Cycling the Tibetan Plateau – Litang to Yushu – May 2017
There’s no way I can capture all these impressions here in China in just a single story. So I won’t. I won’t even try. And that’s why. I decided to share with you:
A PICTURE A DAY
Just to give you a little impression of all that happened along the way. In all its beauty and its madness. In all its extremes. From cycling on the best sealed roads, to the worst road constructions ever, from bicycle-breakdowns, to snowstorms, to new friends, from the best meals and chinese dishes ever, to instant noodles in your tent, from hot showers to no showers, from rain to snow, from cold feet and cold hands to sleeping inside with a warm electric blanket.
In short, China has it all.
30/04/2017, just past Litang as we started our ride towards Yushu
Here he is, Luke Miller from Ohio, still riding his bicycle right by my side. And let me tell you why that is something special. After we cycled together for well, let’s see two weeks (I know we go a ‘little’ bit back in time with this post), my visa was running out but Luke was the happy owner of a 2 month visa, that’s even valued for the next ten years of his life. Yes that’s right. The lucky bastard.
But this Dutchie, got a modest thirty days-visa, that was extendable for only one time. That’s right. So I ended this previous post about my ride in China (which is written, yes that’s right, a long time ago, and you can read right here) with us cycling our ass off, to make it to Litang just in time.
From there the story continues as I took the bus to Kangding, the same night as we arrived, to go to the office of Kangding on the pre-final day that my visa would run out to: extend my visa. And so I went. I visited the embassy. Got all the papers and the forms filled in correctly. Got the one and only official Chinese passport picture. Got the registration from the police. I had to wait only two days, but it turned out to be four because of the weekend. With a little bit of patience, for both me in Kangding and Luke in Litang: I got my brand new visa in the pocket. All went well.
All… Until…. that day that I took the bus back to Litang, and I got stuck in a snowstorm. Like a real big snowstorm. Like not being able so move forward or back for 8 hours, with tons of trucks and busses filling the roads to the final peak of the pass, and all its passengers waiting patiently, as some of them got out on the streets, being happy as a kid with this unexpected big snowfall, making a snowman next to the road. Besides all that, and some instant noodles in the next little truck stop, and some Tibetan language classes from the over excited kids in the bus, and becoming friends with the one and only other foreigner in the bus (what else do you do?) who happened to have his birthday that day (a day to remember as they say!) nothing really happened.
Nothing happened for eight hours long, as we all waited patiently, besides me getting slightly nervous. And then after those eight hours of waiting, of no movement, of standing still, the bus driver decided to do the worst thing he could possibly do: (for a cyclist with her brand new visa in her pocket, a visa that starts ticking as soon as you received it, and a cyclist with a friend waiting for her on the other side of the mountain) he decided to turn back. So back in Kangding I was. And as unhappy as I felt that day, as happy I felt four days later as I met up with Luke and we were cycling our very first pass on our way to Ganze. I mean, waiting for another cyclist for ten days after cycling together for only sixteen days. That’s pretty something. And how happy I am, he did.
01-05-2017, on our way to Junba
Our favorite place to take a break. Surrounded by countless Tibetan flags, blowing in the wind. We take out our oats and cookies or whatever we find on our way. And at some moments it happens that a random passenger decides to join for a little break. This guy though, was something else, as he was really the most spontaneous stop-over of the entire way. He passes us with lots of speed and just randomly pulls over and stops his car in the middle of the road. He steps out, he walks towards us, and he decides to join. With the little English he spoke we shared smiles and cookies and in the end, really, that’s actually what it’s all about. Eating cookies, and laughing out loud.
02-05-2017, just passed the city of Xinlong
Until today I am still questioning whether his ring means that he is married to three or just one woman that he really loves a lot. What I do know is that, without a question, right here, right now, I was his number two (or four) for that day. It’s pretty priceless when grown-ups ask you for selfies just like teenagers usually do.
03-05-2017, as we just passed Garze
‘One day’, I tell myself. ‘One day’…. I will have a front door like this. No more words needed.
04-05-2017, on our way to Ganzi Xian
Waking up like this. When your kind of remote camp spot turns out to be less remote than you thought. With a big herd of yaks and four friendly shepherds joining them, our day started early! And we will never know what really happened, but all I know is that those cows passed our bicycles so close and as soon as I was fully packed and ready to start the day, I found out that I had a leak in my hydraulic brake. So I don’t know about you, but for me it was pretty obvious. It was the yaks! Less obvious, unfortunately, was how we could fix this empty hydraulic brake in this upper remote ride and only the smallest Tibetan villages on our way… It turned out to be a no go.
Despite a good attempt, from friendly motorbike mechanics and some good old DOT 3. But there was no tension in my brake. Absolutely nothing. And so I was doomed to cycle to the next big city for a proper bicycle mechanic. The next big city that turned out to be Golmud. Golmud, of all places, that turned out to be a small 1.500 km away from this little place of disaster for this day.
And that’s how I ended up crossing one of world’s biggest plateau’s, with only one brake. That damn yak!
05-05-2017, the next climb after ManigangeXiang
‘ Do you need help?’ those were the four magical words that never before had we been so longing to hear. And never before had I answered with such a convinced (or call it desperate) ‘YES!’. What started as a day with sunshine and really nothing to worry about slowly changed to an off-road-mountain-pass-in-a-full-on-snowstorm. The funny thing is that I already wrote about snowstorms in my previous post about China, and that this post starts with getting stuck in a snowstorm too… but… forget all of that as this was THE REAL THING.
