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Ian Hibell in China 2006 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

EMAILS FROM IAN HIBELL IN CHINA 2006

The following emails have come in from Ian Hibell, the UK's most aIan_Hibell_in_Laos_MBT_JPeg.jpgccomplished long-distance touring cyclist. He is currently cycling alone, from Bangkok, east into and across Cambodia, north through Vietnam, west into Laos, back into northern Vietnam and north again into China. If time is available, he would like to complete the journey in Vladivostok, on Russia's Pacific coast, which he reached on his 2004/5 ride from the North Sea to the Pacific Ocean. We look forward to hearing more. As he entered South-east Asia, Ian had already entered his eighth decade!

The image of Ian (above) was taken by fellow-cyclist, Jeff Holmes, and shows Ian in Vang Vieng, Laos.

To read of Ian's ride through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, leading up to his journey the length of China and into Russia, click:

Ian in SE Asia

Preamble by Barry Williamson

We first met Ian HibIan_Hibell_(33).jpgell in October 2003 at the home of a mutual friend and well-known cyclist, Andrew Hague, in Breconshire where we spent a weekend together. On the Sunday we all rode to and from Hay on Wye, which was a much greater privilege for us than it was for him!

We found Ian to be thoughtful aIan_Hibell_(21).jpgnd unassuming, whilst being completely absorbed in his life of cycling. He talked of his great journeys (including the first crossing of the Darien Gap in Central America) and his plans to complete the ride he was then part way through the North Sea to the Pacific (Holland to Vladivostok) through Russia and Mongolia.

He spread hisIan_Hibell_(34).jpg large scale map on the floor and swept his hand across thousands of empty miles as if they were our Sunday ride! To him, long-distance lone cycling on an ageing bicycle, sleeping rough and finding food as and when he could, had become a normal part of his life and he was genuinely puzzled that others might find it remarkable!

His equipment could not have been simpler Ian_Hibell_(37).jpgnot for him the complexities of the GPS or the bicycle computer. A small tent, paraffin stove, waterproof cape, woolly hat and socks were more than enough; after all, he is now a pensioner!

The following account of his current ride is pieced together from emails he sends us; his opening paragraph describes how new computer skills are to him and how important they have become. For us, currently motorhoming and cycling in Romania, it is wonderful to be in touch with a traveller of his calibre; to be in touch and to feel that we can be of some help and support.

 For more (and larger) images of Ian during the weekend in Breconshire, click here.

Crossing into China from Vietnam

My first impressions of the people being reserved, cold and even unfriendly were quite wrong. The Laos and Vietnamese immigration staff had been particularly inquisitive as to where I had come from and why, and how it was possible when I was older than most of their grandparents. Entering China was a different matter. The official staffing the border boom merely directed me to a huge building reached up a dirt track. It seemed vehicles used a tunnel to invade China, for I could see no other way for them to get in. Leaving the bike outside, I followed the sign into the immigration hall. There were the usual glass-fronted cubicles but my smile and "good morning" gained no reaction. Handed a custom form to fill in, the facilities to do so would have suited a 7-foot man.

I was made to wait while others after me where processed but it was cool in there, so I sat down and did not mind a bit. Immigration was in two stages, the second being completed on a higher level up a long escalator. I joined a small queue at an airport-style counter. Again all was efficiency but with a coldness that I found anything but a welcome to their country. The woman should try smiling once in a while!

Once through this barrier, I presumed the luggage-toting bus passengers were waiting for customs inspection but nobody in uniform was there and gradually the group manhandled their bags out of the door and up a gravelled path to another tunnel I couldn't yet see. I had a problem - my bike was an escalator away and to get it I had to return through sour-faced immigration. It took a few minutes and a drawing of a bicycle to explain I had to return through the one-way system. This was achieved but when I tried to use the truck exit the barrier man got quite excited. I found a way to skirt the building up a very steep and taped track. In following the odd heavily laden travellers, I at last found a gravelled 200-yard tunnel cut through what had appeared to be a solid buttress of rook.

Another barrier crossed my path, as a soldier seemed to want to find an excuse to hold me there. It was hot and he changed his mind, it was too much for him. I'd made it, I took my first legal steps into CHINA. A village of sorts had sprung up beyond the parking area and a steep hill on a bumpy track saw me on my way.

The original introduction to a Chinese highway was a bouncing hilly run of less than 6 miles along a surface that was breaking up. It ran down into an unsurfaced gully but then climbed to join a new road that hadn't quite reached the border. This was a magnificent unworn and, as yet, silky smooth way to travel, so fast on the descents I even overtook a truck, which doesn't often happen and encourages an effort to demolish the slope ahead.

I recovered from the time lost in locating the border and the only hiccup was at a major junction: to the right the banned-to-bikes expressway, straight ahead to North Pinching, or to the left presumably to the centre. What the left hand route did not warn, not even in Chinese, was that immediately on entering a 300 m tunnel the road was still under construction and the kilometre beyond not fit for a vehicle. I had no intention of turning back and quite enjoyed the challenge but eventually the road totally ceased. In order to reach the town which was in sight, I followed a looping dirt track that looked promising and hit the place via the back door.

Leaving Pingchang I entered an extension of the best parts of Vietnam, ultra-green-clad hills of strange shapes. It seemed predominantly downhill.

But if the road was bumpy, it was never dangerously so and the climbs were not testing. What better for a cyclist than a curling road through tree-lined boulevards and the odd reminders that this was indeed urban China: the rice planting under the stooping backs and conical hats of the workers, the bullock-drawn carts and full buses. We humans have become a restless lot, always on the move - the peasants to market or to visit their town-dwelling relatives; the businessmen who often fly off to the further ends of the earth. Even the odd cycle-tourist!

In Nanning

Completing the 260 km run from the border I reached Nanning two nights ago. Because of the vastness of the country I can hardly call it a toehold yet, maybe just a toenail grip, but finally I'm here and grateful for that.

Shortly after crossing the division, the ribbon of a bumpy road ran through scenery so fine it was enough to make one whoop with delight - hilly but predominantly a downward trend (it seemed to me), a pleasurable experience devoid of pain. Crossing the mountains of Laos has given me immunity to ordinary hills and an ease of climbing which I'd lost years ago.

On the food front I didn't fare so well, which has been the only fly in the ointment. Lack of sufficient calories meant I didn't have the power to use my new-found strength. I begin to look like an elongated noodle for these, a few greens and watery cold rice is all I found to live on. How our lads built the bridge over the River Kwai on such a diet I'll never know. It did though give me the knowledge that it was possible to work hard on it. Those poor devils didn't have a choice. Eating became a real chore, strictly for survival with no pleasure attached to it. Only once did I find the famed dumplings. My heart leapt for joy to see them steaming away, but what a disappointment! Tasteless!

The first town was Pingchang, which was a shock because of its size and intensity. Hardly more than a pin-prick on the map but it would have gobbled up Exeter. The streets were wide and clean with smart shops, imposing municipal buildings and the odd tree lining the route. The colourful signs, of which there were many in their unique pictorial script, immediately struck one as totally foreign and distinctly Chinese. As if I needed a reminder that I'd arrived. Another reminder - motorbike cab taxis were everywhere, used as a general workhorse. So different from Vietnam.

My map hardly had room for many places to be marked and so it appeared that gaps between habitations would be great. It came as a further surprise to find quite large towns that didn't even qualify for a mention. That evening I tried one out for a bed. A spur slid sharply off the main road to cross railway tracks and I entered the town feeling like a cowboy in a Western, all eyes upon me with suspicion. I drew up my equivalent of the cowboy's horse but stopped short of hitching it to the rails - there weren't any - and found I was near an extensive covered market packing up for the day. The street was similar to that seen in many spaghetti westerns: dusty and hot. I needed a drink too and selected the first of many open-fronted shops selling a mixture of groceries and household goods. I had an eye for a hopeful-looking ice box and my target had one.

I now had to come to terms with a most strange currency, the Yuan's and the Fiao's, with no idea of what they would buy me. I asked for a 'coke' and brought out my 'Let's Go China' guide. I painfully began the invariably long process of asking if a hotel might exist there. The 14-year-old girl running the shop was smart and nodded and gave me the kind of confusing directions that left me none the wiser. If I'd been standing outside one I wouldn't have recognised it as a hostelry, as the script on the signs was invented on another planet. My friendly shopkeeper Lei saw how dumb and bewildered I was - she didn't know I usually am - and, leaving her younger sister in charge, motioned for me to follow.

Virtually opposite was a side road that resembled a glorified building site. With difficulty I scrambled over rubble, loose timber, pipes and ditches to follow my nimble guide, all to no avail. My would-be innkeeper shook her head, which I interpreted as no. Not to be defeated, Lei took me back to the main street and further down, where part of a clothing shop was a hotel, although there was nothing to identify it as such externally. The lady signed me in almost reluctantly, for I was a most strange event in the town and of an undesirable appearance, half resembling an old-fashioned tramp.

The room was fine but had a stale smell, much as Pip's Lady Haversham's house probably enjoyed; at least I didn't have the cobwebs. To open the window would be an open invitation to all the whining nightlife and was not an option. I had to ignore the odour. At least the shower worked and feeling refreshed I set out at dusk to eat! Theoretically, that was the idea but there were no restaurants as such, just a few feeding stations by the roadside. A few seats were gathered around tables upon which were a number of Kilner-sized jars.

I gazed at the contents in dismay and looking at the diners'plates did nothing to encourage me, causing me a complete loss of appetite. Back to Lei's shop for a beer and biscuits, that would have to suffice. Then I discovered large plastic containers of - you've guessed it - noodles, the kind you add hot water to. I remembered my room had an electric kettle and even those despised noodles had an attraction, considering the alternatives. The fact that I had to place a foot on the kettle to maintain electrical contact didn't detract from at least a filling meal.

Interesting and hilly cycling occupied 'China plus one' day but this time my evening hunt for a hotel was to no avail. I found a likely town but following a couple of directions got me nowhere. The final one led to a building where the occupants were quite unaware of their hotel status. I pushed on and camped, quickly finding an ideal site. Perfect. Out of sight on a grassy path running through a corn field. At dusk returning workers had to side-step the tent but did so carefully so as not to wake me!

The final run into Nanning was a long 125 km stage and the wind was picking up in a series of flurries through the woods. Stands of the ever-present bamboo mixed up with the growth were groaning, squealing and often in conflict, tube against tube. Loud hollow reports cut through the trees as if the forest was at war. This worried me at first until I worked out the cause. The cicadas might have been aware of a change in the weather. At times they were deafening, emitting a high frequency sound resembling electricity charging along wet power lines. It seemed separate colonies were vying for supremacy in the volume stakes. Sometimes the noise was quite painful to the ears and I was glad to leave the shelter of the trees to escape it momentarily.

I finally entered the city in light rain which hasn't stopped since. So I'm having a short break and hopefully when I leave tomorrow it will be dry. Since leaving Bangkok I've covered 4,750 km and a memorable tour of much variety and friendship is developing. Two routes north are open to me: the hills or the plains. Maybe I'll avoid the mountains to make up on time but if I take to the lowlands I could encounter floods. In that case a bath every night, which does appeal!

Leaving Nanning

Leaving Nanning was an exasperating long-drawn-out process, during which I suspiciously crossed a river that should not have been there. I had a sudden thought that, despite many assurances, I was headed for Binying, as this must surely be the river I'd spanned to enter Nanning in the first place. I re-entered the city to have another go and actually found myself disconsolately outside my hotel again. For the second attempt, I again found the board which clearly indicated a right turn. I began to doubt my last assured directions from an English speaker, who clearly said 'stay straight for 5 km'. Surely the board couldn't be wrong!

I made the right turn but two sets of directional signs with no further mention of Binyang raised my level of disquiet, for this was familiar territory - it was from this point I had become hopelessly lost before. For the umpteenth time I thought I'd better ask. A bunch of giggling schoolgirls used their collective English to return me back to the junction which would put me back on the 'stay straight for 5 km' suggestion. The girls pored over my city map for ages, quite unable to pinpoint our position on it, and eventually pointed to a spot which was so unlikely that it would have puzzled a visitor from Mars, who would be more skilled at reading the map than me - it was such an illogical spot. So I tried my luck back at the junction, feeling a growing sense of hopelessness at my lack of communication.

I was losing confidence in the value of my charade. In the past, a waved map at a passer-by and a jab at the next big city on my route, followed by a questioning look and a wave down the road, had mostly worked - until now. A kilometre along from the junction, to my joyous relief, was a board. The lettering should have been embossed with gold: 'Binyang' in Chinese, which by then I could recognise. After 2 hours of confusion and more than a dozen enquiries - most of then resulting in totally inaccurate information I was at last on the way. It was an ugly departure, where the city refused to end and industrialisation spawned dusty ugly little satellite townships. This perpetual city took 20 km to relinquish its hold and, as is always the case this close, there was very busy traffic, but at least the 100% of honking eardrum-assaulting vehicles experienced in Vietnam was vastly reduced - not absent by any means, but almost bearable.

In Zhongxi

Well here I am taking an unscheduled break in Zhongxi just before exiting Guangxi Province. It poured with rain on the morning I was about to leave and then I met a Kiwi English teacher who needed a bit of company. We spent a good day together and now I plan to leave tomorrow. At this point I have ridden 750 Chinese kms and feel better than I have done for some time. It certainly is a hell of a long way still to go!

Info on Chinese visa: Easy to get through some hotels or travel agents for a reasonable commission. A couple of photographs needed. Takes four or five days but this can be accelerated for a further fee. Can get a 90 day visa and this can be extended in the country I believe and hope. Good thing about the visa is it only starts to run from the day of entry unlike Vietnam which requires a stated date.

Just a quicky. The whole story up to the Luang Probang episode has been written but it was so muddled up in its transmission that I'm going to have to put it in the right order for you to work on. I hope you will find at least some of the stuff worth using and you can slip it in somewhere as soon as I can get it to you.

My first hotel experience didn't improve my opinion of them being a cold race. I began to change my mind in Nanning. The hotel staff were friendly and helpful. The young lady in the travel shop almost next door (married to a Swede, she was well practised in English for that is how they conversed) went out of her way to give me advice. The whole staff in the restaurant, which wasn't almost next door but actually was, more or less adopted me and shared my table for a chat whenever work permitted.

A young book shop assistant deserted her post to take me to another floor to buy a Chinese map and a charming girl, with an uncomplaining well-trained boyfriend in tow, did a lot of mobile phoning to trace internet facilities, then took me there and set me up, a complicated business for the initial programme is all in Chinese. In each case they knew just enough English to cope with me and get a little practice.

In Liuzhou

So here I am in Liuzhou, waiting for the deluge to end and reflecting on my route. I've decided to give nearby Hong Kong a miss, for I once spent several weeks there and would hate to see the island without its Union Jacks flying - it made it seem like home. No, I'll be moving generally eastwards for a while, eventually gaining highway G207 and then an easier route northwards to Changsha and the hinterland of China, places with delightfully strange-sounding names, such as Zhongshan, Yongzhou and Hengyang. They all seem particularly remote and beyond my reach just now.

I seem to be doing a lot of hard work but not really making much headway on the huge map I have on the table in front of me. Once I would have gleefully accepted the distance involved as a bread and butter challenge, with supreme ignorant confidence. Not so this time, my doubts are prevalent - damn this old age.

My run of good fortune continues. As news circulates of an old Englishman arriving on a bicycle (and so strong he is most unlikely to leave in a hearse), I begin to have visits. The general manager introduced himself and some of his important minions. I was sitting at the computer yesterday after a two-hour session, which cost me highly ($20 - who said internet was cheap?), when a beer was presented to me by a lovely lady, Rose Mary Zhang, and I was introduced to Larry Yang. He said that I was to be given free use of the internet and, having observed my deplorable one-fingered typing style, I am to be given a secretary, Petter, who understands English well and hopefully will quickly type in the notes I've written but am awaiting the chance to send. This could be that chance!

