female. I am on my own. In the middle of no-where. I take my tent pole out of his hand before he breaks it. I wonder why he wears a cap. Is he trying to shield his face from the CCTV? Why is he sticking around? He points towards his car, says “house”, “no camping” and holds up both hands, all fingers “10”.

10.000 Won for a ride? 10k to his house?! I try to get him to go away, finish packing while he is close – closer than Koreans normally get and watching more than most Koreans do. Did I mention that I felt uncomfortable? Praying to God to get me out of this situation I packed. I wondered where to go. The last houses I passed a while ago, it was 10pm now and there wasn’t even anyone around at dusk. Go into the mountains? There is no-where I could run and no-one I could call. I opt to keep going. He stays, then follows. Shoot. Uncomfortable. Trying not to panic, praying. He stops. Points at one of the open huts that is there in a small park and says camping. Uhm… as if I could get a glimpse of sleep there when he is pointing it out to me. Being a sitting duck in my tent. He points to his car and repeats the “House” and “10”, while I say “bye-bye” and “no”, shaking my head, backing off.

Finally he leaves. I wait. It’s easy for him to just wait somewhere along the way for me. There are not so many options for me to go. Filled with adrenaline I keep going. I am pissed and annoyed. There is no other place to camp but I aim for a restaurant I find on maps.me – unfortunately I don’t find it in real life. So I keep going.

After 10k, I get to a village with two hotels. I walk into the one further down the road – guess who opened the door?! Yeah – the guy from before. It’s about 35 usd to stay in a depressing, kinda clean room with air-con. I get my bike and go to the other hotel. It’s less clean, without air-con, costs 30 usd, similar depressing features and is not run by a man who stressed me out before.

—-

It took until the next morning, during breakfast, to get a different view on things than feeling t uncomfortable. Last night I was scared off the man. Because I am a woman and I have been brought up, to feel vulnerable, threatened and “have to take care so I stay safe” – because I am a woman.

Korean people tend to be extremely helpful – they would go out of their way to help you. And this was the hotel owner and the security guard trying to help me. Second, it’s not very ‘Korean’ to say directly no to someone and leave them in a tight spot (at least in my experience. Correct me if you think it’s wrong!). So it would be easier to tell someone “Why don’t you stay in a hotel? There is a hotel owner in a pick-up. He can take you, your bike and your stuff to a hotel. It’s a short ride, you can have a shower and a good rest! There is even air-con, that will be much nicer than sleeping in the tent after a long-day of cycling” than “There is no camping here, go away and find another place to stay.”

Therefore, the most likely explanation I can come up with, is the following: The guard saw me pitching my tent. Or maybe even before, when I was hanging around, trying to be obvious about staying. The hotel owner did not show up by chance. The security guard called him to help me (and maybe help the hotel owner to get a paying customer). He knew the next hotel is further away so if the man came, it would be easy and safe for me to get there during the night. As this would be too dangerous or straining for me (as a woman? as a cyclist who had already done his share of cycling for the day?) or I just wouldn’t get lost that way? Who knows…

When I started cycling the hotel owner tried to show me the camping spot (see the “going out of their way to help someone”) so I wouldn’t miss it and get lost in the mountains or have to cycle fast in the night.

Since the guard and the hotel owner spoke a few words of English, we couldn’t discuss all this in detail. And I felt threatened and pushed into a corner by their try to help me.

Day 32 – no museum but a couple of hikes

I opted for last nights camping spot for two reasons – the Weagwan War Museum opposite to the park and the drinking-water that was available in the park.

The second one was a success. I could drink, wash and fill up my bottles. The first one was closed as it was Monday. So after a short conversation with a French cyclist on a tight schedule – there was nothing to do but cycling, cycling and cycling. I felt bored. Neither letting my thoughts unwind nor listening to music or audio books was taking it away. Headwind was preventing me from just going fast so I happily opted for a hike when I came past a trail. Packed my laptop, a book and some water into my backpack and headed for it. It was an enjoyable hike and I enjoyed the difference in movement, sat on a swing along the way and let my thoughts wander. And then I kept cycling until I came up to the next trail.

Nonetheless I did 90k on the bike – if there’s nothing else to distract you what else could you do? – until I (planed to) camped. First time I camped close to a K-Water-office but out of water, no tap to find but a Convenience-store showing on maps.me before I hit the hills full of some more climbs it felt like the best option. I stuck around for a while, trying to see someone – there were still some cars and CCTV – and being obvious of my plans to stay. Taking off my shoes, brushing my teeth, reading a bit and some more searching for water or no-camping-signs – all this kind of stuff – before putting up my tent.

Day 31 – self-sacrificing love and iced-water

What’s the best thing someone can hand you, when you’ve cycled, feeling way too hot? Iced water! Again! The visit to the Bicycle Museum started with a highlight and should end with a double-highlight.

As I enter – after I’ve cycled and feeling way too hot – I get handed a bottle of iced water. The staff is extremely nice, agrees to charge my phone and since the young guy selling the tickets speaks well English so discuss my trip, the Korea(s) and the museum.

