Races like the Tour of China are special. When all the teams stay together at a hotel, meal times are not just a chance to throw yourself into egg rolls and rice, but the opportunity to check out the competition. Or catch up with friends. When Blair and I headed to breakfast our first morning in Xi’an I just threw on a random shirt, some shorts, and my Bass Pro Shop truckers hat. Poor choice. Thats like saying, ‘Hmmmm, I’m going to do the really fast ‘A’ group ride on Tuesday nights and instead of wearing a cycling kit, Im just going to throw on some cut off jeans and and a white t shirt.’ No matter how fast you might be, you are going to get judged as ‘that guy’. And at meal times, the best thing to do is wear as much team clothing as you can put on. Needless to say, I got some weird looks while eating my rice, steamed bread rolls, and fried pumpkin cakes. Besides feeling like an outcast, breakfast was actually pretty good. The bacon was quality. And the coffee was more like a latte it was so sweet. And forks and spoons had magically appeared along with this interesting little sign on each table.
After breakfast, we headed back to the room and tried to work the TV. The day’s plan was to wait for our mechanic, Casey, to finish building the bikes and go for a ride. In the meantime, Blair and I found that wireless internet was only possible in the lobby and that our phone chargers did not fit into the outlets despite Tanner’s firm belief that they would. But the eureka moment was when Blair found a movie in English. We hadn’t figured out how to surf channels (still haven’t) but Blair somehow found a bunch of movies in English, with Chinese subtitles. Before I knew it, Brian was back in the room telling us it was time to ride.
I threw on my kit and proceeded to the underground garage with all the bikes. Each team has a parking space with their name in English and Chinese displayed on the wall behind the space. The empty boxes are piled against the wall and spare wheels on top of them. Bikes lean upright against the boxes and tools litter the rest of the space. Everyone is already on their bikes by the time I arrive so I hurry to put on my shoes and grab some bottles and meet one of the two guest riders, Joe Lewis, from Australia. Typical hilarious, witty, Australian bike racer.
We leave the hotel and turn right. Then left. Dead end. U-turn. Big road. Lets go right? Traffic is insane here. You just go where you want. Buses swing from the left hand lane all the way over to the right to pause at a bus stop without any hesitation or slowing. In the mean time, all the scooters and mopeds that just got cut off by the bus shoot up the outside and cut off cars who don’t slow either, but just move left. Lanes, signals, lights mean nothing. Its a constantly moving dance and the Chinese dance it well. No hesitation, no look of shock, these people are on point when it comes to driving. Oscar Clark, the other guest rider pointed this out to me. In Atlanta, this could never happen. People on cell phones or adjusting music could not react in time. But the Chinese aren’t on their cell phones or GPS’s. Instead, they are on their A game. And we never saw one wreck. Although a mother carrying a baby and nonchalantly walking across the street nearly got T-boned by a scooter right in front of us. And as we marvel at Xi’an’s traffic situation, we are turning right and then left. Stopping to decide which way to go and trying to escape the clutches of the city. Joe teaches us two words: ‘knee-how’ which means Hello and ‘shay-shay’ which means thank you and by the end of the ride I think he said Hello to every person in Xi’an. Its hilarious. At this point, we have ridden about 45 minutes and decide its time to head back to the hotel, the name of which, I had no idea. Joe decides this is a great time for a story of a pre race ride in China and the hour spin turned into a five hour ride trying to find the hotel. Reassuring tale.
We ride around a little bit and look for anything familiar. That doesn’t help because all the buildings look the same. So we ride a little more. The street signs are in Chinese characters with English below that but no one knows what street the hotel is even on. We continue riding until I recognize Fengcheng 8th road. We had been riding on Fengcheng 4th road earlier in the day, lets head that way. Someone finally rememberes the name of the hotel: Tang Dynasty Hotel. So we start asking people, “Knee-how! Tang Dynasty Hotel?? Hotel. Tang Dynasty.” But people would just looked at us and smile and continue on. We stumbled upon another hotel. Oscar went inside and returns pointing. ‘Its that way, maybe a kilometer and a half.’ We find ourselves back on Fengcheng 6th road. We are going in circles. Or squares.
We start riding alongside cars, dodging the buses and scooters of course, asking drivers our question. ‘Knee-how! Tang Dynasty Hotel?’. A black Audi we speak to pulls over suddenly, cutting off at least 6 scooters and two cars. Finally. He is willing to help us but has no idea what we want no matter how many times Tang Dynasty Hotel is repeated.
In a quiet stroke of genus, Tanner Putt pulls out his room key and hands it to the man. Absolutely brilliant. He nods, smiles, and gets into his car, motioning us to follow him. We all let out a whoop or two. Maybe three. Everyone follows him through traffic until we finally reach our hotel. It just appeared out of nowhere. Probably from the smog.
If the lesson you take from this story is to always know what street your hotel is on, try again. Its that a room key is not only a way to get into your room but back to your hotel. Something I won’t soon be forgetting.