I am sitting out the rain in a huge 'little town' by local standards, named Liuzhou. 500 km into China now, I think I am qualified to quote that I have more than a toehold in this huge country. In fact, shall we say a whole foot?

The rain was torrential when I was ready to set out this morning. Given an umbrella to go and find breakfast, I was going to have to wade so removed my socks immediately. The hotel I'm in is on one of 5 main roads into the place. I just picked one at random and found a dual language board telling me I was near the railway and bus station, which was hopeful. As I manhandled the bike up the first hotel steps I encountered, a loud clap of thunder hastened me and I beat the tropical downpour by inches. The clouds rumbled all night and this morning a soaking would have been inevitable.

I cannot afford to let my lifeline - the Chinese symbol map - turn into pulp. Navigation requires it to be exposed for minutes on end while I try to decipher the hieroglyphics, comparing the road signs with my map. Asking for help in the dry is hard enough, for few seem conversant with road charts. To do so in the rain is not a viable prospect. To ruin the Chinese map in particular would leave me in terrible trouble. As it is, I have to use three: a regional map, one of the whole of China and finally an English map. It is a puzzle, for there are wild discrepancies one against the other.

Beyond Liuzhou

Beyond Liuzhou a routine developed and I began to find my feet in China. Depending on the availability of food overnight, the initial 50 km target was either strongly ridden or, as was often the case, weakly, with a constant desperate look out for the roadside stalls and steaming pots. Sometimes the noodles or pasta was served with a delightful concoction of soup and vegetables, but more often than not eating was a total chore and, despite a mean hunger, I had difficulty in forcing the meal down at all.

I came to the conclusion that the Chinese are culinary masochists, for how could they possibly actually enjoy their kind of food for breakfast, poking away with their snapping chopsticks into a meal either too bland or too hot, with looks of sheer bliss? Come on, pull the other one. It's true, I must admit to sometimes sharing their bliss. The afternoon session would involve several halts to cool off with a Coca-Cola or a milk-based fruit juice, which I found kept the machine in motion. Refrigerators are widely used and so most drinks are tolerably chilled. The day's run would be dictated by finding a town likely to have an hotel, rather than by distance or fatigue. In many cases, if I hadn't responded to an urge for a long cool beer and a shower, I could have taken more chances in finding accommodation further down the road.

How different to the old expeditions when there were no hotels at all -particularly in Africa-and distance in between shops could be 400km! What a softy I've become. In China I've been forced to camp but twice and found it a most unpleasent experience of poor sleep. How I survived in perpetual conditions like these I'm beginning to wonder. But I did and thought nothing of it. In those days I was using travel as a living. As successful as it was - for "Cycling" had an insaitable appetite for those adventures-my budget never allowed for the luxery of hotels even when available, it didn't seem to matter. The occasional treat in those days was to camp by a non insect infested river and have a real bath unlike the semi private washing all over inside the tent. A handkerchief dipped into a mug had to do with half the villagers congregated outside wondering what the white man was going to do next.

It is a fact of touring life that the scenery which captivated and excited one at first gradually becomes the norm. The sight of huge limestone queer shaped monoliths breaking the skyline causes many photographic pauses at first--------. It is a most pleasurable norm though down in this southern area of China I am passing through. I would recommend the country for a not too demanding run, never over busy for long. A true delight!

As to the tour, there were many times when I thought this was what cycling is all about. The limestone outcrops continue up from Vietnam forming all kinds of weird mountain shapes and the road kindly picks a way through, which is often shielded from the baking sun by well placed trees. Hilly but not too demanding and it all lends itself to quite unique scenery. There was only one part of the route, truly spectacular, that became a tough climb - in fact two. A two-pronged gorge had me climbing an 8-mile ascent to reach the lip of the paddy fielded valley and the source of its irrigation. A sharp drop was reminiscent of many in Laos and then, darn it all (totally unexpected, for I had thought I'd had my quota), another severe climb to the apex of one more valley. Good for the views but hard on tired legs!

That night I came unstuck. I was still hoping to reach a town big enough to have an hotel. I didn't! Descending at speed as the light faded was not the adventure I wanted but did account for a fairly rare 100 km day's run. Eventually I had to walk downhill, which was aggravating, A path running through paddy fields in a public area had to serve as a campsite. There was not enough room to peg one side of the tent. One roll, and I could have become rice pudding! With no dinner and little to eat come the morning, I had to quit after just 30 km. A good breakfast of pasta, onions and some spiced greens all fried up was too late to repair the damage, for I remained as weak as a kitten. After a poor night expecting nocturnal visitors and the possible loss of the bike, I was really tired. I found a hotel and slept the afternoon away.

Then my luck changed. After a much better day, feeling a renewed strength, I asked for an hotel to find I was standing outside one. The family invited me to share dinner with them. Thinking I was paying, I ordered my usual large bottle of beer and we had quite a party. In the morning, I was served dumplings bought especially for me. When I tried to pay for the extra food, my cash was waived away.

A big goal for me, as it took me within striking distance of Changsha, was Hengyang. A strange place to reach, for you are swept through or rather by it on a huge empty multi-laned bypass. When I finally had the chance to turn into the city, I took it or so I thought. Encouraged by the sight of a large domed building and a bank bigger than Fort Knox with lion statues squatting outside, I imagined this must be the city centre. I found a busy cross-street of shops and other businesses, which seemed hopeful. Spotting a family having a snack at a pavement restaurant, I asked the gangly young man if there was an hotel nearby. After a long family conference he gestured me to go with him, aided by a few unpractised words of English. After 10 minutes of my stumpy little legs trying to keep up with his considerably longer ones, we entered a security-guarded gate and I realised this was no hotel. It turned out to be his aunt's apartment and we dumped the gear there. Before my good luck had time to sink in, he got through to me that we were to go to the University, where he was studying to be an architect. I took the minimal requirements for an overnight stay there, which seemed to be the plan. We caught a bus, not like you would a butterfly with a net but you just stand there and it stops. This is where I was offered that seat, which was just as well since the journey was over an hour long. It began to rain, not just rain, the sky caved in! At the terminus, it was still a good 10 minutes to the campus. We all made a dash with swimming motions to a series of covered food stalls. The lady insisted I used her seat (grey hair working to my advantage again) for she was too busy pushing and prodding her taupaulin with a trident footed pole to spill the lake above us. Not good publicity to have half her clients drown meanwhile my friend was on the mobile phone trying to get a mate to come and rescue us with an umbrella.

This was a huge place with 7000 students. His little study come bedroom was shared by four others I counted but I probably missed some. He had internet connection and I managed to muscle in for a few minutes but the group were anxious to resume their games. He took me to dinner. Nic I think I'm going to die here,the food is disgusting. Plain rice and slimy greens. Meat generally attached to small bones,all bone and little flesh. My beer was warm that night,shame. He paid for everything bless him,but for me it would have been really cheap. I went quickly to bed on a top bunk. Even with a fan it was stiffling hot,a bad night. In the morning I saw that most bodies were on mats on the floor and they were slow to rise. I asked if we might go to the shop to eat for he made no mention of breakfast. We had a packet of bisuits each and a Coca Cola. That was to be the last food I ate before dinner that night. Unfortunatey but pleasently news of my presence had got around and I had to tell my story to many. I began to wonder if I would ever get away that day. I did eventually and resolved to ride hard into the evening and I managed a useful 40 km and found a turnoff to a large town I did not know even exsisted. Found good accomodation and when I visited a restaurent I'd earlier earmarked I created so much interest I was given a free meal,the beer too!Great folk,to think my original impression of them was a cold disinterested people.

So I was well set up for yesterdays effort and here I am. Chinese kms are now over 1300 so I'm getting somewhere at last. All the best . Your old man of cycling Ian.

In Changsa

Reaching Changsha certainally raised morale and I did so with reasonable ease and a day earlier than expected. When I came across a rare board sharing English which told me I had but 129km to go it was worth a go. Progress was on schedule for the first half of it and I was already planning the celebrations. Sweet was the prospect of the pleasure to be gained somewhere in its sun clad core. I'm shamed to admit these thoughts overcame any interest in my surroundings and I developed a tunnel vision which focussed on food and comfort, there was no place left in my brain to acknowledge the pain and sweat to be caused by gaining it.

Getting there didn't go entirely to plan. A big diversion shed the marker posts that had done so much to encourage me and with no further understandable signs I followed the traffic just praying our destination was mutual. Eventually I reached a huge uphill and dead straight highway which even had a cycle path and began to pass some seriously big business premises. Of the city itself there was still no sign and what was puzzling, relatively few vehicles. I need not have worried for beyond the crest of the rise was my city.

To my relief directional signs were written in English below the Chinese which I realised eventually were the names of streets, but try as I did I couldn't find any appearing on my "Lets Go China"city map. Each new board was examined with the intensity of a National Lottery participant checking his ticket and progress was reduced to a stop crawl stop. This was not the triumphant entry of my imagination. But I did find a matching street name and nearly cricked my neck in spotting it; Furong Zhong Lu. Excited as Professor Higgens was in making his breakthrough with his "The Rain In Spain" I surprised a few with my yell of I believe I've got it! Within a few yards I found myself outside the Wuhua Hotel and as an excuse for another break I thought I'd at least check the price for later comparison.

The decor proclaimed it was beyond my budget. A bell boy barred my way, red pill box hatted with a jacket to match and tight trousers he looked more like a matador, but he wasn't thinking bulls but bicycles.There was no way my muddy one was going to get past him but at that moment the floor manager appeared and not only was I invited inside, the bell boy was given the task of pushing the bicycle after me. I was ushered in with a certain reverance once given to emporers and now to very old people. I can learn to live with that.

It seems that no grandfather in China would ever dream of, let alone attempt, a journey like this and I was immediately given celebrity status and a considerable reduction in the cost of what turned out to be a beautiful room. Soon after, the managing director visited me with a large bowl of fruit and I'm beginning to see age isn't such a bad thing after all. I'd suggest anyone following in my wheelmarks to tint their hair grey-even better, pure white-and acts in a "passed it" kind of manner. Stagger a bit and go to sleep while being booked in at the counter.

I've been a guest here for 4 days at an obscenely high level of pampering but will come down to earth tomorrow as I set off for Wuhan. A 2100 year old corpse was discovered here and is quite an attraction, I'm not too keen to hang around and replace her so I'd better move on while I still can.

Yueyang

Leaving the lovely hotel in Changsha for places unknown was a wrench but any longer there and, despite the comfort, boredom would have set in. Apart from the mummy - the original whisked away to Beijing leaving only a replica to gawk at - there is little to see of great interest. It is a thriving city though, buzzing with business, for that is how it survives. The Chinese seem to be outdoing the capitalists at their own game and the communist authorities would not be too popular trying to put a stop to it.

So, following instructions, I took the main road out of town and aimed straight as I had been told. It wasn't too bad an experience, it just needed readjusting to a perpetual awareness of the habits of other users of that route. It would be to everyone's advantage if rules were made and applied but where would the fun be in that? It seems to be the standard conduct in the parts of S-E Asia I've visited this time: use the horn, not the brake. Drive with total selfishness and trust the rest to stay out of your way. The others, be they on a bicycle, motorbike or in a vehicle, are expected to take appropriate action and share a cat's sense of danger and react as if to save another of those nine lives. It's a constant and irritating threat to me, when needing to cross the flow from a side road - mostly motorbikes but the odd car too will ride head on at you at speed until an opportunity arises to gain their correct lane. This can take some time! In a crazy way it works, but my instructions didn't.

I left the city on a huge double-laned highway but in 'going straight' I obviously missed a vital turning. What I had been informed I would be using was the famous G107 - equivalent to Route 66 in the States. Unfortunately I was many miles along the way before I saw the first marker post (the road number is always on them, which is a blessing to me) and it told me I'd blundered yet again. My three maps generally failed to agree but this time they did concur on one point: the road didn't exist. I had been encouraged when I saw signboard references to Xiangyia, which according to one map (only one) I should pass through, so I decided to press on in hope.

I did reach the town 50 km later but my fast boring road petered out there and it took many enquiries to locate the way to Milou. This time no-one could understand what the odd-looking frizzled old man was on about, except perhaps directions back to his asylum. When two or three seemed to twig, I was by no means confident that they really had. So I rode with unease through the prettiest countryside I'd seen all day on a rare narrow twisting road but the doubts were preying on my mind and diluted the pleasure.

Reaching a traffic-lighted crossroad of a town of no name, at least I knew I was near Milou. A board pointed out it was 2 km to the west. The easterly turning, it was stated in English, took the visitor to the site of the annual International Dragon Canoe Race which I vaguely remembered hearing about. Bad timing 'not today Josephine'. I still had no idea where that famous G107 was hiding but I'd deal with it tomorrow. Now somewhere to sleep was rather more pressing and, even more important right then, was to deal with a raging thirst. So I pulled over to an outside restaurant, on account of the ice box I had spotted. I could by then detect one from over 100 yards, knowing the drinks therein could save my life. With my throat parched drier than that Changsha mummy, I had to wet my lips and mouth enough to talk so that I could begin the usual preliminary stage of looking for an hotel. The oft-played-out charade of a head peacefully sleeping , eyes closed, upon hands in lieu of a pillow.

With general affirmative nods I could tell they now fully understood my need but only the woman ventured to give me very doubtful directional hand signals to start my hunt. They were as much use as sending me to a place on the moon. Not too sure where, but about to go looking anyway, a farmer stopped me from wheeling the bike further - well he looked like a farmer, for that was my impression of him. Roughly dressed and with one eye nearly closed, he looked a disreputable character, but when he offered by gestures to guide me to a bed, my need overcame caution. He had a rickety old motorbike-driven cart and its pistons popped and backfired as I followed. I wasn't likely to lose track of my Good Samaritan.

For a few hundred yards we returned along my route in but my alert memory didn't recall any likely-looking hotels on that stretch. When we turned down a rough track I was more or less prepared to find he had taken me home. He helped me push the bike into a shabby room with nothing else there but a bed and a chair with cardboard covering a hole in the straw seat as I discovered when I tried to sit in it. There was no mattress, just a reed mat. I'd been in worse accommodation but it was certainly a dive in standards from the opulence of my room in Changsha but a night ago. The room was locked, thwarting any ideas I might harbour of a silent getaway. I was trapped.

Signalling me to go up the concrete stairs to eat, I met his wife and two children, a boy and a girl. They were in the 8 to 10 age group and were delighted to have a strange visitor - a once in their lifetime occurrence. Even when it was obvious I couldn't understand a word, they overwhelmed me with torrents of tinkling Chinese. The room had little in it apart from a big low wooden chair, carved and lacquered but most uncomfortable. It was the most valuable item in the house and probably a legacy from grandfather. There was a round table and a few odd chairs; a few cupboards. The family didn't have enough extras to make the place untidy. I noticed the damp patches high on the plaster walls of their brick house and, in using it, the cleanliness of the bathroom. The presence of a tap and bucket made it so and of course the sweet-smelling squatter toilet in one corner. A change and a surprise!

Of course the main shrine of the room was a large TV and a fan kept the viewers comfortable. The breeze from it hardly reached me and I just couldn't stop perspiring. After the kids got tired of showing me their Chinese books I succumbed to weariness and actually slept stretched out on my chair. I hoped grandpa didn't mind. A bad guest maybe but I was tired, hot and getting bored and seriously considering extracting myself diplomatically from an environment I found I could hardly endure. At the apex of my misery, dinner was served.

What a meal! Two meats, several varieties of greens, chillies and rice. The soup, left over when the meat had gone, was delicious. To aid its despatch - not that it needed any - a third of a mug of their home-distilled alcohol. My one-eyed host had been considerately heating water and after a good wash a fresh shirt and trousers were loaned to me so that my own could be laundered. This was insisted upon.