He is the first person who asked me, if I am not afraid of a nuclear attack on South Korea. I am to baffled that I doesn’t cross my mind to ask him his opinion. I feel extremely safe in Korea and well – if a nuclear attack should hit while I am here – I will have to deal with it then. Sounds naive but in a case like this – it would be to overwhelming to always have this option in mind.

The museum itself is filled with a number of curiosities that evolve around bicycles – a tandem where you sit next to each other up to bikes where you sit ten meters above ground and different ways to push and a history of the bicycle. The explanations are mainly in Korean, but the exhibits entertain me nonetheless.

There is even a 4-D-theatre. I am expectiong a bicycle-related-theme for the movie so I am at first disappointed when it shows a little-kids-movie. It comes as a fairly common, predictive story – one is the clumsiest, get’s lost but mom finds it and everyone is happy. I get ready to go as any German movie aiming at this audience would be finished now and everyone would go home happy.

Not so a Korean movie – it continues with a sudden story twist. A forest fire! The birds flee, of course the clumsy ones has some difficulties and I loose my confidence for a happy end. I remember the Cameroonian myth Marthe from the Cameroonian Ministry of Education told at a primary school in my home town. This one didn’t have a Happy End either – everyone died. Not all places in the world have the same longing to present kids with an easy ending, where everyone lives happily ever after.

So, the birds where trapped. The fire was everywhere. In front of them. Behind them. To their left and right. Mother bird looks up into the sky – she could fly off and be safe. But to no avail – all her kids would die. So she gathers them under her wings and hovers down.

The next morning, the fire has died down, everything lies in ashes and mother bird is dead. BUT – all her kids have survived under her wings!

Still – I am a bit disturbed by this movie when my new friend asked me how I liked it. From a Korean point of view it’s a very good and logical ending. Parents give everything for their kids, to help them, provide for them and support them. Whereas in German – mind me, parents support their kids and love them – we see things a bit differently and independence, “standing on your own feet” is am important part in supporting children, rather them giving them everything they need directly. And this – giving everything for your kids – is symbolized by the mother bird who just died for her kids.

Wit this food for thought, I get my bike ready to go as I hear a voice call out my name – and get handed two more bottles of iced water!

Day 30 – rewarding start, meeting even more people and climbing!

Some days are really hard to put into one blog post and this one is one of them as too many things happened that all should be mentioned – and I won’t even find a point where I mentioned I practiced Chinese for 30 minutes.

I break hard, smile broadly at what I see to my right and laugh back at Tom who passes me right then. I was reluctant to say good-bye earlier but I would have abandoned everyone at this point anyway. But let’s start from the beginning.

I stumble out of my tent as it’s finally getting too hot. For once, I appreciated the rising temperatures this morning as I had my coldest night ever. I ended up wearing all the clothes I had with me including my raincoat and towel but still lying awake freezing, closing the ventilation-openings off my tent. So, I haven’t had one of my best nights, hoping the small store on the other side would be open for my caffeine-morning-fix. Instead of an open store I find another cyclist with panniers. And another one. And another one. They ran into each other the day before and camped along the first climb.

I am very excited as most other cyclists I met weren’t camping. Actually the Korean way seems to just carry a very small bag with them and stay in hotels along the route. We roll down the hill at different speeds and as we pair up again, a man in a car stops next to us, handing us a bag of cooked corn on a cub which we will enjoy later.

PANCAKES!

Exploring a market I see my first Korean pancakes! Standing in line to buy one each with the Canadian cyclist another stall owner insists on paying for us. Filled with melted brown-sugar, fried in a lot of fat, it tastes like cyclists-heaven.

After a self-cooked-lunch we set off at different speeds and said our good-byes. All three of them were looking forward to being on their own again, but I feel a bit reluctant to say goodbye. I have days like that, where I really enjoy the loneliness of bike touring, the time with me, my thoughts and my surroundings, not having to be in social situations and they have had their experience of camping together last night.
Tom packed his stuff while we were talking, set off together but I eventually sped off so he could be on his own.

And here we go, back to the start: I break hard, smile broadly at what I see to my right and laugh back at Tom who passes me right then. I was reluctant to say good-bye earlier but I would have abandoned everyone at this point anyway.

Right next to the cycling path: a climbing gym where I end up bouldering, climbing and befriending an English teacher from Suanjo – And of course I am subject to the curiosity of almost everyone around – before camping right in front, freshly showered.

Ashley and I – talking too much to pose for the photo

Climbing until way past my sleeping time!
Night sky – view from my tent

Day 29 – spoiling myself, meeting people and enjoying like the best sunset ever

Lazy days can be so rewarding! Before leaving Suanbo I realized where I was – in a city with Hot Springs! I wasn’t going to leave them without trying them out, was I? So after breakfast I walked over and the tourist information recommended a Spa to me. I dare say I was a bit nervous about it as I didn’t know what to expect and how to do things around there.

