Here’s to riding bikes.
Still a Draft!
Wednesday Kira and I arrived into Boston’s Logan Airport and viola! the sun comes out.
Thursday we set out on our walking tour of the city. Around the Cambridge/Harvard area, down through MIT, past Washington Park, and across the bridge into the Back Bay. We walked past Boston University and then down to Berklee School of Music. Here is where I’d perviously found my ukulele.
Alas, times change, and the Boston music store where Dan and I had previously found our $40 uke’s no longer carried them. Instead we found a Horner brand that was a bit more dough and I opted out. Sadly, we walked out of the store with no ukulele. Purposeless, we wandered down to the Prudential building and sat to watch folks walk by. The sun set and the wind picked up and the concrete beneath our seats became a block of ice. We bought some chocolate covered almonds and then hurried home with sore feet.
Friday the sky was a bit grey and the sun tried, to no avail to peek through. We woke up and scurried downtown to meet Stephanie. Finding her among a crowd of Harvard band members striking up a tune, we walked to Boston Commons, enjoyed a short history from our friendly tour guide, popped into the Boston Library, and finally sought out and found the famous Freedom Trail. A red line that courses through the streets of Boston and leads to a slew of remarkably historical places.
Friday night we came home a bit loosened by some collection of Bostonian elixars and via video chat demand Jon Clark to get on a plane the following morning and fly out here for the weekend. He complies. Saturday, a bit taxed by our engagements the previous night, we accomplished a little more than a brief tour of the Taza chocolate factory. It was unique and delicious chocolate and we picked up a couple of bars, so perhaps if you’re nice we’ll share.
Saturday night we enjoyed the first snow of the winter here. So, naturally, we woke up Sunday morning to run a 10 mi. qualifier for joining the Tufts Team for the Boston Marathon through the fresh wet snow and bitter morning frost. Of ~250 I was able to run with a group that finished ~ top 20. Not bad. Sun is out now and its time for a nice post-snow walk to the bay. Hoorah.
Then what happened….??…
Monday Jon, Kira, and I ventured out on the Orange Line and found the Saumel Adams Brewery. It was informational, but they only served 3 tastes. Boo. From there Jon left for Kansas City and we two remaining returned to the apartment where we waited for Andrew’s plane to arrive.
Tuesday Andrew, Kira, and I ventured out south east to the Harpoon Brewery. It was not very informational, but they had a full hour tasting session that included as many drinks as you could put down, within reason.
Wednesday through Friday we were in Philly!
300 miles of driving straight through NYC. I think I’d like to never make that drive again unless we spent some time enjoying the bright new-spring days that we were driving through. As it was a timed drive and in the beginning of the New England winter, it was just a chore. However, we arrived comfortably and were warmly greeted by Christopher.
The following day we woke up to start our one day tour of the city. Starting with a visit to our favorite chocolate factory, John&Kira’s. However good their chocolate it, it’s very good, their factory was reminiscent of our visit to Dogoba in southern Oregon several years ago, except this time it excluded the illegal invitation in to see the working machines and chocolate lined up. Instead it was an awkward phone call wich led to a representative meeting us outside to hand us a catalogue and illicit an order (at a discounted price). So we took our photo, bought some chocolates, and laughed as we drove away from their brown door in the frigid Philly air.
Then we ventured to the grandiose Philadelphia Art Museum and took refuge for many hours, gawking at the magnificence of the displays. It was fantastic.
Cheese-steak, Home Made Dinner, Sleep, – School, Independence Hall, Drive East.
Saturday put’s us back in Boston again…and it’s really frigid… and thus Sunday is colder and comes with rain.
Knee braced and ready, Traffic, 1-tire, Made-in-China, Head-On, Lost, Detour, Moving with Traffic, Traffic Breakdown, Speed Racer, Keep on Keeping on, Rain, Hills, Brake Failure, Fuding.
