Saturday, June 05, 2010

050610: Pilgrimage to Mt. Kailas; Lijiang to Litang

'Pilgrimage to Mt. Kailas'

From Lijiang to Litang (roughly 700KM):

We arrived in Litang (700KM west of Chengdu, Sichuan), May 29th, and now in the Potala G.H., where I stayed last summer, cycling down to Lijiang (from Xining).  It has the Internet and the only reason for staying as possibly the worst Guest House in China (horribly operated by Tibetans):  in my room, the electric plugs, lamps don't work, there is no water in the bath room (too many guests I'm told), and holes in the wall -- basically nothing works.  Additionally, when Rucha, my German partner checked into her room she found a woman taking a shower.  Welcome to Tibetan China!  And all for $20U.S per night.  Chinese from A to Z, a culture  I've grown to dislike, hellbent in following the U.S. down the road of destruction, and all for material wealth (nothing new here, actually).  On the other hand, the Chinese, Japanese people we have with us on this trip, an extraordinary bunch, and I love them all!

But, I know for sure now... 'demons' (in the form of bad energy:  The Year of the Tiger) are trying to prevent me from 'getting my rocks off' at Mt. Kailas -- but, we will not fail!  We've had nothing but trouble from Lijiang all the way here to Litang via bicycle (some media outlet should be covering this).  But, to suffice, here's an almost daily account beginning with:

040510 (Tuesday)

We departed Lijiang after a great send-off at Zhou Gang's Merida bicycle shop.  Roman, a German friend and Muli, Xuni's friend accompanied us some 10, 20KM.  Roman, a huge guy (120KG) on a specially built bike for this weight.  Muli, Xuni's friend, lasted as far as Lashi Hi Lake (10KM).

The weather was good, but hot (40C.) down at the Yangstze River.  On the way there Fei, a 24-year old Chinese girl, fell, which happened right in front of me.  Accidents always happen so fast, you have no time to react, but my first thought was... she's seriously hurt, as she didn't move immediately.  Luckily, there was no motor traffic as she fell right in the middle of a busy highway, #214.  I was surprised, however, at how quickly people in vehicles stopped to help.  Fei wasn't seriously hurt, just bruised, her helmet saving her from a head injury.  We helped her up and she got back on her bicycle.  Had it happened right in front of a too-speeding vehicle, she might have been killed!

Up ahead we stopped to purchase fresh fruit, straw and black berries from one of the many roadside sellers.  Also, to give Fei a chance to recover.

We went on to the Tiger Leaping Gorge 'Town,' another 40KM.  I had stayed there on the way down from Xining last summer, in a nice hotel room just above the river (name?).  But, when we pulled into their driveway we discovered it closed because of renovation.  Xu Tan, however, being who he is, talked them into renting us rooms for less (as no amenities).  I stayed in the same room as last summer, enjoyed a hot bath and fell asleep to the sound of the river beneath me!

We had come some 75KM in 7.5 hours, for an average of -10KMPH, a good start.  Best of all, Fei unhurt except for minor injuries.  I gave her my tube of Traumeel cream, a homeopathic remedy for aches and pains.  We have a very elaborate 'First Aid Kit' (box), full of things including Diamox to save you from an ELS death.

050510 (Wednesday)

From the 'TLG 'Town, it's all up hill from the Yangtze River on the way to Zhongdian/'Shangri-La.'  So, we made only 33KM, before deciding, at 4P.M.,  to camp for the night.  This took 6 hours, so we had averaged only 5KMPH.

This was our first camping experience together, and everyone was excited -- Xu Tan built a huge bonfire.  But, we put Rucha's tent in the wrong place, downwind from the fire, causing her the first of many unpleasant nights camping out (hardly has ever done this in her life).  Worse, no toilets for her of any kind. 

060510 (Thursday)

After packing up we were able to depart by 1000.  But, climbing up, up, and more up out of the River gorge was the first 'taste' of things to come.  I was the last but finally caught up with Xuni, one of my Chinese 'daughters' (only 20-years old).   Poor Xuni, this her first tour-cycling trip, a bit much for her only our second day.  Once up, out of the River gorge, it's a series of rolling hills and some relief as both up and down.   I struggled too, as hadn't eaten my oatmeal porridge.  Oatmeal porridge, with two boiled eggs, the best to launch a day of hard cycling!

We met a Japanese cyclist coming in the opposite direction.  He'd been cycling all over China, without speaking a word of Chinese or English.    What impressed me was his face mask, looking like a 'gas mask,' this to filter street pollution.  You meet so many interesting people traveling by bicycle.

We made the outskirts of Zhongdian by 4P.M. (1600 hours), but didn't get into our hotel until an hour later (1700).  Rucha and I stayed in Noah's Guest House in Old Town.  Xu Tan, Zhu, and Elvis found a place to camp, and Yoji, Shingo (our two Japanese boys), and Fei stayed at the International Hostel.  Xuni, found a hotel, wanting to be by herself.

Rucha and I had dinner at Noah's Cafe, where I had chickpea salad and a chocolate brownie for dessert.

070510 (Friday)

The first big problem to attack was Irlin and Mr. Mu (our driver).  The second, Rucha's bank card.  There are no ATMs in Zhongdian from which she can access her German bank.  We went and met Kevin, Alexandre's friend who runs a company called Turtle Mountain Outfitters (very cool).  He thought we should be able to, but it turned our we couldn't as Rucha's card is from a very small bank in a village in Germany.  So, I decide to send Rucha back to Lijiang as we knew she could access her bank in Lijiang.

