Week 4: Xi'an to Tianshui, 359km
So that’s me just over a month into my journey.
I started this week in Xi’an and set about trying to find a solution to the saddle sore problem that had plagued the first month of my trip. I went to a bike shop to see if I could get a proper bike fit to see if that would help. While there, the guy mentioned that my saddle was really wide and was perhaps better suited to a more upright riding position. This probably explains why this saddle was so highly recommended by bike tourers who are more used to riding in an upright position. My bike however was set up more like a road bike with dropped handlebars and a more bent over riding position, which was probably contributing to the chaffing downstairs.
So I done two things:
Raised my handlebars so that my position on the bike would be slightly more upright, and
Switched the saddle out for a thinner road bike saddle. The shop just happened to have the same Selle Italia saddle that I had on my road bike back in Scotland. I have never had a problem with it so that seemed like the obvious choice! I’m going to keep hold of the brooks saddle and maybe try it out again with the new riding position when the weather isn’t so hot and humid.
I left Xi’an with no real plan or destination but to head west toward the next biggest city, which on the map was Tianshui. I knew that after Xi’an, I was due to hit the edges of the Tibetan Plateau at some point and the road was going to start rising, but that wasn’t to come for a few days at least. The journey out of Xi’an was pretty uneventful and after covering about 75km, I hit the small town (by Chinese standards) of Zhouzhi and managed to find a hotel that accepted foreigners—on my first attempt too, which is good going!
The next day I continued on to Baoji, the whole way expecting the big climbs but they never came. I was gaining altitude but the gradient wasn’t very steep, so I didn’t really notice it. I was off of the main road onto a smaller a much quieter road that followed the river, beautifully smooth and freshly laid, which made for some quick miles. The scenery just helped the time fly by! Arriving in Baoji was cool; it reminded me of Shanghai five years ago when I first arrived. The street corners buzzing with carts selling all sorts of street foods, along with wee plastic tables and chairs to sit on and enjoy it all.
I made full use of the hotel’s breakfast buffet only to head out and realise the street food vendors were still there so I picked up an egg pancake as well. I am very aware that I’m probably not eating enough, so I have trying to force myself to eat more. I’m not sure if it’s the heat and humidity or something else, but I haven’t had much of an appetite. I don’t have much weight to lose and I don’t want to be in the situation where I’m on the bike and my body is forced to use muscle for fuel. This is something I’m going to need to continue working on.
I also started building in some time to do yoga. When I injured by back a few years ago, I started following a YouTube channel called Yoga with Adriene. I decided to start back on it and have been practicing one of her videos for cyclists.
After leaving Baoji, the road started to hit longer and steeper climbs, which only made the scenery that much better. In the middle of one of those climbs, I passed a truck that was pulled over in a lay-by. The driver shouted at me so I turned around and went back to see him. He said he had passed me a while back and thought I must have been tired so he pulled over and waited for me to catch up. The driver gave me a big bunch of grapes and a can of beer and then offered to throw the bike up into the back of the truck and drive me to the next city. I politely declined and tried to explain in broken Chinese that I wanted to cycle as much of the way home as possible. I think he understood, but still thought I was crazy! His kind gesture though, really made my afternoon.
After about 80km, I found a nice place by the river and set up camp. The weather has actually become bearable and I had managed to get a decent night’s sleep in the tent for the first time. I even had to get inside my sleeping bag since the temperature dropped drastically when the sun went down!
In the morning, I fixed myself a big bowl of oats and raisins and accidentally poured too much in, which meant I didn’t have enough water to cook them properly, but still a delicious bowl of mush.
Shortly after getting packed up and on the road, I passed a couple of fellow cyclists who turned out were also heading in the same direction. We stopped, had an ice cream, chatted for a while. I had planned to go on a bit further than them that day and after a while of riding together, I pushed on ahead so that I would make it to Tianshui in good time.
About 20km out from Tianshui, I pulled into a garage to fill up my water bottles when I was met by an older lady grabbing her grandchildren and excitedly pointed out the foreigner to them—a scene I have become rather used. I just did my usual smile and wave to say hello, but then I noticed that the kids seemed mixed race. It turns out they are half English half Chinese and live in Oxford. They were visiting China for the summer. We had a really nice conversation—the first face-to-face conversation I’ve had with native English speakers since leaving Shanghai. I wished them well before peddling out the last 20km into Tianshui. found a hotel to rest up for a day before heading on to the next big checkpoint of Lanzhou.