Posts Tagged ‘snow’

Sand tracks to snow tracks!

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

After 2 days of very cold weather and snow, it brightened up again, and despite being very cosy and happy at Fairfield guesthouse, we knew we couldn’t stay forever!  I did however, stock up on two big slabs of chocolate cake and 2 slices of carrot cake, which I decided we would definitely appreciate once we were 50km down the road! We bought the next lot of supplies, fresh bread, cheese and coffee, not knowing if we’d find it in the next town, and then got on the road. We knew there was a big pass to climb almost immediately and no sooner than we  turned back onto the main road, it started going up. The tarmac ran out, and once again we were on gravel .

Tsetserleg is surrounded by mountains, with craggy outcrops, and pine trees cover the hill tops, giving it a very alpine feeling. So the snow we had had seemed pretty apt. Today was bright and sunny, but some snow still remained. As we climbed we were surrounded by trees and it was very beautiful, although extremely steep in places.

We reached the top and began coming down, this was even steeper with lots of loose gravel, so we both took it easy, not wanting to skid too much or come flying off – getting gravel grazes on this stuff would be very sore! I’ve decided that riding a bike downhill on loose gravel is a lot like skiing down a piste that is icy in places. In fact there are a lot of similarities with skiing, both require concentration and focus, along with confidence and nerve. You have to choose your route and look ahead, but also you have to not think about the actual movement too much and let your body do it, trusting the skis/bike underneath you.

Finally it levelled out and we were able to release the brakes and enjoy whizzing down the final bit. We stopped for lunch near the river and tucked into the first of our supplies. It’s always nice one the first day you leave, as everything seems so plentiful and fresh. Lunch at the moment is cheese sandwiches with apple slices, some biscuits and coffee. A group of yaks sauntered over as we were packing up. I do like yaks, they walk like long haired, old hippies and remind me of the puppets in the Sound of Music, cos their heads seem to be a long way from their bodies, bobbing up and down as they walk.

From here it was 20km to the next town Ihktamir and I was confident we would fly along now and get there in now time, but as we rounded a bend a strong headwind hit us and it seemed to take forever to cycle that 20km. We reached the town and decided to camp near the river, not before having more food (yes cyclists are always hungry!) as a nice little cafe by the roadside.

Chris wasn’t too sure about being by the river as there were a number of gers around and it was quite open, despite a few trees. We cycled over to have a look and came across a group of kids by the river. They rushed over to see us and one of the lads was very keen to have a go on my bike. So I let him after showing him the brakes and holding the bike whilst he got going. He managed a few metres before turning too sharply and coming off, he was laughing and shaking his head, eager to have a another go. All the kids wanted a go and they asked us to take the bags off, so in the end we decided to camp there and unloaded the bikes. The kids did a few more circuits, before their grandmother arrived and telling them it was time to go back home. She was very nice and interested in what we were doing and concerned about where we would sleep. We put the tent up and showed her our sleeping bags and rollmats etc, so she was happy by then that we would be ok.

After they left we had a nice relaxing time by the river, ate the chocolate cake and watched the sunset, before crawling into our sleeping bags. Tomorrow we face another big climb up pass number 2 – Shar Bulagiin pass.

The next day we climbed for long time, with a side/headwind to contend with again. We took it steady and kept going, but it was hard work. Towards the end I got off and pushed up to top, before sitting down in a heap to rest. Looking forward to a nice long downhill, we were disappointed to go a little way down only to go back up again. The nice road ended as we met the road builders resurfacing, we tried to go around the edges but one guy seemed adamant that we couldn’t get passed and told us to go up on the dirt track above. We did this but it was really bumpy and up and down, we think he told us to go there for a joke as there was another lower track on the other side that seemed smooth and much easier. Once passed them, we decided to swap sides and get off this silly track. As we did this, Chris went down into a shallow ditch and somehow his derailer got bashed and ended up getting caught on one of his spokes, jamming everything.

