Day 789 – CHINA (ANHUI): Feeling A Bit Wonky

Um so I am losing weight. Yesterday I weighed in at 71kg with all my clothes on. I am usually 73kg or thereabouts nekkid. I can hardly face solid food. Grapes and bananas are my friends at the moment. I have my suspicions as to why, but right now I have the following crazy stuff happening:

  • Chronic indegestion
  • No apetite (well, for Chinese food, anyway)
  • Really tired all the time
  • Big knot in my stomach (anxiety)
  • Not sleeping well at night

Possible causes:

  • Stress from knowing life-changing times are ahead after 2.5 years on the road.
  • Stress from all the visa issues….how wonderful it will be to arrive in New Zealand and know that I am allowed to stay there as long as I want!
  • Lack of decent human contact. In an area of China where there are millions of people surrounding me, I feel the lonliest I have ever on this trip.
  • Accumulated fatigue due to the heat and of course skating.
  • Truely depressing and uninspiring surroundings that I know I still have at least a weeks worth of skating through.

Crazy crazy times. I was thinking that I would coast through this last wee bit…nothing of the sort. I find myself quite nicely depressed and not at all my usual self. I am taking 5mg Mosapride Citrate Capsules (a Japanese stomach regulator) for the indegestion, along with some crazy Chinese herbal stuff, and that is helping.

Shade (Hebei City outskirts, Anhui Province, China)

I do have my fourth and final visa extension in hand however. I bussed back to Hefei city yesterday to get it. They graciously gave me until the 8th of October (my flight out is on the 7th). Things to look forward to between now and then are meeting up with fellow traveller Steve Ruelle who now lives about 70km out of Shanghai, and staying with Michele and his girlfiend in Shanghai until my flight leaves. It will be truely theraputic to hang out with people that I can communicate with!

So for Steve, if you’re reading this, I am in Wuhu and heading your way. I have no idea when I’ll arrive. Could be within the working week, could be up to 10 days away or more. It all depends on how my body holds up and how many kilometers a day my legs will carry me. If I have to crawl at 20km a day, I will.

Readers, prayers and/or general good health vibes requested.

Day 787 – CHINA (ANHUI): Counting the days in Wuhu

In 20 days I will leave this country. 380km to skate. I have the remaining kilometers written on my shoe. Counting down daily…

Alone in a hotel room in a city of millions (Wuhu, Anhui Province, China)

The days are passing too slowly right now. Accumulated stress from fighting bureaucrazies and fatigue from skating and dealing with the constant public attention has taken it’s toll, and I was only able to manage about 40km a day over the last three days. Tomorrow I have to get on a bus back 100km from where I came to pick up my passport with my new visa. The physical act of skating has been the easiest part of this skate across China.

As I approach Shanghai, the population density is mushrooming. Signs of environmental abuse is ever-present. Cement factories and foundries send out plumes of dark fumes, roadsides are dusty and dirty, raw garbage discarded in heaps on the roadside, still, stagnant water. This is the most depressing area I have ever experienced in my travels around the world.
Access to my photo hosting page is restricted here in Wuhu also, so no updates today as I had hoped.

The only thing that keeps me going at the moment is my anticipation for arriving in New Zealand and cycling the last 700km of my journey home from Auckland to Christchurch in New Zealand. I was considering to skate this part, but I refuse to skate on the rough chipseal roads in New Zealand. I had my baptism of fire on the rough roads in Texas, and I’m not going through that again.

So in about a month’s time, I will be back on my trusty recumbent bicycle, rolling home.

Day 786 – CHINA (ANHUI): From Chaohu to Wuhu

Today’s distance / ???????: 40.6 miles / 65.3km
Average speed / ????: 7.5mph / 12.1km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 25m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6925mi plus 386mi (?) / 11,145km plus 622km (?)
Ascent / ??: 345m
Descent / ??: 375m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N31°21′40.9″, E118°22′08.0″

An epic day. My body is totally done. Heartburn, sore legs, tired…

Along these small rural road today, there are many small private businesses, mostly metal casting factories pumping out all sorts of products from pulleys to gearbox housings.

The factories are all more or less open-air or shacks. Working conditions seem to be not very good, and safety is obviously not on the cards at all, with workers wandering around in soft foam rubber slippers.

