Friends: As I loaded my bike yesterday morning in the lobby, better described as an entryway, of the hotel I ended up at, the young proprietor presented me with a cardboard bowl of noodles, still in its cellophane wrapper, my frequent dinner meal, a very modest gift, but not an unwelcome one.
He must have been feeling sympathy for me as I prepared to go back out into the cold misty rain that forced me to take refuge at the hotel. He seemed to be suggesting that I stay another night or at least take a bus. The predicted high for the day was 41. It was going to be a less than enjoyable day on the bike, but lingering at the unheated hotel wouldn't have been much more enjoyable. Maybe if there had been a heated restaurant in the vicinity or if the Internet cafe across the street had heat, I would have considered waiting out the weather. But I've endured worse riding conditions, though not by much.
Before sleep the night before I sat in bed reading, legs tucked in my sleeping bag and blanket wrapped around my shoulders, with my thermometer reading 50.4 degrees. Every cough and every nasal drip had me fearing the approach of pneumonia. I had the usual thermos of boiling water for some warmth, but not a hot shower. I was desperate enough though to wash my hair that I at least did that with the hand held nozzle.
As at the previous hotel I stayed at, I wasn't allowed to bring my bike to my room. It was such a small, quiet hotel, with I the only guest, I had no qualms leaving it downstairs, front wheel locked to the frame. As I finished reattaching all my gear, allowing the proprietor extra time to feel sympathy for me, he had another gift for me--a Mao medallion on a red ribbon, something that will go straight to the I Due Art 4 You Museum back in Chicago when I return.
As this was going to be the coldest day of these travels, I dug deep into my panniers for all the layers I could find. For the first time I put on the winter, long-sleeve official Garmin team jersey that Christian Vande Velde had given me along with a pair of tights and a box of Clif bars in exchange for three Tour de France course markers that I'd scavenged from last year's race route for him. I had delivered them to him at his Chicago suburban house just before I left for China, as he was home, his season cut short by a crash at the Tour of Missouri, a race he had won the year before, the year he vaulted into national prominence with a fourth place finish in the Tour de France.
I was somewhat hesitant about bringing the sponsor-splattered blue and orange jersey to China, not wishing to startle the locals with something so gaudy and so official-looking, but I knew it was an optimum piece of gear that could come in handy. I didn't need to worry about calling attention to myself today with the jersey, as it was buried under a sweater and a vest and a wind-breaker and a Gore-tex jacket. I also added an extra layer over my feet, putting on my booties for the first time.
I wasn't exactly brimming with warmth, but I was less close to shivering than I had been the day before, when any descent brought on a chill. The road was messy enough that I couldn't exert myself to come close to a sweat. And since I had to keep moving to stay warm, I had to ration my effort so I could keep riding and not have to pause for a break. I had the road pretty much to myself, thanks to a bridge that was out that only foot and two-wheeled traffic could get around. There were buses at either end of the bridge, but no trucks for miles.
Unlike the day before I found an enclosed restaurant for lunch, though it was only heated by a boiling pot of water for noodles. Shortly after lunch the low-lying cloud cover began to lift and there was a slight brightening of the sky. The rain stopped and patches of dry pavement began to appear. I could accelerate my speed a bit, and with the blood flowing a little faster, I could begin to feel a surge of warmth return to my extremities.
I stopped at a gas station to wash all the grit off my bike and gear and to wash my socks. Suddenly being on the bike had my heart light and I could even contemplate a night in my tent if I could find some higher ground that wasn't muddy or saturated. That happened around 4:30 in a thick banana grove behind a mini-tree farm forest. I pulled off a dozen or more dead brown bananas leaves to soften and level the ground. It was going to be a cold night, but not much colder than my hotel room. It was cold enough for the first frost. The wash cloth I had left draped over my bike was encrusted with ice in the morning, but it had been a fine night.
My reading alternated between Thurston Clarke's travel book "Equator" and one of the newspapers I still had from Xian. Its impossible to read an issue without coming across some statistic, almost beyond conceiving, that emphasizes the huge population of China, 1.3 billion, one-fifth of the planet. Tonight's was that with one in five people in China presently learning English, China will soon have more English speakers than the U.S. There is also sure to be a story or statistic about China's increasing wealth and economic might. Demand for jewelry is on the rise in China. It is now the third largest diamond consuming nation in the world. Diamond sales in the U.S. fell twenty per cent last year, while it rose twelve point seven per cent in China.
So I've made it to the huge city of Wuhan, where it will be a couple nights in a hotel while I await Stephen. It was no joy entering this sprawling city of over five million, but I knew once I found the Yangzi River, I'd get my bearings. Now I'll have two days to explore what it has to offer and scout the way out.