misty mountain

There’s a quite a good hill around the back of Huazhong University in Wuhan. As far as great climbs go, it probably doesn’t even rank in the top 1000, but it’s got character. Like so many Chinese footpaths and roads, there’s none of this prancing about at the bottom, feeling out the slope by gently traversing its face, coyly suggesting “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”. Chinese climbs suggest more of a “this is what I got, what you going do about it bitch?” as they head to the top by the shortest possible route.

The entrance to this particular climb is innocuous enough, a pair of gate posts by the road side without any indication about what lays behind. I must have ridden past fifty times thinking there was nothing more than a colourful collection of used noodle cartons and discarded bottles of coke delineating the edge of the forest. I only discovered it when I entered a bike race in the area a couple of years back.

Only thirty or so participants showed up, equally divided between roadies and mountain bikers, and that was whittled down to ten when it came to lining up for the start when all the other mountain bikers and a one third of the roadies remained where they were on the side of the road. After I got blown off the back in the middle of lap three, I rode by myself until one of mountain bikers joined in for the last two of the 6 mile circuits to demonstrate to me how fast he was. Wanker

I’ve never really got into that post road-race back slapping camaraderie. With mountain biking racing at least you can compare notes about some technical aspect of the course or come up with decent sounding excuses: “I was with you until I misjudged that corner and hit a tree, had to stop to take off the front wheel and smack it back into shape and the steering was all fucked up after that.” What can you say after a road race? “I was going quite fast, but then you went a little bit faster”? In any event, I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable acting as one of the boys/girls if I’d spent the last 2 hours sitting in the shade watching other riders exerting themselves at temperatures approaching 110F.

Anyway, after a bit of a bullshitting, there was some animated discussion amongst the mountain bikers and it was decided we would do a spot of off-road riding to complement all that side-of-the-road sitting. It was a chance for the mountain bikers to redeem themselves and they did themselves proud. When the wanker who had joined me for the closing stages of the race pointed to the hill, the other nine riders promptly sat back down again and waved us off.

That was twice I’d been set up in the course of the morning but although my legs were pretty much gone, I was glad I decided to follow him because if I hadn’t, I never would have discovered the path on my own.

Now I know it’s there, whenever the track is dry enough, I want to ride it. It’s a good work out and you find a strange assortment of types in the woods. To the right and hidden from the entrance, there is a jeep track that leads to a small clearing in a centre of which is a large stone with ancient Chinese characters carved into it. It’s probably only been there a few years but, combined with the steep rocky path snaking off into the woods on the other side it does lend a slightly mystical feel to the place, although the effect is often spoiled by the loud-mouthed paint-ball enthusiasts who sometimes gather there at the weekends for a spot of posturing. They always go quiet when I ride past and I suspect some of them to be the same mountain bikers who showed up for the race and came up empty.

But in the summer, in the pre-dawn hours, the place is deserted, silent and often enveloped in mist or pollution. It’s not exactly the lofty peaks of Crouching Tiger-Hidden Dragon country, but you can still envisage a wizened sage standing still as stone, meditating on something suitably profound

In spite of this, I still wasn’t expecting to encounter a wizened sage, standing still as stone, meditating on something suitably profound. One moment I was into a good climbing rhythm looking to the path ahead, the next I suddenly sensed something next to me and turned my head to the right to see a little old lady 12 inches away and staring at something to my left.

I suppose I could have handled it better than screaming “fuck” and bunny-hopping the bike sideways at an angle of about 45 degrees, landing on my back and scrabbling to put as much distance between us, before suddenly twisting around to see what she was staring at.

What really freaked me out was my flurry of graceless activity was countered by her absolute stillness; she didn’t move, she didn’t even appear to notice I was there and she didn’t appear to be staring at anything, or at least at nothing that I could see.

Later on, I began to wonder whether I was the one who had been seeing things that weren’t there, lack of oxygen and all that, but when I went back two days later she was there again. She was wearing a coat this time, so she had been home for a cuppa since our last encounter. She had also adopted a different stance, but still had that aspect to her countenance that she was seeing something on a different spiritual plane, presumably one without mountain bikers hurling foul mouthed abuse into the morning air. I mean, this isn’t Bognor Regis.


5 Responses to “misty mountain”

  1. Jaimeatdnmyt Says:

    So you think she meditates at that spot on more or less continuous basis? She wasn’t just staring down the hill waiting for the ice cream man to show up … ? Was she glowing? Were her feet touching the ground?

  2. janh1 Says:

    I was having deja vu until the little old lady, the fuck and the bunny-hop. Splendid.

    The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

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