Shangri-la Backroads

Misty Morning in Shangri-la (Claire)

Misty Morning in Shangri-la (Claire)

We took the recommendation of Bill Weir and Alice and Andoni, cyclists we’d met way back in Almaty in 2005, and took a back road rather than Highway 214 to Tiger Leaping Gorge. We had at least one climb each day, one day we had three climbs totaling about 18 kilometers. The road is now paved except for washouts and we had very light traffic and beautiful views. Villages along the way were full of hard-working but friendly people eager to say “Hello!”. Coming the backway into Tiger Leaping Gorge was more fun because we didn’t feel so much a part of the tourist hordes. The big rock slide blocked vehicle traffic so we had the gorge to ourselves for most of the morning.

Shangri-la Vista

Shangri-la Vista

Clothsline in Shangri-la

Clothsline in Shangri-la

Plowing with Oxen

Plowing with Oxen

Fall Colors in the Mountains of Shangri-la

Fall Colors in the Mountains of Shangri-la

Nearing Another Pass With Moss Covered Trees

Nearing Another Pass With Moss Covered Trees

Shangri-la Flower

Chinese carrying burden of plants for animalsshangri-la flower

Travertine Pools of Bai Shui Tai

Travertine Pools of Bai Shui Tai

The main reason we went the longer, back way to Lijiang was that I (Claire) wanted to see the travertine terraces at Bai Shui Tai. Unlike at Havasupai, these terraces are perched on a hillside, rather than in a canyon.

Flower in Shangri-la

Flower in Shangri-la

Dahlias grow everywhere.

Carved Headstones

Carved Headstones

Village in Shangri-la

Village in Shangri-la

The expansive valleys on this route were stunning; deep enough that we couldn’t see all the way to the bottom.

Mountains of Shangri-la

Mountains of Shangri-la

Chili Harvest

Chili Harvest

View from our $4.20 room

View from our $4.20 room

Lunch Time in a Shangri-la Field

Lunch Time in a Shangri-la Field

All Dressed Up

All Dressed Up

Hava Snow Mountain

Haba Snow Mountain

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge

After the rain in Tiger Leaping Gorge

After the rain in Tiger Leaping Gorge

Meeting the Yangtze

httpv://youtu.be/c0vp0AkYaiU

You might wonder why we don’t find better accommodations? The next Bingwan was 84 kilometers, and 1500 meters up the road, a hard all day ride. Sometimes the basics seem awfully nice after a long hard day, with another one waiting.


October 3
Shangri-la is changing as we drop in elevation. The yaks are gone, replaced by mixed breed cows, sheep, goats and donkeys. The high meadows, empty of human habitation, other than seasonal tents, with sparkling air and clear water, have been replaced with terraced fields of crops, villages with substantial houses, roofs filled with drying corn and racks with hay. The people remain friendly and vocal as we pass, our unusual mode of transportation a novelty still.

But there is a change. The prayer flags, stupas and monasteries are fewer, the flags more likely to be tattered and faded, and the architecture increasingly Han and not Tibetan. There have been a few instances of architecture new to us, indicating we are entering an area of more diverse ethnicity. Groups of women walk in brightly decorated dresses and several varieties of head dress.

Today was a nearly perfect cycling day: the road was smooth, and mostly downhill, with just enough cooling upstream breeze. We had a few hills, but none were long. There were friendly people, cute donkeys and goats, spectacular gorge scenery, and all our official interactions at check stations were pleasant. I’m beginning to think we just got a couple of bad eggs, on edge because of the 60th anniversary of Communist China’s founding. The army was even guarding a bridge, complete with sand bagged bunkers, though they seemed relaxed, perhaps because the day, October 1, has come and gone without incident, as far as we know. Unescorted foreigners are still blocked from the Tibetan Autonomous Region, though that was supposed to be lifted this week.

Read the rest of this article…

A New High: A Layered Meaning

[httpv://youtu.be/q9s7Pusfssw]

September 17, Xinduqiao, China

Bob:
Yesterday we rode Zippy to the highest elevation ever for us. We started at 8,500 feet in Kangding and topped Zheduo Pass at 13,900 feet in 35 kilometers, or 21.7 miles, all under construction/repair. For our Olympic Peninsula friends, that’s like taking the Hurricane Ridge Road, raising the sea level start to 3,000 feet above the Ridge, loading 70 pounds on your tandem before beginning. Oh, I forgot, put 1,000 people and hundreds of trucks and equipment on the now gravel/dirt/broken concrete road.

We had some concerns about the rapid elevation gain from low Chengdu. Other cycle tourists had told stories of riding for a few meters, resting, pushing for a few meters before riding again because of the lack of oxygen. Others reported terrible headaches and lack of muscle strength.

Near the pass we were stopping for short rests every half kilometer or so, during extra steep sections. We had a little dizziness and mild headaches, in the steeper sections. We topped out in a good mood; although there were moments along the way of despair.

We dropped off into a beautiful Tibetan valley, unfortunately with only a few kilometers of newly paved road, and arrived in town much later than usual. We are taking another acclimatization day, at about 11,000 feet. There are some higher passes to come. Today we took a walk through the village and enjoyed the Tibetans in their beautiful land.

Claire:
I’m not sure which part was the most trying of the day; the construction was a nasty surprise, sometimes the route looked more like a mud track than a major highway. I asked directions more often than our Azeri taxi driver did on the run for the Georgian border. Going up into the fog was pretty demoralizing, partly because it was eerie and also because I didn’t want it to get as thick as it did on that Iceland Hellisheidi Pass. It didn’t, and ultimately may have been better for us because we couldn’t see how much farther up we had to go. Overall, the worst part may have just been the unknown, but really, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? Dealing with whatever happens. We put ourselves here for just this type of experience, and though it can feel harrowing at the time, the intensity of the day becomes a part of us. In retrospect, yes it was hard, but for me, my resolve came from a continual mantra of: “We’re doing it, we’re still moving forward, we may be slow, but we’re doing it.” And both Bob and I kept good spirits and good strength the whole day through. We’ll need that for the 7000 foot climb to 15,000 feet soon.

Bob:
I’m not surprised that Claire touched on what I intended to end with. I am sure some of you new to our travels are saying to yourselves, “What would possess them to do put themselves through the things they do?” I’m pretty sure a lot of Chinese are saying that to us, we just can’t understand them!

Here’s a major part of the answer. Creating challenges for ourselves, and facing them together strengthens the bond of our marriage. Couples often allow the romance fade as the years progress. It’s easy to become immersed in career, children, differing interests and circles of friends, and put the partner in a secondary position. We said some vows nearly twenty years ago, and our habit of creating challenges for ourselves, and meeting them as a team, has helped us keep those vows, and kept the romance alive. We may seem crazy, but the rewards of our mutual struggles are great.

Stupa at first pass into Tibetan lands

Stupa at first pass into Tibetan lands

First Pass, Chinese Cycling Friends, and a Long Tunnel

[httpv://youtu.be/57qJbzFAunE]

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.