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Published: 10:11, November 14, 2023 | Updated: 10:11, November 14, 2023
A journey of discovery
By Xing Wen
Published:10:11, November 14, 2023 Updated:10:11, November 14, 2023 By Xing Wen

Cycling route beside picturesque lake was both exhilarating and exhausting, Xing Wen reports.

Two cycling enthusiasts ride along the greenway around Qiandao Lake in Zhejiang province's Chun'an county. (XING WEN / CHINA DAILY)

Zhejiang province's Chun'an county, which recently hosted the cycling events for both the Asian Games and the Para Asian Games in Hangzhou, is celebrated as a tourist destination renowned for its picturesque hills, lush vegetation and the scattered islands that adorn the crystal-clear waters of Qiandao Lake.

A 140-kilometer lakeside track weaves through this idyllic setting, around the lake, through mountainous terrain, towns and villages, giving riders the chance to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Qiandao Lake area.

This inviting experience attracts cycling enthusiasts from all over the world.

The term "inviting" may not be entirely suitable in this context, considering the challenging 140-km length of the trail, which includes numerous uphill stretches. As someone who has never owned a road bicycle and whose most extended ride was a 60-km journey through the coastal city of Qingdao in Shandong province earlier this year, I made the decision to rent bicycles with friends and attempt the 140-km circumnavigation of Qiandao Lake on a crisp autumn Sunday.

Fallen leaves accumulate on the red lakeside track. (XING WEN / CHINA DAILY)

I'm not sure where I found the courage to undertake this adventure, but it could have been inspiration from the spirit of sportsmanship I witnessed during the two Games I covered as a reporter. Alternatively, it might have been the knowledge that there was a fallback option in case I wasn't able to persevere, namely the services provided by freight company Huolala. Although primarily designed to help people with moving services, many amateur riders in China view the platform as a contingency should they need assistance along the way.

My friends and I embarked on our cycling adventure at 6 am from the eastern side of the lake, following the track in a clockwise direction. Our plan was to complete a 40-km ride to Anyang township, where we would be able to find a restaurant for breakfast.

The morning ride was enjoyable. The gentle breeze was soothing, and the road was relatively free of traffic.

To the right, was the vast expanse of the lake, while in the distance, rolling mountains created a picturesque scene reminiscent of traditional Chinese ink paintings.

The cycling path passes through extensive lavender fields. (XING WEN / CHINA DAILY)

Along the way, we passed well-equipped tennis courts and cycling stations offering bike repair and rental services.

The cycling path was lined by a variety of colorful flowers, many of which I couldn't identify by name.

At a certain point, the path turned blue, as it passed through extensive lavender fields on both sides. These vibrant and contrasting colors were exceptionally beautiful, compelling not only me, but also other riders to stop and take photos.

Upon entering the mountainous region, we encountered frequent tunnels. Interestingly, a second option was available: a meandering path that circumvented the mountains, winding through dense vegetation, allowing us to fully experience the lush surroundings.

A wavelike downhill section of the route is ingeniously designed to deliver a more thrilling and exciting experience.

Local residents sell oranges by the roadside and offer a kind hand to passing cyclists. (XING WEN / CHINA DAILY)

After having breakfast in Anyang and replenishing my energy, my mood lifted, allowing me to immerse myself more deeply in the scenic views.

During one downhill segment around 2 km in length, the wind was howling past me, and I was cruising at speeds exceeding 40 km per hour. As I gazed at the lush mountains, I felt like I was careening through a painting.

Looking down, I noticed fallen leaves accumulating on the red track. It was the first time I realized that leaves could be so rich in palette, a low-saturation yet brilliantly diverse array of colors. In that instant, I came to understand that the true beauty of autumn is found in these subtle, often overlooked, details and was appreciative of having noticed them this time.

Of course, this journey wasn't just a feast for my eyes. It was also a significant physical challenge.

Three cyclists pedal their way over an ornate bridge. (XING WEN / CHINA DAILY)

When we approached the 60-km mark, we arrived at the tunnel in Xiajiang village. Inside was pitch black, and we faced an exceptionally long uphill stretch. Our focus had to be on cycling safely through the dimly lit tunnel, so our speed was agonizingly slow, making it a strenuous effort.

