Wow it’s the end. We can’t really believe it. Made it to a heroes welcome last Saturday at Sasha’s in Shanghai. A week of fun and relaxation with Kate, Johnny and the boys has helped unwind the muscle spasms so hopefully we’ll make it up the escalators to our flight. Packing our bikes back into boxes seems very final but we are greatly looking forward to coming home and planning the next challenge … probably a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Thank you for all the messages, they have been a great source of support throughout the whole journey. Looking forward to catching up with you all.


Check out our progress on our google map, it starts to look pretty awesome🙂 Just over 1000k to go!

Wake up, noodle soup, cycle cycle cyle, lunch, cycle cycle cycle cycle, eat, find bed, sleep. Wake up, steamed buns, cycle cycle, lunch, cycle, cycle cycle cycle cycle, find bed, watch football match, sleep, etc etc etc.

This is our life for weeks, now punctuated by World Cup matches and even the occasional wake up call at 2.30am to watch England in inconsiderately sceduled matches. They could at least WIN.

But, HALLELUJAH, we are 1000km from Shanghai – scheduled to arrive on the 26th. We will take a wee detour to Suzhou so if anyone is about, come and meet us there and we can pedal the final kilometres into Shanghai together😀

So, in tribute to these many hours of sore hands and chafed bottoms please donate some cash to Switchback. Thank you to everyone who has donated already, you have helped to keep an amazing charity going😀

Oops, time to get back on the bike…

16/05/10 Litang to a hole under the road – 68km
Tardy start to the day as we trailed around town looking for anyone to blow up Kate’s marshmallowy back tire. No joy. We lost the presta valve adapter ages ago. Does not add to K’s mood as the whole day is spent climbing manageable but cumulatively evil passes and it feels like she is cycling through mud (quite likely a psychological issue too)

Our hide out for the night

Met loads of Chinese tourers coming the other way who said there is no place to stay until 85km or something unrealistic for us today. After trudging up and down about 4 passes all over 4000m we come down off a double pass a little desperate for water with light fading. The sides of the valleys are steep with no possibility for camping comfortably or out of sight of the road. Eagle-eyed Nic spies a massive tunnel under the road, much bigger than the usual gaps for streams or rock falls. Kate is sceptical but on inspection it appears to be a stable bridge with minimal danger of being washed away in a flash flood/landslide in the night. Others seem to have shared our idea in the past and we set up our flimsy tent here at 4100m but wind proofed and waterproofed by our concrete room for the night. Still shivery cold more than ever during the night. Stodgy noodles, green peppers and half a garlic bulb for dinner – proved useless for fending off the high altitude cold but good for scaring off potential intruders.

17/05/10 Hole under the road to Yajiang – 75km

Frazzled on the top

After battling through a bowl of porridge we head out to find more water. A few kilometres down the road there is a pipe spewing water sticking out of the ditch by the road. When we try filling our bottles a bunch of snotty urchins emerge from a shed over the road and demand money, we give them a couple of rancid lychee flavoured sweeties we bought earlier for the sole purpose of placating snotty urchins and putting them off ever asking for sweeties again. This was going according to plan until their dishevelled father also emerged from the shed. Turns out its his business to demand payment from people taking water from this pipe. Filling 500gallon trucker’s brake cooling tanks costs 5yuan so we thought it a little unfair he is charging 2yuan for 5litres. We agree to 1yuan and he only agrees when we threaten to pour the water out of our bottles onto the road – sounds super harsh I know but we were strongly principled that morning (and we’d just fed his kids for the day).

Chain of army trucks

It’s a beautiful day so after cleaning the water, eating a packet of oreos and waving at 100 Chinese army truck drivers we’re in a good mood, time to tackle the next passes.

No problems except flagging a little on the final ascent to 4400m. The top is a wind tunnel and we cheer on a couple of Chinese tourers just reaching the top (coming the other way is a mean mean ascent). At last…30km pure downhill. The road is patchy and uneven but this adds to the fun of going down. Rhodedendrons are white on this side of the mountain!?

On top of wereld!

