Beijing to Xi’an – 11 cycling days, 1300km and, if you’ve read Jared’s post with the elevation data, a lot more climbing. We’ve already documented a few of the events, so here’s a recap of the rest.
The terrain was tougher than the first leg of the trip, but the beautiful scenery we saw towards Xi’an more than made up for it, and the going also seemed easier. The lingering aches and stiffness after our 10 day sprint to Beijing were not repeated to the same extent this time. I suppose this shows we’re getting stronger, but I’m loathe to jinx us for the coming ascents to Lanzhou, our next major destination.
Industrial dustbowls and the ever-present sight of cooling towers gradually gave way to lush green rolling hills, mountain vistas and the occasional canyon worthy of a John ford western. The percentage of truck traffic decreased, most notably when we got off the “G’ roads, though the incessant honking has remained. We climbed our first proper hills, rising to the “dizzy heights” of 700 metres. Hooray for rising elevation.
The quality of the roads was generally good, though we have ridden through counties where roadworks and improvements haven’t quite arrived. Rattling along 20-plus km of broken-up concrete road is a sure way to test for loose fillings in your teeth. Given the option, rocking along the packed-earth lanes under construction is preferable to attempting navigation of the remaining vestiges of road surface. Also, there seems to be a general rule that entry to any major city must be preceded by at least one hours worth of dirt track and gravel.
Heat has been having an increasing impact on the team. The boiling afternoon sun on the last few days before Xi’an was a worrying preview for the next few months. Jared’s pocket thermometer registered 40 degrees at one point. I pointed out that this wasn’t very accurate as the casing had been baking in the sun for several hours. “Yeah,” came the reply. “So have we!”
Following this we’ve debated the merits of an afternoon siesta. A few hours break and naptime followed by another session might be just the trick when it comes to increasing our daily distance and avoiding excessive dehydration and heatstroke. The 5AM wake-up calls and 6AM starts have already worked wonders for our age-old battle with the wind. The war on heat starts here.
There were a lot more Chinese cyclists on this leg, from youthful university students on modern mountain bikes to old gold tooth-capped veterans on 1980’s racers. Several of the cyclists seem to have been motivated by the exploits of a French-led expedition that rode From Paris to Beijing in 2008 (Link: Parisapekingavelo).
One of them, a 36 year-old policeman on his way to Xi’an for a law course, joined us for the last three days of the journey. Even though he was unburdened by luggage, a single overnight bag being the extent of his load, we were impressed that he (mostly) kept up with us, and were most grateful for his help in finding food and accommodation along the way.
Our conversations were somewhat hampered by the language barrier, but the message usually got across after some gesturing, pantomiming, and consultation of our trusty phrasebook, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy our company.
[The team are currently in Xi’an, waiting for a visa extension, and should (hopefully) be on the road again on Friday, May 15]