Week 3 Road Recap, and some Milestones

It’s slightly past eight and going on pitch black.  In the distance I can hear the sounds of a few stray cars cruising down the highway, making their way into or out of Beijing, while immediately surrounding me I hear a variety of barks, buzzes, chirps, and croaks.  All different pitches, cadences, frequencies, rhythms, volumes.  People own the day here, but at least as far as this little grove of trees of ours is concerned, it seems the animals own the night.
We’ve pitched our tents in yet another forest – one that doubtless falls into Jensen’s category of “toxic.”  I wince at using that word, though, because the forest is decrepit through no fault of its own.  In and of itself, without reference to what it once was, it’s far too beautiful, giving, and peaceful for me to malign.  Mingyu and I are currently camping a mere fifty-five km outside of Beijing.  The combination of a wonderful weekend Couchsurfing in Chengde, two days of blissful riding and magnificent views, and our imminent arrival in the capital of the Central Kingdom (as China refers to itself) has got me feeling all nostalgic and thinking about milestones.  Reaching Beijing tomorrow will certainly be the biggest one, as it’s what every push of the pedal since we got off the boat has been propelling us towards.  Many others, some big and some small, some expected, some not, come to mind:
–          Completed our first, second, and tomorrow, third week on the road.
–          Clocked our 997th km just as we met our CS host in Chengde.  Might as well call that 1000.  Either way, we’re way past that now.
–          Pitched our tents for the first time.
–          (The next morning) Used the great outdoors as my WC, and cleaned up India-style.
–          Got chased by guard dogs of the unchained variety.  I sped away from them pretty quickly, but poor Mingyu was several hundred meters behind me and had a slightly scarier time.
–          Got rejected after asking for permission to sleep in a temple courtyard.
–          “Showered” in a cool stream.
–          Finished my first book (Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, a long interview with David Foster Wallace) and my first audio-book (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, by the same DFW).
–          Ran out of time and sunlight and were forced to pitch tents on a distant, sloped, rocky corner of a farmer’s land.
–          (The next morning) Woke up to the farmer standing outside my tent.  He just chuckled and smiled as I told our story in my best broken, broken, shattered Chinese.
–          Random* point-at-something-on-the-menu-and-hope-it-turns-out-well venture and success.
–          Ran out of drinking water on top of a mountain and had to go to sleep thirsty.
–          Made our first Chinese friends.
–          Got drunk with our first Chinese friends.
–          Received loads of free food from our first Chinese friends.
–          Wrestled with our first Chinese friends.
–          Fell asleep sweating then woke up to see steam coming out of my mouth and nostrils.  Thought, “Shit, good thing we’re heading south.”
–          Told first joke in Chinese.  (Which was: a fellow in a restaurant asked me what my and Mingyu’s relationship was.  I said “He’s my father.”  Total knee-slapper, caused an uproar.)
–          Passed our first police checkpoint.  They didn’t stop us or anything.
–          Saw scenery so beautiful I nearly cried.  (Many times).
 Things that haven’t happened, but which seem more or less inevitable:
–          A flat tire, accident, sore knee, fall, or some other sort of cycling mishap.
–          A fight between me and Mingyu.  So far only the waxing and waning of occasional tension.
–          Theft of gear, money, or something else.
–          Encounters with swindlers, beggars, or other troubling types.
–          Hit a hill so steep I have to push the bike up it.
–          Traveler’s diarrhea.
–          Getting caught in a rainstorm.
–          Catching a cold.
In other news, I’ve been enjoying reading Mingyu’s blog and thinking about how he and I ride the same roads, eat the same foods, meet the same people, have mostly the same experiences, and yet experience everything differently and choose to highlight and share different parts of the trip when blogging.  I wish that you all could read his stuff, or that I had time to translate it.**  One rather stunning difference, which I read on his blog and wouldn’t have known about otherwise, was that on our hardest day, nearly a week ago now, when we were pushing uphill for about 20km straight, he asked himself if the trip was worth it.  We could be home, reading books and browsing the ‘net to our hearts’ content, hanging with friends, eating and drinking merrily.  Instead we’re out here sweating by day and itching by night, never quite knowing what we’re going to eat or where we’re going to sleep.  I suppose by most standards that sounds a little less than pleasant.
Oddly enough, though, that little doubting thought has yet to cross my mind, even despite the fact that mine is a mind that often doubts and second-guesses itself and its decisions.  Oddlier yet (I suppose that means it’s also more than sufficiently oddly), it occurred to me that I can’t even make the thought make sense to me.  “Is it all worth it?” What would that second “it” even mean?  It’s supposed to represent something I’ve lost, something I’m missing, something I’ve sacrificed, but nothing feels that way.  Using the internet once every three days is more than enough; my Kindle holds more books than I’ll ever be able to read; and the food here is as good as anywhere.  The only thing left is people but, I haven’t given up any relationships, or, at least, not really any more than I had already given up by simply being in Korea.  Mathematicogeographically speaking, there’s nowhere that I could be where I wouldn’t be thousands of kilometers away from, say, ninety percent of my friends and family.  So, while I’m jealous of the fact that just about everyone Mingyu knows and loves lives within a three hour drive from his house, I’m also now aware that my emotional freedom is the happy result of what seems to be my wanderer’s curse. It strikes me as paradoxical, though.  The more I wander, the more people and places I like.  The more I realize that I could settle down just about anywhere.  And, therefore, that I have no reason to settle anywhere in particular, because anywhere else would probably be just as great.
I suppose that means that if you’d like to see me anytime soon, you’d better hop on a plane.   Or on Skype.
I’d like to leave you with a few pictures of recent good times, and then, if I can get it working, a video of the moment on the ride when the thought “I want to say that this view would make me answer yes to the question ‘Has it been worth it?’ but now I realize I can’t even apply the question to myself,” came to me.
Someone’s drying some corn.
 Yet the corn in the fields is still standing…
 OK, the photos loaded backwards.  I guess y can tell we made it to Beijing?
 Had some helpers for the last 20km or so
 Our most perfectest capming spot yet.
 Gotta get a little upper-body exercise in every now and then.   We have a “stop at every playground and do some pullups” rule, but it doesn’t do us much good.
 Filming an American Eagle ad.
 I like how Chiense people will just sit down with us at a restaurant and chat.  He didn’t even work here!
 More camping.
 Our CS host, Marcus, along with the folks at the Muslim restaurant next door.
 It’s not a milestone, it’s a KILOMETERSTONE!
 Horsing around with Mani.  This man knows how to make a mean noodle!
 Not quite sure how it came to this.
 Good times.
 That’s right, he started it!
 Giving my footsies a little break.
 cute cute cute cute cute
 A Chinese cyclist gang we ran into one morning.  Some of them were in their 60s.  Also, some of them were in pyjamas.