Yajiang is in a deep gorge, 2000m lower at 2300m. Plenty of places to stay in town and we meet Fangsa, a Chinese tourer trying to make it from Chengdu to Lhasa in 25days. We have never heard of such a crazy plan but wish him all the luck in the world!

18/05/10 Yajiang to the Tagong Grasslands junction – 68km
Blues skies again but this time we have 50km uphill climbing to complete. The first 20km is a gradual ascent as you follow the tributary river up the valley. Near the end of the valley it gets steeper and steeper and Kate cried a little, it was only 13:30 so despite the black moods even she couldn’t justify setting up camp yet.

These moods change like the weather in the mountains and half an hour later Kate is taking on the mountain as personal, life and death challenge to beat the brute. At 6pm we reach the top, the sky is threatening and there seems to be campsite on the peak full of Tibetan motorbike riding “medicine” seekers. This is a sort of a double peak but it’s mostly downhill immediately on the other side, there’s just a 1 kilometre climb to pass over to the Eastern descent. It’s not cold and feeling remains in all limbs on the downhill. We are excited to arrive in the Tagong Grasslands but confused that while the area appears totally flat on the map, as a high plain, it is filled with hills of a few hundred metres. It’s a relief that the roads go around them! We pass the turn off to Tagong and find a lovely Tibetan family to stay with. Instant noodles for dinner.

19/5/10 Near junction to Tagong to Kanding – 67km
Excellent night’s sleep and Kate even tries a sip of yak butter tea in the morning, BIG mistake. Luckily we have our porridge pot and lid to hand for sneaky disposal.

Yak butter tea dilemma

Where did it go?

Road becomes perfect after the next town and climbs very gradually towards the final 4000+ pass. This is the easiest pass, it looks like a grand prix circuit from the top of the mountain. At the top we find groups of Chinese tourers celebrating together with mass photo taking and posing with banners. Others celebrate quietly, with a cigarette, half dead on the steps up to the stupa thing. These guys have climbed pretty consistently for the last few days, coming up from Chengdu at 600m to this pass at 4300m. It’s an immense and long climb. We are very excited, and a little smug to be doing it the other way.😀

The road to Kanding is perfect, we read blogs of it being a nightmare construction site last year, now they are putting the finishing touches to the concrete barriers and stuff but the road surface is a dream. Nic has a cracked rear wheel rim so he can’t go mega fast but we cruise down at a nice speed and get to practice our switchback cornering. Another element of entertainment is the regular appearance of Chinese tourers persevering on granny gears, chilling by the road or pushing their bikes. We always get a wave and thumbs up except from the coldest and most miserable guys (1 or 2 on the highest parts of the Litang to Yajiang section).

Celebrations reaching the top

In Kanding we get a tip to go towards the bus station for cheap accommodation. We are found by a couple of Tibetan girls hanging out by an apartment block. We get a nice clean room in this apartment for 30yuan per night and it’s the first time our bikes stay with us.

20/5/10 Rest day in Kanding
Chilling, washing and eating.

21/5/10 Kanding to hotel beyond the tunnel – 85km
Have a bit of a time trying to get this crazy woman at the post office to send a big parcel to Shanghai. Even the lovely, helpful bike tourers trying to help us are flummoxed by her bizarre and psychotic resistance to our package. Luckily one is from Shanghai and he translates our address into Chinese characters for her computer to process. We draw quite a crowd with her screeching.

Get out of town late and more downhill cruising to Luding, oh well. Lunch in Luding then we resolve to get through the dreaded 4km long tunnel before the end of this day. The climb is long but gradual but they haven’t changed the distances on the map so we are pleasantly surprised to find the tunnel earlier than expected. Stories of no lights, rough surfaces and an uphill in the tunnel have us nervous, we even looked at the possibility of taking another road to avoid it. CRAZINESS! This tunnel is AMAZING. On the entry side we spot a no cycling sign so we seek out a police guy to confirm whether we can go through. He seems surprised we even ask and waves us on. The road surface is smooth and fast concrete, the lights are good, the tunnel is wide, any gradient is indiscernible and the traffic is fairly light.

