Posts Tagged ‘cycling’

Some snippets from Chris…

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Some of you may have been missing our regular posts, but as Chris has been battling sub zero temperatures  and a broken stove whilst trying to cover a lot of distant is short space of time, there isn’t much time left in the day for blogging. So I thought I would share with you some of the snippets I have had from Chris, sent via email using his Kindle…

26th Jan

Had an interesting two days, snow, ice, big hills, 3 punctures, 1 broken tyre, a wrong turn that took me about 30km the wrong way, that was yesterday, only thirty km. Just got to main road, having food, as only had an apple all day. Will try and stay on the main road now. Had to avoid it because of motor way. Oh and my boots froze. All good though, a bit of an adventure to spice up the blog. Depending on how today goes will be in Germany tonight or tomorrow.

Later: It was a bit stupid, and I’ve demoted myself to trainee navigator. Will see how the road goes, on my map its motorway but really I think it’s a big road, we shall see. Having my second lunch now. Ha ha have to eat so much to keep going at the moment.

[When we cycle together I usually navigate and am called Chief Navigator, however when I make a mistake and get us lost, not very often I might add, then Chris always jokes that I am being demoted to Trainee Navigator.]

27th Jan

Made it to Germany. Met nice lady, also cycle tourer, she suggested a good route then bought me a map, then took me to the tourist info to get more maps.  They also gave them to me, got a picture outside tourist info. So going to follow these two rivers, just got a big hill to get over tomorrow. Me and legs v tired.

Later: Sleeping in tent, need to work out distances, could do with a day off  – legs scream on every hill v annoying. Might try and get over this hill tomorrow then see, need to be patient with nav on small roads or sod it and take the big road not sure. Everyone here has been friendly. So good middle day, bad evening with small roads and sore legs. Will just have to plod on, love u miss u.

28th Jan

Had quite a good day in the end. Took the main road which was good, the cycle route was steep and deep snow. Met a guy who invited me to his house. Got here, very nice – a bed, a shower and going to have a sauna soon. The big hill was not that big at all, so a lot of worry about nothing, it was clear of snow too thankfully. Having lunch here tomorrow, then off.

Later: Ahhhhhhhhhh so nice, good food, good company. The adapter we use for the laptop got left in Prague, so no power for laptop, will get a new one this week.

29th Jan

Hope to be there [Cologne] in about five days max. Hope to get a charger tomorrow, but need to cycle like crazy now. Snow is a real pain so might have to stick to the roads, basic plan was to follow the  cycle path to Frankfurt then the Rhine to Cologne, then west to Dunkirk.

30th Jan

Spent this morning getting maps and route info from tourist info. Got new adapter, but does not seem to be working. Might be cold or could be broken. Had two falls on the ice so far.

31st Jan

A good day, bivi’d last night, got scared by the otters or beavers, as I thought they were crocks. Then decided there were no crocks in Germany and a beaver would be unlikely to nibble on me, but if it did, it would hurt. Then I thought of the beavers in Narnia and they were nice.

Today was good, met an interesting guy who is an actor in theater and a playwright. He brought me coffee and cake and we chatted for about two hours. So cycled into the night again 95km, 6 hours, could have done the last 5km but a good camp spot came up on the edge of town. My short cut paid off over the hills, will follow the river now to Frankfurt.

MSR stove not working again, but by alternating the gas cans under my jacket, I got a cup of tea :)

Germans are really nice, but they think I am nuts for camping and that London is a long way to cycle to.

-8 outside the tent, -3 in,  am toasty, not cold at all. Was sweating buckets up the hill and the water was frozen on the bike! So all is good here, massive night after night riding till ten pm.

1st Feb

I am so tired I can’t even think straight. Then it takes an hour to make a cup of tea. It’s all good though, it’s a lovely route, if I had a little more time and the tent and stove were not broken all would be v good. Anyway I did 95km today still 45km from the start of the Rhine unfortunately. I think I will just make it for Bikeabout London, but I will be knackered when I get there. Ha Ha!

Thanks for getting back to Martin, that’s great news esp the vip lounge, maybe I should keep my boots on this time!

[Our friend Martin who we met in Beijing, has very kindly arranged and paid for the ferry for Chris from Dunkirk to Dover on 9th Feb, with a VIP upgraded too. Thanks Martin!]