We stopped and unloaded his bike as it was really jammed. We then spent an hour or two trying to fix it and get it to run well enough for Chris to cycle. However it was bent out of place meaning the chain wouldn’t run smoothly and on some gears it slipped off the cogs. Eventually we got it working well enough and carried on, but with Chris unable to use his lowest gears. Finally we saw the real downhill and enjoyed a few kms cruising down dirt tracks in the late afternoon sun.

As we reached the valley floor we saw some gers in the distance. We wanted to camp somewhere along here but also wanted to get as far as we could before it got dark, to make up for lost time. However as we passed the gers, one of the men beckoned us over, waving his arm towards him. We decided to stop and say hi. We were invited into his ger and given Su tet sai (milk tea) and a plate of cheesy dairy products was offered to us. One was like clotted cream and was delicious, I picked up a hard piece of what i thought was cheese, but struggled to bite into it and sat there nibbling it like a mouse!  We were then given horshor, which is a pancake filled with mutton and onion, we have had lots of horshor, but these were really lovely. We thought we ought to be going and didn’t want to out stay our welcome, but then more food was brought and we joined the family as they shared their dinner. It was fresh sheep meat and we were given slices of meat with big chunks of fat either side, liver, kidney and intestine filled with blood sausage meat (a bit like black pudding at home). It may not sound that nice, but for the first time in my life I actually enjoyed the liver and intestine sausage meat, it tasted nice! This was all served in a big bowl and we were passed various bits while the family dug in together. At the end the juice and stock was drank as a soup, which tasted amazing.  It was a great experience and we were happy to have been invited in.

We did leave though, just before it got dark and headed off down the valley. About 5 mins down the road Chris got a puncture – it really wasn’t his day today! So with the moon appearing in the sky and the temperature plummeting, he quickly changed it. But it really, really wasn’t his day and the new inner tube went flat instantaneously! Aggghhh!

In the end we changed it again and camped a few minutes later, putting the tent up in the dark! We were both full from all the meat and so we didn’t need to cook. We had a coffee and the carrot cake for pudding, Ah bliss!

Next day we had fun cycling along the valley floor for 15km with one river crossing to do along the way. The water was icy cold, but my feet were glad to see water and soon warmed up again.

We reached a small settlement called Dongol and rejoined the tarmac road, ready for pass number 3. Climbing steadily along a straight road, it didn’t seem to bad and i kept looking into the distance to see a steep climb. There were some huge birds flying overhead and i couldn’t help wondering if they might be eagles, they were massive. It was great watching them cycling in the sky, flying sideways on the wind and hovering above unsuspecting prey below. At 32km I could see an Ovoo and realised that we must be near the top, yet we hadn’t had a steep climb at all? I was smiling away to myself once i figured this out, 3 more kilometres and we’d be at the top, hurrah. I looked back and we were pretty high, but it was so gradual. Pretty sure that listening to Florence and the machine helped too.

We whizzed downhill, and then like yesterday started to go up again, blimey – is there no end to the hills in this place? Ahead of us was a really steep hill, straight up and then straight down, but too steep to cycle. So we pushed and pushed and at the top the heavens opened, with the wind rushing to join the fun.  We quickly pulled on our waterproofs and boots, before heading down. It turned out to be a really long downhill, but the wind was ferocious and made it very hard. After a few kms and cold rain, we decided to stop. It was late and we really wanted to enjoy this nice long  downhill rather than going into battle. Tired and hungry we pulled off and set up camp. It was an amazing view, as we were still so high, we could actually see mountains below us!

In the morning, I reached for our little titanium kettle, left in the porch of our tent, and the water in it was frozen! It had been pretty cold overnight. When we set off we were both wearing lots of layer and gloves – going downhill can be cold.

Not long after we set off, we passed a JCB digger along the road, tilted at a funny angle and the driver was slumped forward in his seat. The engine was still running, but he was not moving. We pulled over quickly, worried that he might have been taken ill or passed out. Chris approached and knocked on the window. The man woke up and seemed to be ok, giving us a thumbs up. He put the digger into gear, reversed a bit and then carried on. He must have fallen asleep – not the best thing to doing whilst on a mountain road driving a huge digger!

