Videos of our first days on the Tea and Horse Route

So many things go on during our days of pedaling that we thought it would be good to post a video of what we see in an average day so far. This is combined from three days, with lots left out!


Goat to market

Goat on the way to market.

Lucky says he is not ready to comment on this bicycle touring thing, or China. His white is turning gray like us, and everything else here, and the rough roads are taking a toll. He’ll reserve comment until the mountains, soon. I hope the beauty of the high country wins him over, and ends his silence. Claire and I have done this a few times, but it’s all new to Lucky.

The locals in Ya’an make steep uphill signs, raise their eyebrows and exclaim when we tell them where we are going. One man, in elaborate pantomime, told me we should take a bus.

It’s all a bit unnerving, especially the idea of the four kilometer tunnel somewhere ahead, and the rain last night didn’t help. Ah the pleasures of the unknown. It always works out, somehow.

First Days


September 8, 2009

Day One: Left Chengdu to parts unknown. Encountered difficulty: finding the right post office, getting our bank card to work, finding our way out of town. Visited a nice big plaza and took pix of Chairman Mao statue. Traffic eased as we got out of town, but were almost hit by a car coming onto the street from a side street. We both stopped in time. Then it got really, really hot and the humidity was killing me. We stopped twice and I chugged sodas; the sugar and caffeine kept me going for another half hour each time. Finally found a binguan after asking at least five times. Air conditioning! But nothing else works very well. Finally got hot water after dinner which was an epic. All we could find were streets filled with hot pot restaurants and they couldn’t really accommodate us for under 100yuan, and a lot of confusion. We weren’t that hungry.

Near a street market, we stopped for a meal of baozi, and met a nice family group and a regular customer. Lots of language issues, but lots of fun communication and laughter. The regular customer bought our dinner! We presented the family with business cards. Stopped for pastries to eat on the way back to the binguan. One was filled with sweetened squash! Wonderful.

September 9

Day Two: Went back to the same place for breakfast: two tea eggs, three jiaozi, two bowls of rice soup, and pickled vegetables: 5y or 70 cents for a great breakfast for two. Claire was made happy the one person who didn’t get a business card last night, and they all got to wonder at Zippy!

On the way out of town, one missed turn cost us about 3k, not too bad for getting out of a medium sized city.

We stopped at 39K. The heat/humidity index has to be over 100 because we are exhausted early; we have four months (or more) ahead of us, and some 12-15,000-foot mountain passes not many days away, so we need to ease into this thing! We should be getting into some cooler temperatures soon; today our closed plastic bags collapsed some, so we gained some elevation, but it’s still hot and humid, though the pollution is easing.

We would have done another 20 k, but are pretty sure the next binguan is 78k more. We’ll save that for tomorrow. We averaged less than 20k/hr even though there was much less stopping for traffic obstructions than yesterday. Today was riding near the edge of a 2m concrete drop/off into trees or an irrigation (empty) ditch. My shoulders and back are tired wrestling a fully loaded long wheelbase tandem. I’ll work into it.

I packed extra hex wrenches because I wasn’t sure I had all the sizes necessary to fit every hex bolt on the bike. Turns out I had, and I had probably 200g of excess baggage. We looked for a bike mechanic all morning and found one fixing an old bike for a waiting woman. I offered them to him, “I don’t want, do you want?” in Chinese (Wo bu yao, ni yao, ma). Claire knew how to say that! She keeps amazing me, and I keep using pantomime. At first he asked me how much I wanted, “Duo shao qian” (more money, less money literally). I told him I didn’t want any money, “Wo bu yao.” He looked a little confused at first, then happy. Those tools would have cost him quite a few bicycle repairs.

That little interchange, like many others we have on these trips, helps remind us how fortunate we were to have been born in a wealthy country. A small gift, like the reading glasses I gave the Uyghur man in far western China, or those hex wrenches, makes us realize how much we take for granted the little things that most people lack.


Today, it only took asking once for a binguan – it was right across the intersection. Bob impressed the whole front office of the hotel when a woman dropped her scooter coming down off some steps and he was able to fix something that broke. I could tell they were also in awe as he muscled the fully loaded Zippy up the same steps.

I’m learning that, in this language, context is everything. So many syllables sound so similar, (and with four tones, my chances of getting the pronunciation wrong is 4:1) that mumbling single words doesn‘t seem to work. If instead, I can prattle off a full line of words, people seem to get the gist. I’m also trying to memorize just the sounds of the last few syllables of the questions people might be asking us. Otherwise, I just get a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face.

Saw three dead pigs today – two in the river and one in the irrigation ditch. I didn’t think pigs had the chance to die a natural death here.

On The Road to Shangri-la At Last

Bob: After five days of building up Zippy, visiting pandas, exploring Chengdu, we are leaving. Claire has been organizing route maps from the China road atlas Peter Snow – Cao gave us. Peter has China bicycle touring company, but he bought us tea at a lovely tea house along the river, and shared information about our route. If you want to travel China with a guide, Peter is the man to contact.

We have enjoyed everything about Chengdu, except the poor air quality. Buildings across a single street have a blue/gray tint from the air. We will be glad to begin climbing the mountains, even if the stories we have been told about altitude sickness, harrowing long days for cyclists. There won’t be much air, but it will be clean at least! It will take us a couple of days to get across the valley and above the pollution basin. Then we will be in the mountains 10-15,000 feet for two or three weeks. We have already decided that we will need to extend our visas for China to leave time for altitude acclimatization and the usual, everything-takes-twice-as-long-in-China.

Lunch: Jiaozi, chilli sauce and spiced vinegar, with cold pejo (my spelling of how to pronounce beer).

Claire: I’m trying to eat more adventurously on this trip and so far, the spicy Sichuan food is very tolerable. Good thing Bob has had me in training for the last few weeks. (I’m beginning to absorb just how Sichuan food burns twice.) Tonight, we had mapo doufu, a regional tofu dish that is very spicy. We also actually did get green beans this time: wonderful crispy fried and salty. I’m sure our restaurant hosts thought we were out of our gourd for not wanting rice, but it was already more than we could eat and we hate wasting food, after all, there are starving children in America.

Those of you who know us and how we try to eat so healthy at home should know that our anti-inflammatory diet stayed stateside. We’re back on the see-food diet: we see food, we eat it.

I should mention here that Sim’s Cozy Guesthouse is very warm and hospitable. We got to meet Sim finally tonight and he was able to give us some good information, being a cycle tourist himself. He even gave Bob some Chinese herbal medicine for a rumbling gut. The amenities are great here and we fully appreciate that this may be the only place we’ll stay in that has in-room Wi-Fi.

Lucky: Leaving finally! I’m ready to rock and roll!