Five Chinese cyclists sat around a table at Arthur’s Market Monday morning, sipping coffee.
“We are Americanized!” team leader Jin Feibao announced through an interpreter, when asked why he and the others weren’t drinking tea.
It didn’t take long for that to happen. The cycling team, from Kunming, China, arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, less than a week ago to begin a two-month bike trek across the country. Monday, they made a stop in Schenectady.
Two of the team’s riders have never visited the United States before. Some speak limited English; others speak none at all.
Their hometown is the capital of China’s Yunnan Province.
The team’s route will take them nearly 3,500 miles, through 13 states and along three historic transportation routes: the Yellowstone Trail, the Erie Canal and historic Route 66.
Their aim is to increase worldwide knowledge of America’s history, geography and cultures, while building bonds between the people of China and the United States.
Schenectady is Kunming’s sister city. Sister cities are bound together by legal and social agreements, with an aim to promote cultural and commercial ties.
Schenectady is also a sister city to Nijkerk in the Netherlands.
The relationship between Schenectady and Kunming was facilitated by Gregg Millett of Niskayuna. His father, Clinton, who was a serviceman, took photos of life in Kunming in 1944. Years later, the younger Millett made connections in China and arranged for exhibits there, which featured his father’s pictures.
He began working on the Schenectady-Kunming sister city relationship over a decade ago. Two years ago, it became official.
Gregg Millett also helped to arrange the cycling team’s tour of Schenectady.
The team of cyclists is led by
Feibao, who is well known in China for his extreme sporting adventures. He has completed quests including summiting the highest mountain on every continent, trekking across the Sahara Desert and cycling for three months through southeast Asia.
Feibao said the aim of his latest adventure is to learn United States culture and history and understand Americans’ way of life.
This is the first trip to the United States for team cyclist Li Pengfei, 39, an attending physician in Yunnan Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“The United States is magic, maybe,” he said. “A lot of friendly people and interesting places.”
The team brought along friendship letters from Kunming’s mayor and is distributing them to mayors in the cities they visit. They met with Mayor Gary McCarthy Monday afternoon.
Serving as team guide, translator and bike mechanic is 30-year-old Jesse Millett, Gregg Millett’s nephew. Jesse Millett grew up in New Lebanon and now lives in Kunming.
He said the average age of the cyclists on the team is 46. None of them ride professionally, but all are mountain climbers.
“They call themselves explorers,” he said.
Their day jobs range from geologist to journalist. A film director from China will join the team in July.
The team rode slowly through Schenectady Monday morning, taking in the sights from their Trek 920 touring bikes, which have wide, knobby tires and aluminum frames.
“They are built to go anywhere,” Jesse Millett explained. “In the Southwest, the roads are going to be bits and pieces. There will be gravel sections. We’ll be trying to follow the old Route 66 and most of it is not passable for cars anymore.”
The majority of the team’s luggage is being toted cross-country in a van with a trailer attached. They’ll camp along the way, and stay in hostels when visiting big cities.
The team’s day in Schenectady included a visit to the Schenectady Historical Society, a walking tour of the Stockade, a stop at the Nott Memorial, a visit to miSci and lunch at Johnny’s Restaurant. Later, there was a reception with Mayor McCarthy, during which the group was presented with a key to the city. That was followed by a stop at Duryee Memorial AME Zion Church in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood, where the cyclists were treated to a gospel choir ensemble presentation.
The team is now headed to Little Falls by way of the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail. They plan to visit a Mohawk Native American community today and will tour various indigenous communities throughout their ride.
They took three days to cross Massachusetts on their bikes, stopping at sites including Old Sturbridge Village and a Chinese immersion school in Amherst.
So far their ride has been mishap-free, with the exception of nine flat tires.
The trip’s major sponsor is Tours4Fun.com. Sponsorship also came from the city of Kunming, and sporting goods companies donated gear.