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What a ride

By Jennifer Holstein | China Daily | Updated: 2023-06-07 06:35

Jennifer Holstein takes a break to appreciate the coastal sights on the way to Wanning, Hainan province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The biggest risk I've ever taken was quitting my job and biking solo across western China. I almost gave my parents a heart attack when they found out what I was doing and immediately tried to talk me out of it. "It's not safe. You're in a foreign country," they said. But I had already made up my mind. Little did I know this would turn into the greatest experience of my life.

I have lived in China for six years, mostly in the capital city of Beijing. Every day I would go to work, then hang out with my friends and start over again. Even though I lived in China, I felt like I hadn't really seen much of the country. So I decided to go on a 3-month journey to discover more.

Before traveling China by bicycle, I had never biked for more than two hours in one day. It was a huge physical challenge but I got stronger every day, and eventually, I could easily bike for eight hours each day.

China is so safe. I never had a moment in which I felt like I was in danger. Wherever I went, there was always phone signal, and even WeChat pay.

One of the best parts of the whole experience was the people. I met people from so many different ethnic minorities across China and even got to attend a Tibetan wedding — something I never thought I would do. A local girl even gave me traditional Tibetan clothing to borrow for the day so that I would look the part. The whole event was extraordinary, full of dancing, laughter and fun.

One time I even met a group of Chinese men who were also traveling western China, but by motorcycle. They invited me to stay with them in the mountains in Yunnan. We cooked fish that we caught in the lake over a fire with wood we chopped ourselves. It felt like true freedom from the busy feeling of everyday life.

Another instance was when I met a group of cyclists. They were in their 60s and 70s and still cycling better than I was. It really inspired me to push myself and go farther every day. They once saved me while I was going through a 5-kilometer tunnel and I got a flat tire. They helped fix my tire and made me laugh about the whole thing.

The people were some of the best parts of the trip, but mostly each day, I was alone with nature. Throughout the rolling hills and the babbling brooks, western China is home to some of the most amazing scenery in the world. It simply took my breath away. With lush forests, icy glaciers, and serene lakes, there is so much to see in China.

Holstein runs into a group of Chinese cyclists in their 60s and 70s on National Highway 318 in Sichuan province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The food was definitely another highlight of my journey. I got to taste local food in every place I went. My favorite was the cuisine of Sichuan, a province known for its spicy flavors and interesting dishes. No matter how much I ate, I never got sick of having different Chinese foods. There are so many different options!

Traveling by bicycle was actually much less expensive than I thought. In total, I only spent 10,000 yuan ($1,400) on food, lodging and experiences while gone for three months. Additionally, I raised money to help support a local charity, the United Foundation for China's Health.

By the end of my journey, I wanted to keep going. I felt like I could do it forever. It was truly an experience I will never forget. If anyone has an interest in traveling, I would highly recommend going by bicycle!

Jennifer Holstein is a 28-year-old US citizen who has been living in China for six years. She started learning Chinese at the age of five and has a passion for language and culture. She is now the head of Human Resources at Pingo Space, an innovative educational institute in Beijing.

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