Sunday, August 01, 2010

From LItang to highway #214 (we decided not to go to Yushu) PART I

070610 Monday - Day 34

Dog-barking madness, plus a stuffy nose awakened me by 0400. I spent the time preparing to depart LItang (never to return) by 0900 as planned. Xu Tan with Shingo (our Japanese bicycle mechanic), Zhang, our driver, having arrived on Saturday from Chengdu. It took them two days to drive 700KM / 420 miles because of inclement weather and a bad highway situation (trucking madness). What held them in Chengdu was obtaining my TCM herbs () from a medical school, this for ELS symptoms (trouble breathing at night one of the symptoms).

I was ready ahead of time as always (being of the old military school), this by 0800, having showered, dressed, cooked oatmeal (in their filthy, desultory kitchen; 'cockroach heaven' a better description. Note, God help Tibetan people, as they are the most disorganized group I've ever come across.) I packed, and carried the bags down two flights, always 'staging' moving (in increments). By the time Alva appeared, I had everything on 'Ms. Fetes.' I hadn't seen Zahariz, our new Malay cyclist but he appeared at 0845, right on time.

I ride with Alvaro, the professional Spanish clown, spreading 'smiles' wherever he goes. (Note, he carries his 'clown gear' on his bicycle weighing some 70KG!). The Hostel, where the group has been enscounsced, is only 500M distance, so we're there before we know it. The group is eager to depart after waiting ten days in Litang. (Note, at this point, out of 34 days, we've had to wait 24 days, and cycled only 10! My demons are powerful!: "The Shambala (my Mt. Kailas) Sutra: 香巴拉箴言: If you want to go to Shambala 假如你想到香巴拉去 / There is much danger, 会有许多危险 / And demons will try to stop you! 恶魔们妄图阻止你! / Many people will become obstacles! 许多人也将成为阻碍!/ But, if you can understand 但是,如果你能明白 / Becoming the path itself, 这些都会成为其小径 / You will succeed, 你就将成功 /Overcoming all! '超越一切!". Only those who pass 'the test,' reap the benefits. And only those willing to suffer the pain, are blessed with 'Shambala,' (another word for 'Shangri-La'). Read 'Lost Horizon,' (James Hilton) if you haven't.

After many pictures and video we're off up to the pass (4319M) on the dirt 'highway' (vertical ascent 500M / 1600ft. in 8KM -- average 6% grade). This takes me 1:15 minutes, which is not bad for an old man. But, this isn't the only pass to climb of the day. There's another some 45KM distance and at 4,477M. This stretch is arduous as it takes hours, but we have much fun with Alva always 'clowning.' I think to myself what a wonderful thing to be able people laugh or smile! After witnessing Alva play with people on the street I wish I'd gone to 'clown school' too.

When we get to the top of the second pass it's cold at 4477M / 14.700ft. ASL but we wait for the group. Now with everyone intact, down the dusty, dirt, rock spiked highway they call #217, in the course of bouncing up and down for ten kilomenters I lose both my spoon and my flashlight out of my back pack (only to have Yoji and Shengo retrieve and return them later). Xu Tan, going too fast as always, breaks off a rear fender, in addition his rear bags come off. We stop and reload and then on to our camping site, happy that it's at least warmer (lower).

Having departed on time at 0900, and arriving at 1730 hours our average for the day is 9KMPH (75KM from Litang). Not bad having to crank over two passes in one day. But, this after a ten-day rest.

I was completely exhausted when I arrived in Litang. Oh, what a difference one year makes when my age (from 69 to 70).

080610 Tuesday

I'm up at 0530, after a leaky-tent night. There was no indication it would rain so our firewood got wet. Nonetheless with petrol and Elvis' hand-cranked 'bellows,' Zhu and I get the fire going. We're forced to built a camp fire to cook on because none of our expensive camping stoves (MSR and Primus) are working properly.

We depart by 0930, down the dirt road so named 'highway #217.' It isn't long before I recognize the Tibetan village (name ?) where I spent the night last summer (cranking down to Lijiang). I remember the wooden, closet-like 'room,' up steep stairs.

Just south of this village a 8-9% grade hill, but loose dirt and a heavy bicycle stopped me and I had to push up. I was amazed that Alvara cranked up without stopping, and he carries 70KG.

All that morning Alvara laments about his lost cook-set (dishes), he 'put out' by his tent before going to sleep. He surmises they were stolen, but he can't figure that out because there were more desireable things available. Turns out he left them by the stream and Elvis, washing his own, discovered them to be saved. Note, high elevation does strange things to your mind, like destroying your short-term memory. I'm always forgetting where I've put things.

