Sichuan Tour. Day 11, 24 May. Luding to Tianquan

Big busy cities are not really my cup of tea. Its outskirts are usually not much better either; they’re usually drab, dull and dusty. Chengdu and its surrounds tick every box in the list, which is why I wanted to get the last part of riding over and done with ASAP.

But, as the title of this post suggests, I failed in my attempt to ride at least half of the remaining 300km to Chengdu.

I left Luding at about 8.30am, after another typical Sichuan breakfast of crullers, plain dumplings and soya milk. The air was still a bit chilly, but the day seemed very promising. Today would see me achieve another record of sorts – riding through the longest tunnel ever in my touring career – the 4 km long Erlangshan Tunnel.

But first, there was some climbing to do… not the serious climbs that I had been through early in the tour but still a climb – some 27 kms of it.

First order of the day -- breakfast. Freshly made yue tiow...

..accompanied by soya milk and plain dumpling

The ascent started just a little outside Luding, the well-paved road gently winding its way up into the mountains. As always, the scenery is a balm for tired legs, and immensely gratifying to the soul. I never tire of this.

My guess is it has something to do with making Tibet a better place...by the Chinese, of course.

The only thing that jars you out of your reverie as you pace yourself up this side of the mountain are the massive 10-wheelers (some with more than 10 wheels) negotiating their way down the mountain – the loud revving of their low gears straining under engine-braking, and clouds of steam spewing out of the sides as water tries to cool down the overheated brakes. Which means the side of the road which descended is perpetually wet from all that braking. It’s quite unnerving when these monstrosities rumble pass you, and more so when you’re smothered in the billowing steam.

Fresh fruits in season, those that grew naturally in this region, were in abundance, and they could be found lining the roadside – walnuts, peaches and raspberries being the main draw. It was time to indulge.

Cherries!

and walnuts

and peaches.

and raspberries

After passing a few stalls, at the little town of Gangudi, I stopped at a stall that offered the aforementioned fruits.

As usual, a typical exchange would ensue, with me trying to pass off as Chinese, and the Chinese women in their provincial patois, which meant half of whatever they were saying was lost on me.

“How much are these?”, me pointing to the baskets of absolutely delicious looking raspberries.

“20 kuai”, came the quick reply. She must have seen through me as a poseur Chinese. Well, it was still dirt cheap by Malaysian standards, which works out to about RM10.

“Aahh…I can’t finish the whole basket. Can I just buy half?” I asked the lady.

“Of course, no problem” was her reply and she proceeded to pour half the succulent contents into a plastic bag. I couldn’t wait to pop a few into my mouth. There were incredibly sweet. I then opened the handlebar bag, rearranged the contents a little so that the raspberries were on top, and proceeded to pedal off, happy in the thought that another memorable experience was in the bag.

“Hey” I was jolted by a very loud shout. “Mei yo kei chien ah!” (Haven’t paid yet!)

In my raspberry-induced excitement, I had completely forgotten to pay her, but despite her tone of voice, she was still smiling. Apologising profusely, I paid her the money and she, in her benevolent, motherly manner, took a plump little peach and pushed it into my hand, as if to make up for her shouting at me. How sweet…

I continued on my journey, with the handlebar bag top open, popping a few berries into my mouth every few pedal strokes, slowly savouring its sweetness. After only a few hundred metres, my fingers were all purple in colour, and it looked like it was going to stay coloured for a while. I was pretty sure my tongue matched my fingers in all its purple glory.

How to eat raspberries on the go...

Purple was the colour of the day

The weather was lovely, the air nice and crisp, the scenery captivating, the incline agreeably nice and I was eating freshly picked raspberries while I ambled along at a leisurely pace towards a personal-record-breaking ride through a 4 km long tunnel. Honestly, can it get any better?

It can, and it did.

As I rounded a sharp switchback, I was assailed by very tantalizing aromas of meat being cooked. I thought I must be downwind of some restaurant’s kitchen exhaust fan. I was right … but it wasn’t a restaurant. It turned out to be a huge store that sold only one thing – bite-sized meat snacks prepared in every conceivable manner. I had to buy some, of course. They weren’t cheap but seeing as these were prepared right here in the store, it had to be fresh. It looked like my food store was growing.

Meat heaven..

Meat, cooked every which way you could think of ...

and then some...

including dried.

