14degrees off the beaten track
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September 14th, 2008 | categorizilation: all categories,China (Anhui)

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Today’s distance / ???????: 22.2 miles / 35.7km
Average speed / ????: 8.0mph / 12.9km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 2h 46m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6856mi plus 386mi (?) / 11,033km plus 622km (?)
Ascent / ??: n/a
Descent / ??: n/a
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N31°49′55.6″, E117°34′26.5″

The total lack of photos taken today should attest to the agony I experienced today. Hot, dusty, no appetite, weak, grooved concrete skating surface, headwind, stress…mad, mad times.

I pushed out from Hefei late at about 9am. It was already hot. I followed my nose out of the city, and picked up a stragler on the way. Liu Hang, a student at the local university was out for a bike ride, and struck up a conversation at one of the intersections I was stopped at. His manner was unobtrusive and polite (a rarity in eastern China, I have found), and I enjoyed chatting to him as I skated and he cycled.

“One day I would like to cycle across China,” he said. I could see that he was keen for an adventure, and thorougly reccommened that he do it.

We travelled together for about 10km out of Hefei, and were planning on having lunch together before he headed back to Hefei. I was looking forward to it, however at around 11:30am I knew that I was not going to be in any shape to stomach any solid food. I apologised to Liu and after seeing him cycle off, headed to a nearby bridge to lie down in the shade and sip at a bottle of Sprite.

Despite the five days resting in Hefei, I am still feeling very strange. It has just been such an incredible bureaucratic mission to skate across China. I am sure that had I had a decent six month visa at the start of the trip, I would have finished the trip by now, and I would be in much better shape. The continual pressure of visa renewals (which are never guaranteed), getting a new visa in Hong Kong, and just the feeling of oppression being a solo traveller here has really put a damper on the whole experience. It is terrible having to lie to police about what I am doing, due to fear of them telling me to get on a bus. Not that I am doing anything illegal!

And here I am skating east, knowing that in a few days I will have to go back to Hefei by bus to pick my visa up. So much back and forth.

Add to this a lack of contact with English speakers, and it is all just a little stressful. And I say stressful as stress on a sub-concious level. It’s not like it is in the forefront of my mind, this deprivation from like minded people. It is an isidious gnawing that pulls me down.

Now the really interesting thing is that there have been other times when I have gone very long periods without speaking English. In Central Asia, in Turkey, it was the same. But there is something about China that grates. There is some kind of aggregation of marginal ikes (to borrow a sporting term) that adds up to something yuck.

I am not alone in this; at least two other long distance travellers (www.chinawheelie.com and www.marijakozin.com) have admitted to feeling down when approaching Shanghai. They too experienced a mysterious change in vitality and life in the people and surroundings here.

I only got just out of Hefei before calling it a day. I stopped in at a small inn off the main road. It was a nice place with a couple of pigs oinking in their stalls, a wee puppy to play with, and best of all, it was about 100m down a long driveway off the road; nice and quiet.

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