We continued downhill for a long time before reaching Chuulut Gorge and stopping for an early lunch. It was still cold and I was keen to go inside and warm up a bit. One lady beckoned us over and we went inside. It was toasty in there and we seemed to be in her front room, although it was technically a small restaurant. She cooked us up some fresh soup with meat and Tsiuvan for Chris. Basically flour and water dough, cut like pasta strands, with mutton. This is the backbone of each meal in Mongolia, if you are lucky you may get a few vegetables too, although it seems the further you get from UB the less veg you get.

We tried to find somewhere to buy water, but the shops were all closed. However Tariat was only 37km away so we thought we would be ok with what we had. As we headed off, we saw that there was a gorge to our right. So we stopped to check it out and found a ‘gorgeous’ (get it?) scene below us! It was lovely, with clear water, pine trees and rocks, all hidden from sight, like a mini paradise. Glad we stopped to have a look.

The gorge continued alongside us as we cycled and we wondered if there might be some information about it. But the only thing we saw was this old crumbling sign.

We were back on the dirt tracks again now and pushing on, hoping to reach Tariat and Tsagaan Nuur (The white lake). I had a sudden craving for some fudge and was day dreaming about a fudge shop in Christchurch, NZ. About 10 minutes later a 4×4 pulled alongside us and some people got out wanting to take our photo. They were very friendly and as they were leaving the woman gave us a handful of sweet each. Later on when stopped for a little rest, I open one of the sweets and guess what it was? Fudge!!!! How amazing is that? Really does make you wonder if there are bigger things at work sometimes.

The road climbed once again and a big hill took us a while to get up. This was swiftly followed by another big hill, but in the distance we could finally see Tariat. We were about 10km away and it was 5.30pm, so we could make it. The weather had other ideas though. As well as seeing Tariat we could also see big clouds forming and bad weather closing in. A little later, and it was all white – we could no longer see the town. As we continued downhill along the valley we realised it was snow! A few minutes later and we were cycling into a full on headwind with cold icy snow hitting us in the face. Er, time to stop I think, had enough now.  But we needed water to cook. There was a river marked 6km before the town but we couldn’t see it anywhere. It turned out to be just ahead of us in a small valley.

Both cold and ready to stop, we decided to camp by the river as it was a little more sheltered and away from the road. But was really cold and by the time we were in the tent and stripping off wet clothes, the snow had completely covered all the surrounding mountains. Crazy! Despite the snow being cold and not great for cycling – we can’t help but be a little excited. I can only think that it comes from a childhood in England where snow means a day off school, snow ball fights and sledging – it’s fun!

The next morning however we we both reluctant to get out of our sleeping bags and it was really cold outside. Chris made porridge, only to realise that what he had bought was not actually porridge! so we ate a few biscuits. We finally got packed up and ready to go when it started snowing again. We cycled along slowly and what were sandy tracks, now became white snowy tracks. We were warm as we cycled, but my toes were numb with cold.

It wasn’t very far to the town, but once there we struggled to see anywhere to stay despite knowing there was a guesthouse and a hotel. Buildings in Mongolia are not labelled and most are gloomy affairs with concrete or brick walls, one low closed door and windows if you are lucky. The lights will not be on and you literally have to go inside to figure out what might be in there. Luckily we managed to meet Tunga in her jeep, she runs a guesthouse and showed us the way. A very basic affair, but with a roaring hot stove we were warm and toasty in no time, and able to dry out our wet clothes. No wonder fire is sacred here in Mongolia.

So we made it 170km and now plan to spend a couple of days here to rest, go horse-riding and see the lake!

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Cycling the QuerPass, Maniganga and Kanga

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

The next morning I woke up and I still had my arms and legs, and the food was still in the tent porch. I had not slept well but I had slept warm despite the sub zero temperatures and the frozen water I was melting to make breakfast with. The weather outside the tent did not look that nice, There was a storm at the top of the valley and it was coming my way. I opted to stay in the tent and see what would happen.