080510 (Saturday)

First thing, we sent the truck, Mu driving, with Rucha to Lijiang.  But, not before taking out all our gear, and storing it in a room at the Hostel (and what a mess).

I get a foot massage hoping they could deal with my big toe nail problem (deformed and growing into my second toe causing a corn) .  Note, your feet very important when cranking a heavily-loaded bicycle.  But, 'mayo,' they couldn't.  So, what to do?  I first buy a large pair of wire cutters, thinking I could cut it.  But, it was so thick, they didn't work.  Second, I buy a metal file.  Out at the campsite I have Fei file it down with the metal file.

There was a problem with my MSR Whisperlite stove so Xu Tan and I try to repair it.  MSR Whisperlite stove(s), have caused me nothing but trouble over the years!  Primus camping stoves better.

Elvis teaches us how to tie knots, and erect our large (Army looking) Mess Tent.  Day three in Zhongdian (most people now know it as 'Shangri-La').

090510  (Sunday)

It was Mother's Day, so I have Alexandre, back in Lijiang, prepare an elaborate meal for Rucha (my German business partner).

100510 (Monday)

Xu Tan and I try to find the PSB, as a notice at N's Kitchen, where I had breakfast, said Tibetan Permits possible (through eastern Tibet) -- note, ours had been revoked after the Yushu earthquake.  We couldn't find their office as they had moved.  When Xu Tan did, all they said was get a local travel company involved.  The Chinese Government, especially the Provincial and local versions, possibly the worst, most corrupt in the world!  Mao's motto, 'Serve the people!' is now 'Serve the Government!'

110510 (Tuesday)

Surprise of surprises, Bruce, our doctor friend in Lijiang, calls and says he's in Zhongdian.  Xu Tan and I go to meet him.  He's in town with Cindy (young Tibetan woman friend we know from  Lijiang).  She wanted to celebrate her birthday with family and friends, as was born in Zhongdian.  Cindy, bi-polar, has driven Bruce crazy.  So, we listen as he vents.

My MacBook 'crashes!'  Talk about 'demons' pursuing us, this bit of 'bad luck' confirms it (Xu Tan thinks it's the harddrive and I haven't backed up my files).  At the same time Irlin decides she doesn't want to be the registered owner of the truck if her 'friend' Mr. Mu isn't driving it (I've fired him.)  This turns out to be something ultimately positive.  I decide to send Xu Tan and Mr. Zhu (who can drive) back to Lijiang to deal with the situation, and return with Rucha.  They depart on a bus for LIjiang with my MacBook.  I'm having Xu Tan send it to Kunming (Provincial Capitol of Yunnan Province) where, ironically, I had it repaired a year ago for the same problem. 

120510 (Wednesday)

An 8 O'clock breakfast of oatmeal and toast at N's Kitchen, then tasks, becomes my routine that lasts for two weeks...  Who would have ever thought, two weeks in Shangri-La.

I ride about the town a little before deciding I need a map.

I meet two Japanese cyclists in front of Xinhua Bookstore where I hoped to buy a map of the city.  But, inside we discover the electricity is off and I am unable. 

I end up giving a good German-made tube to Yoji.  After a picture, with his partner Shingo, we part thinking we'll never see each other again.

130510 (Thursday)

I write the following in my diary:  I'm being driven mad, not that I have far to go..  the Chinese don't understand me, Rucha, my German partner, doesn't understand me either... What to do?  Today on the telephone Rucha thought I was going to have Fei drive the truck. We are looking for a driver, as Mu gone, but it was Fei's brother I told her we were considering.  'Oh mamma can this really be the end to be stuck inside of Zhongdian, with the Kailas blues again?'  (Bob Dylan will forgive, as I worked with him in 1975.) 

140510 (Friday)

Speaking of Fei, my new Chinese 'daughter', an absolute joy'... She wanted to go for a ride to check out her rain gear.  Also, maybe just to do something as young people don't like sitting around for too long.  Me too, I needed to 'get out there' as when you stop doing such, you start dying.  We had a saying in Viet Nam (circa 1964, long before 'Apocalypse Now'),  'Every day Charlie squats in the jungle he gets stronger!  Every day I stay here I get weaker!'  Of course, there's Nike's motto, 'Just Do It!,' stolen from a 1972 movie entitled, 'O Lucky Man,' from Alan Price's lyric's, 'There's no easy days and no easy ways, just get out there and do it!'   And so we went...

It was raining, although these mountain showers, light and short in duration.  I take Fei up highway #219 (becomes #217), the route we'll take when we depart Shangri-La.  I feel so much better once out of the city.  Being in Nature, that's the solution for me.  We watch baby piglets dance around their mothers, hear Yak bells echoing off the hills.  Flowers are blooming.  I feel stronger being 'out there,' having suffered from the Irlin/Mu fiasco.  We go up to 'the pass,' some 25KM, and then glide back into Shangri-La (it ain't).

In Old Town I buy her lunch at 'The Compass' Restaurant.  So funny about Chinese restaurants serving 'western food.'  I wanted the club sandwich, but I asked that they 'hold the chicken.'  They brought back a BLT, which I ate.  No good complaining as it only confuses them more.   I'm a vegetarian, but not a strict one.  I enjoyed the bacon.