The nervousness gives way to surprise when I see two foreigners – actually a couple from Germany – as I walk in. We get along and will share lunch afterwards. As we part – they are hitchhiking – I start feeling a bit lonely as I am circling back to the main square to sort out what I do next as I run into my third foreigner this day.

Ross is on his first big bike tour and we end up talking for three hours… unfortunately he is going the other way in Korea. Coming from Japan he is cycling towards Seoul where he has a flight to Taiwan – and again I feel a bit lonely as we part but this feeling subsides quickly as I get into my cycling mode again. It’s five p.m. already and it’s actually the perfect time to tackle what’s ahead.

It is a shorter climb and a 5-k-climb which is durable during the colder hours of the afternoon. My timing is just perfect as I reach the top of the climb – and tonight’s camping spot – at sunset.

Perfect timing!

Day 28 – Idyllic laundry

I am starting to leave the crowded area – there are still quite a few cyclists around but it doesn’t feel crowded anymore and we actually acknowledge each other by shortly lowering our head when we are about to pass each other or have short conversations when we stop at a rest area.
The sun is fierce and I am not able to put on the sunscreen as my face is just sweating too badly. There is no way I can get it into my skin so I end up buying a scarf that’s covering my face up to my eyes and the part of my hair that showed under my helmet. With other words – the only details that’s distinguishing my now from a Korean cyclist are my cycling shorts. Up to my knees I am totally covered. On my head I wear my helmet, a hat, my glasses and said scarf. On my upper body, I wear my cycling shirt, long-sleeves and cycling gloves. On my legs, my cycling shorts and a skirt.

When I camp tonight I will realize I got a slight sunburn in my face nonetheless…

The most idyllic place where I ever did laundry! Actually stayed for a couple of hours, enjoying the shade and drinking loads of water

Day 27 – Gumi to …

Cycling in Korea is different. Very different to what I experienced elsewhere. With the Four-River-Pathway everything is extremely well-organized and – since I am just outside Seoul – crowded. There are so many cyclists here, we don’t even acknowledge each other. Never before had I experienced situations bicycle touring when you not at least nod to each other. But – here are so many cyclists, it’s just not possible. There’s a convenience store at every corner and each of them is surrounded by a crowd of cyclists craving something iced.
At one turn-off is just a big box with frozen water-bottles, free to take. The bicycle path is in a great condition, and we don’t even have to worry about hills – where there’s a hill, there is a tunnel. For cyclists. ONLY for cyclists. They are awesome. Nice. Cold. Instead of slowly sweating your way up a mountain you just go through and cool down while doing it.

Day 26 – Visa Application Center for Real, an inspiring meeting and the start of cycling!

I was confused last night when I found out on google that I had to take a bus to the Visa Application Center as it actually looked as if it was walking distance from the hostel. But then… well, maybe I mixed it up or the jumping signal messed it up. Didn’t matter too much as I was now going by bus – cycling as little here as possible. And this distance was actually the reason why I was too late yesterday.
Food-hunting around the hostel I came across a sign reading “Chinese Visa Application Centre“ – in w-a-l-k-i-n-g d-i-s-t-a-n-c-e!

Ta-da . Never would have thought there would be two in one city! One is on a-maps and the other one on google-maps… All this switching around maps messed me up.

Anyway – leaving my bike and stuff at the hostel I quickly applied for the visa. And by quickly I really mean fast. Thirty minutes after entering, I was done – so I stuck around some more to do research about sight-seeing in Seoul and arrange a meeting with an author who’s been living off her writings in Asia for seven years.

To be honest, I didn’t feel like sight-seeing but… I’m in Seoul so I should go see a couple of things. But the heat was really dreading when I walked around this UNESCO cultural heritage site. The walk back to the hostel I enjoyed much more. I was more relaxed and didn’t feel obligded to do it for „being in this city“-reasons. Walking past small shops and stores, feeling some wind – and running into a climbing gym.
I got really exited about that – would I meet people here I could go climbing with?! But actually – it was pretty deserted and the guy working there didn’t get my hopes up on finding someone in this heat.

After meeting Sveanna at the river I had my latest start ever – and one of the best camp sites just outside Seoul.

Seoul at night
Sightseeing during the day. They both eat traditional dresses that can be rented at many places

Day 25 – Bucheon to Seoul – Chinese Visa Application Center Take 1

I am dreading to leave my hosts place. It’s so nice there, air-conditioned and I am looking to some city cycling. If I had been aware of the hilliness of Seoul I would have dreaded it even more. I think I purposefully don’t check this as I try to avoid cities anyway. But China doesn’t put their place for Visa Application in the country-side but in the middle of big cities. I do get how that is convenient for all applicants that don’t travel by bike.

Eventually, I hit the road – after rush-hour. The parts that aren’t along the River-Bicycle-paths are strenuous and my progress slow. Once I get to Seoul the GPS signal is hopping around on the map – I assume due to the high-rise buildings all around. I am getting hungry and aware of the fact that I still don’t have any money. My card wasn’t working with any of the machines I’ve been to. I try a couple more – without success – when I come past the Worribank. And despite its name it takes my most urgent money worries away, reads my card and gives out cash which I will soon change into food and a bed at the Youth Hostel.

