It would have been easy to stay in the cosy hotel room and hibernate for the rest of the winter, but I had put off leaving twice to do washing and visit the local monastery. It was time to pack up and go again. By midday I had the punctures fixed and the bike loaded, all that was left was to get more petrol for the stove. I has seen a petrol station on the way into town and figured it was the only one so would have to go back 1km to fill up. I left the petrol station about three hours later. I was waiting for the tanker to arrive and fill up the petrol station tanks. I made friends with the girls at the petrol station while I waited. During a lull, of people waiting, they grabbed my bottle and filled it up for me from the dregs of the tanks and I was able to carry on my way, this time to Dege. I had no idea of the road or route ahead. Just that it could take anything between two and five days depending on the road and mountains or lack of.
It felt good to be back on the bike, the afternoon sun was warm and the road was only mildly bumpy. The winding road, dictated by the river to my left, was mostly in a gorge, progress was good and the small breaks I had were spent basking in the sun with my feet dangling over the edge of the rocks, looking down to the steep river banks below. The rest of the day progressed well with only one police check point, where the police did not seem to care about me. A few detours took me up the rivers that flowed into the one that I was following, to bridges that would allow me to continue on my northerly route.
I started looking for a camp site an hour before last light, as I crested a small hill the valley opened up below me, as well as plenty of potential camp sites. I eased off on the breaks and started to bounce down the rocky road. A few seconds later a massive bang and pop camp from the back of the bike. I stopped as soon as I could and saw the back tyre was flat. Closer inspection revealed that there was a massive hole in the tyre. I still had my original tyres strapped to the back of the bike, so I set about unloading the bike and changing the tyre and tube. It was so frustrating to be about 500m from a camp site but not be able to wheel the bike there for fear of damaging the back wheel. Eventually I set off again and was soon clearing a good camp spot of stones and sticks ready to put up the tent. However as I tried to put the last pole in the tent, it seemed like it was too long and would not fit. I fought and swore at the tent for half an hour before I gave up and resigned to only having two poles. It would be OK for one night, it was really cold now and I wanted to get into my sleeping bag. A big case of ‘I am going to get eaten by bears if I cook here’ came over me, so I stuffed some dry food in my mouth and went to bed.
It was cold overnight but I stayed warm enough. As I started to prepare breakfast I was shocked to find that all the water had frozen overnight and I had not put any in the pans. I managed to melt just enough water to have a coffee then packed up to carry on. I was grazing all morning on dried food to keep my energy levels up but by lunch time I was getting really hungry, and knew I needed to stop and cook a decent meal. I had passed through some small settlements and most people had been friendly. As I cycled pass a clearing a group of men beckoned me over to their picnic spot. They made me sit down and I soon had a drink by my side, a knife in one had and a massive chunk of meat in the other. They made me eat lots, I relished the meat and there were plenty of other bit to go with it. I tried to share some of the food that I had but they refused. The group parted on the motor bikes and left me with a stash of food, we took pictures and said our goodbyes. I finished up the rest of my food and started to pack up the bike. As I was doing this another guy came over to talk with me. He lived in the house on the other side of the road and said I could sleep the night if I wanted. I thanked him but said it was early in the day and I wanted to try and get some more cycling done. His daughter came over and we chatted for a bit. Once my Chinese had dried up he got his phone out and handed it to me. It was his other daughter that worked at a hostel in Lhasa, she spoke fluent English. The phone credit died to quickly to get a conversation going but the thought and interaction was what mattered to me. Simple gestures and smiles make such a difference, I cycled off with a warm glow in my heart.
I was still unsure how long it would take me to get to the road that would take me east and into Dege, I put a long play list on the ipod and made some fantastic progress. The road was rocky and bumpy but I was used to this now and it was a lot better than snow and ice and cycling at the lower altitude was like being a 10 year old and have endless energy to run everywhere. I got to the turn off and was amazed to find a sealed road with no bumps, I had done 40km, it was about 5pm and there was another 40km to Dege. I decided to keep going until 6pm then stop and have some food. Then make a final decision about whether to cycle into the night or not.
At 7pm the bike was packed up and my belly was full, the lights were set up on the bike and I was ready. I had set myself a target of doing three lots of 10km with only short breaks in-between for water. It was going to be hard as I was not used to this discipline any more. As the first 10km were approaching I was desperate to stop and rest but kept telling myself to carry on. I negotiated a pack of dogs that chased me down the road barking, their eyes lit up by my bike lights every time I turned to check their progress to me. Then the road changed to a bumpy dirt track and climbed up a short steep hill. At the bottom I finally had reached my 10km goal and stopped for chocolate and water. The rest of the ride was less eventful but I had to push hard to reach my targets fighting the urge to stop and rest.
About two thirds of the last 10km, I went passed a street light, I was shocked and excited at the same time. As I got further more and more houses appeared and round the next corner a bright neon light saying Dege Hotel greeted me from the top of one of the tall buildings. I took my bright yellow jacket off and turned off some of the bike lights. It was strange enough for a guy on a bike with bags attached to it to turn up in town but one turning up at 10pm looking like a Christmas tree was just weird. I eventually found the entrance to the Hotel. It was late and I was tired so my negotiating was not as good as it should have been. £12 a night again but I had hot water and a huge room just for me. I was getting soft but deep down I knew that having the luxury in-between the harshness of the riding would help me to continue. I got settled into the hotel and even found a place to get some food late at night. That night I slept soundly I had done nearly 80km the longest day in a month. I felt good but exhausted physically and mentally.