A few kilometres before the tunnel, I came to a viewing point by the side of the road. It was actually half a viewing point, the other half having been taken over by some locals peddling cure-all type of merchandise. There were some very strange looking things on display. The stall owners were obviously bored from the lack of customers and I was the convenient distraction that just rolled in.

We went through the standard exchange of small talk and the younger of the two I was talking to suddenly volunteered to take a photo of me with his fellow peddler. He must have been bored out of his wits. They were also quite disappointed when they couldn’t persuade me to buy some of their exotica. Well, I obviously had no use for deer antlers and lingzhi and whatnots on the road.

I have no idea what those little furry things are...

Deer antlers I could recoqnise

The view of the valley I had just ridden up from

wish i knew what it meant...

The first of 2 tunnels before the actual 4km Erlangshan Tunnel

In the distance, you can barely make out the entrance of the Erlangshan tunnel

Free for bicycles, of course.

Actually, no bicycles allowed...except for Malaysians.

Almost there...

Finally, the entrance to Erlangshan tunnel.

The tunnel is very well lit, with emergency laybyes at regular intervals. It was cold inside

The tunnel exit...and into a different world..

Misty, wet and cold.

But the scenery was just awesome

It would be awesome too, if one got hit by these boulders..

Just a few kilometres later, I had to stop and layer up more clothing. The cold was just too biting. Even so, a little later, I had simply had to stop…I needed breakfast #2 to warm me up. I stopped at a little shop and walked inside to find that it was also part of a home converted into a restaurant. The living room was next to it and inside, on a low coffee table, was an electric brazier. One of the 2 sisters running the shop was inside while watching TV, comfortably warmed by the heater/electric cooker. Seeing me in my cold misery, she very kindly asked me to come inside and warm myself. Immediately, I sat myself next to the brazier and felt the life-giving warmth creeping back into my body. That wasn’t all. I looked up to see the sister smiling at me and offering me a glass of steaming hot tea. They had to be angels walking on earth.

Pretty soon, the fried rice I ordered was served. I was a bit surprised by the size of the bowl but later, I was even more surprised that I actually finished it. Cycle-touring does make you a bottomless pit.

Also good for warming up humans...

My goal of reaching Yaan, which is about halfway to Chengdu, faded when the last 20kms to Tianquan became rolling hills instead of what I thought would be downhill all the way. Worse, it had begun to drizzle a little. At 6pm, I rolled into the town of Tianquan and I knew I would have to call it a day here.

Tianquan is a mid-sized town, not particularly pretty or interesting. I stopped at the first decent looking hotel and checked myself in, not without some effort though. The residents of Tianquan were mostly Foochow, and I was completely bewildered with their questions, seeing as I wasn’t a Chinese national. I wasn’t quite sure but I think the hotel was only for Chinese nationals. In the end, I had to fill up some kind of from that didn’t look like it was for guest registration. This was an oldish hotel so the the rooms were pretty big, with high ceiling and art deco type of furniture. The plumbing wasn’t in full working order but for only 60 yuan, I wasn’t complaining.

The hotel I stayed in... located at the opposite left of the junction

Another day, another oily, salty meal...

Out on the street, I came upon a pushcart selling roasted corn. It was nice just standing at the stall waiting for the corn to be ready

I’ve also decided that tomorrow, I was going to ride all the way to Chengdu – all 200 kms all of it. It would be flat anyway, and I’d rather kill myself in one day of extreme riding and enjoy an extra day chilling out in Chengdu than do it in 2.

I must be a closet masochist … I think…

 

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Sichuan Tour. Day 8, 21 May, Danba to Tagong via Bamei

Well rested and refreshed, it was time to move on. Today, I’m heading for Tagong, famous for its grasslands. It would have been great to ride there but there’s a 4,000m pass (and freezing cold, too) to surmount and I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another oxygen-deprived ride. The plan was simple — take the mini-van to Banmei, about 80km away, and then ride the remainder of the 38km or so to Tagong (I was assured that it was all downhill from Banmei but…I’ve heard that one before). As well, I would not be able to make Luding and still keep to schedule, as this route is longer and adds a couple of days to my already tight itinerary.

So here I am, after a hearty breakfast of ‘pau’, and looking at the van that’s going to take me to Banmei . I had expected one of those tourist passenger vans, but somehow this one seemed a little shabby…..

A short distance out of town, the van stopped and the driver (in red shirt) proceeded to unload my bike to take in goods for Banmei. He explained that it'd be better if my bike was on top, which made sense.

