Across Continents

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Eastwards to Wuhan

December 1st, 2010

Cold, penetrating drizzle. Dark. Walked for perhaps half a mile along the street. Clothes shops. Every one of them. Then a bakery. Mostly cakes. I was famished. Been a long day. But I wanted something more substantive. A brief contemplative pause, then continued on. Hopeful but not optimistic.

I’d reached Xiaogan late afternoon. Final stop before the city of Wuhan, the end of the two hundred mile leg from Xiangfan. Reminded me of my first cycle tour, Holyhead to Cardiff along the Lon Las Cymru route six years previously. Similarities mostly confined to distance. Impoverished the final section around Merthyr Tydfil might be, but reckoned it fared quite a bit better than many of the rural settlements I’d seen in China.

Zaoyang. Suizhou. And now Xiaogan. Cities. My overnight stops. And relatively straightforward to get in and out of. Chaotic yes. Of course. But with little climb to contend with each day, progress was swift. Frequently passing ambling electric scooters, the odd motorbike. And each and every bicycle. Edging ever closer to Hong Kong.

Plodded on for another half an hour or so. Quite where I was in Xiaogan I really wasn’t sure. City centres sometimes a bit hit and miss. Sometimes there’d be helpful signs – the likes of "Zaoyang proper" – and I’d learnt the corresponding Chinese characters. But not tonight. Prospects for dinner weren’t looking good.

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Around Xiangfan

November 30th, 2010

Xiangfan - web

For all their madness, Georgian drivers were predictable. Not the Chinese. And it was getting worse. Towns. Cities. Vehicles stopping abruptly. Bicycles, electric scooters, motorbikes weaving through the traffic. As often against the flow as with it. Pedestrians drifting into the road. And yet it is the very absence of order, the uncertainty, that prevents complete calamity. Engenders caution. Just enough.

Construction - web

Xiangfan was no different. Not just the traffic. For it was a warm day. Mid-twenties. Reminded me of Urumqi, the first city I’d encountered in western China. Construction and consumerism. Shopping plazas, office blocks, housing complexes. The usual international High Street brands. Familiar fast food outlets. At first a novelty. But no longer. Not for a long time.

Consumerism - web

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Rough roads and hazy memories

November 29th, 2010

Familiar names. Shangnan. Xixia. Dengzhou. Last few overnight stops. Yet already hazy. Jumbled fragments of imagery. Confused. Cluttered with recollections of the road. Dust. Diesel fumes. Stretches reduced to rough track by heavy lorries. Struggles with shambolic local traffic.

lorries - web

None of the places I’d stopped were without merit. Not least because each evening I’d negotiated a suitable room rate. And then, next day, presented with bill for rather less. As perplexing as the dimness of memory.

Difficult choice east of Xixia. Leave the relative certainty of the G312 National road for a much more direct route to the city of Xiangfan. A day less. But on a lesser Provincial road. Risk it might deteriorate to little more than a rough track.

Worries proving surprisingly unfounded. Rapid progress. Much of it along a tree lined avenue, as if back in France. Warm sun. Day dreaming. Summers back in Pembrokeshire. Childhood memories. Pleasant recollections. And yet, until fairly recently, I’d lost touch with my best friend from those days. Hoping to be reunited in North America after over a quarter of a century. Perhaps riding together once more. Lots to talk about.

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