I realize that my plan of just showing up at the center and hitting the road again isn’t really working out. I am a sweaty, run-down-cyclist, feeling way too hot and exhausted to deal with the people at the center.

Paying an amount of money that would almost allow for a night in a luxurious hotel in country-side China I get a bed in a dorm for 10 people, where I can epical park my bike in front of the window, and use of a kitchen. By the time I get to the center it’s too late for drop-off or to get any information. It’s only pick-up then.

Time to look around Seoul and enjoy the roof-top-terrace.

Day 24 – Incheon to Bucheon and an introduction to Korean cycling

I look down the road and spot them easily. Even from the distance I can tell the relief that’s spreading on Andrea’s face when he sees me waving. They didn’t find a host so Dong-Hyun offers them to take them to a camp-side. Since we already left the ferry station the two have now to find the way to the hidden restaurant where Dong-Hyun invited me for lunch, so slowly they are fighting their way up the steep road.

From that point, Dong-Hyun takes the lead across sidewalks through the older, narrower part of Incheon where there are no bicycle lanes yet. Something feels wrong – not the sidewalkpath but something else. I can’t put my finger on it, but something is… missing. Out of place. It somehow feels as if we are cycling through a deserted city but still there are people as well as cars everywhere. After a while I realize I am missing the sounds, the noise. Cars are turning, driving past – but the drivers aren’t honking. The cacophony of the trucks is not there. Maria and Andrea are noticing the same and we are smiling at each other appreciating the quietness We spot bicycle lanes when we ride across bridges and our smiles become even wider. By the time, Dong-Hyun suggests a rest, we are marveling at the beauty of the river in front and the bicycle lane – car-free of course – that’s in mint condition next to it. Even though there are camp sides all along, it’s possible to just camp anywhere you like and use one of the many, many public toilets along the way. Maria and Andrea decide to camp close to a small convenience area with a store, coffee place, restaurant and free wi-fi.

Day 23 – off to Incheon! A relaxed ferry ride

Maria, Andrea and I look at each other before doing the math. About 10 Euro per person to sleep in a four-bed-room on the ship instead of sharing a room full of sleeping mats with 50 people. As the ticket sellers sees us hesitating he offers that there won’t be a fourth person in the room. We get tempted but decide to still go with the cheapest option. How bad can it be? It’s just one night, 17 hours and all of us had spent nights under worth circumstances.

A couple of hours later I meet them on the ship. I have already settled in, watched the astonished face of the receptionist when she realized that this foreigner booked into the biggest room available (the dorms for 72 people seemed to be closed), and listened when she explained to me how to read the room and bed number and where to store my bike.

The air-conditioned room was spacious enough, we slept on pretty comfy bunk beds with curtains, lights and socket next to the windows. Money for the private room would have just been a waste. I text my arrival time to my first Korean host before I resign to sleeping a couple of hours while Maria and Andrea set off the explore the ship. It’s a quiet and relaxed journey.

The view in the morning is magnificent as we glide past numerous small islands.

Small islands dotted around the Yellow Sea
Windy – mouse gets almost blown away

Upon arriving we are the first to leave the ship and get onto the bus – with our bikes – and the staff is taking some of our bags as we make our way towards customs. We are unsure if they are trying to help us or if our bags are being taken to be searched and lose sight of them to be reunited at the compulsory scanner where all our bags have to go through.

On the other side I see a young man with a touring bike smiling – I am so relieved I don’t have to find the way to some hotel on my own with all this getting lost in Qingdao I had.

Day 22 – Rizhao to Qingdao – No-where to hide!

4 am, sneaking around Phil’s and Jennie’s apartment I am getting ready to go. Last night I cooked and packed myself a decent breakfast and lunch so I could get an early start to Qingdao and wouldn’t have to worry about food. And of course filled up my water bottles so I wouldn’t be totally dehydrated once I get into Qingdao.
120km, most of them flat and 10km with the ferry – I am confident of fitting some sightseeing in before my host Dai would come home from work at 6.30.
It’s so dark, I have to wear my head lamp for the start as I set off on the now quiet roads of Qingdao. As I don’t just want to follow the G-Road I take a detour along the beach where I watch the sunrise over breakfast together with a lot of people who camped at the beach for exactly this purpose.

Sunrise at Rizhao beach

Later on, I will have to cancel my attempts to follow the coast as there are road works going on. Nonetheless I leave the G-road shortly after to climb some hills in the hinterland past small villages. It’s more exhausting than the levelled G-road, but I enjoy it much more. 100km of that would surely get my morals down.

