2wheels: The Return
Edward Genochio's bicycle expedition from China to England
September 2005 - November 2006
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Horseman Stole My Bicycle!
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A brief account of a journey by bicycle from Topsham to China, by the author
To those of you planning to ride a bicycle from Topsham to China, I would say this: the eastbound route has certain advantages.
My first attempt at pedalling to the Orient via a westerly course ended damply, a few yards off Land's End. My initial calculations had suggested a take-off speed of around thirty-four miles per hour would be sufficient to carry me clear across the Atlantic. In the event, these calculations proved wide of the mark.
I did not, however, allow this early setback to dull my enthusiasm for getting to Peking on a bicycle. Setting aside thoughts of becoming a latter-day two-wheeled Columbus, I concentrated instead on plotting an easterly path across the Eurasian landmass.
Of course, the actual business of riding a bicycle is not especially difficult. Over the years, hundreds, perhaps thousands have mastered it. Dozens more have at least a rudimentary grasp of the basic techniques involved. What differentiates a ride to the Far East from, say, a trip down to the bookies to put a couple of quid on the 3:45 at Newton Abbot is merely a matter of degree. The distances involved, you see, are simply not comparable.
Well, in the sense that one is much longer than the other, they are, perhaps, strictly speaking, comparable, but that I think rather misses the underlying sense of the word.
A statistic will usefully illustrate the point here. I can report on good authority, i.e. my own, that to ride a bicycle to China it is necessary to rotate the pedals no fewer than well, unfortunately I lost count somewhere near Bournemouth, but I feel confident that the final total would have been well into double figures, perhaps even more.
One of the difficulties one encounters almost immediately on leaving England is the large numbers of foreigners who inhabit the lands beyond our shores, many of whom speak utterly incomprehensible dialects bearing little or no resemblance to English, at least as it is spoken in Topsham. How these people manage to communicate with one another is a mystery to me.
In addition to their linguistic shortcomings, a large proportion of these people have the very dangerous habit of driving their cars at high speeds along on the wrong side of the cycle-path (travel tip: in foreign countries, these are often referred to on signposts as 'autoroute' or 'autobahn'). In any civilised country, such people would be locked up.
There comes a point in anybody's travels when one's mind begins to get the better of one. This is a sure sign that one has been "on the road" for too long. I realised that I had reached this point when, after eight or nine months overseas, I began to suffer from the delusion that it was not the peculiar people past whose mud-huts I pedalled, but rather I myself, who was the foreigner. A strange, and somewhat un-nerving sensation, but one over which I quickly got.
But then, of course, one must constantly remind oneself that the great majority of people on this planet (in fact as many as 99 per cent, I estimate) are foreigners, and they must live with that inescapable fact on an almost daily basis. You see, one of the great things about travel is that it broadens the mind to the extent that one is able to understand (I think 'appreciate' would be too strong a term) what one might call the 'foreign condition'.
Let me say at this point that there are some thoroughly extraordinary places on the road between Topsham and Peking. Timbuktu is not, strictly speaking, one of them, though due to a navigation error on the Regensburg ring-road, I did find myself skirting the outer fringes of that fabled African metropolis.
Back on track, several months later I found myself in Russia. Russia is very large country indeed, populated almost entirely by foreigners and mosquitoes, none of whom speak a word of English, and many of whom have a nasty bite. It is, in most respects, a ghastly place, with few redeeming features other than their predilection for sitting around all day in saunas beating one another with stinging nettles.
Over my transit of the large empty space known as Mongolia, I will draw a discrete veil. On the map, the place has the eight letters M, O, N, G, O, L, I and A printed in large black heavy type across the middle of it, which at least breaks up the emptiness a bit. The reality on the ground is considerably less interesting. Those of you who keep abreast of such matters by subscribing to the regional learned journals (Gobi Matters, Steppe Asides, and so on) may already be aware that, half-way across this cartographic void I suffered the indignity having my bicycle stolen, by a horse.
To the perpetrator, I would like to say only this: I hope you find the saddle as uncomfortable as I did.
Some time later, I arrived in China, having procured a new bicycle on which to complete the journey. Cruising triumphantly into Calcutta (or was it Peking?), there was but one question on my mind, and that question was this: Has this whole venture in fact been a colossal waste of time?
And now, having had several months to reflect, I can unhesitatingly give my answer, in a single word: Yes.
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|Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005 Edward Genochio
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