Beijing Bound: The final stretch

I’ve arrived in Beijing. Hard to believe I’ve cycled from Dublin all the way to the far side of China. I won’t delve into that right now but will cover the final 1000km from Jingbian to Beijing where I passed through three provinces, a load of pollution, the ancient city of Pingyao and made a stop at a brothel. I’ll write another “reflections” post before I leave. WiFi isn’t great in the hotel so it has been a challenge to get this post up!

I left Jingbian after a day resting my sore achilles tendons. The rest was successful for my left leg, but sadly not my right. I don’t think I was quite upfront about how tough I’d found the previous week mentally – I was in a bad place and really hadn’t been enjoying myself at all and the sore achilles made things that bit worse. That’s how it goes, I know, I’ve been through it many times before, but at the time I felt particularly down. Anyway, the day off in Jingbian gave the aul brain a bit of rest too and I felt much the better for it. That’s long distance cycle touring for you: At least 50% mental, if not more!

I was destined for Suide, about 180km away on the secondary road, or about 160 on the highway. The choice was obvious. A guy chased me onto the highway and tried to get me off but I managed to get away. The highway was bliss compared to the previous couple of days: Peace and quiet. Little traffic and no one blaring their f*cking horns at me endlessly. That really fed into me being so down the previous week. I can’t describe how much the Chinese honk. Those bloody trucks. I was so happy on the highway. Admittedly, it was as dull a day’s cycling as you get but I was thrilled with the silence.

This happens me a quite a lot in China: Take a photo with my baby. Enda Kenny eat your heart out!

This happens me a quite a lot in China: Take a photo with my baby. Enda Kenny eat your heart out!

After about 100km the highway patrol lads showed up and I charmed them into leaving me be by taking photos with them, shaking their hands and giving a big smile. A big smile goes a lonnnngggg way in in China. It really does. At the 122km mark the cops showed up with a pickup truck. Four lads got out of the car, wanted me off the highway and were not taking no for an answer! I stood my ground, smiled like a moron and didn’t step off the bike. Chinese people are very proud and I explained I would “lose all respect at home” if I put the bike in the pickup. It was only 6km to the exit and I was being a bit of a brat to be honest. I kicked up such a fuss over a tiny distance but I was enjoying the argument! After about 20 minutes they relented, threw on the sirens and gave me an escort off the highway and into the town. They’d been threatening me with “punishment” at the side of the road, but then were taking photos, exchanging emails and even riding the bike (which he subsequently punctured, the cock!).

The cops who gave me an escort into the city. The chick in the middle worked on the toll booth and spoke English. Pretty cute too!

The cops who escorted me into the city. The chick in the middle worked on the toll booth and spoke English. Pretty cute too!

One of the cops who gave me an escort into town. He punctured my bike, the cock!

One of the cops who gave me an escort into town. He punctured my bike, the cock!

After the delay with the cops and fixing the puncture it was 6:30pm and I had 30km to go to Suide so I decided to pack it in and stay the night in Zizhou. Another day, another nondescript hotel. I missed the pipes under the road. Well, maybe not that much!

There was no chance of me getting back on the highway and it was probably for the best as the next section was made up of lots of long tunnels (a few km long in most cases) so I took the secondary road. What a great road! Firstly, it wasn’t too busy for the first 90km or so. I cycled through this tremendous valley passing people living in caves, actual cavemen! About 40m people in China live in caves, but some have satellite dishes, electricity and even UPVC windows! Mad looking! It was a tough day with a good bit of climbing but I really don’t mind going over mountains – what you put in going up, you usually get back going down and in the middle you get some great views, so I was a happy cyclist on a quiet country road. Great stuff!

Cave homes! These ones aren't very fancy but some have satelite dishes and UPVC windows!

Cave homes! These ones aren’t very fancy but some have satelite dishes and UPVC windows!

After 90km the traffic returned, and sadly, the bloody pollution. The road had a layer of black coal dust and the smog was thick. I arrived in Lvliang and after checking into the hotel I saw my face was black with soot. Yuk.