The weather is miserable, cold and rainy on the other side and the landscape has completely transformed. The concrete road surface is cracked and muddy rocks take over sometimes. This is an extremely beautiful road when we get below the clouds and visibility improves. The cliffs, rushing rivers, waterfalls, lush forest and low lying clouds gives it the air of King Kong’s island. The upper part of the road is lined with honey sellers and their hives.

Ten kilometres or so from the tunnel we find a roadside hotel. Very basic but a million times better than camping in the rain and we get a yummy hot dinner too.

King Kong Island?

22/5/10 Hotel below tunnel to Ya’an – 80 km

Tomato and egg soup for breakfast and we are off, down the hill J to Ya’an. Pretty scenery, we are definitely back in Han China now. We have lunch in Tianquan. The road follows the river and does go up and down, it’s not all downhill and the weather gets warmer, we are coming back to summertime.

Get a decent room in Ya’an, it’s a nice, chilled town.

23/5/10 Ya’an to Xinjie – 108kms

Get a bit confused trying to get out of Yá’an. There’s a road that rises up to the expressway with no cycling signs on it so we dither around asking a million people where we go. They all point up this road. Eventually we capitulate and venture up there on the hard shoulder. We come to a tunnel and dither more but a man points us through so we go…. The 318 is on the other side of the tunnel and goes right off this road by the toll booths for the expressway, at the moment it is a construction site but we spy a couple of Chinese tourers coming the other way which reassures us we are on the right track. A couple of kilometres later it becomes a perfect road and we rack up the kilometres quickly which is a nice change. There are quite a few towns along the road to eat and we buy some mysterious orange plum like fruit from one of the millions of sellers lining the road under their parasols. Delicious.

In Xinjie we turn off the main road to find a place to sleep, there are a lot of KTV bars here… one hotel just rejects us immediately, the next, around the corner is run by a lovely couple and they seem willing to give us a room. We are trying to work out a price when 5 policemen appear. The hotel owners are unsure whether we can stay there and the poicemen haven’t a clue either. Luckily there’s an English speaker back at base, he gets a call and investigates the situation. Half and hour later he appears, asks us some questions, looks at the bicycles and informs us to stay in our hotel after dark, it seems we have lucked on the red light district of Xinjie and there are drug dealers around who might rob us. The police are extremely polite and friendly and thank us a lot for our cooperation.

24/5/10 Xinjie to Chengdu – 45km

No drama during the night by the infamous drug dealers trying to steal our strategically locked bikes, so we ride of for breakfast. The road is towards Chengdu is very straight and smooth and we cruise to the city in the morning hours. It’s ginormous, but safe to cycle as there are cycle lanes. Ok, sort of safe, you have to play the game. Staying at the bustling Mix Hostel – great place.

25/5/10-29/5/10 Rest in Chengdu

Celebrating Nic’s Birthday, watching Giant Panda’s, fixing bikes, catching up with Michael the Suisse and meeting lots of nice people and other cyclists. Good times! Generally repairing our broken souls and bodies (and Nic’s bike of course).

Bday boy

Chengdu chill out

Proof I'm not losing weight

In Litang we were pestered by a little kid that wanted to close off the internet, but now the all pictures are on our Flickr photostream. Check it out!

At last we have forced ourselves to dredge up some memories and update the map – it looks ACE so check it out! We can’t quite believe we’ve made it to Chengdu and all in time for Nic’s Birthday😀
Celebratory drinks tonight and we’ll focus on posting blog update in the next few days or so.
Lots of love to EVERYBODY and the WERELD xxx

5/5/10 Zhongdian (Shangri-la) to camp – 71km

It’s Wednesday and we have spend a few days in Zhongdian to rest, get our visa extensions and sort out our gear for the biggest challenge of our Asia trip so far. Today we head off North, further up the Tibetan plateau and we will encounter passes well over 4500 meter. As we have never done anything like it before, we have spent our time mostly by researching what conditions we can expect, how to stay warm during the nights and how to deal with the altitude. Michael provided us with some very useful advice, as he has cycled in Latin America before, so we feel well prepared and excited when we roll out of town around 12pm. Michael left a day earlier, as his pace in the mountains was considerably quicker than ours.