2nd Feb

Did 104km then a cyclist took me in :-)

3rd Feb

Was up chatting late, the guy does quite a bit of cycling and going to Japan soon. Just eating a massive massive second breakfast. -10 today he he plenty warm enough though.

Long day, over 100km I think – speedo is on the bike still, stove broke in another way now, so had to swap gas cans to get a cup of tea.

4th Feb

Not too bad here, frustrating day with wobbly trailer again, but should still make the 100km, then Cologne tomorrow. -12 last night. Just got to find the cycle path again and hope it’s better quality than this am. Sometimes it takes you on a mystery tour about town, then disappears. Having lunch at what I hope is the right junction!

5th Feb

All good, just having coffee in a cafe. I camped a bit out of town, did 95km and stopped as perfect camping and close to coffee in the morning. Bivi’d at -11 at least last night, was cosy with just the Rab [sleeping bag] and Alpkit [bivi bag]. So hope to make it to Cologne today and have some time off tonight. Tempted to ditch the trailer in Cologne – don’t want to be stopping every 5 mins to sort it out, like in China. Kindle does not work at-11 – the battery thinks it flat!

Chris still has 400km to cycle and needs to catch the ferry from Dunkirk on Thursday. Please give him your support on this final stretch, in the cold temperatures, to keep him going.

If you want to welcome him home, we will be cycling into Greenwich on Saturday 11th Feb.  To join us and for more details see:  Bikeabout London or we will be in Ambleside, Cumbria a week later, see: Bikeabout Ambleside.

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Cycling through the Gobi Desert – an overview

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Most of you reading this will not even be contemplating cycling through the Gobi, yet there may be a few ‘adventurous souls’ (read: crazy people) out there who are now tempted by the idea. Not cos it’s easy or fun, but because of the challenge involved. So here is a quick overview of the route and our journey to give you an idea. If you want more detailed info, please contact us directly.

“The Gobi measures over 1,610 km (1,000 mi) from southwest to northeast and 800 km (500 mi) from north to south. The desert is widest in the west, along the line joining the Lake Bosten and the Lop Nor (87°-89° east). It occupies an arc of land 1,295,000 km2 (500,002 sq mi)[2] in area as of 2007, making it fifth largest in the world and Asia’s largest. Much of the Gobi is not sandy but is covered with bare rock.” (From Wikipedia)

Cross the Chinese border at Erlian by train or jeep and you will arrive in Zamyn Uud, Mongolia.

Zamyn Uud is a well stocked town and you’ll be able to buy vegetables, chocolate, fresh bread and vegetables, toiletries, tuna, milk, fresh cream cakes, potatoes, rice, pasta, sausage meat, tins of beef meat and of course water. In the building left of the train station there are ATMs and  a mobicom shop where you can buy sim cards and phone credit. There are a number of hotels, not much of a water supply for showers though, and places to eat. In fact coming from China we were pleased to see food that we hadn’t seen for ages, like cheese and pasta sauce. We stocked up with 8 days of food here and 30 litres of water. Leaving Zamyn Uud you’ll be on tarmac, however after the first kilometre it rapidly turns to sand and dirt track. It is very flat and quiet though.

There is a new road being built all the way to UB, and you will see it as you go. It is not sealed yet (June 2011) and ends abruptly or has big mounds of sand and dirt every few hundred metres. However it does go all the way to UB, so you can use it as a guide.

Ulaan Uul (102km north) – make sure you change the bearing on your compass in order to find this town. We missed it completely as we were headed for Sainshand and we heard reports of other missing it too and having to get a lift! There are NO road signs or markings of any kind and people you ask give very vague waves of the hands in one or more directions. Ulaan Uul is a place to stock up on water and food supplies, and fuel if you need it. If you do miss it and end up going to the west then you will see a small settlement about 20km after you’d hoped to see Ulaan Uul and you’ll be by the new road. You may be able to buy water from the people living there, we did, but it depends on their supply. They didn’t have any fuel (petrol) though.

If you see signs outside yurts or makeshift buildings saying ‘XOON’ that means food, so you could stop for something to eat and some milk tea if you needed to.

As you approach Sainshand (100km north of Ulaan Uul) you’ll reach a 20km stretch of new road that is tarmaced. It goes up and down and is a nice respite for the bumpy road. You can’t see Sainshand as you approach as it is just over the top of a ridge and well hidden from sight. The climb up is really quite steep, however there is a road going off to the left that is more gradual and takes you a more direct route in Sainshand too! Sainshand is the provincial capital and a strategic town historically and now. It has lots of small shops and supermarkets so you’ll be able to get whatever you need there. We can highly recommend the Dornogobi Hotel, although it’s not cheap, it has hot water and all mod cons – ask to put your bikes in one of their garages. The restaurant is great and has a menu in English too. As you enter the town you’ll see Best Restaurant on the right hand side. This is also good and the staff speak some English. Good mobile phone reception and wifi in the hotel. ATMS here too. Watch out for power cuts!

The road out of Sainshand is very sandy and bumpy. Tsaagandorv is the next stop, about 110km north of Sainshand. This town appears after you climb up and down for a while and then cross the railway track. The small centre has various shops and a butchers where you can buy big hunks of fresh meat. You can buy most things here and the locals are very helpful and friendly, if a little surprised! Couldn’t see anywhere to stay here. Good mobile phone reception.

About 20km on from there is Tsomog, a very small settlement that has a shop. It is just after the mine/industrial site. The shops sells fresh bread some veg, water, coke, chocolate etc and the girls there speak some English. You’ll see a sign for Ulaanbatar saying 300km as you leave. After this a you climb for a while, the the route is very up and down, not steep just rolling.

About 40km before Choyr you will see the new road like a scar across the landscape. Eventually you’ll see the tarmac road going up a reasonably steep hill. Once you reach the top, Choyr is about 6km from there. At the petrol stations turn left up the hill and follow the road into town. It’s not a very nice looking town but there is a nice hotel by the station. It’s not marked but ask and people will help you, particularly the kids as they can speak English. There are no showers or hit water in this town form what we could find. There is an ATM at the station and good mobile coverage. There are shops and places to eat.

From Choyr the new road goes all the way to Ulaanbatar, 230km north. The first 160km is all flat or mostly flat. There are several very small towns along the way where you can restock and get water or food, although not all shops were open. Then the following 30km is up and downs some spectacular hills. Not too bad though, and the scenery is a welcome sight after the desert. Once you reach the military compound at the top of a hill you’ll see a town to your right and UB is ahead of you. It is pretty much all downhill to UB for the next 30km.

The road into UB is busy and trucks and cars don’t have much idea about giving bikes room, that said they are ok and most were pleased to see us. As we got nearer the centre into the heavy traffic we found that behaving as if you were car was the best tactic – just sit in the centre of your lane and stay behind the car in front. The traffic moves slowly so this was fine. We wore our reflective jackets though and used our bells a lot, particularly for the buses, to let them know we were there. Plus we have a mirror each. Head for Peace Avenue to find beer, nice food and guesthouses! Look for the big blue sky tower, shaped like a half moon at the top.

Relax and enjoy!

Oh and by the way…  in May the wind is very bad and blows constantly. Apparently in June it is better. Some recommend going at the end of winter, early spring as the ground is still hard and easier to cycle on, however the weather can be very changeable and you’ll still get extreme temperatures and snow. In summer it is very hot, despite the Gobi being called a cold desert, it’s still flippin’ hot by most people’s standards!

On the whole route, there are no bikes shops or places to buy anything vaguely bike related – come prepared! Don’t leave your stuff unattended, possession is 9 tenths of the law here in Mongolia and a handful of people think it’s ok help themselves. That said, the people are lovely and will help you out without any fuss!

Top Tip – Bring a toothbrush for the zips on your tent – the sand trashes everything and you’ll need to brush your zips each day if you want to keep your tent doors working! And bring baby wipes… need I say more!

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Lijiang to Shangri-la via the tiger leaping gorge – The last push

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

We set off still a little cold as the sun had not quite reached us yet, we zoomed off down a short hill then started to climb again, the ups and downs were huge, hard work, immersive and beautiful all at the same time.  Each time we went down we seemed to go right to the bottom of a valley, then cycle slowly out to the middle of it, climbing up again.  We climbed most of the morning and eventually arrived at a beautiful summit.  It was windy and cold but I was keen to do a short piece to video at the top, it took ages but we got there.  While I did my my bit to video with camera man Ben, Margo chatted to a young girl who was travelling with her family to a small village for her sisters wedding.

