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Embrace it… or Lose it!
There's been no lack of excitement along the ride so far, but in some respects the real adventure of the Silk Route Tour started today around kilometer 50. That's when the cue sheet – the turn by turn instructions which we've been following like diligent school children thus far through China – simply went blank. We were about one third of the way through a 148 km ride that left Lanzhou, a city of 4 million people, and encountered barren, bone dry headwinds of the Gansu province. Just like that: no cue sheet. Not that we were flying completely blind, previous TdA Silk Route tours traveled over the same county we're currently passing, albeit in the opposite direction. And while the collected information from previous trips will carry us through the next six weeks, the volatile nature of China's constant reinvention makes notes from 2008 seem only marginally relevant. Add a few more complications to the day's ride (like the fact that today happened to be the Lanzhou International Marathon, which trapped a support vehicle and found our 6:30am convoy sweet-talking our way through police barricades) and the choice was fairly clear: embrace the spine-tingling thrill of the unknown or go crazy.
In a way, this kind of lesson seems as essential to the trip as getting on the bike each morning and pedaling. There's a cue sheet or no cue sheet, a GPS device that works perfectly or mysteriously craps out, a bike that runs like a Swiss watch one moment and is an immovable piece of metal the next. The very nature of the the experience seems designed to undermine our preparations, underscore the ephemeral nature of our expectations and remind us that flexibility is the lifeblood for adventure.
But who could have expected how quickly everything has changed? The echoes of China's industrial, hyper-modern, frantically urbanized east are fainter every minute. Just before Lanzhou, the group spent its first night in a bush camp,
set up on a piece of rugged farm land. After our rest day in the large western city of Lanzhou, the day was spent battling a headwind along a valley of rocky, arid foothills (compared by riders to both Santa Fe, New Mexico and Afghanistan). The people are different as well; many wear the kind of dumbfounded stare which suggests that foreigners aren't too common here, and there's an increasing presence of the ethnic minorities who live in China's far west, often easily spotted by brightly colored clothes. The buses and trucks still lumber by, occasionally blasting their ear-splitting horn, but the roads are mostly quiet and lined with grazing goats and small farms, a far cry from some of the massive agri-industrial operations back east. So it matters little that the cue sheet went blank; the only accurate thing it might say would be "Now approaching the Middle of Nowhere."
— Nate Cavalieri
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