So what was the load? Freshly slaughtered chickens! Oh man, I thought, I'm gonna suffocate with the stench of decomposing meat (think wet Pudu market, meat section)

But thankfully, because of the cold air, there was practically no smell whatsoever.

The road to Banmei is alpine country...the rich verdant greenery was so amazingly beautiful.

At this particular point, the river is crystal clear, gurgling over rocks that were reddish in colour. The driver very kindly stopped here for me and the other passenger to take in the views

I made a very smart choice in not riding the road to Banmei ... this was a particularly nasty section. Even the van had trouble getting up, so we came done and walked. Did I mention that it's freezing cold here?

Where we had just driven up from

A little after we descended the other side of the pass, the landscape changed dramatically -- arid and flat, very Tibetan.

Just before the town of Banmei where I started my ride to Tagong. The guy does the Danba-Banmei route almost everyday to deliver goods (and the occasional cyclo tourists and backpackers)

On the road, I was hailed with a 'Tashi Delek' from a passing monk ... I'm in the real Tibet now! (Tashi Delek: 'hello' in Tibetan)

The most happening place in Banmei -- where similar vans to the one I rode in congregate to pick up fares, either to Tagong, or to Danba.

The landscape was beginning to be take on a decidedly Tibetan influence. I was so glad I changed plans.

Just outside of Banmei, I stopped at this promising looking shop to have lunch

More 'Tashi Deleks' ... from these local slackers upholding China's national pastime, including the boss and cook.

The youngest waiter ever to have served me. He very dutifully poured me hot cha. Actually it was more like dragging the thermos across the floor.

The little fella was a joy to be with. Another one of those moments that really make your day.

How cold was it here? Count the layers...

Dad cooks up a storm while mom waits to serve it piping hot

Rice vermicelli soup and fried julienned potato with yak meat.

I gave up on the inner-tube yak meat after a couple of chews (discarded on the right side of plate)... As usual the food was spicy, salty and oily.

The road here is of the all-concrete variety...harsh but more lasting

Colourful prayer flags of every configuration are to be found all along the road.

Grand entrance to some grand monastery

Typical Tibetan architecture

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I was right again, or rather, I was conned again. It never fully turned out to be ‘downhill all the way to Tagong’. It was more like half and half, although the gradient was a little more forgiving than the one that went up to pass before Banmei. Still, it took a bit of effort, but the scenery more than made up for it. When it gets a little tough, I always stop to soak in the scenery and just be thankful that I can be here admiring God’s wonderful handiwork instead of slaving for the man in the office 🙂

The first thing that greets the visitor to Tagong — a prayer flag-covered hillside, and the looong row of prayer wheels of the town’s monastery.

The red building is the monastery and the guesthouse I stayed in, Snowland GH, is just next to it, the one with the red and white signboard.

First order of business — food.

Sally Kham, the owner of Snowland,  and her mother run the place. They’re not very good cooks but they more than make up for it with their genuine warmth and friendliness. This here’s is a dish of over-fried eggs and bacon and apple/cucumber salad.

Overly fried potato crisps...tastes great when you're hungry

My room, on the first floor

And the view of the hill from my room.

Tomorrow — exploring Tagong and its surrounds.

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Ride stats:

Danba to Banmei: 80km (by van), uphill all the way to the pass at 4000m, then downhill a bit to Banmei.

Banmei to Tagong: 38km half uphill, half downhill, concrete road all the way.

Distance today: 118km

Distance to date: 496km

Sichuan Tour. Day 5, 18 May, Deng Sheng to Rilong

Note: This post is photo-heavy. Please be patient while it loads 🙂

It was a cold, cold night sleeping in the tarpaulin-covered shelter. By 9pm, the temperature was already down to 15°, and I knew I was in for a tough night. The hut was not fully enclosed and the wind was picking up. The loose tarpaulin in front of the structure was flapping wildly in the wind, making quite a racket.

My Quecha sleeping bag had held up well. I’d just bought it at Decathlon, the sports hypermarket in Chengdu, as my arsenal of sleeping bags in my overflowing storeroom didn’t have one that was rated between 0° and 5°. Cheap at just 300Y, it kept me reasonably warm throughout the night. If it had been rated any less, I would have probably been frozen stiff in the night, which must have been well near the 0° mark. It sure felt like that when I reluctantly crawled out of it in the middle of the night to ease myself.

