The best charioteers do no rush ahead;
The best fighters do not make displays of wrath.
The greatest conquerors win without joining issue;
The best user of men acts as though he were their inferior.
This is called the power that comes of not contending.
-Tao Te Ching
The first day of bike tour, we didn’t make it very far. We made it to the mechanic – three times – wobbled through some cobbled streets with everything bungied China-style to our bikes, and collapsed in a mango grove just outside town. We had bought our bikes in the ancient city of Dali – where steady streams of Chinese and foreign tourists flock to see dynastic China and experience Naxi, Huay, Bai and other minority cultures. But we were here on another mission: taking a slight detour from our river’s course to buy used junk bikes from the city’s throngs of rental shops. And so rather than visit the UNESCO pagodas or famed mountain trekking, we had spent our time badgering shop clerks, befriending the local mechanic, beg/borrowing tools from drunk ex-pats and scrapping parts from tetanusy heaps at the local junk yard. After three hectic days, we were wheezing our way out of town on two very loud, very cheap mountain bikes of unknown quality.
The second day of bike tour was a memorable one. Immediately confronted with the reality of having to ride on a very busy, dangerous Chinese highway, we assessed our situation and decided to experiment a method of “hitch biking” to get out. We threw the bikes in the back of a truck driven by Smiley Guy, and after some frustratingly long road construction were deposited in a small city a bit further that we could have ridden. From here we rode out to find camping, but dizzying sun, a steep climb and trouble which had been brewing in our gut for a long time all took their wicked toll and a body broke before a bike did. I stayed up late that night, worriedly listening to my partner’s erratic breathing in a dark tent.
Day three was the short ride back downhill to the hospital, where gloveless hands missed poking IVs into sunburnt veins and staff seemed more interested in taking pictures with us than patient care. The next few days bled into one another- holed up in a room above some pungent Chinese restaurant and realizing with a start that we couldn’t access money in the bank and that our small bundle of cash had nearly run out. We changed the very last, super secret, squirreled away emergency-only Benjamin to pay for the room and crossed our fingers.
What is most perfect seems to have something missing;
Yet its use is unimpaired.
What is most full seems empty;
Yet its use will never fail.
-Tao Te Ching
Week two of bike tour could rightly be re-dubbed week one, as it took us a while to get on the bikes and start moving under our own power. It was exhausting. Flat tires and frustration. No doubt our bodies had no business doing what we were trying to make them do. In fact, we were feeling pretty close to death.
There’s no real way to explain those first agonizing days, grinding it out under a blazing Yunnan sun. But we kept to it, and slowly – day by day – started to feel our bodies strengthen. We got to know the quarks of our proud steeds (Junko Partner and Lil’ Seizer) and got into the rhythm of gallons of water. Then, one day, we were shocked to find ourselves climbing all morning with no breaks (or breakdowns). Could this be? And with a shallow grace, Chinese blacktop turned the crest, a sign warned motorists of 20km straight decent, and our two little bikes sprouted wings. Wind swept sweat from our eyes, carrying whoops and crows to the heavens.
We soared on intoxicating triumph as the last of the Himilayas fell away behind us. We were on the Tropic of Cancer.
We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
-Tao Te Ching
Junk biking is chalk full of what Ed calls “type B fun.” Meaning – the kind of fun which often involves sweat, tears, blood, and a whole lot of chain grease. But this is not to be confused with a lesser degree of fun. On the contrary. The rewards of pushing yourself harder than you thought possible, taking the uncertainties of the future at a snail’s pace, and putting faith in two wobbly wheels… The song of an open heart and soul riding a well deserved downhill and knowing it was your own two legs which brought you here…
We’re now entering week four of bike tour. After a rocky start, we’re getting a lot of “type A fun”, too. Once our bodies and bikes settled in, we were able to start using pedal power the way we originally intended: the explore back roads, talk to locals, and get an up close, slowed down look at this river we’re following. We’ve made it a long way, seen amazing things, and had some great adventures which we can’t wait to share.
What is in the end to be shrunk,
Must first be stretched.
Whatever is to be weakened,
Must begin by being made strong.
What is to be overthrown,
Must begin by being set up.
He who would be a taker,
Must begin as a giver.
This is called ‘dimming’ one’s light.
It is thus that the soft overcomes the hard,
And the weak, the strong.
-Tao Te Ching
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