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Inspiring Adventure

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Land of the Giants

His yellow jersey shone brightly as, head down, the red-helmeted cyclist rode towards me.  I was standing by the side of the road, drinking a cold Pepsi (the full fat version in case you were wondering), and thinking that the 50km I had just cycled should have been a lot easier than it was.


  Mr Liang, who had probably spotted that I, too, was riding a Giant and dressed in cycling garb (without a helmet), screeched to a halt. 


  “Where are you going,” he gushed. 


  “I’m heading for the Fragrant Hills, and then to the city, before returning to where I live, a few miles west of the airport,” I answered.  


  “Where’s the airport?”


  It was clear that Mr Liang is not a local.


  “More to the point, where are you from,” I asked.

 

  “Inner Mongolia”.


  Inner Mongolia is a very big place.  I was keen to find out more.  Mr Liang, who is in his early 20s, told me that he is from a small town about 100km the “other side” of Baotou and that he had already cycled 860km (with about 40km still to go).  Even more impressively, he had left home the day before.  By anyone’s definition, 450km a day is a long stretch in the saddle.  At an average speed of 30km an hour (a pace that’s way beyond my ability for more than an hour or so) he would have been in the saddle for an average of 15 hours a day by the time he reached his goal, “Tiananmen”.


  “I’ve never been to Beijing,” he said, “I’ve often dreamed of seeing it.  And I thought, why don’t I cycle there.” 

 

  Mr Liang is, without knowing it, the best possible kind of endorser of Giant’s advertising tagline and company ethos, “Inspiring adventure” (better than anything they have ever paid for, to be sure). 


  “Can I take a photo of you and me together,” he asked.  “Only if you promise to send me a copy,” I countered with a smile.


  Photo taken, we exchanged email addresses and shook hands.  With a cheery wave, Mr Liang continued on his way down the G110, the road that connects the capital with Baotou and way beyond to Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia, about 1300km away.


  I, too, felt inspired.  In a flash I had made up my mind to do the following day what I had been threatening to do for a long time.  To cycle all the way from Beijing to Chengde in Hebei province, weather depending of course.


  Why Chengde?  Well, it’s a famous mountain resort, which was the summer retreat of various Qing emperors no less.  And I hadn’t been there.  What’s more, it’s “only” 220km from where I live.  Problem was, the last time I had cycled more than 200km in a day was more than a quarter of a century ago.


  Anyhow, my determination was bolstered after a hot bath and a look at the weather forecast, which promised a cool day (possible showers) and a head-wind of no more than 10km per hour.  A tail wind would have been better of course, but why make it easy for oneself?


  I left quite late in the morning, knowing that this would create a bit of pressure to keep up a reasonable speed so that I could reach Chengde before dark.  The first three hours were a joy – cool, quite flat, and light traffic (with minimal fumes and dust), and I was on track, averaging a little over 25km/hour.


  Then I entered the mountains.  I knew that Chengde lies at about 300 metres above sea level.  But I had no idea just how high I would have to climb on the way there.  I had conveniently scrubbed from my memory the snippet of knowledge that the highest point of the Yanshan mountains, 2118m, at Wulingshan, was not far to the east of my route.  Just as well, because I don’t think I would have attempted the ride with that in mind. 


  It turned out that the high-point of the journey was “only” 790m, but there were two other severe climbs from about 300m to just shy of that height.  Severe enough for me to wonder what I was doing in the middle of nowhere, cycling up mountains that made the Derbyshire peak district (my nemesis as a young cyclist) seem about as significant as a bump in the road.


  Then it began to get darker. 


  It began to rain. 


  It then rained heavily. 


  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it began to rain torrentially. 


  I had no lights, no waterproofs, and I still had about 35km to go.  But, on the plus side (it pays to be optimistic in these situations) I was much higher than Chengde.  There couldn’t be another climb, could there? 


  There wasn’t.  Spurred on by the survival instinct, I raced downhill, managing an average speed of the required 35km per hour, to complete the 220km adventure in 8 hours and 40 minutes – slightly better than my 25km per hour “goal”. 

 

Alas, my momentary triumph was deflated in more ways than one when, no sooner had I entered the city, I had a puncture. 

 

I was soaking wet, exhausted, and aching in places I never knew I had.  Having no will to mend the puncture, I persuaded the kind owner of a garage to allow me to house my Giant there for the night.  I then found a hotel, a hot bath, and time for reflection.

 

The victory procession was a bit shorter than I had planned, but the most important thing was that I had somehow managed to cross the finish line – thanks to Giant for making such a great bike (not to mention excellent cycling shorts), and a big thanks also to Mr Liang for showing me the way.    

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The biggest bike-maker in the world sold 1M in China last year (of 5.2M global sales).