Landscape like this is keeping my morals up
Dockyard for fishing boats in Rizhao

I just keep cycling only stopping to nibble a bit on my food or buy an ice tea so around lunch time I get to Huangdao’s ferry port. The cycling gets harder, as I am in a city AND have to climb. So I can’t just cycle up and enjoy the down hill but have to stop all the time for traffic lights.
Anyway – I am almost there at the ferry port. I will have a rest waiting for the ferry, enjoy the ferry ride and the last bit in Qingdao. Right? No. I start getting a wary feeling as I am turning into the port area. It’s just too empty. And a dirt road. No cars. No people. A locked up building that maybe used to be a ticket selling point. Rain is starting slightly when someone asked where I want to go.
I make myself understood and finally hand him my phone. He types in the name of the correct ferry port and I brave myself for another 20km of cycling.
I detour, then I share the road with nothing but trucks with shipping containers. I am out of water soon but no stores. Dehydrated – again -, exhausted – very – I arrive at the correct ferry port, double-check with the guy that’s selling beverages while purchasing a bottle of iced water and finding out where to buy the ticket.
Most times in China I would find English signs like “Ticket counter” even though I am in areas where hardly ever any foreigner gets too. But not here. I can’t find the signs and the hut the helpful vendor pointed to are deserted. I ask a bus driver who points back towards the vendor. I doubt him, gesture that they send me here. But he says “go go” and is very reassuring. Slowly I cycle back, checking everything in between if that might be the place. But no. I ask the vendor and other passengers, point to the word for “ferry ticket” and they point…. back to where they send me before.
I mentioned my state, right? I am tired. I am exhausted. I am way to hot. I am still dehydrated. I cycled 20k more than planned.
So, in this state, I sit down on a bench. I think about crying. I take a deep breath. And I remember what a foreigner, that doesn’t speak Chinese does, in a situation like this: I call a friend that speaks Chinese! My dear friend Huan picks up the phone, explains my situation to the vendor, who explains it to the other passengers, a father that’s waiting with his wife and kid says “follow me!” and I am so relieved I don’t know how I can thank Huan for solving this for me.
The father walks me back to the hut where I stood before. By now, a couple of trucks are waiting too and three women that get way to excited about seeing a foreigner. The father feels a bit embarrassed while I endure the process of picture-taking, trying to smile politely.
An eternity later the ticket seller shows up and a few minutes later I am on the ferry to Qingdao, sitting exhausted on one of the chairs, resting…

UNTIL…

I get spotted again, and the picture-taking gets taken to a whole new level. A woman makes her daughter – somewhere between 6 and 8 – pose next to me without asking me at all. I never said no so far but I really appreciate if people start communicating with me before they take a pic and I never had people posing without getting in touch with me first. It’s really not hard to ask for a pic – you just have to hold up your phone and make eye-contact. Anyway, this woman wasn’t having any of that, I was too exhausted to do anything so I just played along eventually. One pic doesn’t take that long, right?
Right. But her daughter wasn’t posing enough. Wasn’t being sexy enough. Didn’t have her t-shirt in a sexy enough way. And she had another daughter. So she had to get pics of her and both of them, all the time scolding them and I was too defenseless and bewildered to do anything about that. Then, she had to have her pic taken with me… It just went on and on.

My day ended at 7pm. I fought myself through rush hour to Dai’s nice and spotless apartment where I could re-hydrate and eat a yummy, vegetarian dinner. I was actually excited about meeting Andrea and Maria, two cyclists that were going to take the same ferry as me in the morning. But I just passed out at about 8pm and didn’t notice anything until the next morning…

Like I said – I wanted to leave the main roads…

Day 20 – Lijiazhangcun to Rizhao – Doing a bit, but working hard

With four hours of dozing and four hours of sleeping in my sticky tent I am back on the road. I feel battered right from the start.
It’s less than 40km to Jennie’s and Phil’s and I am glad it’s not one k more than that.

When I start riding, my camp site was at the edge of a small village – if I had gone further, I would have had to pass the village before camp. It’s flat at the start but Rizhao is hilly, it’s getting hot and I think, I am pretty dehydrated as I drag myself up the hill to my hosts place. Counting every km, ever 100m to be honest. Part of me thinks about stopping to get more water, but the other part of me just wants to keep going so I will get there.

I finally make it, Jennie is offering me their biggest glass, pointing to their water supply. When I finally stop drinking, I stagger towards the shower, just to fall asleep after. At this moment, I am very glad that I am staying with two cyclists who totally understand my needs and supply me with delicious food for lunch.

I enjoy a very lazy day and when they come home from work we talk, share stories, drinks and we agree on my staying one more night so I will go to Qingdao in one lap, rather than two with camping in between.

Day 19 – Doing a lot between Fei (Linyi) and Lijiazhuangcun

Cycling on roads that are about two trucks wide. With trucks going both ways. Slow when it’s going up, fast when it’s going down again. One after another after another. And trucks overtaking each other. And cars overtaking the trucks. While it’s getting dark. Trying to look for a campsite.

This does not feel good… as in safe. It’s my first night camping ahead of me and – to be honest – I am dreading it that’s why I am still cycling. No chance to get to Jennie’s and Phil’s place, as it’s still more than 50km. So, I check the map for gas stations in the hope that they would let me stay.