At daybreak I took a look at my watch. It was 5°. Worse, there wasn’t going to be any hot breakfast today. The camp was already up and about. I noticed that even the workers couldn’t handle the cold water that spewed out of the makeshift tap. The camp cook must have boiled a big pot of water for their morning wash-up. Using a small plastic container in the shape of a wide, shallow pot, they luxuriated in a quick wipe of their neck and face. It’s quite easy to easy to see when a person last took a full bath; just look at their hair. The principle is the same as those rasta dudes with dreadlocks. The key is not to wash it; just let it be. It’ll soon end up looking matted and hard.

At 8.30am, I was ready to hit the road. Blame the sleeping bag – it took a good 15 minutes before I could squeeze the darn thing back into its bag. It’s really amazing how it was packed in the first place; I mean, the whole thing would fill itself out into a voluminous sleeping bag once it was let out of its container. More practice needed, I guess.

Although it was still quite cold, the sun was already out and the clear sky was a promising blue in colour. 6 hours, maybe 7 tops – I reckoned that was how long it would take to ride 37 kms up to Balangshan. After that it would be a glorious 34 kms down to Rilong, which is still at a high altitude of 3,700m.

A few of the workers came out to see me off, including the kindly cook. Today, I was clad in insulated pants instead of shorts; going down the other side would be cold going. I felt so inspired today – the mountain tops were beckoning, and I was going to achieve a personal record of sorts.

Raring to go. Notice that my hair is beginning to take on the unbathed, matted look

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From here, I could see the road that I had ridden up the day before from Gengda

Almost level with the snow-capped peaks now...

 

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Endless switchbacks ... i enjoyed every torturous minute of it

The only tunnel of this road

and the awesome view that greets you as you ride out of it

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There were many yaks grazing on the impossibly steep slopes. These 2 were in the midst of crossing the road and stopped to eye me for a moment before dashing off as I came near.

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At 3,500m, about halfway up, I started to falter. The air was getting thinner and my engine was protesting against the lack of oxygen. But the scenery energised me. It was indescribably beautiful – alpine green mountains and white snow-capped peaks framed against a clear blue sky. Every once in a while, I would just stop and soak it all in. I would probably not be coming this way again so I wanted it to last.

At 3pm, my projected hour of arrival at Balangshan, I was nowhere near the top. It had been arduously slow going. In fact, it had gotten slower and slower as I moved up the altimetre. I was stopping more and more often, to get in some liquids as well as morsels of by-now very cold food (yesterday’s packed fried rice and eggs which had kept very well in the cold climate).

The last 8 or so kms were the worst. By now, I was nearing 4,000m and I was absolutely exhausted. At one point, I wanted to laugh out loud when I noticed that my cyclomputer kept registering ‘0’. It was that slow. I was in agony. I had moved into the clouds, and the wind was picking up. It was colder now.

Then I had a thought. Straight up wasn’t working. Every pedal stroke was painfully hard and the exertion was draining me. I started to wind (and whine) my way up instead. To say that I did not feel discouraged and defeated in this situation would be a lie. All I wanted was to go home, get a warm hug from my wife, drink a hot cup of Milo, eat a freshly toasted baguette slathered with melting butter, tuck in to my warm bed……

The winding helped tremendously. I was now making better time and suddenly I was chalking up the distance again. In granny gear (22 X 34), it was just easy spinning.

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Hitting a ceiling of clouds

At about 6pm, I turned a corner and there, laid out before me like a long, long snake winding its way up the mountain, was a set of switchbacks that led to the top of Balangshan. I knew this was it because of the familiar looking shrine that I had seen in photos of the pass. I counted the switchbacks and proceeded to make my way up. By this time, the wind was even stronger than before, and colder. My fingers and feet were already numb with cold. Then without warning, it hailed! Tic, tic, tic, it hit my helmet. Oh god, I thought, I was going to be deluged by a hailstorm. But, just as suddenly, it stopped.

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I continued on my last leg of the climb, riding into a howling wind. So near and yet so far. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I reached the pass. It had taken me 10.5 agonising hours. Words cannot describe the relief and joy that I felt on finally reaching the summit. It had been a long, hard day.

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At the top of Balangshan

and the road pointing down the other side

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I couldn't stay more than 5 minutes. I was shivering with cold in spite of 4 pieces of cold-weather clothing and a windbreaker. It was already 7pm by now, with only an hour or so of sunlight left. Reluctantly, I prepared to roll down the mountain, 34 kms to Rilong, the next nearest town.