The road out of town was easy to find (have a look at googlemaps before heading out helps) and we basically joined onto the road that we had left going into Zhongdian. The road (219) is in perfect condition and the first 24km are a slow decent through small valleys. After 35km there is a village with a place to eat, as well as a police station, a hospital and a guesthouse. About 6km after this village we reach the lowest point of today at 2850m. We buy some eggs at another village (probably 65km from Zhongdian) for our dinner and we believe there is a place to stay here as well. We cycle on and do about 4 km of a long climb until we find a good place to set up camp next to a little stream. We sleep at 3240m.

Nic trying to fit in with the locals

6/5/10 Following the 219 Northbound – 45km.

We wake up in the morning and neither of us has slept very well. We get better every day we camp in staying warm and getting the most out of our equipment, but it’s a learning curve. For instance, it’s better to put a buff on your head than a beanie as you will loose it after turning once or twice. And you turn a lot as you are probably not as comfy as you would like to be. It makes a massive difference in how warm you are. Anyway, after a cup of coffee and a bowl of porridge we break up camp and dry our tent in the morning sunshine before we step on our bikes to continue the climb we started the day before.

The ride up lasts for 13 kilometres (to road marker 80) and brings us up to 3900m and is followed by a great downhill of 21km. While freewheeling down we see our next pass in the distance, the Daxueshan pass of 4310m. At the river at the bottom of the decent we have lunch at a restaurant slash hotel slash shop where the local men gather around us and one guy thinks it necessary to slurp hot water so loudly it create wrinkles in my bowl of soup!

Pedaling for dear life!

Well, if I had soup that is, we had a nice tomato egg stir fry and some bacon with green peppers. Riding up the hill Nic spots a dog at the other side of a wooden fence and as the dog wags his tail Nic starts a conversation with the K9. The dogs finds his way out and follows us through the village where he gets accompanied by the local kids! And so we ride in a pack of two adults, a handful of kids and a big black friendly dog out of the village. It’s all getting rather family like. After 44km, marker 112, the perfect tarmac road stops just after a village (with hotel we think) and turns into a bumpy dusty dirt road . We continue on for a few kilometres before we spot a possible campsite just off the road. The ground is on a slight slope and Kate decides to built a wooden platform from a half collapsed shed that is near. It is marvel of engineering and with added benefit that we are off the ground and have a slightly warmer night as a result! Sleeping at 3450m.

7/5/10 – Daxueshan pass – 50km

Today is the day of the mighty Daxueshan pass (4310m), our first attempt to climb into the 4000’s. As expected we start climbing and we continue to do so for 18,5 km. The road is as bad as how it we left it and the other traffic leaves us at times in big clouds of fine dust. Luckily the road is not too busy and we can enjoy the amazing views and the flowering Rhododendrons as we cycle up. Half way up or so the ascent we stop to make some more porridge to give our now jelly like legs some rest and energy. The altitude does slow us down but we both feel ok when we reach the top.

Blowing in the wind!

It is really windy and cold up here, with absolutely amazing view on top of the mountain but as the Tibetan flags are blown horizontal we don’t linger on too long. A few pictures (one in the snow!) and some video footage and we are off. We quickly realize that the road is even in poorer condition than the uphill! The decent is slow with an average speed around 10km per hour. Another realisation comes to us as we stare into the distance, another top. For the next 18km we yoyo between 4300 and 4000 metres in the dirt. Around 6.30pm we are on top of the second top (4200m) of the pass and we are both rather tired. The height slowly becoming an issue as we run out of energy. We had hoped to go downhill and sleep on a lower altitude and possibly have dinner in the first village, but there is no way we make it there before dark on this surface. We descend 9km to 3850m where we find a spot regularly used by people to spend the night and set up our camp. More porridge for dinner. Our first nights in the true mountains, nearest village 50km back or ahead.

