By Xinhua Writers Xu Supei and Zhao Hongyu
SHIJIAZHUANG, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) -- Liu Jinrui is 70 this year. If his cycling partner Liu Deping was not ill, the duo would have embarked on a 2,880-km cycling tour to Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region from their hometown in north China's Hebei Province at this time of the year.
The two farmers set the goal of traveling across China on bicycle in 2013, and have since reached to over 20 provinces in China with a total ride of 20,000 km.
"Cycling is the cheapest way to travel," Jinrui said. "When we are freed from farming and family burdens, we have grown old. It is time to realize the dream of seeing the great rivers and mountains of the motherland."
The former junior high school classmates together set out their first cycling journey from Hebei to China's northernmost county of Mohe in Heilongjiang Province in 2013.
They remembered how unexperienced they were on the first cycling trip, as they carried lot of useless stuff like slippers and metal stools. They rode eight hours per day with three giant pieces of luggage.
They prepared a tight budget of 4,000 yuan (582 U.S. dollars) per person to cover accommodation and food for 75 days. To save costs, they sometimes slept overnight in tents.
"On the journey, we occasionally lavished on dining out or a good sleep in a small hotel, for example on birthday," Jinrui said.
Despite the difficult conditions, they still enjoyed the picturesque sights.
"My daughter gave me a digital camera. I took photographs on each journey," he said. Road signs, smiling kids and wildflowers were all caught on Jinrui's camera.
In 2015, they commenced the tour with a retired professor who had heard their story.
They spent 45 days riding through Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces.
They had to go across numerous mountains, and had an unforgettable experience of cycling across the steep ascents of the Lyuliang mountain in Shanxi.
Long and hard riding caused great damages to their bikes. Jinrui said he had to mend 13 punctures during the mountain ride.
They visited the famous tourist attractions like the Temple of Confucius, the White Horse Temple and Terracotta Warriors, which they had long hoped to see.
"We are glad to know that the tourist attractions offer free or half-price tickets for people over 60," Jinrui said.
In the first half of this year, Jinrui and Deping cycled through nine provinces in 80 days to reach the country's southernmost province of Hainan.
Along the way, the two northerners made many mistakes because of the language barriers when asking for directions. "We were also fined for riding on expressways twice due to failure to understand pedestrian instructions," Jinrui said.
But they also got a lot of help from warm-hearted strangers. "They bought us drinks and assisted us in fixing bicycles," Jinrui recalled, adding that they were once lost in mountains, but two forest firemen accommodated them for free.
Long-distance trips helped broaden their horizons and cultivate a more peaceful attitude toward the trivialities of daily life.
"Frankly speaking, I used to get angry easily over disputes in our village. But now, I just find that many annoyances make no sense if I see them from a different perspective," Jinrui said.
The health benefits of cycling are rewarding to the seniors. "I lost 9 kilograms when back from Hainan and my blood pressure is much more stable than it used to be," Jinrui said.
Under their influence, many local farmers in Hebei have become cycling enthusiasts and started to travel by bike on their own. They find traveling is not as out of reach as they used to think.
"Sometimes I check my WeChat moments and find that many of our villagers have cycled to places far away," Jinrui said.
Recently, Deping was diagnosed with a serious disease, which ruined his ability to ride with Jinrui.
"I know that Deping longs to hit the road again. I will continue to ride, realising our dream of cycling across China," Jinrui said.