The first one is right opposite a hotel – so I assume my chances are rather slim. I pedal on. 10k further on there is supposed to be another one so I aim for that while trying to spot a camp site. My chances are rather slim – I can only see my side of the road, have to concentrate on the trucks and it’s getting darker. I spot tiny patches but they feel too close to the road. All other places are used as farmland and I don’t really want to destroy crop for a nights sleep.

Finally, I arrive at the gas station. But they refuse. No way I can pitch my tent somewhere. Shoot. I aim for the river near by and end up setting my tent up in front off an empty house. I can’t really tell if it’s deserted or not and there is no where around to ask. Half way through a man comes around, rubs his bare belly while trying to talk to me.

And to be honest, I don’t attempt to talk to him. I am tired. I feel beat. I am going to spent a night in a mosquito ridden, hot tent. At least, as long as this is not his house and he is unhappy about me camping there. Then I would be facing more cycling. In the dark. With the trucks. Even though I already did 130k. To spent a night in a mosquito ridden, hot tent a few k further up the road – So I try to appear harmless and polite and therefore try to smile while I repeat “tingpudong”. Even if I tried, I don’t think I could have produced any sentence where the tones where important.

Eventually he goes away. I finish pitching the tent, get in and take a dozen mosquitos with me. After four hours off dozing off and waking up again I fall asleep for another four hours.

When I wake up, I look like an offering to the god of mosquitos.

The day of cycling was pretty flat, unexciting G- and S-road riding. Most times with a shoulder, only the turn off to the S341 the road gets smaller and looses it shoulder.

A city disappearing in smog
An AAA-tourist-attraction. The photo on amaps promised waterfalls so I am surprised to find a park at a river without waterfalls but with an impressive number of all kinds of statues.

Day 17 – Peixian to Linyi

My friends mother made sure I wasn’t leaving hungry. The plate with the amazing amount of scrambled eggs is not in the picture. Oh and I got TWO cups of soymilk.

A day that holds everything in stock that biketouring has to offer – it felt like bicycletouring in a nutshell.

A lovely goodbye, a warm welcome. Headwind. Rain. Sun. Bad climbs. Awesome downhills. New pavement. People waving and smiling at me. Picture taking and exchange of WeChat contacts. Cars stopping to hand me ice cold water. Practicing my new Chinese sentences. Awesome views. Dirt roads and dead ends. Going in circles in a small village. Finding my road again. Garbage dumps. Lush green mountains. Rivers and lakes. Even nice picnic places for my first and second lunch.

Purple sweet-tomatoes for lunch under a bridge…
… where some stone tables and chairs stood around. Cards lying around are telling a story about this is a casino at night
Quiet, flat roads for lunch part 2

After saying Good-bye to my friend and family – I am so happy that we are going to meet again – after a huge breakfast with panniers full of food, I am looking forward for a relaxed ride. Just see how far I could get on a day like this, rested and well fed, before dark. So I start off towards Linyi where I had been a touch with Yana, an Ukrainian girl through Couchsurfing. The weather is lovely – cloudy and on and off rain. Hardly any sun, but headwind.

My feeble attempt of sight-seeing. I followed one of the tourist signs but whatever they were offering here, was closed

Not having a specific goal in mind I enjoy cycling along, stopping for photos, smiling at people and having a small conversation with a girl on a e-bike when I meet a student from Qingdao. His dad stopps their car, so he could get off, talk a bit and hand me a cold bottle of water. You never realize how thirsty you are, until you see a bottle of ice cold water. Finding out he’s a student in Qingdao where I am headed we exchange WeChat-contacts before I rode on. Maybe we can meet there?

I did 80km since I left seven hours ago. I go small roads through the mountains. It’s exhausting and breath-takingly beautiful. I wonder, if I even make it to a 100 today, even though it’s cold. I estimate less than three hours until sunset. My heart is happy and I can’t believe that I can spend my time like this. I feel grateful.

If I can cycle here – how can I be anything but happy?!

It’s almost 6pm, I am at km 105 and I am climbing. Somewhere in the mountains. The sun is in my back, not fierce anymore. When will it get dark? How long is the climb? I don’t want to loose the sunlight before I finish the descent. My body aches for a break but I push on. I don’t want to have to break because it’s too dark to see. A motor-tricycle overtakes me, the three kids on the cargo area spot me and get excited. When their dad stops to work on his field, they ask for his mobile phone and start walking towards this weird, sweaty figure that I am to bravely ask me for a pic and the girl takes happily a selfie with me.

I am at km 125. It’s only 25 more to Yanas place. I will make it – would be ridiculous to stop now that I am almost there.! . I was getting carefully optimistic when I left the mountains at km 90 not being aware that I would reenter them again. I am starting to get exhausted but I am having a runners high as well. It’s past 7pm and the last k I spent cycling along a huge lake, framed with mountains during dusk. A part of me wants to stop for pictures but another part of me wants to get as far as possible before dark. My phones battery is at 5% and it’s dark now. With shaking hands I search for my battery pack and eating fruits at the same time when two guys on a motorcycle stop to strike up a conversation. They leave and I watch bats while the last bid of sunlight sips away. If it’s possible I am even happier than before?

