Longquan and Baigongyan Reservoir

This post is about a cycle ride I made with three fellow couch surfers on another weekend here in Chengdu, China.  Andrew is from America and cycled more than two years to collect funds for a school in southern India.  I had originally derived inspiration from his example and planned my own cyclists’ charity ride around India — at least the idea was there.  My ride never became manifest — Andrew’s ride with his brother did and it collected funds that were delivered earlier this year (2011).  It was ironic that Andrew — who knew nothing of his inspiration to me — arrived at my door as another Couch Surfer I hosted here in Chengdu.  We shared stories and compared notes — I had founded an orphanage for Burmese children in Thailand while working there as a teacher so we had experiences in common to discuss.  We differed on our perspectives on faith and religion — not surprising in light of our individual experiences.  Stefan from Amsterdam and Malwina from Poland were staying with me at the same time as Andrew visited me — on his return to Chengdu, the second time I hosted him.  Stefan and I shared a dream — he related how he wanted to purchase a tugboat to live on and I told him stories of my life as a sailor and my own desire to somehow live on a houseboat or fishing boat somewhere in south Asia.  We all decided to cycle together to a nearby town not far from Chengdu — about 25 kilometers to the southeast, to be exact, on just another weekend off from teaching at my kindergarten where I have been for the past two and a half years.  Below is a map of the local area and the route we followed.

Looking at this map, you can see how I planned the ride using Google Earth and Google Maps to print out a collection of ‘screenshots’ and tape together our route on paper.  Andrew ‘beat me out’ as a leader for this ride, using his two years experience of around the world travel and his handy GPS mounted on his cycle to download the entire route from this website.   I admit I don’t know much about GPS and am fairly suspicious about modern technology.  I was left cycling in ‘Andrew’s wake’ as he would cruise ahead downloading the map and upcoming turns from the satellite — he often took shortcuts that weren’t on my ‘reality map’.  I must admit that my ‘reality map’ was based upon personal memories of two previous picnic trips I had made to Longquan.  My memory couldn’t compete with his GPS.

However, now that I have been guided through a new cycling experience, the route is NOW FIRMLY in my memory for recall on the next trip to this pleasant town on the edge of the hills that lie to the southeast of Chengdu.  Here is a picture of our destination — Baigongyan Reservoir — as it appears on Google Earth.  I had planned my route on my dream cycle around India with just such maps and screenshots from the internet.  I will still trust them — in a final evaluation — because I am not sure the internet will still be available when I do finally cycle in India and downloaded and printed out maps will be my guide along with local people I meet along the way.  Andrew’s experience is VALID — it’s just not MINE.  It is another different between us as individuals to APPRECIATE not argue about.

Stefan and Malwina were ‘good troopers’ on this ride as I had equipped them with my two BTwin cycles purchased from the local Decathlon while I tried out my new Trike Tadpole Recumbent (made in China but copied from Western designs) on a longer ride across the countryside.  We managed to keep up with Andrew only because he would take pity on us and wait for us patiently from time to time.  I can’t hope to ever compete with his experience of being a mountain bike racer nor his Rohloff hub equipped cycle.  I did, however, find a trailer to compete with his — again, another Chinese ‘knockoff’.  This is not to demean Chinese cycles — I have seen plenty in the shops around town that I would trust myself on in India.  They are just heavier and would be harder to push up and down hills — not that my ‘trike’ isn’t heavy enough and no great hill climber.  I will just have to plan my route to go around as many hills as I can.  As it was, I could just keep Malwina in my sights — a nice view from my perspective (just joking, Stefan!).

We managed to find the main road to Longquan heading southeast out of Chengdu by taking my ‘shortcut’ across the countryside and had a nice breakfast in a local village shop of steamed buns and rice porridge.  Might I add I was struggling with my personal hangover from the Chinese liquor I had inbibed the night before.  I guess I was the ‘reality anchor’ for this trip.  Halfway to Longquan, we did stop for a mid-morning snack at the nice, new McDonalds on the highway.  It had an actual ‘drive-through’ window — only the second I have seen here.  It did take us three and a half hours to get there — we managed to cut an hour off that on the route back because we all knew the way by then.  Upon our arrival at the hotel overlooking the reservoir, what did we encounter but a Chinese electric version of my trike.  It was available for rides around the reservoir.  I didn’t take the offer but just appreciated the ‘enclosed rainproof’ design and the power source.  My legs were tired and in need of a cold beer.  Of course, we had one at the hotel patio.

Baigongyan Reservoir is a nice lake park situated just outside Longquan.  We cycled around it on the hill to get a view from above.  It took all my strength to push that trike of mine up the slopes.  I am seriously considering converting my trike to something like the Chinese one pictured above.  I have been able to find a new version of an electric cycle in a local shop that has a lithium battery.  It’s fine for flat city roads but the battery can not cope with the Himalaya.  It does hide nicely underneath the rear rack but of what use is that?  After going online and looking at the latest batteries and their accompanying technology in the U.S. designed to power trikes like mine and their price tag of several thousand dollars I am back to my tired old legs for the power source of my trike.  Thus, my cycle ride routes for the future will be planned around the least number of hills I can encounter.

We decided not to eat lunch near the lake.  Andrew had to meet someone back in Chengdu and we had to leave by 1 p.m. to get back in time for his engagement.  However, we did have time to try out the local go-kart track and take a little boat ride around the lake.  The go-karts were FAST and Stefan proved to be the best driver around the little track on one side of the lake — Malwina was looking at my ‘ass’ this time!  (Again, sorry, Stefan!)  He also played ‘Captain’ when we took out the electric powered boat for a ride.  Both rides were nice — but on opposite ends of the speed scale.  In any case, I was too busy munching out on my ice cream (my replacement for the missed lunch) to notice Stefan’s piloting skills (he’s the guy without a beard!)  The weather was nice this day.  It doesn’t usually cooperate with cyclists in Chengdu.  The sky is more often than not overcast and winters can get gloomy here.  The sun smiled on us this day and we hardly noticed.  On the way back to my apartment, we cycled past the huge Volkswagen car factory located on the northern edge of Longquan.  It seems like the entire countryside between Chengdu and this town to the southeast are devoted to similar car factories.  The Chinese are certainly busy enough building highways to and from everywhere for uncountable numbers of cars.  Each driver has to have his own motor chariot.  I prefer the cyclist’s alternative and always will.  This is another aspect of technology that Andrew and I probably agree on.  He has told me horror stories of the traffic in India.  I will have some compromises to make in my future planned journey there — I hope to find the car abandoned tracks that lead from one village to the next.

Perhaps I will yet realize my dream of wandering India and the south Asian subcontinent as a ‘holy monk’ of one sort or another.  This day’s ride just proved to me that I still have the energy to keep up with younger companions.  We will have to see what the future will bring before I can conclude if the feat is reproducible.

Dhane Blue, 7 October, 2011

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