I give Fei an English lesson, as that's her goal on this trip, 'To learn English.' 

Yes, English has become the language of the world.   So, I teach Fei some easy words, and my shibboleth regarding such, 'I will learn English, it's easy!'  I make students chant this until they say it spontaneously!  I'm an acting teacher (retired) not an English teacher, but, I know how to get students past the fear.  Chinese people always say, 'English is difficult!'  But, once you say this, it becomes such.  If you say the opposite, being more positive, you have a chance to learn it.

After lunch we go to collect copies of an article written about me and our trip, this in the local newspaper, the 'Shangri-La Daily.'  

In four years cycling all over China I've become a 'half-assed celebrity,' as "the old 'laowei,' living on his bicycle."  But, this 'exposure' helps to promote,, the organization Rucha and I have funded, talent development and media production in Xining, nee tour-cycling travel in Lijiang.

Back at the Hostel I pay Fei 100RMB to wash the mud off 'Ms. Fetes,'  while I sit and enjoy the warmth by a wood stove (an old man's orgasm).  The high temperature in Shangri-La that day was only 11C.  Shangri-La is 3,200M ASL, and there is snow on the tops of the surrounding mountains.  I contemplate cycling in this, as we only go up from there... Coming over the Tian Shan above Hami (Xinjiang), years ago, I fell having hit ice (going too fast).  Luckily, neither me nor Ms. Fetes was injured.  Snow is 'doable,' but ice is a different story.

150510 (Saturday)

The days go by while we wait in Shangri-La, Xu Tan, in Llijiang, dealing with transferring ownership of the truck from Irlin.  But, he had to obtain a local ID first (so much bureaucratic bullshit in China).  Our landlady in Lijiang, Mrs. He, was very helpful with this, however, and he was ultimately successful.  Now, we waited for my MacBook to return from Kunming.  in the meantime, I was concerned the young ones were growing restive...

160510 (Sunday)

I made a point of going out to the Hostel, making Liu (who's in charge of such), and the group reorganize the room where we were storing all our gear, food, etc.  I can never find anything, I told them, and tried to explain organizing by categories:  camping gear, food, tools, items for the truck, first aid, etc.  They throw everything together making it impossible to find anything without a prolonged search.  They don't seem to mind, but it bothers me, a westerner.  But, maybe I'm wrong as they're happy and laughing most of the time, while I scour around kavetching.  I've become an irascible curmudgeon getting angry when things aren't as I think they should be!  The old man's disease!

170510 (Monday)

The day came brightened by the sun ('nima' in Tibetan and my name).  It's been overcast and rainy the whole time we've been waiting in 'Shangri-La' and this has added to my gloom.  But this day brought hope.

I take the group to Bhuskar's Indian-Nepali Restaurant.  I enjoy dhal bhat for the first time in a long time.  But, we share it all, Chinese style.  We meet Bhuskar, and it's deja vu for me having lived in Nepal for three years.  Namaste!  The 'owner,' a friendly Tibetan guy with long hair, invites us to visit the Tibetan Handicrafts facility in Old Town.  Also, he wanted us to visit his 'village,' which he said was only ten minutes away.  I'm not all that interested in such things so I took his brochures as a reponse.  No reason to be discourteous.

Afterwards Fei's suggests we ride out to 'the lake.'  But, it wasn't just a 'lake' as explained.  It turns out to be a National Park (100RMB entrance fee). 

I never get good information from Chinese people, but probably because I don't speak/write Chinese.  And then when they speak English 'lake' suffices for National Park.  So, I'm always surprised!  China has been four years of surprises for me.

Mr. Liu, who generally rides in the truck as our 'official photographer' rode a bicycle with us this time.  So, it was me, Yoji, Elvis, and Mr. Liu following Fei who led the way.   On the way out we ran into many cyclists, first a Belgian couple cycling up from Tiger Leaping Gorge (the back route).  Yoji had met them before, so we stopped and a a little chat.  The man's name was Martin, but his girlfriend's name we didn't get (they were wearing cycling shorts and pedaling in sandals).  We passed many more cyclists, somewhat surprising to me, but I figured this must be a popular route (Lijiang to Shangri-La) as the road is good, and the scenery spectacular.   It turned out to be a nice little ride as the sun broke through the clouds illuminated a valley full of affluent Tibetan farm houses.   At the entrance to the Park lo and behold ten older Dutch cyclists.  They were carrying little but all looked fit.  Then the wind brought threatening clouds, so we decided it best to return to Shangri-La.  On the best of days, however, we wouldn't have paid a 100RMB entrance fee.  The 'rip-off,' is on in China!  (Note, I waited until 70-years of age (for us 'elderhostiles' no charge) before cranking up to YuLong National Park, 40KM north of Lijiang).  On the return trip back to Shangri-La, we diverted to the old road, which follows the reservoir to a dam, and ultimately offers a panoramic view of Shangri-La (Zhongdian).  By then we were jumping for joy (view the pictures at

180510 (Tuesday)

The best news of the day!  It's not the harddrive that's the problem with my MacBook, but the RAM.  So, I don't lose anything files!  Ah, maybe the 'worm has turned!'  Even better it has cost only 400RMB to replace, an easy fix.  And when it's returned to Lijiang, the group can start driving back to Shangri-La.  I'm in a mood to celebrate!

