The first week on the Silk Route Cycling Expedition
The first 26km of the ride out of Shanghai was so hectic that the group had to stay in a convoy to ensure that no turns were missed. Considering there were 24 riders and 6 staff it all went pretty smoothly with only one flat tyre and being pulled over the police to slow us down. Having been in the same place for at least 4 days, the riders were clearly keen to get out of smoggy Shanghai and onto the open road as the group’s pace for the whole of the first day made a few of the staff question if we were going to arrive in Istanbul a month ahead of schedule.
The initial rush soon passed and by the second day the Silk Route was on the country roads where it belongs and the riders had found their own individual paces. When they did appear, the busier roads were made all the more enjoyable by the never ending dedicated cycle (and deadly silent electric scooter) lanes, presumably a leftover necessity from the days when the bicycle was king in China. We’re doing our best to bring it back!
The highlights so far have been of a more human kind thanks to China’s fascinating cultural differences to the West. We have passed one or two tourist attractions, but it’s hard to believe that they weren’t built in the last few years simply to pull in camera-yielding tourists who know no better. The riders, however, have been indulging themselves in everything China since they hit the road. More chicken heads and feet have been tried than you would imagine, and the road side stops for photos with fascinated smiling locals have been breaking up the long days of cycling.
That said, no one in the group seems to have advanced past the most fundamental “nǐ hǎo”(hello) and “xiexie” (thank you), apart from Keat, from Malaysia, who studied Mandarin at school and as such often acts as a translator for the other riders when our local support staff aren’t around. The first signs of ‘characters’ within the group have also started to emerge with Gary, from Scotland, famous for finding the closest beer store at the end of every day, and Ben and Colin (both from Down Under) untouchable at the front of the pack as if every day was the final stage of the Tour de France.
The first rest day came after 3 days’ of riding, in the ancient capital city of Nanjing, a city of 8 million people. Apart from putting their feet up like it was a competitive sport, the riders enjoyed walks along the old city wall, a hike up the ‘Purple Mountain’ and one of the staff was even lucky enough to go up the 10th tallest building in the world!
Now the tour rolls on, with an exciting 800km to cover in the next 6 days. The sun is finding its way through the smog and temperatures are in the low 30’s Centigrade; the tour is beginning to heat up!