The highlight of the mess was a large cement factory literally blocking out the sun at times with it’s dust and fumes.

Cement factory near Chaohu fuming up the skies in Anhui Province, China

I was happy to see some hill action today despite feeling weak and tired. A short sharp 200m climb out of the quagmire of pollution and noise into a quiet forested hill was a welcome change. Brutally hot, but welcome all the same.

Reflections near Chaowu, Anhui Province, China

The roads after the small hill deteriorated considerably. They are all in the process of being re-made. That is, not repaved, but entirely re-made from the foundations up. Half of the road at a time is being worked on, so traffic was an issue, as was sections of hard-packed gravel that made skating dusty and bumpy.

A rail crossing near Wuhu:

Ah the joys of cheap copious labour - two people per crossing to push the barriers across by hand (near Wuhu, Anhui Province, China)

To get into the city of Wuhu from the west, you need to cross the imposing Yellow River. Skating along the massive stop banks of the river, I felt a momentary repsite from my pent up stress…the flow of the river seeming to wash away some of the stress inside of me, calming me.

The Yellow river, Wuhu City, Anhui Province, China, and a depressed traveller

I did not venture very far into the city, choosing instead to stop at the first inn I could find. Tomorrow will be a day off.

Day 785 – CHINA (ANHUI): From small town (N31.49.55.6 E117.34.26.5) to Chaohu

Today’s distance / ???????: 28.5 miles / 45.9km
Average speed / ????: 8.1mph / 13km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 3h 32m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6884mi plus 386mi (?) / 11,079km plus 622km (?)
Ascent / ??: 110m
Descent / ??: 130m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N31°36′22.4″, E117°53′30.6″

I am updating my blog about 10 days after this actual day, and I cannot for the life of me remember a single thing about it. I haven’t got any notes written in my log apart from the mileage info, and the following info:

Start ride: 0720
Finish ride: 1620
Weather: Dry, hot, overcast
Physical condition: BAD

Also, I have a section where I write what I ate during the day. In the section for lunch, I have written NONE.

Another painful day.

It goes without saying…I have no photos from this day’s skating.

EDIT: So I have finally recalled something about this day. I remember sneaking onto the expressway for a bit because the small provincial roads were getting too rough.

Sneaking onto the expressway near Chaowu, Anhui Province, China

I also remember counting up the remaining kilometers to go till Shanghai, and writing them on my shoe. 421km.

Day 784 – CHINA (ANHUI): From Hefei to small town (N31.49.55.6 E117.34.26.5)

Today’s distance / ???????: 22.2 miles / 35.7km
Average speed / ????: 8.0mph / 12.9km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 2h 46m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6856mi plus 386mi (?) / 11,033km plus 622km (?)
Ascent / ??: n/a
Descent / ??: n/a
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N31°49′55.6″, E117°34′26.5″

The total lack of photos taken today should attest to the agony I experienced today. Hot, dusty, no appetite, weak, grooved concrete skating surface, headwind, stress…mad, mad times.

I pushed out from Hefei late at about 9am. It was already hot. I followed my nose out of the city, and picked up a stragler on the way. Liu Hang, a student at the local university was out for a bike ride, and struck up a conversation at one of the intersections I was stopped at. His manner was unobtrusive and polite (a rarity in eastern China, I have found), and I enjoyed chatting to him as I skated and he cycled.

“One day I would like to cycle across China,” he said. I could see that he was keen for an adventure, and thorougly reccommened that he do it.

We travelled together for about 10km out of Hefei, and were planning on having lunch together before he headed back to Hefei. I was looking forward to it, however at around 11:30am I knew that I was not going to be in any shape to stomach any solid food. I apologised to Liu and after seeing him cycle off, headed to a nearby bridge to lie down in the shade and sip at a bottle of Sprite.

Despite the five days resting in Hefei, I am still feeling very strange. It has just been such an incredible bureaucratic mission to skate across China. I am sure that had I had a decent six month visa at the start of the trip, I would have finished the trip by now, and I would be in much better shape. The continual pressure of visa renewals (which are never guaranteed), getting a new visa in Hong Kong, and just the feeling of oppression being a solo traveller here has really put a damper on the whole experience. It is terrible having to lie to police about what I am doing, due to fear of them telling me to get on a bus. Not that I am doing anything illegal!