8/5/10 – To Xiangcheng – 60km

We wake up feeling pretty knackered. We have more porridge for breakfast and finish it. Break up camp and continue our descent for 5 km to find a third top after a 4km climb of 3800m. Then we decent another 15km at low speeds to find the most amazing thing in the whole world! Oh yes, asphalt. We raid the small shop in Ranwu for anything eatable, pot noodles – cookies – the lot and have a proper munch outside the shop on a small bench. The road continues to go downhill for another 14km which we thoroughly enjoy, going through amazing green lush valleys with Tibetan houses and it is really warm. We decide to stop and take out our tooth brushes to clean our bike chains (no not the one we use for our teeth!) and cassettes. The poor mechanisms squeal because of the torturing fine dust. On the road again we meet two Dutch cyclist, our first! We hear from other cyclist they meet Dutch people all the time, we seem to meet Swiss people. The Swiss have been nice, but we were intrigued by the behaviour aspects of the Dutch on a bike abroad. The descent is sadly over at 2600m elevation and we start climbing along a river up to Xiangcheng (2700m) where we will have a rest day. The road goes through some amazing looking valleys with bare mountains and green fields of crops. All Tibetan and they are a friendly bunch as we cycle through their villages.

Kate, Bas & Annemiek

We meet the Dutch, Bas & Annemiek, for a drink that evening.

10/5/10 Xiangcheng towards Litang – camped – 48 km

On our rest day we did some small maintenance work on our bikes and for unknown reasons this left us with our first flat tire of the trip – Kate’s front. We left the tiled town of Xiangcheng a bit later as planned. There is a downhill out of town, cherish it because after that it will be mostly uphill up to a pass of 4708m and a 10km downhill to a place to crash in Sangdui (but that‘s still a far away dream). The road is in ok conditions, but Nic doesn’t feel up to his normal strength so progress is rather slow. For the first 35km we follow the river, going up and down hill but not gaining much altitude. The scenery is nice, but interrupted by the building of another two dams in the river. Just before the last village with a shop (35km) the road gets steep and stays that way, climbing out of the valley and into a beautiful gorge. We take our time here to enjoy it all and at the end of the gorge we are invited by some Tibetan people to join them in their chill in the sun. Communication is as usual with hands and feet, and both of us find it a real shame we cannot have a proper conversation. As we are sitting on a nice piece of grass, in a fairytale gorge, which is something rather extraordinary we decide to camp 30 metres up, just out of sight of the road. The sun is shining and the clouds gather in the distance when we set up camp. We made a fire, cooked some water for our oh so delicious pot-noodles. When the water just boils the first drops of rain start to fall and we find shelter in our cozy tent, eating our dinner and watching the rain turn into impressively big hail stones. We play some cards and fall asleep with rain on our tent. (Camped at around 3800m).

11/5/10 Camp to Sangdui – 46km

BRR at 4708m!

A lucky break in the weather gives us long enough to cook brekka and break down camp so that we are on the road, continuing the steep climb up the valley, when the rain starts and we have our first opportunity to don full weatherproof gear. The plastic bags over our feet and pink rubber gloves finish off the look, giving us the air of biohazard chemical spill workers. This earns us a few suspicious side long glances from the yaks and shaggy ponies munching at the roadside. The road surface is good but we find it tough going and it is very cold; our feet never quite make it into the realm of the living all day. As we climb, rain turns to sleet and sleet to snow. We turn in an impressive new go-slow record – 9km in the first 3 hours!

At the head of the valley, before the road turns up the mountainside, there is a very small, new-build (being built) village. There is a cubby shop with pepsi and the usual stuff – when we went through there wasn’t a guesthouse or anything but later we found out that the Dutch couple stayed the night with a family there. Here we met some Chinese motorbike tourers on their way to Tibet and did envy their engines, welly boots and huge puffa jackets.

We wind our way up the mountainside and on the final bend (19km from campsite) before the first pass, the road turns to mud! Luckily it is smooth and shallow so not tricky to negotiate. At the pass (4708m) we jump up and down for a minute before hastily moving on as the weather is becoming more and more hostile. The dirt section is around 5km long and takes us around 50m downhill across an extremely desolate stretch of moorland. The 2nd pass is only a few km from the first and not demanding (except for the hail stones in our faces).
The descent is 10km and very very chilly! We have to stop to try and regain some feeling in our fingers to be able to brake. Sangdui looks like a medieval settlement with squat stone houses and colourful flags (at altitude 3940m). There seems to be only 1 hotel here, The First Manor. It has smart ensuite cabin rooms for 100yuan and small basic no shower doubles for 50yuan. We took the latter and set the electric blanket to max. The food is good and cheap in the hotel and they have a stove you can warm your toes next to. We meet Bas and Annemiek there and swap stories over dinner.

