Week 2: Huainan to Luoyang, 603km
Week two got off to a rather difficult start.
Last week I was riding in hot but manageable mid-thirties. But day one of the second week and I was battling an oppressively scorching 42-degree average temperature. My GPS—the Wahoo Element—that I was so happy with last week was not having a good day today either. The route that it had planned for me led me down countless dead ends.
I was riding along thinking, hmmm this road is really quiet. Turns out, there are no other cars here because the road suddenly drops off into a river with no way of crossing. After dealing with those dead ends and the terrible surfaces of the backroads, I managed to get onto the main road. I remember mentally working out my remaining distance and average speed thinking, as long as I don’t run into any more difficulties, I should be able to arrive just before sunset. Just as that thought crossed my mind, my back wheel started to feel a bit wobbly so I pulled over to find a little bit of wire had gone straight through my tyre and put a hole in the inner tube. I switched it out for a new tube at the side of the road and was back at it, but this latest setback meant I didn’t arrive until well after dark. 147km in and about 12 hours, day 8 was my toughest one in the saddle yet.
I took another rest day to recover from that slog—ate loads, drank loads, and patched up my inner tube as well as the hole in my tent that I made last week. I also formulated a new plan.
Step 1: Get up super early in the morning and set out before sunrise, hopefully arriving at my next stop before midday to avoid the worst of the heat.
Step 2: Find a hotel with AC and hibernate during the worst of it in the afternoon.
Step 3: Get an early night to try and do it all again the next day.
I ambitiously set my alarm for 4AM.
Some snoozes later, I was up and on the road for 6AM, making for a much easier, and much more manageable 71km on day 10. The last 20km into the city of Jieshou had a lovely little cycling path that had been nicely landscaped and punctuated with cool Chinese pagodas as rest stations. This, in contrast to the day before, was actually some of my favourite riding I’ve done so far on this trip.
Rolling into JieShou, people were super friendly and the city seemed pretty new. Everything was clean and well-maintained. I had a nice chat with this old couple in their kitted-out golf cart they all ride around in.
I’ve also gotten a bit lazy after arriving at my hotels. Instead of going back out in the heat to grab food, I’ve been ordering from local restaurants on the Chinese equivalent of Just Eat. It’s called 饿了吗 (e le ma), which literally translates to, “Are you hungry?” It had always been useful while living in Shanghai and still serves me well. Most of the shops have pictures of all the foods they serve on the app, whereas if you entered the actual restaurant, they may only have a picture-less menu with Chinese characters. This gives me more options considering my limited vocabulary.
I crossed into Henan and passed through a busy roadside market selling everything from clothes and cosmetics to garden furniture and fruit. There was even a stall selling those little electric cars so many people here seem to drive. I should’ve asked how much they are…next time.
This was actually the first market of it’s kind that I have seen since leaving Shanghai. I had expected this to be much more prevalent, but I guess not. For lunch, I stopped to have some noodles and was sitting next to a grandmother and a little girl. We chatted away and the grandmother was encouraging the little girl to use what little English she had learned at school. As they were getting up to leave, the old lady went up and paid for my noodles and wouldn’t let me pay.
I went out to my bike to grab one of the hongbaos (red envelope) I had prepared, which resulted in a stand-off. The woman had not wanted to accept the gift and I was not willing to let her pay for my noodles without giving something back. Eventually I gave the hongbao to the little girl as a gift and despite her grandmother telling her not to accept it, the little girl readily grabbed it and started dancing away, knowing exactly what was inside!
After five years in China I am still somewhat confused by the Asian gift-giving culture. I believe this is a good way to go about paying people back for the kindness I have received and I’m not committing any social faux-pas here. They seem to treat it like a game, and whoever can get the other person to accept their gift is the winner!
Nothing much happened. I arrived at the hotel quite early after 60km in the morning and chilled. Then, I eventually had to sort out some customs forms for my shipment of stuff that I sent back home. This meant going to find a photocopy shop where I could print, sign, and scan a bunch of documents. Managed to find one with super old printers and computers but got the job done in the end!
