No wifi access, a series of epic climbs, rural Tibetan villages, dirt track roads and lots of camping – here is an overview of our solid seven day cycle between Shangri-la in Yunnan to Lithang in Sichuan, China.
Day 1: Back on the road out of Shangri-la
Distance: 72km / Ride time: 4:08 / Average Speed: 17.5km/h
Today passed without too much drama. It was the first proper rainy day we had had cycling so we got rain geared up. Here is Paddy in his bright yellow shoe covers.
We passed through some nice valleys and a weird semi-abandoned village called Gezan which was mainly made up of buildings which were falling down – we wondered whether they were the remains after the earthquake which I know hit western Sichuan 4-5 years ago…
We eventually found a camping spot near a river just before the next big climb. We pitched the tent quickly and cooked up dinner in the vestibule. Twin Peaks is keeping us occupied before going to sleep!
Day 2: We meet JK and discover that there are still places in the world where the air is so clean lichen hangs like giant cobwebs from the trees
Distance: 39.4km / Ride Time: 2:58 / Average Speed: 13.2km/h
With the knowledge that tomorrow would be a very long and hard day in the saddle we planned a relatively short day today.
In fact, we didn’t get out of the tent until 10am as it was still raining… We cooked breakfast and enjoyed a lie in with coffee in our double down sleeping bag.
With the rain clearing we pack up and are about to set off when I spot another cycle tourer puffing his way towards us.
JK from South Korea had pitched his tent 10km back down the road and was heading in the same direction as us. It would be nice to have some company so we set off up the climb together.
We plough up the valley, pine forests as far as they eye can see.
The rain clears and the three of us marvel at the amount of lichen hanging from the trees. It looks like spooky green cobwebs and we fill our lungs with the amazingly clean air.
We reach the top at around 4ish. Great views at 3900m!
Then enjoy the decent and drop back down to 3000m.
We stop for dinner and then cycle 5km up the valley until we find a basic guesthouse. We have our standard ‘shower’ round the back of the house with a bowl of hot water.
Day 3: Snow, crossing the border into Sichuan and discovering our love of tarmac
Distance: 61.9 / Ride Time: 6:26 / Average Speed: 9.6km/h
A stunning and perfect day for cycling up the mountain!
We leave the Tarmac road behind but the dirt track really isn’t too bad and there is barely any traffic.
We pass a collection of prayer wheels all being continually spun by a small stream below each of the ‘temple huts’.
This lovely couple stop and give us fruit and sticky honey rice cake.
We say goodbye to JK after sharing lunch as he decides he will only go on a bit further and set up camp. We push on wanting to get over the second climb so we can drop down before finding a camping spot.
We had climbed for 4.5 hours – around 35 km – and reached the top which sits at 4400m. This marks the gateway into Sichuan. There is a lot of snow and it’s very cold!
The weather really starts to close in and we’re keen to get down as far as possible before setting up camp. The road on this side of the mountain is REALLY TERRIBLE! Please please give us back some tarmac!
It’s a bumpy ride and we still have another small climb before we can really lose some height and get down to under 4000m.
We’re glad to see a makeshift building in the valley and there is smoke rising from its chimney!
The guy lets us in and we get warm by his big fire. We don’t have much in the way of food but he sells us 4 noodle pots which we add some boiled rice to. Not a great meal considering how far we’ve climbed but at least it’s something.
We pitch our tent on the gravel lay-by opposite the hut. The pigs attack our loose rice bag but otherwise we sleep pretty well. We hope JK is ok and that he’s not too cold in the snow.
Day 4: A bumpy descent
Distance: 80.5km / Ride Time: 5:05 / Average Speed: 15.8km/h
Another great day weather wise but the bumpy road continues for a long time and we have a small climb to complete before a very uncomfortable decent all the way down to below 3000m where we find ourselves in a green lush valley.
Tarmac! Sweet sweet Tarmac!
All the houses are built and painted in the same Tibetan style, this time with flat roof so. I think they are beautiful!
We stop in Qung Mai Xiang for lunch where we gorge on a big feed. It’s good not to be eating instant noodle soup again.
We keep climbing back up to 3000m where we stop at a small village directly above a large hydroelectric damn. This marks a good place to stop as it is directly before the start of the big climb tomorrow. We find an hotel of sorts (former digs of all the workers who obviously built the damn.) There’s a warm shower which is sublime!
We spend the evening with the family next door and the kids practise their English on us.
Day 5: The big one – 4718m!
Distance: 62.4km / Ride Time: 6:19 / Average Speed: 10.2km/h
Another stunning day – we have been so lucky with the weather!
A big big climb today so we start early.
We climb steeply for about 4.5 hours and then stop for lunch. The road remains blissfully paved.
We then continue up through a beautiful valley – Spring is really in the air.
We reach about 4400m and we both begin to feel a little light headed from the altitude. We just take it slow with plenty of stops
Considering the height it’s really quite warm. Paddy is still in his shorts and cycle top when we reach the summit.
To put this in perspective, you could easily fit Ben Nevis (the tallest mountain in the UK) 3 times under us with plenty of room to spare.
So back down we go towards Sangdui where we will stop for the evening.
From far above Sangdui looks like the dullest, ugliest town we’ve ever seen but as we get closer we see that actually all the houses are incredible fortress like buildings, with beautiful turrets, gates and doorways.
They are like mini castles – I guess you need houses like this to keep out the bitter weather up here.
We find our own cosy haven and I sleep very soundly.
Day 6: New breakpads, groundhogs, glacier valleys and tooth ache
Distance: 71.1km / Ride Time: 4:08 / Average Speed: 17.1km/h
We have a late start as we needed to fit new breakpads – all those hills have been tough on the ol’ disc break!
We get going and follow the Haizishan Rock Glacier up 45km to another high point. To our right are all the spherical rocks deposited by the glacier.
The high plateau at the top boasts a huge colony of four legged, sandy coloured mammals (the size of a small badger) but we have no idea what they are? They ran too fast for me to snap them on the camera.
At the top it starts to snow!
We drop back down and cook lunch before the last climb of the day. Here is Paddy dutifully collecting water.
At the top of the last climb some Chinese ladies all in pink give us red bull and apples. We also have a celebratory swig of rice wine.
Then the long decent down – great incline through another spectacular glacial valley and at one point we reached 66km/ph (!) – through the protection of my down hood under my helmet I can hear Paddy’s intermittent, gleeful cries of ‘this is cool’ and ‘weeee’.
Once we reached the bottom the road openes out to the most spectacular plain surrounded by mountains.
We pitch our tent in one of these ruins and build a huge fire to stay warm.
Day 7: Final 50km to Litang
Distance: 50.1km / Ride Time: 2:50 / Average Speed: 17.6km/h
It ended up being a very cool night and we woke to find icicles on the inside of our tent.
Paddy had a bad night due to very sore cold tooth ache.
It is the most beautiful morning, and once the sun gets going we soon warm up.
The night before a teenage girl had turned up to give us some tinned food. One of the tins contained SPAM. This next picture is for you Katy Sheen.
After a champion breakfast of potatos, scrambled egg and fried spam (the first time either of us had tried this) we cycle through some spectacular countryside and complete the 50k to Lijang by 2pm.
Phew! Looking forward to a couple of rest days but it has been a great week of remote cycling!