There is only one activity I loathe more than cleaning red wine stains off white shirts.
It’s biking. I hate it. And I hate that I hate it.
It’s such a romantic, breezy, green activity; I should be a biker, really. I love the idea of getting around two wheels and talking bike trips across the desert or on a guilt-free cheese tour of Tasmania. I don’t mind lycra, either.
Instead, I recoil when someone mentions a Sunday afternoon cycle or the appealing-but-annoying idea of riding to work.
But down here in Yangshuo in southern China, biking is rampant. Chinese and foreign tourists compete with scooters, dump trucks and the occasional tuk-tuk to see whether bells or horns are more effective.
Horns win, every time.
The landscape down here is some of the best I have ever seen. The endless karst rocks that disrupt the rice paddies are stunning. I love searching the horizon and thinking of what must be on the other side of the hills. More than a few times I’ve caught myself feeling incredibly happy and content here. The scenery and the vibe are enrapturing.
On the back of such bliss I’ve mustered some enthusiasm for cycling.
It seemed natural to join the bike-mad hoards. It’s quieter and cheaper than scooters, you can cover more ground than your average walker and, this is probably the clincher, I once read a romance novel about a couple riding through southern China and fancied myself a shoo-in for the lead role in such a story. It had emotive appeal, weirdly, even though it’s such a sweaty, bum-paining activity.
Despite my delusions, a day’s cycling has almost converted me to the bike brigade.
Breezing through the rice paddies with a river on one side, huge rocky peaks on the other and easy conversation flowing between my fellow cyclists was awesome. This did mean that I had to endure the excitable Yank’s lurid stories, but that’s all part of the journey, right.
It was a soul-cleansing day and it measured up to my romantic expectations. The wind whipped under my new hat and the sun beat down on us all, hilariously burning the Swedish guy to a deep shade of burgundy.
Of course, it was not without difficulties. The bike Gods had planned their vengeance for my cycling cynicism. I was provided with a kiddie bike, instead of an adult’s bike.
My scooter-with-handlebars was the joke of the day.
One of my companions remarked it was “like you’re on a pony and the rest of us have horses.”
A few hours later he asserted to all and sundry that my bike had come from Maccas with a burger.
I looked like a giant, too, next to my tiny steed.
I am certain I had to spin those pedals twice as hard as the rest of the crew. Obviously, there were no gears (kids don’t go up steep inclines), so I looked an ever bigger fool walking my toy bike up the steeper hills.
Going downhill was truly treacherous. I constantly feared I’d be spat off the bike and sent underneath one of the adult bike’s wheels. My hands are a little blistered from eight hours clutching the handlebars as tightly as a father shakes his future son-in-law’s hand when they meet for the first time.
Actually, the entire ride was hazardous. They drive on the other side of the road here, so that’s confusing. But, if it’s too hard you can just ride on the wrong side of the road. In layman’s terms, people going everywhere. Chaos.
Dodging the trucks and buses and, worst of all, the pedestrians that would do more damage to my rented bike than I’d do to them, made me feel exceptionally vulnerable. Helmets have not been thought of here yet, of course.
Best of all, I felt alive cruising around on my over-sized skateboard. The exercise factor cannot be ignored. It’s an honest way to get around and immerse yourself in a place – huffing and puffing around the paddies. It makes the gym look like a prison camp.
But I can sense, already, that my enthusiasm for getting around on two wheels may spin away when I set foot on Aussie soil again. Or maybe this is one of those things I need to follow through. I will continue to sing the bike song every morning.
I may even ride bikes on a Sunday instead of crying over spilt wine. I could even indulge in a cute new bicycle with a basket and flowers on the front.
And the romance of Yangshuo; then we’ll see whether it was the bike or the mountains.