311006 a 'Trick or Treat' day in China
We had stayed overnight in a 'village,' (Chinese communities classified by size: village, town, city, and capitol, but no one knows the numbers). It was large enough to have a 'hotel,' however.
We rented 'single' rooms (a first), without heat (and twas cold at 2,500M ASL). Tom, however, being the kind of guy he is procured an electric heater for me (by giving the woman 5 Yuan). Seems they don't turn on the heat during the night time, as 'no people' (I never understood. But, there's many things 'not understood' between cultures)
But, there's never a hotel 'room,' without a TV set. So, you can tell that watching TV is more important than being warm!
We ate breakfast at nearby 'restaurant.' They had both rice porridge and milk tea. This was a good (unknown at the time) omen, as we needed later.
Afterwards, we 'shot' our 'Good Morning, China' video segment in front of restaurant. Of course, as always a crowd formed. We're so unusual, we might even attract a crowd in Shanghai, two guys on bicycles with an expensive microphone!
I had been looking forward to an easy day, after two going over two 3.5K M passes in the QL. the two previous Thus, I hadn't prepared for what was to transpire.
'Onward,' our 'cry' this morning I thought to the east (where I know Xi'ing to be located). But, I was totally wrong! I'd broken rule #1, 'Don't assume!' Additionally I was totally confused by the route and 'challenge.' Instead of the highway going east, it went straight south and over the mountains--another mountain pass to 'conquer.' Tom had been passing on to me (translations always approximate) what he was learning by asking the locals, but it didn't 'compute.' No doubt my 'route' was hopeful thinking, as I 'wanted an easy day. ' Additionally, the bus driver, way back when we'd asked had only described two 'passes' to go over (later we figured it out). So, the day started out as 'trick,' rather than 'treat!'
It was, on the otherhand, a perfect weather day! Sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and nary a wisp of wind. Also, the highway was dry and smooth. The man in Zhangye had been completely wrong about highway #227--it's wonderful (you wonder sometimes how people can be so wrong).
Additionally, it's amazing how often people are wrong about geographic information. People don't know distances or elevations, anywhere in the world, not just China!
So, the highway took us up, instead of east ('dong') and we had to meet the challenge! I was angry at first, not being better prepared for this (clothing and fluid/water). On the otherhand, after some 3K kilometers on a bicycle (months of September and October), I am pretty strong! During the previous nights at elevation I thought I felt my heart 'enlarged,' from the strain, but this turned out to be 'mental masturbation.'
But, as we went up the switch-back highway, all of what I'd been told, was beginning to make some sense, as I'd heard '3850 meters,' more than once, and something about a 'tunnel.' The latter story about the 'tunnel' had to do with only motor bikes and bicycles able to use, other vehicles having to negotiate a winding, and dangerous detour.
Amazingly, we went up without problems, stopping a couple of times (rest, toliet, and something to drink), one time to admire the stunning view of the mountain range we'd crossed over the day before. 'QiLian,' Tom tells me means, 'mountains together.' I tried to capture the scenic beauty with our Panasonic, but I have a feeling I really needed a 4X5" film camera. Where is Ansel Adams when needed?
At this rest stop, with the air so clean we could see our village some 20KM down, a series of colorful 'toy buildings' in the distance. I was in the 'squatting position,' across the highway, when I heard Tom chortle! He'd had an interesting thing happen to him. Seems he'd dropped his tea bottle and it was rolling toward oblivion when suddenly it righted itself stopping at the brink. It was confirmation again, that these mountains are friendly to us (read earlier blog entries: I'd had a similar incident happen to me with a plastic bag)!
500M from 'the tunnel,' we ran into some snow on the highway, but luckily it had softened from the sun's warmth (my back tire slid only once).
We managed to crank all the way up this stretch, except downshifting, I threw the chain and had to stop momentarily. Tom continued on to the bridge/tunnel. This 'location,' in a snow-covered 'bowl' just before the north side of this 'hole' bored through the mountain (saving much in the way of 'nose bleeding' up).
At this bridge leading to the tunnel, we rested, and recorded a 'bit,' about our 'triumph!' I was amazed, as going up 1K meters from the village (to 3,700 M / 14,500 ft.) in 23 kilometers, had taken only 2.5 hours. We weren't feeling all that tired either, although Tom hungry (all the time)! We weren't even out of breath, or had the headaches from 'elevation exertion.'
Check out of image of this bridge from below (gallery). What an engineering marvel! 'My bicycle helmet (James B. Feeney) is off' to all the Chinese road builders, as making our ascent, and shortening our ride to Xi'ing (even though I'd been confused about this 'pass'/tunnel route).
This tunnel is 1,530 Meters in length, and we managed to crank through only one vehicle passing. It was an eerie experience, although I've cranked through many tunnels above Colorado Springs. This one, however, has a concrete 'floor' and is marked with reflectors. But, I'd put our lights on, as none in the tunnel.
