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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.