china, cycling,

Enshi to Chongqing - Chinese New Years

Daddy Feb 14, 2022 · 5-min read
Enshi to Chongqing - Chinese New Years

My last big trip in October went halfway across Hubei Province to the Three Gorges Dam, and just beyond that is EnShi. Its elegant black building complex was a scroll-stopper on a travel site I frequent, and I knew I had to go back. To its southwest lies Chongqing, a large city that was also always on the backburner of places to go. Were the roads flat between the two, it would only take 3 days to bike the distance – pepper in some stops and you could do it in a week. Yet after 3 days fighting steep slopes and snow in the mountains, I’d only gone a day’s worth.

 

 

The beauty of Enshi Grand Canyon wasn’t in the down but rather the up. Seeing freshly powdered mountains made the effort worth it. I expected that after a narrow pass at the top of the mountain it would be smooth sailing down small roads toward the highway. In reality, the altitude increased and so did the snow until the road disappeared, car tracks disappeared, people and house disappeared. You just aimed your bike at the giant gap in the trees and that was the road. Downhill, I skied down with one foot on the pedal and the other on the ground until the pavement returned.

Enshi to Chongqing Cycling Map

One particularly cold night, I’d stopped at a promising hotel only to be told they were full because "relatives were visiting". They said there was another place down the road. It seemed they were avoiding me like the plague, and such has been the case since Covid. I went outside and stood by the road waiting for a great plan to appear. Everything was quiet at night, yet unsually bright from the snow's reflection. I was soon surrounded by the hotel's (mostly female) family memember shivering outside trying to help, none of them were wearing masks. I'd misjudged the situation. They eventually took me back inside to talk to the head male. He was much duller than the rest and kept asking overlapping questions about my “health status”. I could see some of the younger, more-sober individuals in the room shared my frustration at how he’d randomly poke at questions that had already be addressed explicitly or implicitly. Collectedly, I put up with it knowing the other option involved sleeping in the construction site across the street. He eventually conveyed my info to the "Community" (a sort of police-HOA mix), and followed up with a limp suggestion that I could stay.

A girl roughly my age showed my to my room. Going up a few flights, I got brief glimpses of the energy of a large family reuniting. It felt like the beginning of Home Alone where all sorts of people who don’t look alike pop in and out of rooms, and the only thing that ties the chaos together is that they’re family. My room was tucked away in the corner without running water (so the pipes wouldn’t freeze) or a heater for $13. I woke up shivering and felt like a sissy who can barely make it indoors, but felt a bit more justified after seeing the snow on my backpack hadn’t melted.

The original plan was to continue through the mountains south, but at such a slow pace I settled for a route to Chongqing along the Yangtze. Taking a river route instead of carving through the mountains felt like settling for less. As it turned out, the rest of what I had planned to see pales in comparison to the road out of the mountains. The road was empty because it was technically under construction, but all they’d managed to do is dump a pile of dirt on one end. The red rock valley was freshly powdered in snow and completely silent.

Having trouble visiting places as a foreigner in post-pandemic China was to be expected, but as it turned out, this time the real problem was being from Shenzhen. Shortly before the Lunar New Year, the government issued a notice about a husband and wife who got the ‘rona. The story seemed suspicious. While most Chinese work late and go straight home to enjoy a fraction of their waking hours in peace, this couple supposedly visited apartment complexes in every district of the city in the past 14 days. No need to be alarmed! Everything is fine and dandy, but it would be wise for a huge portion of the city to act like they’d been exposed to Covid. It was a fairy-tale with a bite in reality; the notice was followed by pretty much the entire city getting tested and a little asterisk on the bottom of my green arrow app.

Chinese Health Code
Chinese Jiankangma for Covid
Chongqing mandated that people like me with this asterisk always had negative results no older than 48 hours to enter hotels, parks, and the like. This was a new experience in cycle touring because it meant planning stops a hospitals every other day. And unlike the comfy cozy throat swabs of Shenzhen, Chonqing does the nose jab.
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Daddy
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Technophobe gracing tech companies in the Global 500, Fortune 500, a Kickstarter unicorn, and several little dinky places. Bike touring is my sanity factory.