There is a possibility that one week from today we could be on our way back to the U.S. Final exams have been given and now I’m in the middle of a sea of grading, leaving limited time for riding. I hope I have time later this week for another trip to Luyi, and maybe Xiaoyaozhen. So what is it I’ll most remember about riding around Zhoukou this past year? Maybe how much difference ten months makes. The sense of riding out into some kind of dystopian movie on my first ride from the bike shop was profound. I was part of the living river of scooter riders, three-wheelers and bike riders flowing along in the “bike lane”.
Learning the city was a challenge before I got a new Chinese phone and figured out how to use Baidu map. I had to remember each turn and landmark and write it down when I got back home in the hope I would eventually be able to log my rides. That had the added benefit of making me remember where I’d been. Street signs in the city show the pin-yin (Chinese sounds with English spelling) along with Chinese characters, but they were (and still are) hard to remember. The city does not function on much of a grid, and the curve of the river is deceiving. Bit by bit though, the map formed in my mind and I no longer worried about getting lost.
Getting a phone that I could use a map on, rather than the old loaner I had, was a huge help. I started to venture out of the city on longer rides, but co-existing with the traffic was still a problem. Everyone thinks they own the road. Many motorists have a superior attitude and the three-wheelers are lawless. Any traffic regulation is seen as merely a suggestion, and you can’t assume anyone else on the road will behave in what you think is a rational manner. Three lanes of oncoming traffic on a two lane highway? Sure, so what? Move over. Potholes big enough to swallow trucks and knock them over on their side? Check. I’d gotten used to this, also understanding that a high rate of speed in this mix was not a good idea.
Then I realized I had alternatives. One day I was riding on a ring road bridge and saw there was a road on the river levee I was crossing over. I was instantly intrigued and searched for a way to access it. It was wonderful and I couldn’t get enough. Quiet with riverfront views, almost no traffic, usually dirt, everything the roads I had been taking were not. I set out to explore them all. From the levees I saw many more small, narrow roads, the thin gray map lines. I discovered they were not private farm roads, usually, and set out to explore them too. My world was expanding exponentially. Everywhere I’d been going by highway could be accessed more enjoyably by the thin gray lines. Yes, these roadways may be covered with crops drying outlined with empty bottles and tree branches, or suddenly turn to rutted mud, but that’s OK. It’s a whole other world riding through small villages and farm fields.
Another thing I’ve learned is that people here are kind and curious. They want to be good hosts and are very interested in you. They wanted badly to be able to talk to us. Steve has upped his mileage and has started riding with me occasionally on some of the longer rides, even though his bike is too small. We have not gotten to ride much in other parts of China, neither touring or bikepacking as I’d like too. On that score we’ve only gotten to rent bikes on day trips or use bike shares. But I may have my chance yet. At any rate, it’s been a fascinating ten months, on and off the bike.