I walked around Old Town as nothing much to do.  I ended up at the Gallery Bar/restaurant and sat at a quiet table in the sun.  It's just below the world's largest prayer wheel, which inspired the following poem:

Modern Life #2

Below the world's largest prayer wheel
Is Coors Beer Lite,
What a site!

To 'open,' just pull
That's the rule,
A merry-go-round,
Sending up without sound
Your prayers,
The Buddhist way
Having their say?

A little exertion
And circuambulation
Above Shangri-La,
Below 'Colorado'
So much to swallow in
Modern Life!

I was enjoying my solitude until the group of same Dutch cyclists we met on the road yesterday sat down at my table.  I should have moved, but why, as I was there first?  Thus, somewhat chagrined, I endure their Dutch-cycling-group banter, but 'zoning out,' for most of it.  To sit silently in the sun, this is my idea of nirvana (note with a small 'n').

The opiate of the masses isn't religion, but talk.  People just can't sit silently and enjoy their surroundings, they have to babble!

190510 (Wednesday)

Our group, Xu Tan, Zhu and Rucha, finally returns from Lijiang with our new driver, Zhang Lin.  Turns out he's Tibetan with a Chinese name.  Had I known I would have been skeptical, as I've had nothing but trouble from Tibetans in a work situation.  But, this guy turns out to be good.

I immediately get online with 'Ms. MacBook,' and do all the things I couldn't without it.  I'm afraid I've become dependent, as a professional writer, on a computer/Internet.  I write a BLOG of my travels and upload to  But, my BLOG is blocked in China.  Maybe a good idea.

200510 (Thursday)

We organize to depart Shangri-La, everyone 'dying' to go, having waited for two weeks.

I take the group to lunch at Bhuskar's, this time with Rucha.  More dhal bhat.  More Masala tea.

Afterwards we have a meeting at the hostel.  I talk mostly about safety.  Riding a bicycle in China is more dangerous than they think.  Already, Fei has fallen, and it could have been serious, as right in the middle of a busy highway (#214 in Yunnan).

210510 (Friday, our day of departure from Shangri-La)

Everyone helps to pack things up, trying to organize (as I've mentioned in the meeting yesterday)!  But, we have to wait for the truck to return as one of the tires went flat during the night.  I wonder if this is some kind of omen...

Finally, we depart at 11:30A.M. this after packing the truck and 'shooting' an introduction to my 'Discover China (by bicycle)' video series.   Of course, no auspicious occasion is complete in China without setting off fire crackers (making lots of noise).  This to frighten Nian away, the monster, in Chinese mythology, that periodically comes 'down from the mountain,' to devour unsuspecting souls. Satisfied Nian is no where about, we crank off, led by Fei.

The weather is overcast and rainy, but maybe good as cool and moisture in the air.  At higher elevations, better to have a little rain (humidity), as not so much moisture leaves your body when hyperventilating.

It's up and then a long down to a village.  Rucha in the truck mistakes this for the one I told her where we'd spend the night.  I had told everyone the goal is Wengshui, where I spent the night last summer.  But, guess what?  I'm confused as things look different from the other direction (one year later).  I spot Xu Tan's bicycle parked at a building.  I stop and find out he's so hungry he needs to eat.  I tell him Wengshui is only 15KM more where we will camp and cook dinner.  He says the owner told him it's at least 40KM.  I think she's wrong as local information, when it comes to distance, is usually incorrect.   He says he'll catch up.  I go on, with Zhu and others in front of me.  The truck stops and I tell them Wengshui is only 15KM distance, and our goal for the night.  Wrong again.   I'm not even sure if this is highway #217, and I haven't been smoking dope.  The 'flat tire,' I should have known...

Up ahead I pass, Elvis, Fei and Xuni resting.  This is an easy stretch, as going kinda down, but actually up.  There's an illusion when cycling.  For example, the river paralleling the highway was flowing against me, meaning I'm going up (water, heavy, and ruled by gravity flows down).  But, it can feel like you're going down, when really you're going up and vice versa.  I've had this happen many times in China.

Suddenly I arrive in a village I recognize as the one I slept in last summer.  Now, I'm really confused as what's it doing here?  Last summer I went from what I thought was Wengshui, where I spent the night, to this village where I spent the night (usually a reasonable distance).  I crank through the village, and now we're going up for sure.  Suddenly, Xutan arrives beside me (he's fast).  I ask about Xuni, as this is her first big cycling trip.  I know she's getting tired (I watch people's faces.).  I tell him to call the truck and look for a good place to camp for the night.

I wait for the others, Shingo passes, Yoji, and finally the girls, Xuni bringing up the rear.  I ride 'pushing' her up the hill mentally.  Finally, we arrive at where they have chosen to camp, a good spot, down a little dirt road.  They have set up the Mess tent and Rucha is cooking dinner.  Zhang has built a fire, and all seems in order, albeit disorganized.

We have managed 70KM in 6.5 hours, and an average of 10+KMPH, amazing really for the first day.  But, I'm still confused.

220510 (Saturday)

I'm up at 0600 after a good night's sleep (no dogs barking), as it takes me four hours to accomplish everything needed before departing.  I'm old and slow, what can I tell you?

