29th October 2017
We’ve had quite a crazy few days going up and down mountain passes in Qinghai and Gansu provinces.
Shortly after (reluctantly) leaving our snug hotel, we had the first puncture of the trip. Can’t believe we’ve managed to get this far without having more! Didn’t take us long to fix and we were on our way. From the road we spotted an interesting looking set of ruins on top of a ridge. As it was nearing camping time, we decided to make it our little mission to get up there.
This turned out to be quite a boisterous effort. The tracks up there were far steeper than we anticipated. Our wee bikes really struggled, mine especially and had to be pushed up the remainder as i feared we’d have another Bulgarian moment on our hands with a wrecked clutch. We had an awesome camping spot though so was well worth it. We made a serious cock up with our dinner however, we thought we had bought some noodles from a market which actually turned out to be strips of dough. Thank god for our emergency Cous Cous supply.
It was another cold night, and the next day we didn’t quite fancy camping again (its becoming a bad habit, but its just so damn chilly sometimes) so decided to try and make a break for it and cross a mountain pass to a small city on the other side.
We had chosen a tiny little route that took us through a national park. It was a pretty spooky track, and as soon as we entered the valley a mist descended. The bushes and trees were all dead and crusted in frost. We also noticed a 'beware of the wolves’ sign so its fair to say we were on our toes. We had taken a bit of a risk, our motorbikes fuel gauges seem to be ridiculously overcautious, saying we had empty tanks when we were convinced we had half each - but we had taken the gamble and were hoping we wouldn’t run out.
As the track climbed it got colder and colder and our bikes went slower and slower as the hills got steeper. Ice was forming on our jackets and eyelashes, and the sun was starting to set. It was far too cold to be camping here, and we prayed the bikes wouldn’t break or run out of fuel otherwise we’d either freeze and/or be eaten by a rabid pack of wolves (a fair assumption).
As we worried the climbing would never end, we broke out of the mist at the top of the pass, and for the second time this trip we were treated to a gorgeous view over the top of the clouds, broken only by jagged rocks. It was like an artists impression of Mt Olympus. It was a pretty special moment which we didn’t have long to savour as we needed to make it down the other side before it got dark. We ended up having to ride for about an hour or so in the pitch-black but we eventually made it in town (although I did run out of petrol and had to pour what we had in our cooking canister into my tank).
We felt we deserved a beer so asked a local group of young lads where we cold find one. Before we knew it they had taken us to a hotel, booked out a room and bought a load of beer for us. We were then subjected to photos and video calls with their friends whilst they tried to get us to eat jellied chicken feet. To be honest its one of the weirder moments we’ve had to endure in our lives, but always worth it for free beer.
Today we had another amazing mountain route. We travelled through a very Tibetan area over some amazing mountain passes. At the highest point the road was blanketed in snow, and we both had a few falls as we snaked about in the powder. We’re very impressed at what our bikes have managed so far - we’ve thrown everything at them, but its fair to say they were not designed for snowy mountains passes!
Once again our ride had taken us a bit longer than usual and we were coming down the side of the mountain in rain and sleet, with barely 10m of visibility in the fog. It was pretty miserable and we were worried about having to camp in this. As we pulled over to sort out our waterproofs, a Tibetan nun cropped up from nowhere and scared the crap out of us. Luckily she was an absolute legend and showed us to her small village where we’ve cosied up in their makeshift hotel. Excited to look around the village in the light tomorrow, it looked amazing as we came in and seems to be centred around a monastery.
6th November 2017
The last week has provided some of the most impressive scenery of the trip so far. We have been treated to everything from the valleys parading every autumnal colour to snow capped mountains to gorges of tropical greenery.
As we left our Tibetan homestay after a couple adventurous days we felt any route was possible, our bikes and sense of directions felt otherwise. Several times we were forced to retrace our steps and take the longer more 'boring' route around the mountains as the tracks either got too steep or came to a dead end. The experiences did allow us to indulge in true rural china as we passed through many small villages where the locals live by the simplest means. We were even lucky enough to be invited into a locals' house for the night.
As we continued into Sichuan Province, the constantly looming clouds disappeared and the resulting views were more spectacular than before. We had little idea as to what the roads would be like in this area but we did not expect them to rival the Swiss Alps for quality. With warmer temperatures and local veggie markets in every village, camping was no longer as daunting as before. Northern Sichuan also contains villages that have been destroyed and abandoned by the 2008 earthquake, a haunting sight and looked like China's version of Chernobyl.
We are now on the edge of Chengdu, a city famous for its many panda sanctuaries, one of which we visited earlier today. Although they were in enclosures they were still an impressive sight, while the red pandas proved to be much more active than their giant panda counterparts who lay on their backs sleeping the whole time.
On a slightly less positive note, as we skirted around the edge of Chengdu, I was hit by a car as i tried to turn. Luckily there was no damage to myself and my bike only required a new brake lever. However the car that hit me had its front bumper ripped off as my bike was wedged underneath it. Given we have no chinese driving licences nor insurance we were always told to avoid crashes at all costs as we have no legal standing (not that we werent trying to avoid them anyway). The police soon arrived and told me to check in to the police station this monday. This gave us no choice but to stay in Chengdu and left me a couple days to run through the various potential outcomes of this accident, which included deportation, prison, bike confiscation and fines. I headed off this morning with a wallet full of cash ready to pay any fine/bribe and hoped for the best. To my surprise and massive relief the woman who hit me assumed responsibility which meant they didn't even bother asking about my insurance details and sent me on my way scot free! This puts me at the top of the Fred & Dave 'Falling off bike' league table, and certainly earned myself a bonus point in the process considering the dramatic circumstances! Fred was very good about it all but I know deep down he's pretty smug it wasn't him.
Next we head south for Yunnan and the more tropical environment. We have really enjoyed being able to wind through the mountains visiting local villages full of life, with men and women of all ages assisting in drying the crops or partaking in games of mahjong.