In April 2010, Eleanor Moseman left Shanghai on a journey of more than 10,000 miles, across 3 countries, on one bicycle. This is where she updates from the road.
  1. Yaxi, my Tibetan “little brother”.

    I had arrived in Xiangcheng, Kham (Southwestern Sichuan) and was looking for a cheap place to stay. Repeatedly getting turned away because I was a foreigner. I had expected this as the city has a massive amount of police.

    Walking down an alley, to check out a possible place, to check out a Tibetan hotel, Yaxi caught my eye but I turned away because my first impression was of beauty yet complete intimidation. He was also standing outside a gambling/arcade (he actually works there).

    He tried to get my attention but I refused because I have my “rules”.

    Running behind, he caught up with me and I couldn’t refuse talking. I stumble over my Chinese because I’m completely caught off guard.

    We make the brief introductions, where I’m from, what I’m doing, and what I need. Yaxi, you are gorgeous.

    From my photos, you would think that all Tibetans walk around in their traditional dress…but there is also the modern, city, Tibetans. Yaxi is a year younger than I.

    He insists on pushing my bike for me. Chivalry is not dead among the Tibetans. We try 3 different hotels, continually getting turned away.

    Pushing up a hill he looks at me and says, “you can stay at my home”…I stammer and reassures me his “wife” is at home through his beautiful and gentle smile.

    To make this story a little shorter, I ended up spending 6 days there with them. I had lost my eyeglasses a few km back and was walking around with sunglasses at night. They did find a motorcycle and his wife drove me to the edge of town a few days later where I found my crushed eyeglasses…with one lens. I would live without eyeglasses for 14 days.

    They were the most pleasant hosts and I didn’t spend a cent. We took walks, visited the temple, spent nearly every moment together. I would hang out at the gambling joint. Man, those Tibetans like to gamble!

    One afternoon, out on the stoop, where this photo was taken…there was a very heated debate for an hour or so about “The D.L.”. Yaxi and his wife ARE Tibetans from Qinghai and they had workmates that were Han. There was screaming and shouting…when the Tibetans walked through the alley, they would either run quickly by or stand back listening to the conversation. I was hiding in the shadow behind the door, keeping a look out for police.

    Yaxi and his wife look at me…I understood most of this conversation…and they look at me in sincerity and ask me in Chinese…”what do you think”? I sink into my chair and I say, “I’m an American…YOU KNOW what I think.” This is enough for them.

    Last week I spoke to Yaxi on the phone briefly, he can not speak English. We ended up communicating more via text message. He is currently at his home in Kangding. He wants me to return to spend more time with him and his family. We briefly discussed the current situation and we both agree that I “can’t” come right now because it’s “very very very bad”, “but after”…”after” what I ponder.

    Yaxi reassured me and that he and his family are okay, as I worry of him. Yaxi, my little brother…my thoughts are with you, your family, and all the Tibetans. “meiguoren he xizangren pengyou”

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  2. Xinjiang route dedicated to Masato, a friend/cyclist, hit by a car

    July 2011
    It was near the border of Yunnan and Sichuan, I had taken a back road from Zhongdian…it was where I lived with the nomadic milkmaids, and I was on the side of the road snacking.

    I was beat. It had been constant climbing…a steady incline…and needless to say I had lost, then found broken, my only pair of prescription eyeglasses. Luckily I had a pair of sunglasses but can be inconvenient at sunset and after…that’s another story of how I toured China with no eyeglasses for 2 weeks. As I sat on the side of the smooth tarmac without another soul in site I see a loaded cyclist.

    You have to be kidding me!

    His name is Masato (Japanese) and he had been living in Chengdu and was touring Western China. He could speak almost perfect English and his Mandarin was quite good too.

    We decided to meet at the next town to rest after exchanging phone no.’s. He was headed to a park/Mountain…I think it being called Yading. I decided to go there to after chatting with him.

    I found myself on a mountain pass and the wind was strong, the sign said around 4700m, and the sun was setting. To make a story short: he texts me letting me know he is down the mountain and found a luguan. I’m trying to get over this pass and before I know it I’m descending 10km in blackness with no eyeglasses…and I’m freezing. I don’t stop to dress because I’m racing to get to the bottom because of vision problems.

    Anyhow, Masato and I stay at the same hostel for 2 days, then travel to the Mountain Park together with a group of Koreans…we all become quick friends. Masato and I stay together at the hostel, as we ran away from the Korean snore’er. We stayed one more day at the original hostel and he left 1 day before I to head to Litang.

    On the way to Litang, I met 3 Chinese cyclists coming from Litang. They told me they had met Masato and he had lost his hat. I assumed they meant his helmet and that was such a pity. Masato and I still communicate via
    SMS. In Litang, after I met the infamous Brandon Wallace, and we went to a little restaurant together…one of the locals thats famous with the foreigners told me he met Masato and he had lost his knit cap – not his helmet.

    Masato and I reunited briefly again in Kanding, where this photo was taken.