We send the truck back to Shangri-La, for some reason, supplies, petrol, etc.  I think to buy Zhang a good sleeping bag, and pad.  I know we better do this now as there's nothing ahead for many kilometers.

For us on bicycles it's up and over a pass ('little snow mountain' they call it), but the highway is good, so not too difficult.  I don't remember this part at all from last summer's trip (from Xining to Lijiang).  I even ask Elvis if he's sure this is highway #217.  He assures me it is.

Then a long and fast downhill ride, and into Wengshui (next to a rushing river) -- the real Wengshui, not the one I remember.  Xutan and Zhu are there waiting for us and we eat lunch at a restaurant, afterwards dancing to Tibetan music (we're in no particular hurry).  

Then only 15KM more, climbing, but gradually.  The highway is good here, passing through several Tibetan villages.  (Note, it's always up from a river.)  This is a nice stretch for me as it's sunny, but Xuni is suffering from the heat.  Again, I coach her the last so many kilometers, stopping to let her rest and drink water.

Finally, I recognize the village where I slept last summer, thinking it was Wengshui.  Xutan, Zhu, the group are already there.  Xutan informs me there are two options for camping.  The basketball court next to the highway, or down by the river.  Knowing what's coming tomorrow, a long nasty, dirt road up, and up, I choose the basketball court.  I don't want to expend energy in the morning pushing back up to the highway.

We set up camp, and Zhu cooks dinner, the others playing 'football,' with a deflated basketball.  Yoji and Xutan entertain us by walking on their hands (youthful energy).  Along the way Zhu has picked up a black dog he's named 'Kailas.'  It seems to enjoy being with us, as a new source of food and companionship.  (Note, animals, domestic and farm are poorly treated in China, especially dogs who are allowed to run wide, and survive anyway they can.  And all Tibetans have a dog, either chained, caged, or let loose to threaten passing cyclists.)

We wait and wait for the truck to return, but it doesn't appear until 1930 hours.  I'm up on the highway waiting, as worried.  It should have arrived by 1700 hours (5P.M.).  When i ask why, it's some 'gobblegook,' about taking too long to eat, shop, traffic, the usual excuses.  They should have called, I tell them. 

I'm in my tent early, one group playing cards.  The first problem, the loud talking that goes with playing cards.  I yell at them to reduce the level.  They do so, but not enough.  I can't sleep when there's noise.  I can sleep in light, but not with noise (I'm awakened by the wind sometimes.).  Fei and Xuni can't shut up either, and they're right next to me.  I take all I can, then get up and launch into a tirade, shining my flashlight at the offenders.  Suddenly, it's quiet.  I return to my tent, thinking that's it, and expecting a good night.  But, 'Kailas,' has other ideas, like keeping me and Rucha up all night.

It turned into a nightmare!  I got out of my tent once trying to drive him home, in fact down the highway from whence he came, but he kept returning.  I yelled at Xutan, and poor Xutan, up half the night with me, trying to get rid of the dog.  Finally, we were successful, although he returned the next morning.  I think I got one hour's sleep, and faced with one of the most strenuous of 'ups,' in all of cycling (in China):  dirt road up 30KM to a 4,200M pass.

230510 (Sunday)

I wasn't happy in the morning.  And there was Kailas sleeping next to the fire.  They bark all night and sleep all day, the dogs in Asia (had the same problem in Nepal).  I threw rocks making him get up, looking all contrite -- tit for tat.  Zhu must have realized, because some 5 KM up the dirt 'highway,' he gave the dog to some workers.  A wise move I thought.  Ironically, the dog had been following me beforehand.  Discipline is sensed as love, this by both children and animals.  Most parents fail to realize this.

I had a meeting after breakfast and 'read the group a riot act!'  I told them if it happened again, I would send people packing!  They got the message.

Oh, but this day and the next, some of the most difficult of my cycling career.   With one hour's sleep I ate dust the entire day (from passing motor vehicles) -- torture actually!  Only the stunning scenery (check out the pictures at compensated.  But, it's amazing what you can do when your mind tells your body, 'We're going up there!'  (mind over matter).

Finally at the 4200M pass by 1530 hours (3:30P.M.), I recognized it all from last summer.  The stunning mountain megaliths to the south, the second (lower) pass in the distance to the west.

I told the truck to go ahead and find a camping spot, but not to go too far, pointing... 'In that recessed area, that canyon, there must be a place.'

We ended up camping in remains of an abandoned building complex, Rucha and I in tents above and some meters away (just in case).  Xutan engaged the nearby yak herder, and we had fresh yak milk that night.    I was exhausted, stumbling around putting up my tent.  I think I fell into it at 2000 (8P.M.), but slept well for a change.  A  nearby stream 'sung'  to us all night long, that sound of cascading water a lullaby.

You can have the honking-madness of China,  the barking dogs, the screaming people!  I'll take New Zealand!

240510  (Monday)

The goal for the day was the Hot Springs at Xibde (it says on the map -- correct names impossible to know unless you're Chinese).  I'd missed this last summer, and continued up, having to sleep outside with no tent or sleeping bag.

But, this day, what an absolutely trying day!  First, up the dusty road to the second pass (4,000M), then down forty kilometers on possibly the worst stretch of highway (to cycle) in China.  Yes, it was down, but having to negotiate sections where the dust was 50CM deep over loose rock very tricky.  I fell once negotiating such.  By the time I got to the paved highway me and Ms. Fetes were 'bathed,' in dust, pulverized like talcum powder.  I could only imagine what this would be like if it had rained.

