Destination: Anhui province and the misty mountains of Huangshan or Yellow Mountain. In China, adventure is always near. Hopping a high-speed train with your bike in a bag will take you southwest to the city of Jinhua, which is located in the middle of mountainous Zhejiang province. From there, it’s a couple of days ride to the Huangshan national park on twisty mountain roads that transit some of the most stunning scenery to be found in China.
Continual travel is a way to keep the dream alive. Time on this rock is limited and everyday reality has a nasty way of interfering with one’s dreams if you’re not careful. Seems the wolf is always at the door. Big adventures in New Zealand and central Asia are still on the distant horizon. Shorter adventures must fill the gaps in between. The close proximity and easy access to the emerald mountains of Anhui offer the perfect adventure fix.
The Enchanted Yellow Mountain
Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) is a national park located about 480 kilometers or so from Shanghai in Anhui province. The protected area is a mountain range of jutting granite peaks and steep cliffs with some summits rising over 1800 meters.
Dense vegetation consisting of pine trees interspersed with specks of alpine grassland natured by moisture from a wet oceanic climate. Clouds and mist often shroud the rock spires creating surreal scenes for which the park is famous, especially its sunrises.
Replete in Chinese painting and literature, Huangshan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of China’s major tourist destinations drawing thousands of Chinese and foreign travelers alike.
Land of Endless Photographic Possibilities
China is a land beckoning to be photographed. The middle kingdom is a photographer’s dream. The diverse and varied the Chinese countryside is replete with a virtually endless supply of captivating images and landscapes just waiting to be captured in digits. Kilometer after kilometer of scenic mountains and fields require ample time to take it all in.
Getting up before dawn to catch the morning light. Prowling deserted villages streets. Pulling to the side of the road to capture stunning vistas. Stalking the quiet places few outsiders tread. So many places to see through the lens of my Sony camera. It’s a typical day cycling in Zhejiang and Anhui. The possibilities are endless. Seems there is never enough time.
I’ve taken to carrying a small photography backpack armed with two full-frame digital cameras and a couple of fast, sharp primes lenses. The camera backpack keeps me mobile with my cameras off of the bike and can be quickly secured on the rear rack via ROK straps. When the rain comes, the pack is equipped with a rain cover that can be quickly deployed to protect its sensitive cargo. When the rain is particularly nasty, I stow the cameras in dry bags inside the pack for added insurance.
Were Tourists Rarely Tread
Outside of the major cities, life is simple in China. Dropping into rural Zhejiang and Anhui provinces quickly get one off the beaten track and onto quiet backroads. It’s in these places away from the tourist traps, authentic China is easily found. Many people travel by train and bus to Huangshan but few if any go by bike. The web of quiet country roads winding through the forests and valley floors is all to yourself. The riding in Zhejiang and Anhui is more exploration than a physical challenge. It’s just the way I like it.
A Mountainous Playland
China is a land of ridable roads and many possibilities. Most primary and secondary are new and well-maintained. The pavement is smooth and mostly free of road hazards. It’s not often one sees broken glass along the sides of the roads in China. Our route transited densely vegetated mountainous terrain. Lush stands of bamboo sway gently in the breeze. Bent over harvesters pick leaves from tea trees growing on terraced orchards. Occasionally, the glance up to take notice of me coasting by. Sections of the can be rather steep and a little physically demanding but nothing too strenuous. The climbing in Zhejiang is nothing like in the endless hills making up the Tibetan Plateau in western China.
Weather Can Be a Mixed Bag
The weather can be a little unpredictable in the China’s eastern mountains. Carrying rain gear is a must or risk getting soaked. Dark clouds can move in and start dumping the wet stuff with little or no warning. Locally purchased inexpensive poncho used by Chinese moped riders and cyclists is the best gear I’ve found for keeping dry. It’s completely waterproof and covers the handlebars of the bike too. The poncho provides plenty of ventilation to minimize perspiration. The bike’s mudguards fend off most of the road spray from below, so even in the heaviest downpours, I stay relatively dry. For most of the journey, the winds were calm, save for occasional afternoon breezes rustling the bamboo and long-needled pines.
Plenty of Sustenance Along the Way
Periodic villages and hamlets scattered along the way provided needed sustenance to keep us pedaling on our journey. Small stores and noodle stalls offered cheap bottles of water, drinkable yogurt, and soda. An inexpensive fresh bowl of steaming noodles procured from a local noodle stall was never a problem. Local eateries provide excellent opportunities to meet locals, who can provide valuable information on hidden gems to visit.
Finding Lodging at Night
Photographing at sunset often means arriving at the day’s destination well after dark. Rolling from door to door to find a place to stay can be challenging. Not being able to read Mandarin and being able to identify local bed and breakfasts is an acquired skill. Most Chinese hotels and family operated a bed and breakfasts are quite accommodating to cyclists. Rarely is there a problem allowing bicycles into their rooms. If there is, hotel staff will find a secure place for you to keep your bike for the night.
Pedaling in the Dark
Pedaling under clear night skies is always special. Seems many cyclists avoid riding at night. But can be done safely and is something I enjoy, especially if temperatures are soaring during the day. If one’s bike is properly outfitted with lights and reflectors, your navigation skills are solid, and there is room on the road to safely pedal, it should be relatively safe to ride at night. Ride on I say. Enjoy the experience.
A Place to Lay Your Head
Each evening, we were in luck and had no problem locating a place to lay our heads for the night. Often, the husband and wife team running the inn would eagerly whip up a quick meal for us from the ingredients they had before we retired to our rooms. One night we shared a dinner with the town’s chief of police, who spent a couple of hours chatting with us and smoking cigarettes. Chinese people are quite hospitable and nearly always curious to converse with foreigners. English is becoming more widespread making conversations easier for me. Even when no one speaks English, plenty of genuine smiles and gestures go a long way. Besides, with the aid of my translator app on my smartphone, I can usually croak out a string of words they can understand.
Multimodal Approach to Adventure
Adventure needn’t be too far away. Think multimodal when adventure cycling. Utilize bike-friendly public transport to get you close to where you’re going and then ride the rest of the way. Zhejiang and Anhui are excellent adventure cycling destinations only a couple of hours from Shanghai by train. Get out and find your adventure today.