In fact, to get to the race start in Duoba from where I’d been staying in New Mexico, I took a truck, a plane, another plane, a cab, a train, another cab, three planes, and a van. Getting home from the finish in Lanzhou was much easier, requiring only a bus, a plane, another plane, a taxi, another taxi, two more planes, a car, and a truck.
I went through that ordeal for a bicycle race. And to see China. When they called and asked if I could go, I only hesitated a second. That’s how long it took to ask myself the critical question: is that a place I’ve already been? No? Then I’m in.
What was it like? Where do I begin? There was a lot of smog. No surprise there, except that there was smog everywhere. Dust and dirt on the roads. One day they “washed” the road, really just sprayed water on it. Turned a paved road to mud. More than once we’d work late washing bikes and team cars, only to have them covered in mud by the time they got to the start of the race. The riders finished with their faces covered in dust, caked on with sweat.
The Chinese people were generally great. Kids would politely ask if they could take a picture with you, but once approval had been granted, the kids with cameras seemed to come from everywhere.
There was construction going on. Not the roads, the buildings. Every town we went through had dozens of high-rise buildings in various states of completion. There were people all along the race route, but closer examination, or casual watching, would reviled the tell-tale red armband: communist party members. Were they were race fans too? Maybe, but standing at attention staring straight ahead as the race went by was an interesting way to show it.
Almost everything is made of concrete. Not just the buildings. Fence posts and power line poles, guard rails on the mountain roads, even the art work.
One thing not made of concrete was the walls in the showers and bathrooms. Several times we stayed in hotels with glass walls separating the bathroom from the rest of the rooms.
Here's a small sample of the pictures I took, in no particular order. Enjoy.
|A statue of the mascot of the 2008 Olympics.|
|Zack thought Chinese ice cream tasted like beard.|
|Crowd at the finish line.|
|No cash dispenser, this ATM is a motorcycle-dumptruck.|
|18 teams, 9 riders each, 162 bikes need to be washed. They provided 3 hoses!! Zero fights broke out.|
|Green beans, pudding, and red beans... as ice cream filler. Yes, it was gross.|
|Police guarding the race course, keeping the crowd from rushing onto the road.|
|They don't care about racing. But they've never seen a westerner before.|
|Tail light got broken. This committee spent ten minutes discussing it.|
|Me and a Buddhist Monk. I'm the one with sunglasses.|
|Mao says "Hi."|
|Another day in the office. IN CHINA!!!|
|Prayer flags over the road.|
|Street light with solar and wind power.|
|Don't know what was in this can but it tasted like Coke.|
|In the more remote areas, party members were bused out, positioned every 10 meters, and stood like this as the race went by.|
|PBR. Now available in rural China.|
(Empty can provided as a prop.)
|This wasn't the worst working conditions we had while there.|
|Just one beer each. !!!|
|Coal store, deep in the heart of a city of 3 million.|
|Portable Mongolian BBQ. Yum!|
|Riders sure love Nutella.|
|All 5 of these are made of concrete. Really.|
|Like this, everywhere we went.|
|One of the nicer areas for bicycle repairs.|
|Zack (fully dressed) stands in the shower.|
|This was true everywhere, but only the best hotels had signs.|
Since returning, I've been taking it easy and meandering northwest. Pictures and story to follow soon.