Sunday, April 30, 2006

Pretty pictures from the Tibetan Plateau crossing

Golmud has such a pleasant wangba [internet cafe] that I thought I might spend my day off uploading some more pictures.

At the Kunlun Shankou (Kunlun pass), 4767 metres. The monument is to the Kekexili Nature Reserve, home to the endangered chiru (Tibetan antelope), wild ass, and other beasts.

Training for next year's expedition: first man to cycle solo to the South Pole.

Gravelly moonscape on the track between Qumahe and Budongquan

Bike takes a breather while I cook some noodles.

Riding into a storm on the road to Budongquan.

Desert plant on the road off the plateau down towards Golmud.

Kit list for cycling the Tibetan Plateau

Rob Thompson asked about my overshoes, which prompted me to go on at some length about the kit I had with me.

I reproduce the list here, in case anyone else might find it helpful, or interesting, or both, or neither.

My full cold-weather clothing list was as follows (bottom to top):

1 x thin pair socks
1 x thick pair of socks
1 x pair of Shimano cycling shoes (falling apart)
1 x pair of nylon windproof overshoes (make a huge difference to foot temperature - cold feet, physical and psychological, can be biggest obstacle to severe cold-weather riding)

2 x pairs thermal long-johns
1 x fleece trousers
1 x windproof overtrousers (not normally necessary when actually cycling - the legs tend to keep themselves fairly warm.)

2 x long-sleeved thermal vests
1 x cycling shirt
1 x woollen army jumper
2 x windproof fleece jackets ("Windstopper" style)
1 x GoreTex windproof jacket

1 x pair fingerless cycling gloves
1 x pair winter skiing-style gloves
1 x pair woollen socks worn over ski gloves as "mittens"
1 x fleece neck muffler (can also be pulled up over chin, cheeks, face etc)

1 x thin fleece cap (under helmet)
1 x cycling helmet
1 x spare garment (long johns, sweater, t-shirt, whatever comes to hand) to wrap around neck and/or face.

1 x pair sunglasses
1 x thick beard

Wearing all that, I was rarely severely cold.

Uphill I often stripped down to just one or two layers.

Downhill, it is the hands, feet, and, in galey blizzards, the exposed parts of the face, that suffer most.

Sunglasses are really important. I forgot to wear them one day and got snow-blindness which is EXTREMELY painful.

I had a down jacket in my panniers which in the event I never wore.

In my tent I had 2 foam mats ("Karrimat" style) to insulate me from the ground, and a good sleeping bag.

I also wore a "Russian"-style fake fur hat in my tent sometimes. When I got cold in my tent, I found I could usually warm up by wrapping my head up better, rather than by piling on extra layers on the body and legs, which can be uncomfortable/sweaty inside a sleeping bag.

As general advice, I should add that the "layers" principle of clothing is really important.

On the plateau, temperatures can fluctuate rapidly and widely.

When the sun shines in the afternoon, even in winter, it can get quite hot, and you need to remove lots of clothes.

10 minutes later, the wind can kick up, the sky cloud over, and a blizzard begin, probably kicking up a lot of snow and ice-crystals from the ground as well.

In these conditions you will get very cold very quickly, and need to add all the layers you can find.

The uphill/downhill factor makes a huge difference too. Uphill, you will probably be warm even in very cold conditions.

Downhill, the added windchill can freeze you even when the sun is out.

Stopping every five minutes to add or remove layers is tedious, especially when it is cold, you are tired, and your hands are gloved, all of which make fiddling with zips, panniers, etc., awkward.

But it is important not to sweat on the uphills, because if your clothes and body are wet, you will freeze very rapidly on the downhills.

I am wearing most of the kit described above in this photo:

(Although the sun was shining, there was a strong wind and I had stopped to fix a puncture, and eat.)


In case you were wondering what I was whingeing about, this is a not-very-good photograph of what a washboarded road looks like.