    Anyhow, Masato headed to Chengdu and then to Xining then onto Xinjiang. You readers know that Brandon and I headed to the land of awesome.

    When I was in Tibet, I got a message from Masato. He was in the hospital and had been hit by a car on the way to Kashgar. He was recovering from surgery and would have to return to Japan. I just received an email from him telling me his back has been broken and has metal plates. He told me the police informed him a Uyghur man hit him and did stop to help take care of the matter – thank goodness. The roads out here, and in Inner Mongolia, go on and on and on and very straight at times. So, people do not practice safe driving out here.

    I want to say that not a day goes by on the road that I don’t think of Masato. Thoughts of Masato also reminds me to stay off main thoroughfares. I may get lost, or add days to my tour without real km progress, but…I’ll take my time to prevent my possible death…

    So to YOU…MASATO…my Xinjiang route is for you, my friend. Get well soon and I wish you a speedy recovering.

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  3. Email Correspondance from the Border Police in 东乌珠尔

    So along the way, I exchanged email addresses and phone numbers…and the occasional QQ number.  Every so often I get a random note from someone I have met along the way.  Please use Google Translate to get the jist of this communication.
    —————————————————————————————————————————
    你好  我是 你的好朋友 ,还记得我吗、我是 呼伦贝尔的  你在哪呢  什么 时候还来呀   记得来找我哦
    —————————————————————————————————————————-
    me: Yes, yes, yes!!!!  I remember you :)   I’m sorry I have been very busy. 不好意思,我没有空。
    I hope to return to the town and photograph more people – I’m very interested in photographing 蒙古人 life/culture/horses/蒙古包。
    您现在哪里?

    Best,
    Ellen (American girl on bike)
    ——————————————————————————————————————————–
    我是东乌珠尔边防派出所的,我给你登记 和照相 还记得吗。我在单位呢。 你在哪呢
    ————————————————————————————————————————–
    me:对,我记得。:)
    我现在上海。我回来应为没有钱。I will continue my bike ride in the Spring, after the holiday.  I must work and save money now.
    你警察?你叫什么名字?如果你是警察,你是一个很亲切,我永远不会忘记的了不起的人们那里。
    我的一个骑自行车的原因是要提高在亚洲的贫困儿童慈善机构筹款。
    www.2wheels4girls.com
    如果你是警察,我记得,会是不错返回拍摄一两个星期。我希望与世界分享这 些照片 – 有这么多美丽的地方和中国人民。
    我很高兴听到您的声音!你有一个朋友,说英语,对吗?我 跟她的电话。
    ————————————————————————————————————————–
    哦 原来是这么回事, 我现在很佩服你的善举,你的精神值得我们学习。爱是无国界的。
    —————————————————————————————————————————
    If you translate anything, run the last sentence through Google Translate…you’ll get Chinglish, but if you have a half a brain…you can ‘figger it out.
    This email is from the border police of 东乌珠尔, where I suffered dysentery and made friends with the locals. Of all the police and security officers I encountered…this young man was very kind. After I had filled all the paperwork out at the local station, one of his co-officers organized a photo where I had presented each one of them with my legal stuff…a US Passport and my Chinese Work Visa…it was a fun moment…although I looked not very cute. Dirty, dehydrating, hot (41 degrees those days), tired, and trying to hold my intestines in.


    View Larger Map

    If you take a moment to view the larger map, see link above, you can see there was nothing around for miles, days, and I had been facing that damn headwind that TOO OFTEN comes across from the NW.

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  4. A lesson I allowed myself to learn (the first of many)

    Don’t be scared to ask for help and graciously accept when assistance is offered.

    (Unless the “helper” is a Mongolian rascal that lives in Hulun Buir and drives a motorcycle with a blue fuzzy seat cover with the Beijing Olmpic’s icons on it and has a ring finger with gout.)

    I don’t know what happened or how I developed an awful habit of not asking for help.  Maybe I thought it was a sign of weakness or a true character flaw if you couldn’t use resources to figure it for yourself.  There are some people that truly do think this – I have met a couple.  These are the same type of people that don’t seem to try anything new either – maybe for fear of failing because they refuse to ask for a helping hand.

    When I first began planning this trip, May of 2009, I thought I could use all the books and maps and resources possible to get concrete answers and just move along my way.  Sure, maybe I’ll have to ask for help on my ride, but heck, I can figure this out…right?  WRONG!!!

    Within a week or so I had sent out dozens and dozens of emails.  Hey! – you cyclists that think I have it “easy” because I have gear sponsorship – think again….hundreds of emails…HUNDREDS!…many go unanswered.

    It’s not the most awesome feeling to ask for financial or additional support.  Especially coming from a Western culture where money is not discussed.  Here, in good ol’China – people just come right out with it.  No taboo or qualm about it at all.

    In my very VERY early 30′s – I have this idea that I shouldn’t have to ask for financial help from friends and strangers…shouldn’t I be self sufficient.  Well, if we want to play the “be normal” game…shouldn’t I be married, own a home, and be on to my second child.  Yeah, don’t even let me meander down that road…………………..