12/5/10 Sangdui to police station – 112km.

This is an epic day of epic days. Of course beginning with a delicious noodle soup but declining brushing our teeth with a large clove of garlic like our motorcycle touring friend. The first 11km are easy enough, running alongside a river in a pretty pine-clad valley and taking us up 80m. Then the ascent really starts. We meet a lone Chinese cyclist, looking very sporty and light on his mountain bike but with chattering teeth and a wild and desperate look in his eye. He reports a double pass, 2 cold Dutch cyclists, snow and a blistering wind on the top before heading off to the warmth of Sangdui. The motorbike tourers have also stopped to give us news of deep snow and advise us to wrap up warm or even turn back, so it is with some trepidation we continue up the valley.

The landscape is wild and beautiful, recalling the ice age as huge boulders litter the area and the occasional yak peaks around the rocks at us. The road is asphalt and gradient not too steep. There are a few small settlements of tents by the road. At around 4200m it starts snowing but there are only patches of old snow here and there on the ground. The snow is light and the wind behind us so we begin feeling positive of the road ahead when we stop for lunch of porridge behind a rock.

The weather deteriorates from our break and our hands and feet seem to alternate numbness. Visibility is ok through the snow and we only have problems when the road turns into the wind and we get snowflakes in our eyes. The road stays high and we are unsure which top is the official pass, the maximum altitude we record is 4610m but the descent into the next valley comes after around 45km. We descend 5km to 4300m and across a wide valley, free from snow. The sun emerges from behind the clouds and follows us until sunset. The next pass is a steep 7km climb out of this valley up to the Tuer pass of 4696m. We linger to jump up and down and take a victorious panorama!

The ride down is amazing and really long, we even spot a couple of vultures half-way down. Emerging from this mountain valley is absolutely incredible as suddenly the land opens out in a huge grasslands of almost dune like hills and small villages. The sky is huge here and we race along, expecting a storm we see in the distance to catch up with us, but the clouds seem to dissolve as they reach the grasslands.

Our plan was to stay in the village of Jiawa but everyone tells us there’s no place to stay here, “Litang, Litang, you must go on to Litang”. Litang is 120km from our starting point and a further 30km from Jiawa. It is 7pm.
Downing a bottle of coke and snacking on peanuts in the evening sunshine we convince ourselves that it is all downhill from here and we can make it. A couple of kilometres from Jiawa the road starts going up, up, up. This goes on for around 12km and despite pedalling hard we reach the pass after dark. We are exhausted and the temperature is dropping rapidly. Spying a village at the bottom of the hill we resolve to head for that.

No caption needed

Eventually we reach it and Kate lucks on a police compound. They take pity on us and let us stay in a room there, we were expecting the floor but there is a bed! One of the guys gives us tea and water for some instant noodles and we watch a Chinese thriller/detective murder drama with him for a while.

The night is very very cold.

13/5/10 Police station to Litang – 12km

There is no-one around to make us pancakes for breakfast so we pack quickly at the crack of dawn and jump back on our bikes, noting the ice on the puddles by the road. It is almost completely flat across the valley to Litang but we are spent from the previous day and struggle through the morning chill. There are so many big stray dogs scavenging in the rubbish by the road and we are very happy not to have attempted to make it the previous night. We arrive and find a huge noodle soup, the Peace guesthouse and beds with electric blankets. Sleep.

27/04/10 Lijiang – Tiger Leaping Gorge – 134km

Little did we know this morning when we ate our sunny side up eggs with fresh toast. Today would turn out to be our longest day of the trip. The aim of today was to reach the Tiger Leaping Gorge (TLG) 80km North . We wanted to ride the eastern road around the Jade Dragon snowy mountain. We got a tip about a bar in a nearby village that is run by a Buddhist Dutchman that serves very good coffee and we planned to stop there for a caffeine hit. We didn’t find it, and the village is very similar to Lijiang, pretty but more of the same. The eastern road is beautiful through a wide valley that starts with some pine trees and later dry grasslands with a stunning view of the mountain.

