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.

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