My host left for some reason and his quite attractive wife overcame the language barrier. I began to realise with some surprise - that's understating it by a mile that she was making obvious sexual approaches with gentleness and clarity. Unused to this, I wondered just what kind of a mess I was in. Did the old ancient Eskimo law apply here? If an Inuit offered his wife to you to 'laugh with' and it was declined, the consequences could be dire. Would a Chinese peasant farmer react in the same way? She finally got me to bed - you are jumping to the wrong conclusion - in a much improved version of the one downstairs and, had I been a lot younger and not so darn tired, I might have invited her to stay. As it was she fussed around me and even gave me a little kiss. Finally she gave up and allowed me to sleep.

Hours or minutes later, I came to drowsily to find the light was on and the room was full of people. A beautiful woman was leaning closely over me; was I in heaven - I'd often wondered what it would be like? I slowly realised she was addressing me in English and she said she was a teacher of it in the local school. Wide awake by then, I gradually learned what it was all about. Apparently news had circulated and reached the ever vigilant police, an old foreign man sleeping in a farmhouse rather than an hotel: why? A whiff of the old suspicious oriental communist mind here. We had a nice chat and of course my passport was examined closely. I hope they had better luck than me, for I cannot even recognise the visa. The police chief was all for driving me to an hotel where I'd be 'more comfortable', as the teacher explained he was concerned about my health and welfare. It was his duty.

At this point the idea of an hotel did have an appeal, for as the astute policeman had noticed my set-up was not ideal. It wasn't too comfortable just lying on a hard mat in a very hot room, my loaned shirt the only pillow, but how hurtful would my leaving be to the Chinese family? In no way could I desert them then. So I stayed. The policeman asked if there was anything he could do for me. I said a bottle of cold beer would be nice and it was delivered to me. God bless the Chinese. I expected to pay but it was a goodwill gesture, I was told.

In and Out of Miluo

A black day indeed! Back at the crossroads the ways to the east and the west were to places I didn't really need to go; apparently. I continued straight ahead in a northerly direction, reasonably confident I'd join the elusive G107 at some point. Logic supported this assumption. At the 17 km post there were signs I was about to enter a town and subsidiary signs said nothing about my missing road. Circling the town and following helpful directions, I ended up running alongside a huge sheet of water until I hit a dirt road. This can't be right I thought, not expressing myself in quite those terms. Returning to the town, I approached the owner of an expensive car, who should know what a map looked like. He looked at mine and with complete assurance was adamant: to reach the G107 I must return from whence I'd come. I swore softly.

The helpful tailwind was now a strength-sapping wall and by the time I reached my familiar town I'd run up a 40 km tally and had made no forward progress whatsoever; I still had to find that famous road. What a waste of effort. I was so demoralised I decided to quit for the day, since even after a meal and a huge intake of liquids I just couldn't face once more that debilitating heat. I returned to the original crossroads to search once again for an hotel. Fortunately there was no friendly farmer this time and with luck the policeman would have his wish and I would sleep conventionally that night. In my quest for a bed, I followed my nose and discovered the town was rather larger than I had first thought. The crossroads were on the periphery of what turned out to be Milou and a helpful motorcyclist escorted me to the centre, which was totally dominated by a multi-storeyed beflagged hotel. Hang the cost, I'd found my bed!

I was so tired and deflated that I slept the afternoon away - there was still plenty of it. According to the well-prepared hotel brochure, the icon of excellence offered an extensive range of services amongst which I was delighted to see were two magnificent restaurants. The photographs were evocative, presenting good eating in surroundings fit for royalty. It was evening. Quivering with culinary excitement, brochure in hand, I set forth. Surprisingly the floor number for these eating places was omitted in the write-up; never mind, I'd ask at reception. The girl - surely she must have been very new - could not recognise either place. After checking her records she sent me to Floor 2. There were no signs of any kind to suggest there was a place to eat. The floor-maids up there were equally puzzled.

I returned to reception with a sense of following a lost cause. This time I was escorted back to that Brigadoon-fated restaurant in the company of a more knowledgeable bellboy. All of us trotted down a long corridor away from the lift and there facing us was a very locked restaurant. 'It's closed' I thought I heard him utter, a rather unnecessary statement. Using a scale of 1-10 to signify how closed it was, I'd rate it above 15. In a fit of unbridled pique I threw the dream-filled useless brochure onto the floor and stalked off like a schoolboy having been denied his cherry. Halfway to the ground floor, I was even angrier - why had I not torn it up? I left the hotel to find a place that wasn't closed. It was a long search, stumbling around, over and through the street cooks and dodging the vendors, but I found what I was looking for: a clean cool restaurant.

Eating in these establishments has become more successful of late but it is better not to take it too seriously. The waitress waves a menu at me, none of which I can understand. I'm not proud of it, just stating a fact. If she is bright, she makes suggestions to which I nod in a knowledgeable way. Both of us know I haven't a clue as to what I've agreed to eat but the smiles and laughs make it an enjoyable few minutes. I sit there waiting to see if I've settled for boar pickled in brine or a wriggling live squid, which will be executed before me by being plunged into a pot of boiling water bubbling away in the centre of the table.

On most recent occasions the results have been tasty and filling, if watery. In this climate, where at the close of the day I'm completely dehydrated, having food that would squelch if you trod on it does help me to swallow sufficient to stop the stomach growling. In fact the helpings are huge: great big bowls of soup with bits of some unfortunate chicken floating in it, others filled to overflowing with some greens I can recognise, most are a mystery. The helpings would have served the 5,000 attending the Sermon on the Mount without Christ's intervention. The boy with his bread and fishes would have been redundant.

Talking of fishes - well we are now - what a perilous undertaking eating them is, with those confounded bones! Today the waitress kept a wary eye open for difficulties. She hovered over me like an eagle feeding her young, leaning over me to pluck out invisible and some not so invisible bones, with adept movements of highly polished chopsticks. She replenished my plate from a cane-based platter of the most exquisite fish to swim this side of Heaven. She was aware before I was that it was time to add a leaf or two of chilled white cabbage and to refill my teacup before it was half-empty. I'm not sure if this service was meted out to other diners or if it was just because I looked so helpless as I was - and their hearts took pity on me. I took pity on my digestion, for the meal contained a high level of hot spices in all but the rice.

I do feel embarrassed in refusing even to try to use chopsticks. Arthritic joints make the operation painful - it hurts to write - but how can I explain this? During my two years in S-E Asia (1966-68) I used nothing else. I couldn't quite pluck a fly out of the air but eating houses didn't send little men rushing over with a fork and spoon after witnessing a few minutes of frustrated struggling. Now they do so, with mock severity at my clumsy efforts, and I'm grateful. And so it was that night.

In the morning I sought out my free breakfast half an hour after official opening time. Once again a bellboy escorted me to Floor 2 and once more we made our way along the long corridor, but the door was still locked. The hostess welcomed me in but after no action for what seemed forever, I gave up and returned to my room for tea and biscuits. The breakfast room turned out to be the dining hall of the brochure. It must have been a good idea at the time.

11 July 2006: Xiaogan

An observer would have seen a strange-looking very irate white-haired figure leaning forward over the hotel reception desk, almost ready to pound the living daylights out of the receipts laid out there before him. Three bland but slightly smiling faces met his aggravation with studied oriental equanimity. For the third time another bill was given to him and until it was paid his room key-card was being withheld and he sure looked like he needed to use his toilet.

Even the sight of the copper mural depicting semi-naked (or fully so) maidens stretching out behind the 15-foot length of the counter did not subdue his growing exasperation. A red glow was forcing a way through the facial tan, not a pretty sight. Was this man about to explode? Yes he was and that man bore a striking resemblance to me. All my paid receipts amounted to nothing, for they wanted more? I gently - only just - but firmly (if no longer patiently) pointed at these and asked the girls to add them up. Once more the receptionists got into a huddle, similar to one for tactical discussions during an American football game. Eventually I was presented with a written explanation in Chinese. This was an impasse!

I have great admiration for those in faraway lands - in this case the Chinese - who take the trouble to learn my language - they have saved me on many occasions. To be reasonable, which I wasn't being just then, why should they bother, since an Englishman was a rare oddity in most urban hotels. But when language fails there are other ways of talking. I've spent most of my travelling life using that other way. Why were they so thick in not understanding it? The problem was almost resolved on the appearance of the assistant manager let's call him Le Chang. He nearly made the breakthrough and gave me the glimmer of understanding. Now the other guests joined in and one said, in the kind of English I would have paid a small fortune to equal in Chinese, "Sir, it is but a deposit. You get it all back when you leave." Relief and smiles all around - even one of the naked ladies winked, I'm sure of it.

Taking advantage of the better English available, I resurrected yesterday's failed attempt to plot my way out of Wuhan. Le Chang would only direct me to the docks on the banks of the River Yangtze. He insisted I must take a boat to Zhengzhou or maybe a bus or train, for the police would not allow such a journey by bicycle. This morning everyone was now taking part in the discussion but, to my concern, they were backing Le Chang. It was quite impossible to do it by bicycle, certainly the police would forbid it, but on what grounds I wanted to know? Maybe floods? Road building or a peasant revolt? No one really knew the answer to that one but they did know it was dangerous, hot and far and it just couldn't be done by pedal power.

I couldn't see how such a ban might work, for many country people cycle - they do not all have motorbikes - and using all the roads is a necessity, unless Chinese technology has advanced to the stage that they can be beamed to their paddy-fields. Too hot? Well, I'd survived up till then. Too far? Hardly. I'd told them I'd ridden entire continents but I don't think they understood the concept of that kind of travel. Too old was also mentioned and they could have had a valid point there.

I tried another tactic. Spreading my city map out on the table I agreed with them. "I'm sure you're right but show me anyway, point out the road to Xiaogan and the National Highway, the G107. He reluctantly inked in a route completely obliterating the few street names there were and, as events would prove, sending me in completely the wrong direction, but I was given a wonderful send-off, even by the girls I'd come so close to throttling.

My map, torn out of the "Let's Go China" guide, was woefully inadequate and I soon thought of a better title for it: "Let's Stay China". Using it in between fierce downpours, I couldn't even locate the huge bridge spanning the Yangtze and the many people I showed it to were none the wiser. Eventually I saw it, but my problems were not yet over. I got to know the bridgehead area quite well in searching for a road that would take me to the level which I could see tiny little vehicles using, a long way up. I did find a set of pedestrian steps but if that was the only route to Heaven I doubt if I could have made it. They seemed to go onwards and upwards for ever. This was a double level bridge, the lower bed being for the railway. Reaching the tracks seemed to be only half way there. I'd look on for the easier option, surely there must be one?

It was a bad day for enquiries. At times the heavy rain made it difficult to prevent the map from turning to pulp when I could waylay a passer-by and get him/her to look at it. Then the rain stopped and with its cessation, my luck finally turned. "Can I help you?" asked, I presumed, a student, probably anxious to impress his pretty girlfriend with his linguistic ability. I explained my need to reach the bridge and the couple conferred. The set of directions was hideously complicated and half way through relaying them he stopped. "I'll get my bicycle and take you." We went to his nearby accommodation and he pointed out that he lived several floors up. He made a bloodcurdling call to his roommate's window and several others swung open - all but his. I was told he was asleep; it must have been a particularly deep slumber, for that call would have wakened the dead. Eventually a sleepy head poked out and a cryptic exchange amused the others who were enjoying the drama. I didn't have to understand to get the drift. A bunch of keys was thrown down and one of them unlocked the bicycle.

We set off but I soon realised it was into very familiar territory. Ten minutes later we arrived at the bridge and guess where we pulled up? At the foot of those confounded steps. Stripping off the bags, the bike still felt as heavy as a 3-ton truck by the time we reached the road span. On this journey I've gained a new respect for kayakers; after that climb I added mountaineers to the list. While recovering I raised the subject of a possible ban on my designated route. He wasn't certain but suggested we ask a policeman and he pointed to the centre of the bridge. Squinting, I could just about make out their post. It took some time to get there and for the policeman to summon up enough courage to dodge the traffic to reach us. Finally, I suppose, he relied upon the reluctance of the drivers to kill him. I believe stiff penalties are imposed on those who annihilate the keepers of the law - much as they would like to, they try not to. Probably cut up into little pieces while still alive or something fairly painless like that.

The helpful student was obviously giving a full account of my unforbidden journeys to date, telling how I'd even been allowed through war zones, but the friendly and courteous policeman said in effect "Not here in China, sonny boy." No, he said, I couldn't use the G107. We got out my map and I reluctantly planned to follow his suggested rather long deviation. I was no wiser as to the reason for the ban and I don't think my young friend's English was up to explaining it to me. Goodbyes were said, further ships passing in the dark. Mine was nearly immediately scuttled though. In the process of remounting, I was struck from the rear by the load carried by a none too steady motorcyclist. No harm was done but it came as quite a shock; he then berated me for being in his way! So just to be blatantly mean, I didn't let him through, despite his angry yells and extravagant use of the horn, until we'd cleared the bridge. That felt good - it quite made my morning, or what was left of it. Not much, for I'd taken so long to get that far.

Unexpectedly there are many 'cycle and pedestrian only' paths around but motorbikes and even cars feel the rule doesn't apply to them personally. Some even have the audacity to honk at you when illegally using them. Electrically-assisted push bikes are semi-popular and I don't know where they fit into the rules. They approach silently to pass at speed, even when I'm at my top cruising pace. Most disconcerting to have a young woman whip on by, quite out-cycling one. It's bad for the macho image, that is until I see the power unit and then my 'King of the road' status is quite restored.

The angry motorcyclist wasn't the only bridge crosser I'd held up. To my surprise I was overtaken and flagged down by three other riders, two on fairly respectable mountain bikes obviously going some distance, and one on a cheap Chinese copy of a racing bike. Racer - we can call him that for the present - spoke particularly good conversational English. We rode on together until the mountain bikers veered off on their route, so I was left with an almost-in-awe Racer. His geography was good enough to know where my travels had taken me and he was more impressed than he needed to be. He'd not met such a tourer as me before and I explained there were many of us going on treks now, when once most folk could only dream of doing so.

He said he'd always dreamt of riding to Tibet and meeting such as me had inspired him to really do it. What he was probably too polite to say was, if this old man has managed to come so far it cannot be quite as difficult as he'd imagined. One matter I could clear up was the ban on National Highway G107. He laughed at the idea and insisted it was just a normal road, used by everybody since the rickshaw days. It was the first he'd heard of such a prohibition and he wondered where the idea had come from.

My immediate need was to find the Bank of China, the only establishment in the city with ATM facilities. I'd given over the whole day to locating it and had decided to seek out one of the nearby hotels and leave for Zhengzhou fresh in the morning. Racer said he'd like to take me there and I suggested I then took him for lunch. So lucky-dog Hibell gets invaluable help onto the bridge at one end and there at the other finds Racer!

A little about the layout of the city would be helpful here. Wuhan is made up of three districts, their boundaries being the rivers Yangtze and a tributary of it, the Han. I'd had my break in Wuchang and had just crossed the Yangtze into Hanyang. We cycled past Tortoise Hill and then up and over the River Han and down into the district of Hankou. This is where I would find my bank but there was a slight problem, for my guide got lost in unfamiliar territory. It led to much riding down tiny lanes where the homes and businesses almost touched overhead; we rode past mothers washing, cuddling or loudly yelling at their young; through deep puddles and sometimes, in dodging them, more or less entering the shops. Savoury smells were abroad and we surprised wiry and wrinkled old men sitting outside in the cool. It was not often they had a foreign visitor down their alleyways - and one riding a bicycle, never.

