Changsha, Hunan

A day in Hong Kong then onto Changsha the capital of Hunan province. Our flight was late so by the time we arrived at Changsha we didn’t have the energy to traipse into the city and find a hotel so just stayed at the airport hotel which was both expensive and exceedingly crappy, being a remnant of the old airport there. By 8pm the restaurant was closed so the receptionist suggested that we go back to the airport and eat KFC, which I did after eating the most overpriced Chinese buffet food available in all of Hunan province.

My air conditioner sounded like a motorbike had become trapped in the wall of hotel room so I instead chose to open the window and let in the dulcet sounds and smells of Changsha international airport to drift in the window and lull me to sleep.

We parked our bikes in the lobby while checking out which made the under utilised security person rather anxious. He didn’t want to wait for me to buy some water from the hotel shop and wanted the bikes out of the lobby pronto. We feared that this may foretell future interactions between hotel security personnel and our bicycles. This turned out to be correct as arriving in Changsha proper after 25km of dodging Chinese provisional drivers (they all appear to be) found us being chased off the forecourt of any hotel that had a doorman or security.

We settled on the Home Inn for tonight which is painted in a homely yellow as well as offering a reasonable room for 200 yuan. The rest of the day was spent on administrative chores such as SIM card acquisition and eating. Some minor touristic wandering rounded the day off.

Off to Miluo tomorrow, about 80km to the north.

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Categories: China | Leave a comment

China here we come

I’m finishing off my last day here at work before leaving for China, setting the Outlook out of office reply so that others get annoyed while I’m having fun.

It was a close run thing, with Bob being American he almost didn’t get a visa. Obviously digging up everything that we’ve got and selling it to the Chinese has placed Australians in an advantaged position when it comes to tourist visas. I was easily able to get a single entry 60 day visa, but Bob was informed by the visa agency in Hong Kong that due to his unfortunate status as an American citizen the longest he would get is 30 days. And he may not even get that. A week or two may be all they allow him.

At this point I started considering all the other options. Which are, basically anywhere on the planet. George will be arriving in France soon to start his dual pilgrimages to Cannes and the Tour de France, so I could hop over there and ride with him. Or maybe South America. Or Japan. Or Korea. Well, not Korea. I can’t eat kimchi every day.

As it turns out, he managed to get two 30 day entries. Still a pain as he’ll have to exit and return in order to complete the trip, assuming that we don’t catch bird flu and end up in a rural hospital asking for a Tamiflu drip.

The bike is all spruced up and ready to go. I just need to pull out the front fork and box it up. A pile of stuff sits on the lounge room floor ready to stuff into my saddlebag and handlebar bag. It’s all a bit anticlimactic in some ways when you’ve toured so many times. There’s nothing to fret over.

Next stop Hong Kong.

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Categories: China, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Patent whinging

In this opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, James Dyson has a whinge about patents, and how all that hard inventing work he does has to be backed up by court action when people infringe on his patents.

Sure, the Dyson vacuum cleaner is a good thing for sucking dust off the floor, but I lost all respect for Dyson when they/he blatantly copied Japanese hand dryers.  You know, those high velocity hand dryers that are now popping up in public toilets in western countries?  Dyson’s marketing claims that they came up with the idea, but anyone who has been to Japan knows that the very same design has been in use there for years.  Mitsubishi and Panasonic both make one with a design almost identical to the Dyson one, only the Japanese ones work better.

So suck on that Dyson.

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Phitsanulok – Khon Kaen – Udon Thani

With limited days remaining and terrain ahead of us that we covered on our trip last year, Bob and I decided to catch the bus from Phitsanulok to Khon Kaen. This decision is never taken lightly in Thailand, considering that bus rides are usually lengthy, uncomfortable and dangerous.

As it turned out this particular ride wasn’t too heart stopping, apart from the gentle clunking of the suspension and the occasional corner taken at too high a speed. Then magically, six hours later we arrive in KK. Average speed 60kmh.

Khon Kaen is centrally located in the North East and is famous for…. well nothing much. We spent most of our time escaping the ferocious heat by hiding in the shopping mall, Starbucks, MK, Swensens etc. Riding was mainly limited to night time exploration when the conditions were cooler.

Two days in KK seems to drag on forever so we got back on the bikes and headed for Udon Thani, a city that we had also visited on our trip here last year. The ride there was broken up into two days, riding via Ubolrat which has a large dam and hydro power station. Our “resort” accommodation here was overpriced and particularly crappy, but the riding through this area was pleasant, with a good variety of scenery and not just endless rice paddies.

