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Saddle up for a two-wheel tour of China... TREVOR PEAKE skedaddles to the Far East for a cycling holiday with a difference.

'LET'S skedaddle," said tour guide Scott, and his 11 clients enthusiastically mounted up for the next stage of their Chinese adventure.

It was day three and the first and only time our Australian leader used the word skedaddle to marshal his troops, but we were all there as skedaddlers, having signed up for the Guilin and Guangxi cycling holiday with the delightfully named Saddle Skedaddle, based in Newcastle upon Tyne.

What an epic trip it turned out to be, cycling in deepest rural China with the magnificent Karst mountains providing the back-drop to a memorable nine days in the saddle.

Toiling on Over 40 years ago I spent several months travelling overland back to England, after a couple of years in Australia and New Zealand, and as I journeyed through Asia it proved endlessly fascinating.

It's no less fascinating today, with many rural Chinese still toiling in the fields, or burdened down with yokes with baskets at either end, walking to market, then sitting, seemingly for hours, alongside a small bundle of their wares.

All timeless occupations, which have gone on for generations.

There aren't as many bicycles as I remember in Asia. These days it's mainly mopeds and scooters, while, even in the back of beyond many people, young and old, seem to have the latest mobile phones.

But much of life carries on as you would imagine it did in England in the Middle Ages.

Our group met in Guilin, a city of two million people on the banks of the Li River, just over an hour's flight from Hong Kong.

The next morning we were off on a four-hour bus ride to Bajiaozhai National Park.

the terraces Chinese roads have to be seen to be believed, with huge potholes, humps and hollows. At least they keep speeding to a minimum, which is perhaps just as well as the drivers think nothing of overtaking on blind bends, or with a vehicle bearing down from the opposite direction. An interesting introduction to rural China.

At the national park our first afternoon was spent climbing over 1,800 steps and negotiating precipitous walkways to a Buddist temple with spectacular views over the Karst.

New 30-gear mountain bikes were waiting at the family guesthouse where we stayed the night, before the real action started the next morning.

My pre-trip training regime had consisted of 30 to 40-mile stints, mainly on the canal towpaths around where I live, so I was found wanting on the first arduous day, having to walk a couple of uphill stretches, with ever-patient Scott cajoling me along.

Admittedly, at 73, I was giving the next youngest 15 years and they were all damned good cyclists, but a bit more hill work in training would not have gone amiss.

Having said that, by the end I was toiling up all the hills with the rest of them, although admittedly still at the back. But what goes up must come down and there were some fantastic, long downhill swoops on most days.

Day one ended after 45 fascinating miles at Chetian, in a secluded valley with a stream running right outside the guesthouse. A couple of beers and a cold shower, for the one and only time on the trip, revived me.

The next day began in steady rain with another steep climb out of the valley to the main road.

For the first couple of hours the road was heavily scarred by landslips, either with a bit of the road having disappeared, or the hillside having crumbled onto the road. Mercifully there was very little traffic and it was quite exciting in its way.

A regular feature of the trip was bowling along on a well metalled or concrete road, which would suddenly deteriorate into a cart track for no apparent reason, before resuming again in tip-top condition a mile or two further on. One of the mysteries of China.

The mid-morning and midafternoon breaks were perfect. Two support vehicles, driven by Lee and Peng-Peng, met us at pre-arranged sites with tables and chairs set out, Lipton's tea and coffee, biscuits, fruit and Snickers, all much welcome given the testing hilly terrain.

After lunch on day two a long downhill trundle through the area inhabited by the Dong, Miao and Yao people, ended at Longsheng Hot Springs, a dip providing much needed succour to my aching limbs.

Next morning we had a prebreakfast stroll to the local Miao village before a magical day cycling alongside the Min river, with an hour spent looking round the market at the county capital Longsheng, where all manner of everything was on sale.

Live chickens, ducks, rabbits, frogs, toads and even allegedly barbecued rat, although nobody was game to buy any. One of the most striking things was the myriad succulent vegetables, all grown in this most fertile part of China.

The day ended at Pingan, a village famous for its rice terraces, where we were to spend our first rest day.

The hotel could only be accessed by several hundred steps and a group of lady porters were on hand to carry our heavy bags up to the accommodation - thankfully.

You could even have taken advantage of a sedan chair and been carried there, but we all declined.

Pingan was the first real touristy place we'd encountered, so needless to say, Westerners were catered for, although there were very few about.

There were toasted sandwiches, egg and bacon and even burgers available, much welcomed after days of purely Chinese fodder.

A walk to a couple of spectacular viewpoints took up a few hours, but the rest day was mainly spent relaxing, with a very welcome leg massage, getting laundry done and an early evening siesta.

After breakfast outside, overlooking the impressive rice terraces, the following day started with a downhill swoop through dozens of switchbacks back to the main road.

women A steady climb through pine and bamboo forests brought us to our lunch stop, where we sampled delicious Guilin-style rice noodles, before one of the highlights of the trip, an hour in a two-man rubber dinghy on a white-water river, direct to the next hotel at Sheirtan.

Next day a glorious ride through rural villages and paddy fields ended in an early afternoon visit to a tea plantation, before a mini-bus took us back to the hotel in Guilin, where we spent our first night.

An evening exploring the busy night market, then it was back in the saddle the next morning to head out through the teeming city streets back into the rural backwaters.

A long day included several off-road sections, negotiating a land slip when we had to carry our bikes, then a glorious descent down to a hostel in Xingping, a busy town on the bustling River Li.

I spent an hour early next morning watching as ferries and water-taxis disgorged children and adults on the way to their daily chores, before we again took to the river on four-man bamboo boats driven by outboard motors, for a trip along the Li through spectacular Karst country.

Then it was back on the bikes for a long slog uphill before climbing 500 steps up to another glorious viewpoint at Xianggong, then another 20 miles along the Dragon River to spend a night at the charming Outside Inn at Chaolong.

The last day's ride took us to the once sleepy backpacker destination of Yangshou, now a booming tourist town. Scott laid on a Chinese fire-cracker demonstration and some Western music to signal the end of a memorable trip.

It wasn't quite over, as we had a final rest day in Yangshou. Most chose to go out for another 25-mile spin, a couple went on a cookery course and I just spent the morning pottering through the streets, watching the world go by and looking at the many pictures on my camera of a magical skedaddle.

need to know | SADDLE SKEDADDLE (www.skedaddle.co.uk or info@skedaddle.co.uk 0191 265 1110) are based in Newcastle Upon Tyne. They have an extensive programme of guided or selfguided cycle trips, throughout the UK and Europe, South and Central America and Asia.

| The flights were booked with Journeys Are Made (www.gapyear.com) direct from Manchester to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, then with Dragon Air for the short flight to Guilin.

CAPTION(S):

Way of life... women embroidering

The team... From left, Paul, Pam, Sandra, Carmel, Danielle and Pete, Gina, Bernie, Lorraine, Trevor, Mark, and Scott (the guide)

High up over the Li... From left (back): Bernie, Lorraine, Pete, Sandra, Danielle, Mark, Gina, Trevor; (front): Paul, Carmel and lead guide Sam

The famous rice terraces at Pingan

Off to market... A Chinese woman with a yokes and baskets

A bamboo raft on the River Li
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jul 18, 2016
Words:1465
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