Archive for January, 2011


Lijiang to Shangri-la via the tiger leaping gorge Day 3 & 4

Monday, January 31st, 2011

The next morning, I woke up I looked at my watch and it was nearly 10 o’clock, I must have relaxed and happy because I am usually keen to get up and away in the mornings to avoid confrontation with any disgruntled land owners.  But here I suppose I felt that no one cared and there was no rush, the view was good and the sun was warm.  We had leisurely breakfast packed up and set off.  We now had to get back up the rocky path we had come down, I was under no illusions about cycling it but thought the first bit would be worth  a go.  I came off straight away so pushed the bike and got the camera out to film Ben and Margo as they attempted the ascent.  Margo did really well, got past the bend and half way up but came off just before the top.  Ben – whose bikes skills are quite impressive, his ability to put a fully loaded touring bike exactly where he want it is amazing – he got past the first bend easily and came off, he started again and made it all the way to the top, impressive. I packed up the camera and panted as I pushed my heavy bike up the slope.

Picture cyclist going up steep hill

We were rewarded with a short descent and then started climbing again.  It was a lovely day, still and warm but not to hot, perfect cycling conditions.  After only 10km we came across a couple of guys at the side of the road.  They had lots of wood, and beside them a hole in the side wall next to the road, with a big fire in it.  After some good signing we discovered they were making bricks.  We chatted for a bit longer, and it seemed were being invited for tea so we sat down on the road and watched while one guy was working and the other was preparing food.  We were given some small bits of what I think were black pudding, so tasty.  Then we were offered rice, more meat vegetables and some beans.  The food kept coming and attempts of saying ‘no more, I am full’ were useless our bowls just kept being refilled, Ben ate the most followed by Margo and then me, some of you may be surprised at this as I am know for eating lots, it just goes to show that I am not the only human dustbin – any cycle tourer you meet will happily match me for food eating ability.  Anyway I was getting really full by the 4th bowl of rice and stopped any more going in by putting my hand over the top of the bowl, this seemed to convey the message I was trying to give!

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We thanked the guys profusely and dug out a bag of nuts to give them something in return.  They looked in the bag and at the nuts and then gave them back, then as fingers met thumbs and rubbed together we realised they were after some money.  Now this possibility had crossed my mind and I was now sure that, earlier when the guy was pointing to my camera before he was hoping that I might give it to him.  It was a funny situation rather than tense or awkward, they guys were trying their luck, they had sat us down and given us food, so we probably could have just shrugged a no understanding gestured, more thanks and carried on.  However we decided that we should give them something, it was a lot of food and it was useful for us as it was not like there were many restaurants around.  The guy got out a big note and we all though no chance, a quick group huddle and we decided on a reasonable amount to give them, paid up and cycled on.

Road side hospitality

I felt a little strange as we set off, partly annoyed, partly confused, did they do it on purpose, should I have paid what?  It is difficult when you are in a different country and culture but generally speaking if someone offers you food, then you don’t expect to pay for it after (without knowing the price beforehand).  However as a western traveller I am perceived as being rich and have lots of money.  I mulled the situation over in my head, but it was not till the next day that I realised I had done the right thing for me.  I would have felt worse if I had not had given any money, and vulnerable as I cycled on in case there was any comeback.

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We kept climbing after lunch and continued to do so for the rest of the day, I was mostly in my own world thinking about life, kit and the universe, as usual and admiring the butterflies by the side of the road.  We cycled though some small villages and I pondered their evolution.  A lot of the houses were built of gray brick but the brick work was perfect and beautiful with different shades of gray.  Similar style roofing slates were also in use and intricately carved wooden windows for the houses.  It seemed that it was the newer houses that were brick and the older ones wood or stone, some of the buildings had tin roofs others plastic sheets.  How long had the bricks been a lively hood for these villages and what was their life before bricks.  Seeing the architectural style change as the buildings got newer was fascinating, I could only imagine how and what and will probably never know the real history of this place.