The second day to Udon featured a couple of hills, one of which was so steep that it had me standing up on the pedals and straining in granny gear. The only other hill of the trip to challenge this occurred back in Belgium when the trusty gps put us on a farm road that went vertical. But it isn’t 36 degrees and 90% humidity in Belgium.

Udon was pretty much as we left it last year, though they have reconstructed the large Central plaza shopping mall which is now huge and features many western brands that Thai people seem to like to look at but not necessarily buy anything.

One evening while in the seedy falang area of town we happened upon Ray, the proprietor of Sinatras cafe. Ray is a London chap who has been living in Thailand for eight years, half of which have been in udon. He claims that Thailand is a very dangerous place, but Bob and I haven’t seen all that much evidence of this, except for perhaps some of the road usage practices. “Pattaya is the most dangerous city in the world. You can look that up on your computer”, he claimed. Bob actually did look it up later in our stay and there are several cities in the world that are considered more dangerous than Pattaya. Places like Kabul and Baghdad.

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Categories: Thailand | 1 Comment

Phrae – Uttaradit – Tha Pla – Phitsanulok

After a nourishing breakfast at our hotel in Phrae, Bob and I made a pre ride stop at the 711 to stock up on snacks. The street cleaner we met thought that Bob was my father, which he found very amusing.

Our ride to Uttaradit featured one decent hill but with a mild grade and a nice view from the coffee shop at the top. The rest of the ride was mostly downhill and apart from the heat was not particularly taxing.

“Oot” as Bob calls it is another mid sized city in central Thailand, just big enough to have an MK restaurant which means that we can have a decent feed in refrigerated comfort. There’s not lot else to do other than ride your bike around and stand in front of the 711 watching the town watch the falang.

Our next day was a short 40km ride out to Tha Pla which was so small that the only accommodation was bungalows just outside the township that lacked both aircon and functioning insect screens. But dinner made up for that, with a huge fresh water fish and hot pot costing us less than ten dollars and providing the locals with some entertainment as they were able to examine the bicycle tourists at close range.

Another day back in Oot proceeded a longer ride to Phitsanulok of 111km. We made an early start and managed 55km before 11am, but our rest stop dragged on so long that the sun was out by the time we restarted and made the rest of the day a hot ride in the sun.

For some reason there are other tourists here in Phits but we can’t work out why. If you’re not riding a bicycle on the way to somewhere else why are you here?

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Categories: Thailand | Leave a comment

Lampang to Phrae

A change of country, time zone, side of the road and temperature as I start a small tour in north Thailand. It’s good to catch up with Bob again.

After flying to the buzzing Lampang yesterday, we hopped on a train today to skip an unpleasant stretch of road them rode the last 40km to Phrae. There were a couple of hills but the only thing that made them difficult was the heat.

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Categories: Thailand | Leave a comment

It’s the Tour, Baby! Marson to Nancy 152km

After a rather unsatisfactory sleep, due in some part to me spilling metho in the vestibule of my tent and filling the tent with alcohol fumes, we quickly packed up and got on the road just after 8 this morning. We had 90km to cover to get to the next supermarket that we knew was at St Mihiel before the course was closed to traffic. Being stranded on the side of the road in the sun and without much in the way of food would have been disastrous for George’s schedule to keep up with the Tour.

Having done 150km yesterday and then getting a shitty sleep I wasn’t feeling particularly flash on the bike, and it took a long time before I could get into any sort of rhythm. And then it started raining again, and then I got a puncture, etc.

But by some miracle we were blessed with a tailwind for the last twenty km into St Mihiel, and on one slightly downhill stretch I was spinning out my top gear for several km and sitting on almost 40kmh. But as you do when a tailwind hits, I went too hard and by the time we arrived at the Carrefore supermarket I was pretty wasted. I bought a whole chicken, a litre of milk and half a kilo of yoghurt, and drank the milk in one go while sitting in front of the supermarket. I gathered from the looks glanced from old French ladies that this is not the done thing.

We had a chance to do some leisurely eating while waiting for the Tour Caravan to arrive, and when they did I wasn’t overly interested in fighting for the junk they toss to the crowds, though I did score a polka dot hat which isn’t a bad souvenir.

