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SE Asia / China
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Hello everyone and welcome to the RoadNews letter:
Have you seen our new home page? (www.DownTheRoad.org) It may sound strange but it has not been completed until now. When I first made our web site I put up a temporary home page thinking I would finish it later. We left home on our bikes and became very busy and I kept putting it off. Well, three and a half years later I can finally cross it off my "to do" list. Our new home page summarizes the basic organization of the web site and briefly introduces our trip. I still intend to exchange some of the pictures with better ones if you have a favorite picture on our web site that should be one of the first new visitors see. Please check it out and tell me what you think.
China has been a frustrating country at times but this can not stop me from loving it. The landscapes have been extra special with terraced rice fields and misty mountains where I have been told dragons live. It certainly looks like dragon country to me or at least a good place to film a Kung Fu movie. We endured about two months of drizzle and light rain. Everything outside of our waterproof panniers was wet. Rust invaded all things metal. (except our aluminum bicycle frames) mold and mildew grew in the vents of our helmets, under our shoes, and numerous other places (no kidding). Even with all the discomforts wetness causes we prefer cool and wet over hot and humid.
My frustrations in China were not caused by the Chinese people themselves. They have been a lot of fun to learn about and get to know. They love to see foreigners traveling in their country and see it as a sign that life is becoming less controlled and the country is opening up. As cyclists, with the freedom of having our own wheels, we often cross regions where foreigners are extremely rare and only marginally allowed by the pol*ice, but enthusiastically welcomed by the locals. I was told by a group of university students learning English that we were the freest people they had ever met. I wish this was not true but it is believable. "Times are a changing" and it is a new wind that blows us to undiscovered places in this mysterious country.
Freedom is not loved by all. It often makes those in charge very nervous. Our dealings with the pol*ice are frequent but we always manage to squeeze by. The uniformed pol*ice often knock on our hotel room door at weird times and ask us to fill out forms or stop us on the street and have questions about why we are in their village. When I was a Special Education teacher, I learned many tricks from manipulative students with behavior problems. I now find myself standing on the other side of the line of authority. I feel like I learned from professionals and deal with amateurs here. We often call them the "Keystone Cops". I do not see evil bullies but instead I see young men only doing what they have been told is best for their country.
We have also experienced much more troubling aspects of fear of outsiders and maintaining control. Mysterious men in suits and ties are regularly following us. They try to be discreet but we easily spot them. We never know who they are or why they are interested in us. My guess is that they are something like the American F*B*I or C*I*A. It is probably a result of the big trouble we got in several weeks ago. We are actually becoming used to being watched and see it as part of the China experience off the tourist trail. We are free birds in a caged world.
Other problems and irritations for us had nothing to with China or the official paranoia. A host of electrical problems have plagued us here. One day our camera just quit working and within a week our computer went down. The camera dieing was expected. It had been with us from the very beginning of our travels, on every bone jarring road, and through all kinds of corrosive weather. I only post a small fraction of the pictures I take on our web site. The rest I write to a CD and mail to my parents every few months. Several thousand pictures are posted on our web site so I estimate that I have taken tens of thousands of pictures over the past three and a half years with our camera and it wore out.
When the camera quit working I knew that it meant that our web site could not be updated with new pictures as well. Visitors to our web site have come to expect fresh new images at regular intervals. I posted a quick message on the front of our Asia web site and discussion board explaining to visitors that our camera was broke. This caused an unexpected reaction. Money started coming in from our Continue our Travels page through our Paypal and Amazon donation buttons. We received enough funds to cover a good portion of the cost of an improved new still/video camera. We would like to thank (again) all of the donators who saw the content on our web site as a valuable and worthwhile investment. I have not yet learned how to operate the new camera fully but new pictures of our travels are coming soon. I hope everyone will not be disappointed.
The computer breaking down was a complete surprise and a huge jolt to our lifestyle. Out of the clear blue it simply would not turn on. We repeatedly pushed the "On" button but nothing happened. No little green light or hard drive noise. Dead air............. It is said, "You do not notice something until it is gone" and I now see the wisdom in this. We both learned just how much we used our little electric buddy. No more Palates DVDs, MP3 Chinese lessons, music, journal writing, or web site posts. Our computer became just an expensive paper weight.