I kept my eyes fixed on the light at the exit, watching as it grew brighter, signifying the end of this difficult section.

The moment we exited, I looked up and saw an eagle soaring high above. As the road began to slope downhill again, I relished the cool breeze, and, gazing at the eagle, I felt a sense of freedom.

I realized that to conquer this challenging journey, I needed to shift my mindset.

Each time I endured a lengthy uphill climb, my leg muscles tensing and aching, heart rate increasing, and posterior feeling friction against the saddle, I reminded myself that somewhere ahead lay an effortless downhill section, where my body could rest for a while. It became a kind of reward, allowing me to face all the uphill challenges in the latter half of the ride with equanimity.

The 140-kilometer lakeside track weaves over idyllic settings, around the lake, through mountainous terrain, towns and villages, giving riders the chance to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Qiandao Lake area. (XING WEN / CHINA DAILY)

Upon reaching the 80-km milestone, I received a message from my friends. They had chosen to use the Huolala fallback option due to knee and buttock pain. I was resolute in my decision to finish the rest of the journey by myself. I had a deadline to return the bike to the shop by 4:30 pm, where my friends would be waiting. Following this, we intended to catch the 6 pm high-speed train from Qiandaohu town.

Upon reaching the 100-km mark, I encountered several steep uphill sections, and the discomfort in my backside became noticeable. It was a scorching afternoon, and I was cycling alone through open countryside.

I was thirsty, and beginning to feel hot.

I made the choice to dismount and push my bike up the incline, which helped relieve the discomfort in my buttocks, and gave my thigh muscles a good stretch.

However, this approach was time-consuming, and I grew concerned that I might not reach the bike shop in time to meet the deadline.

The 140-kilometer lakeside track weaves over idyllic settings, around the lake, through mountainous terrain, towns and villages, giving riders the chance to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Qiandao Lake area. (XING WEN / CHINA DAILY)

At around 105 km, I passed by an elderly woman selling oranges by the roadside. I thought it would be a good idea to buy some to quench my thirst.

Perhaps it was because of her innate kindness, or my disheveled appearance from pushing the bike, the woman declined my money, and encouraged me to help myself, saying that the oranges were all from her own trees.

I was deeply touched. After eating two, I crouched by the roadside, gazing at the lengthy uphill stretch ahead, searching for motivation.

At that moment, a young couple in a car pulled over to buy oranges, and I suddenly had the idea of hitching a ride.

Although I felt somewhat uneasy about asking, as it meant I wouldn't complete my solo, around-the-lake ride, the looming deadline left me no other option.

Cautiously, I inquired if the couple could give me a lift through the challenging hilly section. They readily agreed, and used tape to secure my bicycle in the trunk.

I sat in the back seat, and they even offered me bread and water. I learned that they were from Suzhou, Jiangsu province, and had driven to Qiandaohu town for a weekend getaway.

The 140-kilometer lakeside track weaves over idyllic settings, around the lake, through mountainous terrain, towns and villages, giving riders the chance to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Qiandao Lake area. (XING WEN / CHINA DAILY)

They also recommended that I visit Suzhou for an around-the-lake ride of Taihu, China's third-largest freshwater lake.

After they had driven me a good 10 km, I bade them farewell and continued my journey.

My mood was completely transformed, and my body felt rejuvenated. The sun was no longer blistering, and the breeze was refreshing, and I no longer felt the heat or the discomfort in my buttocks.

During this part of the ride, a team of cyclists approached. I suspected they were cycling counterclockwise around Qiandao Lake. The group leader gave me a thumbs-up, and I reciprocated the gesture.

For the remaining stretch, I was no longer concerned about my phone's battery running out and started listening to jazz-hip-hop songs.

I was incredibly motivated.

Cycling a distance of over 144 km in nine hours was undeniably a challenge for someone who is far from being a cycling enthusiast.

However, as I reflect on the beauty along the route and the kindness of the people I encountered, I am still overwhelmed by gratitude and often say to myself that I am glad I came, I pedaled, and I experienced the beauty, kindness and flawless design of this classic cycling route.

Contact the writer at xingwen@chinadaily.com.cn

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