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Wu Didi: the Solitary Cyclist

Biking solo from through southwest China, from Qinghai to Tibet and beyond

05·11·2012

Wu Didi: the Solitary Cyclist

Biking solo from through southwest China, from Qinghai to Tibet and beyond

05·11·2012

For our forthcoming adventure issue, we scoured China looking for adventurous people with a tale to share. First up is Wu Didi (吴迪迪), a 26-year-old woman from Anhui Province, who first tried her hand at a serious mountain biking tour in 2007, when she pedaled from Sichuan to Tibet. Then, after she graduated from Shanghai East China Normal University in the summer of 2009, she spent about a month and less than RMB3,000 biking alone from Geermu (格尔木), Qinghai, to the Tibetan capital Lhasa (拉萨). Now she’s saving cash while teaching in Shanghai so she can bike from Xinjiang to Tibet this summer.

Before I set off to join a group of cyclists riding to Tibet in 2007, my parents were on the fence about supporting me. I pushed how safe the trip was, and that there’d be a couple of guys who could look out for me going as well. Eventually they gave their blessing, though my mom still lost a few pounds worrying about me that summer.

Still, even though that trip passed without a hitch, when I decided to bike solo to Tibet in 2009 I lied to my parents and said I was going to visit a Tibetan friend. Instead, I took a train to Geermu and started my journey there.

What I love most about biking alone is that the schedule is my own. The clear, open views along the Qinghai-Tibet route made me feel like I was the only person on earth. Sometimes I could even squat at the roadside and defecate without worrying that someone would pass by.

I ran into two vicious hailstorms on my way to Yanshiping (雁石坪), near the Tanggula Mountains (唐古拉山). The first time I luckily found shelter in a herdsman’s roadside house. Even though I was unable to talk to the old Tibetan woman who ran the home as she didn’t speak Mandarin, she still served me milk and steamed buns. When the hail stopped and I was about to leave, I could only clasp her hands, repeatedly saying “thank you” for the kindness she’d shown me.

Most people I met were super friendly and warmhearted. One day, shortly after I started from the Tuotuo River (沱沱河), I saw lightning in the near distance and heard the low rumble of breaking thunder. I was scared and stopped at a roadside construction site, where local Tibetans lived and worked. They invited me inside to wait for their boss to return and arrange lodging for me. No one spoke Mandarin, but I remember a boy of five or six who squeezed in beside me, asking in a serious voice, “Smoke?” I stayed for free that night and the next morning. Before I left, they kindly reminded me to pull my hair back so I looked like a guy, as they were concerned I might run into trouble.

There were also some unpleasant moments. I was chased by kids who attempted to rob me and threw stones at me along the Sichuan-Tibet route. But that wasn’t a big deal. They’d simply been corrupted by the tourists.

I never figured out why I decided to bike the Qinghai-Tibet route. Many complimented me on my bravery, but I know better than that. I’m not a person who gets lost in theorizing about the meaning of travel. I keep biking, lost in my thoughts, and just feel grateful for the chance to try and do something like this.

Have your own tales of adventurous escapades in the Middle Kingdom? Email mail@theworldofchinese.com (don’t forget to include pictures if you have them) and we ‘ll post them up!