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Cycling Silk ’06

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episode one of the Cycling Silk ’06 documentary

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Grab some popcorn, drown it in molten yak butter, and enjoy a vicarious ride on the Silk Road – saddle sores not included. In May of 2006, Kate, Ben and Mel pedaled off on a four month bike trip in China with the goal of loosely retracing Marco Polo’s travels in Xinjiang and Tibet. The Dazzle and the Dirt marks the first of three episodes documenting this journey.

In this video, we fly to Urumqi in western China, give encouraging pep talks to our quaking legs, ride into the daunting Tian Shan mountains, and breathe deep of dust while biking across the Taklamakan desert. Watch us struggle to decipher inscrutable maps, cultivate questionable hairdos, sweat dirt from every pore, and acquire a taste for deep fried fat swigged down with home brewed rice wine.

This episode covers only the first three weeks of the four month trip, so stay tuned for episodes two and three over the next few months.

Wend Magazine cover story about Cycling Silk ’06

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Yeehaw, Kate’s feature article on Cycling Silk ’06 made the cover of WEND magazine!

As young wannabe explorers who wish we inhabited a world where maps still bore blank spaces, the three of us have come to China to deliberately lose ourselves along the infamous yet geographically intangible Silk Road. We want to experience a hint of how Marco must have felt confronting the unknown Silk Road, with its meanders and dead ends, its high passes and harsh deserts, its ancient villages and booming cities.

More details here.

3-minute movie trailer for cycling silk ’06

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Here’s a short but sweet movie trailer for the forever-in-progress documentary we’re editing on the Cycling Silk ’06 trip. Enjoy!

the latitudes of home

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

We came to China to explore the rhythm and pulse of life on the fringe, at least to the extent that our ignorance and inability to communicate would allow. Though a bike lets you wander off beaten roads, a hike lets you avoid roads entirely. So for the final few weeks of our China adventure, with boys gone and bikes packed in boxes, Mel and I chose to destroy a different subset of leg muscles on a 150-mile Buddhist pilgrimage kora around the Kawagebo mountains, where Tibet, Yunnan, Sichuan and Burma converge. Saddle sores healed on butts, blistered burned through heels, legs forgot how to pedal and remembered, painfully, how to walk. Pilgrims we were not, in any formal sense, but nirvana it was.

I feel great gratitude for being here, for being, rather, for there is no need to tie oneself to the snow mountains in order to feel free. I am not here to seek the ‘crazy wisdom’; if I am, I shall never find it. I am here to be here, like these rocks and sky and snow, like this hail that is falling down out of the sun.
–Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

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hundred in the handlebar

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

The following is a folk ballad based on a true story, composed by Kate and Mel over a campfire one starry night in China. Best sung to the accompaniment of a harmonica, spoons, and Tibetan chanting, preferably after you haven’t showered for 20 days, washed your clothes for 30, and are beginning to look and smell like a yak (see above: Kate on left, Mel on right.) Our pal Mark Bethune later put these words to a tune, check out his version of this cult classic.

Oh the road is long and the road is tough,
Been ridin’ fo days and I’m feelin’ so rough.
I ain’t got no food, I ain’t got no money,
20 yuan a day just ain’t enough, honey.

Four months in the saddle, a million miles from home,
The backroads of China are the trails I roam.
From the mountains to the desert and all the spaces in between,
These lands are purty, but these lands are mean.

And though I’m feelin’ down on luck,
It would all be better if I could get unstuck
that hundred dollar bill in my handlebar.

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the dazzle and the dirt

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

Tibet is dirt in equal measure to dazzle. And Mount Kailas, the most divine mountain in Asia, is the epitome of both. This hulk of rock and ice is so holy the sight of it is meant to inspire metaphysical musings on impermanence and eternity, soulfulness and compassion in all who behold it. All mountains spark such wonder and wondering in me, but Kailas in particular is sacred for Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of the Jain and Bon faiths. Out of devotion to one deity or many, hundreds of pilgrims a year shuffle around Kailas to compensate for the sins of a lifetime. Or many lifetimes, as the case may be.

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the tortuous road to tibet

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

The road to Tibet is paved in pain: in the butt, in the legs, in the brain that can’t conceive an intelligent thought because all it knows is the jolting of body and bike to which it is connected. As I bounced along this abominable excuse for a road on my jackhammer bike, I often had to remind myself that, like vagabond Everett Ruess:

I prefer the saddle to the streetcar, the star-sprinkled sky to a roof, and the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway…

Occasional pining for paved highways aside, this bumpy pilgrimage to the Land of Snows was the most sublime, surreal, and soaring experience of my life so far. And like all great adventures, it began at a crossroad. To the right was the unknown allure of Tibet, to the left the safe familiarity of Xinjiang. Standing there with our bikes, hesitating, never had a route looked so daunting for so many reasons: the lung-gasping altitude, the scarcity of reliable food and water sources, the atrocious condition of the road itself. The fact that Tibet was closed to independent travelers meant that our fate was entirely out of our hands. If we got caught, we were finished.

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song of the open road

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

Our reliably indecipherable Chinese road map showed this backroad as a twisty, squiggly line. For once the map reflected the reality, with the road itself a thin scrawl in the dirt, a scar in a mountainside, stitched here and there by streams. After the desert, where we covered 120km a day propelled by tailwinds along pristine asphalt roads, this was a major change of pace. But well worth it to bike on exactly the sort of Abbey-approved trail we had come to China seeking.

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. – Ed Abbey

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wind, sand and stars

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

On a bike trip, you are exposed to the world around you in a way and to a degree that few other modes of transportation afford. That kind of raw vulnerability has its drawbacks — like choking on the fumes of transport trucks that roar past, or feeling every teensy bump in the road translate itself into a saddle sore. But in the end the perks take the prize: the freedom to explore a landscape at your own pace, under your own power, and the exhilaration of traveling with all you need strapped to your wheels. This is nomadism at its best, each day yielding some new acquaintance or adventure, insight or dream, vast horizon or gnarl in the road.

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over the hills and far away

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

I’m a fan of traveling light, but it’s a stretch to say we’re doing that on this long-distance bike trip. Lugging over 80 pounds of gear each from Canada to China is an adventure in itself, and after three different flights, countless luggage surcharges, and three separate midnight taxi rides, with bike boxes falling out of car trunks and us totally confused as to our intended destination, it was a miracle when Ben, Mel, myself and the bikes finally landed in Urumqi, Xinjiang. Through it all I never quite believed the bike trip was really happening. Only when our bikes were assembled, when we were out on the street with our route memorized, when we took that long-dreamed of first pedal stroke did it hit me: this was very real, and this was going to hurt.

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countdown to China’s Silk Road

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Bikes are packed, we’ve got tickets and passports, and the Silk Road is just a dream and a day away. After nearly two years of planning, training, and fundraising, Mel and I are about to launch for China. Right now I am both ridiculously excited and powerfully terrified, the ideal state of mind and heart and soul for launching on such a journey. I tend to gauge the worth and promise of an adventure by the sheer frenzy factor of the butterflies in my stomach. The fluttering I’m feeling now bodes well for this one.

All good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder. – Pico Iyer

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