Woke up yesterday feeling better after our days rest. I dawned the sock style knee braces I picked up, we packed our bags and got on our bikes. In Wenzhou we anticipated heavy traffic and mentally prepared for a slow steady ride out of the city. Turned around a bit, it took us the normal extended amount of time to get out of the city, however we eventually found the correct road and made our way south. Within about 5 minutes, just as our pace picked up to something reasonable, Dan shouted up to me and we pulled over. His rear tire was flat. Fortunate we hadn’t yet left town and we easily found a repair shop. Out of our size tubes the repair man pulled the injured tube and looked for the hole. He quickly found it and then went to work patching it. I poked around and found the culprit of the hole and disappointingly showed Dan. It was a small piece of metal shaving that had worked it’s way through the tire, straight from the bottom. I couldn’t not laugh as Dan’s frustration mounted. Our expectations were so genuine for the bikes, the parts, and the accessories we’d purchased. All the while we knew, exactly what we would get by buying bikes, and parts, and accessories exclusively here in China. Time and time again we’ve seen the quality of products we purchase not meet the standards we’re use to. These tires were no different. Specifically ordered as Kevlar belted tires, something that rides similar to the Armadillo, or Continental Kevlar tire you’d find in the states. We paid about 25 USD for each tire, expensive for a tire in China. However, when the arrived into the shop and were mounted onto our bicycles they stated nothing about Kevlar, and only touted a ‘double thick layer’ of.. something. We were assured by the staff at the shop that it was exactly like Kevlar and with two days to ship our bikes to Shanghai, we had two options. Keep the original tires or mount the new ones. Now here we were, watching as a repair man, within the first 500 km of the tires life, repair not one, but Five holes that had made there way onto Dan’s rear tube. Like I said I couldn’t not laugh. We should have seen this coming.
After the tires were refilled and we got back on the road there was certainly a change in riding mood. For those of you who know Dan, here’s a bit of insight as to how he works. Perhaps someday he can give you some insight as to how I work (or should I say how my mustache works). He’s got two rules. One of them is an explicitly “Don’t fuck up” policy and to this policy he holds true, almost to a fault, but that’s a different conversation all together (I mean after all he’s a damn liberal, right? :) ). So, this policy is often extended toward others and expected of others and when others don’t maintain this policy, problems arise. To this extent, when the gear we purchased begins to fail, unjustly, Dan become a frustrated individual. Dan rides frustrated and that world is a little less .. say sunny. As we restarted our ride there were three things that could have happened to Dan’s mood. One, he finds $20 and it improves, Two, he loses $20 and it gets worse, Three, enough happens to continually irritate him, but it’s a nice easy ride and there are beautiful things to look at that he just stays generally pissed off, but not irate. If I gave you ten guesses, what would be your second guess as to how Dan was feeling about 5 km down the road?
Here’s a hint. About a kilometer away from the repair shop the traffic decreased slightly, and the bike lane opened up. The rain stopped falling and the sun warmed us and then ducked behind a cloud to offer some delightful shade. A light breeze hit us from behind and our legs didn’t have to push as hard. We returned our bikes to a reasonable and comfortable speed and cadence and a massive lumber truck pulled across the road and around and into the bike lane in an attempt to correct for a missed turn about 500 m back. I hooked my brakes and put my bike into a semi-controlled skid without regard to Dan who was practicing a similar maneuver just about a meter behind me. The driver, relentlessly kept moving as my front tire stopped about a meter away from his bumper and I was able to kick my petals around twice to move my bike before he swung his load across my forehead. I swift and dedicated flat punch to the side of the truck bed had little effect as the cab was 15 meters away by then, still lumbering, head first down the bike lane full of opposing traffic. I’ve learned to start pedaling again and then work through my frustrations. Dan and I brought our speed down to a skid free level for a couple kilometers and took deep breaths. This day wasn’t starting out as fresh as I had hoped it would but we were pushing on.
At about the five kilometer mark, we had experienced a vast collection of individuals in different modes of transportation, knowingly and unknowingly maneuver themselves directly into our path and then stop. Some at a reasonable distance away, others within highly unreasonable distances in which our non-skid-speed rule should have been enacted, but had already been suspended. At about the five kilometer mark, Dan’s mood had been elevated, and the department of security and science registered the probability of negative collapse to a level of profanity. We slowed down again, but kept our tires pointed straight and down the road. We quietly pushed on.
A short while later the road opened up a bit and traffic subsided again. We stopped for a snack and then confirmed our direction with a local taxi and headed on. Through a couple batches of mud, which was fun, and some discolored and, as Dan described it, “Likely highly unpotable water,” we felt something was amiss as we rode due north and stopped for directions. Apparently we’d been riding, since our last point of direction, in the wrong direction. We turned ourselves around and retraced our tracks. It was a bit more to add to the pile we felt had been raining on us all day. But finally, after a nice 20 km round trip to see the new railway, reconnected with our faithful 104 and headed south.
