Great wall of china
A man is not really a man until he
has reached the end of wall
Mao tee tung
premuer china – 1949 – 1976
This is really a great wall
President United states 1969 – 1974
During my training period in a little town called Ojai, California, I came up with the idea that if I were going to be the first person to try what the press had already dubbed, “the last, greatest, cycling adventure on the face of the earth,” then I should do so in my country’s colors; the stars and stripes of the red, white and blue.
Many people, including some of my sponsors, were against this concept. For one, being patriotic was passé. For another, they’d have to design a special paint job for just a single item. I was set in my ways, and that was all there was to it.
When the newly, redesigned bike from Cannondale arrived, it was red and blue with 50 white stars. The first test day up in the Topa mountains outside Ojai, I was rechristened “Captain America” by a group of school children. The press picked up on the image of the mythical, comic book hero going to “Red China,” and its been forever stamped on me since that eventful day in 1988.
It was Captain America who entered the world of the late Chairman Mao’s China in the spring of 1990. Unlike the clean-shaven, comic book hero, I grew myself a Fu Manchu mustache for effect. Five Chinese men would be my teammates during the 2 month, 2000 mile journey. Among them, Jiang Peng who held a degree in geography and nearly as strong a fascination with the Great Wall as I had. Gao, my personal driver whom I came to love for his devil-may-care and wicked wit. And Joe Yu, a true China man who kept his his eyes on me.
We began the Tour at the Western edge of the Gobi Desert, at a place called Jiayuguan, the last outpost before the beginning of the Silk Route, and where another adventurer, Marco Polo once passed through several hundred years before.
News photographers were ready to capture this historic moment. In the vastness of the Gobi, the Wall is made out of rammed earth. Once 20 feet in width, it was now reduced by 4000 years of violent, eroding winds from 6 to 24 inches with a 30 to 40 foot drop. Within the next century, much of it will be nothing more than a memory. At one point it was nearly 33,000 miles in length, but has been reduced to roughly than 3500. This ride was going to be a lot tougher than I thought.
On May 9, 1990, my baby sister Amy was turning 22 half a world away, as I was about to cross the threshold from obscurity to eternal recognition. My heart pounded through my chest; my jersey flexing in and out. My palms were sweaty as I reached down to grab some of the Wall’s dirt to rub into them before sliding my cycling gloves on. I scanned the horizon where the Wall seemed to go on forever, shimmering in the 130 degree desert heat. I said a silent prayer to God to help me not screw up what it took 18 years for us to reach. Then I mounted my bike and soared through the dream into reality.
I stopped several yards away, shaking from excitement. Turning back to look at what had occurred, one of the photographers called out, “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” I answered with a smile. “Now I know how Neil Armstrong felt on the moon.”