7 Nights in Beijing: An Essay on Chinese Cyclocross Racing in Seven Edible Parts
Earlier this summer, a sweetheart of a woman from Boulder, CO got in contact with me to see if I’d be interested in joining forces with the ever-awesome Topo Designs and heading to China for some cyclocross racing. I thought about the proposal for less than 3 minutes and said yes.
Now in its sixth iteration, I had heard wild tales about the Qiansen Trophy Cup from friends who had attended in years past. I knew that it would be more than just a UCI event showcasing two C1 races. It would be a robust overseas adventure, replete with never-before-experienced foods, sights, smells, sounds, dialects, cultural norms, and, of course, competition. I had also been told how generous and genuine and hospitable the promoters, Yanxing Song and his father, were, and was touched to find a great deal of truth in these whisperings.
Come late August, I was Beijing-bound without a clue as to what would transpire on the other side. No, really, I tend to do this. I say yes, and then start moving forward and subsequently realize that there are some very major components missing from the equation. In this case, what I’d be doing once I reached Beijing, whom I should look for at the airport, where I’d even be going from there. These were all factors I… forgot to confirm. Or didn't think worthy of confirming? Still, I had my Chinese Visa and a set of gold bikes. I had three sets of ENVE wheels, a notebook, one of my favorite dresses, one lavender skinsuit, and some snacks. As for everything else, the details would somehow assemble and Beijing would end up revealing itself as the weird lucid dream state I reckoned it would be.
For the seven mostly sleepless nights I spent there, Beijing was a sea. Shifting, rising, and catching me off guard. Eddying, swelling, and then finally receding. As a brined, wide-mouthed body of water, Beijing and its culture and its space were not without rhythm. Not without wisdom or undertow. The whole of it kept me wide-eyed and slightly off balance in the most memorable of ways. I’m still awaiting equilibrium.
"Beijing was a sea. SHIFTING, rising, and catching me off guard. Eddying, swelling, and then finally receding."
Fast forward to a snapshot of the so-called end. The end where Beijing is a tide rushing out far below, foaming over a memory of my bare calves, sucking itself back into its own dark sea. The end where I am an ant in a metal capsule hurtling towards the same sunset twice. A slurry of solid images from seven nights in Beijing, suspended in the water of my thoughts.
Here, from inside the speeding capsule, I watch the small, intimate moments of strangers. I watch them sleep and eat and wake and dream. Their eyes ice skating beneath pliable tissue paper eyelids. I witness the wears of travel on the human species as they unfold in various ways. Looking around, the contents of this plane are a vulnerable concoction of sleep deprivation, time change, hunger, discomfort. A man’s snore gets caught in his throat. A woman curls further into her thin blue airplane blanket. I slip into a kind of blurred half-state, somewhere between that slurry and Portland.
Hours earlier, the morning light is punctual and jimmies its way past thick curtains into a dark hotel room. It pecks at my dry closed eyes and I keep them closed. I can still hear Alicia Keys’ high notes and Jay-Z’s low bars from the night before. The night before being only four hours ago. In this dark hotel room shot through with persistent quartz-like light, I refuse to stir from beneath a single starchy sheet on a hard bed. I am quiet and my eyes burn and behind my eyes I am still dancing. I am still sweating and laughing. Singing my intercostals out amongst a small international contingent of awkward cyclists.
And even earlier still, what to me is the sunset of this Beijing summer camp… A roommate leaving in grainy half-light, her dirty-red Chuck Taylors padding across a stained carpet. The weighted click of a heavy hotel room door. A car horn honking with abandon. The half-naked pack of a scattered room into a duffel.
Stay tuned for part 2 coming next week. Like what you read? Get in touch with Laura Winberry