Friday, October 23, 2009

Zhijang, China

[10/23/09. Posted by JP for GC. China blocks blogs.]

Friends: My cycling guardian angels were on heightened alert trying to help me find the bridge over the mighty Yangzi River to Jingzhou late yesterday afternoon. For half an hour or more I must have been causing them no end of amusement and consternation as I circled about and doubled back more than once, stopping every few minutes to pore over my map once again, or to ask someone else the way.

I could see the huge, majestic, mile-long toll bridge that was part of an expressway that prohibited bicyclists a couple miles away. With nothing else in sight and some people seemingly directing me to the bridge, I cycled up under it, straining to see if any cyclists were passing along. Unfortunately not, though it would have been an ordeal to get up on to the bridge, with its entrance a considerable distance away through a residential area.

The narrow byway atop a dike I was cycling didn't get near enough the river for me to look for another bridge and my view of the river was blocked by trees and buildings. How was I to know everyone I asked was directing me to a ferry, the only other way to cross the river. "Ferry" was not a word in my very limited Chinese vocabulary. My map indicated the road I had been following, route 209, continued across the river to the east of the expressway bridge.

I was beginning to think the locals in the area were having some fun with me with their directions, though they didn't seem to be the type, and surely not everyone could be in on it. There was no significant traffic for me to follow. Traffic on highway 209 had died out about eight miles back when it intersected with the expressway. At last I saw a surge of motorcycles come off a narrow path of a road from the river. I turned on to it and just a little ways ahead was a small passenger ferry that could also accommodate the two, but not four-wheeled. From the middle of the wide, wide Mississippi of a river I could see just the lone expressway bridge, the only bridge for miles and miles.

After I crossed the Yangzi it was a steep push up a ramp with four sets of stairs to a fifty-foot high dike that followed the river for miles. This dike had a slightly wider road than the one on the oppostite side of the river. I could proceed into the huge city of Jingzhou and connect with highway 318, my route west, or stick to the dike and see where it led. I decided to go with the leisurely cycling on the dike.

I passed the first Buddhist Monastery I have seen in China. If it had been a little later, I would have asked for a spot for my tent. But the riding was good and narrow bands of trees had been planted along the dike on both sides that could provide a place to pitch my tent once the light began to wane. After half an hour the traffic thinned considerably, but there was still enough that I couldn't make a bolt for the trees without being seen.

By six I had the road to my self and could dart for the trees when I came upon a thick enough patch. When I saw one ahead, a shepherd with a flock of sheep was passing in front of it. Fortunately they were heading towards me and had already passed the forest I had designs on. It was a forest of pines with thick foliage providing plenty of shelter from straying eyes. This was easily going to be my best campsite of the trip, the most distant from a highway and the quietest by far. I was congratulating myself for pushing on and not taking the seemingly easy way out, looking for a hotel in Jingzhou, an option I barely considered.

This more than compensated for my earlier exasperation trying to find my way across the Yangzi.  When I couldn't find a bridge permitting bicyclists I was on the verge of giving up and simply following the dike on the southern side of the river until I came to another bridge, maybe fifty miles or more further, with the likelihood that there too bicycles would not be permitted.

The next morning I continued on the dike for several more miles before heading down a rare paved path into a town where I picked up a couple of greasy flour pancakes with a spicy sauce from a sidewalk vendor, then proceeded for another ten miles on pretty much of a bikeway until it intersected with the main highway. Those 25 miles from the ferry had been the best 25 miles of these travels and the best camping.

Now to find the dam.

Later, George

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