And here I am skating east, knowing that in a few days I will have to go back to Hefei by bus to pick my visa up. So much back and forth.

Add to this a lack of contact with English speakers, and it is all just a little stressful. And I say stressful as stress on a sub-concious level. It’s not like it is in the forefront of my mind, this deprivation from like minded people. It is an isidious gnawing that pulls me down.

Now the really interesting thing is that there have been other times when I have gone very long periods without speaking English. In Central Asia, in Turkey, it was the same. But there is something about China that grates. There is some kind of aggregation of marginal ikes (to borrow a sporting term) that adds up to something yuck.

I am not alone in this; at least two other long distance travellers (www.chinawheelie.com and www.marijakozin.com) have admitted to feeling down when approaching Shanghai. They too experienced a mysterious change in vitality and life in the people and surroundings here.

I only got just out of Hefei before calling it a day. I stopped in at a small inn off the main road. It was a nice place with a couple of pigs oinking in their stalls, a wee puppy to play with, and best of all, it was about 100m down a long driveway off the road; nice and quiet.

The Waiting Game

Thank you for your visa application Mr. Thomson. Your passport photos are not large enough, so please go and get bigger ones. Also, you need to have this blue police registration form to apply for a visa extension. No, this is not a rule only in Hefei, it applies everywhere in China. Also, the hotel you are staying at is not allowed. You must be staying at a five-star hotel.”

What?! This rule applies only to this miniscule insignificant segment of the space-time continuuum, and is obviously a construct of your own inconceivable imagination!

Well, that’s what I wanted to say, but I was too astounded at the preposterousness of the situation.
This was not a good start to my day.  The absolute absurdity of this…it is really difficult to understate.

I raised my voice at the poor police officer. Spoke the magic words “Welcome to China, huh?”. This seemed to have the desired effect, and I was directed to her supervisor’s office.

Rob Luxton (www.chinawheelie.com) once gave me some advice that to survive in China, sometimes you have to act like a Chinese and get pushy. I will have to finally reluctantly agree with him.

The matter was sorted in the end, with me coming extremely close to saying “I don’t give a damn about China! Just give me enough time to fly out of this god-forsaken place.” I held my tounge on that comment however, thinking it probably wouldn’t have gone down very well with the patriotic officers.

While chatting about my travels:

The officer: “You went to Xinjiang? How was it?”
Me: “It was hot.”
The Offcier: “Just hot?!”
Me: “Well, the people were very nice. Especially the Uyghur people. Many of them don’t speak Chinese, you know.”
The Officer: “Yes, you are right. But they are still Chinese.”

In the end I was begrudgingly given until the 8th of October to remain in the country. My flight out is on the 7th of October. Stiff bickies if the flight gets cancelled or delayed for any reason.

Of course the standard five working days processing time applies, so including the weekend, that’s seven days I have to wait for my visa extension. What a pallava.

In happier news, a selection of my photos are now for purchase here. Wahoo! They are available in greeting card format, laminated prints, mounted prints, even framed prints! The prices are really reasonable, and the delivery time is great. Delivery worldwide even. I have to give Alastair Humphreys credit for this idea. Check out his website for more great travel photos.

In other news, some of you may have seen a recent addition to my route information page. That’s right! Skating in South America in February next year! However I have decided to postpone this trip indefinitely. Adam Colton of www.whoisadamcolton.com fame and www.loadedboards.com fame was going to be my skating partner for the trip, and I was really looking forward to it.

The postponement comes after some thorough route planning (emailing cyclists on the ground right now), and after securing a sponsorship deal from Orangatang Wheels. However despite the great opportunity that the route offers and the extra support from Orangatang Wheels, I don’t feel that early next year is a good time for me to get back on a board.

I feel that it is time for me to spend some time in one place for a while. I am keen to wrap this 14degrees journey up (speaking tour, book etc) and bring closure to this chapter of my life before moving on to the next thing.

My most recent contact with Adam indicated that he is keen to push ahead with the route, possibly starting in January. I wish him all the best…it’d be an amazing trip. And, he’ll be able to scout the route out for me, making it easier when I do it later! :) I’ll make sure to let people know of any blog or info about the trip as it unfolds. You can be sure that I’ll be following the trip!