This is not a particularly extreme example, but you get the picture: the track surface "folds" into a series of waves which make for very uncomfortable riding (if you have a nice hard racing saddle and no suspension) or a fun, roller-coaster ride (if you have a moon buggy).

More photos from the Qumalai - Budongquan road

First pass out of Qumalai.

Motorbike at the pass - note baby keeping warm, strapped to front.

Coming down the pass.

The "Pompeii" ruins of Se Wu Gou.


Not sure if this will win Wildlife Photographer of the Year award, but somewhere in this photograph, a pika (Tibetan plateau giant hamster) is lurking.

Can you find him? (Or her, it may be.)

Send in your answers, spot-the-ball style, with the pika circled, and win a pika. (Delivery not included.)

Hot tip

This policeman (right), attached (administratively, not physically) to the Kekexili Nature Reserve at Budongquan, tipped England for the World Cup. Place your bets...

More prizewinning wildlife photography from the Tibetan Plateau

Spot the herd of antelope.

Spot the herd of antelope (2).

Bird. (Any twitchers out there who can help me out with a more specific description?)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

French circus comes to Tibet?

Is that a French big top I see before me on the Lhasa-Golmud highway?

No, just another petrol station roof designed by an excitable architect.

Day 239 - Blogging in Golmud

0 km etc.

Sat in the wangba all day, typing stuff for your entertainment. Go make a donation to FORCE or Sustrans or something, huh?

If you want wordy stuff, here it is. Otherwise, scroll down or click on the previous few days' posts for the pretty picture version.

Thanks chaps.

All Greek to me

Now, it's true that I read yesterday a poster claiming Golmud is a "perfect summer resort". But it is also true that Golmud, may god bless it in a very great many ways, is really not by any stretch a perfect summer resort.

What has this to do with Greeks?

Not much. But I really, really, really, really doubt that this shop-sign was put up to please the town's Greek community. If I had a million yuan for every Greek in Golmud, I'm pretty confident I'd have 0 yuan, 0 jiao and 0 fen* to my name.

But what the hell. There it is, clear as an Athens sunrise before they invented the internal combustion engine.

Distant memories of "schoolboy Greek" tell me that the sign reads "Thiaphiesenizi", and if that means anything in Greek, or English, or Chinese, or any language at all, then you can call me Zorba.

*Anyone remember the good old days when Honest Zhou at the Bank of China used to give you those little monopoly-style fen notes when you changed money - even when the fen (1/100th of a yuan) had ceased to have any value? Sadly they don't seem to bother these days. Sic transit gloria money?


Coming off the Plateau: the desert highway down to Golmud.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Petrol station, Qing-Zang Gonglu (Qinghai-Tibet highway, south of Golmud).

My Two Wheels

I'm proud of my l'il bike-icle. It's had a hard 10 days. The old girl's done good.

(Thanks to Cyril and Michael at Decathlon Shanghai for fixing it for me to ride one of their machines.)

Sorry Asmund

I ate the last dace. Sorry fella.

Nacho Man

Friday, April 28, 2006

Another Asmund Adventure

The high-altitude desert and the marmots on the ride across the Tibetan Plateau, and of course the empty tin of fried dace at the end of it, got me thinking about - Asmund, of course - who else?

And, in particular, about an adventure Asmund had when he was riding across the Gobi desert a couple of years ago.

Being a hygiene-conscious, Norwegian sort of whale-killer, he wandered a hundred yards or metres or whatever it is they have up there away from his tent one night to answer a call of nature.

Tinkling over, he wandered a hundred yards or metres back to where he thought his tent was, only it wasn't. Tent, bike, stuff, all spirited away in the middle of a dark Gobi night. Had the Mongolian Horseman struck again?

No, Asmund had lost his sense of direction, mid-piddle. And spent the rest of the night curled up in the sand, marmots nibbling at his earlobes, knock knock knocking on a very cold Gobiesque death's door.

