Setting Forth: On the Road to Sanming

Setting Forth. It is the title of a song by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam that he wrote for the soundtrack to the movie, Into the Wild. Setting forth in the universe, it says. It’s a song that always sets off an emotional reverberation for me. It starts somewhere deep within me and bit by bit finds its way to the surface where it implants mountains of goose flesh upon my skin. Invariably it does this. And invariably it is the song that accompanies the first pushes of the pedal on any bike journey that I undertake. Such was the case on Friday, October 2nd when under the auspices of an ill sky did I depart the cozy confines of my school to undertake a 3 day 285 kilometer journey through the mountains of south central Fujian province to the river city of Sanming. The problem with such an emotional response upon disembarkation is that if you’re not careful you can find yourself feeling a little spent a mere handful of kilometers into the journey. But on this occasion I was able to control that urge to rush off into the universe and instead sit back patiently in the saddle and let it unfold before me.

A group of curious onlookers greet me at one of my stops. A regular occurence.
A group of curious onlookers greet me at one of my stops. A regular occurence.

Day one was largely uneventful with the exception of the riding itself: a strong, relentless push launching me down the road at quick speeds, ripping through first the outskirts of the city and then small town after small town. The countryside was nice if unspectacular with the exception of the scattered town that was little more than a rubbish pile against the road, more resembling the afterbirth of modernity than any actual civilisation. The day ended at a peculiarly modern looking town called Yang Chun, where I endured a delicious but inhumanely salty dish of beef, vegetable, and rice for dinner. I ate the works of it, but my penance was to spend the evening as thirsty as a crucified thief.      I thirst.

The canals of Yang Chun

Day one was a typical day one. The first day of a tour is more about putting separation between me and the start point and getting out there. Day two has its typical aspects as well. As the journey into the new gets deeper and more real I always hit a point in the day where I encounter something I call “That Feeling”. Saturday morning began with a little side trip into a small village just off the highway where I happened upon some local farmers working their fields of sugar cane and eggplant. After a little interaction and a few photos it was back to the road. And then the hills came.

A lifetime of back breaking labor has made this farmer thin and frail looking, but this belies the truth of his strength and endurance.
A lifetime of back breaking labor has made this farmer thin and frail looking, but this belies the truth of his strength and endurance.

At first they were fairly short with varying degrees of steepness, and then they weren’t short. Before I knew it, under an emerging morning sun and in the embrace of cool morning mountain breezes, I found myself in the midst of a long and at times very steep climb in excess of 10 kilometers. It was during one long stretch of steep riding that China opened up her ancient soul to me and blessed me with her smile. Oh my god, the views.

The sun shines down on this peaceful mountain scene
The sun shines down on this peaceful mountain scene

Here before me was the China of my childhood dreams. I could practically hear the haunting sound of a lone Er Hu (Traditional two stringed instrument).The depths of the heavily wooded valleys, the high reaching apexes, and the warm and welcoming faces of the strong and hard worn people who scrabble out a simple existence here in these challenging conditions of terraced rice fields and tea plantations, all playing a role in the song of a people and a land with a history long and mystical.

A rice terrace overlooking the deep valley below
A rice terrace overlooking the deep valley below

The awe that came over me, the sense of great blessings and privilege bestowed upon me to even be here. And then, a shuddered breath, a moistened eye, and a shiver from within me almost as deep and ancient as the valleys before me that rippled my skin and raised every hair on my body to a taught salute. “That Feeling.” This is why I do this. This is why I ride. Nothing else in my life gives me a feeling quite like this. As I wrote in a piece from Cape Breton last year, this is my church. This is where I find solace and freedom. This is where I feel grace.

The pain of climbing and laboured breath pass into memory and I rise from the saddle. Up. Beyond the last of the morning mists I rode into the upper reaches of this long mountain pass. Ordinarily, I never stop while climbing, but on this occasion I made exceptions. Not because I couldn’t finish the climb without stopping, but because I would have never forgiven myself if I had passed up the photo ops.

A trio of women working a tea plantation
A trio of women working a tea plantation. Fujian province supplies some of the finest quality teas found anywhere in the world.