Around noon we stop at a village looking for a restaurant. There is only one but for 'Government Only.' However, they will allow Mr. Zhu to use the facilities to cook our own. We decide to stop, and this turns out to be fortuitous, as there's a Xinlong TV crew there, and suddenly we become the story. We spend two hours there before departing.

Down the dirt 'highway,' we finally arrive at the junction (where we turn north to Ganza), a bridge across the river (name ? Note, there are hundreds of rivers on this route, and I rarely know their names.). Here I tell the group this is the lowest in elevation (something like 2700M) we will be for months, and not until returning to Lijiang. It's all 'up hill,' from here I tell them. (Note, writing this so many weeks later in Amdo, Tibet, elevation 4700M ASL.)

Along about that time to look for a campsite, where the canyon narrows, we are slowed by a strong head wind. Crossing a bridge to the west side of the river we stop and it's discovered this is Alvara's junction (he's taking another route north) -- Alvara says he'll spend one more night with us, however. Xu Tan indicates a campsite back on the side we just came from , but after investigation we 'nix.' Then back across the bridge to investigate a school yard. While Xu Tan and I look after such, Alvaro takes a nap on the road, the others waiting. This turns out to be undesirable also, but luckily the group, Yoji in particular, has discovered a Tibetan facility (medical clinic) inviting us to spend the night. Back across the bridge for the third time, we are welcomed into a compound, where we spend the night entertaining the Tibetan monks with our 'traveling circus' (nine cycling and a truck). I pitch my tent on dirt, the others on concrete and under the protection of a roof. In fact, Alvara didn't even put up his tent.

I remember their toilet ('outhouse') out the gate and over a fence near a speaker with recorded chanting. It has the best view (of the river) of any primitive toilet 've ever had the pleasure to use.

That day, in spite of the two-hour lunch (being interveiwed for TV) we still manage 62KM, and 8KMPH average.

090610, Wednesday

At 0830, inside the facility, the 'head monk' chants for us (as Xu Tan had chanted for him the previius evening). Afterwards he reads our pulse and pronounces us 'healthy' (if he only knew). He gives us some special herb for energy. We donate 100RMB to the clinic.

Across the bridge we have an emotional parting with Alvara. Alvara, or www.biciclown.org, is a special phenomenon, one that spreads laughter and joy wherever 'it' goes. I wish I had that talent. 'Vaya con Dios,' I whisper in his ear as we hug. Then we're off to Xinlong, this easy stretch, 22KM, only takes two hours.

In Xinlong we manage to find a restaurant, and the police manage to find us. Xu Tan has to spend too long gathering passports and ID cards. We spend two hours dealing with such while having lunch. Zahariz is overjoyed with the ice cream he has purchased.

Then on the way out of town Xu Tan, Zahariz and Shingo spend two hours on bicycle repairs (welding required for rear racks). They catch up later.

That night we manage through to cook dinner while our tent almost blows from over us in a howling gale. It rains hard again from 9P to 12 midnight, and then again at 0200. Everything gets wet.

Ah, camping in the rain... such fun!

100610, Thursday

At 0230, I boil water, the only way to clear my stuffy nose.

I finally get up a little late (0630), as not much sleep during the night. In addition, it's rained off and on all night and everything is still cloudy-wet (depressing).

We depart by 0930. The road is paved in some sections, but mostly rocky, up and down in this 'canyon' stretch of #217. At one point we're chased by a pack of wild dogs (who live at the 'county dump).

We stop to eat our 'snacks,' but no real lunch like yesterday. Snowy mountains are seen in the distance. The clouds have parted and the sun shines brightening my disposition.

We are 'pushed' (at 30KMPH) into Ganza with a east wind (dongfeng), the east-west highway #317 (which we turned onto from #217), is good until the outskirts of Ganza. Then we're into the usual Chinese construction congestion, mud basically (as this year nothing but rain thanks to all the motor vehicles we can't seem to live without). They've torn up the main street to redo in concrete or some such (some Chinese official getting rich no doubt). It's tricky threading our way through to get to our hotel, sometimes pushing near the store entrances ('sidewalks'). Big trucks try to intimidate their way through, increasing the madness with their air horns-- they're 'important' and we're not.

Xutan and I arrive at the hotel (stayed there last summer) by 1700 hours. Soon after the group finds us (they 'smell' food). We all have dinner together in the hotel restaurant, and it turns out to be pretty good.

