Discovering ass-saving gel bike seats in Yangshao, May 2012
Geotagged photos are here (yes, I am showing off my techie skills)
Ridin’ with the crisis
” A crisis of epic proportion looms over the entire European Union”, screamed the newspaper headline. Financial “pundits” were warning of spillover effects all over Asia. They were forecasting plenty of gloom and doom ahead. Stocks markets were said to be poised for the biggest crash. Banks were predicting a crisis “far worse” than the 2008 crisis. Everybody was busy manufacturing reasons to feel worried.
There is only one thing that one should do in times like these. Go for a bike ride in Guilin!
And so, Dominic Rigby, in a bid to make the most of his multiple-entry China visa, decided to go on an exploratory biking trip in nature to Guilin in China. Drawing inspiration from the beauty of nature and intrigued by the challenges of biking, I decided to join him. I was also growing increasingly tired of reading the same old news on the papers about the boring cliché “impending European crisis”. And, my other friend Hannes “Robocop” Niggli, who recently made an almost-full recovery from his long-lasting foot injury, decided to join us on this trip in order to break free from the shackles of donning a physio-prescribed Robocop-style shoe on his right foot.
17th May 2012
River? What river?
We took a China Southern flight to Guilin and landed there at around 8pm (HKD 1,700). Then came a RMB 298 cab ride from the airport to Yangshao which took about one-and-a-half hours. The views from the cab window revealed a rather dimly lit town which slept early. The shops seemed shut and there were only a couple of people on the streets.
We reached our hotel which was called “Riverview” at about 9.30pm. The rooms were comfortable and we even had wifi access in them but the name “Riverview” was rather misleading. In all fairness, we did have the privilege of admiring the beauty of Guilin and the beautiful river Li that runs through it, but that was ON A POSTER in the hotel lobby! The only real view of a “river” we had from our room was that of water flowing through some drainage pipe from an old building opposite to the hotel.
Here’s what the poem on the poster says: “In Yangshuo, my soul peacefully enjoys the simple natural and easygoing lifestyle. A pacific force is quietly penetrating into my soul. I am not in a big city, in the cultural field, in the business world, in the official cycle. But in Yangshuo”. Very Zen, right?
Beer, beer everywhere and plenty of pints to drink
After checking in (read: dumping luggage on bed), we took a walk around the hotel area to get some dinner. We weren’t expecting much from such a sleepy town but boy, were we mistaken! We realized that the very “sleepy” Yangshao was, in fact, very much alive and kicking! There were even more bars there than there are in Lan Kwai Fong! Deafening music was playing loudly everywhere. Party girls were omnipresent! There was even a German bar with authentic German beer and German waitresses!
In fact, even at 12am, we did not even have to feel homesick as there were plenty of “fake watch” sellers accosting us from all around. We were fondly reminded of our beloved fake watch sellers back in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong.
After sipping on some Tsing Taos and soaking in the party atmosphere, we went to bed at a leisurely 1am!
18th May 2012
Macho men will have sore butts
This was supposed to be our first big biking day. We went to a shop called Bike Asia (run by some Australians) and hired 3 mountain bikes at a cost of RMB 70 each. The guy at the shop offered us gel biking seats but pretending to be super macho, Dominic and Hannes instantly declined the offer. I hesitated for a second but I certainly did not want to lose the who-is-the-toughest-guy-here contest! In fact, during one of our email conversations prior to the trip, Hannes asked me if I was carrying any special biking shorts. I told him that I had a rock solid ass and didn’t need any wimpy cycling shorts. Now, I certainly had to protect that image!
As we started pedaling away, Hannes and Dominic were quick to establish themselves as the real pros whereas I was struggling with the gears at the back. The sun was also quite strong. It was about 30 degrees centigrade and there was little breeze. To make matters more challenging, the scenic route we were told to take went up and down quite a bit. On each of the ups, I felt less and less macho as the gap between Hannes, Dominic and I widened. But, the downhill rides were all exhilarating! I touched 45kmh without pedaling!
All actions will eventually become a pain in the butt
Here’s something I realized during the trip. There is always a limit beyond which a pleasurable activity starts to create pain. Take elevation for example. Above a height of 4500m, we stop feeling comfortable. Similarly, after 100km of running, we lose our running comfort. There is always that magic number that separates pleasure and pain in any activity. As far as bike riding goes, I think this magic number is 40! 40km that is.