My leg was so sore getting onto the bike in Lvliang. I’d only 2 doses of Ibuprofen left, which I’d been rationing for a week as I couldn’t find more anywhere. I ended up using my last strip of duct tape (thank you Ailbhe!) as improvised athletic tape and took a massive dose of suck it up. Pingyao was 120km away and I felt every kilometre. The pollution died off after Lvliang and I climbed up gently to 1700m. The road was wedged with trucks crawling up at 5kph and to ease the load on my leg I’d grab onto a truck, take a quick tow for 50m then spring off it and up to the next. I did this the whole way up getting thumbs up and waves from the friendly truck drivers. This is the truck driver paradox: They absolutely ruin the ride with their constant honking and I curse and spit and throw the bird at them, but then when I get close to them they’re all smiles and waves and just lovely guys. Since Turkey, truck drivers have been a constant source of smiles, waves and sometimes company in desolate places. I just wish they wouldn’t honk those feckin’ horns so much.

Improvised strapping for my achilles tendon. It was somewhat successful!

Improvised strapping for my achilles tendon. It was somewhat successful!

I hopped between trucks on the climb, grabbing onto each for a few seconds then shooting up to the next one. Leap frog!

I hopped between trucks on the climb, grabbing onto each for a few seconds then shooting up to the next one. Leap frog!

Anyway, I got to the top, whacked on the helmet, then zipped down the other side taking the racing line and carving my way through the trucks, whose brakes were smoking with the load of braking into the hairpins. Not the fastest descent at about 65kph but the hairpins were great fun. Mountains are by far the best form of cycling – you get great views and adrenaline pumping descents in return for a tough slog to the top. Absolutely worth it, unless it’s raining!

The view at the top of the climb. Nice.

The view at the top of the climb. Nice.

About halfway down two trucks had collided in a bad way. It didn’t look good. The cabs were destroyed and at those speeds it’s hard to see anyone surviving. I felt genuinely sad – as I said before, as much as the truckers drive me bonkers with their horns, they’re a universally friendly bunch who add to the journey overall. Just a couple of lads out earning a wage. Tragic.

The two trucks after they crashed

The two trucks after they crashed

The one nearest seemed the better off. Behind it you can't see much of the cab of the other because it wasn't there. Looked nasty.

The one nearest seemed the better off. Behind it you can’t see much of the cab of the other because it wasn’t there. Looked nasty.

I arrived in Pingyao after battling a headwind for the final 45km and headed straight for the top rated guesthouse in the Lonely Planet and wasn’t disappointed. Mr. Deng spoke perfect English, welcomed me in, immediately giving me a glass of water and insisting on me sitting and resting. He was fully booked but saw I was wrecked, covered in soot and found a room for me. I couldn’t help but notice the stares of the westerners as I dragged the bike through the courtyard and Mr. Deng asked me where I’d cycled from. I felt ever so slightly smug replying “Ireland”, loud enough to be heard. I’m a humble person, honestly! In all seriousness though, I was really proud to have Dublin2Beijing on the frame of my bike having cycled here solo and on my own penny.

The walls of ancient Pingyao. I was happy to see them - shelter from the wind!

The walls of ancient Pingyao. I was happy to see them – shelter from the wind!

Pingyao didn’t disappoint. I’d been on the cheap food-wise lately and splurged on a couple of burgers and several overpriced beers in a bar almost exclusively catering to Westerners. The city itself is an ancient walled city wedged with Chinese tourists, every sort of knock off souvenir tat and of course plenty of sights within. I’m not great when it comes to visiting historical sights – I tend to forget them as soon as I leave so I was glad to make use of my old student card and got the city ticket for half price. The sights weren’t anything special for me, but after blazing across this huge country seeing little I was quite content to be a “normal” tourist for once, blending into the crowd and only occasionally being pointed at and photographed. My hair seems to be a source of intrigue, so wearing a cap reduces my novelty ten fold.

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Pingyao was really the type of Chinese city you’d expect to see in a movie about ancient China and to be honest, it was the first place I’d seen with any character. It had tonnes of it! I really liked the place.

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Artsy fartsy Pagoda on the walls to the north of Pingyao.

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You never have to walk far in China to find someone sleeping.

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I found this really tranquil and peaceful garden away from the tourist trail in Pingyao. It’s hard to find a quiet spot in China, particularly as you go East.

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I just enjoyed wandering the streets in Pingyao. No cars, no honking, no pollution. Still noisy, but in a nicer and not “honk again and I’m going to pull that horn of your f*cking truck” way!

I found a supply of nurofen and some athletic tape to tend to my achilles so Pingyao as a final stop before Beijing had me feeling fattened up and ready to roll. The bike, on the other hand, was in its own state of disrepair. Just 600km to go, I figured I’d be okay!