We've gone 60KM in 7.5 hours for an average of 8KMPH.

110610, Friday

We hadn't planned to rest in Ganza, but both Zaharis and Shingo speak up at breakfast, suggesting one day of rest... When we vote, 7 out of the group want to, so suddenly we relax (no pressure to pack up and go).

I'm able to get online in the hotel lobby, piggy-backing on some local WIFI.

After lunch I am directed, by Fei, to a 'supermarket.' I walk around this small Tibetan town, having done the same last summer (on my trip south). I bought my 'rain' jacket here (100RMB) last time summer.

I also am able to clear out my sinuses (stuffy nose) sucking up warm water through a straw (therapy for such). But, I'd put too much lemon juice in the water and it 'burns.'

With barking dogs just out my window I don't think I have any chance for sleep that night. But, Xutan closed an open window and it shut out the worst of the noise (I never thought to check.). He had planned to camp out with Mr. Zhu, but changed his mind. Sometimes he snores, but this night didn't and I was able to sleep (a little).

120610, Saturday

We depart Ganza at 0915, but the muddy, congested main street is jammed with traffic. Finally, just about to exit the city we are stopped cold. A bystander, realizing the situation, directs us to a detour. We backtrack and then thread our way through the old section of town, then over a narrow wooden suspension bridge, this a long one as the river is wide here. Inventory on the other side reveals Elvis is missing. We wait, then spot him on the highway back across the river. Somehow he got through, but I'm angry about this. We decide to go anyway, as I'm sure the highway merges at some point. Note, I'm confused as this 'old,' #217, on the south side of the river, is really the same Zhayi'er and I came down on last summer, yet it ends up on the north side of the river confusing me? We must have crossed over on the bridge and I'm not remembering...

This is confirmed when I discover Elvis waiting for us up ahead. He had stopped to 'recharge' his mobile telephone (in Ganza), thus losing us in the process. People love the benefits of a group, then violate all the rules (like, staying together in a city). NOTE, THIS IS THE LAST GROUP FOR ME... NEVER AGAIN, TOO MUCH TROUBLE!

The weather is good, the highway #317 paved , and we have an easy time of it until 1500 hours (3P.M.). Then up a shallow, winding grade (canyon) it begins to rain off and on. I'm alone when I reach the top of this pass, then coast down a long descend (Xutan up ahead as always) We have sent the truck ahead, so at this point, around 1730 hours, I'm looking for it. Just off the highway we have just enough time to erect our tents until it begins to rain seriously. I take a nap while waiting for dinner Zhu cooks on an open fire in the rain. The Chinese just 'do it,' inured to discomfort.

Tomorrow, Maniganza.

130610, Sunday

It rains all night, thus we pack up wet and go.

Then a horribly wet and muddy ride some 30KM (four hours) into Maniganza.

In Manganza, Xutan has found a Tibetan restaurant where we have lunch. Somehow I get rice (maybe from our own supply). Note, Tibetan restaurants offer little beyond meat, bread and a noodle dish.

Then, after lunch, some confusion as we offer an option: to stay in a guest house in Mani. or go on to camp. Some, like Yoji want to stay indoors, but Xutan and I like the cleanliness of camping in fresh air. I remember staying in the 'best' guesthouse in Mani. (the previous summer), and it was unpleasant, besides being dirty, crazed dogs bark all night. So, we tell the group we're going on and they, if they spend the night in Mani., to catch up with us the following morning. However, when I and Xutan head northwest (back on #217 at this point), the entire group follows. Some 12KM up #217 we find a good spot to camp, and have a happy ending (the sun comes drying everything out) to a soggy start that morning.

Here I switch tents with Fei, trading my Chinese tent for one of the two Venus II Extreme tents (by Exped) Rucha has purchased in Germany.

The elevation here, 3800M ASL.

140610, Monday

I have an unpleasant night, as trouble breathing. But, the rain (humidity) from 0300 to 0500 helps and I get some sleep.

Up at 0600, however, as it take me some 3 hours to do everything needed (before departing): tour cycling and camping out every night is strenuous business (for me at least). Plus, being old, I'm slow (in no hurry).

The sun appears and brightens the morning, along with our spirits. Today, we have a 4700M pass to get over.

We're off by 0915, and are 'on top,' by 1235. Then down a muddy, (dirt) 'highway,' to a village where we have lunch. This village, however, 5KM off of #217. Xu tan and I find a Chinese restaurant (difficult in a Tibetan village) and wait for the rest of the group.