Racer was quite concerned at his lack-lustre navigation but I loved it, for I was in no hurry for a change and I luxuriated in the atmosphere. Almost sorry it had to end, we found the bank and, shortly after, a good hotel. Racer needed to find a bike repairer and wanted to get there quickly in order to have his problem fixed that day. My lunch offer succumbed to a counter proposal: he'd come back for me and we'd eat at a famous dumpling house. It must be good, I thought, for his eyes lit up while describing it. We agreed on that and I went off down the road to give in to a sudden craving for chicken and French fries, having seen a McDonalds not far away. I came all this way to absorb Chinese culture and at the first opportunity seek a very western meal. As a true adventurer, I'm pathetic! So that's how it was. I had my spicy chicken, French fries and plastic beaker of Coca Cola and could have been in New York, unless I chanced to look out of the window.

That evening I regained the sights out there and we celebrated Chinese style. Racer introduced me to food I'd never even seen before and I was amazed at the number of dishes that began to assemble on our table. To attempt to describe them would not always do the Tourist Industry much of a favour but one or two tickled my taste buds. As to the dumplings, shall we say I was hungry enough to eat anything. With the massive helpings, I felt guilty in leaving so much but I'd had my fill and, yes, it was on the whole a tasty and successful meal. Racer wouldn't hear of me paying, which was the general idea, and when I tried to treat him and his bike to a taxi journey home, he wouldn't let me. It would take him 2 hours to get there and it was quite late. I saw him off and returned to my room. In minutes he was back again, for he wanted to write a Chinese note wishing me good luck. What generous and thoughtful people they are, and to think that my first impressions were of a cold and disinterested race.

The small stores along my route have also been generous. When I stop for a drink - many actually! - a chair is invariably offered under the fan. If not whirring when I arrive, it soon is. When I buy food too - all I can get is biscuits - the bill has been waived on several occasions. The maps come under a lot of scrutiny and I'm always asked my age. Those present who equal it roll their eyes and shake their heads at the unpleasant thought of a journey, even as far as the nearest town. In the sauna-like atmospheric conditions prevalent, they would sooner sit in the shade. Me too. To explain the reasons why you choose to do it, when sometimes you wonder, would require fluency in their language and even then I doubt they would understand.

One doesn't deliberately set out with a masochistic quest to suffer. How could one justify an experience which we all know is bound to lead to a certain amount of it? Equally how can one tell just how euphoric the travel can become, not if but when the combination of weather, the magnificence of the terrain and state of fitness all comes together in one golden period. Sitting on a low stool and reshaping my butt from two round domes to a state of permanent flatness, I didn't think I was due for one of those golden times in the hinterland of China.

But there were golden moments of another sort. I'd stopped for a break and, after a fight to reach a leaning post, was beginning to think I'd made a very bad choice when I found I was standing on a layer of dumped garbage. A woman came over with a big smile and a huge segment of watermelon. What a lovely gesture. Even the garbage was acceptable after that. I left with the sticky residue still stuck to parts of my happy face. That gift was worth 10 km to me.

But hold on, I'm rushing the story a bit here. I'm in the hotel in Wuhan. By the morning, news of the unusual guest had reached the top echelons of the hotel staff. I didn't get a free night shame - but had to pose for many photographs, one with a fancily dressed old man who could have been the owner. During the check-out the English-speaking lady manager was curious to see my city map. She knew I was bound for Zhengzhou and queried the route inked in. It would have taken me in completely the opposite direction to the one I must follow. How fortunate for me that in the nick of time I'd met a lady who really knew her city.

It seems I'm always complaining about the difficulties of finding the way, which of course is exacerbated by not picking up the written language. A confusing aspect of reading the Chinese, both on road signs and my maps, is that there are variations from one to the other. For instance, when we write London there is only one way to spell it and we are limited, thank heavens, to 26 letters. But the Chinese place names can, it seems to me, be written in a variety of ways. Generally written in two blocks, you have to look for any element in either which might help to identify a similarity to the map(s). If you find such a squirl or two, it is sometimes all you get, and you ride on by no means certain that you really did sort it out. In time I began to recognise the most used formations to signify my objective, but faced with them at first - excuse the pun - is like looking at a Chinese puzzle.

Even with a corrected route, it was the usual nightmare to find the way out of Wuhan. The inadequacies of the map, combined with constant heavy downpours, made it difficult to find G107 but it was relatively straightforward after that. It was easy going once clear of the city along a dual carriageway with a central division. It even had a bike path divided from the road by an unending row of 5-6 foot bushes. There were periodic breaks in the greenery and I soon used one to get back to the better-surfaced broad shoulder. Boring and straight, it appeared flat but the required pressure on the pedals indicated an imperceptible rise. By the time I'd reached Xiaogan my interest in going any further had dwindled and I called it a day. Officially, the day's tally was 67 km but I seriously doubted I'd gone that far. The only policemen I spotted were quite uninterested in my presence on the 'banned' road, possibly because they were large- sized plastic models!

13 July 2006: Xinyang

At last some hills to break the monotony and beyond them distant green mountains. As the scenery improved, the road deteriorated and ultimately I discovered why. I passed under a bridge under construction; it was choked by masses of supporting scaffolding with swarms of men crawling all over it. Where, back at home, we would have a small gang and the biggest cranes and earth-movers in the business, here it was more manpower. It reminded me of the activity surrounding an ants' nest. Beyond the bridge and alongside my route was an unending column of huge concrete monoliths, the bases for what was to be a sky-high super expressway. I can only imagine that their height (a good 30 metres in that section) must be the answer to perpetual flooding. Driving up there would be almost like flying.

If our world population was wiped out overnight and, in a thousand years' time, a primitive form of man - like our football hooligans - was to emerge, I can quite imagine them worshipping these shapely blocks as gods, something like the statues on Easter Island. It would be difficult for them to ascertain just what they were or how they got there. To think of them as gods wouldn't be too far off the mark, for our society worships anything to do with automobiles.

With the heavy use of the road that this construction entailed, the surface was almost worn out, bumpy and all patched up, in fact there were patches on patches. This realistically ruined any chance of reaching Xinyang. With an extreme 145 km effort, I could have claimed a luxury bed that night but it was not to be.

A difficult pass - I hadn't climbed one in a long time - sapped what energy I had left and reaching a well surfaced road again wasn't producing the quick kilometres I needed, even with several long fast descents. Throwing caution to the wind, I hurtled down like the leader by a minute in a stage of the Tour de France. No place on the rostrum for me or the welcome of screaming fans: just a comfortable bed and the odd comments yelled as I wobbled in, which sometimes caused a certain amount of laughter. This time I didn't even earn the humour. With the day's tally at 110 km and faced with having to regain the height lost in such a hurry, I asked myself was that comfortable bed worth any further punishment? To hell with this, I thought and freewheeled back into the small town I'd just climbed out of. I only hoped they had provision to put up a fatigued cyclist - if not it would be the rare use of the tent. I just about had enough strength left to set it up, if I could muster the effort to find a site.

So it is obvious that by then I was ready to accept any accommodation on offer, however undesirable. The room I was introduced to was worse than 'undesirable' and gave me the kind of night I might have in a bad dream. It had 5 beds and a hopeful sign was the presence of a tall air-conditioning unit that I left my host tinkering with while his wife showed me the downstairs bathroom. Pigs would not use a place like that and the only way I could use it was to close my eyes. The toilet was worse and I resolved not to go there, except out of dire necessity.

After a blind man's wash-down, I found the dining hall - a bunch of wooden tables and plastic chairs. There upon the first table was my dinner getting cold. With the help of the phrase book, we had worked out a meal. Out of the three items we'd settled for I didn't get two of them. The meat I did get would have broken the teeth of a goat. At least the beer was chilled, which was some compensation.

I returned to my room to find it was cooler outside. The air conditioner obviously needed more time to get to grips with the awful heat in there. Me, the eternal optimist. To keep the insects at bay, the door and windows had to remain tightly shut so there was no relief to be had from a draft. During the first 10 minutes of incarceration my rate of perspiration had not slowed. Slight relief was gained by standing directly in front of the air conditioner but even that was largely lost when sitting on the bed. The unit was emitting a slight air current but nothing more than a poor fan would give. This air was sailing over the first bed but had lost its minimal strength when reaching the second.

Having unsuccessfully tried to sleep I knew I had to do something and had an idea. The air was strong enough at the vent, so if I could tilt it forward over the bed all of it would hit me. A brilliant idea: I should have qualified as a heating and ventilation expert. Um! What I needed was a support. That's it, one of the chairs. I dragged one over and was in business. Wedging it against the bed, I lowered the unit until it was adequately supported by the chair back. With a sigh of relief I lay on the bed trying to decide which bit of me needed cooling the most, upstairs or downstairs? Upstairs won, as the sweat was still trickling down into my eyes as it did on the fiercest climbs at midday - and this was not noon but the middle of the night.

Endeavouring to place my head where the airflow was most effective required the skill of a contortionist. It required a certain amount of wriggling around, cut short by the sound of something breaking and the air conditioner crashing down upon me. What a night! My second attempt was an improvement but I was still very grateful when the dawn chill infiltrated the room.

By the morning I was in no fit state to ride any further than yesterday's original objective, Xingyan, a mere 35 km away. Here I am, recovering in the rather better environment of an hotel with a name that goes on forever: Ying Guang Da Jiu Dian. Yes, the old tough Hibell of old, who could have shrugged off a night like that, has turned into a sad old man who really needs his creature comforts. These are generally available, for there are many unexpected towns which don't even appear on the maps I am using and do have quite comfortable and cheap hotels. The room from hell was an exception.

17 July 2006: Zhengzhou

Well, I made Zhengzhou at a gallop for I polished off the final 75 km by 1 pm. It took almost as long to find the city centre. With a lot of incomprehension shown by those I asked, a few were up to waving their arms around a bit and I took the average of the various directions given and by golly it worked!

This arrival is really against the odds for health problems at one point made me seriously consider aborting the tour. I seemed to run from one problem to another and maybe the old much-used body was trying to say 'Go home'. I'm glad I didn't listen, for the further into China I ventured the fitter I became. With only just over 700 km to ride to reach Beijing and a month to spare, it's difficult to imagine being beaten now and I'm having such a good time. So I can't gain any sympathy by saying I suffered terribly and arrived totally exhausted, for I'm not really tired at all. The weather has helped by giving a few showers - it's rained heavily in the areas I've just come from - and generally being a lot cooler. Of course this is partly due to leaving the tropical zone behind.

As to the journey from Xinyang, I found that those who were adamant I would be banned from using the G107 were partially right. The road was supposed to run parallel to the expressway but south of Zhumadian it suddenly became the expressway and my route was indeed 'banned'. Boards had indicated that there was an expressway ahead, generally seen on the approach as a bridge carrying the major highway across the road I was on. To reach it vehicles peeled off, leaving the poorer drivers to continue on their merry way. This time the road just came to a halt at the pay booths, with no alternatives for people like me who cannot use it.

I asked a traffic policeman what I should do next. Once he knew where I wanted to go, he waved me to the west. Probably I should have left the last town on a diversionary route to Xuchang but, of course, I hadn't been looking for one. The last feasible turn-off point in that town was miles back unless I followed the policeman's arm. He might be telling me there was a minor road over there and I set off to find it. All ideas of a high mileage that day were abandoned at that point, for I was up for a bit of adventure and as for navigation, well I'd just follow the motorway.

I had noticed a couple of turn-off points on the way in and chose the one that most cyclists were using. The plan was simply to locate a local route, be it hardtop or dirt, which would go in the general direction of the expressway. It was a true delight to get off the main road and travel the country tracks. The hamlets I rode through were as tranquil as they could be and much the same as they had always been, as far back as the pre-grandparent era. If one can suck in peace as well as oxygen, this was an enviable place to do it.

The hardtop soon ended and I was riding paths to paddy fields. Sometimes the dirt was smooth, ending suddenly to become nothing more than a tank exercise track, and I bumped along gradually not knowing where I was or knowing quite where I would get to. I did cross under the expressway a couple of times, most reassuring, but never saw it again. I sometimes listened intently for its rumble but all I heard was the singing of birds which I infinitely preferred. Of course, I might never find my way out but just for then I was enjoying myself. This pleasure had to end and it did when I finally heard vehicles again, first the ear-splitting horns that really are a health hazard and then the unmistakeable noise of many engines. My gamble had paid off, for I'd stumbled across the road I should have been on and didn't have to return to the town to find it. Undoubtedly one of my touring highlights.

Eventually I did again connect with my old friend the G107, to find from the first marker post that I'd been riding all day but had only covered 40 km. The day didn't end on a high. The route out of a nameless town was complicated enough for a very contradictory signboard to be erected. I called for help and rode off in the direction pointed out to me. The marker posts sometimes do not appear for a couple of miles when leaving a town or city. When they failed to appear at all, I started asking. Although my route was very clearly written in Chinese, it still resulted in a spate of complete misdirections.

At last I found a post, but not with what I wanted to see on it. This was not the G107 and I once again had to double back on my tracks to a miserable busy junction and another miserable bed. However, on reaching Zhengzhou I had more of a choice and rolled up to the steps of the Zhong Du Hotel. The welcome was genuine and the female staff are so friendly. If I was rather younger, I'd like to kiss them all. Just the women though - great as the male staff are, I'm not into kissing men beyond their first birthday.

Shijiazhuang

I reached Shijiazhuang in the Province of Hebei last evening - 4 days to cover 442 km, so there is life in the old dog yet. Resting here for a day to ensure a strong finish in Beijing, just 285 km away. Today I finally had to switch tyres front to back. The rear no longer had any tread and a puncture was a warning that swapping them would be prudent. I got 7,158 km out of them so far, not counting 300 km in New Zealand and 400 km in New Caledonia, so I can hardly complain. Looks like I will be finishing the tour wherever that will be on at least one Chinese tyre.

It was difficult but I did manage to swallow the final spoonful of that obnoxious meal. I had to, for it was imperative that I somehow fill my tortured stomach. When down to the last thimble-full of beer, a flushed young woman approached me and I've never seen anyone more excited at a chance to actually speak English to an Englishman, for that was her intention. Please would I accept an orange juice and could she sit? Her teacher had told her that's the only real way to learn and did I mind? Of course not. Unfortunately there was very little in her mispronounced sentences I could initially understand. As I became accustomed to the strange variations, so her confidence grew, though I did begin to feel she should find another teacher! Her words tumbled out and I thought she was clever to communicate at all, since we would not have had much of a conversation in her language.

At first I'd thought she was just one more waitress in mufti but I gradually learned she was 18 years of age, still a student, and there for the party of parties. Her father was celebrating his 62nd birthday and one by one the family members came over to meet me. Her brother - a slight shy youngster - was fascinated by this first close-up view of a foreigner. Shaking the Englishman by the hand would impress his mates for a term. Her sister or cousin - I never really learned which - welcomed me to China, using up all of her English in doing so, and then her mother came over, speaking none at all. "Isn't she beautiful?" said Lien, and she was. Well presented in the sheath-like dress so distinctive in these parts of Asia, she relied on smiles - as I did - to overcome the language barrier. "Mother wants you to meet her friends" added Lien, not quite in the English written here. So I was escorted to a large round table and there were all the women. My face remained creased in a grin that would qualify for the Guinness Book of Records as I made eye contact with each, then my excited companion dragged me - as a sort of prize exhibit - to the male table. In China I didn't know it was possible to have so many uncles as she said most of them were. Being men, the bottles were being emptied at an alarming rate. We drank first to the health and long life of her father, who insisted I joined the group, and then to my journey and to anything else that was proposed. I don't think our Queen was mentioned. She probably wouldn't have approved of me toasting her in orange juice, for I was still sipping Lien's. I prudently declined the offerings of something more potent, as at the rate of liquid consumption I was witnessing I would soon have slid under the weighted table. Declining more food, I explained how tired I was and excused myself. What a wonderful episode for me to recall as a passing stranger.

