Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Dusty roads

November 8th, 2010

I’d missed the turning. Distracted by a well made road, warm sun and the expectation of a shorter day. Perhaps thirty miles. Content to sail along. The tarmac petering out should have been a clue. But, truth is, I’d not been paying proper attention. Entirely my fault.

When I eventually realised my mistake, a dilemma. Did I continue on or simply retrace my steps? I sought the advice of bystanders in some of the villages. Seemed this was also the road to Changwu, my intended stop. But was it the wisest choice?

I eventually reached a larger settlement. Found a group sat outside a cafe. An older chap was adamant I was best retracing my steps, following the main highway. I was a bit sceptical. If it was that good I doubt I’d have missed it in the first place. A young man wandered over. Enquired as to where I’d come from. Getting a measure of me. Yes, he assured me, I could continue on. No need to go back. It’d be slower, and there was some sort of steep climb ahead. But he seemed confident I’d have no trouble with that. I felt reassured. Took his advice.

A few miles of dusty potholes and teasing strips of tarmac. Then a lucky break. A hole in the fence of the dual carriageway that’d been running parallel to the track for a while. Little traffic, and I’d seen a few locals on bicycles ambling along it. Chance to make swifter progress. For a while at least.

The road ran for ten miles or so before ending in a vast construction site. Which explained the lack of traffic. I’d suspected as much. Then a small town. Linear. Dusty. A friendly stall holder explained Changwu lay to the south, about ten kilometres away. Up a steep, winding road.

In practice it led up to the main highway I’d inadvertently missed much earlier, Changwu another fifteen or so miles further on. A steady downhill run on a good road. But he’d been spot on with the climb. The sort where you need to have your weight in the saddle for any hope of traction. And frequent thumbs ups from passing motorists as they crawl pass. Keeps the spirits up.

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Blurred vision

November 7th, 2010

Pingliang. Why it had merited inclusion in my less than reliable guide book still eluded me. True, it is the largest town along the northern valley route from Dingxi to Xi’an. But that hardly makes it notable. You suspected one of the contributors had made a brief stop there, stayed in the one hotel it mentions. And was short of copy.

Generic town - web

My next stop, Jingchuan, similar but smaller. Pleasant enough. But there’s a sameness with many of these provincial towns and cities. They begin to blur after a while. Perhaps because they’ve grown substantially in a relatively short period. Just a few decades.

Whatever you might think of English county towns or cities like – Cheltenham, Bath or Bristol for example – they are at least different. As befits the varied influences on their development, be that Roman or Regency, or just plain seafaring.

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