We manage another 24KM after lunch, but have to camp right by the highway.

I feel stronger this day for some reason, now some 1300KM and six weeks 'down the road.' This, the first day everything seemed 'to work,' including my body. It's been a terrible struggle for me to this point.

But now we're only 5 to 6 days from Yushu (Qinghai Province).

150610, Tuesday

We depart late, at 0945.

It's a long gradual climb to another pass (one practically everyday). Then a fast, dusty descend to yet another village (I never remember the names.), arriving at 1530 hours (3:30P.M. for you who don't understand the 24-hour clock). We have managed 55KM in 5:45 hours or 10KMPH. Here we have lunch in a 'restaurant.' I use the term 'restaurant' loosely, as this is a place, sometimes just a tent or open 'stall,' where there is cooked food. But, the toilet, if there is such, is usually 100M walk to some 'outhouse' (two or three 'holes' in a floor, down where you best not look). Or, sometimes just 'go out there.' Rural Tibetans don't even have a toilet in their houses. Worse, they throw trash everywhere, sad!

There's only 3 or 4 things Tibetans do well: procreate, sing/dance, herd yaks, and ride motorbikes (playing loud Tibetan music) Otherwise, forget it. On the other hand, they are friendly, maybe too friendly as they are so curious about me (just stare at me, as they can't believe an old gray beard riding a bicycle). I'm sure they'd love to watch me in the toilet.

After lunch we manage another 8KM for a total of 63KM for the day. We find a nice spot way off the highway, and down near a river. Xutan and Shingo camp on a little island (just for fun). They wash their bicycles, while Fei washes my dirty laundry in the same river.

Luckily the day ends with the sun out, and the accompanying warmth.

Then suddenly a storm sweeps down upon us and we retreat to our community tent. Elvis says, 'Four seasons in one day!'

160610, Wednesday

It rained at night, of course. Still I manage to rise at my usual 0600. We have the highest pass (4700+M) today to get over. But, this turns out, the last 20KM to the top, much easier than expected. I am surprised as this was so difficult with Sonam (coming the other way last summer). Since, however, they've paved the road making it much easier, at least from the south.

Then down another 30KM (it's all up and down in this part of China) where Xutan stops to purchase some local yogurt. Here I have Zhu (our cook) trade with Liu (who normally rides in the truck), so dinner will be prepared by the time we arrive (send the truck ahead to set up camp). They pick a spot adjacent a reservoir, and near a village (a 'no, no' for me as barking dogs all night).

Exhausted when I arrive, Xuni and Fei put up my tent.

Fei, a very gregarious girl, makes friends with a local Tibetan family (turns out they own the property we're camping on) and gets a new 'hairdo' (Tibetan style) from the daughter. Note: See all the pictures at www.cyclingpeace.org ('PtMK,' June, 2010').

But, it's not long before wind and rain come with thunder and lightening (from the north). I'm so tired I sleep in my clothing, boots included, stuck out the tent door (sleeping bag not in, but over me).

170610, Thursday

I have an unpleasant night, as my feet get cold. I don't get up until 0640, which is late for me.

At our morning meeting Elvis informs us they're having horse-racing at a festival this day (in the local village). I opt out having partaken in many such festivals (since 1999). The group will catch up in Surxu.

Xutan and I cycle ahead (some 30KM) to Surxu, a 'town,' where we plan a rest day. I'm not feeling very strong, but this is an easy stretch as flat to descending...

In Surxu we check into the 'best' (Government) hotel in town. But, the Tibetan man behind the desk is unpleasant. While we have lunch the rate goes from 180 per to 240RMB, and informs us if we don't like it to find another hotel (there are none). But, there is heat in the room and hot water for bathing (in the bathroom). Note, I always allow the group to partake of the hot shower (in whatever hotel I stay).

Surxu, I hope to never set foot in again, another 'shit-dog' Tibetan town with a million motorbikes playing loud Tibetan music. Oh Lord, get me out of China!

180610, Friday

This is supposed to be a day of rest, but the hotel and the town so unpleasant we decide to depart.

So, at 1400 hours (2P.M.) we crank out of Surxu forever (I hope)...

It's only 21KM to the next version of 'Surxu,' (with T.B. Monastery) where we arrive in two hours (over one little pass, relatively easy). The sun is shining now and we stop to buy supplies (vegetables for dinner). Zaharis tries to find ice cream. Earlier, I'd spotted him chasing and throwing rocks at some dogs. I'd cautioned him about this earlier, as attracting their ire. But, being a young male he hasn't understood.