After 40km of riding, this ride started to become a pain in the butt (literally). After the 40km mark, each time I had to pedal uphill under the sun, my butt screamed loudly (by that I don’t mean that I farted). Then I had an epiphany. If one wants to become a pro bike rider, he/she should NOT have a rock solid ass, instead, the more natural “cushion” one has, the better! Remember this: “The more cushion you have in your rear, the less you have to fear”.
What puzzled me greatly was why Dominic and Hannes didn’t complain. Then it struck me. These so-called “strong” cyclists wore cycling shorts that probably had enough padding on them to give their butts the Jennifer Lopez butt effect! I, on the other hand, had to ride uphill and downhill without any artificial enhancements. Now, you tell me who the macho man is?
Misnavigation and butt pains aren’t friends
After cycling about 50km on a scenic route, our navigation champ Dominic, took us on a detour which came at the cost of another steep hill. More butt pain naturally ensued. Eventually, a Spanish guy we met en route came to our rescue. His navigation skills were also very questionable as he didn’t even remember the roads he had taken ten minutes back! But, I was still relieved that we were following him as he was WAY slower than me. I’ll attribute that to his relaxed riding style + girly bike.
After enough climbing under the sun for one day, we eventually hit flat roads and rode at an average 25-30kmh during the last hour. I finished the day with a lucky number on my Garmin – 88.88km!
Celebrating the relief to the butt over truly authentic Chinese food
We celebrated the butt accomplishment/relief for the day at a Chinese restaurant serving an authentic, delicious Chinese menu. Here, take a look at these mouthwatering dishes:
And here’s the Garmin record for the day.
19th May 2012
When in hell, go for the gel!
Ok, as they say, there’s nothing like a kick in the butt to teach you a good lesson. I learnt from my mega kick in the butt the previous day after cycling up and down a massive 88.88km in one day. So, when we decided to get back on the bikes today, I checked my manliness at the door and opted for a gel biking seat! Hannes and Dom made fun of me but I gave it to them straight. I told them that those who wear gel biking pants have no right to make fun of those who only want gel biking seats!
My butt literally sank in my newfound pleasure of a gel biking seat. I felt like I had just received a Botox treatment. Fueled by gel power, I was no longer miles away from Hannes and Dominic. There was hardly a 100m gap between us!
Although I could have kept riding forever, the two other “men” who didn’t have gel seats were tired after cycling a mere 50km. So, we decided to return the bikes in the afternoon and go on the mandatory touristy Yangshao boat ride! It turned out to be a great decision in hindsight as it started raining cats and dogs in the afternoon.
We concluded the day with some Erdingers at the German pub. The German waitress at the pub demonstrated how to pour beer the German way, all the way out in Yangshao in China. I thought to myself that the world is indeed a small place.
And, here’s the record for the day.
20th May 2012
From gel-less biking to hiking
Dom and Hannes learnt the hard way that there is no way one can go biking for a 3rd continuous day without gel seats. So, we decided to go hiking instead. We decided to hike around villages near our (no) River-view hotel before heading back to Hong Kong in the afternoon.
And after having veggie burgers at a place in Yangshao that claims to make “the best veggie burgers in town” (they were probably the only ones doing veggie burgers as well), we made the journey back to the airport.
Here’s our hike for the day –
On the way back to Hong Kong, I copied Dominic’s idea and turned my Garmin on during the flight. Fortunately for me, I was the only one who had the window seat!
Here’s my fastest run ever.
We were welcomed back in Hong Kong by some kick ass thunderstorms. The captain announced that we had to stay in the plane until the storms passed through. What getting off the plane using the gangway had to do with the thunderstorms, I am not sure. Maybe the ground staff didn’t want to get wet?
Want to go biking? Yangshao is an AWESOME choice! But again, don’t forget the lesson: “The more cushion in your rear, the less you have to fear”. Get the gel bike seat!
But, if you want a TRUE getaway in nature, stay in a more interior part of Yangshao. That way you will be deprived of the bars, the Tsingaos and the party girls but you’ll enjoy a different kind of natural beauty!