End: Zhidoi (Zhiduo), Qinghai, China
Distance: 120 km
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.