Article by Malcolm Peak
The ancient and noble knights of the Qin and the Tang had their age of glory and Xi’an was their heartland. And then they were gone. Or were they just biding their time, awaiting the right time to return? In 2013, they reformed and, eschewing their outdated mode of conveyance, took to bicycles. Their new leader was a man calling himself Blue.
It was about 6:50am Saturday morning and the alarm had been going off for some time. A tough decision. Stay warm under the covers, get up at 10ish and spend the day pleasantly loafing around or face the bitter early morning chill and ride a bicycle up a mountain until my legs pump battery acid? For a long moment, the issue is in the balance, then I remember that Blue said he was going to “cross the mountains,” and that’s code for some off-road.
Arriving at the muster point in front of Blue’s shop (Chang’an Qu, Sheng Shi Shang Du – nearest metro at SanYao) and wishing I had 10 more layers of clothing, a large high spirited group of 20 or so had already gathered. Then we were off and heading south to the mountains, passing through sleepy villages. About 15km later, we reached the entrance to Taixing Mountain. The sky was a bright, fathomless blue and the sun was taking the edge off the cold. For me, winter in the mountains is actually the best time. It’s a very quiet time of year. The bare branches of the trees are stark against the skyline. The colors are stronger than in the summer and there are no insects.
I checked my fellow knights. Mostly young men, two women, some older guys like me, but everyone very friendly. And everyone is in high spirits and looking forward to what the day has to offer. We start to climb a steep-ish concrete road (about a 10% grade). I soon stripped off all my layers except two t-shirts. After a few kilometers, the concrete ended and we were on a dirt track. There’s some pretty little farm houses, selling winter fruit and a strange looking thing that looks like twigs and tastes sweet, which you gnaw and spit out.
We eventually came to a ridiculously steep section. The young guys amused themselves trying to ride up and falling off instead, to the mirth of those watching. This goes on for ages, until someone manages it and ascends, to the sound of wild cheering. From this point we have to dismount and push and carry the bicycles for the next five kilometers. Throughout the day, Blue is ever-present, quietly checking that nobody has become separated. There’s always one guy at the back and one at the front of the group with walkie-talkies.
About midday, we reach an open space in a wooded glade which forms a saddle point. From here, you can see back down the valley we have ascended. In the other direction, you have a magnificent view from Jiu Long Tang (九龙塘) to GuiFengShan (圭峰山) in the distance with the G210 hidden somewhere below.
It was about 12:30pm at that point, and the air temperature was 16ºC. The sky was cloudless, the sun shining. 5 large birds of prey circled endlessly in the valley. There were some families, who came up the other side, sprawled on the grass having a picnic. They were somewhat startled when twenty bicycles suddenly appeared.
The knights of QinTang are hardy, but never go anywhere without a lavish extended lunch. Soon, all kinds of food poured out from backpacks and were offered around. Sometimes, it is possible to feel a certain impatience after a couple of hours of solid scoffing, borne of a desire to get on, but that day I was happy to lay in the sun. Then it was time to pose for photos, including a final group photo behind the club banner. We descended a steep dirt track but soon were on concrete again and flying down the mountain. We hit the G210 and headed back to the city in the falling light, feeling tired but alive.
If you think you have what it takes to be a QinTang Knight, Blue and I can be contacted on WeChat. He speaks English and will rent you a nice bike for 50RMB a day and assuage all your bicycling needs. We go out most weekends, shorter trips in the winter and longer trips in the spring.
WeChat id: danlanKuaipo