From Pingyao it was the home straight. Nothing to see between there and Beijing. I powered out 150km, hitting a lightning storm at the top of my final mountain. It was blue skies in every direction except for the raging storm directly above me, lightning forking all over the place and me on a steel framed bike. Then there were the marble sized hailstones – in 30 degree heat! Weird stuff. After that I was repairing a puncture at the side of the road and the oddest thing happened: A 60 year old Western guy jogged past like it was the most normal thing in the world. In the middle of the Chinese countryside where no one from the West goes, I’m there fixing a puncture, he jogs by, nods and doesn’t skip a beat. I just stared at him like the locals do me. Then I checked into a brothel.

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A nice rainbow came out after the lightning storm. 🙂

So I roll up to this town after 150km, tired and dying for a bed. Any bed. I check into a hotel and it’s weird, but I don’t care. There’s a lot of blue neon lighting and nude paintings on the walls. Whatever. I’m in my room boiling the kettle for some much needed noodles and there’s a knock at the door. A foxy little Chinese girl is there and says “Can I help you with anything?”. No thank you. “Can I help you?”. No, no, I’m all good thanks. “Can I help you?”, No thanks – close the door. Then I notice the banquet of condoms on the table (how I missed them I don’t know). Then I remember the room is a “by the hour” rate, and the aul penny drops.

Moments later another knock at the door. The sexy chick is replaced by a bloke telling me I can’t stay there and I have to move hotel and 15 minutes later I’m in much nicer diggs 500m down the street, much to my relief!

450km to go, and looking at the elevation profile I was due an easy day of descending to sea level from 1200m. Not so! I was forced onto this god awful secondary road and the pollution. Oh the pollution. Words can’t describe it. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. At one point I had to go through a tunnel and I honestly thought I’d taken a wrong turn and was going into a coal mine. Words just don’t do the pollution on that road justice. Between the broken road and the filth I arrived in the capital of Hebei province absolutely shattered. The water in the shower ran black as I once again scrubbed the layer of grime off my skin. 300km to go.

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Coal dust is everywhere at the border of Shanxi and Hebei provinces. It covers everything.

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The culprits! Coal transport seems to be the main use of the roads in this area. 95% of the traffic is dumper trucks like these guys.

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Even the trees weep pollution.

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I saw this moth/butterfly looking thing and it reminded me of the Peppered Moth which I’d seen on a documentary. Essentially the Peppered Moth evolved from light grey to almost black during the Industrial Revolution in England. I wondered if the same thing happened these lads. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peppered_moth_evolution

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The entrance to the tunnel of doom and dust.

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The tunnel of doom and dust. Terrifying stuff – trucks couldn’t see me and I was convinced I’d made a wrong turn and was entering a mine such was the coal dust. Awful stuff.

Says it all really.

Says it all really.

The previous day my parents and extended family had held a very successful coffee morning raising €1150 for me so I set off in good spirits. The traffic soon put an end to that and I started contemplating trying to cycle all the way to Beijing that day (300km) just to finish sharing the roads with the worst drivers of the trip. At 145km the allure of a shower and a soft bed was too strong and those thoughts were swept aside. The only highlight of the day was listening to Jarlath Regan interviewing Ken Doherty on my current favourite podcast “An Irishman Abroad”, something I ration out to one or two episodes a day and I really love listening to it! Always inspires me.

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Another day, and more pollution. F*ck sake.

I was into a swanky business hotel in Baoding and just wanted to get to Beijing. I set off to do 120km to a small city on the outskirts of Beijing with a plan to do just 40km into the city so I’d be fresh arriving. When I got to the 120km point China threw up the usual bollox one has to deal with here and I couldn’t find a hotel to take a foreigner. Frustrated and eager to finish I set off like a scalded cat and hammered out another 40km and was in Tianemen Square by 7pm. With my Irish flag at the ready I went to get my photo in front of Mao’s portrait but the cops were having none of it and moved me on before I could even take a photo. All my photos are blurry because they kept me moving! F*ckers!

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Beijing Boundary. I’d done it, I’d cycled to Beijing (province at least, 60km to the centre!)

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It was nice for the Chinese to gather in such numbers to welcome me to Tian An Men square!

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Sadly the cops kept moving me on so I literally had time to grab one rubbish selfie after a 14000km cycle across 21 countries taking 7.5 months. I tried explaining this to the police. In return I was pushed away. Good aul China.

