UPDATED May 22, 2012

BY The TDA Team

IN Silk Route

no comments

UPDATED May 22, 2012

BY The TDA Team

IN Silk Route

no comments

The first few days in China.

When it was finally time to begin, the 2012 Silk Route Tour rode left Shanghai convoy through the traffic-snarled streets under a light drizzle at 6:30am. By the time the pack made it to breakfast on the outskirts of the city, the freshly unpacked bikes and unfolded jerseys looked unduly road-worn, with everything splattered in a layer of grime from the wet streets. But it hardly mattered; as the city slowly unfolding into industrial and suburban neighborhoods and greener outlying areas over the remainder of the, even the grime benefitted from the optimism of the departure.

For many of us, the preconceptions about riding in China were dismantled in those early kilometers – cruising over glassy pavement and on bike lanes that were 3 meters wide, often separated from traffic by a barrier, parading past ambitious civic projects that would be unthinkable at home. Sure, the sheer density of eastern China made for occasionally nervy riding – say, a scooter with a family of four riding against traffic in the bike lane or the terrifying (if bizarrely graceful) free-for-all of a traffic circle – but the quality of the roads shamed most of the ones in riders’ home towns. At least for now.

After an overnight in  continued with nearly perfect roads and wet weather, in the canal-crossed low-lying flatlands east of Shanghai. Although the region’s waterways have been used for millennia to transport goods to Shanghai’s harbors, today its corridors are lined with industrial parks that produce the elemental building blocks of China’s staggering modernization: construction machinery and cement, roofing tile, solar panels and industrial pipe. There are endless rows of high-rise apartments to house workers and miles high-tension wires to connect nuclear and coal facilities.

The centuries-old water towns were never far from the route, standing as crumbling monuments to China’s old world, but the view on the outskirts of Shanghai offers insight into the new world of China’s relentless development. In the grey light of a rainy ride it was far from the most picturesque scenery that the Silk Route will encounter, but it could hardly be more impressive, particularly while we traced the edge of Lake Taihu, the third largest freshwater lake in China, and site of a massive O-shaped tourist complex still in the making.

The third day was the longest of the trip so far, about 150km under the first clear skies. Entering the walled city of Nanjing on the eve of the first rest day riders took advantage of a rest day to explore the city’s ancient temples and old streets, clean up their bikes, sample 106-proof baijiu (a somewhat brutal Chinese liquor of distilled sorghum) and rest up. The six consecutive days of riding that begins tomorrow traces a route to Xian, one of China’s oldest cities. Its also home to the Qin Dynasty’s army of terra cotta soldiers and regarded as the official eastern terminus of the ancient Silk Road. And yet, the journey has just begun.

   — Nate Cavalieri

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