Jade dragon snowy mountain near Lijiang

After 30km we arrive at a tollbooth, that we normally can just pass as cyclist. Here we are guided to the tollbooth and are requested to pay 160 Yuan (20 Euro) each! They explain we will have to pay this amount for the sights that are on the road and to use the road. We explain we are not interested in the sights and just want to cross the road to the TLG. We get a bit annoyed as all they seem to be able to say is “you have to pay”. There is a road on the map and there haven’t been any signs at the beginning of the road stating the status of the road. The people weren’t particularly helpful and on the question if it was possible to reach the TLG if we continued this road we got negative response (we found out a day later it is possible and you can buy a transit ticket for half the price…) . Not wanting to pay the money, especially as we were not sure if we could reach our destination, we turned around and headed all the way back to Lijiang, where we stopped for lunch. Finding the right road out of the city proves to be challenging and at 2.30pm we finally start riding out of the city. With 80km to go we know it’s going to be very tight to make it before nightfall. The road starts with a small climb for about 2km, than a valley with a lake and another longer climb. After that a long decent to the Yangtze river. At the bottom of the decent we stop and have another noodle soup as we know we wont get anything to eat before reaching TLG. Luckily the road along the river is in good condition and full of strawberry stalls, which makes the ride tasty and smooth. The road follows the river downstream with a couple of small climbs. We have about 10km to go when the sun sets behind the mountains, and because of the demolition of a bridge we have to cycle a little bit further than we thought. We arrive around 8.30pm and find our refuge in Jane’s guesthouse. A very long day, through some amazing scenery and a new record in distance thanks to some ‘helpful’ Chinese.

28/04/10 Tiger Leaping Gorge – Camp near Haba – 45km

A day of cycling through one of the deepest gorges in the world sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? We saw the entrance building the night before and thought we had to pay to enter the gorge. The lady in the guesthouse informs us that there is no charge at the moment, which is even better for our moods! When we enter the gorge we are amazed by the magnificent scale of it.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

It’s a nice sunny day and it is as good as it can be. When we pass the entrance building it takes about 100m before Nic yells ‘Nooooo’. The bolt keeping his seat in place snapped off, something that had happened once before the trip and was found almost impossible by his local bike mechanic. Luckily we had a spare with us and 10 minutes later we continue our ride through the Gorge. There is no entrance fee as the road is under construction and very difficult to cycle. They are making the road wider (for tour busses we think) and there is a lot of rock walls that look very new and unstable. When we arrive at a wall where they are working on removing stone, the man on the road says it’s ok for us to get through. The idiot should be fired, as there are stones the size of our heads coming down at bones crushing speeds! We don’t trust it one bit and decide to wait until the cars can pass as well. When a group of 8 hikers join us and are let through we decide to join them to pass the side. It looks like half of the man working a 100m higher didn’t get the message and get on with their work despite us being in the fire zone. We make it all through without getting hit, but with a lot of shouting and the use of some “lesser” civilized English. We simply cannot believe what that man’ job is that let us through and that ‘communicated’ to his colleagues that people were passing. When a kilometre later we discuss with each other what happened and what to do next time we encounter something similar there is a loud explosion just around the corner and rocks fly 50 meters in the air. Where are we! We move on to one of the guesthouses and have lunch, considering our options. We decide to get out of the gorge as quick as possible as we don’t want a second day of this mayhem. We have to stop once more for a dynamite fuelled rock breaking session before we leave the gorge. It is very beautiful, and the road should be finished in a few months we were told. But do check the road condition before entering

We decide to ride on towards Haba and stop around 7pm to set up camp and spend our first night under the Chinese stars. It’s been a very intensive day, with an amazingly challenging ride through the gorge with a lot of mental stress because of the construction work and the concentration needed to ride over the very rough surface. We cook our super noodles and have a warm drink around our fire. Should be a good night of sleep.

29/04/10 Haba to camp – 60km
Sleeping was not as pleasant as hoped. The air is colder than we thought and we all struggled to keep warm during the night. Breakfast is more super noodles, easy but far from super, and a warm cup of coffee. Feeling tired and low on energy in the tent soon turns into excitement about what we are doing and where we are.

