First Pass, Chinese Cycling Friends, and a Long Tunnel


Last night at a basic binguan, we met three Chinese cyclists and they showed great interest in Zippy, our tandem. In the morning a larger group of their club friends arrived and there was round of picture taking and general language confusion, but lots of smiles. We saw the large group off up the mountain, had our breakfast and followed about a half-hour later.

We caught them 1,000 vertical meters later at the entrance to the summit tunnel to great exclamations of pleasure and another round of picture taking, with Zippy at the center. Lucky was busy flirting with one of the girls and got left out of the picture, again!

There were police and army personnel all over the place, protecting the tunnel no doubt, and we had to show our passports to be allowed through. We had heard horror stories about the tunnel, but found it reasonably well lit and smooth. As usual, when you worry, it is always unnecessary.

It was fun riding through with the large group and part way down the hill;  Zippy, is fast downhill and we soon left them. They are staying in the same town and we will probably see them tomorrow on a 5,000 ft climb to the next binguan and food.

They are a really sweet group of young people, all in their 20’s, and we look forward to seeing them again. Two different people in the group stopped at vendors and bought us apples. They all have nice looking mountain bikes with slicks and the most up to date clothing, so they are not poor.

It’s really fun to see the Chinese getting into bike touring and seeing their own country.

The Tea and Horse Route

Picking Tea in Sichuan

Picking Tea in Sichuan

We have been interested in the Horse Tea Route, Tea and Horse Route, and other translations, of an ancient trade route that rivals the Silk Road in importance for China and Asia. We first heard about it from a friend, Cindy, and wondered if our route would take us near the ancient route.  It must have been a slow brutal traverse of the Himalayas, from what we endured, in the foothills today on the “modern” route.

Horse, Symbol of Ancient Tea Horse Route, and Tanker Truck, Symbol of the Modern Route

Horse, Symbol of Ancient Tea Horse Route, and Tanker Truck, Symbol of the Modern Route

As we were leaving Ya An today, we saw some beautiful, larger than life, bronze statues of horses and men carrying heavy burdens. A sign nearby indicated that it was a memorial to the ancient route that took tea to SE Asia, India and Lhasa, in exchange for trade goods, and horses from Tibet. We are roughly following the southern route that was supposed to go to Yunnan (Shangri-la) and into present day Laos. We hope to find out more as we get deeper into the mountains. If we are lucky, maybe we will see a bit of the original.

For now, the modern route is challenge enough, with landslides, constant mud and water on the road, trucks, buses and all manner of smaller vehicles competing for a narrow deteriorating road surface, often with precipitous drops into a burnt sienna river raging with rapids. The captain’s shoulders are tired and the stoker’s nerves are frazzled.

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.

Zippy is ready to roll!

Zippy shrink wrapped and ready for China. The wheels are in two other boxes, along with tools and sharp objects, a third bag will carry tent and sleeping bag for the high mountains. We’ll carry cameras and the computer in …

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