The Great Wall… (rant warning)

I am in Hefei Metropolis, about 400km away from Shanghai. 

So…it appears that instead of outright blocking access to certain websites, the Chinese gov*ernment is just capping the download rate of certain websites. Or something like that. Because I am having great difficulty in signing into my Flickr account, which had all my photos sitting patiently waiting to be displayed in the ten or so days worth of blog posts that I have not been able to write.

Is this a way of the Chinese gov*ernment getting around criticism that they are being too harsh on cen*soring information coming into the country?

“No, we are not blocking access to websites,” they could legitimately argue. What they won’t tell you, is that they have made access to certain websites so infuriatingly slow, that no one will bother waiting for the information to load.

Ugh.

So.

The last two weeks have had their ups and downs. Notable highlights include:

  • Amazing southeast-asia-feel scenery in south west Henan province (water buffalo, rice, rice drying on the side of the road).
  • Rice harvest time!
  • The food portions are getting noticably smaller. I am often having to buy two servings of noodles etc.
  • I stormed out of a restaurant half way through my bowl of noodle soup because people were staring at me (through the window too) bombarding me with (the same) questions, and generally not respecting my personal space.
  • I yelled at a guy who was trailing me on his motorbike to sod off, and felt bad afterwards because he was just a curious local. But there are 1.3 billion curious locals in China. And that can get on your nerves after a (very) short while.
  • Headwinds for a week. Headwinds are the breath of the devil himself.
  • It is hot. Very hot.
  • Um…generally getting over China. It is time to get out. Too many people in this small space that is eastern China.

Anyway…here are some photos.

Day 778 – CHINA (ANHUI): From Luan to Hefei

Today’s distance / ???????: 46.4 miles / 74.7km
Average speed / ????: 7.4mph / 11.9km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 6h 18m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6833mi plus 386mi (?) / 10,998km plus 622km (?)
Ascent / ??: 350m
Descent / ??: 350m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N31°51′11.8″, E117°15′30.7″

Horrible, horrible day. China National Highway G312 between Luan and Hefei is shocking. Groved concrete surface, ups and downs all day, rubbish on the roadside, and today worst of all, a stiff headwind. This is my first proper headwind in a long time, and it sucked the life out of me. I had forgotten how draining a solid headwind is. I am pushing against an invisible force.

Horrible, horrible G312 highway between Luan and Hefei, Anhui Province, China

The most frustrating thing about all this is the fact that as far as I am concerned, I have no other choice but to keep skating. There is no option in my mind to give up on this mission. My body would happily give up, but my mind will not allow it. This hurts.

It is hot again today too. Stifling. Muggy. The final 10km into Hefei were done on sheer willpower alone.

This road construction worker was a welcome comic relief for a nano-second…

Safety first for this road construction worker in Hefei City, Anhui Province, China

I arrived in Hefei at 4pm and promptly decided to take a day or two off. I also decided that I would not stay in a budget inn (the typical 30 RMB place) but a decent business hotel with internet access. I checked into the 7+1 Business Hotel on the main drag entering town for a stiff 170RMB (17 Euro) a night.

Day 777 – CHINA (ANHUI): From Yeji to Luan

Today’s distance / ???????: 40.4 miles / 65.1km
Average speed / ????: 8mph / 12.9km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 02m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6787mi plus 386mi (?) / 10,923km plus 622km (?)
Ascent / ??: 310m
Descent / ??: 305m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N31°44′37.4″, E116°29′28.2″

Fatigue sucks. I lost it with someone today. Really shouted at them. Just a random curious human being.

I rolled into the small town around 11:45am, ready to sit down for lunch somewhere. I had already covered 40km. Not many places to choose from in this little village. “Where is a place to eat?” I asked the man on the corner fixing shoes. “Just over there,” he pointed.

I moved on quickly, before the approaching bystanders could encircle me and start asking questions. Arrived at the restaurant.

“Hallllooooooooo?” the restaurant owner wailed loudly in the far too typical upward tone ended, almost mockingful greeting that I get on an almost minutely basis in eastern China. I gave him a scowl. Dumb punk, I thought. Get a life. Just because I might be a foreigner that doesn’t speak Chinese and doesn’t know the social ways of your country, doesn’t mean that you should mock me.

