The long way home
Updated: 2013-07-23 07:20
By Tang Zhe (China Daily)
Liao Jingwen challenges herself cycling 1,200 km alone from Xi'an to her hometown Yichun, Jiangxi province, upon her graduation from university. Photos Provided to China Daily
A freshly minted university graduate begins her new life with a challenge: riding a bicycle across mountains and prairies for 16 days to return to her hometown. Once there, she tells Tang Zhe, she found a guardian angel in her rear-view mirror.
Do you still remember how you bid farewell to your campus life? Many years later, Liao Jingwen will do so easily.
The 22-year-old graduate of Xi'an International Studies University spent 16 days cycling 1,200 km alone from Xi'an to her hometown Yichun, Jiangxi province. When she arrived home, she discovered that her father had been secretly following in a car so he could protect her if needed for the final 10 days.
Liao says she was just expecting to leave Xi'an, a city where she had lived for four years, in a slower way - and challenge herself at a memorable point of her life. In the end, it turned out to be a fulfilling journey for both daughter and father.
Liao was planning to join some friends to cycle from Xi'an in Shaanxi province to Xiamen in Fujian province. That didn't work out, but her interest was piqued. She decided to ride home alone but not tell her parents, who would definitely oppose the idea for safety reasons.
After reading a large number of riding tips on the Internet and prepare for the journey for a week, Liao set out with a bag of medicine, a set of professional cycling gear, a storage battery and two Superman T-shirts. She didn't expect it to be so grueling.
The fresh graduate, who hadn't cycled since middle school and only resumed it two weeks before departing, suffered the first blow on the very first day, when she was pedaling up a long slope in the starting city Xi'an.
"The temperature was more than 40 degrees, I felt dizzy, out of breath and even lost consciousness for a while," says Liao, who wrote on her account of the Chinese website Renren.com that she felt regret 17 times at the slope but pushed herself to go on.
Liao soon found the first day was nothing compared to the 400-km climb on roads of the Qinling Mountains. She clearly remembers when she finished a 9-km steep slope and an 18-km gentle slope against the wind - in tears. To make things worse, she was riding an oversized bicycle borrowed hurriedly from a man before she left, which caused her a lot of pain before she bought a woman's bike on the sixth day in Xiangyang, Hubei province.
The next day, the trip started to show its lovely face as Liao conquered the Qinling Mountains and reached the plains. Warmhearted orchard owners gave her fruits and invited her to eat at their homes. Almost everybody she met told her how to take care of herself on the road.
She met a cycling team in Yicheng, Hubei province. The uncles and aunties brought her meals, gave her herbal teas, and accompanied her to the outskirts of the city.
"I felt a strong sense of belonging when I suddenly met so many similar people in a strange place," Liao says. "After that, I received their text messages, with concerns about my safety, every night."
Liao says the strangers' caring gave her lots of motivation.
To make sure she could find a hotel in a city or town around 6 pm, Liao planned her daily route and destination every morning with the GPS software in her smart phone. Receiving their daughter's calls and locations every day, the parents hadn't been concerned until they learned she was all alone at the end of the sixth day, when she arrived at Xiangyang at midnight.
"We were so worried about her," says her father, Liao Qiujing, who drove more than 700 km the next day, hoping to bring his daughter back.
"I didn't tell her I was coming, but tried to convince her that she had already gone through the adversities and fulfilled her target. But she insisted there was no room for discussion and she would keep going," he says.
The daughter agreed to make more contact with her father, and he deliberately kept himself a certain distance behind and found a place to catch up again at the end of each day.
"The child wanted to taste hardships, so we should support her. In this way, we can also feel rest assured," the father says. "If I followed by her side, she could have missed lots of experiences."
Many Chinese parents keep their children away from social experiences because of safety concerns. But Liao Qiujing, who is a teacher, says that parents should allow their children to experience more instead of protecting them completely.
"Sometimes the gains come in proportion to the risks, and we should allow them some space to create and explore."
The elder Liao admits his daughter surprised him with her perseverance - that she didn't give up midway.
The father and daughter urge any youngsters who want to imitate Liao's cycling to be rational and well-prepared before setting off.
"Some people told me they want to try the Sichuan-Tibet route, which is far more difficult. Some said they already bought a bike," says the daughter. "Maybe my journey looks quite smooth from the photos I posted on the Internet, but there were many hardships and potential dangers.
"I had prepared for eight whole days, and imagined various dangerous situations. I was also lucky that when my tire blew out at the foot of the Qinling Mountains, I found a repair shop at hand, and I didn't meet one bad guy," she says. "So remember to be fully prepared and find other people to ride with if you are without riding experience."
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(China Daily USA 07/23/2013 page10)