Thursday, July 9, 2009

Some Stats

Distance: 3894 km (Kunming- Saga)
Length: 54 days
Saddle time: 283 hrs 
Days off:3
High point: 5210m (17,000ft) cycling, 5600m (18,400ft) hiking
Avg day: 72km, 5:30hr, 15.3 kph, 5.5 Ramen packets
Dog bites:1
Instant noodle packets: 284
Arrests: 2
Weight lost: Nils: 18 lbs (5 in the last week), Ben: 16 lbs
Flats: 1 (pinch flat from dodging a car and railing a rock)
Mechanicals: 2 broken spokes, 2 busted chain links
Days booting: 3
Largest Climb: 2650m (8700ft)
Passes: lots
Showers: 3 
Laundry: 1
Hitching: 2,000km (Saga-Kashi)


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Beginning of the End

For the first time in months we have something of a time limit. In less than three weeks our plane flys from Shanghai, our visas run out, and classes start for Nils. Three weeks is a long time but we are a long way from Shanghai (~7000km). So after a week of some of the most brutal riding I have done through constant road construction, sand dunes and snow we decided to start thumbing it out of central Tibet. Although we were on the only real east-west road in Tibet, this part of the world is fairly sparsely populated and the traffic isn't too heavy. Our initial hitch-hiking attempts weren't very promising and the first day we waited 7 hours before getting a ride. Since then we have refined our technique and are moving along quite well on a good mix of trucks, army transports, buses, PBR and interesting characters. In a week of hitching we have made it to Ali, the last major town in north western Tibet.
En route to Ali we took we took a brief detour to lap Mt. Kailash. The mountain is the source of the Indus, Tsangpo, and tributaries of the Ganges, and is considered sacred for Hindus and Buddhists. Doing a Kora around the base is supposed to wash away a lifetime of sins and accumulate significant points for your next incarnation. Unfortunately I don't think it works for us non believers but it was worth a shot and the scenery wasn't bad either. With only three days not cycling in the last couple months I have never walked less in my life, and after two solid days of hiking Nils and I were both hobbling around like old men. The one redeeming fact was that we were breathing easy at 18,600 ft.
In Darchen (the town below Kailash) the law finally caught up with us, slapped us with a small fine and issued temporary permits. So with only several days left in Tibet we are finally legal. This doesn't really change anything except encounters with the police and army usually come with free food. We are now seeking out the authorities instead of evading them.
From here its another thousand or so empty kilometers to Kashgar where hopefully we can jump a train to Urumqi then the long haul back to Shanghai.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Huh, so our blog is blocked in China. No matter, I think we're sneaky devils and can get around that. Thumbs up mum!

Though it was nice to fatten up in Lhasa for a while hitting the road was great. It's hard to explain how comfortable sleeping on a punctured therm-a-rest in a pile of rocks and how delicious our pretty shoddy meals have become. We're currently writing from Lhatse, a pretty sizable town about 500km west of Lhasa. The road here has been wild, westwards from Lhasa the amount of water drops off steeply while the elevation is almost entirely above 4000m. The variation of the East has been replaced by giant brown hills and wide valleys where farmers stubbornly cultivate rocks for the sheep to eat. After the first day of mostly flat we shot up a pass to Yamdrok lake, around the lake through snow and wind, then had some exquisite dumplings at a workers restaurant which doubled as a disco. A middle aged Tibetan lady tried through some pretty hilarious acting to convince us to stay and dance it up, though terrified of what the altitude and yak skull with colored light bulbs for eyes might do to our minds we declined and continued to our campsite just down the road.

I woke up the next morning to an inch of snow and a mild case of altitude sickness. Nothing too bad, just some nausea, a headache, and no appetite. Without a pressing schedule it didn't really matter, we could hang out at our campsite as long as needed, and the snow would melt within minutes. Only problem was, at just shy of 4600m we were at the low point between two passes, with the only way to a lower elevation being over a 5000+m pass...bummer. Around noon after an endlessly curious goat herder had examined everything from our tent pegs to the video camera we decided to go for it. The pass was only 20km off and the first half went great, second half...not so great. For the last 7km or so I had a raging headache, felt like I was going to spew, and was breathing like mad even though we were averaging 5km/h or so. It was miserable, but not as bad as the descent. I had sort of failed to realize that the symptoms would stick around until we got a fair bit lower. With the shallowest descent yet it took another 2 hours, 40km, and a healthy allotment of swearing to reach the next low point which we hoped was low enough at 4270m. Turned out to be good enough, though it was quite a humbling experience. Honestly I had dismissed the possibility of AMS, after all we were in good shape, had been biking at similar altitudes for weeks, and were camping only 200m higher than our next highest campsite. I guess altitude is a strange beast.

