People have different motivations for getting on a bike. For some it’s a fun thing to do with friends. Others are solitary commuters, still others seem to live to race. I like all those reasons, plus one more. I enjoy touring my area to see new things. I do this around Nebraska, but here in Zhoukou everything is new. Every ride increases my understanding of the culture and region. It’s easy to live in a bubble here, especially not speaking the language. Getting off the beaten path opens up whole new worlds. I’ve taken Steve through some of my back street pathways and he’s amazed what exists just a block away from a main thoroughfare.
The same thing occurs on my long rides through the countryside. I noticed the last time I was in Xiaoyaozhen that the river levee was just a few blocks away. I’d always picked up the highway where it crosses the levee outside of town, yet there it was! I found an entrance ramp and the first thing I noticed from the top was an ancient pagoda just across the river. I’m saving that for the next time I’m out that way. I would have explored it yesterday but it was raining so I stayed on hard surface roads.
Not only did I see the pagoda that day, but I saw a procession of people preceded by someone carrying a tray, making noise on instruments with no apparent attempt at a melody. They were carrying sticks wrapped in fringed white paper and were dressed in white, which is usually associated with funerals, but I don’t think that’s what this was. They marched a little way down the levee, turned around and marched back. If that wasn’t odd enough, a few miles down across the river on the shoreline I saw a small group of people walking around tooting on brass instruments and banging on a bass drum. Again, there didn’t seem to be any melody. I asked later if there were processions for the upcoming Qing Ming, tomb sweeping day, they could have been practicing for but they said no so it’s still a mystery. (None of the good photos would upload)
Wherever I go people are unfailingly kind and curious, often asking me questions and continuing to talk to me, even though I can’t understand them. Sometimes just seeing me scares small children, who run away crying. More often people rubber-neck to stare. Wearing a mask in response to the air quality is common here and has the added benefit of slowing all this recognition down a little. Yesterday the air was clean enough from the rain to go without, plus I can’t breathe through it when it gets wet. Going mask-less definitely caused more commotion. That and the fact I got covered head to foot with mud, even though I didn’t ride on dirt. I was on the thin gray map lines that are the “B” roads, but they are sometimes not in good repair, leading to extra spray. They’re usually more interesting than the main highways and have less traffic, though sometimes they lead me to a village with no through road.
Another discovery has been that we can ride almost the whole length of the new high speed rail access road. We know now where the new Zhoukou station will be built. Searching for the southeast route of it last week I found a whole new previously unexplored area.
Riding around Lincoln might not seem so exotic, but there are prairies, rivers, hills, parks and towns to explore. Whatever your motivation, get out on that bike and enjoy the view.