Happiness!

I am km 140. It’s dark, I am wearing my head lamp for extra light – to see and to be seen. I am climbing, it’s a slight climb but I am starting to feel the day through the runners high. I stop to gobble down eat my noodles from last night sitting on a big rock in someones deserted front yard.

Km 145.27! I message Yana. I am here. She is a lovely host, has prepared dinner for me which I enjoy after a shower and half a liter of water, offers use of the washing machine and invites me to stay another day. I accept even though I still feel the runners high. I know I will thank myself tomorrow!

Cycling in the rain? lets you look forward to a shower before betime!

Day 11 – Xuzhou to Peixian

Huan wears a beautiful flowered dress as she stands at the corner of the street to pick me up. She is looking down the main road, trying to spot me. I approach her from the other side as I missed a turn-off and had to circle back. Seconds later we hug, happy to see each other again.
Our friendship began four years ago by now when I boarded my first flight to China in Helsinki. I was nervous when I got onto my seat. In seven hours this plane would land in Shanghai, where I knew no-one, where I had to figure out how to take a taxi that would bring me to the hotel my new employer had booked for my first two weeks in Shanghai. I knew pretty much nothing about the country and despite the language class I had attended, didn’t know the language either. I sink into my seat, notice the girl next to me and get my phone out. Probably to set it into air-plane-mode, when she suddenly says “Bist du aus Deutschland?” – “Are you from Germany?”
As it turned out, she was not only one of the most impressive Chinese girls I ever met, but a German-language-student who just returned from one year in North-Germany and a fluent German speaker. I felt so relieved, so less alone, so excited as we both fell asleep during the night-flight.
She had an amazing amount of hand-luggage with her – “I love books.” – and in return for me helping her, she helped me get a taxi, told the driver where I had to go and not to screw me over. Which he didn’t, even though I fell asleep on the ride. Just before Huan and I said good-bye at the airport we exchanged our email-adresses and as I had we-chat we started writing there.
We met up in different places in China – in Shanghai, where I lived; in Tianjin where she did an internship; and developed a deep friendship as we are two like-minded souls that love to discover the world.
And now – I am invited to stay with her family for a week! To cook baozi, jiaozi, explore her ‘little village’ that is about the size of Hamburg and meet her family.

Such a lovely welcome 🙂
The other half of the lake. My friend and her brother asked if I would join them on a short walk through their park at sunset. So I only took my phone with me as I didn’t expect to encounter so much beauty!
Lake in Peixiang – part of it is empty due to the heat
Emporer of China – Liu

The ride itself had been pleasent and short – only 60k on smooth roads so I was easily averaging 19k per.

Salty tofu-jelly-soup for breakfast.

Day 9 – Daluxiang to Xuzhou

The guy on the motorcycle stops right next to me as I am about to enter a store to get a cold ice tea. I greet him – we waved at each other before as he saw me cycling past and he passes me a bag with two bottles of ice tea he just got. I say my thanks – as there is not so much more I can say in Chinese – and we exchange WeChat-contacts.

We cycle through stone-country. Many places exhibit and sell this kind of impressive stones around here. A small one actually gets through my tire and I have the first flat of this trip. Apart from that, we just get our head down and try to get to Xuzhou.

When we get there, traffic gets heavy – of course – and I lose sight of Yan again on our last up-hill of the day. After check-in and shower we feel up to leaving the hotel – it’s less sunny and therefore less hot today. But we opt for busses and taxis. It just seems impossible to walk 1.1km to the – very interesting – Xuzhou Museum.

Before dinner, we even get a proper thunderstorm but it doesn’t cool down.

Stone country – one of these, very small indeed, cut through my tire and tube, causing the first flat
Three men working at Xuzhou Museum. They are actually live excavating a tomb!
I like how museums are a place to chill as well
Foooooood!

Day 8 – Wuhe to DaLuXiang

4:45 am. I leave the hotel. Instead of the freshness of the night, the air feels like a wet blanket. I sigh and get onto my bike. Wuhe is still asleep – hardly any traffic on the road, not even hawkers are selling their trade of mantou and soymilk at this time of the day.
I keep pedalling without breakfast then. Following the main road I leave the city centre behind as the sun starts to rise. This is going to be our hottest, but although prettiest day of riding so far.

Sunrise
Sunrise
Dinner leftovers for road-side breakfast!

The road is smooth, it’s a slight down hill and I am doing a good speed. Depending on the point of view despite the heat or because of it. Nonetheless it is 10:30 and awfully hot as we get to the first hotel of Daluxiang. We don’t care about much when checking in apart from the air-con and skip lunch, determined not to be outside again before the sun goes down.