The thumping of helicopters overhead gave advance warning that the race was near, and before long the breakaway appeared through the archway in the centre of town. They were moving quickly, but I managed to get a shot of them and my own gob at the same time.

The peloton was about four minutes behind them and as usual were gone in a flash, followed by an armada of cars and bikes. The last few riders who were hanging on at the end of the pack were looking as wasted as I felt.

Once the last of the Tour vehicles had passed, concluded by a van with Fin de Course written on the front we quickly started riding down the course trying to scavenge course markers. We nabbed two before the cleanup gang arrived. They actually asked us if we wanted the second one, suggesting that they don’t collect them for reuse but just to clean up signs that the Tour has been through.

Half a chicken and a litre of milk were sloshing around in my stomach, making for slow and indigestive progress up the hills leading away from St Mihiel. This triggered an intense desire to snap one off in the bushes (which in turn started a conversation where George and I listed all the different Australian and American terms for defecation – I decided that I was about to engage in Heavy Artillery, an expression used by an old timer he used to know).

After my military engagement, we continued knocking off the 60km to Nancy. George was planning to continue down tomorrow’s tour course from there, but at this stage I knew I was done, kaput, knackered, rooted, stuffed, exhausted. There was no way I could do another huge day tomorrow. Nothing left in the tank, and my digestive system is having trouble keeping up with the supply of calories required by my legs.

I followed George to Nancy and then managed to get a hotel room despite the Tour starting from here tomorrow. George has headed down the road and will camp in a forest. Not sure what I’ll do yet. After some rest I’ll re-evaluate.

Ps the lady in the photo with George caught us using her hose to fill our bottles. She was slightly off her rocker but George managed to pacify her with a polka dot hat souvenir.

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Categories: Tour de France | 4 Comments

St Quentin to Marson 149km

Another day covering ground trying to catch up to the peloton again.

We needed to do 150km today in order to get down to Epernay and then get far enough along the course so that we can finish off the course tomorrow and keep up with the tour.

George’s first comment of the morning was to ask whether I heard the drunk screaming at midnight. My earplugs are obviously doing their job because I didn’t hear a thing. He stumbled into the path that led to our campsite and screamed his head off for about five or ten minutes. No doubt George didn’t sleep so soundly after that.

The first 80km of today’s ride was steep and undulating with no real high climbs but we did almost 1000m of ascent by the time we got to Epernay. A few showers had cooled us off early in the day but while we were stopped for some food in Epernay the heavens opened and soon flooded the streets. My goretex booties have kept my feet dry until now but they were no match for this wall of water.

Keeping a steady pace all day and taking breaks every hour for food kept us on track and by about 730 we made our mileage. We are camped just down the road from the campsite near the village of Marson that we used a couple of weeks ago when scouting out the tour route.

More big miles tomorrow to get over to Metz.

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Categories: Tour de France | Leave a comment

Lens to St Quentin 110km

Grueling day with a headwind and hills for much of it.

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Le Tour Stage 3 – 93km

After escaping the mayhem at the end of yesterday’s stage, George and I rode toward the beginning of stage 3 to get a head start for the following morning. We ended up camping in a park in a small village near Wahagnies after a failed attempt to find a spot in the adjacent forest / ornithological reserve which was way too damp and overgrown to camp in.

While cooking my salmon, a small brown dog owned by a guy fishing nearby decided to pester me, licking the lid of my butter container, and generally sticking his nose in wherever he could. Then the owner called him over and have him the hiding that I was tempted to.

The next morning we made some good progress on the Tour course, getting to about the 60km mark before the police kicked us off. It was about an hour wait before the caravan of sponsor vehicles arrived, throwing trinkets out to people lining the course. Then another 45 minutes until the race arrived, announced by a phalanx of helicopters. Five of them!

We then raced back down the course trying to scavenge course markers but an official van of guys just beat us to them.

Next stop was the town of Lens, where George finally got to see the grave of Maurice Garin, first winner of the tour de France. He also broke into the locked velodrome named after him in order to get a photo of the memorial plaque. We caught the end of the race on tv at a Cuban themed bar, where we met a friendly French fellow who spoke English, use to work as a chef for Ron Clarke in Bath, England and also claims that Lens is the friendliest town in France.

The next two days will be spent hoiking it down to Epernay so we can catch the stage on Friday to Metz. We hope to catch up with the German messenger crew at the big screen at Metz.

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Categories: Tour de France | 3 Comments

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