2011-03-04 004

When I left Dege I was told that this mountain pass called QueEr was covered in snow and I would not be able cycle over it. Fortunately there was no snow and despite the higher altitude it seemed easier going, as the climbs were gentle and the road pretty good. The snow passed over and left a light dusting on the ground so I packed up and set off. I was feeling remarkably good about things, despite the bad night. I think knowing that I was going to make it to the top was a good feeling. It only looked like there were three more bends to go but the driver who had offered me a lift the day before had said that the road bent around and that what I could see was not the summit.

Near the top cycling QueEr pass

The first few hours went really well and I made it to the last visible bend from the road below and started to disappear around the back of the peak I had camped under. I stopped for short break and had a brief encounter with a couple on a bike and a police man in his car. I continued round the corner and saw that there was two or three very long bends to go. I got to the end of the first one and had a quick lunch, the weather was too good to stop, if I took a long lunch I might end up getting caught out in the snow and having to push to the top again. Fortunately the weather held out and I got to the last bend, negotiated a pack of dogs that seemed to be protecting an abandoned building and rode up the last bend.

The summit QueEr pass

I was ecstatic, 5050m the QueEr Pass, the highest point so far on the trip and all by bike this time, no pushing.

The cyclist on the summit of QueEr pass Sichuan, China

The top was a little narrow and there seemed to be a reasonable amount of traffic. I managed to get some summit photos and then pointed the bike downhill. As I started to descend I saw a line of traffic coming up the hill, only it was stationary.

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There was patches of snow and ice on this side of the mountain so I was having to take things slowly. Eventually I reached the vehicles that were stuck. A few of the trucks were struggling to get past a particularly icy section. I weaved my way in and out the trucks and cars, turned another bend and found myself on an ice free bumpy road. I let the brakes go and zoomed down the hill as fast as I dared. Half way down I spotted a tent in the valley.

Like minded travellers

I paused to see who it was. Rather than another cyclist is was some Chinese or Tibetans people who were camping out. They had a small cart with them, so were probably walking to Lhasa, a pilgrimage some hardy Tibetans will make from their home town. I continued to bounce down the hill until I met an old lady who was rounding up her cattle.

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I was due another break so stopped and offered to share some food with her. She seemed reluctant at first but then took an orange from the pile of food I had put between us. She did not say much and it was a strange interaction, but I felt nice to be in a position to be able to share. I was certain I would make it to Maniganga today and I would be able to resupply on food there. I waved goodbye to the lady and carried on, I passed a couple who were walking to Lhasa but praying all the way there.

On a pilgrimage

This involves walking three paces kneeling down putting hour hands on the floor so you’ree sliding your hands forward until you are lying down. Then you bring your knees to your hands, stand up, walk three paces then do it all over again. Most people wear a leather aprons and have blocks of wood attached to their hand. I thought cycling was hard, but this is extreme. Next I passed a very young couple who asked for a lift into town, I tried to explain the bike was heavy enough as it was, but they seemed disappointed. I wished them well pointed the bike down hill again. An hour later I arrived into a small town. Maniganga.

Maniganga was small, with one main street and not much else, but the people were friendly enough. I checked into what seemed to be the only hotel hoping for a shower. Unfortunately the water was all off due to frozen pipes, so no toilet or shower. The toilets were across the road behind another building, but you had to go before 10pm otherwise the dogs would get you. Despite all this I had a nice room and there was a restaurant attached to the hotel, I was very hungry and surprised the staff by polishing of four bowls of rice as well as my meat dish. I chatted with the owner of the hotel for a while who had a great money collection of international currency. I donated some English coins I still had and then retired to bed. It was Tibetan New Years Eve, but for me it was time to sleep.


The next day I had a relaxing morning and was invited to the hotel owners family house for tea and meat. They had a nice house a short ride from the hostel and I did my best to communicate with his parents whilst chopping bits of meat from the hunk and sipping tea.


By midday it was time to start moving again, so I loaded up the bike once more, pointed the bike north and started cycling. The road although unsealed was pretty good and progress went well, I found a great camp spot by a river and had a peaceful night. The family I had had meat and tea with had assured me that there were no bears in this area and I would be perfectly safe.