At the south entrance the sign read, '3,795 M' ASL.
From there it was down, down, and more down, maybe the most I've ever travelled, some 60KM! First a curvy down, my fingers nearly freezing holding the breaks! We went very slowly wary of ice, as I'd had fallen on such weeks before in the Tian Shan. Then it became easier and easier as the highway straghtened and it got warmer.
Down and down we went, passing sheep herders, and then a coal mine (village). Here we started seeing more and more people (on the road). I stopped to ask Tom if he wanted to eat, but he said he 'wasn't hungry!' I was slightly amazed, as he's always hungry when we're cycling (too thin).
And then beyond a few kilometers to a beautiful reservoir (to our right/south)!
This is where the construction began. This is where the tunnel was where bicycles and motor bikes could manage, but other vehicles had to take detour. It was all becoming clearer and clearer, the mis-information we'd gotten.
For one thing, way back when, the bus driver... He'd mentioned only two 'passes,' when there were three. But, I figured out, he'd missed one, as the second one he described ('as going up abruptly in some 20KM), turned out to be the third, the one we'd just managed! Again, all information you get from people you meet, has to be discounted.
But, oh, what we had to negotiate going through this road construction stretch (maybe 10KM), to get through a veritable gauntlet of mud, ditches, and impossible situations like the last barrier...
We came to a bridge being constructed. To get through we had to walk our bicycles over narrow wooden planks (2, 3 meters deep). The span was about three meters. I went on, but out about one meter, the three planks started bouncing separately causing me to retreat and call for help. They pulled 'Ms. Fiets,' back from the brink, and I wondered what to do, when...
Amazingly, a man in a motorcycle helmet, said he would get it through to the other side. I showed him the hand brakes, then closed my eyes (couldn't watch as have my $1K U.S. Apple computer on board). With some assistance, they went over the span without incident, across the other obstacles and finally the last obstable requiring a group of men to lift over. I followed walking on narrow planks, like a 'tight rope artist.' Just walking on narrow planks was no easy deal, trust me--the Chinese man managing 'Ms. Fiets' as well!
On the otherside, I paid the man 20 Yuan / $3 U.S.).
Tom had gotten his over on his own. But, at the last 'gap,' required the same group help too. It's amazing in China how helpful people are, and how encouraging they are when they see you doing something like this (riding bicycle across China)!
Onward, through more mud and obstacles, but at a view point of the lake we stopped for a snack, and to breathe, I think, a sigh of relief!
This manmade 'lake' (dam) reminded us of Loch Kanas a month earlier.
We went over another long-span bridge, it all to ourselves, as no vehicles could possible negotiate the barriers. Then we finally reached the usable highway where other traffic was plying (with the usual 'honking madness'). On one hand, I was glad, on the other, missing the complete silence of none!
And more down, now warmer and warmed, our speed increasing until we were going maybe 30KMPH
We stopped at a stream to drink and refresh. Here we tried to clean the mud caked on our bicycles. In spite of the mud...
If there's one word to describe the day it would be 'beautiful!' I don't think I've ever partaken of such scenic beauty. First, going up to the pass/tunnel the snowy mountains and valley below. Then the azure-blue lake, framed by more snowy mountains (Xinghai, at least here, seems to be all mountains). The river to our right. The strange light-colored earth jutting out from vegitation on the hillsides. Then the fading Autumn light, casting jail-like bars on the highway.
This is definity different terrain, different fauna/flora than Xinjiang. No desert, although dry (brown).
Because there's muchwater from the lake/river, there's much farming: families at harvest winnowing something, crushing something, and binding something up in bundles (?). This is not corn, or a food staple, but some material maybe used for mat making (?).
We decided to stop for the night in the 'town,' at 80KM distance from our last-night's village, not reach for Xi'ning in the dark (and exhausted).
The town was larger than I expected with a jutting hill stuck up like a building right in the center of the town. On it a Buddhist monastery.
We had dinner and making all the girls happy by taking groups shots afterwards. They directed us to a hotel, on some square.
We found the hotel, but in our 3rd-floor room, the toliet didn't work. There's always something not quite right in Chinese hotels!
But, there's always something 'right,' too! The hot-water shower in this case, with a wooden platform to stand on (another first). I got clean after several days without. Tom had gone to bed.
And so the day ended with a 'treat,' the incredible beauty of mother earth, and a hot shower, reminding me not to fret when things don't go exactly as planned, that maybe there's a reason, and something to learn, to appreciate about just being alive!
I told Tom... This was the most interesting cycling day of our trip so far! And we've come 3K KM already!
But, 'stayed tuned!' Eastern China, in 'part two!'
First, however, a week off in Xi'ing, the provencial capitol of Xinghai, and my possible new 'home' in China.