Next morning, the sun came up, and there was his tent, bike, and stuff, just over there - the other way.

To avoid a similar fate (likely to prove fatal in a Tibetan Plateau context), I have installed a sophisticated system of plastic tubing.

Day 238 - Cycling Nachitai to Golmud

Start: Nachitai, Qinghai, China
End: Golmud (Germu, Kermu, Ge'ermu), Qinghai, China
Distance: 91km
Time: 4'03"
Avg: 22.5 k/h
Max: 52 k/h
Total: 10,998 km
Total riding days: 131
Riding hours: 0900 - 1350

Downhill, tailwind, all day. I felt I deserved it. The only explanation for the tailwind is that there is another cyclist riding the Qinghai-Tibet highway in the other direction, and the wind can't make up its mind which of us to torment. I got lucky.

Arriving in Golmud was a strange experience. But my typing fingers are getting tired. It'll be in the book.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Day 237 - Cycling from Budongquan to Nachitai

Start: Budongquan, Qinghai, China
End: Nachitai, Qinghai, China
Distance: 95 km
Time: 5'44"
Avg: 16.6 k/h
Max: 48.5 k/h
Total: 10,907 km
Total riding days: 130
Riding hours: 1130 - 1915

Yesterday's ride left me in no hurry to make an early start. Kick-off was further delayed by a pair of wildlife photographers on a one-year secondment to the Kekexili Nature Reserve, whose headquarters is by some distance the grandest building in the hut-strip that is Budongquan.

Rather than head out into the cold of the plateau, they wisely reasoned that I constituted exotic wildlife, and spent the morning sticking lenses up my nose instead.

Thereafter, the deal was this: 20 km flattish uphill to the pass, then descend, descend, descend all the way to Golmud. This is the Qing-Zang Gonglu, the Qinghai-Tibet highway, paved and in perfect condition.

Too tired to eat last night, I began the day with empty legs and the 20 km to the pass were slow and tortuous. A flat rear tyre didn't help. I couldn't find a hole; the tube just seemed to have given up and split along a seam.

The Kunlun Shankou (pass) is signed as 4767 metres.

In Nachitai, the guesthouse was full; I found a bed in the Kunlun Mountain Spring mineral water bottling plant, which I will tell you all about another time.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Photos from the ride to Budonquan

Snow overnight in my campsite.

The last river crossing, 40 km before Budongquan. After this, the fun starts. (See previous diary entry.)

The Kunluns - last photo before the pain started...

Track-road-tyre-truck interface.

Next morning - the faraway railway viaduct. This is the engineering miracle, the Qinghai-Lhasa railway, due to open on 1st July 2006.

Day 236 - cycling to across the plateau to Budongquan

Start: Between Qumahe and Budongquan, Qinghai, China
End: Budongquan, Qinghai, China
Distance: 78 km
Time: 9'15"
Avg: 8.4 k/h
Max: 19.1 k/h
Total: 10,812 km
Total riding days: 129
Riding hours: 0900 - 2040

From my diary:

...the sun bright, the sky blue, the land black and white and ahead and to the right the Kunluns, mystical mountains, low and dumpy nearby, soft-edged conical towers of sugar up ahead. It was very beautiful but all I could do was swear, pant and curse and inch forward, through deep, slick mud, deep slush, deep snow, deep sand, occasional firmer patches of horrendously washboarded grit. My wheels sank sank sank into mud sand and snow, and the hyper-pedalling needed to get through left me collapsed, slumped over the crossbar, head down on the handlebars, panting panting panting. Often I had to get off and haul, right hand hooked behind the saddle, but just dismounting, swinging a leg over the saddle, left me breathless before I could begin.

Budongquan was in sight but never getting closer, all I could think of was being benighted 10 kilometres from the cluster of tents that is Budongquan, and having to spend the night out in the open (there is no shelter here, it is dead flat) in the wind and the cold and exhausted at 4700 metres. From 40 km away I could see the viaduct of the new Tibet railway, but it was never any closer, despite seeming so close - the air is so clear in this high-altitude desert that all the way to the horizon things appear close enough to touch, but they are always far, far away.