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I woke up to a light dusting of snow and slowly started to pack up, the day progressed with good roads and a mixture of snow, sleet and ice. It was quite cold but as long as I kept cycling I was happy. The good road climbed short hills and made for good progress. I was certain of making it to Ganze, a big town were there was sure to be water and comfy bed to sleep in.

Snow bike imprint

Early afternoon I was cycling along in my own world, as light snow fell from the sky and melted on my waterproof jacket, when a motorbike pulled up along side me. The woman on the back started speaking fluent English but with an Indian accent. We continued moving and cycling, well they were motoring and chatting. It turned out her village was a few kms away, she lived in India now but was back visiting family. We stopped at the village shop for tea and I was invited to the village. The woman reckoned she could find me a place to stay for the night and asked if I was free tomorrow, she and others in the village were walking up the local holy mountain for Tibetan New Year and then there was horse racing in the afternoon. It is a travellers dream to be invited to do all this, so I followed her up the side road that lead to a large cluster of houses, that was her village.

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The last Day Batang to BaiYu

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Local family last camp before BaiYu1

I woke up before the sun had had a chance to work its magic on me and the frozen kit.  There had been a barking dog during the night so I wanted to get packed up incase I might have been camping where I should not have.  I pushed the bike up the steep slope that had concealed me during the night.  I was about to wheel out to the main road, cycle a few kms, then find a good spot to cook some breakfast and thaw out.  It had dropped to about –15 in the night and my wet boots and socks had frozen.

       ice bike snow cycling the last day before BaiYu


On my way the family of there that were driving their cattle up the road on foot waved and smiled at me.  The seemed relaxed at my presence, the sun was starting to appear of the tree tops and warm things up, so I decided to stay put instead.  Soon coffee and porridge were sat in front of me and my socks and boots were drying in the morning sun.  I sat on my foam mat bare foot allowing my toes to air and soak up the suns rays.  Half way through breakfast the family came over to say hello.  They were so smiley  and seemed to radiate happiness.  Weather it was my presence or their life that was making them happy I did not konw or care.  I relished in their good vibes, and we chatted as much as we could in Chinese and sign language.   The father said that I should have slept in the small hut on the other side of the road, I tired to explain that it was late when I got here and I was not sure if there was anyone living in the hut and I did not want to wake them.  Also I carry a tent and stove so am generally self sufficient.  How much was understood I will never know.snow cycling the last day before BaiYu3

They watched me pack up and check over the bike.  I was worried I had cracked a rim on the rear wheel, but a clean with a rag and hot water got rid of the ice and mud revealing shiny rims with no cracks.  I said goodbye to the family and cycled of down the road, wobbling around as I got used to the snow.  As the morning progressed I gathered confidence and as was soon whizzing down hill over the snow and stripping layers of cloths of as the sun rose higher in the sky.  My confidence took a knock mid morning when I hit a patch of ice and suddenly found my self being thrown of the bike and doing octopus style forward rolls over the snow.  Eventually I stopped in a tangled mess of the snow covered ground.  I did a quick mental check and realized that I had fallen of the  bike but nothing was sore and as I got up I was relived to find nothing was broken either.  I hopped back on the bike and carried on bouncing down the hill.  A few hours later a few more falls and one puncture the snow had melted and I had hit tarmac.  I was so happy.  I took some pictures and pushed on, only 14km to town, a bed and a shower.

First sign to Baiyu

I arrived to civilization and lent my bike against a shop wall and celebrated with a coke and some biscuits.  A crowd soon gathered around me, but only a few people seemed brave enough to come and talk to me, the rest just stared from a distance.  I finished my celebration drink and popped into the hotel next to the shop, No Water! Undeterred I set of into town and found a few more hotels, all cheap but again without water.  Eventually some young kids who had been following me and understood what I wanted, helped me to find the one hotel that had a shower and running water.  These luxuries came with a 12 pound price tag four times as much as the other places that gave you a bucket to wash with if the water came back on.

 tarmac snow cycling the last day before BaiYu

The water at my hotel was not due to come on for two hours so I carried all my stuff up to my room and went to go and find some food.  I found a small restaurant and was made very welcome by the family that run it.  Yhey did not seem to have any of my usual favourites but they suggested I try this big round piece of bread.  They assured me it was nice, so I sat down to drink my tea while they heated it up.  The bread itself was hollow but inside was a meat stew, it tasted lovely and the top of the loaf was great to dip in the sauce.  I finished the whole thing and then went back to the hotel to turn on the taps, hot water came out and I was soon underneath it scrubbing the dirt from my body. 

