Bicycle Travel Inspiration Stories: A story about a true hero
How you can go cycling with a severe handicap
It was my third visit in China and I loved it. It seemed China was less difficult and more mysterious then I had expected. I read books, saw pictures, films and even tried to learn some of the language (which turned out to be very difficult).
And then I met a man who change my life forever, a man with one arm and one leg who showed me that cycling with a severe handicap was possible. If he could do that, I could do that too. He was a true bicycle travel inspiration.
After traveling in Gansu and Sichuan I finally arrived in milder climate. After all, it was only march in Dali now.
Gansu had been freezing, with snow and ice on the roads while Sichuan was dry though still cold with about 10ºC. However, it felt like summer after the freezing busses in north China.
Now in Dali the temperature had been up to almost 20ºC and it was comfortable again. I had traveled by busses. Was it hard? In 1996 China was already beginning to open up but many people at the country side were still a bit suspicious to talk to foreigners. In Dali it was different. Here had been tourist over the years and people were used to the "lao wai", the Big Nooses.
Daishen died in July 2010
Daishen, the man who cycled Dalian-Dali 3 times died in Yangshuo in July 2010. He was sick for some time but early June it got worse. As one friend in Yangshuo described: "Daishen got crazy and 3 days later he died.
May he rest in peace.
I stayed in Guesthouse No.4, a nice more traditional Bai houses. Here I met a man who would change my life for the next ten years and probably for many years more.
He had a big smile over his face and seemed to be perfectly happy. Little I knew then about his life story.
He lived in a little town not far from Dalian, far in the north east of China near the East China Sea. 12 years before I met him, it must be around 1984, when he had been involved in a car accident. In that accident, he lost his full left leg and his right arm. In China, this means trouble. he had not been a "complete" man anymore. He told me he had lost his will to live. After all, without an arm and a leg, he was no longer useful for society.
In those days the facilities for disabled were primitive. Someone told him if he couldn't do anything anymore he could still become a monk.
After all, "monks don't need arms and legs for prayers", his friend told him. So he went into a monastery.
He stayed a few years in the monastery and felt he was useful for the community. In the monastery he learned to live with his handicap.
Even more important, he felt he found back pleasure in live. The main problem now was, what could be do to serve his people?
As almost all Chinese people he had always rode a bicycle. He was thinking if he could do something with a bicycle to be useful again. While in the monastery, he had read books about people riding bicycles for fun. Could he do the same? Riding a bicycle was one of the few things he still could do.
During his time in the monastery he had learned to accept his plastic prosthesis. He could walk with it and even ride his old bicycle. So, if he give his people an example that even an accident like his could be seen as something positive, he may be an example for other people, give others hope even if it seemed there was little hope anymore.
He left the monastery and bought a cheap mountain bike. He started to cycle around on this one. There were problems, he had to find a way to learn to cycle with his only available hand on the handlebars.
Another was his prosthesis of plastic. But after some time, it seemed he was ready to do his next and much bigger idea.
He wasn't rich and while in the monastery he had learned to use what was left of his right arm to write Chinese characters. Chinese calligraphy is an art in itself and over the centuries there have been many masters (in Chengdu lived Du Fu, a poet and calligraphy master, check some on him here)
The way he learned to work was to hold the pencil under his armpit and do his work. It was a solid way to earn money while he was traveling. And in every village, town or city he visited the post office to collect a stamp. He carried with him a big Chinese flag with stamps of all the places he had traveled.
But how did he travel? By car? No! By bus or train then? No again! He gave himself the "impossible" task to cycle from Dalian to Dali, a distance of around 3000 km. And while he started his journey alone, every once in a while, people joined him for a day or sometimes more.
He wasn't a fast cyclist but he had one advantage over other cyclist and travelers: the will to go! And so he went, on his bicycle. He cycled from Dalian to Dali three times, which is about 10.000 km. Impossible? This man was one of those real masters you meet in life. Although he was making a living as a calligrapher, he was also a teacher, he was teaching "life". Seeing him doing what he did, you learned a quick and important lesson:
EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE,
Cycling is for everyone
Johan was 8 years old when he did a 4 days journey from Sitiawan to Penang, Malaysia. He told me later it was indeed "the real thing"