I remember seeing Zamyn Uud in the Gobi in 2004 from 70 km away; it took all of the next day to reach.

A truck came by, towing a bike-sized trailer and offered me a lift. It hurt to say no but it would have hurt more to say yes. And then the going got worse and worse and the truck was disappearing into the distance, churning up more mud and sand and snow for me.

Should I camp now while it is light and I have strength to get clothes on and cook? Perhaps in the morning when everything is frozen hard again the road will be easier. But the sight of the bridge and the railway makes me believe it is possible to make it tonight, even though each time I do the sums - the remaining kilometres, the remaining hours of daylight, my rate of progress - it doesn't add up. I'm making about 4 km/h, I won't make it.

But I plod on because there is nothing else to do and because I'm hoping for a miracle and because bad roads can't go on being bad forever, and then I remember Rob Lilwall took 12 days to cover 100 kilometres in Papua New Guinea.

Now the supposedly bad road from the east joins my road, and I wonder how the bad road can possibly be any worse than my road, and there are 15 km to go and the headwind starts to hit me hard, limiting me more than the terrain now that the track become a sand and grit swathe as wide as an LA 8-lane, just firm enough that you don't sink in, just soft enough to make every pedalstroke hard, washboarded badly but I say Sorry bum, you are called upon to make a sacrifice here and take the pain, and I give it no mercy, riding hard across the washboarding, swinging left to right and back across the 8-lane looking for a stretch that is smoother, but it never is, or where it is the sand is too deep, and off the track the desert looks firm but in fact the top is soft and my tyres cut through and sink deep so it is back to the washboard, sorry bum, the sun nearly gone now, the wind cold, cold, cold, biting, three wild asses stand apart, stare at me, and there is still the railway viaduct, 25 km nearer but no nearer, still the same distant mirage, and I curse myself for allowing myself one extra dream in my tent this morning, and if there was a full moon I could maybe ride with the night, but the moon is new now because I spent too long in Yushu, and now the sun has tucked behind the sky's only cloud on the western rim of the desert, to set and undress in private, it is really really cold and I don't want to be in my tent tonight and all my theories about why surely the wind must die at sunset don't seem to work out in practice, even though yesterday it did, and I resent the people who will soon be riding the rails to Lhasa in smug, snug air-conditioned pressurised comfort, and the travel brochures which will sell it as the Adventure of a Lifetime, and pretty hostesses in prim uniforms will bring them tea and when they look out and think how beautiful is the world outside their cinemascope windows will they see me still dragging and cursing through mud and snow and wind and cold, and will they realise how far away their bloody viaduct still is, how many hours I can slog through mud and snow and water and sand towards their bloody viaduct and it still isn't any closer, please I don't want to be in my tent tonight and I'm hitting those washboard ruts and my bum has stopped complaining, like a dog grown resigned to beatings, and then a deep-cut washed-out river valley appears on my right and geese honk overhead, why can't I fly, because it's too easy that's why, and the river is flowing against me so I must be climbing yet the viaduct seems below me, and then the track swings right and the viaduct really does seem near, but is near one kilometre or ten, I don't know, I'm not going towards it any more but parallel to it and there are some huts down there, or is it up there, and a kind of hill above them with a digger digging out stuff in the half-darkness, and it seems an odd thing to be doing, digging out stuff on top of a sort of hill in the half-darkness, when there is stuff everywhere here, stuck to my wheels, tyres, feet, face, stuff everywhere, enough for everyone and my bum shrieks as I hit the next rut and then goes back to silent whimpering again and those buildings, are they really getting closer now, is the wind blowing them towards me, and suddenly the track slips down into the river-cut and one of the buildings must be a petrol station, The Road! The Road!, and a light is moving along it, lights glowing, is it moving fast, or is it near now, good god the huts have fairy lights and music blaring, yes, yes, this really was the road to hell and here is hell at the end of it, and I'm under the railway, two sturdy viaduct legs the gates to hell, the music louder, the lights brighter, and I am up a slope and an unfamiliar feeling under my wheels, grip, smooth, firm, hell, a road, a real road, and two more lights moving fast towards me now and the music blares louder, a single, angry note, the lights swerve and the music dopplers an ugly semitone down and the rush of wind and the truck is past me and it is Budongquan.