We had heard the West was the hard life. So far, this has not proved to be true. Barring the occasional headwind and Ben's bloated belly its been great. With far fewer checkpoints to worry about we have been able to fully enjoy all the benefits of shops and markets in towns and cities that we previously had to pass through under the cover of darkness. Mostly this means good food, so much of it that our Tibetan ramen tally has increased only 27 to 147 since leaving Lhasa. That quantity of Ramen noodles may sound a bit grim, but Chinese ramen isn't your typical American rubbish. With as many as 4 flavor packets each they are somewhat of a treat. We have even ranked our favorites- the elusive gold and purple, green, red, then spicy purple red, not to mention our "breakfast ramen" creation made with milk powder, yum! I'm pretty sure they're no more nutritious than ramen back home but I keep telling myself otherwise.

From here the road splits, south on 318 to Nepal or Northwest on 219 past Mt. Kailash to Kashgar in Xinjiang. I think we're going northwest on 219. Kashgar is about 2500km from here and we'll see how far we make it before we have to resort to hitching in order to make it to some sort of station, whether it be bus, train, or police in an effort to get back to Shanghai for our flight out in about a month, it'll be interesting I think.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Prayer Flags, Passes, & Police


After three weeks of riding and many wild adventures we rolled into Lhasa, dirty, tired and looking for some food that wasn't Ramen.

The road from Yunnan has been incredibly impressive and diverse. One day we will be grinding over a 5000m pass with yaks, yurts, snow, and not much air, then several hours and a bone shaking descent later we will be swimming in the desert gorge of the Salween or sweating in the Tsangpo valley with leeches and monkeys at 2000m with 7000m peaks towering over our heads.

Conditions are variable, from sun and flying tail winds, to rain, snow, hail and raging headwinds. Like many things in this country the road is in a constant state of construction, it alternates from brand new pavement to some of the worst corrugated roads I have ridden. Some days we will hammer and only go 50 km while others we will easily cover over 100 km. Going up Dungd La (the highest pass east of Lhasa at just under 17,000 ft) we were fighting off fierce bonks, headaches, and headwinds and running low on food. As we dragged ourselves over the top we were mopped by Chinese tourists heading for Lhasa wanting to take photos with a couple of dirty, bonked and cranky riders. It was an interesting scene with Nils swearing up a storm. Headwinds, barking dogs, and biscuits that make you sick are our nemesis but the good days definitely outweigh the tough ones.

From Deqin we have ridden over 13 passes, and under even more police barriers. We are not strictly legal and getting into and staying in Tibet has proved as hard as any of the riding. We miss fired twice before working out the best way in, first being turned away by unrideable back roads then arrested at midnight several hundred miles into Tibet. But we are stubborn and a little sneaky and we persisted. After many 4am mornings, night rides, barking dogs, and close encounters we now have got a pretty good handle on how to get around.


Unfortunately riding many of the larger towns at night doesn't lend itself to getting a good variety of food. Our diet mostly consists of Ramen instant noodles (much better than ones in the States), milk powder (Melamine free we hope), and mystery meat sticks. For nutrition me have started drinking fruit flavored beer which it turns out is surprisingly delicious. It is hard to explain how good the food in Lhasa is after 3 weeks of questionable diet and hard riding. We have been hitting the street vendors pretty hard, our stomachs have paid for it and we have made good use of our first sit toilet in over a month, but it is definitely worth it.



For all of Tibet's physical beauty it is still very much an occupied region. Almost every day army convoys of hundreds of trucks roll by us. Tibet has huge political, and strategic value and enormous amounts of resources, valuable to fuel China's insatiable appetite. The amount of military and police in Lhasa, increased dramatically since last years riots, is hard to image. The Chinese domination is symbolized fairly bluntly by the huge military statue directly across from the Potala Palace.


We are now holed up in Lhasa for a couple days so I can get some rabies shots from an encounter with a dog. It seems I picked a good place to be bitten, at the clinic myself and nine others who had met a similar fate lined up, payed a small fee and got a shot. What a waste to get a $400 rabies vaccination in the States. Lhasa is a bizarre place, with police, pilgrims, and tourists. Although its nice to rest up, wash clothes, and eat real food we are already itching to get back on the road. West Tibet makes the East look like a cake walk. What it lacks in checkpoints it makes up in passes, with about 40, 10 or so of which are over 5000m. Towns and people are few and far between and I am sure there are many more wild adventures ahead before we hit Kashgar.

