Updated: Aug 4, 2021
One Scotsman and His Dog Take the High Road around China - A pandemic sabbatical
China Odyssey Keeps Scots Tradition of Exploration Alive
After spending 20 years cooped up in an office, it was only natural that data analyst Adam Hyslop yearned to set himself free from the corporate life and get out on the open road to adventure.
So, when the opportunity of a year’s sabbatical came along because of COVID-19, Adam took the opportunity to make his dream of carefree exploration into the unknown become a reality.
What was remarkable was how he did it.
Taking his cue from the historic pioneering exploits of his Scottish forebears, Adam set out on a 1,200 kilometre cycle ride deep into the unspoiled rural hinterlands of China – with only his trusty Border Collie Talisker for company.
The unlikely duo completed their trailblazing ride from Adam’s home in Shanghai, south-west through picturesque mountain regions to their destination of the famous Mount Wuyi, in a memorable six-week odyssey.
Not bad for someone previously with limited experience of travels on a bicycle.
And even more impressive for three-year-old Talisker, who ran alongside Adam on downhill stretches, but was able to give his paws a break by resting in his trailer behind the bike on the uphill sections.
Their journey was enlivened along the way by occasional visits from Adam’s wife Valeria, who met them in some locations by travelling on the country’s high-speed rail network.
Canine Lucky Charm
Adam, who worked at one of the Big Four consultancy firms in applied big data analytics, has lived in Asia since 2005, the last nine years in China.
When the chance of a sabbatical came up, he realised it was a chance both for much-needed adventure and to explore some of the massive rural interiors of the fascinating country he lived in.
Although Valeria had to stay in Shanghai for her job, there was no question about Talisker’s companionship on the trip.
Named after the renowned single malt Scotch whisky distilled on the Isle of Skye, he was an apt good luck charm symbolising the legendary Scottish trait of intrepid exploration.
The Covid-19 pandemic was an unforeseen element when Adam began planning the trip, but when it came time to start in September 2020, restrictions had been in place and become a routine part of life. The restrictions caused some impact on his booking of accommodation, but thankfully no real effect on the overall experience and he was able to take a Covid-19 test before setting off.
And it was for reassuring for Adam to reflect on the fact that Scottish adventurers of centuries gone by had faced much worse risks of disease and illness on their travels.
The Right Stuff
As with every journey into the unknown, preparation was vital.
Adam carefully researched the right equipment required for the journey and eventually settled on an e-bike, to help take the strain of pulling Talisker’s trailer and to cope with the weight of himself and extra panniers on road climbs.
A bike direction app was also essential for the remote mountainous terrain they’d be travelling through. His main objective was to go through as many mountain areas and UNESCO sites, as possible via Mount Huangshan, with the ultimate goal of reaching Mount Wuyi.
So, he picked out locations based on a daily average of 50 kilometre rides, based on scenic qualities and recommendations from friends, and came up with a route that looked ambitious – but achievable.
After a few test runs with the bike, equipment and Talisker around Shanghai, they were ready to rock.
Roads Less Travelled
This adventure of a lifetime made a profound impression on Adam:
“We must adventure into the unknown from time to time to know we are alive! he says.
“I wasn’t totally sure if Talisker would react well to the trailer and I’d only booked the first few nights’ accommodation because I was unsure of what lay ahead.
“However, I was really glad I pushed to make it happen and just got pedalling and enjoyed experiencing the unknown.
“I knew China was beautiful but was pleasantly surprised at how diverse the scenery, culture, history is and the amount to do and see that’s on offer.
I’ve had many comments from friends that they had no idea China had so much varied beauty and sightseeing.
“Getting into the lower tiers and villages was an eye opener, to see how much of the land is cultivated and how many people work in agriculture.
Basic tools and methods are still used in the fields yet at the same time, I could buy items in the village shop through mobile payment.
The people were great, urging me on as I passed by, and many people were very kind and offered help in terms of food, accommodation and local advice on things to see and keep the route moving forward.”
Adam’s highlight of the trip was visiting Mount Sanqing, a World UNESCO site of Outstanding Universal Value, the sacred Taoist mountain just north of Yushan in Jiangxi Province, where he experienced an exhilarating cable car ride with stunning views of the surrounding National Park of forest, waterfalls, lakes and springs.
As on every journey of adventure, there were some mishaps along the way.
Stopping in a village Adam saw people eating at tables on the side of the road and went to join them for some food – not realising it was a funeral wake. Luckily the locals appreciated the misunderstanding and directed him to a nearby restaurant.
Later, heading towards Liangzhu at Hangzhou, he found himself going the wrong way at a check point on an eight-lane highway and had to cross eight lanes of traffic to get back on the right direction.
And with the bike direction app on a setting that included hilly and unpaved sections, he found himself cycling on a muddy path to a new highway that was yet to be completed. Workmen pointed him along the massive, elevated highway to a point where he eventually managed to turn off.
One unexpected benefit came when the ferry that was to take them from Shendu to Qiandao Hu (Thousand Island Lake) refused to let Talisker aboard, so Adam was forced to ride for two days there instead – but found it to be one of the most enjoyable sections of the trip.
But a more painful episode occurred when he was walking in a nature reserve, lost his footing and tumbled 15 feet down onto some rocks – resulting in bruised ribs and gashes on his shin, hands and backside, which all took a few days to recover from.
Exclusive photos from Valeria
Click right on the arrow to view photos
Paws for a Rest
As for punctures, there were only two on the entire trip and both were easily repaired.
But the doughty Talisker’s instinct for running got the better of him after about ten days into the trip, when his paws started to get sore.
Help was on hand in the shape of special dog shoes brought for him by Valeria – and he ended up carrying on running in them so much that he’d worn out several pairs by journey’s end.
Getting back home to Shanghai once they’d reached their destination of Mount Wuyi was a breeze for Adam and Talisker after their two-wheeled exertions – a ten-hour taxi ride.
However, with Adam currently continuing his sabbatical back in his native Scotland, he’s unfortunately separated from both Valeria and Talisker until he can head back to Shanghai.
But having experienced fresh perspectives on the value of adventure and China’s glorious interior landscapes, it probably won’t be long before he teams up with Talisker to once again rekindle the spirit of his Scots ancestry and set forth on another road to discovery.
A New Adventure for Adam and Talisker to Ningbo, China
Follow their journey across 5 provinces of China
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