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I spent the next two days relaxing in the town, apart from a trip to the monastery there was little to do apart from eat and relax and get ready for the next adventure.

Pray wheels BaiYu Monastary, Sichuan China BaiYu Monastarty

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Day 6 Batang to BaiYu – A long walk in the snow with a bike

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Thumb_0013camp and bike before second pass Batang to BaiYu road   

I woke up about 9am a good nights sleep. Looking out the door told me all I needed to know. It had snowed more overnight and it was very cold. The snow had subsided but the sky was grey. I put the kettle on for coffee and porridge then brought the bike wheel in the tent to fix the puncture. It started snowing again and I was glad I had opted to stay in the tent for breakfast. I had some visitors who were either amused or amazed at my presence. We exchanged pleasantries and we wished each other well on our journeys. At midday it was brightening up, I had spent the morning in the tent sipping coffee and relaxing, most of my gear was already packed up so I put the stove away, collapsed the tent and pushed to the road. The snow was ankle deep and I had no idea if it was possible to cycle or not. I spent the next hour pushing and cycling when I could, until I got to the end of the gorge and the valley opened up. The summit was now in sight but it was a lot further than i thought. The road wound up the side of the mountain that was covered in snow.

Thumb_0015the bike on The ascent Batang to BaiYu road

I stopped for some food and chatted with some guys who had come down the hill on bikes. They got back on their bikes wished me luck and I started to push on. Another guy stopped and offered me a lift. It was a tempting offer as now I had resigned to pushing the bike. There were two problems. One I was too stubborn to take a lift and two, the guy was on a small motor bike. He was convinced he could get me, my bike and bags on the back of the motor bike. Trying not to hurt the guys feelings I conveyed that i was quite happy pushing.

Thumb_0014The ascent Batang to BaiYu road

Eventually he accepted I was stupid and left me to push my bike up what remained of the 4000m mountain. The next 5 hours of my life were quite surreal. Alone in the snow. My mind wondered in the silence that surrounded me. Bears, where to camp, when to stop and Liz. I felt like a lucky Joe Simpson, I had my legs intact, food and water but I was struggling to stay focused and meet my 20 minute goals. My solitude was interrupted by two smart 4×4′s coming down the mountain. The well dressed driver rolled down his window. I explained where I had come from and he let out sounds of approval and admiration. The family in the back of the car all leaned over to get a better look at me while the driver dug out a can of red bull and passed it to me. I thanked him and he set off allowing the second car to roll forward and pass another can of red bull. Smiles and thank yous again and the second car sped off.  Alone again I drank a red bull and drew on its caffeine to get me up the hill.

Thumb_0016chris2 The ascent Batang to BaiYu road

I had devised a strap that looped over my shoulder and attached to the bike, it allowed me to alternate between pushing and pulling, giving the different muscles a rest every change. At 7.30 pm I pushed over the crest of a small rise and was greeted by prayer flags.

Thumb_0018the second summit Batang to BaiYu road2

This was the top, i had made it.  Just over 7 hours and only 7kms. I was too tired to appreciate the achievement and after the summit photos, I was getting really cold.

Thumb_0017the second summit1 Batang to BaiYu road

I put on another layer and set off freewheeling down the hill. I built up momentum and elated that cycling down hill in the snow was actually possible. I squeezed the brakes as my speed increased but nothing happened. I managed to slow the bike to a stop using my feet and got off to see the problem. The brake pads were encased in blocks of ice and frozen solid. I chipped as much ice as I could off but they were still stuck. I decided to risk using some hot water from my thermos flask, if I could melt the ice, then I hoped that the heat from the friction of rubber on rims would stop any further build up of ice on the way down. The top of the flask was frozen solid. I twisted with all my strength until the metal top came off the plastic cup. I cursed, the rest of the top was just not going to come off. On the bright side i now had an extra cup for my next tea party. I set off walking down the hill, bike in tow looking for a good place to camp. Unfortunately the road wound down the mountain and the sides were to steep to sleep on. About four hours later I got to the valley bottom and got out the tent. It took me ages to prize the now frozen tent material apart. The ground was frozen solid so I had to use my bike to hold up the tent. At midnight I eventually flopped in my sleeping bag exhausted again. I was hungry and cold but to tired to do anything about it. So spent the night shivering between bouts of sleep.

