Following the Great Wall

2009/04/03: Great Wall Gate 161 km
The wind gods were with us, and we did 75 km before lunch. We could see that the land was becoming more rugged and settlements further apart, but we knew we could camp if need be, so we pressed on. Inquiries at an afternoon snack stop confirmed a very long way to the next known accommodation, so we bought bottled water. We were carrying chocolate, nuts, instant noodles, and had the ability to cook, but camping without water doesn’t work. We pressed on with the road turning to a track, and the smooth highway with the “no bikes” edict beside us. Some Chinese cyclists of the helmeted kind (as opposed to the carrying-fox-pelts kind) travelling the opposite direction on the highway, told us that we’d now be allowed on the highway since the old road was becoming non-existent. We pushed our bikes under the next culvert, and wiggled through the fence onto the highway on the other side.

We blasted along, even though it was very slightly uphill to a broad pass. We were in high stony desert, with the snowy Qinlian Shan to the south and and a lesser range of brown to the north. Chris speculated as to why the highway didn’t pass through the lowest point of the broad pass, and I said I thought it was because a linear archaeological feature was running beside us at the low point. It is hard to see, being built of the same brown loess as the land, but we were following the remains of the Great Wall. The occasional towers and gates are more remarkable than the wall itself.

We eyed the height of the sun, and decided to press on to a distant target, adding layers of clothing as we descended the pass. A flat on Chris’s bike made timing tighter, and we pulled into a tiny truck stop restaurant where the highway passes through an old gate in the Wall. A friendly Muslim family fed us well, and offered a small room off their courtyard at the back. We conversed a lot without many words. We were quickly nicknamed yeye and nene —grandpa and granny– after showing our family photos that include great nieces. I later learned that the woman whom I’d assumed was the grandmother was actually a great aunt as I am, although the two small boys called her nene. I assume yeye and nene the word is used for all greats, which certainly simplifies things linguistically.

Freeway passing through Great Wall Gate

2009/04/04: Zhangye 85 km
We slipped out early to take pictures of the Wall in the morning light. Breakfast was bowls of beef and noodle soup, with large warm buns. We had paid for our food and lodging, of course, but nene was very pleased that I was enjoying the two boys who were six and seven, and we gave them Canada pencils. We dislike the idea of handing out small gifts to random kids as if feeding pigeons; it only trains a generation of beggars. (There are nearly no beggars here BTW, far more in Vancouver) But we had had fun with the kids, and I’d spent time drawing them animals and getting them to name them. (This is my way of getting a Chinese lesson) They gave us bottles of fruity milk for the road from their shop next door, and we pedalled off.

We pedalled an easy 85 km today, starting out slightly downhill wearing Goretex socks, and shedding layers to shorts as the day warmed. This is a land of extremes. We are in a modest hotel in Zhangye, and plan to keeping moving west until Jiayuguan, which appeals as a two-night stop because there is a castle and a Great Wall Museum to visit.


“Burner”? with Great Wall Behind
Wind creating a dust devil near pass

One response to “Following the Great Wall

  1. Wow, you guys are really moving!I read in the paper that this week is “grave-sweeping” week where the ancestors are remembered extravagantly. Apparently grave sites cost more than condos per unit area, and there is public concern about this. So if you pass by a cemetery there may be something interesting to see.

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