The stage is set, the players are in place…
There was something that was just right about the arrival of the last Silk Route rider to Shanghai, Jan Kramer. Here it was: less than 12 hours before the first kilometers of a 12000+ kilometer cycling journey across seven countries, the gear for the entire tour lying out, half-sorted, in the parking lot of Shanghai’s Panorama Hotel. That was when Jan rolled up, with four months of gear strapped to his bike and his back, looking equally absurd and awe-inspiring. Airport shuttle? Not for Jan; he’d ride his bike. For the final piece of the puzzle, this seemed exactly right.
During the last several days Shanghai has been an appropriate backdrop to assemble of the tour’s intricately interlocked pieces. The bold ambition of the Silk Route finds a perfect home amid the city’s audacious energy: it feels like a place where anything can happen. For Silk Route riders the hours here have been a blur of preparations large and small: shuttles from the airport, jet-lagged 5AM along the brick-cobbled Bund, map study and meeting notes, beguiling authorities at airport customs and the hotel reception desk. Most importantly, it’s also been a time for riders to introduce themselves to the likeminded cast of riders who will share some very high highs and very low lows over the next months (many of which will happen while wearing cycling shorts). Everyone has been busy: In roughly the same time it takes a rider to navigate scooter-gnarled streets to replace a bent bike spoke and slurp some hand-pulled noodles, the tour’s chef barters her way through the city’s culinary market to build mobile kitchen from scratch.
The first informal ride – to “get the cobwebs out” as one rider put it – was last night, when Bill Gaylord, leader of Shanghai’s SISU cycling club, led a 36k ride under the Technicolor glow of Shanghai’s futuristic skyline. Passing the site of the 2010 world expo, the tour included a healthy dose of insight about China’s vibrant southern city. And while the first impressions of China included plenty of moments of singular, surreal beauty – kites floating over the skyline rigged with LED lights to resemble UFOs, a crowded ferry ride across the dark currents of the Huangpu River, the glistening sparkle of a freshly constructed Louis Vuitton shop – when the group got split in half at a frenzied stoplight and was forced to violate a fair share of the city’s loosely observed cycling conventions, it was also a good introduction to one of the tour’s fundamental elements: the importance of staying cool amid chaos.
Tonight, on the eve of the convoy ride out of Shanghai and official opening to the tour, riders and staff retreated to their rooms sharing a heady mix of excitement, anxiety, apprehension and elation. But then again, if you didn’t have butterflies on the eve of facing the most unpredictable suite of physical and psychological tests, check your pulse.
— Nate Cavalieri