Day 1 - Hong Kong to Jiangmen


And so it begins.  100km into the undeniably large undertaking of cycling myself and 30-odd kg of my stuff   including an array of interesting bits of kit I never knew I needed till I walked into a camping shop – and already I feel like I’ve ridden the Etape du Tour.  The big difference being that you have 10,000 other people to follow en route during the Etape, whereas the Tour d’Eurasie comprises a fairly exclusive field of just one this year.  This makes for an interesting racing route with lots of doubling back, hair-raising engagement with several thousand Sinopec-powered trucks and pit stops in private garage stores to boost those ascendant small enterprises that undergird the Rising Dragon in the East. 


My toes ache the most – but really that is because I have big feet and most shoes, of which these cycling shoes are no exception, make my toes ache.  So does my left calf.  For all my careful inventory planning, an item that would have been appreciated today did float through my head a few days ago, but I thought to myself, “Nah, it’s October, I’ll be fine”.  SUNCREAM.  Oh well.  I’ll look nice and (reddish) brown in any photos.  The clever ones among you will have figured out that if the intensity of the afternoon sun got my left calf, I must have been heading north.  I suppose from Hong Kong it’s difficult to head very far in any other direction.


I woke this morning from my customary nightmare about being sent back to my old prep school (this time I had to return as a teacher which is actually a step forward).  This dream often reprises when I’m experiencing at least a moderate level of anxiety.  I feel I can be forgiven for feeling the solemn sense of occasion on the morning of the commencement of a trip which will take me 14,000km across the Eurasian landmass, at a conservative estimate.  (Judging from today’s cartographic confusions, this could be a significant underestimate).  Though I am as prepared as I could be for this trip, there is nothing like the day actually dawning to make one reflect on whether this was a very good idea in the first place. 


Still – “courage and shuffle the cards” as Flashy would say.  So with a healthy dash of trepidation to season my undoubted excitement, I pack up my bags (of which there are several) and take a few last photos outside my starting point.  This happens to be my brother, Christian’s new house, on the Peak in Hong Kong - a beautifully-situated place overlooking a quite breath-taking view of the south side of Hong Kong Island.  I have spent many happy months there by now.  Perhaps too many.  I should take this opportunity to thank not only Christian for this hospitality but also his lovely and even more praise-worthy wife, Christina.  She has put up with her brother-in-law, growing ever more hirsute beyond employment, occupying more space (and time) than a brother-in-law of any decency has any right to expect.  There was a period of a few short weeks when I attempted to fly the nest (at least my Hong Kong nest) but the sweltering humidity of a Hong Kong summer and a broken aircon system on “my boat” soon had me scuttling back for more fraternal largesse. 


This was in no way withheld – although there was one proviso attached – I was to share a room (again!) with my two nephews (from which flows a further sub-condition: that any self-respect was left at the door). A curious living arrangement for a man of 33, and yet it was undoubtedly a lot better than it sounds.  This was particularly true once I had figured out wearing earplugs allowed me to sleep until a reasonable hour – like 6.45am.   I would take special delight from extracting them in the morning having woken gently, only to be told by Jaspar (the oldest nephew) that he had been shouting at me from his bed for 15 minutes and why didn’t I answer him? 


All this is to merely make the point that as embedded I had become in the bosom of Christian’s family, my extraction from it was bound to be a painful experience.  I love all five of them very deeply, and I must confess to being a little emotional about leaving them on Monday - even as screams of “internecine strife” between Luka and Jaspar rang around my ears.  I had explained to the boys about my impending departure and how I would probably not see them for a very long time.  Of course, I was poised with a kind avuncular word as I waited for this cold fact to dawn on them and draw the inevitable tears, but I must say they took it rather well.  Perhaps a little too well for my liking, but there you are.


The whole family dutifully jumped in the car this morning and followed me down the winding road from the Peak into Central.  I didn’t want to invite disaster by descending fully laden so I enjoyed what will be the last time I ride that bike unencumbered for a very long time.  As I whistled past the sights of Central as the road plunges down Magazine Gap Road, Garden Road  and down through Lan Kwai Fong onto Connaught Road, I found myself gazing up at the looming financial spires with a lump in my throat.  For all its architectural grandeur, Hong Kong cannot avoid feeling somehow cosy. 


At the ferry terminal my family all helped load me up and hopped back in the car with a cursory hug or two to make it back up the hill for school.  All except my dear brother Christian who came right up to the departure gate for the ferry to Zhuhai to say farewell.  I was very sad to say goodbye to him – he is my dearest friend.  He seemed to have a much steadier grasp of the drama of the situation than the boys, and there was some manful welling up of tear ducts on both our parts as I turned to push my bike off to passport control.  (Sigh!)  Hong Kong is a great city, with a beauty that sneaks up on you and catches you by surprise, and which is populated by some wonderful and interesting people, some of whom have become good friends.  Of course it has its flaws – but doesn’t every city?


I won’t bore you with descriptive details of the first day of the tour.  Suffice to say, the scenic part of the journey surely lies ahead.  The Pearl River delta, part of which I rode through today, is heavily urbanised, and is a tangle of high-rise residential buildings, multi-lane trunk roads and great new commercial palaces glittering in the sunlight - springing up here no less than they must be all over the Middle Kingdom.  


But for function, the day can be reckoned a success.  I covered just under 100Km and I am well and secure, as is my bike.  Despite some unnecessary detours (mainly due to the lack of details on the maps I have), I have reached the sprawling urban centre of Jiangmen in Guangdong province which straddles a branch of the Pearl River.  The ride was hot, traffic was noisy and the air was dirty.  But I expected nothing less.  Nevertheless, there were a number of enjoyable moments when the weighty bike and its load was bowling along with a bit of momentum, and I could reflect with some satisfaction that what I have been planning to do for some months now, I am finally doing.  And with each kilometre on the clock, I am a step closer to achieving my goal.

Comments (3)

Oliver Hui
Said this on 11-10-2010 At 01:35 pm

Hello Theo, how great it is to read your accounts, and how comforting it is to know that you are safe and enjoying the trip.  I will diligently flip open your blog and see where you are; and do know that you are remembered everyday in my prayers!

Juliet Webster
Said this on 11-11-2010 At 02:09 am

An excellent opening chapter to an obvious book, Theo.  Keep it up!

Alec Henson
Said this on 11-18-2010 At 09:01 am

This is brilliant. How exciting to be cycling across the planet. Good luck Theo, and remember the secret for a fullfilling journey is an "attitude of gratitude".

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