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I caught Ben and Margo up on a flat bit and we sat down to have tea, it had been a funny day, time was irrelevant really but now suddenly it was creeping back into our reality as we realised it was nearly 5pm and we had probably only done about 30km.  Still we waited for the water to boil had our tea and watch as the villages emerged slowly from the trees behind us.  What they had been doing I don’t know, but I imagine it would have involved tending animals or plants.  They were mainly groups of young women and sometimes one man.  They would wait by the side of the road, chatting and giggling until a truck or car came a long and then climb on top to get a ride home.  Some of the vehicles were already piled high with hay but still they climbed on top, to the already seemingly wobbly truck and carried on chatting as they went down the hill to their homes.  One group of girls reminded me of home, they were wearing more western style clothing, almost oblivious to us, three in front chatting away, what about I can only imagine, but I presume it was not Topshop’s new winter collection, the other was on her mobile phone nattering away to someone somewhere.  It struck me that despite the great distance and cultural differences some things are the same.  Sure as the world gets smaller, cultures merge but for me it was a picture of how much we are alike rather than how different we are.

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With tea finished and everyone and their goats on the way home too, even the one that got stuck on a rock wall, we set off again.  We knew from speaking to one of the locals that we would go up, then come to a flat plain, then up again.  All we had to do was find some more water and then a place to camped for the night.  We climbed a short way up and the valley opened out onto a flat plain flanked by the road, going up a steep climb to our right and snow capped mountains on our left.  The plain was dry and dusty and there was not a river in site, so we pushed on and eventually found a small river at the bend where the road started to climb again.  We filled our bottles with ice cold water from the stream and pondered about what to do, go back about 1km and camp or continue up the hill.  We opted to go back, as the whole area behind us was perfect for camping. We cycled back a short way, made a small bridge from a log and pushed our bikes off the road and onto the dusty earth to a clearing behind some trees.  It was another perfect camp site.  With camp set up, we filled our bellies with more rice and drifted off into another peaceful sleep.  It had been a lovely day, perfect weather and perfect cycling, beautiful scenery and very relaxing.

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The next morning we woke up to more frozen water and the sound of the vehicles in the trees behind us, most of the trees were pine and were being harvested by the locals.  We remained undisturbed by humans as we had breakfast and packed up, but a small horse wandered around our campsite, probably wondering what we were doing there, what was for breakfast and why we had so much stuff.  He was friendly and seemed to enjoy the attention we gave him, his soft coat warm from the rising sun.  We pushed the bikes back through the soft dirt and started to climb, the sun warming our bones again and reflecting majestically off the snow capped mountain behind us.

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I took some snaps with the camera that did not do justice to what my eyes saw, undeterred I committed the scene to memory and carried on up the hill.  We crested the hill and descended into another valley, the road weaving though small settlements, the villagers going about their daily life, briefly disturbed by three bicycles whizzing by.  We reached a larger settlement with a shop and stocked up on a few essentials.  Ben was already hungry so stopped for some noodles, I was keen to carry on so left Ben and Margo to have noodles and arranged to meet them later.

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I cycled out of the village, and back up the other side of the valley, on the way I had a fierce growling match with a dog that had a toothy grimace and probably thought that biting a cyclist was a good idea.  Fortunately for me, he backed down and I continued on passed the rubbish dump and up the hill.  I got to the top and freewheeled down finding a great spot for lunch.

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As I was tucking into my noodles Ben and Margo joined me and we enjoyed the midday sun and waved to the occasional truck driver as they plodded up the hill.

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After lunch we descended into another valley and started climbing again.  I heard singing  from somewhere and stopped to find out where it was coming from, not just one person but a group of people, it was the school below me.  Upon closer observation there was two groups of Children singing , they were singing together, sometimes following one another and at other times competing in against each other.  It did not feel like China, more like Africa but it was magical and a part of Chinese life I had not seen before.  With a smile on my face and a warm heart I carried on up the hill, it went on and on and on and on and I felt like it was never going to stop.  We had all separated out, going at our own pace.

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I would sometimes see Margo on a bend above me and wondered where Ben was and if he was ever going to stop.  I started cursing, come on it’s getting late now, I can’t do any more of this, I want to stop.  I had no choice but to carry on, I knew that Ben was probably pushing for the top to get there before dark and so really I understood, just keep pedaling.  Eventually I crested the hill and Ben and Margo were there, an old lady in traditional dress was talking with them.  It was getting cold and I did not want to stop and loose the heat I had generated going up the hill, I voted we carried on and camp at the first opportunity.  I put on some gloves and another jacket and we whizzed down the hill.  We found an empty patch of land that was exposed and rocky, but after a day of climbing it was going to be home for the night whatever.  We pitched the tents with rocks, as the ground was too hard for pegss and started to make dinner.  Ben was exhausted and passed out before dinner, he had eaten at the top of the climb, so Margo and I had some rice, finished boiling the water on the fire for the next day and went to bed.  I was knackered, but happy to have to got the top of the last hill and now be cosy in my sleeping bag.  The next day we were hoping to make it to Shangri-la.

