After 585 kilometers and 9 days on a bike I became the first foreigner to complete a solo cycle trip around Taihu today at 10:45am. A definite sense of accomplishment eluded me, though I am very grateful for the words of encouragement many people sent to me. It’s somehow easier to take pride in other people’s accomplishments than our own. In any event, a month and half ago, while I was on the metro in Shanghai going to work one morning, the idea of circuiting Taihu first took shape in my mind. A month and a half later, it is done. I have done it. It’ll all sink in later I suppose.
Five and a half years ago I made my first trip to Taihu. I wrote about it on City Weekend. That’s around the time I started reading Chinese language guidebooks so I could get off the beaten path a bit. In my Chinese guidebook there was an entry for Guangfu Temple. So in March 2008, I decided to go find it and check out Taihu at the same time.
Turtlehead Peninsula (鼋头渚) and Lihu (蠡湖) are generally considered to the be the most scenic parts of Taihu, so I figured they deserved a whole day. Both are quite nice, though I wouldn’t count them as my favorite parts. Turtlehead Peninsula is beautiful during the day and Lihu is gorgeous at night. In sum, both together remind me favorably of Hangzhou’s West Lake.
Today was the last big kick–85 kilometers including a massive detour to trace the edge of the Lingshan peninsula. The last 20km were dicey as hell as I pedaled gingerly on a half busted chain. Next time I go flying out the door with my bike loaded with panniers, please someone remind me to bring magic links. But I am getting ahead of myself.
At some point today, probably near to the Zhejiang-Jiangsu border, I passed the halfway point of my journey. Halfway is the most difficult place to be. The excitement of the beginning is behind you, the end still seems a bit far away. I’m just pumping away at the pedals, wind hitting my face, slowing me down, feeling lonesome, wondering what possessed me to do this. It didn’t help that the road lost the lake just after Changxing. Then it’s just another road.
As planned, today I took it easy, logging 45km between the old watertown of Nanxun and a place on the map marked only as “Taihu Paradise”. If it’s a tour of Taihu, then a stop in paradise is a must. I had a strong suspicion that I would find there the “Moon Hotel”, the brand new Ma Yansong designed Sheraton that not only rocketed around the world via the internet but also graced the cover of City Weekend’s summer travel special this year. And indeed I did. Fitting to be sure. But I am getting ahead of myself.
It wasn’t long after leaving Sanshan Dao that I realized the situation around Taihu was more complicated than new tarmac and blue water vistas. The southern side of Dongshan is all fish farms as far as the eye can see. Well, they aren’t fish farms, crab farms really, carved out of what used to be wetlands. Look at the Google Earth map (after the jump) and you can see the outline of them–actually larger than the Dongshan peninsula proper.
Everything is easy when you have the wind at your back. Biking, life, the same. Today I had the wind at my back. Literally. And figuratively as well. I’ve gotten a lot of really positive feedback from people since I started this journey yesterday. I’ve even been covered by Hello Nanjing! Really want to thank everyone for the support. Means a lot. I did 90+ kilometers today and am looking at about the same tomorrow. Every little bit helps.
In the evening, sitting in the little square of the Qianzheng old town with a couple of beers. I had an interesting conversation with a man from Anhui who runs a little ancient clothes photography business in Qiandeng. We talked about the importance of the environment. We talked about China’s pretty dire environmental situation. He pointed to China’s economic development as the main culprit. I countered that it was rather bad management of that process rather than the sheer speed of it.
It poured rain today. Of course it did. It was demoralizing to say the least. Nonetheless something greater than me compelled me on and I got everything together, threw on the rainproof cover, and set off. I took the Minsheng Lu ferry to Puxi, then followed Suzhou Creek through the city. I got lost many times.