By this time the ride was quiet as every small mistake was feared to be the final straw, so nothing was said. A small girl in a passing car showed an eminence interest in our bicycles and our outfits and probably us (likely my mustache too) and it was refreshing to smile and enjoy an even larger smile returned back to me. At the end of her 3 minute investigation we exchanged departing waves and her father drove the mini-van on, alleviating the traffic that was building behind his slow pace. My day had gotten better, I’m not sure if Dan ever even noticed the small bits of joy around him. He kept pedaling.
We got moving again and the middle part of the day was enjoyable… for me. But just as things are expected to turn out well, there seemed to be a caveat that trouble would bubble up. From behind me I heard a series of noises that didn’t sound like words, but defiantly came from someones mouth. I turned around to look just in time to see Dan’s bike stopped in front of a taxi I had waved to just moments before. The taxi had turned right into the bike lane, for what reason I don’t know, but the driver had not seen Dan and the ended up mear inces away from each other. Dan’s top jumping and poping like water on the boil and the taxi wholly confused as to why there is someone in front of them, how they got there, and why they hadn’t left yet. I think this apparent confusion only stiffened Dan’s words and own sense of utter confusion. The only words I heard him say as he rode past my meandering bike was “I can’t … do this…” I paced off Dan for the next ten kilometers making my whistle loud, my words louder, and my self big enough for anyone to see and acknowledge. For the next ten kilometers we still had issue, but people were well aware of the trouble they were causing and just didn’t care. At one point I knocked my bag into an unrelenting Buick just to drive home the point. In retrospect I suppose they had just as much a right to drive down the road as we did, our expectations were just different.
After that ten k, the wind was at my back and I felt like I was able to move well enough with traffic to move into it. I pulled into one of the two lanes where trucks and buses and high speed cars roam and found a sense of safety. No moron was going to drive against this traffic. I also passed a number of scooters and tricycles that were carrying the same attitude, so I didn’t feel so out of place. Dan joined and we kept a good 34-40 kph speed for the next half hour. We took a rest and then moved back into traffic for a final forty minutes of good flat road and high speeds.
The mountains rose up and we could tell soon we’d be doing our final climb of the day. The rain began to fall and we put our heads into it and got along. While our speed was decreased to 10 kph, we still had the wind, except now it was in gusts and actually pushed us up hill. The hills were quiet, green, and beautiful. It was raining, at some points very hard, and we were incredibly content. Only about forty minutes later we reached the top (where I pulled out a substantial Tour de France finish, pulling away from Dan to take the peak by nearly 100 meters… shhhh Dan’s sore, don’t tell him that I did it again at every peak for a full quintuple crown victory.. USA! USA! USA!) Still raining we pushed down the hill and using the words, “Use good judgement John.” I reminded myself of my capability for control and stopping in the rain. Still, on a nice flat straight downhill my bike registered 58 kph when I looked down and I would not be surprised if at some point it showed 60 kph, on a petal free down hill. I can only imagine speeds I could have achieved pedaling on a dry day. I cooled my heels after that. While enjoy a nice twisty down hill and noting how well my brakes were performing in the weather I heard from Dan behind me, and quickly approaching, “John! I Need… You to… HELP ME SLOW DOWN! I HAVE NO BRAKES!!!” as he then blew past me. Pushing to catch up as he blazed down the windy hill. I could only think that I didn’t want to be taking the turn, that was fast approaching at 50 kph. With my bike up to nearly 48 kph, the back of Dan’s bike was just inches away from my grasp, his shoulders, a reasonable handle for me to grab, was only another foot past that and the hair pin just a hair past his shoulders. Gusts of wind, while previously generally unnoticed, were not quite apparent, and my heart rate compensated for them. Just as I reached out to make contact with Dan and try and bring his bike to a slow comfortable walking pace, his brakes caught and I blew right past him into the turn. DAMN! Fortunately the disk brakes I had been using were working flawlessly and so long as my bike was right and straight I stopped easily and quickly. Meters later I was also at a crawl. We collectively decided to take our time on the downhill and spent the remainder of the afternoon enjoying heavy rainfall on our shoulders and watching the clouds spiral around above us. We pulled into Fuding maybe an hour later and to end the day well, I enjoyed as Dan and I (now shirtless) created such a mess in town that nearly every individual was using their camera phone to photograph this spectacle and nearly every one of them almost wrecked what ever transport they were using. It was a Hoot!