We had departed our campsite by 1000, arriving at the Hot Springs at 1730 hours (5:30P.M.).  70KM in 7.5 hours, not bad considering all the unpleasantness of the situation. 

Down on the paved highway, I turned at the sign indicating 'Hot Springs.'  And what a joy to be on a hard surface.  I hadn't gone two kilometers, however, when Zhu and Xutan caught up with me.  I had been rushing ahead as I thought Xuni might need help, and I was going to send the truck back to make sure she got down O.K.  But, they said she was O.K., with Fei, Yoji and Shingo.

Now, to find the Hot Springs, as beyond the highway sign, no indication where it might be.  We did eventually, but not before Zhu and Xutan had asked several people for directions.

There, I immediately took my little camp chair and balanced it on the rocks by a pond.   What's the opposite of dust?  Water!  Just being next to it seemed to help.  (Note, later Fei bathed Ms. Fetes in one of these ponds.)

After everyone had arrived Xutan ('Richard') and Zhu decided they would take the truck into the village to buy some supplies.  It was an unfortunate decision as when there, passing out candy to the local children, someone stole Rucha's expensive (700E) sleeping bag out of the truck.   They say, 'No good turn goes unpunished.'   Xutan spent the rest of the evening trying to recover it, but to no avail.  Remember the truck's flat tire... 

To make matters even worse (one wonders how bad it can get), my bottle of soy sauce had broken open in my rear pannier bag full of food.  The food so saturated with soy sauce, I didn't know what to do...  Ever eaten dried fruit 'flavored' with soy sauce?  Eventually, I was able to salvage, but my bag still smells of soy sauce!

Additionally, just to add insult to injury, a dog barked all night, keeping me and Rucha from sleeping well.

Quite possibly, the worst cycling day of my 11-year career on a bicycle.

250510 (Tuesday)

I didn't get out of my sleeping bag until 0730 (late for me).  It was raining and this 'really helps' you to get up and out.   Luckily this was an easy day of cycling, only 30KM into Shambala, the highway, the opposite of yesterday.

We took our time departing, trying to dry tents out, etc.  It was 11:30, before I hit the pedals, the rest of the group in front of me.  But, I soon caught up going down hill and 'shot' them passing by (always 'shooting' video for 'Discover China (by bicycle).'  

Arriving in Shambala in just three hours (10KMPH average), I spied Zhu waiting at our rendezvous point.  I continued into the town cranking up the hill, as the truck had gone ahead to check Rucha into a hotel.  The group, save for Richard, stayed in a Hostel.  Richard, ended up staying with a Tibetan family, about 5KM from the town.  The following day he told me all about it, how friendly and generous they were.

We spent the afternoon shopping, ending up buying a blanket for Rucha, as no outdoor store with any sleeping bags.  You get off the 'beaten path' in western China, you better be prepared.  I suppose you better be prepared to have the locals steal things from you too also.

Fei managed to get Rucha and me new China Mobile SIM cards (#s), as China Unicom's coverage not as good in rural western China.  Now, there's more signal and more volume -- I can actually hear people with my new Nokia mobile.  'Wei, Ni hao!'

I indulge myself eating some bakery goods and slept in a regular bed hoping for a good night's rest.  I knew what was coming the next day... The highest pass between Shangri-La and Llitang.

260510 (Wednesday)

Up at 0600 after a reasonable night, I spend my morning waiting for the others (waiting, I'm not good at.).  Xutan didn't show up until 1000, and then we went to breakfast, more like 'brunch, in the hotel dining room (we were the only ones).  But, he got them to boil eggs and cook oatmeal for me (my standard cycling breakfast).

In the meantime, I had the truck unloaded, as I wanted to reorganize it better.  We have too much, piled too high, and in a desultory manner.  I tried to show them how to organize everything, giving much away.  Chinese people won't throw anything away!

We finally got organized, and departed at 1230P.M., way late, but what to do.

From Shambala you climb up and out of a river gorge, then follow the river north for some 20KM.  This part relatively easy.  Then suddenly you're going up to the pass, up and up.  This day I'm the slowest, bringing up the rear, even Xuni is ahead of me.  (Note, everyday we cycle the younger ones get stronger, as I gain only a little.  This the difference between young and old.  By the end of this long trip, they'll be way ahead of me.)

I know this stretch of highway, as came down it last summer.  I remember thinking last summer, oh woe cranking up, and who would have ever thought, but here I am cranking up it.  Learn never to say never, as soon as you do, guess what...?

We end up staying at a Government highway facility, where eight families live.  But, they take us in, as we're an exotic group cycling to Tibet.  Actually, I think our driver, Zhang, knew one of them as he had selected this place.

In a cozy room heated by a wood stove, Rucha cooks dinner.  We sit on soft furniture and recover from the exertion of getting there. Xuni watches TV where ever and whenever.  I hate it!  You can't go anywhere in China where there's not a TV set on, seducing, controlling the masses.

Since it's raining and there's very little space to put up a tent, I end up sleeping in a room with Rucha and the girls, Rucha right next to me.  But, she snores so loudly, I have to awaken her.  That doesn't work, however, as right back at it.  Finally, I make her exchange places with Xuni, so she's further from me, but near the door.  Poor Rucha, doesn't sleep well that night, nor me actually.  The next morning,  she informs me that I snore too.  Xuni and Fei, they sleep like rocks never moving.