    When I first started along, I was a little shy about asking.  That shyness broke real fast!  I was traveling along the Grand Canal taking roads that weren’t even 2 meters wide and I’d be lucky to even see a bicycle pass.  I just followed the compass in one direction until I hit a populated area.  Stopping to check a compass became too time consuming so I just began to read direction by the sun – or by the which side of my calves were burning from the late afternoon sun.  (For some reason, the giant blue work trucks will throw the compass off if you are too close.  You can watch the needle swing like a pendulum as the trucks drive past too).

    Rolling up into a small town or village, some will run right up to you and ask where you are going.  And in China – EVERYONE likes to give their opinion and advice.  Within in seconds people are pointing and debating which way.  Often times looking at my map and telling me what I already know.  How difficult can it be to ask for help in a country where nearly everyone WANTS to help you.

    It’s kinda AWESOME and really helped teach me that it’s okay.  It’s really okay to say, “Wo milu. wo yao qu ….” 我迷路。我要去。。。

    (Traveling in China…DO NOT ASK cops for help…more trouble than it’s worth.  UNLESS, you find yourself in a village of about 30 people in Hulun Buir and he is strolling along the dirt road.  Those coppers enjoyed posing me with some other coppers and taking a photo together examining my Passport/Visa.)

    Besides asking for help, I’ve always had a difficult time accepting the offer of a little assistance.  Why?  Heck if I know…maybe I think it will make me lesser of a person…weak, inferior, etc.

    Well, when you are exhausted, hot, hungry…you learn to accept all the handouts you possibly can.

    There is one major exception – MY BIKE!  At first, I was a little tolerant of people wanting to help hook up the panniers.  But then it just got out of control with big ol’ man sausage fingers being stuck in between my spokes (that sounds a little perverted).  Finally, I broke…the biggest sausages and the most aggressive stranger to approach outside a hotel to “help”.  I pushed his hand back firmly and looked him straight in the eyes and said, no I can do it!  (No quotation marks because it was in Chinese).  Usually I let girls and women give it a go because they are less aggressive and harsh with things.  The last thing I need is a broken bag.  AND, females pay MUCH closer attention to how I do it so they do it nearly perfect themselves.  The men…oh THE MEN………….OH….they have their own way to handle.

    (Dear Reader, can you sense the feelings I have for the opposite sex here?  This is for another very VERY long essay in the future.  In small towns and especially villages, the men are generally harmless and kind…but start getting into “cities” – it’s a whole ‘nuther story.  That will be also included in my “Rules of the Road – Women Edition”.  I’d love to write a research paper on this subject but I think it may be a little one sided as 90% of my sources would be women.   Does the problem lie with the fact that there are no men in the education system as teachers?  Children are raised my women generally, where the boy is coddled beyond belief?  Where are the role models?  Probably working, making money to support their family…I don’t know – it’s stuff that swims in my head every single day.)

    I don’t know if “solo” is the right word for my trip.  The amount of help and advice I have been given, and still receive, is beyond belief.  Every day, for nearly 5 months, someone offered me help of some sort.  Whether it was handing me water out of a car window, offering me a ride (no way), route advice, etc.

    What I’ve really realized is that when you, me, us, ask for help – we open up ourselves to others.  And with this relationship wonderful things can happen and evolve.  Sometimes, after riding for hours without any human contact or communication, I would pull over and ask a question I already knew just to see where it would lead me.  Okay, yeah yeah yeah…once it lead me to a dangerous place…but you get what I’m saying.

    So, I went from being afraid to ask for help to just going up to strangers with questions that I didn’t need answered just for human interaction.

    I have more about all this written in my journals, which probably sounds a little more poetic, but I thought I would share now.

    Every day I wake up wondering where I would be…I check the weather every evening to see how cold it would be getting in the NW.  Every time I get on my cruiser or road bike here, I get butterflies in my stomach.  When I road Lieutenant home from the train station a couple weeks back – I have a feeling towards it that I have never felt towards an in-animate object in my life.  She/He has a life of it’s own and when I gaze at her/him, I feel like he/she is gazing back with the same thoughts, memories, and experiences.  Weird, bizarre, crazy…maybe…it’s kind of my best friend and an extension of myself.

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  5. Hanging with the Portrait of an LBX and guests

    Met up with Evan and Andy of  Portrait of an LBX here in LinChuan.  Along with 2 recent riders, Dave and Ellen, and recently aquired Pete.

    Hell of great people.

    Some good laughs of similar stories and thoughts.  And of course we have all spotted the Chinese brand “BullTitanUS” and the local department stores.  Along with chugging OJ “to keep the scurvy away”.

    They depart this morning for the North, hopefully making it back to Beijing by the second week of September.

    We head South to get Jason on an airplan and I’m onto Kashgar.  The word on the streets is that I have to go see Yunnan.

    Tailwinds.

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