We continued on from the temple for a couple of hours, the distances between the villages increased and the land became wilder. On the water side of the road, impoundments took up the space between the road and the sea, no doubt vast tracts used for aquaculture. The occasional gull dived out in the middle of one of the ponds. Passing through one small town I apparently provided the amusement for the local dogs. Two of them squared off in the center of the road, challenging me to pass and when I did one took after me. He was so small that his effort was comical – I didn’t even need to speed up. But his actions brought a pal into the fray, a big rangy mutt who had sleeping in a dirt lot off to the left. When this long-legged guy got up and started to run, I picked up the speed and figured I’d keep an eye out for them on the way back.
A busload of teenage girls went by us, yelling “hello”, one of them hanging half out the front window and the rest laughing and smiling in the back. For some reason the girl up front pulled herself back in, grabbed a baseball hat and pulled it on, perhaps to keep her long hair in check. I was in the middle of a long downhill run and I actually got out in front of them which they thought was quite hysterical. The driver kept pace with me, never getting more than half a car in front or behind. I yelled “hello” back at them, in English and Chinese and they kept yelling and waving and laughing. Coming around a curve though the road headed up causing me to slow down; they went on still waving until they were out of sight.
There were large wood lots along this part of the ride, noisy with bird song of that frantic kind they make when they’re settling in large flocks. This set me thinking once again that what I was seeing was some sort of fall migration trickle, because this spot reminded me of the huge gatherings of blackbirds so common on the New England coast in the winter. They leave the center of the region and head to the shore where there will always be some water and food available unless the winter turns truly brutal which merely forces them down the coast to the next marsh.
Miao and Hui were up the road, stopped on a bridge so we pulled in for another break. Miao told me that this place was called Big Sand River Bridge and that his family had a house just off the road ahead. There were men out in the braided shallows of the stream – the tide was apparently out -fishing. Miao said he could see the fish coming in from the sea but I couldn’t see any in the gray-green water. Upstream and to the left was a huge factory, a famous steel plant Miao said.
We were now at the point where we were trying to decide when to turn around since we were on an out and back ride. Each major descent of the road meant a big climb on weary legs so we decided this was the spot and so we grabbed one last banana and turned around. The dog village was empty on the second pass; apparently they had found amusement elsewhere. I stopped here to take some pictures of the season’s corn harvest drying on the roofs of the homes. Along this stretch the same purple Asters that come into bloom back home were showing up in clumps here and there. It’s a funny thing to see the same plants growing wild halfway around the world. It creates some sort of small connection to the things you love and miss.
We had been blessed by a cloudy sky throughout the day which kept the temperatures down but it was becoming apparent that there might be a price to pay. As we passed the same small herd of horses still grazing amid the oyster shells outside Jinshitan, the pavement started to show the occasional dark spatter of rain drops and we were sporadically catching one or two on our faces. Cyclists rarely tell each other that they’d felt a rain drop because it almost seems to bring the weather into reality. Today that was the case, on the far side of Jinshitan the sky opened up and we were drenched within seconds.
Miao pulled the van into the bicycle lane turned on his flashers and patiently drove behind us until we reached a barricade across our side of the road. This being China, we just rode between the cones but Miao and Hui were forced to take the detour; we never did find a reason for the road to be closed.
Safety was not a concern now as our road was empty but being able to see was. Dermot was fighting the rain without glasses; I kept mine on because they seemed to offer a bit of help. We rode on as our shoes filled with water and our clothing became heavier and heavier. The rest of the ride into town was a bit of a blur, mainly because we were blind and soaked and focused 100% on not getting hit by a bus. Eventually we made our way to Dermot’s complex where I declined a ride home figuring I was already soaked so badly that a bit more couldn’t hurt. I rode around the bay and headed back into my neighborhood trying to judge what perils lay beneath the deep puddles, thinking of those storm sewers without grates that I ride by all the time. I made the turn off the main road without hitting anything and ¾ of a mile from my house, the rain stopped completely.
Isn’t that always the case?