Thursday, February 11, 2016

Kaiping Monkey Epic

Kaiping, land of the original ChinEuro tower, is a destination that has been on the weekend away radar for some months, but sometimes it takes the spirit of a Monkey and a long CNY bank holiday to make things good. As a slightly offbeat Guangdong tourist destination, there is a fair amount on the web about how to catch this ferry or that coach, but not too much on how to travel there unsupported on two wheels. But with a little planning, a little luck and some strava heat maps scoured by our resident Swede, Mr Akesson, the stage was set for the by now traditional CNY epic ride.

Alarm clocks were set nice and early for the first ferry out of Hong Kong to Doumen, where the adventures would begin. That is if we could get past the first hurdle of persuading the Ferry company that it wasn't an issue for Chinese immigration if we didn't get off at the stop we'd bought our ticket for- Jiangmen. Nothing our resident smooth talking resident Cantonese cohert Kelvin couldn't handle.

With bikes lashed down and our VIP class cabin rocking more side to side than off the wall, I soon started to feel a little green. Not wanting to lose my stomach contents before such a big ride, the typhoon shelter smooth waters of Macau couldn't come soon enough!

And so at 10.30am we were ready to roll, with the conversation shifting over from Camelbak contents to how many kms were feasible before sunset. 180? 140? Shortcuts? Bailouts?

Rolling along with the sun on our backs and the wind in our sails we soon escaped the industry and enjoyed the traffic free roads of Chinese New Year. It wasn't long till we were rocking another boat, but this time more sanpan style across the water.

Fuelled by snacks and sunshine, lunch beckoned for more sustenance. We'd lost a bit of time with the various boats and food stopping, but were still feeling good about the afternoon ahead. Mr Aron was on good navigational form and the backpacks we'd all procrastinated over were proving to be no problemo.

Didn't you read about prawn's glyco loading capacities?

Progress hit a bit of a brickwall once Mr Leeper hit a rock and flatted his tire, followed by a demonstration in how not to fix a flat. Impromptu roadside graffiti temples have their uses.

With the kilometres rolling over and the big blue skies above, we prayed a collective prayer to the weather Gods for more riding like this. It's such a rarity to enjoy cool dry sunny surroundings when you slog through a summer of such intense heat and humidity.

Better still against the backdrop of some of the nicest curves this part of the mainland has to offer. Mr Aron did well with his cartographic planning.

We went for some festive candy...

But passed on the cigarettes...

This image gave me a good chuckle once I caught who was in the background giving chase...

One of the great things about China trips, such as these, is the reaction we get from locals. I don't speak too much Cantonese / Mandarin, but once this lady's phone rang, I could tell she went straight in there with "I'm sitting at the shop with my crew and a bunch of gwuilo just arrived".


Kelvin translated this road sign for me "This road is shit. Sorry".

Luckily there were plenty of others to make up for it and a bit of pave / spring classics is very much par for the course on these trips.

China pretty much in a nutshell.

I'm not sure I've ever seen Mr Leeper look quite so happy about hanging in on the back!

Any lack of enthusism was soon tempered by our surprise hashtag gentrification coffee stop at 130km. Woah- we must be nearing civilisation! Lady with baby promised we were only 12.5km from our bed for the night.

However, lady with baby didn't account for Aron's last navigational twists...

Or for a surprise speedbump GoPro tumble... A wounded pride seemed the biggest injury to Mr Aron...

After the sun had set we hit some strava heatmaps of a more surprising kind. Road riding / Pave / Cyclocross / MTB- don't worry too much about what bike- just ride.

It was properly dark by the time we hit the bustling bright lights of Chikan. We each dressed in pretty much whatever the contents of our Camelbak had to offer, with a resultant Hipster meets Hiker meets Criminal aesthetic.

Sunday was another day with a new set of issues. First was how to find Aron after he lost himself leading us to the historic Zili village. We agreed to meet at the highest tower after 3/4 of us took the unusual navigational step of following a signpost!

Zili was quite something in these conditions, especially since we beat the coach parties and arrived before the gates had even opened, cruising straight through the ticket barriers to enjoy these ancient towers. I had my Architect Urbanist moment, ruminating on how the Western castle model doesn't usually translate into village communities, which is what makes these villages a bit special. they're kind of a Tuscan hill town meets Beijing hutong. Its hard to imagine quite what life would have been like for these merchants pre Cultural Revolution.

We should probably have stayed to find out more, but second challenge of the day was to find some real breakfast.

We lucked out with some of the more awesome noodles known to man, at the bargain price of 4RMB (40p) per bowl. Perfect cycling fuel!

Next up was the challenge of actually making our 2pm ferry. 30kph average is not so easy on gravel 'green ways' (bike paths). It wasn't looking great for quite a while until we traded the picturesque views for some more solid kilometre munching roads, a steady paceline and minimal stops meant we covered next 100kms or so in very good time, just about giving us a break to meet the Chinese Andreas Kloden, who joined us for a few KM until his EPO ran dry.

One last Leeper puncture 2km from the finish was not going to ruin our day and Kelvin cracked open the CO2 canister to keep us on track. We made the ferry and entertained ourselves supping coffee from Aron's DIY brazilian / colombian mix. Feet held high, the weekend a success and my first biking trip away since the arrival of my aspiring mechanic Junior. Win.

Remaining photos up on: