I wake up feeling a little bit under the weather. It’s freezing cold outside but the sun is casting a few promising rays across the city. We warm up with a large bowl of Tenchong Ersi, find out that Sandy’s Camelbak only holds one litre of water instead of the expected two, and head out towards the mountain.

The going's a bit tough in the beginning
The going’s a bit tough in the beginning

The road is dusty and filled with trucks. Looking left and right, however, our souls are soothed by peaceful pastures, grazing yak and brilliantly white Tibetan houses gleaming in the morning sun. They build their houses quite differently from China’s other minorities, usually preferring large, fortress-like houses with beautifully adorned window frames, wood features and roofs consisting of wooden panels held down with stones. Larger ones also feature a courtyard.

We quickly learn that this road to Gezan 格咱 is being widened and repaired. Without a permit, all four-wheeled traffic is held up at a gate until noon to allow construction vehicles to do their work undisturbed. While that still means hard riding, it also means a mostly quiet day for us. The ride summits in a section of pure downhilling shortly before reaching lower Gezan. We didn’t think we’d see much civilization on this section but pack our power bars when we spot a little restaurant attached to a shop.

Little downhill section
Little downhill section

We get bluntly asked for money by a Tibetan money before we head inside. Not sure if this is going to become a common thing. A bubbly and chatty woman from Lijiang prepares us a great and not too oily meal-a real surprise-as we chat to some construction workers who have travelled from all corners of the region to work here. After lunch we continue and discover that there’s an entire town connected to this road, with several other restaurants and even hotels.

Having passed Gezan, the road improves a little bit although there are still sections that require some advanced riding skills to navigate. As a fairly experienced rider, I sometimes forget that there’s more to cycling than sitting on a saddle, pedalling and holding the handle bars. I almost learn it the hard way when I try dodging a pedestrian and drift to the other side of the road where a pile of big rocks greedily await my uncontrolled arrival. I only just manage to steer clear of them, bumping my panniers in one of them before regaining control. I need a helmet, Dan.

Sandy, a few winds behind.
Sandy, a few winds behind.

We’ve lost quite some time riding the difficult section and it’s past 3 pm when we are faced with a big climb. Having barely done more than 55 km, we decide we have to push on if we don’t want to be behind on schedule from the very first day. And so, on a much better road, we start slowly plodding up. Having 20 kg of luggage on the back definitely makes a difference, especially for Sandy who has never done a self-supported ride before.

In the evening sun, this section is particularly beautiful. Farmers everywhere invite us from their tower-like houses to drink some tea and even to stay the night but we can’t afford to lose more time. The road winds through leafy forests with old man’s beard (a moss used in traditional Chinese medicine) hanging off it. Cawing raven fly up from between the brushwood, leading the way a bit before rocketing off out of our way.

The meadow at 3900 m
The meadow at 3900 m

It’s past 6 pm when we reach a first pass. A quaint meadow at 3900 m, with a quiet stream murmuring through it, looks particularly inviting for setting up our tent and spending the night if it wasn’t freezing cold already. The presumed threat of bandits on this stretch of road (we had been warned by several people), helps us decide to descend into the Wengshui gorge instead.

The real pass is just past the meadow. Peering through its window, we spot the rugged rocky mountains on the other side and with the sun setting behind the mountains, we change into our descending clothes, adding several layers, gloves and re-adjusting our headwear. Visibility quickly reduces do near zero as we rocket down this hill, relying solely on a head torch and our measly bicycle lamps to light our path.

The pass window, revealing rugged rocky mountains on the other side.
The pass window, revealing rugged rocky mountains on the other side.
Changing into descent gear
Changing into descent gear

Temperature goes up as we go down and when we finally spot some lights by the side of the road, we decide to ask for a nearby place to sleep, or, failing that, to set up our tent. Luck is on our side because the construction on the other side of the road is apparently a guesthouse of sorts.

Sandy dodges a barking dog to knock on the window and a lady comes out, shows us to our showerless rooms and then invites us into the living room while we wait for food to be ready. A croak emerging from a dark corner of the room reveals a toothless granny, possibly two thousand years old, who asks us something in an entire incomprehensible ancient language, building up to the climax of every question with a several minutes-long pensive eeerggghhhhhh.

The guesthouse owner likes to collect gourds
The guesthouse owner likes to collect gourds

In the courtyard there’s another bicycle laden with panniers. The yellow waterproof covers suggest that the rider may be Chinese, as most westerners will use Ortlieb or other waterproof bags. However Chinese rarely ride alone or with more than 2 panniers. This one had four. Sandy advised against waking the rider up by knocking on the door, so I just launch a cheery ‘what up, bitches!’ through the area.

Inside the room there’s some noise and we hear a voice saying, “I’ll have to hang up, mom, there are some people here!” Out comes Dan, an American with the onset of China-blues, who’s been touring Japan and China on his own and is dying to share some banter after spending several weeks in the mountainous regions. We chat a bit and then go to bed.

Dan, an American with an on-set of China blues
Dan, an American with an on-set of China blues

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *