Velambulator: Yunxian 2010

by Malcolm Parker on September 14, 2012Comments Off on Velambulator: Yunxian 2010

I had not intended to go to Yunxian from Nanjiang on the second day of my bike trip in Dali, February, 2010; however, I had not read my Google Maps route on my iPhone carefully enough. I hadn’t seen that National Highway 214 split and was, contrary to Western ideas of roads, in two places at once. I was happily oblivious that morning under clear skies and in cool mountain air since a large sign reassured me that I was on my route.

Google’s terrain view of south western Yunnan is crumpled paper you have unfolded. A day of peaks and valleys – 1000 metres up down up down up down – meant that once I had noticed my Bugs Bunny mistake, it was onwards and upwards and change the route later. Along the way, somewhere I was pushing my bike for a break, I noticed that the bottom bracket (the bearings for the axle the pedals rotate around) was sometimes too tight and sometimes too loose.

Drought-browned paddies step down hundred of metres into the valley

I got to Yunxian after maybe 8 hours. It had been the hardest day I had spent on a bike – beautiful and frustrating. I found a hotel with a clean room for RMB60/night and after showering set out to find food and a bike shop. Usually, the food is not a problem but during Spring Festival, when people take a much deserved break, it is. I walked for a long time before finding a small place that served something other than noodles. The bike store I later found had never seen a bottom bracket like mine and that was that. The Winter Olympics were on TV so I watched while the tiny merry-go-round wound noisily about just below my window.

The next morning I set out after a breakfast of noodles and climbed for 17km. At a tunnel near a threatening warning of a munched car, as I rested and checked my lights, I checked the bottom bracket. I could barely turn it. It wasn’t much of a decision to turn around and head back to that clean and cheap room. The hotel was near the busy bus station, so I checked buses back to Dali and bought a ticket for two days later.

Roadside warning to drive carefully.

That day and the next I rode aimlessly about the town that for a Chinese town seemed devoid of people. 

Near the hotel was a the banal swath of construction; buildings were going up and currently stood alone, a guard or two to watch over them, a stray dog two.  The construction vehicles were parked in a neat line.


On the top of a steep hill, large new streets ended in large new houses behind fences, probably local officials. Scrub brush outlined the area.

Looking down into the town

Fuse panels were bent open and wires sprouted from them haphazardly. I think a few had power running into them.

Walls had the familiar scrawl of numbers. Some had been painted over, waiting to be palimpsests. The thin red paper of firecrackers skittered across streets, and some walls looked like altars.

I was the only non-Chinese person around but was unbothered and spoke very little. I went to the same noodle shop for breakfast, another for lunch, and the same place as the first night for dinner, which was still the only real restaurant I had seen, and which at least had fresh fish.

Noodles in the morning

Noodles in the afternoon

Fish at night

I drank my instant 3-in-1 coffee, ate my cookies, read my books, and watched the Olympics.  I saw beautiful oddities.

Lone tree blooming on an empty road

Burlap wrapped hydrant

They were lovely days and one of the reasons that I like to travel alone.

I nearly missed my bus that morning and was last to climb on, placing the folded Dahon behind the driver and taking the ejector seat at the back, the one in a direct line with the front windshield. We bounced and ground and wheezed and squealed to Dali and as we went through over the beautiful road I had that familiar question – “I rode this?” – which becomes exclamation – “I rode this!”

Originally posted July 7, 2011