10.01.2012

Bicycle Race



Bicycle races are coming your way
So forget all your duties oh yeah
Fat bottomed girls they'll be riding today
So look out for those beauties oh yeah
On your marks get set go
Bicycle race bicycle race bicycle race
-Queen



This week is China’s National Holiday, the Mid-Autumn Festival or Mooncake Festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival is a pretty important holiday here, an opportunity to travel to one’s hometown, eat mooncakes and take a break from work and school.

I too enjoy a week off from work to relax and eat good food. So when Xialian mentioned a bike ride to the Great Wall during the holiday, I was less than excited. Isn’t the Great Wall really far away? Do I really have to wake up that early? My bike only has three gears. It is not made for climbing hills.

Wait --I know what you are thinking, don’t you love bicycling? Isn’t that your hobby? Yes, I love bicycling, but I am spoiled. I am used to feeling semi-professional on my Dave Scott road bike while donning my Giordana shorts and slick white helmet. But Xialian’s enthusiasm overwhelmed birdMAN and me, and we consented. Her enthusiasm apparently also overwhelmed 8 other friends. They joined the cycling party on commuter bikes complete with rusty chains, squeaky brakes and lopsided baskets. Not a single click in shoe or spandex garment to be found. Their backpacks were brimming with snacks for sharing-- homemade Japanese rice balls stuffed with pickled vegetables, Chinese corn hotdogs (very popular here), fried chicken sandwiches, and of course, mooncakes.  But most importantly, they were genuinely joyful to follow Xialian up the hill to the Great Wall.

This is one tough bunch. Beijing makes us tough. Every day is busy and fraught with potential stress. A lost cell phone. A stolen backpack. Squeezing into an overcrowded bus. The hot water or electricity inexplicably turns off. On bike, we combat vehicular and pedestrian traffic daily. We breathe visibly black exhaust fumes from garbage trucks and nearby smokers. We stand for an hour at a time when traveling by subway. We carry only what we need to avoid getting weighed down – tissue paper, cell phone, wallet, a book or two, and water. All of this we experience while we speak a language different from our mother-tongue.

Riding to the Great Wall and back? Piece of cake!

Xialian had carefully planned the 36 km (one way) ride. We met in north Beijing at about 7:50 am. We were supposed to meet at 7:30 am, but birdMAN and I were unfashionably late. We woke up at the same time we should have left for the 12 km ride to rendezvous point. After a group picture we were off. Once leaving Beijing city traffic, we enjoyed riding the spacious bike lane along a busy highway. Unfortunately, someone’s bike chain broke on the way, and he had to make an emergency stop at a bike repair shop. Otherwise, the ride was relatively smooth and extremely pleasant.

We rode to Juyongguan section of the Great Wall, where we lunched under a shady tree with a panoramic view of the Great Wall. The weather couldn’t have been better – warm, sunny, calm and clear. We watched the crowds of tourists arriving via bus, and then pay the entrance fee to hike the steep sections of the Great Wall. We did no such thing. Just because we were at China’s greatest landmark, we were not about to make the grueling climb in the middle of a long bike ride. Getting there by bike is satisfying enough. Hiking the Great Wall will be saved for another day.

On our way
Break time with Xialian
We can see Great Wall in the distance
View from where we ate lunch
My 3 gear bike
Some friendly children I met on the way
Almost home! Riding on the busy streets of Beijing