Afterwards we decided to drop down a little to have some lunch, Ben and Margo had had a second breakfast but I hadn’t so was ready for some lunch.  We set off whizzing down the hill and I was soon left behind as my front wheel wobble was on high performance, so I was taking it easy.  I cycled past lots of sheltered little lunch spots but Margo and Ben were nowhere to be seen.  Eventually I caught them up at the bottom of the hill in a rather grumpy bear mood, grumbling that I was hungry and that they had not stopped.  We found a spot by the side of the road, cooked up some noodles, and I had a coffee to try and make me feel better.  I encouraged Ben and Margo to carry on as I was still feeling pissed off and said I would catch them up later.  They set off and I lingered enjoying my coffee and rearranged some gear on the bike that was coming off.

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An hour or so later I caught them up, it was more climbing up up and up and a gusty head wind had joined us, that made things near impossible to cycle, I kept being blown off the bike and was glad when I caught up with them.  I apologised for my childish grumpy behaviour and we agreed that better communication was needed to prevent further Chris grumpy bear appearances.  We set off together hoping that we would be near the top soon and that Shangri-la was not far away.  Ben spotted a phone mast and said that must be the top, after a few false summits it was a good incentive to keep pedaling, we arrived on a flat windy plan and sheltered behind a monument deciding what to do.  There was still a reasonable way to Shangri-La and with the wind and no idea how many hills were ahead of us we decided to camp on the plateau.  We went off in separate directions to find a camp site and settled on a good sheltered spot a few hundred meters from the monument.

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It was New Years Eve and we had hoped to be in Shangri-la, but here we were on the top of a windswept mountain.  I was as happy as a cyclist could be, we had our dinner and then all piled into Margo and Ben’s tent to watch a movie on the laptop, to celebrate our achievements.  We managed to get half way through the video until the battery died, it was almost midnight so we said Happy New Year and I crawled back into my tent to sleep.


The next morning we woke up to light snowfall, not knowing whether it was going to get better or worse, we quickly packed up, skipped breakfast and headed off down the hill.  The downhill kept giving and I was pleased with my new warm ski gloves that kept the cold at bay.  We descended thought a lovely quiet valley with great camping and plenty of water and eventually ended up at a toll gate.  As bikes we were ushered through free of charge and we asked if there was a restaurant nearby, we were pointed down the road so set off to find food.

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No restaurant in site but a petrol station, so I filled up with petrol for my stove in case there was another day of cycling and hills ahead of us.  A motorist who spoke some English chatted to us for a bit and he assured us that it was all downhill, 30kms to Shangri-la.  I was ecstatic, I had had enough of hills for a few days, I danced a little jig and we set off down the road cycling in formation.  The person at the front broke the wind for the people behind and we were going to do three sets of three kms each.  We were soon gliding down the road, passed amazingly beautiful houses and an eco tourist village and road to a national park.  We stopped half way and scoffed the rest of our nuts and raisins and carried on for the last 15 km.  Shangri-La greeted us with a lovely new road and shiny new lampposts, we dinged our bells in celebration and started asking directions for the old town.

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No one seemed to know where the old town was but we had a general idea so we headed in that direction. By now it was lunch time and we were all hungry, we pulled in to a small restaurant and ordered a feast, everything tasted so good to our weary bodies, now with silly grins and slightly rosy cheeks from hot food,  a great delight.  We paid £2.00 each for our lunch extravaganza and found our way to the old town.


The Hostel I’d wanted to stay in was closed down, as their hot water system had broken, so Margo hunted for a place to stay while we chatted to some other travellers in a coffee shop.  Margo came back having found another hostel for me and a small hotel for them.

I got my bike unpacked, found some clean clothes and had my first wash in over a week, I emerged from the shower a new man. Tired but so happy, the last week had been hard, but absolutely amazing and stunningly beautiful.

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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.


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.


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.


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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Finally a blog post!

