On the road, a memoir of a cyclist

Updated: 2014-07-16 07:10

By Xu Jingxi in Guangzhou (China Daily)

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Zhang Xiangdong doesn't categorize his new book Brief Flight as a travelogue, but a collection of reflections on the first 36 years of his life, of which entrepreneurship and cycling have played important roles.

"People will feel as if they have had a long talk with me after reading the book," Zhang says.

"I spoke to myself on my long journeys when I was riding a bike alone. I wrote down these conversations in my book. It reveals my mind."

Many people may romanticize a cycling tour as a series of pleasant encounters, such as coming across a rainbow over a mountain, or meeting the French couple who sheltered the exhausted and starving Zhang when he showed up at their house at 2 am.

However, the journey is actually "boring" most of the time. Imagine you are the only cyclist, pedaling at a monotonous pace down an endless road. The sounds of your breath, the rotating chain and the tires against the ground are all that you can hear.

But in Zhang's opinion, the monotony is the most fascinating part of a cycling journey.

Leaving his regular work and life thousands of kilometers away, Zhang can drop all his identities, including that of a company's president, from his shoulders when he is cycling.

"You are nothing but a cyclist," he writes in his book. "You finally become yourself, completely."

"You get rid of gravity and break away from the real world. It is like a brief flight," he adds.

"What comes to your mind are some of the most fundamental questions and your contemplation is pure, instinctual and deep."

Life and death are decreed by fate, he says. A sudden sinking feeling made him slam on his brakes several times while cycling downhill in South Africa.

His instinct prevented a falling rock from hitting his head.

He also pondered loneliness. At the end of his cycling trip along the Great Ocean Road in Australia, he discovered artist Jan Mitchell's waterfront bollards in Geelong. The cyclist was amazed by the artist's attentiveness and passion for art, imagining how she spent five years painting the country's history on more than 100 bollards.

"Brief Flight can be read as a collection of essays because it contains deep insights into life," writer and publisher Yang Kui says.

"However, it can also be read as a travelogue because it describes rich exotic scenery and cultures.

"It can be read as a guide book for cycling too because it talks about pedaling pace and has details about braking."

Meanwhile, the literary editor describes Zhang's writing as "clean, natural, composed yet vivid".

As a book lover, Zhang quoted many people who have inspired him.

He quoted Pan Deming (1908-76) as saying before the heroic Chinese traveler set out for a cycling and walking trip to more than 40 countries between 1930 and 1937:

"The world is my school. Nature and mundane affairs is my textbook. To hear, see, and touch for myself is the way I learn. The wind and snow, rain and frost, drought and burning sun, moon and morning stars along the way is my scholarship."

Inspired by Pan, Zhang says that he will maintain his curiosity about the world and continue the exploration, as is shown by the book cover on which the two wheels of a bicycle are presented as the symbol for "infinity".




Southern France


Around Qinghai Lake in China


Great Ocean Road in Australia


Garden Route in South Africa


Lake District in Argentina


(China Daily 07/16/2014 page19)