I walked straight past him and walked to the kitchen door. I conversed with the cook, and ordered a bowl of noodles in an egg soup.

A few minutes later I was sitting at the front window, eating my noodles. I try to look as inconspicuous as possible, but my skateboard in front of the restaurant draws people in. There were no other people in the restaurant until now, apart from the cook and the owner. Now there are five people. Standing at the door, peering in. Taking a look at the foreigner. An old woman wanders slowly past, sneaking a look. She quickly removes her gaze when she sees me looking at her. She does another pass, this time straining to catch a glimpse of me through the cracks of the others standing in the doorway.

One starts to approach me. I stay focussed on my noodles and pretend not to notice. By the time she is a meter away from me, I sense that polite conversation is imminent. The same questions. The same astoundment at my amazing Chinese skills after me only uttering a few words.

A guy tries to peer through the door. View blocked by others. Comes to the window that I am sitting at. He’s outside. I’m inside. I can’t take it. I try to motion him away with my hand. He stares. Look, the trained monkey is trying to communicate! He stares.

I crack. I am only half way though the verey delicious bowl of noodles. Throw my chopsticks down on the table, stand up, storm out of the restaurant, throwing the money at the owner. Storm back into restaurant to retrieve GPS unit I forgot in my frustration.

Skate away.

I am angry at myself for being so rash. But I am also angry at the locals for not giving me some personal space while I eat. Surely that is a rude thing to do, even here in China – stare at someone while the eat. Surely this is not some cultural thing that I am not understanding…I don’t know, but I am angry at this small moment in history.

Now this is where I really lose it. A guy starts trailing me on his motorbike. Just behind me so that I can’t see him if I’m looking ahead. I put up with it for a full 60 seconds, and then indicate to him to pass on by. He just pulls up beside me and stares. Asks where I am from. I decide that I do not speak Chinese. This ploy does not work. He just shuts up and continues to stare. I once again indicate for him to carry on. “Get out of here!” I shout in English. “Go! Go away!”

He pulls away a few meters but stays just ahead of me, turning his head around, craning to look at me every now and then. He looks around to see if there are any others looking at me. To validate his curiosity, perhaps?

“Look, just f*** off!” I yell without control, voice trembling. He seems to get the point and takes off.

What have I become? It’s not that I used language that I never use. It’s just that I was so incredibly angry and out of control. Adrenaline was pumping through my veins. I was seething. I have become some sort of animal. I am seeing a dark side of myself that I have never seen, and do not want to see ever again. I am not myself. This is not Rob Thomson.

Rice ready for harvest near Luan, Anhui Province, China

Day 776 – CHINA (HENAN and ANHUI): From Huangchuang to Yeji

Today’s distance / ???????: 58.9 miles / 94.9km
Average speed / ????: 8.4mph / 13.5km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 7h 02m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6747mi plus 386mi (?) / 10,858km plus 622km (?)
Ascent / ??: 240m
Descent / ??: 240m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N31°50′48.7″, E115°55′14.9″

Stiff headwind all day, me feeling weak, sore legs. Hacked off with the Chinese with them stopping in the middle of the road to stare from their car windows/motorbikes. Annoyed that I can’t stop for a nap under a tree without someone coming and interrupting my dozing.

IMG_0925 IMG_0926

Curiosity. We all have it. I have it. When I see people killing geese on the roadside, I am intrigued. This is something I have never seen before.

Geese meet their end near Yeji, Anhui Province, China

I am compelled to stop and look. Take photos even. How hypocritical of me. I get angry at Chinese people being curious at seeing me – me being an anomoly in so many ways – and yet I still happily stare myself. I hate what I have become here in eastern China in so many ways. I don’t yet know of a way to overcome these feelings of impatience…it is a mental state, I know, so there must be a way…

Geese meet their end near Yeji, Anhui Province, China Geese meet their end near Yeji, Anhui Province, China

Geese meet their end near Yeji, Anhui Province, China

Anyway, I pushed on tired and was happy to finally make it to Anhui Province just as the sun was starting to dip below the polluted blanket that seems to eternally dampen the horizon.

Entering Anhui Province from Henan Province, China

The roads became somewhat of a maze near Yeji, and I lost the scent of G312 a couple of times. It looks like I will be following my nose a lot over the next few days!

Buffalo near Yeji, Anhui Province, China