270510 (Thursday)

Today,  the 4700M / 15,000ft. pass, God willing.

We're up at 0700, and amongst the drizzle we somehow manage to cook breakfast.  It's all a soggy mess, but by now we're 'troopers,' solving one problem after another (the advantage of being in a group).  All of our camping stoves (MSR and Primus) not working so well.  We think it's the poor quality petrol,  plus the elevation. 

We manage to get off at 0930, with 24KM to the top. It's slow going stopping to rest often.

In but a few kilometers the highway turns to the left (south) now cut out of a rock ledge, a spectacular drop of a 500M to the creek below.  No room for error here, with the trucks and buses barreling past.  I thought about Rucha in the truck, not liking heights.

At some point I think I've left my tool bag behind where we spent the night, but it's actually 60RMB in my money clip left on the divan next to where I slept on the floor.  Maybe it's my 'marijuana head,' but I'm always leaving things behind (short term memory loss).  If my head...

After excruciating hours at walking speed, we arrive at the last kilometer, and thank God it's dirt, as even harder!   I look at Xuni, her face etched in pain.  I'm not much better off only willing that I make it. 

We arrive at the top of Kuluke Mountain (the sign reads) at 1600 hours (taking 6.5 hours to go 24KM: 3.5KMPH average).  There is snow on the surrounding hills.  We do the usual group picture, then head down to the village where we going to spend the night.

After the second 'pass,' it's 12KM and down 900M.  That's a very steep grade, as I remember cranking up last summer.  Xu Tan and Zhu race down, Zhu ending up falling (but not much damage).  I'm right behind them (fast going downhill), even passing our truck. 

It's taken 8 hours to go 46KM or -6KMPH average.  Not great, but we're there and feeling like we've accomplished something.   Try it sometime on a bicycle carrying 40KG of gear, etc.  And at 70-years of age!

We put Rucha in a Tibetan hotel (with western toilet), and camp out not far away near a house under construction.  But, this is a dithering choice, as the wind is strong from the south.  Many walk around until satisfied with the location of their tent, trying to shield it.  There's also a barking dog, but Xutan, inventive, gets the owner to take the dog in for the night.  Elvis ends up sleeping in the Tibetan house.

We walk back to the hotel-restaurant where we group near a woodstove.  The TV is on, Xuni 'glued' to it, of course.  Now, I insist that it be turned off, only making her sulk.  Oh well, I think too bad you're not paying for this entire deal, then you can have it anyway you want.  Dinner is served, and we devour 'kilos' of rice, served with many dishes.  These younger people, particularly Yoji, can consume much food.  I actually eat little compared.

We walk back to our campsite, and no one has stolen anything (as I worry after the sleeping bag incident).

I hit the 'pillow,' by 2100 hours, exhausted!  There is exhaustion, and exhaustion, but this borders on insanity.  I'm getting too old to do this kind of trip.

It rains all night.  Usually wind brings rain.  I didn't have a good night as trouble breathing.  We're at least at 3800M ASL. In fact, I get up in the rain, walk around for several minutes, finally managing something like 3 hours sleep.  I wonder how much I can take of this...

280510  (Friday)

I'm up at 0645.

We depart at 1030, our tents still wet.  But, the sun is shining, and we have no huge mountains to climb.  There's some 'up,' but nothing like yesterday.

We cycle through an amazing 'rock forrest' (see the pictures at  Then there's an incredibly long 'down,' me and Zhu leading.  Xutan has stopped to dig the famous 'caterpillar-turned fungus' known as 'yartsa gunbu' (Latin: Cordyceps Sinensis).  This is prized in this area (and Qinghai Province) as a source of income for remote villages.  People purchase it as they think, ingested, it has positive health properties. I think the attraction is that it's both animal and vegetable!

We end up down in a river valley, it looking like the perfect place to camp next to a river -- plus, enough at 1630 hours (50KM in 6 hours).  But, the wind strong again and we walk around trying to find a sheltered spot... We finally select a place adjacent some kind of manufacturing plant (all for construction of something).  But, basically where we set up camp is exposed.  The good news, there is much fire wood nearby. Also, a Tibetan man brings saddled horses for Richard and the girls to ride.

We have more trouble with our stoves, and end up cooking dinner on our wood fire. Yoji and Shingo try to repair our stoves.  Even Shingo's MSR Dragonfly isn't working properly. 

We get into our tents after the sun sets as very cold (4200M ASL).  Yoji and Elvis sleep inside, an empty storage room provided by the workers.  For Rucha and I, however, it's an absolute 'hell' with dogs barking all night, keeping us from sleeping. Rucha was even afraid to get out of her tent 'to go to the toilet.'

290510 (Saturday)

I'm the first one up at 0645, to discover frost on my tent. I work fast to get the fire started.

When the dogs come near I try to get even by throwing rocks at them, but they're undaunted.  If only I had a gun, a rifle!

