Continued South and the road deteriorated to the usual Chinese standard but nothing out of the ordinary, I saw a sign saying Xinxhou 116km and thought, hmmm..., I'm making GREAT progress. 2 minutes later I see another sign saying Xinxhou 210km! Did I miss something here?
In hindsight, obviously I did, because there must have been the usual Chinese well camouflaged turnoff lurking behind some bushes. I continued South (West) to discover I was near a town called Pingu, saw a sign to Xinxhou saying 175km and realised I was drastically off track. I turned left onto the Xinxhou road and immediately hit what can only be described (unfortunately no photos as the batteries were flat and not yet recharged) as a dustbowl which then became a 3 metre deep 25km long pit where the road used to be. This pit continued right through the centre of town and the town was effectively divided. It looked like it had been this way for quite some time as well. I did my usual trick of following the locals on their bikes only to find that, hey - is that a river ahead?, and hey does the road go straight through it? Fortunately the river was only around 6ocm deep at the point where I crossed and I managed to lift my feet and stumble across the rocky bottom in 1st gear, only just managing to avoid either stalling or falling off.
I figured this had to be "rock bottom" for the day, but no, the roads only got worse as the road changed back to heavily potholed and cracked concrete and went up and down a mountain.
This was incredibly heavy going - slow and painful and dangerous. Around 6.30pm I pulled in to Yuan Ping 13okm short of my original destination of Taiyuan.
I found the best hotel to take my filthy, dusty battered body to, to be greeted at the door by an urgent "hello". Feeling too tired for conversation I responded with "good evening", figuring that would be well beyond the English language skills of the majority of Chinese, and the small talk woud quickly terminate. No, this little lass ("you can call me Cindey") was a strident sinophobe / europhile, and I should have picked up on the fact that she was also a trifle obsessive. She told me all about her English language classes at school and how much she loved the west and hated China. I was impressed with her language skills - far better than just about any other Chinese person I have spoken with - and as I had just finished a book of Joseph Conrad stories, and was looking for any reason to lighten my backpack, I figured she would appreciate an English language book (which are very rare in China).
Big mistake, 7am and I'm downstairs at breakfast when she comes up to greet me with a "present" for me. At this point I'm getting a trifle worried as she explains how she will do anything to leave China, and she clearly sees me as her passport out of the country. I explain my age, marital status and the fact that I have children her age. She clearly believes I am much younger (she's obviously mistaken my grey hair for blonde - not the first time that has happened).
I manage to extricate myself from the situation with a photograph together and a promise to send her a copy, jump on the bike and I'm outta here with no looking back!