Monday, December 27th, 2010

If you’ve been following our blog then the last you heard was that we were in Jinghong, Yunnan in southern China! Well we’ve done quite a lot since then, so read on for an update…

In Jinghong, we, and our friends Margo and Ben, stayed with a lovely guy called Ryan and ended up staying for a week after we all got sick with food poisoning. Let’s just say that we all got to know each other rather well after 4 days of vomiting and diarrhea! Poor Chris was hit the hardest and didn’t eat for 3 days (this photo was taken before we were all ill).

Staying at Ryan's place whilst sick

Jinghong is a nice city with a university and palm tree lined roads. I managed to buy a dongle and 6 months of internet access, which a few days earlier had seemed like an impossibility. So that gave us internet access anywhere. Margo and I also bought a pair of long trousers as our journey north meant that the temperature was starting to drop. After months and months of 30 degree heat, this was welcome although a little bit of a shock to the system. Ben did some work on our bikes and managed to find a smaller cog for my bike, which means I’ll be able to grind up those hills in an even lower gear.

We finally left Jinghong on the 22nd Nov, my birthday. The night before we went out to celebrate at the French run Mekong Café, with two French cyclists Sandrine and Damian, Ryan, and Margo and Ben. I had a fantastic evening, with red wine and a surprise birthday cake organized by Sandrine. Margo and Damian poured over maps, whilst Chris and Sandrine chatted away in French with me doing my best to follow the conversation. It was a fantastic and memorable evening.

Upon leaving Jinghong (after a full English breakfast!!) we ended up getting on the highway which wasn’t our intention. The highway itself is ok, it’s nice to cycle on and wasn’t too busy but it has tunnels. Even small cars sounds like jumbo jets as they come up behind you. We were doing ok until we came to a tunnel marked as 2.5km long. We pulled over and put on our reflective jackets, lights, head torches and anything else we could find that would help the traffic see us. The tunnel has a pavement on one side so I decide that I would prefer to cycle on the pavement. The others did too, so we set off. This was fine although dark and occasionally a big hole would open up in the pavement and bit of broken rock and glass would appear. I was relieved to reach the end and we all agreed that we should get off the highway as soon as we could.

We stopped that evening after finding a lovely campsite by a river, with a campfire. Margo and I cooked up sausages over the fire that Ben built, boiled up two pans of potato, which Chris and Margo mashed with expertise of Michelin star chefs, and we also had Heinz baked beans for dinner, what a treat! It was delicious and we all enjoyed it. Chris then brought out more birthday cake and candles, and we sat around the fire so we had a fantastic evening all in all. A lovely birthday with lovely people.

We were aiming now to get to Dali by 3rd Dec, so we had some cycling to do and followed the 213 taking in Puer, Simao, Zhenyuan, Jingdong and Nanjian along the way. The following photos show our encounters and adventures en route…

Beautiful wild camping spots in the mountains. Even though the Chinese cultivate every last square inch of land it was still easy to camp and we found some great spots. One morning we woke up to mist ( or inverted cloud?) below us in the valleys of the mountains. We couldn’t resist a photo.

Ducks being marched along the road, we had to stop to watch, and couldn’t help thinking they seemed like prisoners on some kind of death march.

Groups of kids in villages when we stop for noodle soup at lunch. The children and adults we met in Yunnan were wonderful, so friendly and welcoming, whilst also being surprised and shy. All the kids we said hello or “Ni hao” to would burst with laughter and seemed to find us talking to them or them talking to us, absolutely hilarious!

Tea plantations and impressive terracing. Every inch of space is used here, we’ve seen miles of banana trees, fields of red peppers, bay leaf trees, tea, coffee, they grow so much and the terracing is spectacular and obviously involves a lot of back breaking work.

Dodgy gravely roads. The road we followed runs alongside the imposing new highway being built and as a result this smaller road is also the service road for all the trucks and diggers. With such a lot of heavy traffic the road is in a complete state and for a while we were cycling on gravel, dusty roads, through muddy potholes ad puddles. It was pretty slow going to say the least!

Gorgeous sunsets. In harmony with the morning mist we also got to see the soft sunsets at the end of the day. China may have some problems with pollution, but out here in the countryside the sky is clear and spectacular.