My good friends from Google had booked me a swanky 5 star hotel for the 6 nights I was to be in Beijing, but I was a day early. At the hotel they jacked up the room rate and I couldn’t afford to stay (especially checking in at 8pm! One must get their money’s worth!). More “no foreigner” bullshit in the chain hotels and my phone died so I couldn’t look up where to stay. I eventually found an affordable business hotel a couple of km from where I am now.

I was in Beijing. I’d done it. I’d cycled to Beijing from Dublin! A pint was in order, so I grabbed a cab over to Paddy O’Shea’s for some beer and pub grub for I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and had done 165km! As I walked in an old Irish guy was holding up the bar and I couldn’t escape. He was so odd. He kept talking to me in Irish and was talking pure nonsense. Then he did the strangest thing: He licked his thumb and rubbed it on my neck!!! WTF?! Thankfully a German lad showed up and I spent most of the night talking to him. I enjoyed a superb club sandwich, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Europe, but after 4 beers I was done.

The next morning I arrived at the swanky 5* hotel to be greeted by the bell boy who was expecting me and the bike! The manager came out to greet me in person and before I knew it I was in an absolutely beautiful room in one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever been in. Serious gratitude to the fantastic guys from Google. True friends.

My uber fancy 5* room in the Kingrand in Beijing. Thanks to my great friends in Google, without whom I wouldn't have the fantastic bike that took me here. Then they paid for me to finish in style. Great guys, great friends.

My uber fancy 5* room in the Kingrand in Beijing. Thanks to my great friends in Google, without whom I wouldn’t have the fantastic bike that took me here. Then they paid for me to finish in style. Great guys, great friends.

That covers the nuts and bolts of the final 1000km. I’ll do a final “reflections” post later this week if I can get a stronger WiFi signal as this has taken 5 days to get uploaded! I’m not quite done with the cycling though. I’m flying back to London where I’ll meet my brother, Anthony, and together we’re to cycle back to Dublin along the route I originally took from Wales. Since I took a train from Shrewsbury to London I’d like to cover that distance, and have a rake of beers with my brother! Also, the road in Wales was a b*stard in those storms, I’d like to vanquish that particular stretch and roll into Dublin the way I left!

I’ve done it. I’m in Beijing. If you’ve enjoyed following my posts, or even if you haven’t enjoyed them, you’ve read this far. I’ve been raising money for Crumlin Children’s Hospital, a truly worthy cause and the response has been tremendous. Maybe you’ll add to the pot. All funds go to the hospital and aren’t lost in admin bollox. Thanks to all the outstanding supporters and donors to the cause so far. The wind in my sails.

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8 Responses to Beijing Bound: The final stretch

  1. Noel Reynolds says:

    Well done…I’ve followed your adventures since you’ve left home,you deserve an Olympic Gold Medal for that journey…absolutely amazing!

  2. crosstownk says:

    Fair play, Stephen. Monumental stuff. The blog has been the best read of the year. Have a safe flight to London.

  3. So Proud of You!!!!!! She is cute (the chick in the middle) LoL Love your writing! What an accomplishment! We would (my husband and I) would love to do this. Starting kind of late-46 years old-not quite empty-nesters-almost there,bout the end of September! Trying to be adventurous but still have kids and grandkids in tow every day and steady jobs! Keep Going-Keep Posting!

  4. mistynites says:

    Fantastic. Congratulations. What an inspiring achievement and one to be so proud of.

  5. peter o'reilly says:

    it’s kind of like watching “Breaking Bad”. I’m sorry it’s all over. I know you’re not but for those followers of you it was a weekly event. Well done. I can’t wait to meet you and shake your hand and your bike and turn it’s wheel. Your one companion for the entire journey.

  6. Marie Cunnningham says:

    Steve, Brilliant blog once again, so happy for you that you have achieved this, you so deserve it after putting so much into it. Another €250 donated for coffee morning and that is €1400.00 so far. Excitement electric here everyone delighted about your wonderful achievement. Love you looking forward to seeing you Sunday Mam x

  7. Wooow! Congratulations on making it! Huge congrats! Gotta say, I love reading your posts though so it’s a bit sad that the journey is winding down, haha.

    Also, the pollution photos, ack.

    I also wanted to let you know that since your blog is one of the most interesting and compelling ones I follow, I nominated you for this chain blog award/meme thing http://wentlooking.com/2014/09/10/well-tell-all-about-sunrise-and-about-sunset/ – feel free to participate or not, but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your blog.

    Enjoy your final days in China!

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