Two dumplings for my breakfast saw me grind down the kilometres to Shijiazhuang. Twelve miles short, I was caught by a group of Chinese students on saddle-bagged racing bikes, returning to university in Beijing. Inevitably, one had to prove he had the legs on me and made a serious effort to shake me off, which he did quite easily. Determined to wave the flag for Britain, I recklessly upped the pace. It took a good 10 minutes to pull him back but I don't think he was really trying. By the time I caught him I'd dropped all but one of the group and he was just hanging on! I felt a satisfaction I hadn't felt for years but also like an unwise and silly old man burning off valuable energy - for what?

They called for a rest to regroup and I was elevated to honourable grandpa status. The English word 'cool' was used quite often and they no longer looked at me as an old man. Maintaining a hot pace, I discovered I could keep it up quite effortlessly. Probably riding in a small pack made it seem easier and trying to converse took my mind off the physical exertion. By the time we'd reached the periphery of Shijiazhuang we had bonded and they insisted on finding me an hotel, but we hadn't quite arrived. Our pace dropped on entering the complicated road system, even the boys had to ask frequently ask for directions and was I glad of their company! They found me an hotel but it would not accept me because I was a 'foreigner'. It was the first time this had happened but I did know it was a possibility. The lads were not deterred and two of them piled into a taxi with me to backtrack quite some way to the appropriately named Beautiful East Hotel. They wouldn't leave until I was an official guest and whatever they said to the staff resulted in even more friendliness than usual and many questions. The bike was handled as if it were a Ming Vase and I was quite jealous of it. Great lads. I hope we can meet in Beijing.

I took a day off in Shijiazhuang to ensure a strong finish and that's what I enjoyed. I rattled off the closing kilometres as follows: 127, 120, 80, 115, rest day, 85, 155 and so this morning I only had 45 left, which resulted in arriving before lunch. The last couple of weeks gave me easier travel than expected - an increased level of fitness contributed but I was also aided by the weather. It has been sultry and overcast for the entire six and a half day final run in. It still provoked a certain amount of sweat but not to the degree suffered under a blazing unremitting sun.

So ended this stage of an improbable journey, for early fatigue and constant health niggles made this appear to be one tour too far. But here I am and I've found there is life in the old dog yet, though just now I'm feeling like that old canine in the song did - too lazy to roll off a thorn.

29 July 2006: Beijing at Last!

Well I made it! Somehow I blundered into Beijing but didn't quite reach my immediate goal, the Forbidden City, probably because it was forbidden!

Once again finding the city was not as straightforward as it might appear. One would think that a vast jungle of concrete and steel would be impossible to miss but, at one subtle point on the run in, the 'Beijing' signs suddenly ceased and the hopeful road I was on crossed a derelict bridge and became the narrowest dirt track through a nondescript village. Those I approached - I double-checked as I simply didn't believe them - all said that indeed I was headed for the city, though it seemed most unlikely. However, regaining a hard-top road running alongside a river bank, I could see the main highway I'd missed. There was a long bridge groaning under the weight of snarled traffic and I was soon adding a little extra to it.

After an amazingly easy entry into Beijing, for the most part along a broad cycle path, I saw a helpful sign directing confused travellers to the railway station. At last I could positively fix my position, although quite unsupported by the street names which I couldn't find on my awful city map. But there it was, the most beautiful railway station I had ever seen. I booked into a nearby hotel and set out to walk to Tienanmen Square. Still bemused by not finding any street names on my map, I began to ask the way. With help, I finally stumbled across the first road the inadequate map deigned to mention, Fuxing Lu, the extension of which would take me to the Forbidden City and the Square.

It finally dawned on me that I'd reached West Beijing railway station and was well adrift of the main one. It was much like an astronaut thinking he'd reached the Moon but, by a slight navigational error that anyone could make, was about to touch down on Mars. Nothing would quite add up. By then though it was a choice between enjoying some spicy chicken in a KFC joint or walking the few blocks to the Square. No contest! I ate and had to scurry home before it became too dark to see any remembered landmarks - I didn't wish to add 'Lost in Peking' to my adventures.

So how did I get here? As far as the scenery went, there was nothing spectacular on this closing stage but the tree-lined route was pleasant and easy. As happened once before, the G107 disappeared and I found I was approaching a toll gate. There are many of these here to sting the motorist but for everyone else, from cyclists (that includes motorbikes) to a horse-drawn cart, it is a free passage. We just dodge the barrier, often using a lane provided for us, and travel on, which is what I did. As I rode through I suddenly realised I had gained the Expressway. Nobody showed any interest in me, so I just kept on riding as an experiment. No traffic police, no furious honking to set me right, but once on it I couldn't get off until I reached an exit. At the second one I was more than ready to abandon my perfectly surfaced highway, for I was getting bored and hungry. Of course, the road is isolated from the outside world and, although sometimes passing within spitting distance of a village shop, there are two wire barriers between you and the food you would love to buy.

I was hoping to reach Hubi and the guarantee of a good hotel there but didn't quite make it. Instead, I entered an unmarked town and, having ridden 127 km in rain and drizzle, I called it a day. It was just as well that I did, for during the hour it took to gain shelter it became quite dark. After my first enquiry for a bed resulted in an unfriendly 'No', which was quite unusual, I went further down the wet glistening street. The lights reflecting off the slick surface made it quite colourful but I was now in an unappreciative mood. I asked again in a well-lit shop selling hats. I looked as if I needed one and was a likely customer, so my 'sleep' charade only confused the issue.

Out came the phrase book and the man scratched his head and rubbed his stomach in deep thought before giving me a set of directions that would have been confusing to one who lived there. His wife realised this, took pity on the bedraggled figure and chided her husband to get his bike and take me. Very reluctantly, but scared of his wife, he joined me in the rain. I followed him closely and had a taste of the fun it was to jump red lights, ride anywhere at all in any direction and have at least half a dozen near-catastrophes.

I cannot fault him for trying but the dingy dark lonely streets we used and the unsavoury opium-den-like 'dives' which refused me, made me quite happy it was an unsuccessful sortie. He gave up and took me home and when he helped push my bike inside I realised his intention was to host me. Father-in-law put a stop to that and after 20 minutes of heated debate I could tell I was being asked to leave. Back at square one and, as a last resort, I asked for directions to the police station. Maybe to overcome his guilt at disowning me, he took me there - it wasn't very far.

A very jolly bald-headed officer in a neat uniform met me with a big smile and warm handshake. Part of his happiness was the result of drinking on duty! I could smell it, as he had a habit of putting his face close to mine. The spirit had no effect on the dozen or so English words he was pleased to use, in fact, it probably enhanced their delivery. What a break for me! It seemed his brother ran a guesthouse and he would shepherd me there on his motorbike, which he nearly dropped in mounting. Whether forgetting his peaked hat and not switching on his lights made it less than official police business, I didn't know, but I followed in the wake of a most erratically driven machine. It was only a merciful providence that saw us safely to the bosom of half of his family.

We must have scared the living daylights out of all those we nearly killed. I am as blind as a bat in the dark, so I closely invaded the space of people he missed by a foot. A kangaroo, who naturally makes progress by a series of jumps, would have made a better job of operating that motorbike, or was it just a sticky clutch? What a lethal pair we made, bad enough to have high-pitched insults hurled at our passing, the uniform unsurprisingly gaining no respect for him as a police officer. Usually the Chinese accept near-death road experiences with a certain sangfroid. Not that time!

My next port of call was 120 km ahead and, put it this way, the scenery was no threat to the National Parks I've ridden close to or through. There were plenty of trees of all varieties but they were not blocking any scintillating view. I was paying the price for choosing a lowland route but it aided swift passage, which helped pull back the time lost in Hanoi and the serious delay there. This time I followed the G107 as if my wearing tyres were glued to it. As I entered Handan I had yet another motorbike escort, luckily this one quite sober. It was also early enough in the evening for me to actually see where I was going. Strange to say, I quite missed the adrenalin rush that had been pumping through my veins the previous day. I didn't really need help to find the Handan Hotel, since as their leaflet pointed out ' the biggest two-stars hotel of journey and foreign-related, Handan Hotel locates at the cross of Yuxin Street and Nonglin Road'. Naturally, I found this information helpful but a little tardy, as I'd already booked in when I read it.

Maybe Chinese with its 6,000 plus symbols can express different levels of hunger, but in English I don't think we can, apart from excruciating or terrible. If we did, mine would have to be at the starving-cannibal level. Without even a shower, I hot-footed it to the hotel diner, fearing that if they didn't hurry up and feed me one of the waitresses would be short of a leg. But I must be patient, which we westerners are not good at. The menu was placed before me but a baboon facing Algebra for the first time would fare better - the most complicated equation no match against a Chinese menu. Half a dozen waitresses (the whole staff) crowded round to interpret the Food section in 'Let's Go China'.

Regrettably it took a while, this Anglo-Sino co-operation, but at last a meal was agreed upon. Gradually things began to move, particularly in the first dish delivered, ringed by sliced tomatoes. It reminded me of a plate of worms, long and rather thin worms, very anaemic in appearance - I swear I saw one twitch! Nevertheless, I waded in and found they had less taste than a worm would have (I presume, as I must admit to not trying one yet. I've no particular desire to and have not been invited to). I was rebuked for diving in so quickly, as these unattractive would-be tape worms were to be added to the soup which had yet to come. I thought we'd all agreed it was to be tomato and egg soup but when it arrived the bowl had no liquid in it. At the bottom were a few vegetable granules, like those lurking in a packet of dehydrated soup awaiting the addition of the boiling water. And then it arrived, a large thermos flask.

One of the girls - they must have drawn lots to serve me - filled the bowl. Some soup, I thought, expecting the thick kind that a spoon would stand up in. The waitress -whose legs seemed even more appealing - indicated that the tape worms were to be drowned at birth by being plunged into the soup. To my amazement, the soup had suddenly started to bubble and simmer. Chinese magic or was my beer stronger than I had thought? Another waitress - I'd lost count by then - got in on the act, appearing with a large platter of the lamb I'd ordered. Instead of the juicy chops I'd been hoping for, it had been cut into thin slivers which, if not raw, were close to it. Deciding that if the Chinese ate it like that I had better do so to survive, I began and once again I was admonished. It too was to be consigned to the soup bowl. I was told to wait for five minutes when five seconds would have been too long.

At this point I solemnly realised I would die in China, not through any road accident but through sheer malnutrition. The waitresses by then all began to look very much the same and I have no idea which one stepped forward to refill my glass At the same time, she lifted the corner of the tablecloth to realign the constantly simmering soup which now began erupting like a witches' cauldron. There, inlaid into the table, was a hotplate. I couldn't believe it and it was beyond me why the whole lot didn't burst into flames. I finished the meal with a sense of a job well done rather than the pleasurable experience it sometimes is. Sad to say, despite all their considerable efforts to please me, that meal proved how different our tastes are.

As part of growing up, our taste buds are formed by what we are told we must eat and refusal of the cabbage or Brussels sprouts was not a sensible stand. Who wants to grow big like father, anyway, but if you didn't aspire to do so it could result in an extra ten minutes, which seemed like hours, at the table, gazing with distaste at the bitter leaves you'd tried to hide under your cutlery. Eventually, not having succumbed to the threats of 'No dessert' might also mean no more play that day. How ignorant of the future we children were. We didn't know that one day we would crave for the very food we created such a scene to avoid. I don't know if the Chinese children are also bullied into accepting their fare or whether it gives them instant gratification?

Having time to work this one out, I believe it must all be down to hereditary palates. When God was dishing them out to the Australian Aborigines he must have thought it a joke to make them enjoy the Wichity grub; the Englishman was better served with his roasted sirloin, but what on earth was he thinking about when he fixed the taste buds of the Chinese? Maybe one day I'll get the chance to ask him in the meantime! A last thought. Maybe God was trying out a new version of the Tower of Babel and the difficulty of communication from then on. He God - must have worked out that if nations couldn't abide each other's food they would not eat together. Many plans are hatched over a shared meal, even possibly the erecting of a second tower. Since then rockets into space have proved a more likely way of reaching Heaven but God would not have known this when dishing out palates.

Hopefully I will finish this tomorrow and write a personal letter then. No punctures and give the biting bugs my regards. Love to you both. Ian

Today I finally reached the Square where so much of China's modern history has been enacted. It was a bright and sunny afternoon and I decided Beijing was not such a bad place after all, as long as you are not too near to a railway station! Happy exploring and don't forget the insect repellent. My love to you. Ian

I've switched hotels and am now in a cheaper but much nicer place. I'll leave in the next few days but not until these severe storms have abated. We are enjoying a certain amount of flooding in Beijing just now. The joke is I've still not really officially finished the stage, which is when I reach the Forbidden City. I've been totally occupied with the write-up, the final part of which I sent a little earlier. Happy reading.

To Russia with Love

I'll close on a more positive note. I can after all cross into Russia on a road link to Vladivostok. This road is on neither the Russian nor Chinese highway maps. Last year I made exhaustive enquiries in Russia about entering China that way but everybody denied the possibility. The Russian official in their consulate here thought there may be a rail link, which backed up information in my 'Let's Go China' guide but that was all! My visa is being taken care of by an agency which has a close association with Russia. As a 'letter of introduction' is required, the single independent traveller has to get a visa through an agency which will supply this document for a substantial fee, which of course the applicant has no option but to pay. It's a huge government scam. If you try to deal with it independently rather than through an agent, many difficulties would have to be surmounted. They still prefer dealing with group travel where everything is booked in advance - vestiges of the old system.

The young man in the agency was so interested in my life as a two-wheeled tramp that he insisted on treating me to lunch, which was very kind of him.

Shengyang 19 August 2006

I've been having it easy during a return of sunny weather on the leg to Shengyang. I arrived on 16 August completing the fairly pleasant 781 km journey by lunchtime of the 8th day. Day 7 was tough, for I was wilting a little by then and butting into a mild head wind. On the last morning, adrenalin must have taken over the system or the final reserve given to me by that poor Peking duck cut in.

Tomorrow I set off towards Harbin and from there east to Russia. If all goes well I will enter Russia on 6 September and Vladivostok is quite close and the conclusion of this tour. I will sail to Japan for a short holiday there and fly home.

Changchun  23 August 2006

As was to be expected, it took a long time to ride clear and get beyond the fumes of an expanding Beijing, but 30 miles out I found myself once again in quiet and pleasant surroundings. Passing easily along the tree-lined route, it became almost a form of cheating, for surely cycling was supposed to be tougher than this!

At last the summer returned to China, for indeed the previous 6 weeks had been both humid and invariably overcast - I had put away the sun cream with relief. In planning this section of the tour, I'd quite feared and expected the unbroken sunshine I'd experienced in Vietnam. In the cooler environment I'd pulled back a month on the schedule and now began to regret choosing an easier but less scenic route: theoretically all I'd been fit to tackle after earlier setbacks.

Never the most exciting of scenery, once I'd left the extreme south, it fluctuated between being not quite as flat as asphalt pan to mildly hilly. However, feeling good about life it was most enjoyable. On a rare rainy day, I overtook a middle-aged Russian tourist who wasn't easily identified as such, riding a mountain bike festooned with an assortment of plastic-bagged bundles on top of his panniers. I'd passed him at speed, dismissing him as just another well laden local, but he caught me while I was trying to examine my map in the rain. He stopped, his face creased in smiles. I'd forgotten my very few words of Russian and his total knowledge of English "Me Russian" didn't aid our attempts to communicate.

About all I learned was that he was on the way back to his country and after a perilous bone-cracking (his hand had the grip of a vice) handshake, which was difficult while supporting our heavy loads, we set off together. It seemed I'd gained a bristle-chinned companion but in all honesty an unwelcome one, for our speeds did not match. We reached a town after a slow 5 km. At first I was happy to slow down but then my attempts to explain my intention to sleep there were not picked up by the Russian bear, who was all set to ride out to the far side of the place. It was getting late and I'd had my quota. Where he was proposing to continue to I had no idea but, failing to stop him, the last I saw of him was riding into the twilight. I turned back into the town, slept in one of its better hotels and often wondered if my companion ended up in a ditch somewhere. I never saw him again.