Monday, April 20, 2009

O' Faithfull Old Honey Pot


After sunning ourselves on the beautiful sandy beaches of the Yangtze, we jumped over the ridge and descended down into the Mekong valley. From there we followed the Mekong to Deqing, rising slowly at first and then an abrupt1600m climb into the city. We have developed a new style of riding, one much more suited to the weather here-up at 6ish, ride until noon, then take our so called siesta in the coolest shadiest spot we can find, and resuming riding around 4ish until dusk. Wondering why it took so long to figure this out, the midday sun must have addled our brains or something.


The ride over the ridge between the Yangtze and the Mekong proved to be more than just a hop step and a jump. After 5 hours of climbing with only a pack of ramen and the better part of a jar of honey in our bellies we made it to the top of the pass. From there, bonked out of our minds, we made the 1500m decent over potholed dirt roads until we reached the first town, and in search of food we ran into a wise old sage so impressed with our endeavour that he cooked us an unreal lunch, singing and whistling the whole time. From the pictures on his wall it seemed as though he must have down a lot of singing, and didn't smoke, which is unusual for men in these parts and further leads me to believe that he had made a career out of singing. After eating as much as we could stomach we traded contact info and said goodbye. My only wish is that we could speak better Chinese, if only to thank people, I guess that gives us all the more reason to study up and come back.


From there we continued down to the Mekong, a river seemingly far more wild than the Yangtze. And as we continued northwards following the river, the country only got more and more wild- big mountains, and countless giant gorges feeding the river. It has also been wild to see the change in culture, about 100km out of Deqing we crossed into the TAR and immediately the shift towards Tibetan culture was evident, with prayer flags across gorges, monasteries in the hills, and monks on motorcycles. We knew that we had about 200km to climb 1600m or so along the Mekong into Deqing, not bad at all...until we realized that all the up is in the last 40 km or so.


Shortly after beginning the climb we ran into commune with a group of men practicing archery, we stopped and while watching were invited to dinner. Yet another unbelievable show of hospitality, this time ending in us playing basketball and being called down to the police station by an officer in his early twenties. His English was impressive and he had "drink beers" and "passport" down pat. After following him on his motorcycle to the police station, he proceeded to laugh at our passport photos (Ben does look like a pre-pubescent 12 year old in his) and watch Chinese basketball league over a couple of beers. After a short time he offered us a place to stay, though for unknown reasons (perhaps just wary of police stations in general) we turned him down insisting that we had to ride to Deqing that night. So off we set, feeling a little tipsy into the already setting sun. We made it about 4km that night. Ended up setting up camp about a meter from the road on some pointy rocks and wondering why on Earth we had chosen not to sleep in a nice comfy cell.


From there, we climbed the remaining 1200m this morning. Yet another wild bonk that had us crawling into town and eating yoghurt and Chinese redbull while sitting on the curb looking and smelling like a bunch of bums, whatever. It seems as though we aer either living like kings with more food than we can eat, or struggling to make the next town with only a couple of peanuts and our faithful jar of honey to fuel us. Though really should figure out the big pass deal, it would be unfortunate to crash and burn up every one. From here, we look at our newly acquired Chinese atlas book and find out if the lines are roads and if the triangles are mountains. Its going to get wild from here though, that's for sure.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jumping Tigers




Yunnan is the shit. Each day we ride in beautiful weather through valleys and over passes that just keep getting sweeter. The rolling hills are quickly turning into what would be called mountains in the States, the villages are thinning out and so is the air. Each night we go to sleep in a place very different from where we woke up. Each morning we look at our cheap map (that we cant read) and pick out roads that might work. Life is good. My only complaint is that the beer is terrible and the rice wine even worse. The language barrier is interesting and leads to many hilarious/ awkward interactions (like when we mistook a brothel for a restaurant).

From Dali we took a right and headed north. Going out of town we stumbled upon the spring festival with horse racing/ shooting, music, food and tourist madness, we even saw a couple laowai (the first in a week or so). We couldn't stomach the crowds or the $20 fee for the Three Pagodas so we just rode by and headed for Lijang.

Today we decided to take a day off and run through Tiger Leaping Gorge. Its a little touristy but outside of peak season we only saw a couple other groups. Its a fairly impressive gorge but Im skeptical a tiger could actually jump it. It felt good to change it up and stretch the legs a bit. Prior to this trip we were fresh of ski season and hadnt been on bikes for 5 or so months. Our bodies have been holding up surprisingly well, a couple sore spots but hopefully nothing that will stop us from procreating.

Tomorrow we will continue to head north, picking up the Jinsha (Yangtze) river at its bend and following it for a while. After a couple days we are going to try to jump the ridge west on back roads into the Lacang (Mekong) River drainage at the heart of the Three Parallel Rivers. UNESCO site. If the little gray squiggly line on our map is a road we will follow it up river all the way to Deqin on the Tibetan boarder. We will see what happens then.