It’s just day one on the bikes but sometimes you just cannot believe your good fortune.
We gaze ahead and can see the road turn to a great pile of rubble, blocked by dramatic looking signs filled with Mandarin characters well beyond our primitive deciphering abilities. We ride slower as if prolonging our arrival at the road block might somehow improve the situation. It didn’t. Our G108 road to Qionglai detours somewhere, all the necessary information is right in front of our eyes, and yet we are now hopelessly lost.
We had been so chuffed with our navigating the way right through and out of Chengdu city, the capital of Sichuan province, a booming city of 14 million people. We had survived chaotically crowded city streets and randomly swerving vehicles of all types. We had enjoyed half price lunch with five very friendly and thoughtful high school students on their midday break. We had found our way to the G108. Was our first day of this cycle journey about to become derailed? Sabotaged by ugly Chinese roading development? The G108 was all we understood in this foreign land, the only English on a map littered with Mandarin, the known way that was supposed to be our link from the plains to the mountains. If even this cannot be assured then what on earth, or more specifically China, can we rely on?
Then right on cue, into our lives stepped a young Chinese lad whose name I could never pronounce and I have now forgotten. He too just happened to be cycling to Qionglai! This might not seem unlikely in a country with over 1 billion people, but to put it in perspective we had already cycled 60km and seen not one other cyclist on a journey longer than the local store. So rather than take the G108 we sampled one of China’s brand new motorways. We rode past a massive industrial park that sat largely empty but looked brand new and on the cusp of a mass industry move-in. We bounced our way through a rocky by-pass. We even detoured from the detour to avoid a broken bridge.
It’s a unique feeling to be totally in the hands of a stranger, a mystery friend to guide us. It’s a worrying feeling when that mystery friend repeatedly and spontaneously leaps off his bike and runs down side roads, asking questions of locals, gesturing wildly, and looking as confused as us. It’s troubling when even the local Police appear confused and contradictory. It is a heart sinking moment when that mystery friend falls mysteriously ill on the roadside, clutching his chest desperately, complaining of terrible pain.
But in the end everything will be okay, and if it’s not okay it’s not the end. So after flicking busily through our Mandarin-English phrase book mystery friend finds the problem. He had too much MSG for lunch! Not good! So just as mystery friend has cared for us, the tables have now turned and we must care for mystery friend.
The travel is slow. The rests are many. But we dare not leave mystery friend for fear he might not survive the night, or worse yet that we will never find Qionglai! And so as a crippled trio we were bound tight by the ropes of our different weaknesses and on dusk arrived triumphantly on the smokey outskirts of Qionglai. And just as this mystery friend had entered our life at a timely moment
and showered us with kindness he left us with another act of kindness. His final act, to instruct a Tuktuk driver to lead us to a cheap motel, even insisting on paying for the service. With that we parted ways and he rode off into the night only turning to utter his final words “It’s ok, we are now friends!”
China, will everyday we travel through this land be such high adventure?!
Andy is posting for Ollie and Anna while they are behind the Great Firewall of China.