Things spin and ache and I am dog-tired. Inside I lie down and wait for sleep to come, but sleep is busy for a long time with snow and mud and cold and wind and the viaduct, always so close and always so far away, and the passengers looking out at the beautiful world.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Day 235 - cycling from Qumahe towards Budongquan

Start: Qumahe Xiang, Qinghai, China
End: Tent, about half way to Budongquan, Qinghai, China
Distance: 86km
Time: 9'01"
Avg: 9.5 k/h
Max: 28.3 k/h
Total: 10,734 km
Total riding days: 128
Riding hours: 0840 - 2010

A huge, time and space swallowing vastness of a place, I wanted to slow down and enjoy it, but had to take advantage of the reasonable weather; a week-long confining-to-tent blizzard might be around the corner.

A long, slow, 30 km climb out of Qumahe, past a gatepost and the last house, that seemed to say "abandon hope all ye who pass by here" or "watch it" or something; and then the plateau really opened out to an endless plain.

The road keeps to the slightly higher ground to the south of the main, boggy river valley, climbing and descending one hill-shoulder after another; the side-valleys between are wet and get harder to cross later in the day when the sunshine begins to soften the mud and snow and ice.

The rivers are mostly unbridged but manageable - a month later and it could be a different story.

Much of the landscape is utterly barren, bare gravelled earth with nothing growing on it; it looks like a glacier or the surface of the moon. Antelope watch me and fly up the hillsides, their feet seemingly not touching the ground, white tails bobbing; pika fat-bum around, sprinting, scuttling, sending up dust trails like miniature motorbikes.

My back tyre starts to bottom out; I can't find the puncture but stick a new tube in, watched by a pair of long-billed sparrow-types near whose burrow I have set up my temporary garage.

Noodlin' up; not sure what happened to my face.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Day 234 - Yege Xiang to Qumahe

Start: Yege Xiang, Qinghai, China
End: Qumahe Xiang, Qinghai, China (95 deg E, 34 deg 50' N)
Distance: 58 km
Time: 5'38"
Avg: 10.4 k/h
Max: 32 k/h
Total: 10,647 km
Total riding days: 127
Riding hours: 0930 - 1615

Snow overnight; bright morning, which became cold with a bitter wind. The local policeman showed up in my hovel to see me off in the morning.

Two passes. Unbridged river crossings, but still cold enough to keep the rives mostly frozen, open water no more than 20 metres or so across. The large river, the red-silty Qu Ma He, is bridged just before the track reaches Qumahe Village.

I come close to dying, again, but not for any of the reasons that Asmund might have predicted. The problem: carbon monoxide poisoning. I find a nice warm room in Qumahe; at the centre is a yak-dung stove, on which a cauldron of yak-hooves is boiling up for the dogs. I assume they will be done by bed-time. Not so. The hooves boil away all night; they don't smell great, but then neither do I.

The CO levels rise though, and I don't sleep much - every hour or so I take a stride into the frozen night to gulp in some fresh air.

Qumahe Village has a few shops and even a Muslim restaurant run by a guy from Xining - what persuaded him to leave the big city and run a business out here I don't know. Maybe he makes good money - the place is certainly popular with the Tibetan locals. No electricity pylons, no telegraph wires reach Qumahe, though. It is wonderfully cut off - although they've got a satellite phone installed now and a set of solar panels that generates enough power for each household to run a low-energy lightbulb.