Definitely our worst, most desperate camping spot yet.

OK, on to the good stuff!

The view literally stopped me in my tracks.  I got off the bike and just looked at it for a good five minutes.

Mingyu takes nice photos.
*ok, not totally random, I know the characters for meat, vegetable, noodle, rice, and dumpling.  Also, the one for bread, since it’s just “noodle dumpling.”
**or that he could write English well enough to do a bilingual blog.  His speaking is good and getting better, but the poor guy has to learn English and Chinese at the same time!
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4 Responses to Week 3 Road Recap, and some Milestones

  1. says:

    You do so much cool stuff that I feel like I just want to follow in your path. Though apparently I’m about 5 years behind. I’m also a terrible Fauxbo.

  2. Pretty cool stuff man. By pretty cool I mean, really amazing. Pics A++ Video A-(because you didn’t pan to yourself smiling or making a funny face, though understandable because you were probably exhausted or didn’t want to muck up the nice scenery with your ugly mug :-p)

    Questions: Have you found your breath to get into a nice steady rhythm while riding? Or is the terrain too varied and unlike my homestate of Illinois to find such a thing? Is Anapana and riding a possibility?

    Ka say yo

  3. Mike says:

    C: Dang, I should be doing time-lapse leg shots as well.

    나: It’s never too late to cultivate your inner Fauxbo. In other words, there’s no need to have Fauxbophobia. Step 1 is not having a house or car. After that, you’ve got nowhere to stay and no way to go anywhere, so everything falls into place.

    L: My excuse for the video is that it’s mounted on a tripod on my handlebars so that I can film while still keeping two hands on the handlebars. Gottabe careful riding downhill at 40km/h.

    Breathing is steady except of course for huffing and puffing up mountains and holding my breath when trucks come by and spew dirt or exhaust at me. I’m too scared of cars and potholes to devote much attention to Anapana, though the thought has crossed my mind. I do try to pay attention to where and how the wind is blowing over my body. I had a freaky current running along the underside of my arms the other day. I’m working on meditating in my tend in the mornings and evenings, but the sweat and mosquitoes and my desire to be outside doing stretches or yoga looking at trees makes it tough.