Cycling through China was an absolute roller coaster to say the least, both physically and psychologically. It’s a country that lays firmly in my memory as somewhere I really hate, and really love both at the same time. It’s an utterly weird place in that sense, how you can feel so strongly about both extremes. Extreme was a word and a feeling that we encountered from start to finish of our traversing of the huge landmass of modern day China. From extreme police presence in Xinjiang as soon as we crossed the border, due to their extreme suppression of the Uyghur muslims, mixed with the extremely extreme cold temperatures we were forced to endure in mid winter while climbing mountains, countered by the extreme beauty of traditional Chinese culture and extremely nourishing and tasty cuisine!
I still hold true to the belief that seeing a country by bicycle is the best way, because you are on the ground and at a pace at which you can connect with the locals. But over a land mass this huge in scale, it could become truly unnerving to see such a lack of progress across the map despite putting in blood, sweat and tears all day in order to gain exactly that. In response, Me and Gunnar (my wonderful American cyclist friend who accompanied me during this chapter) decided to smash huge days and relentlessly push pedals all day every day regardless of weather conditions and any bureaucratic barriers we may face. It worked, we made good distance, sometimes averaging 140km every day for consecutive stretches of four to five days at a time. But it came at a price because that’s kind of a ridiculous distance to be doing every day on a fully loaded bike, but nonetheless we started to see the progress of our little red dot slowly moving across the massive country and we became lustful and thirsty for even more progress and on we went. It lead to a pretty unhealthy way to approach cycle touring, as we both acknowledge now, cycling all day and night, wind and shine, with short breaks, not enough food and sleeping in places that barely sufficed. But despite its unhealthy nature, this approach certainly worked and we got what we wanted, and I’m ever so glad that we did what we did because otherwise we would both still be there now. You can't blame yourself either for wanting to move quickly through a landscape which is completely mind numbing, entirely flat for as far as the eye can see, ridiculously freezing and just all around inhospitable and hostile. We did well, we moved quickly and for the most part kept smiles on our faces. We danced an awful lot, partly to keep warm and partly to celebrate the gift of life. Being in such a harsh environment taught us a lot about ourselves and we definitely grew stronger in the head for sure.
Saying all this, China was still a wondrous land in some aspects. The food! Chinese food is famous worldwide and with good reason, for it was always so bloody yummy, naturally rich in vegetables so perfect for a veggie, and always so affordable. When you leave a restaurant full, happy and the food having been delicious, yet only having to part ways with 1 dollar for the entire meal - you naturally feel happy. The tasty food definitely kept us going and how crazily different the culture is to our own. You can't help but feel constantly stimulated by these new and exciting features - old ladies all dancing in big groups in the parks to dance music, little kids staring at us as if we were aliens, and big teddy bears walking around every city. Chuck in a big huge Great Wall to cycle next to, thousands of warriors made out of mud, a Forbidden City and you do end up with a very interesting country! Mix this with a myriad of wonderful natural phenomena and China becomes very great! But then, we must smash these aspects once again with all the awful aforementioned extremes which made it so arduous to cycle through, and then you have a very strange mix of really good and really bad. I guess it’s sort of like Marmite, in that you either love it or hate it, but in fact it’s hard not to both love it loads and hate it loads at the same time!