The Swiss moving out

It is so beautiful here, it’s hard to feel down for longer than a split second. We break up camp and cycle further up the climb we started the day before. We have a noodle soup in Haba, a little village used by trekkers and mountain climbers as base and find a shop selling fleecy blankets. The top lies around 2700 m, a new high record for us, but one that will be broken many times in the days to come. We decent to the village of Bashuitai where we have lunch and have a look at the limestone terraces. It looks pretty enough, but we are a little hacked off by the sight of concrete terraces – all ready to become ’natural lime stone terraces’. No doubt there are original once too, but is this really how you want to manage your sights?

We leave determent to get one of the three 15km climbs out of the way that we have to battle to reach Shangri-la. We camp a couple of hundred metres under the peak and make a tasty dinner with fresh vegeties and noodles. It’s easy to beat the taste of super noodles! Despite being higher than the day before the blanket makes it a bit more comfortable in the tent.

30/04/2010 Camp to Shangri-la – 90km
As usual, we awake to the sounds of tent fabric rustling as Michael packs up and starts on breakfast in the vain attempt to get us up. Coffee is the cue we respond to. Michael knows this by now and 2 cups of Nescafe duly appear next to the tent door.

Another beautiful morning, and boiled eggs for breakfast!! Start off a bit creaky but in good spirits. A couple of kms on we reach the top of this climb and Michael is already honing in on the dripping tap in the village. The maestro of water filtering gets started while me and Nic scurry about organising “dirty”and “clean”water bottles. A couple of bemused looking dogs and piglets pause to observe for a moment. This is our first 3000m peak so we celebrate with a panorama photo…

How many metres high?

We have a fun few kilometres downhill into the next valley then a rather rude and unexpected STEEP climb through a village and out (a couple of kms). We know we have 2 climbs of 15kms before Shangri-La so assume this is the start of the 1st. No it isn’t! Another downhill into the next valley and the ascent starts proper. Steeply up through pine clad slopes on a curly wurly road. Knowing we have another long climb coming (at even higher altitude) we try to conserve as much energy as possible and take it on the easiest granny gears. There’s a little shop a few hundred metres up where we loaded up on pot noodles so peppery our lips go numb. Some guys filling up their brake water tank are greedily chowing down reclaimed pork sausage spam stuff so Michael follows suit. YUK

The road levelled out slightly as we emerged from the valley, and we made better progress, admiring the Yak/cow creatures along the road. At the top Michael is deep into his Ipod games having exhausted silly photo ideas of himself ages before while waiting for us. We all cruise down into another pine filled valley and past our first ladies sporting Tibetan headdresses. It really feels as if we are leaving Han China.

There’s a tap in the village at the bottom so more water filtering ensues, Nic and I find a tiny shop and the elderly couple running the place offer us a tiny table in their house to down more pot noodles before starting the next climb. Luckily this pass comes more quickly as the gradient is a little more friendly and takes us up to another record breaker- 3660m! We reach it at 6pm and there’s only 2 hours daylight left to cover the remaining 30km or so to our destination. The downhill road is brand new, 2 laned and smooth as a race track- WEEEEEE!

We pass through a bleak valley of yak herders, life looks extremely tough here and the new road seems quite incongruous. We pass by a tollbooth, find snow on the left and massive tourism development in the villages beyond. The houses are beautiful, Tibetan buildings and huge, medieval-looking drying racks lend loads of atmosphere to this area. We want to take loads of photos but time is running short and the sun is falling fast. Our legs don’t seem able to push us forward at the same pace as usual – it looks like we are going downhill…. But why is our speed only 12km/hr.? As the sun sets dramatically over mountains of the Tibetan Plateau we come over the hill to Shangri-La. A long day and we are pleased to break the pot noodle rut by finding a lovely family run restaurant on the way into town. After some chilly cycling and searching for the old town and a hostel we end up in Kevin’s Trekker Hostel. Pass out.

Check our flickr stream for new pictures from Dali to Shangri-la. There are some awesome shots this time.