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!