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The other side of the pass looked pretty much the same, except that there was more snow

I turned round for one last look at this beautiful mountain pass before I sped downhill...what a ride it had been.

It was actually worse going downhill. The cold bit into me even harder. I was literally shaking with cold as I coasted down as fast as I safely could. It took me an hour to reach Rilong. As I rolled into town, darkness had started to settle on the landscape. Past a few dingy looking places, I paused to consider an offer by woman outside a 4-storey hotel. Actually, it was the warm, cosy lights that drew me in. I went in to take a look at the first floor room, which was very decent looking, and bargained her down from 60Y to 50Y (on a lark actually, but she gave in immediately anyway, so I said ok, I’ll take it.)

After I had luxuriated in a long, hot shower, I went downstairs for a hot (and oily and salty and spicy) meal which tasted absolutely delicious when you have have just come in from the cold and are ravenous with hunger (it was no fun eating cold, overnight fried rice and eggs in the cold). A celebratory beer was in order as well. I gave myself a pat on the back for a job well done.

At 3,000m, Rilong is even colder than Deng Sheng, but I slept very well that night in spite of the altitude. The electric warmer and thick quilt made sure of that.

Tomorrow, it would be an easy-peasy 115 kms downhill to Danba…… a fitting dessert to torturous Balangshan.

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RIDE STATS:
Deng Sheng (2,825m) to Balangshan (4487m) to Rilong (3,000)

Total ride time: 10.5hrs to Balangshan, 1hr to Rilong
Distance to day: 71km
Distance to date: 266km
Max altitude: 4,487m
Total ascent: 1,495m

Sichuan Tour. Day 4, May 17. Gengda to Deng Sheng

The altitude has been creeping up ever so steadily since I left Dujiangyan. At the same time, the temperature has been going the opposite direction. Gengda is at only 1505m, but even then it was pretty cold in the evening and early morning. When I left this morning, I had to layer up more than usual. But this would only be until the sun started to shine a little stronger.

After a quick breakfast of plain congee and man tau (not that there was anything else), I loaded up, together with 6 hard-boiled egss, and hit the road. The morning was bright and cheerful even if it was a bit cold. The air was sharp and fresh. I felt so alive. The trip was starting to get more challenging and at the same time, more rewarding in the scenery around me.

My destination for the day was Deng Sheng, located at the first switchback leading up to the 4,500m Mt Balang, or Balangshan in Chinese. I was really looking forward to this segment, with some trepidation as well. There were so many unknowns – this would be the highest I had ever been on bike, so I had no idea what to expect. I only knew that the altitude would be a challenge.

The highest I had ever been was 4,000m up Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, but that was on foot during the Kinabalu Climbathon, actually a race up the mountain and back. I had done that (up and down) in 7 hours, and I did suffer a little at the end. But then again, I was only carrying my puny 57kg frame at the time. This time, however, I was pedalling up with an almost 40kg load – bike, panniers and all. My 22 X 34 granny gear will be taxed to the limit.

As the day wore on, I was treated to another beautiful part of China. The gorges are always spectacular, with the clear river winding endlessly alongside the road; sometimes roaring as it passed over some rapids, and at times, quietly gurgling along at a serene pace. When you’re presented with such scenery, the last thing you’d want to do is hustle. I made numerous stops, for photography as well as to just soak it all in. Traffic was very sparse as well, making it a real delight to be on the road. The last time I rode in such similar conditions was in Laos, but that didn’t even come close to this.

Scenes like these continued to play out for the rest of the day...

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At times, it looked a bit dicey riding past a recently cleared landslip

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My first encounter with hairy yaks. They're very shy creatures and will run away the moment you come near.

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At about noon, I arrive at the once-bustling town of Wolong, famed the world over for its panda sanctuary, which is now closed. Ever since the 2008 earthquake, the town is a shadow of its former self. All the tourists are gone and most of the hotels closed. The smaller ones are barely surviving. Every establishment had an employee stationed outside trying to wave in passing vehicles and the occasional cycle-tourer.

Another closed panda sanctuary

I stopped in at a diner where the only other customers were a couple who had just driven down from Balangshan enroute to Chengdu. Intrigued, they asked me where I was going and when they found out I was heading the opposite direction, the only encouragement was a “Oooh, it's cold up there at the pass...5°!” Great, I thought, and it was only noon, and worse, everyone I spoke to said there was no hotel at Deng Sheng.