 Thumb_0012night ride after the second pass Batang to BaiYu Road

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Day 5 Batang to BaiYu – Morning tea and a warning about bears

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

By 10am I was bouncing down the track towards what I thought would be a reasonable size village where I could pick up a few supplies.  Then I was going to try and get to the top of the second summit.  The issue I had was that I was not really sure how far I had gone as my bike speedo that gives me my daily distance was broken or had been malfunctioning at least.  So quite how far it was to the top I don’t know.

   Thumb_0003the road1  Batang BaiYu road after first pass after Shama

The English forest track in China  

The track was lovely, pretty smooth and I passed through the occasional wooded archway and felt instantly at home, like I was in an English forest.  I passed a couple of local women walking, they were shy and did not say or respond much.  I offered them some tea and nuts and raisins as it was now time for my morning break but they declined and carried on.  After my morning tea I carried on down the path, it was mostly flat with the occasional ascent or descent,  I was not sure how fast I was going but it felt supersonic compared with days on the other side of the hill.  I came upon a house, the first for a while and a family was working on an extension or something similar,  I was invited in and given some hot tea.  It was the same women that I had seen on the road a while earlier.  I was now upstairs in a Tibetan style house watching TV with the kids.  My attempt at any kind of conversation was met the shy smiles, despite my best attempt with Chinese.  I think perhaps the men that were working downstairs would have been more open to conversation, it was the father of the family that invited me in the first place.  Still it was lovely tea and the old mother of the house grabbed one of my empty water bottles before I left and filled it up with more tea for the road.

  Thumb_0002pray flags Batang BaiYu road after first pass after Shama7

Prayer flags by the side of the road

I arrived into a big village early about 1pm.  I was keen to stock up on a few snacks, I was pretty sorted for food as I did not bank on finding the town or there being much here.  To my surprise it was much bigger than I expected and buying a few packs of biscuits turned into a spectator sport.  I had over 50 people crowding around me and my bike, mostly staring but the brave few were talking.  One guy in particular was keen to know if I needed a women, I said I was married and that I would be quite all right thank you.  Feeling a little overwhelmed at the crowd I cycle out of town about 500m and the locals went back to chatting and playing pool.  I was followed by two young guys who sat on the bikes and watched me have some food by the side of the road.  They were actually really nice and I think just genuinely shocked and amazed to see I guy with white skin and a beard on a bicycle in their town.

Thumb_0004a third of the people croud village  between first and second pass Batang to BaiYu road

A few of the crowd from the village

I pushed on eager to get some more kms done before sunset and make the most of dry and good roads.  The road started to climb steadily and by 3pm I was exhausted.  I realised that I had not had any lunch in the excitement of getting to the town and being a bit overwhelmed by my reception there.  I stopped to have some more tea and nuts and raisins as I pondered what to do.  As this rate was unlikely to make it to the top and I was out of energy really, so I decided I would carry on for another hour or so, camp, eat lots and go for the summit fresh the next day.  Another 4000m peak was probably not best attempted on an empty stomach.  Just as I was packing up to set of a couple of cars stopped and the guys got out to chat with me.  I explained what I was doing and asked about the road ahead.  They seemed amused at my journey but impressed at the same time.  Then they said ‘what about the bears, do you have a gun.’  ‘Err, no’ I said.  ‘But in the tent the bears will come and get you.’ was the summary of their reply.  Just so you know my Chinese is not that good and by this point sign language was very much in play, not that that helped matters.