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Lijiang to Shangri-la via the tiger leaping gorge Day 1 & 2

Monday, January 31st, 2011

We left Lijiang late morning with well packed by heavy bikes, a loaf of home made bread from Kevin and some boiled eggs.  With a few pointers from the locals we got out of the town and on the right road.  2010-12-27 011 We stopped by the side of the road about half one to have tomato and egg sandwiches, they tasted so good, it had been ages since i had had proper bread and welcomed a change from noodles and rice.  We continued up the hill after lunch until we came to a line of traffic, I feared a crash or something but as we cycled to the front of the line we found out that they were doing some blasting by the road and were just stopping the traffic.  After about 10 minutes we were on our way again, it was a steady climb with beautiful scenery.  We crested the summit of the climb and after a short descent we came to an impressive stone feature.  We approached with caution, wondering what it would cost to check out. No one bothered us for money but an old guy was quite interested in our photo taking activities.

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We carried on down the hill and then followed the river along the valley floor.  We stopped for some fried rice and discussed where we should camp.  We decided to stick to the lesser road as we were more likely to find a place to camp.  With small houses all along the road, a quiet camp spot was not looking possible.  All the people we cycled passed were friendly, smiling and saying hello, so we asked if we could camp by one of the houses.  We were soon putting up our tents and getting a hot drink inside us.  Some kids came up to us so i made them some tea and they sat with us for a bit.  I learnt the Chinese for sugar and stars but forgot them just as quickly.  Just as we had got into our tents the kids came back, they hovered around the tents for a bit then tried the zips.  After a lot of giggling i realised they were not going to leave.  I got out the tent and ushered them away and they obliged.  I crawled back into the tent and drifted off to sleep.

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The next morning i was happy to have the water for breakfast already in the pans.  It was cold overnight and all the water had frozen.  I melted the water and had my breakfast in bed.  Slowly we packed up, the cold weather was making every job take twice as long, Ben was suffering from the cold but the sun was slowly coming up and starting to warm our bones.  We set off down the valley again following the river, we soon came to the second bridge that we needed to cross, in order to get to the gorge.  Over the bridge and cycling on a lovely new tarmac road, we seemed to be cycling forever, i kept looking at the map thinking that we must be there now.  Eventually the gorge appeared on our left hand side, we carried on cycling past it for what also seemed like ages again until we eventually arrived at the small town of Qiao Tou where we were to turn off for the gorge road.  We met an ozzie couple who were visiting from the North of China where they were working, after a brief chat they set off for their walk and we sat down for some fried rice.  With full bellies we cycled off into the unknown, i was excited, i had no real idea of what was in store just that it was meant to be beautiful and for the first 20km the road was under construction.

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After a short cycle we arrived to an impressive statue of a tiger, possibly a model of the one that actually jumped the gorge!  We snapped some photos and continued on the windy road, behind us the valley was bathed in bright sunlight and the emerald green water to our left,  flowed gently passed us.  In places the road was good and we cycled happily up or down, elsewhere there were big ditches, small detours and narrow sections with steep drops.

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The sun was with us as we started to climb the last few bends of the day, we arrived at one of the Hostels in the gorge, mainly used by people on the walking track and had a brief stop here. We chatted to some walkers who were debating about where to go next and which hostel to stay in.  I think they decided to go to the one with a happy hour.  They set off down the hill and we whizzed passed them on our bikes, it was time to look for a camp site.  As we steered around some of the last bends I admired some of the impressive road building and was in awe of the rocks looming above me.  Soon the valley opened out and there were the most amazing views and a perfect flat plain not to far away.  That will definitely do for camping i thought.  We cycled towards the plain, descended a short but steep and rocky path that Ben and Margo cycled, with my heavy bike and rather inferior mountain bike skills i chose not to ride, but managed to jump back on for the last section, and rolled down into one of my top ten camp site so far.  We set camp, happy and content after a great days riding.  Dinner was rice and vegetables and I was soon in my tent probably snoring happily.