One shop sells the best moon-cakes in China. It's worth the trip.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Day 233 - biking out of Qumalai to Yege Xiang

Start: Qumalai, Qinghai, China
End: Yege Xiang, Qinghai, China
Distance: 99 km
Time: 9'01"
Avg: 10.9 k/h
Max: 31.5 k/h
Total: 10,589 km
Total riding days: 126
Riding hours: 0940 - 2030

Perfect weather - sunny, crisp, no wind. A perfect day marred by ending it in a grot-pot of a hovel covered in yak-dung, empty beer bottles and god knows what, 5 beds draped in stinking rags, no door. I would have been much better off in my tent, but a motorbiker passed me and said I could stay at his house 13 kms down the road. Well, it was 26 kms down the road and I couldn't find him; by then it was dark and too late to get out of this village and find somewhere to camp.

The best of it was that they wanted 15 yuan for the bed. In the end I paid them 10, but that was still about 20 too much. I'm not usually fussy about where I stay, but this place really was something. It is the sort of place Japanese game show contestants have to stay in for two hours to win 10 billion yen. The more I looked, the more disgusting it got. I stopped looking.

But that apart, a joyous day. What is it about riding an unsealed road at 10 k/hthat is so much nicer than riding asphalt at 10 k/h? Although it is jolting and jarring, it is somehow soothing and relaxing, and the time passes quicker. Perhaps because on unsealed roads you are always concentrating - it can be hard, but it doesn't get boring, you're always steering. Good new asphalt roads, like the stretch from Yushu to Qumalai, can be dull to ride.

I woke to a fine morning, silver flecks of frozen angel's breath fluttering earthwards, glinting in the sunlight. Topped up with petrol (no, I don't have a motor, alas; for the stove) and the good folk at the petrol station didn't charge me for it.

Then onto the dirt road out of town. A police tent halfway up the first pass offered me milky tea and a warm break for 20 minutes.

Four passes in total today; the first was the highest, the third scarcely a ripple.

Pikas, giant Tibetan hamsters (OK, not that giant - a fair match for a fair-sized guinea-pig) are everywhere, scuttling fat-bummed between burrows.

In several places the road crosses broad sheetwash gravels which would be tricky after rains; for now, everything is safely frozen up and the gravels are dry. Broad, open valleys; a few motorbikes, no trucks or cars. Road surface not too bad today, not much washboarding. Surrounding hills low and rounded, reds and browns and yellows, snow on north-facing slopes. The sun quickly burns the snow off other slopes.

Beautiful valley between Se Wu Gou and the Se Wu Gou bridge, the hills on the far side folded and knotted in the evening sun and shadow.

Se Wu Gou itself is an eerie, deserted ghost-town, half-demolished, rooves gone but walls still standing, a Tibetan Pompeii.

Antelope on the climb to the second pass. Yak herds all along, wonderful beasts, turning and trotting off with big-bodied grace, tossing heads and tails, horns and hooves held high, great furry bodies like Chinese acrobat-lions.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Day 232 - on a bike from Zhidoi to Qumalai

Start: Zhidoi, Qinghai, China
End: Qumalai (Qumarleb), Qinghai, China
Distance: 54 km
Time: 3'58"
Avg: 13.6 k/h
Max: 42 k/h
Total: 10490 km
Total riding days: 125
Riding hours: 1040 - 1530

A shortish hop down the valley, over the Tongtian He (Yangtze river headwaters) bridge and up the other side.

Qumalai (aka Qumarleb, Qumarlai) is the end of the road, my last chance to turn around. I wind up at the bus station hotel and buy peanuts. I ask how far it is to Budongquan. Estimates vary from "more than 100 km" to "more than 400 km". I buy some more peanuts.

The bridge over the Tongtian He (Yangtze).