  Thumb_0005local kids  between first and second pass Batang to BaiYu road

Cheeky kids on the way out of town

The guy said I could come and sleep at this house and the head on tomorrow.  Where was his house I asked.  In the village I had jut come from, that was over 5km away and it had been a bit of a slog to get up to here.  I politely declined his offer said I would be OK and the bears would not get me.  My new friends left and wished me luck.  I set off back up the hill, in my head I was going through all my options.  As the road progressed the road got narrower and narrower and I soon found myself in a gorge flanked with trees on one side and rocks on the other.  There was also a stiff breeze building up and storm clouds approaching.  Great I thought to myself.  I was either going to die in my tent from a falling tree or rock; be hit bit a drunk driver who did not expect a guy to be sleeping literally next to the road or be eaten by a bear!

 Thumb_0006rock art 2  between first and second pass Batang to BaiYu road

Rock art where i got my bear warning

I decided my best option was to carry on, about an hour later I was finding everything very hard, I checked the bike over and discovered that the back tyre was slowly going down.  There was only an hour and a half of light left but not to far ahead there was a small clearing that was probably just safe enough from falling trees or rocks.  By the time I got to the clearing the tyre was almost flat.  It was time to admit defeat and camp.  As I sat be the side of the road taking stock of the situation the wind started to pick up and the trees so the side of my started to sway more and more until a few of them started falling down.  My little clearing was still looking safe enough though.

As I assessed the best route over the rocky ground to the clearing I heard some noises ahead in the distance. I froze and listen carefully, I had no idea what it was and did not really want to find out.  A sort of high pitched yelping sound that I could not identify, man or beast I though to myself.  The noises did not get any better and my not so great camp site was now looking rather, unpleasant.  I lay the bike on the ground, pumped up the tyre with the bike fully loaded and started up the hill to see what all the fuss was about.

I turned a small corner and was delighted to see a group of locals with two big trucks heaving some massive logs off the side of the gorge.  They were using smaller trees as leavers and expertly dropping logs the size of a small bus on to a truck just below them.  I cycled passed and waved, they waved back and carried on with their heaving and yelping in unison as another log fell onto the truck.  The tyre seemed to be holding out but the wind getting stronger.  The thought of camping now was not appealing, it could not be that far to the summit I thought.  A few kms later I had a new plan, cycle till 7pm, have a quick dinner until 7.30pm, last light then cycle to the top. 

At 7.15 I was down a small embankment sheltering from the wind eating a bowl of noodles, not the most energy giving food but I thought two packets and a coffee would be enough to make it to the top.  At 7.45 I was back on the road with my bike lights and reflective jacket on slowly going up.  The road did not seem that steep but cycling was becoming harder, the altitude, my lack of energy and the general uncertainty of what lay ahead had taken its toll and I was tired.  I continued up the hill, alternating between cycling and pushing. looking out for the occasional bear that might be looking for a cyclist to snack on.  Not long after dinner I had decided that singing was good, it would keep up my moral and hopefully scare the bears away until I could get to the top and then fly down the hill and find safe spot to camp. 

Just after 10pm I was laughing in my head as I sang and pushed my way up the hill thinking how ridiculous the situation was.  I had passed a large clearing a few kms back with lots of prayer flags and was now confident the summit was just around the next corner, things were looking up.

At 10.30pm the noticed the bike was feeling particularly sluggish again a quick look at the back tyre told me all I needed to know.  At almost the same time the wind picked up and with it white fluff was starting to fall to the ground.   At 10.35 the bike and I were covered in snow.  I laughed again only louder this time but still in my head.  It was time to call it a day, a slowly started walking back down the hill to the clearing that I had passed a few kms back.  The wheel would just about hold out I thought and things would look a lot better in the morning.

Thumb_0001after two mintues of snow  between first and second pass Batang to BaiYu road

After 5 minutes of snow

At midnight I was finally tucked up in both sleeping bags, warm dry and cosy.  I had munched a few chocolate bars for good measure.  I was so tired I knew that the thought of marauding bears would not keep me awake and was also comforted that any self respecting bears would not be out in the snow and the wind anyway.  With that final thought I put my head on my pillow of clothes and fell straight asleep.

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