Undaunted, I ordered my food and tucked in. Think positive, I told myself…and pray hard. I also ordered fried rice to go, to complement my hard-boiled eggs….just in case. After lunch, I stopped by a Xiao Mai Pu (small grocery shop) and stocked up on water; again, just in case.

Towards dusk, my gps indicated that Deng Sheng was near. Since Wolong, this stretch was very sparsely populated. I’d only come across one single largish settlement of new houses. At length, I saw a building in the distance, and some tiny figures moving about. As I came near, it turned out to one single building, and an unfinished one at that. It was a a new hotel in the making. I’d realised that Deng Sheng was merely a point on the road, located at the very first switchback of many that led up to Balangshan, and not a town or even a village.

It was about 6pm and the workers had just called it a day. Some of them were congregated in groups having their dinner – rice and a single communal dish as accompaniment. The only alternative was to ride back to Wolong if I wanted to stay in a Jiu Tien…not a feasible idea at all. I decided to ask if I could bunk in with the workers, somehow, even if it was the uncompleted hotel, which at least offered a roof over my head. With the exception of a tent, I carried with me a Thermarest, a down-to-0-degree sleeping bag. That plus the extra food was going to be enough to last me through the night.

At first, some of the workers said no, you can’t sleep in the hotel, and no, we don’t have any bunks to spare. Then I approached a head-honcho of sorts and he pointed to a tarpaulin-covered structure and said I could sleep there if I wanted to. Great, I said, with much relief. I’ll take it.

Inevitably, I was now the centre of attention among the workers who were very curious about this cycle-tourer. My suite was located just next to the kitchen and the old man who was in charge of dinner very kindly offered me some as well. It was nothing more than just rice and a single meat and vegetable dish but I ate with relish. Kindness and relief help make for a very good appetite. I actually had seconds.

This was Deng Sheng. One solitary uncompleted building, nothing else...and a workers' camp.


This is the first of numerous switchbacks going up the mt. My hut is on the extreme right, covered in striped tarpaulin

Here, I’m having dinner outside my suite. At least I had a roof over my head.
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My first 2 visitors
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The camp's cook. Nice man

..and his kitchen

Camp shower. The workers merely wipe themselves down and it's off to bed.

All ready for a very cold night's sleep

Obviously, there wasn’t going to be a hot shower tonight. The workers themselves don’t bathe either, as the weather is very cool and dry even during the day. Just a quick wipe and that was it. A pipe behind the kitchen was spewing out a water and this was the only source for the whole camp. I washed my bowl in the water and was nearly frozen upon contact with the water. Deng Sheng is at 2,825m. Already quite high, and correspondingly, the temperature started dropping very fast the minute the sun went down.

After dinner, I proceeded to bunk down for the night, cozying myself in a corner of the hut. The wind was picking up in velocity, and it was getting quite chilly. But they were not done with me yet. One after another, the workers came by to say hello and ask the usual questions. After a while, it was getting quite tiresome but I played the grateful tourist well. Even when it was dark, they kept coming. I decided to switch off all lights and hoped the visits would end. It did.

Tomorrow, it’s onward and upward to Balangshan! Can’t wait.

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RIDE STATS:
Gengda (1,5490m) to Deng Sheng (2,825m)

Total ride time: 6:45
Distance to day: 57km
Distance to date: 195km
Max altitude: 2,825m
Total ascent: 1,285m

Sichuan Tour. Day 3, May 16. Dujiangyan to Gengda

Mun Tau, Pao, Yie Tiaw, Shi Fun, Tau Jiang (plain dunpling, meat dumpling, crullers, rice congee and soya milk)… they would feature quite constantly in my diet. But what I really liked was the price – cheap, cheap, cheap. It made up for the lack of breakfast variety, I suppose.

There's nothing like steaming hot man taus and freshly fried yew tiows to warm up a cold morning

along with shi fun...congee, and pickles

I always make it a point to sit with the locals if possible. They're always good for an interesting conversation. This guy was no exception. The hotel is directly in the background. 7 Days is just a little behind to the right.

After breakfast (featuring all of the above), I headed out of Dujiangyan. The sky was cloudless, and the sun shone hot and bright. I couldn’t wait to hit the hills. About 10km out of the town, the road quieted down from the sparse traffic (most of it went through the expressway), and I started on the first of many climbs for the day.

