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.


  1. Ed,

    Those things on your feet do not match my normal image of shoes...what kind of shoes are they? Shoe covers perhaps...?

    - Rob

  2. 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 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 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Ed

    Why carry all that gear yourself?

    Check out David Cameron's latest way of handling lugage on a bike.

    He claims there are no panniers big enough for him to carry all his papers to and from parliament each day. What's he carrying, his expense claim forms?

    Anyway, a following car's got to be the best solution, you can always get in it for a bit of a warm up when things get cold.

    Good to hear you're still alive after the bridgeless track and the plateau. Good job too because Asmund would have never forgiven you for eating all the dace.


    John Humphreys.