The only memorable part of the 8-day journey to Shenyang was passing through a town of stonemasons. There were works of sculpture on both sides of the road and their yards were crowded with finished and unfinished lions, deer, elephants, dragons. It didn't pay to breathe too deeply, for stone dust hung in the air and tinged the surroundings with a greyish white. There was a constant high-pitched clanging of struck chisels on stone, with just enough variety in pitch to form a part of the percussion section of an orchestra.

Some of the pieces would weigh over a ton and woe betide anyone's carelessly placed fingers as the new slabs I saw were winched into position off the backs of groaning trucks. Pairs of lions are used to guard the entrances to banks, businesses and municipal buildings. Whether a status symbol (Mine's bigger than yours!) or to bring luck, I haven't found out. A pair of 6-foot squatting lions would look well at the entrance of my cottage but unfortunately I don't even have a pavement outside the front door and the authorities might not appreciate my attempts to improve Sino/Anglo relations by such a gesture.

Despite much time lost in trying to find the way out of Beijing, the easy going was reflected in the time it took to reach Shenyang, just 7.5 days to complete the 781 km stage. However, the going did not remain so smooth in claiming Changchun. For the second evening in succession, I arrived at my objective in the dark - always a dangerous situation for me. I had had a mishap yesterday when entering Seping. In almost total darkness I ploughed into a group of stationary cyclists just too far out for my percentage risk calculations to allow for. Finishing a 150 km ride, my senses were dulled rather more than normal and in fading light I'd survived the final 15 km by rigidly sticking to the white shoulder line. It didn't pay to wander over to the culvert, as it was deep and a dive into it would have been catastrophic.

Having coped so well in the country, I was congratulating myself but on the edge of the town the helpful white line ended and so did my luck. It was completely my own fault but did I say my luck had run out? I was lucky to have escaped from a lynching from the two I'd brought down, who were not too happy, and even luckier to have merely sustained one more badly grazed knee. I spotted them too late to avoid a collision but had braked down to a speed where impact was little more than that incurred in tackling a 15stone rugby winger, with his bones and sinews to soften the blow. I could hardly blame them for their lack of lights, for no cyclist in China uses them and neither was I.

Harbin   29 August 2006

Yesterday afternoon I reached Harbin to complete 4,390 Chinese kilometres (2,740 miles). That represents an awful lot of noodles. This is as far north in China as I will go: from now on it's east and then south to Vladivostok.

In Changchun, I only had the briefest of rests and a free look at my letters on the hotel computer. Unfortunately, my receptionist friend, Isabel Snow, who got me the free look was leaning over my shoulder the whole time and so I only absorbed a little of what I read and I had little chance to answer.

It has all happened too quickly to properly grasp and I haven't had much time to ponder as the tree-lined route swept by. It's been such an easy stage and, apart from my hands which are now quite painful - too much downward pressure, I'm pretty fit and keep up a brisk pace as a rule. The kilometres fly by. Since Beijing I've covered 1,438 km (900 miles) in a comparatively short time. I didn't expect to feel so good at this stage of the tour!

I'm probably going to be too short of time here to transmit the heaps I have written, so the rest of it will have to follow in due course. Travel business - visa extensions etc -will keep me busy so I'll close now.

Village near Harbin   4 September 2006

Well it finally happened; I was hit by a van at a combined impact speed of 60mph. The bikes okay but I'm in and out of hospital on a daily basis. Nothing too serious but my hand had to be stitched together and I cannot continue before they are removed. I am lucky to be alive, just six inches more and I would have been a goner.

The road was up on the left hand side and I had already entered the gap but the van thought it could get through at speed. It flattened my hand and made a right royal mess of it, removed my top bag entirely breaking the nylon straps in doing it. When I crawled back to the road to see if the vehicle had stopped I found my cape and tent lying there in the road. As the tent lives inside the bag, I had no idea how it found its way out. Of the bag itself there was no sign.

This means I have lost just about everything the worse loss all 20 foolscap pages of this Chinese tour. I don't have the heart to try and rewrite it. All my clothes are lost and all my Chinese contacts with important papers including my air ticket home.

Please excuse me for being downhearted. The redeeming factor in all this is the response of the Chinese people to my injury and loss. I will write more about this later but I am actually being televised as I write this, in an attempt to recover my gear. I have been interviewed at length. I'm in a lot of pain just now and am off back to the hospital so forgive me if I close.

My love to you. Ian.

Village near Harbin  7 September 2006

Just a little update. Am not feeling too hot so I can only manage to write a little. The constant nagging pain is getting me down and more injuries are revealing themselves to the shoulder and arm, it's difficult to keep a stiff upper lip. Through all this the support of the Chinese people has been overwhelming and brought tears to my eyes. They are not allowing me to pay for anything and have been buying me clothes and paying for all my treatment and medicine.

It has its funny side. This accident has put the village on the map and made my fellow TV interviewees famous even in the regional capital, Harbin. This wound must be the most followed one in local history. It had a good start by being focussed upon in all its blood and gore during the interview. They do this in China, and as I walk the streets of this village all eyes are drawn to it for it is not a pretty sight and only partially covered.

The hospital is becoming my second home for I'm on a daily drip but the friendliness of the staff makes it all much more bearable. I have a constant companion who I call my angel but in fact is more like a loving daughter, so what more can I say but 'lucky dog Hibell'?

I am touched by the messages of support from a few fellow cyclists and I will answer each when I can. Once again I must retire hurt for the pain is almost too much for me and I must seek fresh air.

Love to all. Ian

Yagou 10 September 2006

The following email was received from the young Chinese woman who had taken care of Ian as he recovered from his injuries.

ian has had a comfortable day in our house and is very happy we listened to music which he enjoyed and had a meal togejhec best wishes to you all from our villace in china which is yagou my name is qikexin

Mudanjiang: 20 September 2006

Am deeply touched by all the messages of support. I will answer all in due course but all I can do just now is give a more cheerful update.

The tour is on again, somewhat spurred on by a pep talk from Nic Henderson. Once the stitches had been removed a lot of the pain went with them and I tried a 40 km run. I had to know if I was making a lot of fuss about nothing, for it was not easy to abandon the tour so near to the finish.

I cannot use the hand other than resting it on the handlebars but what the hell, there are many one- armed cyclists around. It was better than I had expected and here I am, 3 days out of Ya Gou and my wonderful friends there. It was an emotional parting which I didn't enjoy. Having spent 3 weeks with them I am now part of the family and am committed to return. The circle of friends is large and I will miss them terribly, so it will be no hardship.

I've reached Mudanjiang and am now 170 km from the Russian border. I complained I had nothing interesting to say; I have now!

Suifanhe (on the Chinese/Russian border)  24 September 2006

Happy to say I reached the border town of Suifanhe mid-morning. Russia tomorrow, if they will let me in! For the first night I had to sleep really rough with only my cape to protect me from a very cold night. I pushed too hard and ran out of towns but I did experience a Chinese dawn. Had virtually no sleep, so cannot write more today: very tired.

Vladivostok  28 September 2006       

I made it!!! Reached Vladivostok yesterday morning to safely conclude the tour and sail to Japan on Monday. My guarding angel - especially assigned to look after fools like me - is to get his or her feathers freely shampooed but I have been warned I may get a celestial bill and to send it airmail from Heaven is not cheap.

The final leg was marred by being forced to take a bus across 5 km of no-man's-land, so technically I failed, which is a bitter pill to swallow after the trials and tribulations of the journey. It has quite spoiled a potential party.

Will write more fully when I can but today the Honorary British Consul and I have been fighting a probable deportation directly back to England, as my visa had expired while I was still trying to get here. We won!

Have heard my missing bag has been found by a farmer but no news yet as to whether my precious notes are in it.

I found Russia initially trafficless, so quiet after the continous blaring of horns in China, so empty. Sixty kilometers of nothing and the road so smooth with none of the nasty surprises I had become accustomed to when using quite good roads in China where holes made a fast descent risky;a long lost confidence gradually returned.

I was also aided by the weather which remained sunny and dry but faced a headwind which made it impossible to reach the chance of a bed that night. I finished the days run in the dark failing to reach a big town but did find a cafe. If the combination of boysh, chicken and fruit juice seemed a little strange at least I was full. I began to nod off in my chair and delayed leaving as long as I could for a night in a bus shelter with only a cape to wrap up in was going to be long and chilly. The woman in the cafe wrapped up some extras for me as a gesture and that became breakfast. The shelter had no bench so I had to sleep on the dirt floor. It was sleep of a kind but an experience not to be recommended. Midway through the night my cape was ripped away and I was faced with an inquisitive intrudor who turned trucullant when I snatsched it back. Forunately he left and the night passed with no further incident but with the incessant chattering of my teeth. To my surprise I remembered little of the road I had used the previous year and only began to recognise the final climbs towarts the run into Vladivostok.

It had been too far to realistically reach my goal that day and so once again I sought a bus shelter. It was a little warmer that night with a broad bench, so having made the bike secure lay alongside it. I did get to sleep but not for long. Quite what time it was I knew not but I was joined by two young men -mid twenties- whom at first I mistrusted and so woke up to full alert.

ALL FOR NOW, MIEKO IS GOING TO ADD A LITTLE NOTE, with it our combined love. Ian and Mieko

I am happy to be sending Ians stories to you. I am very happy. When will you come to Japan. Ian says make it cherry blossom time. Very beautiful then. Good bye. Lovely Mieko

Vladivostok 30 September 2006

While resting and recovering in Vladivostok, before catching the boat to Japan, Ian wrote the following much more detailed account of the van-attack that caused his injuries. It records that initially he was turned away by Chinese people and in fact he had to cycle quite a distance before finding the help he needed, which was so generously and freely given in Ya Gou.

As well as being a commentary on Ian's dour courage (he could have been a Yorkshireman!), the account gives a fascinating insight into life in a Chinese village. 

On the journey from Provincial Capital Harbin, this stretch of narrow road was laid with sections of concrete. The odd block on both sides of the highway had been dug out for relaying, with tree branches or piles of rubble at both ends of the gap being the only warning.

Such a block was on my left and I was aware of a fast approaching vehicle. As I was already entering it, I presumed it would let me clear the gap first: a matter of seconds at the speed I was moving at. Technically I had the right of passage, for I had arrived there first and the obstacle was not on my side of the road, but might is right in China and the van was a lot bigger than me.

To my consternation I realised it did not intend to even slow down, as it swung over to confront me. For the shortest of seconds I looked for an escape route down the steep bank but then it hit me. I will always remember the image of that van bearing down on me and the miracle of it actually missing a head-on collision. As it was, I was initially left a couple of spare inches, then no space at all. I felt a tremendous blow to my shoulder and forearm, unaware that my numbed hand had taken the brunt of the impact. I ended up in a tangled heap, with a relatively soft landing at the base of a grassy bank.

It was difficult to extract myself and come to my senses and my hand was no longer much use to me. Still in a state of shock, I crawled up the bank and staggered onto the road. There in the middle of it I saw my cape and, a few yards further, the tent. As the tent is packed inside the bag which lay across the panniers, I couldn't imagine how it had managed to escape - a little of Paul Daniels' magic here.

There was of course no sign of the van, so I returned to the upended bike to see just how the tent had extracted itself. To my puzzlement there was no bag to check: it had vanished; disappeared; evaporated. Where the bag had been fixed, the nylon straps dangled loosely and the 60 mph impact had fractured a buckle. Just then I didn't feel particularly grateful to be still alive and a certain amount of profanity accompanied the one-handed dragging of the bicycle up onto the highway. Now I really needed help and some kind person to see the necessity of getting me to hospital. A parked truck up a side road, beyond the railway track I was following, looked promising but the occupant averted his eyes and wanted nothing to do with the situation. So began the longest walk of my life.

In my mind I had worked out that the bag had burst and I would find the contents strewn along the road on my way back to a village I well remembered. I followed the long-gone van but found nothing. Robbery hadn't yet entered my mind but eventually it became clear that this was what had occurred. After his murderous attack on me, the driver must have used the time it took for me to come to my senses to have a quick look inside the bag and, as the tent was in the way, he tore it out and dumped it. Disturbed by my scrambling back to the scene, he decided to have a more thorough look later and drove off with it. Of course this is only conjecture but I began to accept this probability as I walked the three kilometres back to the village.

Reaching it, I was bound to be noticed but what then? There was a public meeting in progress and the large collection of people I had hoped for. I was given help to lean the bike and the village nurse was sent for. Her 'surgery' doubled as a shop of sorts but it was a little short of medical supplies. All she could do for me was bathe it in water, which I hoped was pure, bandage it and show me the door. I sat in the shade for a while, unsure of what to do next. Come on Hibell, think! It seemed the only course of action was to continue down to and beyond the accident site and try to reach the first town with a hospital. The village had no taxi service and nobody was rushing forward to offer to drive me. I really needed someone better qualified to treat me, for the wound was seeping blood at such a rate that walking was out of the question. I had to ride, facing the possible dangers of septicaemia: a little speed was of the essence.

Arriving at an overblown village, it was not a good time to be told I should have taken the other fork a good 10 km back. Once again I had been misdirected. It was implied that I would find the town I had been trying to reach and there I would find a hospital. The lady I had approached gestured me to follow her, to what turned out to be her home. Naturally I'd hoped she was going to take care of me in some way but it was just so that she could show me her map. She watched me leave with the pitying look one would give a dog about to be put down. Maybe she had noticed I was beginning to weep, for I was feeling profoundly sorry for myself just then.

Back to the junction I rode, not the most comfortable of journeys, my handlebars and front bag now covered in sticky blood and leaving a trail behind me. Three km beyond the junction and on the right road again, I reached a busy little town of cement factories and businesses. Little did I know how familiar I would become with its many restaurants, or that I was about to become an honorary resident there. How I came to love the small town of Ya Gou and its people.

Not knowing this, I looked for a store to buy food to give me strength enough to continue my quest for a hospital. I was immediately offered a stool and needed no second bidding. With gestures I tried to explain why it seemed my hand had been mauled by a tiger while, unbeknown to me, a customer I later referred to as my 'angel' was phoning the local English teacher. The mobile phone was handed to me and I realised I was listening to English. I didn't understand much of it but the word hospital was mentioned. I was helped to my feet and into the hospital, quite close by.

There I met Mr Chen who I mistakenly took for a doctor. He was in fact the English teacher who had interrupted his lessons to see if he could help. Without him, I doubt I could have survived the next couple of hours. He held my shoulders with a vicelike grip and squeezed my free hand while the doctor tried to sew me back together. He was able to translate my feeble attempts to be jocular - stiff upper lip and all that - and was able to give me the doctor's assessment. It was thought I'd broken bones and Doctor Wang was thrilled to death to finally x-ray a westerner, the first in 40years he said. At least he was able to give me a little good news. I didn't any longer qualify as a real hero, thank goodness.

The wound was dressed and comfortable for the moment, until the local anaesthetic wore off. I endured the worst four tetanus injections of my life, given every 20 minutes, for the good of my health they said - the sadists! It should have been the driver who ran me down, but they said if he was caught they had far worse lined up for him. By then a policeman arrived, whose job it was to try and catch him. At some point in all this pain and excitement Mr Chen said I was not to worry, for until I had recovered I was to be his guest. When disabled like this, one doesn't at first think of practical matters, like how the hell am I going to survive after the hospital has finished with me - the last thing on one's mind. I was so grateful to be escorted to his home.

His house was a private school and living quarters combined, above a restaurant. It was approached via a high iron gate and a yard and up two spans of a metal stairway. My new friends made sure I reached the balcony safely. It was touching how concerned they were and I really didn't at all mind being assisted, in the way older folk are deemed to need.

