Cycling in China's "Closed" Regions

So Ferry, Cross the Yangtze, because thats the land I love...


Here is a philosophical question I pondered often in this region of China. If you are going nowhere in particular, is it still possible to get lost?? From the comfort of your keyboard or living room the question is academic: but plant yourself in the mountainous country near the Yangtze and the issue is more pressing [on the pedals, to be specific]

Heck...I had a good map, Nelles Verlag has a solid reputation. And the city of Badong lay right on the Yangtze! Surely there was a bridge or a big ferry, or both?

There was neither. I was directed down a dirt road past dingy factories and ramshackle buildings to a ferry that...well, it got me across. That is more of a challenge than this photo suggests...the Yangtze is notorious for eddies, currents and submerged ledges. Anyway, on this side of the river... well... where was the main road to Xingshan?? On the map its just a continuation of the main road from Enshi, which I had been riding for days!

Like I said, this issue is more pressing. There was an unpaved road that followed a river valley north into the hills. It was take that, or stand there, dumb and dumbstruck until hell froze over. Besides, the road 'felt' like it went in the right direction. Surely (oh...surely) the road climbed briefly up the valley and rejoined the main road in a few miles?

I began to ride, began to climb, began to sweat. Minutes became an hour; miles became many; the road remained unpaved and unforgiving. Up, up up I went, up into siwtchbacks, up into forests, leaving the Yangtze long behind and far below. There was no sun left to guide me as the clouds rolled in, and the switchbacks and curves left one hopelessly confused as to where the road actually went. I eventually wild camped in the forest.

The next day broke overcast but dry and promising...but still unpaved. I came to a small group of building for breakfast, as I began riding down hill. I had breakfast at a small inn and watched heavily laden Chinese men and women carry massive baskets ot grasses and wares..to where? Who knows...fote that matter, where the hell was I? Finally I came to a paved road. Turn right for Xingshan: 10 Kilometers away! I wasn't even going that way..I wanted to go up into the mountains. To this day I cannot find the road I took on a map.




At least the road I hit was paved. I was correct that this road, by going left into the mountains, would bring me up into Sonningjia National Park, or Sonningjia Forest Region. This area is closed to foreigners except in the region around Muyuping, which was some 80 kilometers away. Yes, it was uphill, but the wind blew swiftly up the valley and the lofty peaks looked attractive, so I decided to go that way, open or not. I figured if the authorities were hung up on having me enter their region, they would let me know immediately. And if not, then slowly by the sheer force of will we foreigners could convince the local governments to open up 'closed' areas.

The road follows the Xiang Xi river. Like most Yangtze tributaries it has cut a deep valley, a gorge in places, with wooded hills ascending steeply from the waters edge. Many towns get hydroelectricity from small turbine powered plants capturing water streaming down the steep cliffs. Yet, except for a few small towns along the way most of the area is undeveloped and the river basin tempting for swimming or even camping.

Muyuping is the major town servicing this region. Beyond Muyuping the road leaves the river and swiftly ascends thru terraced valleys up to the Sonninjia region. I was stopped a couple of times here by hysterical chinese in cars or on foot who were telling me, in the very best body language, that this road was not for foreigners. Perhaps too, they were trying to save me a steep climb, only to turn back. But The road was beautiful, many people seemed perfectly content to let me pass (including numerous police vehicles going in both directions), and I was willing to retrace my steps if I had to-- after all, it's be a greta downhill now! And the scenery was well worth it, for the hills in this region top 9000 feet. The road got very quiet as evening rolled in, and looking for a place to wild camp I was tempted to snooze out in this cave. But to a Tolkien reader like me. caves mean orcs, and goblins, and nasty things that are creepy and crawly; maybe even firebreathing dragons, or even balrogs with their thongs of flame. On a more practical plane, caves can mean inhaling bat dung or saliva. It is possible to contract rabies this way..you do not need to get bitten! So be careful about caves. On a lighter note, maybe this one was already occupied...alot of Chinese people live in caves. In any case, for me there were better flat places out in the fields along the road, cooler and breezier, so I camped there.




The BIKE, if not the Buck, stops here!
No Aliens beyond this point? But I am a human...

The next day brought a brief, chilly and windy ascent to the top, and just at the Pass was the entrance to the Sonninjia National Park and the road on to Fang Xian. Now id i could just slitherlizardlike across the checkpoint, I'd probably be ok! But..it was not to be. A middle aged Chinese soldier waved me back where I had come from. I tried everything: i smiled, got into a small huff, cajoled, exuded charisma, even offered him a cigarette...but to no avail. He continued to wave me back without any eye contact (always a sign that your negotiations have failed); so too, did a host of young park rangers who had various degrees of flunecy with English. But the general tone was humorous---and firm: no aliens beyond this point. So, after an hour of sitting around hoping they would have pity on the poor farangi and let him thru, back done the hill I wnet to Muyuping, and took a bus to Xishan (where I originally thought I was going anyway) so I didn't neeed to retrace my steps.

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