Across Continents

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Cruel to be kind

Scribbled in the margins of my notebook. Undulating. A glib assessment. But fortuitous. Chances are you’d be faster than Emma, my trusty steed, and I. Over short distances. But over sixty or so miles, few thousand feet of climb, plunging descents? We’ve remarkably low gears for the uphill pulls, and a lot of weight to aid the downhills. But most of all, technique, the psychology of endurance. And quite a bit of practice. Unrelenting riding. For about eight hours at a time.

I’d been joined by a young chap mid-afternoon the previous day. Not sought his company, but, equally, was powerless to prevent him from accompanying me. Pleasant enough, but I knew more Mandarin than he did English. At first I thought he might follow me for a few miles. But he persisted. Into the town of Shangnan. Attempts to shake him off were fruitless.

I didn’t feel in the least bit threatened by his presence. But I was very uneasy about the situation. For one thing, I was uncertain of his age. Late teens perhaps. But who was he? Probably lived with his parents. Did they know where he was? I’d not seen a mobile phone. I feared he might have simply decided to embark on a bit of an adventure, accompanying me east. But I neither wanted a companion, nor did I wish to be party to someone’s impulsive, impetuous behaviour. No matter how well intentioned.

So I kept my distance as best I could. Strictly a fellow cyclist who happened to be going the same way. Which, despite my very best efforts, included the hotel I’d chosen for the night. Deftly selected because I thought it unaffordable for him, albeit well within my own budget. It worked. He disappeared. First assuring me, as far as I could ascertain, that next morning he’d be heading back from where we’d come.

Departure the following day. He was waiting. Followed me back to the main route along the valley. We parted company, heading off in opposite directions. Or so I thought. Twenty minutes later and he’d caught up with me again. I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable. Knew he had a reasonable amount of money on him, ample to stay in the hotel I’d used the previous night. Be he hadn’t. Which made me think that perhaps this wasn’t a regular income, more his savings. Eeking them out. Very troubling.

Friendly he might have been. But I began to wonder about loco parentis. Just exactly who was he, and how old? I’d been unable to find anyone who could translate my concerns, and my phrase book wasn’t any help. Began to toy with finding a Police officer to help resolve the situation. But deterred by the language barrier. And I’d already quite a distance to cover before dark. Delay would be unwelcome.

A difficult situation. But not of my making. I couldn’t stop him riding with me, but if he couldn’t keep up? That was another matter. Force him to go home. Wherever that was. Best for both of us I suspected. So that’s what I did. Suddenly opening up the pace, sustaining it for perhaps twenty miles. Seeking to get an edge over him. Flat, fast riding. He kept up for quite a while, then indicated he was beginning to struggle. I stuck with it, opening up the gap. Unceasing, relentless riding. And then he was gone. Cruel to be kind.

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