Being on the second floor and spread above two businesses, the house is huge. It has a great area of tiled floor with large rooms running along one side, doubling as class rooms (with desks) and bedrooms. At one end are a western-style toilet and a dining and TV/restroom. The rest of the space is used as one final class room, with a whiteboard (as opposed to our blackboard). Each room has a large round table and enough chairs to seat a regiment.

There are educational posters on the walls and plants on the window sills, a pleasant and popular place for the children to study in, and they often come just to visit. Mr Chen and his wife are so welcoming that it is the pupils' second home. In the room that acts as the hall is the biggest collection of plastic sandals I have ever seen, for the house rule is leave your footwear at the door. If the plaster walls are a little the worse for age, the happy atmosphere that prevails makes up for it tenfold.

Due to the discomfort of the wound I was glad to see the first dawn. Mr Chen took me for an early walk down to the market, a sort of local gathering place not just there to sell produce. There amongst the fruit, vegetables and meat sellers, I found news had spread and few failed to respond with sympathy and encouragement and wincing faces, making it clear the driver should be punished. Quite what they felt should be done to him if caught was beyond Mr Chen's interpretive skills but I did gather it would be worse than merely having his toenails withdrawn.

I found I was afloat in a sea of sympathy and friendship. While all the townsfolk volubly vented their anger at the hit and run driver, it seemed they had a need to make it up to me. I've never met such a kind and friendly group; individuals yes, but this was universal. Having lost all my clothing in the missing bag, I was freely outfitted, the shopkeepers simply refusing to accept any payment from my hosts and certainly not from me. School teacher, Feng Huanlai, immediately provided me with trousers and a jacket and, because at first I couldn't cope, a free shave from one barber and - not to be outdone - my hair was washed by another.

A routine emerged, organised around daily walks to the market and visits to the hospital. After 11 such visits, I had had as much intravenous fluid dripped in as the system would allow, which was almost a pity as I was getting quite fond of my nurse, Liu Yang. A constant companion and caring friend during these otherwise soul- destroying periods on a couch was my 'angel' Fanjin. It was her original phone call that had led to this extraordinary display of care for a foreign stranger, and her attention to my needs was that of a loving daughter. Every time I winced she was there fussing and always found and arranged a soft quilt for me to lie on. She spoilt me with sweets and music, which I heard through earphones from her tiny cassette.

These sessions were long but she would never leave me, even when I drifted off to sleep. The boredom she must have suffered, all this for an ugly old man she couldn't even talk to, since she knew no English and as for my Chinese - better not talk about it. Her young pretty daughter, Qikexin, did a little and was always popping in to share time with me and practise what she knew, for it was a rare opportunity to talk to a native speaker. She was a real charmer and I always looked forward to having my reveries interrupted by her.

As far as I could ascertain, the actual hospital treatment was free but the numerous tablets prescribed and the fluids needed had to be paid for. Fanjin did this on each visit and totally refused all my efforts to pay. Nobody here is exactly drowning in cash and I am beginning to feel I am abusing their hospitality by my prolonged presence, but they will have none of it.

On my final visit for one last drip, Mr Chen arrived at a crucial moment. Unfortunately the nurse couldn't locate a vein amongst the bruising caused by all the others and I was squirming a bit, well actually a lot, and needed sitting on. To take my mind off my role as a human pin cushion, his thoughts turned to food. What would I like for dinner? Chicken would be fine, I gasped. He asked what kind. As far as I knew, there were only two kinds: dead and alive. I said I'd prefer a dead one. Mr Chen interpreted and my fellow sufferers broke into a series of guffaws, loud enough to make the hanging bottles dance and bubble above us. There were wide grins all round, which helped the situation considerably.

Received on 9 October 2006

During this recuperation I've had time to decide if the town deserved the good people in it and, although I'll always have fond memories of my stay here, I've come to the conclusion: not really. It's a fairly nondescript place spreading out along the railway tracks with none of the oriental curved roofs that give China its image. Factory chimneys and a variety of no-frills purpose-built buildings huddled below them don't enjoy any pretence of beauty, nor are they likely to excite architectural students who chance on them. The only saving grace is a section of flower beds near the hospital with the buds in full bloom and the trees lining the road right into the centre.

It's basically a farming community and vast fields of corn stretch out from the fringes, reached by dusty dirt roads. Mrs Chen has taken me to visit her parents in a nearby village, and her own old house with an unfinished new one close by. We also visited her sister. Once clear of the town, the cottages have a certain charm that is lacking in the town proper. In each case, the homes were well built with double-glazing and radiator heating but all had an outside toilet. A visit to any of them in the winter doesn't bear thinking about and must result in a certain number of frost-bitten bums in the cruel sub-zero temperature.

Yesterday was special. I was introduced to the art of making Chinese dumplings and I also made my first trial run, to see if I could control the bike without any likelihood of another catastrophe. Maybe I wouldn't be so lucky or get the same help if I made a major contribution to a further accident. Before my bike test I became a sort of honorary Chinaman when I was taught how to make dumplings. I was quite proud of my efforts, so I took umbrage when they were described as resembling dead mice. Admittedly the meat centre seeped a bit but, for a beginner, I thought I had distinguished myself and expected praise. What a put-down.

The typical Chinese dumpling comes in two varieties. The first, a wad of flour and water steamed into life, is very bland and boring to my taste. The second type is again based on flour and water but little blobs are rolled flat and made into jam-tart-sized circles. The centres contain a large-teaspoon-sized portion of either minced meat or vegetables. They are steamed and then plunged into boiling water 3 times: quite yummy yummy.

Now for my bike test. Mr Chen took me to a party to celebrate a friend's son qualifying for university: a 40 km round trip to Jiaojie, another characterless town that could be twinned with our own. I was delighted to find the hand reasonably comfortable in the usual handlebar position and, providing I didn't attempt to bend my fingers (still not a good idea), I can plan to resume the tour, a prospect that had seemed most unlikely if not impossible just a few days ago. I had been fortunate not to have lost a finger. My hosts feared I might damage it further and were very reluctant to let me try. At one point I felt they wouldn't let me anywhere near the bike and I wasn't really in a position to argue in the face of such care. I was made to promise I would quit the ride if I knew I was doing the injury harm. On those terms I was allowed to go, my progress monitored by Mr Chen, using his motorbike.

The restaurant wasn't difficult to find but an empty table was. The place was crowded and very noisy with the exuberance of celebration, for as well as drinking to toast the young man's success, I gradually learned that the group playing cards with gusto at our table were having a rare school reunion. Unfortunately, as the restaurant became even more crowded the ordinary hubbub of chat became a yelling match and only those with powerful voices and acute hearing could conduct any kind of conversation. On top of this rising volume of excitement, the card players where thumping down their winning cards with force enough to crack the floor tiles underneath, cringing against this bombardment.

When the decibel level was beyond recording, the loud pops, crackles and bangs of Chinese fireworks made me feel I was a reporter in a war zone. One of the schoolmates asked me if the noise worried me and Mr Chen yelled the question into my cupped ear. I tried to say European celebrations were just as noisy but I was lying, not liking to admit at one point I'd even considered seeking peace outside. I should have been honest and told him that if party noise was introduced as an event in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China would win hands down.

I discovered that some of my new friends - with school well behind them - were now farmers, one a water engineer, another a road safety worker (the kind who turns up when a mountain sheds its rocks on a highway) and one a teacher. All admitted they had fought each other as kids but, they hastened to add, not as adults. At this stage of the party food was served and dish after dish of duck, beef and dumplings were brought in, to find space amongst the seafood and vegetables. The plates were tiered, as there was no longer any room, and the table began to groan, the tiles now under a further assault, sheer weight pressing down on their sheen. I was told to hurry and eat, for time was limited, but as fast as I did so food was replaced by my fellow guests, which is the custom in China. The host, or in my case hosts, top up the glass and see the bowl is constantly replenished. A bit disconcerting when making a valiant effort to empty it.

The return journey involved a climb to recross a mountain shoulder and pass by my crash site. The drinks I had reluctantly consumed unfortunately gave me no extra courage to play dare with oncoming traffic at the 'road up' sections and I found myself considering giving way to anything, be it butterfly, bee or bicycle, that wanted to pass through the gaps. I'd totally lost my nerve with the vehicles. Dark fell and I returned to my Chinese home, guided by my friend's motorbike beam. It had been a successful trial, even if I'd felt rather subdued. It was agreed I was fit enough to leave but there are misgivings still and a dinner invitation between me and the real test.

My survival on the road was in less doubt than at the dinner table, for the amount of beer and spirits traditionally consumed at these events could well have seen me dragged out along the floor. Persuasion to drink more is a game to be played out and it is most difficult to refuse an insistent host, who feels he or she has not done their duty by you unless you end up inebriated. It results in everyone sharing the best of spirits and many sore heads in the morning, but I was excused from downing my glass in one go.

I had one more day to enjoy before resuming the tour and I was finally and formally introduced to many of the students. Their English class became a real challenge for them, as I was asked to speak of my travels in my native tongue. I really had no option, since I'm ashamed to say that my Chinese was still less than basic. The shortcomings of their language were filled in by Mr Chen but, considering their limited knowledge and the fact they had never come face to face with a native speaker before, they did very well. Many stayed on long after question time was over.

It had been circulated that actually I spoke fluent Chinese and eventually I was given a book to prove it. I had to explain to them it was in a long forgotten dialect and the looks on their faces when I delivered it - a form of total gobbledegook which involved a lot of violent tongue wagging - sent first Mr Chen and then me into total paroxysms of hysterics. The sight of their elders virtually rolling on the floor and holding their bellies added to their confusion and in the remaining time I spent in the town I was often asked for a little more of my very special ancient Chinese.

These people opened their hearts to me and I willingly stepped in. I've been warned tears will be shed at my parting and I expect by me too. I just could not have imagined in my wildest dreams that such warm, caring and lovely people existed in our mostly cruel word.

To celebrate or lessen the impact of my imminent departure, Dianlong (actually means 'palace dragon') took me to a disco, not so much for me to tread the boards, which I've never shown an aptitude for, but to see some beautiful women, hear some music and wallow in the atmosphere created by the flickering lights and gliding movement. There were few pretty girls and the floor was too empty to generate the atmosphere we had been seeking but Ms Liu - the resident disco queen - whirled around like a competitor in 'Lets go Dancing' and it was worth the visit to see. She had a couple of worthy partners including my adopted son, Dianlong, who cut a fine figure and I was quite impressed; less so when he borrowed the mike and dedicated his song to me, by then a pretty inebriated rendering of 'Take Me Home'.

Nobody seemed to mind but they probably heaved a sigh of relief when Ms Liu escorted us to the door and, supporting each other, we staggered the few yards home. His patient wife, Zhang Xiaohua had not locked us out this time, which was lucky for it was cold out there.

So ended my three week stay which, disregarding the element of discomfort, had in fact made the tour infinitely richer; to rephrase, not just the tour but my whole life. But my stay was not quite over and our departure celebration premature. Ready to leave, one more television channel wanted a share of the action, deciding to make a feature out of the incident. As part of it, I am actually being filmed as I write this on the computer. The affair has provoked a lot of regional interest, for not many come this way on a bicycle and even fewer get run down by a vehicle. Who knows, it might even lead to the recovery of the bag: one last appeal.

This is all very difficult, as I am being asked to go through the motions of the goodbye hugs, which will now be repeated tomorrow for real. After this is all over it will be far too late to start today! I really do not want to leave and am glad of an excuse to linger. After an embarrassing re-enactment of me staggering into the shop and finally tearfully leaving, I think we earned our complimentary lunch as guests of the TV presenter. Fortunately I will not be around to see the result of all this filming, for a Robert Redford look-alike I am most definitely not. Seeing the old man I have become does little for my self-esteem but is probably the real reason for all this interest.

So the following day I finally left, too emotional for comfort. What could I say to people who adopted me so totally? Thank you? Nowhere near enough. Zhang Xiaohua and my angel, Fangin, accompanied me for the first 10 km and there were wet-eyed hugs that rehearsals did not make any easier. I was finally released from their arms to continue alone, grateful to be able to do so but with an aching and heavy heart. The good dirt road then became a tank training track, which is exactly what I did not need since my hand was not ready for this buffeting, but I had been warned! Just as my advisors had explained in trying to cheer me up, crossing a bridge under construction ended the torment and I whistled down the wind.

Again as my friends had predicted, I was recognised in even small villages, for the TV coverage had reached the far corners of Heilongjiang. It was certainly proving beneficial. Trying to find accommodation in one sizeable town, I approached a police van and the relaxing copper could hardly bother until, after a word from a bystander who had obviously seen the story, he leaped out of his cab as if it were on fire, called me back and all smiles escorted me to my bed for the night. I would never have recognised the place as a hostelry, up an alleyway with no sign above the locked steel door.

Too tired even to go out to look for food, I was glad when the lady appeared with a plate of dumplings that did not look like dead mice. I ate them with relish while watching a Chinese version of Tarzan honing in on his Jane. There were many whoops and jungle calls to interrupt his aerial acrobatics. All a bit too confusing for me. Having lost the plot I went to sleep long before the traditional grappling match, be it with snake or gorilla.

My predicament drew a lot of help, from strapping the load to opening the drink bottles. A great aggravation was trying to get into the packets of biscuits, sweets and chocolates. Those confounded plastic bags! It was all done for me. Taking off or putting on the tight fitting sweater was murder, for any contact with hand and sleeve was a form of torture, but those I asked for help were most understanding and gentle. Once mounted and after the initial pressure, the hand was relatively comfortable. The closing stages of the tour were less and less an ordeal and entering the border fringe of mountains was positively pleasurable.

I was beginning to savour the distinct possibility of reaching my goal. For so long it had been very much in doubt and my friends had been dead against me trying, as colder Autumn weather was upon us and the area had been beset by storms. All were convinced I would harm the wound even more, and more than 50% of my mind agreed with them. However I had no alternative: I must try. But here I was rapidly closing in on Russia and beyond the border there was just 200 km to go.

I reached the border town of Suifanhe in celebratory mood and found the hotel which had been expecting me. It was full of Russians. Coach-loads of them cross into China on spending sprees as clothes, food and good booze are so much cheaper here that it pays to make the journey. News of my lucky escape had filtered through to the visiting contingents, who were fascinated by the kind of adventure few in Russia would contemplate. I was whisked off to lunch and to say thank you I hosted a dinner that I had only been able to dream about on the journey from Beijing to earn it.

In the morning the pleasure of the celebration evaporated on reaching the Chinese border control. At first I could not even find it. At the end of the road I did come across a mammoth building which I investigated but it was nothing to do with Immigration, just a line of upmarket shops and offices. Beyond the building were locked gates, presumably blocking progress into Russia. My enquiries as to how I was to enter Russia were met with dumb looks and lack of understanding until finally I met one who not only pointed to a faraway flagged possibility but escorted me there on his bicycle. The main hall I found myself in said CUSTOMS and QUARANTINE, but of IMMIGRATION there was no sign. Everywhere I looked appeared to deal with entry not exit and even then the orderly row of cubicles I was used to.

Even waving my passport around under the noses of the various uniformed officials didn't provoke any positive reaction. I just couldn't find out where I was supposed to start my exit formalities. Perplexed and wondering what to do next, I finally found a neatly uniformed young man who seemed to have a modicum of sense and was willing to take my case on board. With his few words of English he said he would fill out my exit card for me. He disappeared with it and my passport and I thought my problems were over but they were just beginning.

Five minutes later he returned and asked to see my bus ticket. "A bus ticket? Why? I'm on a bicycle!" Once again he left me. On his return he shook his head emphatically. "Sorry, but you cannot go to Russia." I looked at him in disbelief; I probably gaped. He tried to explain but my brain had seized and there was no way he could overcome my dumbness. All the setbacks of the journey overcome, the complications of being turned back at this juncture were seemingly insurmountable. To say I was gutted is an understatement and swallowing the bitter pill of defeat was not just the low point of the tour it was much worse than that.