They say that whatever goes up must come down, and mountains are no exception. My reward for reaching the end of the climb was a rapid 8 kilometer descent. 8 kilometers of 40 to 50k an hour speeds without having to turn the pedals. Sweet. The rest of the day was comprised primarily of challenging ascents. I ended the day in a small village where for most of the locals the next white guy they saw in person would be like the next snowflake they saw in person: the first. Needless to say the shocked and amazed looks were plenty when I ventured out from my room later in search of some evening snacks. One small child, not yet of speaking age, let her curiosity get the better of her and wandered up behind me as I paid for my purchases. When I turned around and she got a close up of the rather large, very red faced foreigner, well, it was a little more than she bargained for, and she started to cry. Bawl, actually. Okay, it was more like a scream, a roar of holy terror, a Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th what did I do to deserve this howl. Poor kid.

The breathless morning mountain air was cool and damp as the mists clung to the mountain tops
The morning mountain air was cool and damp as the mists clung to the mountain tops

While Saturday was comprised mostly of ascents and a lot of photo stops, day three, Sunday, was about the ride and had a lot fewer photo stops. I had a tight schedule and I wanted to get to Sanming that day. Fortunately, day 3 also provided me with plenty of long, speedy, effortless descents. The sun was kept at bay by a sky full of nice large puffy clouds which helped me stay cool and conserve energy. And oh my how the kilometers began to pile up. 125 in total. Before I knew it I was on the final descent into Sanming and then at a hotel where I secured a room for the next two nights before I would catch a bus back to Anhai on Tuesday.

A beautiful and peaceful mountain lake in late afternoon
A beautiful and peaceful mountain lake in late afternoon

In Sanming I mostly took it easy and relaxed with my book. I did very little sightseeing. Cities aren’t really my thing and most of the cool stuff to see was rather far out of town and after the three days I had just spent on the road I really didn’t feel like doing 60 and 70 k round trips to go sightseeing. Besides, as Neil Peart once wrote, the point of a journey is not to arrive. The journey itself is why we set forth into the universe. And this journey was completed. And it was fantastic. Until next time…

 

Raft fishing on the Shaxi Brook, Sanming
Raft fishing on the Shaxi Brook

20 Responses to “Setting Forth: On the Road to Sanming”

  1. Bride

    Another great post! So descriptive! Fantastic shots! Thanks for giving us the opportunity to read such a wonderful article as we celebrate Thanksgiving.

    Reply
    • Pierre

      As always, Bride, you honor me with your remarks and your patronage. Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed it. It was an amazing journey. I can’t wait until the next one. And happy thanksgiving.

      Reply
  2. Mom

    Beautiful post P, very well done I must say. I love the scenery, it’s absolutely gorgeous & the funny story about the little girl was so cute I could imagine the scene as I read it…lol

    Reply
    • Pierre

      Thanks mom. I am always appreciative of your comments and it always pleases me greatly when you like my work. Thank you. As for the little girl, I hope she got over it lol

      Reply
  3. Carol Ann Guy

    Pierre,
    A beautiful journey so happy to take in the sites and landscapes through your lens. Keep posting, we are so happy for you! Keep safe!

    Reply
    • Pierre

      Thanks Carol Ann. Happy you dropped by to have a look and a read. I am honored. All the best to you and your boys.

      Reply
  4. Jackie Hanlon

    Wonderful. Your words are do descriptive its like being there with you. Beautiful pics. Thanks Pierre. Stay safe.

    Reply
    • Pierre

      Jackie, as always, very grateful that you took the time to drop by and check things out. Always enjoy your comments. Thank you.

      Reply
  5. Aunt Sylvia

    It’s been a while, P. But I just now

    Reply
  6. Aunt Sylvia

    It’s been a while, P. But I just now looked at your pics and your stories. It’s beautiful. You should make all this into a book someday. Take care. <3

    Reply
    • Pierre

      Thanks Aunt Sylvia. I am glad you stopped by. I think of you often when I am working on photos. I remember when I bought my first camera and traveled to the Yukon, you were complimentary of my photography from the beginning. You were the first person that gave me reason to think I may have had a talent for it. And for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

      Reply
  7. Priscella Ryan

    Such an amazing adventure you are truly blessed .

    Reply
  8. Bertha Grant

    Such amazing adventure,

    Reply
  9. Collette

    Amazing country Pierre, you certainly have a talent for writing as well as photography!

    Reply
  10. Sam W.

    Amazing piece Pierre.. enjoyed every bit. Quite envious actually; you are doing with your life exactly what some of us only dream to do. It all seems so far out of reach for me so it’s pretty surreal to read and picture it all and to actually think I know the guy who is on this incredible journey. Keep doing what you’re doing. We only go this way once, take in every minute.

    Reply

Leave a Reply