We rode out around 10 am. The sky was blue and filled with clouds that reminded me of my childhood drawings– big, puffy, white and animated. We waved goodbye to Claudia and Oliver, two cycle-tourers we had met in Kunming and had decided to cross paths with as often as possible. Legends, they are. And after a few days of hard resting, we pushed pedals toward the lake, past a plethora of wedding photos and Chinese tourist buses and back into the land of in betweens.
My experience of China has showed me overcrowded cities designed for Chinese tourists, filled to the brim with carbon copy jewelry and clothing shops and souvenirs. Hoards of people arrive on the bus, pour into the city like a flood, consume, take photos and leave. Outside these tourist traps, is the land of in betweens. Its scattered parts of the country where no tourist stops but simply passes by through the window of an air-conditioned tour bus.
On a bicycle you have to experience it all. The beautiful, the ugly, the natural and the designed. The only thing constant about the land of in-betweens is that it is always changing. On this mornings ride, we passed the lake after 30 km of lakeside riding and headed into the hills. Up, up and UP we went, panting and hot and covered in sweat. I was tired and starting to go to unpleasant place of “I can’t’s” when we heard a loud “BOOM”
A giant army base appeared seemingly out of nowhere. With no fences or security of any sort, we were able to look over at the barracks, the tanks, the target practice happening before our very eyes. It was surreal, exciting and frightening. We stopped for a few moments, silently watching these incredible and dangerous machines, only feet away from us, practicing to do what they are meant to do– kill.
If that doesn’t shake you out of an internal mental slump, I’m not sure what will. We cycled away discussing our opinions on the army and war and comparing different rhetoric surrounding these subjects in our respective countries. Before we knew it, we had cycled 30 more kilometers and it was time to camp. We usually stop cycling and start looking for a place around 6:30 pm so that we’ll have enough time to set up camp, eat and gaze at the stars.
The camp that evening was glorious. We had pushed our bikes off the road and up a slope to a clearing with flat ground beneath towering wind turbines that spun a whole new evening scene. The sounds were loud, like a never ending crashing ocean– much better than the explosions now heard faintly in the distance. The sky was dense and starry that night. We ate curry in starstruck silence.
This is the land of in-betweens, where the tourist buses pass in a blink of an eye and where we spend most of our days– ears open, eyes open, skin tingling and alive. It takes a while to get used to this life of moving and, seemingly, never arriving. Spending days cycling between cities and watching the land and the architecture change is a whole different way to experience a country and life in general. Not rushing– just moving, observing, becoming as present as you allow yourself to be in there here and now.