He needed backup and help to deal with my distress, so he took me to the police post. Collectively they might be able to penetrate what I was trying to use as a brain. I was offered a chair, a packet of biscuits and a bottle of water, none of which I had the stomach for just then. I gradually came to understand that my entry wasn't being banned, as I had feared, only my method of trying to do it by bicycle.

The only way anyone could cross the short stretch of no-man's land was by bus, as no private vehicles were allowed and that included bicycles. Pleadings for an exception to be made or a police escort granted were to no avail. As all the bus tickets had been sold that day I was told to come back tomorrow.

Unfortunately my three weeks off the road had eaten into my Russian visa and it was imperative I crossed that day or I couldn't enter at all. They heard me out and understood my visa problem, since they all knew of my crash as it had received enormous publicity. Under the circumstances an extra ticket was conjured up and it was prudent not to argue further. I was given priority treatment and whisked through the crowded hall to the head of the queue gathered at the exit area. I was taken straight out of the door and given a prime seat on the coach long before the other passengers were allowed to follow me.

My poor escort had to find space for the bicycle in a bus that was already fully packed, for the returning Russians had shopped to their full limitations. I cringed as I watched the bike being wedged in forcibly and sat there bitterly resenting my imminent 'help' across no-man's land.

The Russians and fellow passengers were kind and friendly to me, in part I'm sure because of my incapacity. The bicycle was prised loose and I was helped with it to Immigration. Nobody wished to delay me by searching my load. It would take several hours for my companions to be cleared and by then I was long gone.

I'd forgotten just how steep the hills were along the Russian/Chinese border and it remained steeply hilly on the 28 km run to the junction with last year's route to Vladivostok. I set off to reach the city before my visa completely expired.

On 30 September 2006 Ian sent the following email:

"To all my friends until I can send to each. I made it !!! Reached Vladivostok yesterday morning to safely conclude the tour; sail to Japan on Monday. My guarding angel - especially assigned to look after fools like me - is to get his or her feathers freely shampooed but I have been warned I may get a celestial bill and to send it airmail from Heaven is not cheap. The final leg was marred by being forced to take a bus across 5 km of no-man's land, so technically I failed, which is a bitter pill to swallow after the trials and tribulations of the journey. It's quite spoiled a potential party. Regards. Ian. Thanks so much for all your good wishes and support."

Later, Ian continued his account:

I found Russia initially traffic-free: so quiet after the continuous blaring of horns in China, so empty. Sixty kilometres of nothing and the road so smooth, with none of the nasty surprises I had become accustomed to when using quite good roads in China, where holes made a fast descent risky. A long lost confidence gradually returned.

I was also aided by the weather, which remained sunny and dry but faced a headwind that made it impossible to reach the chance of a bed that night. I finished the day's run in the dark, failing to reach a big town but did find a cafe. If the combination of borscht, chicken and fruit juice seemed a little strange, at least I was full. I began to nod off in my chair and delayed leaving as long as I could, for a night in a bus shelter with only a cape to wrap up in was going to be long and chilly. The woman in the cafe wrapped up some extras for me as a gesture and that became breakfast. The shelter had no bench so I had to sleep on the dirt floor. It was sleep of a kind but an experience not to be recommended.

Midway through the night, my cape was ripped away and I was faced with an inquisitive intruder who turned truculent when I snatched it back. Fortunately he left and the night passed with no further incident except the incessant chattering of my teeth. To my surprise, I remembered little of the road I had used the previous year and only began to recognise the final climbs towards the run into Vladivostok.

It had been too far to realistically reach my goal that day and so once again I sought a bus shelter. It was a little warmer than the previous night and I had a broad bench, so having made the bike secure I lay alongside it. I did get to sleep but not for long. Quite what time it was I knew not but I was joined by two young men in their mid-twenties, whom at first I mistrusted and so woke up to full alert.

They shared their beer with me but were certainly not drunk, just friendly and inquisitive. Both knew those odd vital words of English to communicate but I never did learn why they ended up in a bus shelter with me rather than with their wives at home, not all that far away.

I'd given up all ideas of sleep by then and felt remarkably fresh so we sat together all night chatting and enjoying the odd swill of beer. So I was awake to witness my third dawn in the last few days, with Vladivostok just 40 km away, a fitting end to a tour largely lacking in raw adventure: but I can live with that.

Unable to obtain a map or phrase book, I had ridden the final 200 km relying on memory, which had proved largely defunct through what should have been familiar territory, so I was relieved to find the railway station. Once there, I knew the area as well as my home town of Brixham and easily found last year's hotel. It is nice to be remembered, even if I did not get my old room back.

"But Mr Hibell," remarked the fair-haired receptionist "did you not know your visa expired yesterday?" Oh boy, the Russians take a serious view of those outstaying their welcome, even long-distance cyclists. I suggested my efforts should be applauded, not rewarded with an expulsion order; however, would the authorities agree with me? I spent a miserable night facing a spell in the salt mines. In the morning the concerned receptionist immediately rang the Honorary British Consul, who I did not know existed. It was arranged that somebody would accompany me to 'Immigration' and represent my case, literally a claim that I was a victim of circumstances beyond my control.

My efficient and beautiful escort, Lena, was most pessimistic that the authorities would take this into account. I was warned the likely outcome would be a heavy fine and a three day deportation order. I would be forced to leave Russia on a direct flight home to England, with no opportunity to visit my friends in Japan or link up with the lost ticket I had yet to use from Hong Kong. It was therefore with surprise and considerable relief that our day-long attempt to seek sympathy was successful.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, the bureau chief was interested rather than dismissive and I was given the extra time I needed to pass the few days pleasantly prior to the sailing date of MV Rus. I was bound for the Japanese port of Toyama and could sleep easily again.

The following note was written by Mieko, a young woman who helped Ian's keyboard work in Japan.

"I am happy to be sending Ian's stories to you. I am very happy. When will you come to Japan. Ian says make it cherry blossom time. Very beautiful then. Good bye. Lovely Mieko."

EPILOGUE

Here, Ian writes about his statistics, his equipment, his gratitude and his future.

Statistics

Final Chinese tally 4,956 km and a short 200 km run to Vladivostok brings the total to 10,347 km (6,500 miles) but who's counting? The more meaningful figures are in gallons (or litres if you prefer) of tea, Pepsi Cola and beer - figures I prefer not to release. The total number of new friends I've made don't quite reach the liquid consumption level and unfortunately, they may never be counted, as all are in the lost bag. A farmer's wife claims to have found it, so I'm hoping but not over-optimistic. I cannot afford to be! Greetings from a Vladivostok flooded in sunshine. One cannot feel too low on such a day. Love to you. Ian

Equipment

The equipment used was most durable. In over 10,000 km (over 6,000 miles) of the SE Asian and Chinese section of the tour, the only mechanical problem was a jammed rear brake cable. There were three anticipated brake block changes. The tyres just made it, their treads bald, and any more use of them would have been taking too much of a chance. I used the lighter of the Schwalbe range (the H.S. 308) and would strongly recommend the choice.

From Bangkok to Vladivostok the roads were generally surfaced and at times provided silky smooth running. The bad sections, even those under construction, were nothing compared to the 3,000 km (2,000 miles) of dirt road encountered in Mongolia and Russia on the first leg of the tour in 2004/5.

My Argos Special bicycle completed one more tour without any sign that it might not be fit for another.

The only other problems were mild: patches that would not stick in the humidity of Vietnam in particular; the parting of both toe-straps; the consistent wearing through of the handlebar tape. What would I have given for a real replacement rather than the electrical tape I was forced to use! Trying to prise my hands free of the sticky mess the bars had become, in the frying temperatures of the tropics, will be one of my future nightmares.

One of the regrettable casualties of the tour were my most comfortable and well broken-in cycling shoes. They did not quite make it. During the long sojourn with my Chinese friends in Ya Gou, large holes were seen just above the soles, good for drainage! The local lady cobbler, who was renowned for her ability to repair the most excessively worn footwear, asked (in Chinese of course) if she was supposed to perform a miracle. I reluctantly agreed it was time for another pair but unsurprisingly cycling shoes were not sold in great numbers in the province of Heilongjiang. I ended up with a reasonable imitation but, as the toes were a little more extended, I had to be prepared to tiptoe to Russia. My old companions were consigned to a Chinese rubbish dump, which was a sad end to our long association. At one stage, I had thought we might have finished the ride together.

Everything appertaining to the transmission gave a smooth performance throughout with only the slightest sign of wear at the finish.

Internet cafes were not always easy to locate and often well spaced out. However, they were still a viable communication tool, but not on a daily basis.

ATMs are breeding well in the tropics and further north in cooler climes. They are to be found in large cities and are spreading nicely. Great changes are taking place, which render the information in many guide books redundant within a short time of their publication.

A word about navigation. All I can say is, if you are planning to visit China, the best of British luck! Errors cost me countless extra miles and much backtracking but anybody thinking of a similar expedition should be encouraged by the unbelievable fact that I made it! This proves that even an old man, close to senility, can blunder through. For those about to cycle or travel in SE Asia or China, it is well worth the problems.

It is doubtful whether carrying full camping gear in SE Asia and China, as I did, is really necessary, given the few times I needed to use it. Probably it isn't, but it would be most unwise to ride through Mongolia and the Steppes of Russia without such back-up!

Acknowledgements

It came as an embarrassing shock to find the British Government did not reimburse the staff of the Honorary British Consulate in Vladivostok. I am deeply indebted to all the members there: Olga Alexandra, Demitri and of course, Lena, who gave me so much vital support. To the Honorary British Consul, Andrew Fox, whom I never met: thank you!

Although they would not want me to, I owe more than I can ever repay to the many folk in SE Asia and China who made this tour so memorable. I also want to thank very much all those who contacted me in my period of distress. Sorry if this is beginning to sound like an Oscar winning speech, but I had to make it even if I have failed to win anything: just another tour completed and my reward is just to have survived it.

The last 30 pages of this narrative were initially typed for emailing by my Japanese friend, Mieko. This was a remarkable achievement, for she speaks little English but her twinkle fingers do all the talking. At my own one-fingered typing pace, I'd still have been at it when they dragged me to the plane at the expiry of my visa! So I'll be raising my glass to her at my celebratory dinner back in the UK, a wonderful, talented very dear friend.

I would like to thank Barry and Margaret Williamson for their extensive editing and publishing of my emails on this website (www.magbaztravels.com). My notes could so easily have ended up in a never-to-be read bundle, staring at the inside of a shoe box until the inevitable house clearance upon my demise. I needed persuasion to go public with this diary, as I really feared I would bore most readers, without the likelihood of the true adventure aspect that made my long past professional writing days so easy. For a change I have been following in the wheel tracks of other riders rather than breaking fresh ground, so I hope that Barry and Margaret have been proved right and this account has not been used only as a bedtime story, handy to send one to sleep. For those who did stay awake and followed the journey to the end, it has been nice to have you along. Sharing a tour, as I did of old, always enhanced it and so it has on this occasion.

The Future?

I wonder what is to follow? The law of averages says I might have used up all my luck and it would be an opportune moment to quit on a high, but after a gap of over a 10 years, I am just getting comfortably (well not always comfortably) back into the touring routine, which supported me financially for half of my working life. It's become a habit and will be as hard to give up as smoking is for an addict. I had thought I was occupied with a less harmful addiction but after the accident it would be difficult to convince anybody that cycling is a healthy pastime! This is a pity, for I now feel physically in better shape than I have done for years and there are still one or two countries I would like to see.

As the MV Rus put to sea out of Vladivostok, I felt positively the youngest old man in the business.

Good luck and happy touring to you all.

Ian Japan, October 2006

ThIan_Hibell_in_Laos_MBT_JPeg.jpgis image of Ian was sent to us recently by fellow-cyclist, Jeff Holmes, and shows Ian in characteristic pose in Vang Vieng, Laos. Jeff met Ian in Laos and again in Hanoi.

Note, among other things, the short wheelbase of his touring bicycle, the absence of mudguards, the fairly narrow, high pressure tyres (Schwalbe Marathon), most of the luggage over the back wheel, 3 bottles and handlebars without the padding that softies like us prefer.

To read about Ian's journey through southeast Asia, from Bangkok to Hanoi, leading up to his journey the length of China, click:  Ian in SE Asia

 

Ian Hibell's Asian Cycle Tour

Table of Places and Distances Cycled in China

June/July 2006

Ian writes: "I was very short of accurate distances so when I didn't know them you will not see them recorded. The main source of this information was gleaned from marker posts which gave their distances to Beijing in diminishing numbers. They occasionally vanished off the scene sometimes for hundreds of kilometres and other replacing posts were confusing and conflicting and often failed to say where they were measured from or to. One of the problems encountered in navigating through China! When I don't know place names I've just had to leave a blank."

Entered by Barry and Margaret Williamson

August 2006

Date

Place

Distance Between (km)

Distance in China (km)

4 June 2006

Left Hanoi Hotel

   

5 June 2006

Hotel

 

170

 

Chinese Border

   

6 June 2006

Hotel

   

7 June 2006

Camped

   

8 June 2006

Nanning Hotel

 

260

9 June 2006

Rest Day

   

10 June 2006

Rest Day

   

11 June 2006

Binyang Hotel

   

12 June 2006

Hotel

   

13 June 2006

Liuzhou Hotel

 

500

14 June 2006

Rest Day Hotel

   

15 June 2006

Hotel

   

16 June 2006

Hotel beyond Lipu

   

17 June 2006

Pingle Hotel

   

18 June 2006

Rain Hotel

   

19 June 2006

Rest Day Rain Hotel

   

20 June 2006

Hotel

   

21 June 2006

Camped

   

22 June 2006

Yongzhuo Hotel

   

23 June 2006

Hotel short of Quidong

   

24 June 2006

Hengyang Hotel

   

25 June 2006

Hotel

   

26 June 2006

Changsha Hotel

 

1,292

27 June 2006

Rest Day

   

28 June 2006

Rest Day

   

29 June 2006

Rest Day

   

30 June 2006

Rest Day

   

1 July 2006

Milou Hotel

70

 

2 July 2006

Milou Hotel

40

 

3 July 2006

Yueyang Hotel

73

 

4 July 2006

Chipi1 Hotel

105

 

5 July 2006

Wuhan Hotel

130

1,710

6 July 2006

Rest Day

   

7 July 2006

Rest Day

   

8 July 2006

Rest Day

   

9 July 2006

Rest Day

   

10 July 2006

Hankou Hotel

   

11 July 2006

Xiaogan Hotel

50

 

12 July 2006

Hotel

110

 

13 July 2006

Xinyang Hotel

35

 

14 July 2006

Zhumadian Hotel

100

 

15 July 2006

Hotel

65

 

16 July 2006

Xuchang Hotel

80

 

17 July 2006

Zhengzho Hotel

75

2,225

18 July 2006

Rest Day

   

19 July 2006

Rest Day

   

20 July 2006

Rest Day

   

21 July 2006

Rest Day

   

22 July 2006

Hotel short of Hubi

127

 

23 July 2006

Handan Hotel

120

 

24 July 2006

Xingtai Hotel

80

2,552

26 July 2006

Shijiazhuang Hotel

115

2,667

27 July 2006

Rest Day

   

28 July 2006

Hotel short of Baoding

85

 

29 July 2006

Hotel

155

 

30 July 2006

Beijing Hotel

45

2,952

       

 

Summary of Distances Cycled by Ian Hibell since December 2005

Country

Distance Cycled (km)

New Caledonia

400

New Zealand

300

SE Asia

4,491

China

2,952

   

Grand Total

8,143 km (5,090 miles)

For a detailed table of places and distances cycled in SE Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) as well as detailed log of that journey, click here.