We lasted a week without it before we completely freaked out. Cindie found some information on the internet about performing field repairs and we nervously started working. We completely disassembled the computer with our Leatherman pocketknife in a hot hotel room. The inside looked fragile and impossible to put back together. Our field repair worked and we had a private party. Another unexpected lesson learned on the road. We are computer technicians, medical doctors, or anything else when we have to be. This confirms something that we both knew from the first day which gave us the courage to jump into this crazy life to begin with. Cindie and I can accomplish anything when we keep calm, think first, and work together towards solutions.
All of the above problems never stopped our cycling progress in China. However, our progress stopped after we were confronted with the Chinese immigration office. They have the power to stop us dead in our tracks. We initially entered China with a 90 day tourist visa (travel permission from the government) but had plans of spending nearly a year in China. Our plan was to extend this visa several times. This is a common procedure in many countries. When we went to extend our three month tourist visa we were told a horrifying "no." Because we were in denial and did not act like we understood the well educated Chinese official repeatedly explained our situation in Chinese, Russian, French, and English. I had few choices in this matter. In another country I would have resorted to some kind of bri*be but there are 81 crimes punishable by death in China and bri*bing a public official is one of them. I think this harsh punish is usually reserved for multi million dollar government construction projects but I did not want to take my chances. The Chinese immigration official firmly told us that we have 10 days to leave his country. They won the first round.
We were not about to give up that easily. We were back at the internet cafe searching for alternatives. In the past I have described the "email grapevine" where real time information from travelers is passed up and down the line. From this grapevine we learned of a couple "visa experts" in Beijing where visa extensions can be bought.
We took the midnight train to Beijing and quickly found our contact and now we are traveling with a 6 month visa. I do not know how they do it. I have learned that some arrangements are best not known about.
We have now left Beijing. I do not want to disclose where we are because of those "unwanted readers" following our trail but I will say that we are working our way to Australia and will hopefully be there in 14 months. It is all south from here.
I wanted to pass on a big thank you to my Aunt Joan who recently met us in Beijing. When Aunt Joan wrote and told us she was coming I was elated. First, because I had not seen her in a long time and second because I think China is a great place to travel. As time went by we realized that she could bring us some things from the States that are hard to get here. The top of my list was medicine like Neosporin. Going to a Chinese pharmacy is like going to a herb store and not being able to read the signs. I loved all the herbs but had no idea what herb was for what. So I ordered Neosporin, Vitamins, Sunscreen and Pepto bismol over the internet and had it shipped to Aunt Joan. Then Tim needed a new pair of pants and bike jersey, then we decided to buy folding tires and bike chains. We did not think these things weighted that much, by themselves at least. First we looked around in Beijing for a new camera and could not find what we wanted at the price we wanted. So we ordered a new camera and shipped it to Aunt Joan too. We met Aunt Joan the night she arrived and were shocked when we picked up our bag and it weight over 15 lbs. Wow, she hauled a lot over here for us. Luckily they did not charge more for the extra weight. Now our bikes will get new chains and we have sunscreen too.
I just recently noticed a special situation with our book in the supply chain. A couple days ago Amazon made an unusually large order of books from us (the wholesaler) and I believe they are overstocked. We do not have control over what retail stores sell our book for. Until now Amazon, and the rest of our retailers, have sold it at full back cover cost but yesterday I noticed Amazon reduced our book substantially. Our book usually sells for is US$21.95 but I see they are selling it for US$14.93 (see Amazon ad below). This is a 32% reduction. I do not know how long they will run this sale but I saw a notice on their site that they have limit supplies. I am guessing this sale is only until they get their inventory under control. I would like to pass this information along to all the readers of Tim's email list. We are riding and hiking along the Great Wall and will not have internet access for a long time. Please let me know if you notice that this sale has ended so we can stop informing people about it.
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SE Asia / China
I have used several brands of bicycle panniers and
highly recommend Ortlieb.
See Why I switched to Ortlieb waterproof Panniers?