Our goal is to reach Litang today, although it's 70KM, and there's a sustained 'up' near the end.  But first, there's also an incredibly long 'down,' ending up in a wide valley, just before a river where some fish restaurants are located (I remember Bjorn telling me about these on the way down last summer -- didn't stop then.).  Richard, Zhu, and me are way in front having come down so fast.  We decide to stop and have lunch at one of the restaurants (because they have rice).  The rest of the group, including the truck eventually show up and join us.  This one of the few times we eat lunch together at a restaurant, and to my liking outside in the sun.  But, for me, it's always difficult getting started again after eating and sitting for so long. I normally don't eat a mid-day meal when cycling.  But, sometimes you just go with... What do they say, 'the flow!' 

It's grueling when we get close to Litang, a long sustained up (20KM) that never seems to end.  I'm the last, with Xuni and Fei just ahead.  My motivation, of course, a hot shower, food, and the Internet.  We finally make 'Jaga' mountain, venerated as a 'God' lives there according to legend.  This is where the 'pass,' suddenly drops down into the Litang Valley.  But, hold on, there's more yet before I sleep, in fact another 10KM... It's basically flat, but by now I'm at the end of my endurance.  Somehow I keep going...  We'd sent the truck ahead with Rucha, so I'm assured of a room at least, that is if I don't of a heart attack before getting there.

Finally in town I spy Zhu and Xutan talking with a group in front of the Peace Hotel. I pass by without so much as a wave, hellbent on stopping the pain.  I know the way, but a Tibetan boy on a bicycle leads.  When I arrive I discover the manager, who I know, is in Chengdu.  The Tibetan woman in charge tells me there's no vacancy.  I call Richard to come and help, as she can't understands English.  I don't know what room Rucha is in, so I couldn't use her assistance.

Finally, in my room (308), I collapse!  We've made Litang in nine without a rest day, some 500KM, or an average of 55KM per day and over some of the most difficult cycling terrain in all of China. But, I will pay the price of this in the next few days.

Room #308 is a disaster!   No water at all, hot or cold.  None of the electric plugs work and there are holes in the walls. When I complain the story is, too many guests and there will be water in the morning.  Welcome to Litang.  

That night, at dinner, I offer Rucha a solution who I know is suffering. We have to send the truck to Chengdu anyway, this to purchase bicycle parts and some other items.  So, if she wants to go home, this is the easy way.  She says she'll think about it.  In the morning she decides to return home to Germany.

300510 (Sunday).

We have a tearful parting, Rucha and I, as so much 'water over the dam.'  The only good thing, I move into her room (303) where there are several amenities like a hot water shower.  I also discover I can get online right right in my room.

On the other hand, there is no real service at the Potala Guest House, the three Tibetan women are friendly but ineffectual.  There's really no food service, although they advertise such.  The morning porridge, a joke.  I took to using their kitchen and preparing my own.  But, the kitchen... Wow, an incredible mess beyond describing.  I wonder how they can live like this?  It's obvious that this is the Tibetan lifestyle.  If the kitchen is a disaster, It's funky time in the dining room where a boy sleeps on a couch.  'Smutch is everywhere!'   But, on a happier note I discover they're fairly efficient about doing my laundry.

310510 to 070710 (Waiting in Llitang.)

We wait in Litang eight days for the truck to return from Chengdu.  Little did I know it takes two days, each way, to drive the 700KM.  Richard called this part of  highway #318, 'crazy!'

If highway #318 is 'crazy,' Litang is pure hell as far as I'm concerned.  It's a dusty, dirty, trashy place, packs of dogs roaming the broken-down streets, barking all night, Tibetans on motorbikes play loud music and honk their horns -- the honking madness of China!  It's maybe the worst town in China I've discovered yet.  But, maybe how exhausted I am, and the fact I can't sleep very well doesn't help my opinion.

I meet Zahariz, the Malaysian cyclist joining our group the first day.    It took him 12 days to cycle up from Chengdu, about our speed from Lijiang (roughly the same distance too).  He's a young guy, an animation teacher, on the road to find out (going on to Pakistan, and the Middle East).  He's mostly worried about keeping up with us and the cold weather.  I assure him I'm the slowest, and I have Richard buy him some long underwear in Chengdu.

The first three days in Litang I can barely get out of bed (no energy).  Short of breath (3850M ASL), and a stuffy nose (all the dust I've inhaled) make trying to sleep a nightmare.  I'm up and down all night long.  The crazed barking dogs don't help either, as I discover Litang the worst for this (more garbage dogs on the streets than I've ever seen before).

For lunch I take the group out for to eat at various Chinese restaurants, or Mr. Zhu cooks in the Hostel.

'By chance' I meet Alva, Salva's friend.  Originally from northern Spain, he's a professional clown cycling the world.  What are the odds he ends up in the room next to mine, and knows Chris Roach?  We are both amazed.  Now, he's considering joining our group, and we've discussed producing his show for children in Yushu (the city devastated by an earthquake).   God, Shiva, and Chrakrasamvara work in strange ways!     

But, little by little I regain my strength, until one day I cycle out west of town on highway #318 some 20KM.  I see Fei and Zahariz out in a field and they join me.  We sit by a rushing river and soak up the negative ions.  I think, this is where I need to be, not in town.

The next day I cycle up the pass (up 300M in 10KM), where we will be heading the day we depart.  I want to see if I can still 'get it up again.'  I do pretty well (1:15 hours without a rest stop), but the next day I feel the effects (sore muscles and tired).

What a challenge this bicycle pilgrimage has become for me!

Hutch in Litang. 

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