Friday, April 21, 2006

Day 231 - Cycling from Rong Po Zhen to Zhidoi

Start: Rong Po Zhen, Qinghai, China
End: Zhidoi (Zhiduo), Qinghai, China
Distance: 120 km
Time: 8'51"
Avg: 13.6 k/h
Max: 40 k/h
Total: 10436 km
Total riding days: 124
Riding hours: 0850 - 1925

Long, hard, killer day, not helped by not sleeping all last night thanks to a snoring room-mate. I was staying at the house of a guy whose wall was adorned with a large portrait of the Dalai Lama, a poster of the Potala palace in Lhasa, and a poster of 2 fat pink naked babies trying to grasp a butterfly between their chubby fingers.

It snowed overnight but the road is clear.

Dog attacks all day. One gets the pocket in my rear left pannier in his jaws and nearly yanks it off. I don't realise until 10 km later, when he has given up chasing and I finally stop. The pocket, luckily, is still hanging on by one clip. Had I lost it, I would be heading across the Tibetan plateau with no spoke key, no allen keys, no bike pump, and no toothbrush. In other words, it would have been suicidal to continue.

Two passes. On the climb to the first one, a bloke hanging at the side of the road demands money; when I don't give him any, he runs after me hurling rocks. And not small rocks, and not half-heartedly. Always wear your bike helmet.

After 60 km I am dead; I stop by the roadside and fall asleep in the sun. A car passes and offers me 'qiaokeli' - chocolate - in a sort of toothpaste tube. You have to suck it out, but it tastes good and picked me up for the second pass.

The second pass was flat. It was incredibly cold, and I hit a blizzard - head-on, naturally. I was crawling at about 6 k/h. Out of nowhere, an electrical storm was suddenly right on top of me. One bolt struck a little way ahead; while I was contemplating whether to try to get down somewhere low (I was protected from being the highest thing on the plateau-pass only by the telegraph poles; otherwise it was featureless and flat; vague recollections from mountain handbooks come to mind - What To Do In Thunderstorms. I remember diagrams explaining how lightning aims for high things, and low things, and things inbetween; don't lie in a ditch, don't stand up tall, don't hide in a cave. Will the air in my tyres insulate me if I stay on the bike?), a second strike hit right alongside. I was going west and the storm going east - I reckoned the best bet was to keep moving and hope we would pass each other without coming to blows. The third strike was behind me, and thereafter they became more distant.

I was super-cold and tired and hungry and didn't want to camp. Zhidoi was visible from 20 km away, but getting there took forever, crawling, inching into the wind, even downhill not getting above 8 k/h. Every time I halved the remaining distance, my speed seemed to have halved as well - I was getting closer in space but not in time.

I creep into Zhidoi, finally, late. There is a beautiful new hotel there, run by a Salar Muslim guy. It is not only clean but also heated. I pay 15 yuan for a bed which stretches my 10-yuan bedding budget, but it is worth it. There is no electricity in town, but I could have paid 30 for a bed in a TV'ed room.

Why does cycling into a headwind downhill at 8 k/h hurt so much more than cycling without a wind uphill at 8 k/h?

Leaving Rong Po Zhen, a bright clear morning after overnight snow. It got worse.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Day 230 - cycling from Yushu to Rong Po Zhen

Start: Yushu (Jyeku), Qinghai, China
End: Rong Po Zhen, Qinghai, China
Distance: 73 km
Time: 6'27"
Avg: 11.2 k/h
Max: 51.5 k/h
Total: 10315 km
Total riding days: 123
Riding hours: 1140 - 1850

Hauled myself out of Yushu, over a 4600 metre pass into the Rong Po valley, with its lake, its black-necked cranes, its trans-Himalayan migratory geese, its relentless chasing dogs, etc.

I didn't get out of town in time. Yesterday's tailwind had turned to become the familiar westerly by the time I got on my bike.

Looking back down the valley to Yushu.

The first pass out of Yushu on the road west to Qumalai (Qumarleb).