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See more photos here

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Decide which way I go on my bike – Update

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Thanks to the three that did respond,  I had hoped more people were following, but that’s life as a small fish in a big pond.  I went north, the vote was 3 for north and 1 for explore.  The route to Deqin would have been great but i am pushed for time as it is and will probably have to get a bus some of the way to Beijing anyway.  I have now accepted this.  It is hard when you want to do everything by bike but even bikeabout has time restrictions.  So i am going to do as much as i can over the next month and a half and enjoy it rather than try and rush though.  Although hearing from Ben and Margo who are a week ahead of me, the route north will be just as exciting as if the last week was not exciting enough, blog coming soon, exciting tales – hopefully i can do them justice.

However from here i have been advised by Ben and Margo not to go north but to head east around the mountain then north.  This is there advice  ‘So apart from the snow, ice, bears, impassable passes and bollock numbing cold, it’s all good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ Hmmmm decisions what to do now, go north then east or just go north and see what happens.

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Due to lack of space to put up a tent and good weather, I am biving by the side of the road with the river to the side of me and the noise of heavy machinery in the background. The moon is about to crest the tops of the valley walls and I will no longer need my torch to see. Just hope the diggers don’t decided to dig up my camp site while I am asleep.

Its been a long day despite a late start. The first half I was riding on snow, ice and slush. I only came off the bike once as well which I am very pleased at. This afternoon I have been coasting downhill and pushing uphill when even the cars have needed to be pushed due to the lack of road. It has been amazing fun and hard work at the same time.

Tomorrow I have a choice: go one way to Deqin on a road that is under construction and probably goes up to about 4000m. This will take me of the route to Beijing and set me back at least a week. Once in Deqin there is a two/three day trek around the foot of a mountain that is meant to be very beautiful and has never been summitted. I can’t attempt it as I don’t have the skills and it is now forbidden to attempt to summit. Sounds amazing.

The second choice take the northern route that will no doubt be hard and high and beautiful too but will take me in my intended.

I have a long way to go to Beijing and I have only the slimmest chance of making it there in time to meet Liz and carry on to Mongolia without taking a bus. If I go to Deqin then I will definitely have to take a bus.

Before I got here I had made up my mind carry on North second choice but now as I sit here bathed in moonlight I can’t decided.

So you have about 7 hours to comment and decided my route. Please no twitter responses I can’t see them in China only make them, just comment below. Thanks.

The most votes for each choice will decided my route. Very scary putting my destiny in your hands.

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Discount bike dynamo and battery pack

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

As some of you may know Liz and I both have hub dynamos and battery packs for our bike from http://www.pedalpower.com.au/ Great never to have to worry about your mobile phone or iPod battery running out. 

Pedal Power have a promotion on at the moment and if you mention Bikeabout then you will get an extra 10% as well.  Offer is while stocks last to don’t miss out.

See how we use our Pedal Power+ gadgets here and our review here

The DC dynamo sets are Euro 180 and include the DC cable, piggy back connector set and adapter set. Riders who want to use the iPhone must also use the v4i battery pack

The AC dynamos are Euro 89, they are 36 spoke hole and are not available for disc brake.

The rest of the prices are here http://www.bikeabout.co.uk/resources/powergadgets/Europe_offer_EOS5610.pdf

Click on the share button bellow and let your friends know.

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Christmas in Lijiang

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Having been on the road for over 12 hours and cycling over 100km, I enjoyed a good nights sleep and was happy to have a few days off to relax.  The theory was that we would have a few days in Lijiang then then head of for Shangri-La.  We ended up staying for a week, had Christmas day in Lijiang and almost left twice but put if off till the next day and then the next day.  Our excuses were, blogging, bike maintenance, its late now we might as well stay another day. But perhaps it is a natural reaction to having a place to rest and sleep that you don’t have to pack away in the morning and put out again at night.  I quite like the slow pace to travel get some where rest and then move for a week or so then rest again.  But i do feel guilty at not doing anything, when actually not doing anything and doing that well is probably harder than cycling up a big hill.  Sure you can potter and not do much, but to truly relax and enjoy doing nothing, without any feeling of guilt I find hard to do.  I shall perhaps try and work on this over the next year.

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Our Couch surfing host Kevin, from America was spending the winter in China before setting off travelling again in the spring.  Kevin is a relaxed and easy going guy and it was great to be hosted by him.  He is also a cyclist and is planning his next trip starting from Azerbaijan going to Italy to see long lost relatives. Kevin’s winter accommodation was a room at a guest house in return for helping to run the place, he speaks fluent English and Chinese.  Our room a small living area on the top floor that is rarely used in the winter, perfect for a bunch of cyclist to lay there sleeping bags down.  To keep himself extra busy over the winter Kevin and a friend Keith, from New Zealand, who has been living in China for a few years, were staring up a small cafe/restaurant.