Never before was there so much bad luck at the same moment and without a question this was the toughest of all. There were full on road constructions, there were big rocks on the road, mud – a lot of mud, there was a massive head wind, the coldest head wind, and as we all know that snow follows the same direction as the wind blows; we were pushing our bikes up this super steep, muddy, rocky, mountain pass with snow blowing painfully cold and wet in our face. Did I mention the thunder? I didn’t think there could be thunder in snow storms. But now we know. So imagine: no view, no hope for any improvement soon, and slowly getting really freezing cold to the bone.
I stop my bicycle and look to Luke who is dealing the cold slightly better than I do, but on his turn is getting slightlty nervous about the thunder. ‘I don’t know what to do’, I tell him. ‘You want to stop?’ Luke asks me. ‘Well, it’s a bit to late for that, isn’t it?’ I think by myself, looking around in this -theres-no-way-back-scenery. ‘I am not sure’ I say. But even if we make it to the top, the downhill will be SO bad too. We both look at each other. There really isn’t so much to do, and we both know it.
‘Normally,’ I say, ‘when it really gets like super bad, there are always people who decide to help,’ I say to Luke. ‘Like, if it’s really unreasonably stupid what we’re doing, someone will …..’ And so we continue pushing our bicycles.
And right after this, we make a sharp turn, we reach the top, a big car comes by, opens his door and this girl shouts ‘ do you need help?’. In two seconds we were sitting in their comfortable bus, with extra jackets, warm tea, cookies and a shot of some kind of emergency-drink. Literally in two seconds, as we left our bikes outside, with all our bags and personal belongings- everything! They didn’t only take care of us, they took care of our bicycles and stopped another car to be able to get all of us to the next town. It was a magical moment and I will never forget, how sincerely grateful I am that we live in a world where people still take care of one another. And yes, that happens ALL OVER the world. One funny detail to top-off this little story, it turned out that our rescue-team was working for Chinese television, so they shot us a little action-movie. Never before the way to fame was so nearby, I tell you!
06-05-2017, somewhere near ZuqingXiang
This one’s for all those brave kids that take the time and the effort to welcome us as they start running towards these two strangers passing their little houses up in the remote mountains. They never know what to say or do as soon as they are right next to you. It’s their impulse to start running and it’s their shyness that stops them from talking. But, those smiles are priceless, especially when you cycle an area as remote as the Tibetan Plateau. Merci, Thank you so much, Chapeau!
07-05-2017, somewhere in a small village around Yingxiang
So, our journey is full of spontaneous interactions and invitations, but this one is probably the king of most random encounters on the road ever. They just passed us on their motorbike in a fast pace, as we were sitting down right next to the road for a little snack, and they shouted something like ‘Hello’ but in such an unexpected and muffled way that Luke and I look at each other without responding to their hello. Than like an hour later they pass us again (yes I know, we like longgggg breaks) on their way back, they slow their speed and ask us to visit their family place. Just like that. ‘Hello, why don’t you stay with us.’ So Luke and I look at each other, thinking well…. what to do? I mean we just took a long break, we are so not making process today, we should definitely make some more miles…. But on the other hand, it’s cold we can stay inside, and why would you turn such a nice (even though let’s admit slightly random) offer down? And so we did. Luckily! As soon as we reach their place they take off all their big jackets, hats and glasses and this super nice young couple appears. With a magical meal, getting to know the whole family, a disco before nighttime and a super nice (and warm) place to stay they made our day. Thank you both for your kindness and for keeping us warm on our way! Except for the fact that you locked the door at night and so we couldn’t get out, and I had to pee in a paper coffee cup in the middle of the night! Speaking about adventure!
08-05-2017, on our way to Yingxiang en XiewuZhen
And the award for the stupidest and most hilarious idea in China goes to: Janneke Verhagen on the 7th of May 2017. These were the exact words ‘ let’s take a shortcut’. And in general we can say that shortcuts normally bring you in trouble. But, on 4.700 meter altitude I can say that shortcuts are simply idiotic! But Luke looked at me and said ‘sure’. So off we went. Luke taking the lead, me falling behind in the very first meters. No way this thing was cycleble. So I started pushing, and the only thing I remember is Luke waiting for me on top for like 15 minutes, and me pushing my bicycle and feeling like being on top of Kilimanjaro again. It wasn’t just hard, it was extremely painful and hilarious at the same time. Three steps, and half a minute stop, breathing, and laughing out loud, and having even more trouble with breathing because of all the laughing, and so on, and so on. Never before on a bike had I felt SO out of breath.
09-05-2017, a big pass getting closer to Yushu
Four thousand and seven hundred meters, the highest pass of all – so far. It’s pretty magical to see those numbers each time you reach the top of a pass. And then that relief and that feeling of complete happiness! It’s indescribable and it probably only makes sense to those who have cycled on this altitude before. All the questioning of what the **** you are doing is gone as soon as you reach the top and it feels like it’s the only right place and the very best place you could possibly be on that moment on that particular day. Yes we made it all the way!
09-05-2017, at the top of the pass
And then you start your downhill, to reach the bottom of the valley and yes, to start the next big climb!
But more about that,
the next time!
And for all of you who didn’t have the chance to cycle there,
fasten your seatbelt,
I will now take you there.
With my top 100 pictures of this little ride.
But please be gentle would you,
scroll down slooowwwwly….
Keep in mind the ultimate effort that it took,
and all those passes that were cycled,
just for you, to have a look.
To be continued!
Next time I will take you to this final lap from Yushu to Golmud!
-SEE YOU ALL THEN!-