The first of many dams that I would be passing

The first of many tunnels I would be riding through

I see a guy waving excitedly and taking a photo of me as I turn a corner. An admirer? His name is Michael Leonardo; from Shanghai en route to Lhasa on a solo bike tour, and he is mighty pleased to see me, or my bike pump* rather, after experiencing a puncture. Michael (call me Leonardo) suffered the same problem I had with his puny pump but my new 30Y pump made short work of filling his new tube.

* I’d just bought a new one prior to leaving Chengdu, as the one I’d brought had developed weak lungs and couldn’t seem to make it past 50psi; my Marathons demanded 80psi at least to be able to hum a nice tune on the tarmac.

Leonardo bade me ride with him as far as we were going on the same road until we parted ways, each to his day’s destination. Collecting brownie points seemed to be the order of the day as, a little later, we came upon a stalled 3-wheeler in a tunnel. The owner, an elderly man, was obviously having trouble pushing his vehicle to the end of the tunnel. Passing him by, I asked if he needed help and his face broke out in a huge sigh of relief. We rode quickly to the end of the tunnel and then ran back to the old man. He got inside to steer while we pushed him on his way. There was an ever-so-slight incline but we easily managed. Out of the tunnel, the old man was very thankful that providence had sent 2 timely rescuers to his aid.

Fruits are cheap and plentiful. We stopped a fuit vendor in a van and gorged on watermelon and fresh plums. Perfect for blazing hot days like today

Chalking up 2 good deeds in one day sure felt good so lunch was in order. At Yingziu, the epicentre of the 2008 earthquake, Leonardo repaid the pump favour with a huge lunch, one which, hungry as we were, we couldn’t managed to finish. I wondered if it was the shop owner who fleeced us with bigger-than-necessary portions of food, or was it Leonardo in typical generous-Chinese-host mode, making sure that I was not wanting for food.

Coming into Yingziu

The old Yingziu was totally wiped out. Every house here is spanking new

You can tell it caters to the many tourists who come and gawk at nature's handiwork

Lunch was fried tomato and egg, fish soup, and fried vegetables.

After lunch, we parted ways. Leonardo to Wen Chuan directly north, and me to Gengda, directly west. The road to Gengda almost immediately deteriorated into broken gravel and loose dirt. This was to continue for 20 kms, but it did make up for it with some very stunning views of the gorges. Remnants of the earthquake could still be seen here and there – houses rooted up and hung at precarious angles, and the sides of the gorges raw and broken where tectonic plates rubbed each other into submission. It’s a very depressing sight.

Riding into earthquake territory. It started out nice and smooth.

then got rough...

and then it got rougher..

But it was still beautiful country

At one point, I rode through a longish tunnel that was unlit, wet, muddy, potholed and cold. My 900-lumen Magicshine light helped immensely in lighting up the dingy bowels of this tunnel. Everything is doubly amplified in a tunnel, especially the sound of heavy vehicles. A bright rear light is an essential piece of equipment when riding in these tunnels.

Finally, I climbed one last long incline and came into the small town of Gengda. As I passed a decent-looking building with a restaurant downstairs, a man in rubber boots called out to me. And another round of ‘Do you have a room, how much, let’s have a look first’ conversation took place and pretty soon I was carrying my stuff into the room.

It was 30Y for a room, with attached bath, hot water and all. It was getting cheaper as I rode further out. But when I asked for the room key, the lady boss who checked me in said there was none but not to worry, it’s very safe. Oh well….It didn’t really bother me, as I wasn’t going anywhere after dinner in this nothing-town.

It was cold that night, but the thick, heavy quilts which are used in all these hotels are very efficient in keeping one warm. Complemented by the electric blanket, you’d be warm as toast. Actually, I’ll never understand why they call it ‘electric blanket’ when it’s laid underneath the bedsheet and not on top of the sleeper.

Gengda

Gengda Jiu Tien or whatever the Chinese name is.

Dinner was fried fish with Sichuan peppers and fried egg with onion...again very salty and very oily.

Next, riding in panda country.

………………………………………….

RIDE STATS:
Dujiangyan (708m) to Gengda (1,540m)

Total ride time: 7:26
Distance to day: 74km
Distance to date: 135km
Max altitude: 1,540m
Total ascent: 832m