Amazing scenery like the gorge we followed for miles. We were following a river for a long time and in paces the rocks would carve a gorge through the valley creating the most beautiful natural scenery we’ve seen in a while. I’m not sure what we expected China to be like, but we certainly didn’t know it would be so beautiful!

A crazy runway toddler careering down a steep main road. Can’t believe I managed to get a photo of him, but he came out of nowhere, on his own, flying down the hill. Kids here have quite a free rein and health and safety concerns are not the same as the UK!

A poor starving dog. We see a lot of dogs chained up. Often we’re glad as it means they won’t chase us or bite us, however from time to time we see some who look ill, starving and neglected, with no water left for them. We stopped to see this little fella gave him a load of biscuits and then carried on our way. But I now wish we had unchained him and let him go so he could at least fend for himself and find some food.

We stayed in an English school classroom for the night and after dinner with the teachers, we did an impromptu lesson with the children. All quite bizarre after a long, tiring day of cycling up huge hills, but fun at the same time, and the kids were very cool!

We also met Jerry, a great guy who spoke perfect English and made us very welcome in Jingdong. He cycled out of the town with us the next morning before saying goodbye.

The cycling was interesting, fun and I felt my legs getting stronger everyday with all the hills we had to climb, it was never ending! We reach Nanjian on 2nd Dec, about 110km south of Dali and stayed at a hotel for night (after much negotiating and confusion with the receptionist!). The next day we got up early, our plan was to try and reach Dali that night. After yet more noodle soup  we set off and had a flat run for the first 10km. After that we followed another stunning gorge and it was much easier than I had anticipated it was going to be. We met Kathy, a lady from New Zealand cycling around China and stopped to chat with her. I’m interested to meet solo female cyclists as I’ve been working on a women section called Girls on Tour, so hopefully they might agree to be interviewed at some point!

We cycled into Weishan following a flat valley, stopped for another delicious lunch and then continued along the valley floor, with a tail wind for about 25km. After stopping to buy some sugary snacks, we continued knowing that a 17km climb lay ahead of us. We could see the mountains we had to climb and Kathy had told us that once you’re up by the wind turbines then you know it’s the top. We’d been able to see them for the last 20km and they still looked an awful long way away!

The climb began with a well appointed sign, the Chinese are good at letting you know what you are in for! The climb wasn’t too bad to start with, but it went on for a long time and the time ticked away. As we got nearer the top I looked around to admire the scenery and view from up here, and felt incredibily lucky to be able to have such an experience. I knew that I was going back to England in a few days and suddenly it made me appreciate just what an amazing adventure I have had so far and I felt very emotional.  Chris had stopped to wait for me and in the early evening sun he took this photo..

We knew that we would pass the 9000km mark whilst climbing, so near the top as the sun was setting we cycled tother to celebrate this milestone. About 400m short we admired the intense sunset happening all around us…

We hit 9000km and were near the top now after 17kms. It was almost dark and we knew we had a 10km descent to look forward to. Margo and Ben had waited for us at the top, however with the warm sun now gone, it was pretty cold and the way down would be colder. They had put all their clothes on and were preparing to go, we did the same and Chris remarked that we were lit up like Christmas Trees! Off we set. I hate cycling in the dark to be honest and it was pitch black by the time we’d got ourselves sorted, only the car lights provided any illumination. That also has the effect of destroying any night vision that you might otherwise have had. So we set off at a slow pace and tried to stay together. Half way down I had to stop to put on more clothes I was shivering from head to toe! By the time we go to the bottom, warm clothes and all, my teeth were chattering and I was really cold. Not only had we been cycling for 8 hrs, over 100km, we also hadn’t eaten for a while so I was feeling pretty shattered and ready to stop now. Whatever excitement I’d had about hitting 9000km or beautiful scenery, had evaporated and I just wanted to stop, eat and sleep.

We were now in Dali (new town) and need to continue a further 15km north to Dali, the old town, where we had a place to stay. That last few km were fairly straight forward, with lit roads and an easy route, but they passed in a blur. We arrived into Dali old town, happy, relieved and very tired. I would stay here with Chris and the others for a few days before going back to the UK for 2 months. This was my last day of cycling and  the longest day ever for me – 114km!!

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