I got up nice and early and had a great 86km into the next city. When I arrived though, no hotel would accept me. In China, hotels need a special license to accommodate foreign guests. I tried three different ones and they all turned me away. I even had the help of a nice local policeman who called round a bunch of hotels asking if I could stay. Despite his 关系 (guanxi), which translates to relationships/connections, there was only one hotel in the whole city that would accept foreigners, so I headed there.
It was weird. A kind of old decadent “luxury”, but not old enough to be charming—just old enough to be foosty and smelly. It was about £35 a night, over my daily budget, but not enough to break the bank so I thought I might as well stay for one night. The idea was that I’d at least have a shower and decent AC…or so I thought.
After getting to my room and going through the usual routines—showering, eating, washing clothes etc. I passed out. Must’ve been about a couple hours later when I woke up, absolutely sweating. AC was broken…throughout the whole hotel. There was nothing they could do about it. It was about midnight and my attempts to get back to sleep with a towel soaked in cold water were futile.
I actually felt quite well-rested after my nap though, and decided it would be better to ride through the night while it was slightly cooler outside and arrive at the next city early. Better to find a working AC and catch up on some sleep later.
The night shift!
It all started well. The shops were closed, but I managed to find an internet cafe that was still open to fill up my water bottles and then I was away, riding into the night! Maybe about an hour in to the ride though, I encountered my first problem. The battery of my light died. Having not used it at all on this trip, I just assumed that it would be fully charged, but unfortunately not!
I pulled into a service station, plugged it in to my power bank and read my book for a bit while waiting for my light to charge. About 40 minutes later, I was back on the road and all was going well apart from the occasional bug slamming into my face from my now fully-functioning light.
Even though I was riding through the night the temperature was still above 30 degrees, so it wasn’t exactly cool, but it was a welcome change from the 40 plus that I would’ve been riding in if I had done this during the day.
The rest of the night passed by without incident and before I knew it, I was able to make out the shapes of trees all around me as the sky slowly began to turn from black to inky grey. As the sun gradually started to creep above the horizon, I hit my second problem: a long stretch of unpaved road. It was actually a good thing that I hit this section after dawn so I could pick my way through all of the larger stones and ditches. That slowed my progress for a while, but I was soon rolling into a small town at about the halfway point of 80km.
I stopped and found a little canteen place for breakfast and got a bowl of rice porridge and some fried dumplings. It was a load of food and when I went to pay, I was surprised to hear the woman say shí kuài, which means 10RMB. Just over a pound! I paid her thinking thats pretty cheap for this much food and she was then like, “no no no! sì kuài!” So 4RMB (about 50p) later, I was fuelled by the breakfast feast and got back on the road.
The final 70km stretch led to the city of Luoyang. About halfway in, my saddle sores started to get pretty bad and I had to employ stage three in my 3-step strategy for combating them. The first step was to lower my saddle, which I did in the first week and it helped a little, although I don’t think my pedal stroke is as efficient with the saddle this low. The second step has been to use vaseline on my cycling shorts before each ride to try to stop the chaffing and tea tree oil after each ride to soothe. Stage three is for when things got really bad and that is to double up my cycling shorts to increase padding. This managed to get me through the last few hours of the ride, but I was looking forward to having a day out of the saddle to let my poor arse recover.
As I approached Luoyang, I had one last obstacle to overcome and that was Longmen Mountain. It wasn’t a high mountain, only about 600 meters, but by that time, temperature was hitting over 40 degrees and my legs were feeling heavy. I made it to the top then enjoyed an easy decent and cruised into Luoyang. Went to my favourite hotel chain the JinJiang Inn and checked in. I love this hotel chain because it’s cheap, has decent wifi and amazing AC, and they never care about me bringing my bike up to the room. The breakfast isn’t bad either.