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For the first few days Margo, Ben and I kept ourselves busy with bike maintenance, blogging and generally getting ready for the sub zero winter temperatures that we would be expecting further north.  Ben had decided that every gram counted and was busy cutting labels out of jackets, trimming bits of mettle off the bike and shortening all the zip pulls on his clothes.  I admired his dedication as was surprised at how much a few bits added up to.  I decided a while back now, although i may eat my words in the coming months when Ben and Margo are gliding up the hills and i am plodding along behind, that weight is not the be all and end all.  I would prefer to have a few extra niceties, like a full length tooth brush and a thermarest chair.  They make my life on the road that little bit nicer, sure i go slower but i am not in any real rush.  This trip started out as one big expedition spend as little money as possible explore everything and live a rough existence.  A year and a bit on i see this as more of a lifestyle that does not have to be enjoyable or a hardship.  Sure there will be sections of the trip where things are harder and tougher but theses are balanced with the other times when the cycling is easy and the beds are comfy and the water abundant.

In order to be able to accommodate the extra clothing and food we would need to carry I spent hours in the bike shop trying to find a front rack that would go over my existing one.  Ben and Margo and picked up some great cheap ones in Dali but i had not been around at the time.  After much deliberation i found something that i thought would work.  It required some modification with a hacksaw and some creative thinking but it would work.  I asked the price and was bowled over when the guy in the  bike shop said i could have it.  It was second hand but still i was made up.  To celebrate i spent my savings on a new water bottle cage that i hoped would accommodate my fuel bottle for my stove.  The current cage was not the right size and the bottle was hard to get in and out and I was worried another year of metal on metal abrasion would eventually where a hole in the fuel bottle.

A day later i had finished, my new front rack and bottle holder.  I was very pleased, I has also managed to lower one of the other bottle holders so i could accommodate a big plastic water bottle.  This meant the old and mouldy water bottle could now be retired for drinking and become a dedicated tent pee bottle for the cold winter night.  Some of you might be thinking how disgusting, but believe me it is way better than getting out the tent in the middle of the night when is is below zero outside.

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With the opening of Kevin and Keith cafe approaching we lent a hand with some cleaning and pre cooking ready for the opening night.  It went well and i was particular happy with the free ginger biscuits that were on offer and a  lovely meal at Keith house with wine to sample for the cafe.

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I met some great people at the dinner party at Keith’s and i even got to try turtle soup with a real turtle in it, cooked by a Chinese couch surfer that was staying at Keith’s.  I was a little cautious with the turtle as the thing had been cooked whole but it it a delicacy and i was a little inquisitive, it tasted like chicken but i should have eaten more just to make sure.

We had planned Christmas on the bikes but we were still in Lijiang on Christmas day so we felt obliged to try and do a roast dinner.  A trip to the local market resulted in a whole chicken, that nearly got chopped up into little pieces but i stopped the woman and her knife in time.  Roasting a whole chicken is probably not so normal in China and a westerner buying one is probably even rarer.  We also got potatoes and vegetables and headed back to Kevin’s to create our feast.  Three to four hours later, Christmas dinner was served.  The chicken, that was my job, Margo did the potatoes and veg.  The chicken was a little dry but good enough, my stuffing went down well and Margo made some more lovely potatoes.  Luo, the guest house manger joined in and was very generous in giving us a bottle of wine to share.

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The next day after a late rising we started to pack up the bikes.  Buy 2pm we were still trying to figure out where all the extra stuff was going to go and Margo was trying to get her gear packed without her bike looking like a Christmas tree.  We all lent and hand devised a good packing system for Margo’s bike, the only think we needed was another dry bag to accommodate some of the overflowing stuff.  I was also debating about getting one, so we all went to an outdoor shop where we had spied some bags earlier in the week.  After much deliberation on which size bag to get Margo and I walked out with a dry bag each and celebrated with a fried rice for dinner.

We got back to Kevin’s, packed up the bikes, everything fitted so we pulled out our sleeping bags and had one last sleep in Lijiang before setting of to Shangri-La.  As we road west out of the city the next day we had no idea that the ride to Shangri-La via the tiger leaping gorge was to become some of the hardest but most beautiful cycling any of us had done to date.

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