Another reason why it felt easier to get out there in the cold today? Well, we spent practically the entire day outside yesterday, in the -14 degree weather, as we went on a cycling adventure to the nearby countryside of Molimiao, where there is a huge reservoir (according to the map and to info online), so, you know: we CAN do hard things, and thinking about the hours spent outside yesterday would be nothing compared to a measly one hour or so spent running by the frozen river.
Now, the route to get to Molimiao seemed easy enough, and I calculated that for a 45km trip out there and then another 45km back home, would take approximately just over 4 hours. Hmm, how wrong I would be. The day started out a little later than planned, due to a couple of mishaps (feet freezing within the first twenty minutes and so a round trip home for me to change into boots, and then, a complete flat tyre, so had to get my bike to be repaired back at the bike shop we had just visited, ironically for pumping UP said tyres and checking the bikes over), but at about half past ten, we met up with our friend and his travelling buddy 'Le Chat' (his gorgeous kitten who came along for the ride and would hang out in his backpack safely out of the wind or would sit on his shoulders like a monkey when we were inside some warmer places) to start heading out to Molimiao.
Most of the way out there was spent on a main road (with the return journey to be cycled on smaller country roads), but we passed beautiful, peaceful countryside fields, lots of sheep, and some Mongolian villages, and even came across two Buddhist temples, out in the middle of nowhere. Due to the freezing weather (Husband's feet were frozen almost solid for most of the day) we took frequent breaks in various shops, a restaurant and those temples along the way, the first being our lunch break in the village of Feng Tian. When we had warmed back up sufficiently by the power of spicy noodle soup and headed back out into the wind (the worst part of the cold weather) I looked at my watch and was shocked to see it was one o'clock already! What the... My time guestimate was WAY off - we were only about half of the way to even get to our mid-way destination of the lake/reservoir. Oh well, this would obviously be a longer ride than I'd banked on.
We continued on, taking refuge (and photos) in the first temple, and attempting (our Chinese is not too flash) to chat with the kind, and generous monks there who refilled our water bottles and showed us around. They told us it was about another 20km or so to the lake.
It was getting later and later in the day, and it was looking more and more likely that we would be riding back in the dark. And yes, as we rode up to the edge of the 'lake' (a huge, empty or dry/desert lake, apparently the water is underneath all the sand, and there is more visible water in summertime - it was pretty much empty), the sun was setting. We got the amazing sight as we stood on the plateau there of the sun setting on one side and the just risen moon on the other side, turned pink and glowing from the sunset opposite. Sunset and moonrise on a 180 degree view. Awesome.
We were now on quiet, smooth country roads (smoother than the main road, these country roads seemed freshly tarmacked) and we rode on in the quickly growing darkness. We were lucky that it was a beautiful, mesmerising full moon last night as this afforded us at least some light. It was so beautiful too: the full moon, the peaceful environment, and an abundance of shining stars above us (at only about 5:30pm).
However, we were getting pretty tired, hungry and cold again, so were on the look out for any village or out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere shop. Lo and behold about half an hour or so later we rode up to a house-cum-restaurant!! Out in the middle of nowhere! How is that for good luck?! We happily went inside and found that the family were in their house hanging out and playing cards, and not expecting any restaurant guests. They seemed happy to see us though and started chatting with us and offering us drinks and food and warmth, oh and the entire restaurant just for ourselves. We ordered some dumpling soup, cracked open a couple of beers and skulled some hot tea to warm back up first. Got to say: the BEST dumpling soup I have ever had! In such a great, definitely off the beaten track setting. We will definitely go back (although Husband wants to take the motorbike back next time and not cycle that 50km again anytime soon).
When we decided we really should get going (after all we still had about 40km to go to get home! But at least we were well over halfway hey, having ridden 50 already), we bundled back up and onto the bikes and set off into the cold, dark night. About 2 or 3 kilometres later though, disaster struck. Husband's entire peddle arm had fallen off!! The nut must have come lose (who knows where) and so the arm fell off. Oh. Shit. We were about 40km from home, at night, in the freezing cold (maybe -15 by then) with a bike with one peddle. This was a big problem.
BUT, whenever there is a problem, there is a way to resolve it right? Thankfully, we were cycling through a tiny village/hamlet at the time of the peddle disaster so we went into the nearest shop/restaurant to see if they knew anyone who may have spare bicycle parts. I think we caused great amusement and enjoyment to this lovely, warm friendly family inside (we certainly entertained their teenage son, who filmed us on his phone nonstop): a Canadian man (our friend), an English woman, an Australian dude, and a kitten, turning up on bicycles on a Saturday night and telling them they had a problem and could they help. They gave us hot water, beer and one of the locals said he could help. Off he and Husband went to his shop to find a replacement nut. Phew.
Nope, not to be. Each and every nut he tried on the doomed bike didn't fit. The bicycle was to remain armless/legless. BUT, Husband had managed to negotiate a deal with another mystery man who appeared and said he could take us and our bikes back to Tongliao, for a price. Deal. We were exhausted. Just wanted to get home at this point. The other option was waiting until 2am when someone else was driving some supplies there, but we just wanted to get back to our poor puppy who must have been frantic by then (as mentioned earlier, I thought we'd be home by 3 or 4pm at the very latest).
Well, what a day! A great day. I love adventures. And yes, although the bike ride ended up being much shorted than planned (50km instead of 90km) we saw some beautiful sights, met some wonderful, friendly people, and ate some delicious food along the way too. Note to self for future cycling trips: don't estimate how long it will take you based on how many kms you ride in an hour when you are riding quickly and by yourself around a riverside park loop! I was way off with my time and distance estimate.
I'll love you and leave you with a couple of shots from our mini adventure. There will be more to follow, but I need to get them off my phone first (these ones I took with my old-school-point-and-shooter):