Hong Kong; First Ride

It's probably best I catch up to present time…

I left Shenzhen by subway, arrived at the border, got through about four clearances. I had an easy time getting to Hong Kong Island itself, though it was about four transfers in all. A little practice with subway maps in general helps, I think.

I'm in a hotel in Wan Chai, which is about as central as you can get, on Hong Kong Island. I'm on Wan Chai road and about two blocks away from the famous trams, as well as the subway etc. The room's pretty nice. Problem is, there's no elevator and I'm on the "third floor" which is really about the 4th, or 5th since the street floor is about 20 feet below the "first floor".

First day I bought about four or five maps, for bicycling and future reference. There's a lot of parks and hiking paths. There's basically three, maybe four types of land in Hong Kong: Fully developed (or nearly so) land filled with skyscrapers or condos; park land; (poor looking) villages; and shipping industry. And roads, of course, full of red taxis, double decker busses, mini busses, commercial/construction vehicles, and expensive cars. I've seen more Mercedes, Ferraris, and Bentleys than anywhere else I've been. Not that many cyclists, a few motorcylists, and no car that hasn't been washed in the past week.

I also bought a cell phone, which was a lot less painful than in the U.S. You buy the phone, you get a sim card, and about two minutes later you can start talking. Unlike the U.S., in that you basically sign your life away, and forget about getting an unlocked phone.

First day I visited Victoria (?) park, a temple, and walked around endless shops and restaurants. Sidewalks are crowded with people everywhere. I'm not much into shopping but I was curious to poke around. I spend some time trying to get my bearings straight but in the maze of buildings and twisty roads, I can't tell east from west or actually any compass direction really.

I did manage to find a bicycle shop, to by a lock. I needed one, I thought, for the bit of eating (really) I would do during my rides.

So, early on a Saturday I start out on the ride around the island and inevitably go the wrong direction. I attempt riding some side streets but they're often one way and turn me around. So I decide to use only the main roads, which are actually pretty empty around 7AM. (Do Asians sleep in more than we do?)

I came up with a cue sheet for all the turns: Roads change names all over the place and I suspect the maps don't always match the (often hidden) street signs. But I make serious progress and I'm quite pleased. The views from the road are almost always amazing: If you're not surrounded by buildings, you're often exposed on a hill looking down on buildings and water. Given the scale and height of the residential villages, it's almost like seeing something from a science fiction illustration. Especially the actually named "Cyber Village". There are little cut-outs in the floors that appear to be common areas. There's something cool about holes through buildings.

Difficulties arise arriving in Aberdeen, where the traffic volumes grow and I'm on the road, quite confused sometimes understanding how to continue my trip. Very few side roads go anywhere at all, or worse, turn you around. But I have a quality map, so it's just a matter of finding where I am. Again, the road signs are often tucked away, which makes it tough to navigate in the midst of traffic.

I do a side trip to one of the south islands by bridge. And then I make it past most of the big roads, and there's more climbing as I go into the sparsely populated southeast area. It feels great going downhill, but the uphill sections I sweat profusely as now it's midday. My gloves are soaked with sweat and start to chafe.

I stop at a beach (Recluse Bay) and consider a swim, but I have no suit.

I start heading east. There's a bit of thinning of traffic as buses can't go the way I'm going, which is over the reservoir road. I see another rider and he points out where I need to go, which is Shek-O.

Shek-O is probably the best road for a cyclist on Hong Kong Island, because it isn't terribly steep, has great views, and has less traffic.

I head down to the peninsula, on a closed to non-local traffic road, and it's like being in a different country. I go through a village of mostly one- or two-story houses and then end up in a land of radio antennas and underground cables–their endpoints anyway–and I get stopped at a guard house by a man who waves me back to where I came. Supposedly there is a marine preserve, and it's well preserved since there's no road to it that I could go on.

Next stop was Big Wave Beach. I park my bicycle, walk down, and see lots of surfing and ex-pats. A lot of shops in the area but very little business it seemed as it was the off season. Who goes to the beach in winter? Waves didn't really compare to Hawaii's, but still not too bad. Bought soy milk (Vita Soy, unofficial drink of Hong Kong cyclists?), and headed to lunch at Shek-O Village.

Saw a couple of high-end ($5k+) racing bicyclists and a couple of HK'ers who, as it turned out, looked quite casual, at this very casual Western joint. This is where I ate lunch. Lemon Coke (with real lemon), and an egg sandwich. Could have eaten more but I still had a lot of riding. There was a hiking route off to some island, which I wanted to see, but got confused by the map and street name correspondence, as usual.

Headed back to town: Lots of hills again.

As an aside: Every few miles, you'd pass (or be stopped at) a construction site where they were working on erosion protection. Every tiny road had tons more concrete pored to stabilize the up and the down side of the hill you were on, lest it simply wash away. Still, I suppose they needed periodic replacement. Construction crews all looked like immigrants from poorer countries.

Heading into town was exciting, as it was just a fast downhill from the south to the north, and you were plunging into a maze of skyscrapers and roads. In the thick of it, though I was trying to make it back up again, as I wanted to get to Victoria Peak.

Forgetting it was Saturday: Lots of traffic to the peak as incidentally, there was a huge mall built up there for all the rich tourists to enjoy. And I was getting really overheated as, hey, it's afternoon. Eventually once I reached the tourist spot, and headed up to the actual top in a park, I experienced some extraordinary cramping. It wasn't a hydration issue, I suppose, but the result of too high a gear for the riding I was doing. (And as I would soon discover, to ride in Hong Kong, granny gear is definitely required. Mountain bike gearing is not a bad idea.)

Post-cramp, I headed up for a picture at the viewpoint. You go through another mall to get up to the top, by the way. View was good but definitely hazy at the time of day–or polluted?–so I was a bit sad. I had another lunch (pre dinner?) then cycled the remaining 100-150 meters to the actual top, almost cramping again. I rode down spinning the whole way so I wouldn't seize. My legs were shot, so I decided the next day I'd rest.

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About eliasross

Blogging before the word "blog" was invented.
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