Mt. Yuping Cycle Trip

May Day 2010 was a 3-day holiday in Chengdu where I am working as an English teacher, volunteering with a local group of parents and their children, and saving my money for this charity bicycle ride.  This weekend was a chance to get out of the city, visit a mountaintop resort not far away, and ride cycles with kids through the fresh air of the countryside.  DD007 (not James Bond the agent 007) is an ‘acronym’ that stands for the twin goals of the group — discovering nature and science by participation in experiential learning out of the city environment and the ‘artificial’ learning environment of the school classroom.  Both are unnatural places and only lead to unhealthy habits if we try to adapt to these surroundings.

Compared to cycling with the young Burmese children I befriended in Thailand, the experience was vastly different but similar in some ways.  Cycling is a skill that is learned experientially — learning how to ride a bicycle involves body language — not something that can be picked up from a book or by staring at a teacher.  The saying, “experience is the best teacher” definitely applies here.  The group that left Chengdu early this Saturday morning was larger than average and the usual caravan of cars stretched a long ways back on the highway as they followed the two mini-buses that had been rented to carry the rest of us.  There was also a small truck for the bicycles.  The ride along the freeway and then through the rural countryside was a total of almost 200 kilometers.  So, we arrived in Niujiang Township for a planned group lunch at a local restaurant and then set off on the drive up Mt. Yuping.  The resort at the top of this mountain nestles among the forest except for one hillside cleared for a typical park for people to walk around on — not that different from a park back in the city.  Some things never change and ‘appropriate eco-tourism’ has yet to take hold in China.  So, there we were on the mountain top with the families’ cars parked along the road and stretching back into the distance like a long snake.  We slowly collected our bicycles and the kids who would try to ride through the 40 kilometers of forest road we had planned.  There were four adults on this trip but most of the cyclists were kids with city bikes who had no idea of what to expect from riding on a mountain road.  Everyone begins somewhere I guess.  In that respect, the kids were no different from the Burmese children that I bought bicycles for — mostly Thai built pieces of junks that only lasted for a few rides through the countryside before we were repairing them or throwing them away.

Soon, we had left the cars and parents behind and set off on the road that winds its way along the ridge line of Mt. Yuping towards Cao Yu Tan Township where the group had reserved rooms at the local hotel and where some families camped out on the extensive grounds.  It was a beautiful day for once and we began riding at nearly 4 p.m. in the afternoon.  We would have to push hard to make it to the hotel before dark.  The road climbed gently in places but mostly curved around through the forest and the remarkably attractive scenery.  The views down into the valley below were reminiscent of looking down on the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia from the Blue Ridge Parkway and at about the same elevation.  Only here the sky was more cloudy and the views less clear.  Photos don’t do the view justice but most of the kids didn’t stop to take photos anyway.  I was cycling with my namesake, Dane, from New York City and with Roland, who is a German married to a local Chinese and who has lived in Chengdu for the past 12 years.  He often arranges tours for visitors from Europe who want to get up into the mountains of Sichuan.

Because most of the kids raced away in front of us and didn’t stop to wait for stragglers Dane, Roland and myself found ourselves bringing up the rear — helping the slower cyclists on their city bikes get up the hills.  Dodo, whose father Litiegang is the organizer of DD007 struggled up the hills, often hopping off his little bike and pushing it up the hills.  I would encourage him to continue until the next level stretch or until we could coast down the next hill.  He had a better, newer bike at home but could not be persuaded to ride that one.  His bike was a lot like one of those I bought for a Burmese child back in 2006 — okay for tooling around the mostly flat Thai countryside but no fun when coming to a hill.

No matter, we continued on until about an hour after we had started out, the caravan of cars with the childrens’ parents materialized behind us and slowly overtook us.  Many of the kids decided to abandon the ride at this stage and hop in their mom’s or dad’s car for the rest of the ride.  The rest of us pressed on and upwards for the next couple of hours.  We finally reached a stage where the rest of the ride would be downhill.   Here, I was following one girl aged about eight or nine who continued to amaze me with the speedy way she went down the hill.  She often dragged her feet around corners to slow her perilous descent but didn’t crash.  I never did catch up with her because I was too busy stopping to take photos of the scenery.  There was one place where we started downhill that the local stream made contact with the road and followed it all the rest of the way down through the villages on the way and to the main village at the bottom of the valley.  I had to take a firm grip on my brakes and trust them to stop me from going over the edge and off a steep drop to the rocks below.

I did stop a lot to take photos and I’ll have to upload them with a link — there are too many to put on this page.

I remember as we started the ride I told one boy, named Ian and aged 10, that he would crash.  It was meant to be a joke but I guess I ‘jinxed’ him.  He did crash — more of a slide than a crash, actually, and scraped the skin off a large patch of his arm above his left elbow.  It reminded me of my own crash at age 14 when I did more than just scrape the skin off my elbow.  He and another boy, also aged 10, were the only children to complete the entire 40 kilometer ride.  It was also a test of sorts for me as I have grown fat and am definitely out of shape.  I drink too much beer but was able to finish the ride with enough energy left in the tank so that I can look forward to the 50 kilometer goals of the Charity Bicycle Ride and not cringe too deeply.   Ian, in spite of his crash, still had more than enough energy.  So, I am hopeful that during the ride around India, we can invite some children to join us who will be able to manage the pace.  I remember some 40 kilometer days in Thailand — but under a much hotter and less forgiving sun that we had on this day.  The hotel was a welcome sight at the end of the day and so was the cold beer we had ordered ahead to be put in the refrigerator.  Our next DD007 outing is a camping trip at a nearby lake planned for next month.  I am hoping this is more practice — I would like to go swimming and fishing if it summer ever arrives.

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