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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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!