I’m now three days out of Chengde. After a day and a half of slow then very abrupt climbing I crossed over from Hebei Province into Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Funny, they didn’t even have a Welcome Center. Plus the longest tunnel I’ve ever been through. I measured a little over a mile. I think I liked going through the mountain than over it, though. Then a day and a half of abrupt then slow descending. Two nights of staying at $5/night village hotels. One of them even had a hot shower. The other had an outhouse with boards to squat over to go. GSM service kind of works just about all the time.
Today after a quick 50 mile jaunt I arrived in Chifeng. Everything looks new and there’s more construction on the way. Deciding to treat myself (I like to do this, you may have noticed) I stop at the first nice high rise that catches my eye, the JinDi. Very new and I got a corner suite with a computer at a desk. For $60/night.
My rear wheel was worrying me a little. Things were wobbling in the back where they shouldn’t have been. A quick application of my Leatherman and my spare hand and it feels perfect. Apparently the bearing cups came loose. Who needs special cone wrenches, I say. I will monitor the situation.
I’m getting the hang of this country, but any time I have to find/rent a room, buy food or talk to a curious local it can turn comical pretty quickly. Basically any time I have to talk to somebody. My pronunciation and verbal comprehension is pretty hit or miss. Sometimes it clicks and sometimes it doesn’t. It takes a lot of mental energy. Especially since I’m going to cities I don’t even know how to pronounce with characters I don’t know. Usually I just say “Bei fang” (north area). Basically, for Westerners, tonal languages such as Chinese are very difficult. It practically takes a native ear. People I talk to will have a sense of humor about it if I do. I wouldn’t even attempt the language with the phrasebooks in the guidebooks. Try taking a semester at your local college before setting out on your own here. Or maybe a year.
Out of Chengde I took Provincial Road S354, which was very busy. Trucks … trucks … trucks. Then S253, which was pretty quiet. At the Inner Mongolia border, somewhere in the middle of the tunnel, it turned into S206. For a while this was a good wide four lane, then it put me back onto a muddy and potholed two lane as they finish up the four lane. I don’t know how the little VW and Honda, etc. sedans make it through. But it was nice as it was a chance to go back in time, going through old villages. I hope they maintain this route. The locals need it and it’s a good bike route too.
Now I have 295 miles on the odo after six days of roller coaster mountain ranges. The wind out of the west can really be a mother. I get to skirt to the east of it between here and Ulanhot, where I have to turn left for the Russian border. If the winds I’ve seen are any indication, it could really be a bastard getting to Manzhouli.