She is selling fresh soy milk in Si Xian- you can see a packed cup on my handle bar

The town itself seemed rather poor, the store across from the hotel looked almost like it’s been looted. But dinner was at a surprisingly good at a muslim restaurant which had the air-con on and all fans running at maximum speed so it felt a bit like eating in the middle of a very refreshing thunderstorm.

Can you see the heat?

Day 7 – Zhangbalingzhen to Wuhe

A bunch of birds flies off as I walk past, pushing my bicycle, to get the most out of this short piece of fresh, lush forest along my way. I’ve been cycling for about 50km this day and my body is pretty happy about this change in the way of movement as well es temperature. I am still on the G-road but it leads through some dense trees for a few kilometers.
I don’t dare to really sit down and stop and temperatures are still rising and are supposed to get up to 36°C again and unfortunately this idyllic piece of federal roads ends soon, if I looked straight ahead I would see the sun burning onto the tarmac but instead I look to my right to soak in the beauty of nature while trucks and motorcycles zip past.

Wow – this pic looks like it’s hot and this part actually felt nice and cold!

Getting out of Zhangbalingzhen was some more undulating hills, longer even then before. In total, we will be climbing until Xuzhou, but do get downhills in between. The G-road 104 changes from wide, with a shoulder and everything to two lanes and no shoulder and back. It leads around one bigger city, past some smaller villages until we are there.

At 11:30h, 5 1/2 hours after we started, I finally cross the bridge into Wuhe, counting the meters to the hotel where Yan is already checked in. When the receptionists see me, of course, they know who I am and where I want to go, so a few minutes later I can start admiring the air-con.

Almost there! Just across the river
Who finds the house?
Food! In some deserted, touristy area next to the hotel. In front of the restaurant where two soldiers from the Terracotta army but inside was nothing Xi’an-style

Day 6 Nanjing to Zhangbalingzhen

Racing along empty streets, running most lights as there is no traffic yet anyway, enjoying the temperature at a comfortably cold 26°C – that’s how we appreciate our really, really early start at 4 am. No crazy, dense Nanjing traffic, just us, a car here and there, some motorcyclist and the first food stands at the crossings.
We arrive at the ferry dock to cross the Yangtze-River at 4:45 – a bunch of motorcyclists are also waiting for the first ferry that will leave in 15 minutes. Enough time to get some breakfast-pancake.

Pancakes!
Almost sunrise at the Yangtze

The rest of the ride is rather uneventful. We get past some factories, some fields, some smaller rivers – and some roadworks for about 20km. The same undulating hills that lead into Nanjing on one side, are leading out to the other.

And around lunchtime we made it to the nicest hotel so far. Rather unexpected. Over lunch the restaurant owners told us, that they do get a lot of cyclist here but hardly any foreigners. Only one french guy that married a girl from this city and me so far.

Day 4/5 – Nanjing

Since both of our live-stories are entangled with Nanjing we stayed for two days. Okay, in my case the entangled bit is overdoing it a bit. But my roommate’s from Nanjing and she was so lovely to set me up with her parents. A lovely, nice couple of Chinese teachers who invited me for lunch, showed me around the tourist area and explained a couple of the typical Nanjing-style things that were sold in the stores. So lovely, so awesome and they just kept talking despite my almost non-existent Chinese skills. I didn’t understand every single word, but recognized some and then there is always context, gestures and just feeling yourself into it while accepting you just understand some. I had a great time and tasted so many different dishes. Her parents were even kind enough to walk me to the metro and explain where I had to go. They double checked with their daughter to make sure I understood it. And I had. (At this point, imagine me smiling in a very, very proud way).

Yan’s live-story is much closer to Nanjing as it’s his father side of the family who lived there until the Japanese massacre which they had to flee. There is a very well done, very interesting, educational and foreigner-friendly as everything is written in Chinese, English and Japanese. It really gripped me to learn that the Japanese are denying this massacre. So of course the Japanese people aren’t very well-liked in Nanjing. As to quote a taxi-driver “Japanese and Germans are all fascists”. This goes as one of the Chinese sentences I understand without any further explanation.
Until the massacre his great-aunt had a leading position at the observatory which was opened in 1934 and was married to the man who was leading it. Nowadays it’s a great exhibition that shows modern equipment from the opening times as well as ancient, Chinese utensils to tell the position of celestial bodies. These had been taken away by German and Japanese troops in 1900 and eventually returned five and twenty years later.

The Observatory is one of a few tourist attractions on Purple Mountain. The Tomb of Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of modern China, is the one that is most visited. After we’ve climbed the many, many steps to go there, we went to an ancient one of one of the emporers of China who was much more humble when it came to the point of how much work you have to put into visiting his tomb.

Some of the stairs you have to climb to get to the Sun Yat-Sen tomb
Love the details and fierceness

From there we hiked towards the Observatory and I saw for the first time, Chinese people that were going for a swim in a lake in the mountains. If I lived in Nanjing I would spent many weekends there. The hike, even though exhausting, was what I enjoyed most on this mountain.

At a restaurant – notice how pretty her dress is while she’s chopping the veggies