I was going to title this “First sight of the pacific” but, I forgot that Chinese cities do their best to limit your perception of where you actually are. So I have yet to see any water larger than a city canal.
On Day 4 we departed Shaoxing for Tiantai. This was a 144 km day followed by a rest day, but we felt we could push ourselves into the 144 range easily. Unfortunately there were two issues with this goal. One, I had forgotten to look at the terrain of this leg. Two, I had begun to feel a small amount of pain in my right knee and on this stretch I really amplified that problem. The second factor started early in the day and caused our progress to slow to a 18 to 22 kph speed, as compared to our previous day of 23-28 kph, this was substantial. Secondly, as we reached our 85 km mark in the day, and as my knee was really beginning to rebel, the road began a massive 8 degree + hill climb over about 20 km. These two factors reduced Dan and I to speeds of about 5 kph, a meager 3 mph speed. Small dogs could keep up with us as we dotted up the massive mountain side. Beautiful, lush, green, and steamy hot, we stopped several times to recover the energy and buy buckets of water. I downed Mom’s special formula, properly labeled ‘sweat’ due to the exact replication of the flavor, in each rapidly drained bottle and at least my psyche was content while my legs were not. At the top of the hill was a little town, maybe 1000 people (at least visible, so that would mean a Chinese village size of 45,000) there we stopped for the night in order to regain our regular heart beat and breathing pattern. We were pooped.
The following day was a 30 km ride down the other side of the hill through some beautiful country and at unassisted speeds of about 38 kph, a substantial change from the previous day. I was pleased, but my knee was still in a lot of pain. Even on a down hill push, I couldn’t use it. It was frustrating. We arrived in Tiantai, dotted around looking for a downtown and then relaxed the rest of the day. Now our pace was dependent on my knee. I couldn’t walk up stairs easily.
The following day, Day 6, we made our way to the highway and I forfeited our day of riding. I still couldn’t bend my knee much without pain and I had no desire to cause bigger problems. We thumbed a ride, quite quickly actually, and made it half way in only a few hours. It was a nice way to travel. Once dropped off we sought out another ride, but finding many offers, found no real lift. Finally we stopped a bus and paid our way.
The rain started falling heavily and we loaded bikes under the bus too quickly and did a bit of damage to the handle bars. We boarded, wet, dirty, and generally really handsome. Finding the only seat next to a young girl traveling alone. I commented to Dan, “isn’t this one of those teen-aged girl dreams, two dirty & rain soaked 20-something men, after a hard day of work (of which we had done very little), get on the bus and have no where to sit but next to this girl (she was probably 19 or so). I had a laugh. Dan and talked with her a bit to show her that we were real people, who couldn’t speak very good Chinese and were no more attractive than the drunk guys sleeping to her left. She gave us a bottle of water when she left. We’re now pengyou.
The bus ride seemed to drag on for ever and when it finally ended we transferred to another bus for the second half of the ride through the second half of the day. Once we finally arrived in Wenzhou we encountered a great deal of frustration with our couch surfing connection and finally just pulled into a hotel for the night. Tired, we got to bed the latest we had for a long time, 10:30 PM. Fortunately, there was nothing planned for the following day.
Now it’s day 7 and we’re resting. My knee feels better, but still not near even 85%. If it’s not well by tonight we’ll talk about new plans, and if it’s not well by tomorrow morning we’ll need to begin those new plans. Updates will be posted.
I hope things continue as scheduled – I’m looking forward to pedaling through the rest of the coast line. But we’ll see.
Arrived into Shanghai last night at 11:45 PM and got to sleep on our first couch by 12:30 AM. By 9 AM we had picked up our bikes and by 10:30 we enjoyed the first signs of what was to come, a massive rainstorm that flooded roads and stopes the. It in it’s tracks. Another is due to strike tomorrow morning. We’re going anyway. Nothing going to stop this beginning. Why did we chose typhoon season again?
Otherwise we’re ready to do this thing.
Something about learning The Beatles “Blackbird” on guitar while watching the lightening and rain land on my portch at 1 AM… just waiting for this moment to arise.