Xu Tan and I go on ahead looking for a place to camp. We find a place just off the highway, and not particularly good near a Tibetan household. It's getting late, however, so we stop for the night.

I try to sleep in the truck as an experiment. The right passenger seat reclines, and I've had some success napping in it. So, I thought I would try, as been having trouble sleeping in a full reclining position (in my tent). I cover myself with my sleeping bag, but my feet get cold (during the night). But, I can breathe, so I sleep a little. I'm up three times, two times to piss, and once to chase some dogs away.

190610, Saturday

I don't get up (out of the truck) until 0730, but I'm fully dressed when I do. Note, there's nothing like sleeping in your cycling clothing!

We depart for Xiwu (and highway #214) at 0930. I'm thinking today is going to be a 'bitch,' but am surprised as the 4700M pass we have to get over, the highway, has been paved since last summer. When Sonam and I came over it from the opposite (West) direction, we had a difficult time, as loose dirt below us and a storm raining down upon us made for a trying day. This day, going in the opposite direction (from the East,) it turns out to be relatively easy, and we make the top in four hours (by 1330 hours).

At the top we replenish with a snack and water (of course), then take the usual group picture with some Tibetans (Xutan on one of their horses). But, it starts to rain just over the top (to the West), and we descend into Xiwu (down 1500M in 15KM) very fast (and easy) but into a hard shower.

By the time we arrive we're completely soaked. Huddled in a store, surrounded by curious Tibetans we wait for the others to arrive.

Xutan finds a restaurant where we have lunch. I'm also able to 'chat' with 'Rucha' (in Germany) via Zaharis' China-Net-Internet connection. Afterwards, it's 'adios' to this Malay kid, as he's decided to take the bus to Xining (where's he's supposed to 'hook up' with a Swedish cyclist). Then they're heading for points West via Geermu.

The rest of us, now down to nine (on bicycles), head north on #214, having decided to avoid Yushu (recovering from an earthquake). This was Xutan's idea (to avoid Yushu), and glad I went along. Highway #308 (we discover the # later), although unpaved, turns out to be a more direct route, and with less traffic.

We send the truck ahead (north on #214) with Zhu trading with Liu (normally Liu rides in the truck, but sometimes we have him trade with Zhu, and he rides Zhu's bicycle) to find a camp site and start dinner. I like my dinner ready when I arrive (takes Zhu a couple hours to cook a meal).

Only 5KM later (35 minutes) we're busy pitching our tents, mine next to a Mani wall and adjacent a road to some Tibetan farm houses. Thus, I'm serenaded by motor bikes passing (blaring Tibetan music), some stopping as so curious about us.

By 1900 hours it's raining again, but I'm in my sleeping bag hearing the 'pitter-patter' above on the rain 'fly.'

200610, Sunday

I'm up at 0550, everything is completely wet, at least outside. It's rained all night.

I hard-boil some eggs and cook oatmeal (my standard cycling breakfast).

I change to a new contact lens (only wear one).

We depart by 0930, not really prepared for what's coming, yet another pass... We didn't realize we were so 'low,' and had to climb up and out of this canyon. But, it's a shallow grade, as #214 a major highway (too much traffic). Too many trucks pass us heading down to Yushu laden with construction materials.

The 'pass' is only 10KM from our campsite, but up to 4200M ASL. We we stop and rest, of course, drinking/eating our 'energy' food (as cycling at elevation and with weight requires). I never seem to drink enough water and suffer for it.

Not long, after starting down, we're hit with a hail storm, and me not prepared (hadn't put on my rain gear). I'm pelted with hail stones the size of grapes and consider stopping. But, I keep going and soon it's over; the sun shining.

Now, 'down' a little, we're 'up' on top of the 'plateau,' the terrain basically rolling hills (snowy mountains to the north in the distance).

We crank another 30KM, and then stop at a Tibetan village to have lunch. Here we're besieged with curious Tibetans, and some unruly and obnoxious children.

We don't depart until 1700 hours (5P.M.), and are only able to manage another 11KM, for a total of 53KM for the day.

We camp not far off the highway, and next to a barbed-wire fence (many now in rural China).

We bask, and dry things in a late afternoon sun, but we're soon hit with another hail storm (while in our community tent). I eat my rice and stay warm by our wood stove.

I'm in my sleeping bag by 2115.

Ah, life cycling on the road...

(TO BE CONTINUED...)