Newly alone, the 1700km to Golmud was looking a bit intimidating. Especially the first 420km from Litang to Dege. As was the weather. I was planning to go a different way to many other cyclists. This would take me closer to the border with Tibet Province, through the towns of Baiyu and Dege, before rejoining the more classic route via Garze at Manigange. But I had figured out that the up and down on my chosen route was pretty brutal. Most days featured going all the way down to about 3000m before climbing a pass around 4500m, and the final pass was the highest I would take on at over 5000m.
Typical diary entry in Litang: “Packed up to leave. Looked at route. Didn’t leave… Blog post nearly done. Power cut. Snow storm. Leave tomorrow possible?” I ended up staying for nearly a week.
I eventually left and the first day was everything I had envisaged. The worst so far. From my diary:
Lunch of plain rice in middle of nowhere. 10 or 15 circling eagles. Huge. No good photos. 4700m pass and clouds over it started to play on mind. Don’t feel well. Camp? Camp closer [to pass]. Settlement coming up. 50RMB truckstop. Bit dodgy. Reject after one chocolate entity and set off. Not sure plan. See police checkpoint.. Straight through. [Make it] 2km and turn around. Driving hail. Go to police checkpoint/shop. Hang around. Get an instant noodle. Hot & Sour. Not thinking. [It was disgusting.] Police buy it and throw in artificial sausage. Can I have your passport, visa and mobile number?
I decide to go over the pass. Legs shot. 1/2 a noodle since a lunch of rice. Wobbly. 4km go past. Next 8km are the longest ever. Delirious a bit. 200m a struggle. Push. Crazy thoughts. What is everyone else doing at 8pm? Remember Buddhists. Live in the moment. Fuck that. 80k a day from now on. Get to pass at 9 I think. About 2.5 hours for 12k. Jeez. Really wobbly. Nausea. Get on bike and feeling in pit of stomach is like… well bad… Endurance is not for me. Stop [at a guesthouse in a village, after descending from the pass] + nearly vomit.
The second day was even worse. At about 9pm I was making my way along a steep, muddy track in the dark up to a 4300m pass. I was eventually unable to cycle anymore because of all of the ruts in the road, so I ended up walking and pushing 50kg of bike. A car-full of friendly workers stopped repeatedly to tell me that I should definitely give up cycling on account of the wolves and tigers. I was listening to an audio book to pass the time – Sapiens – and the author was talking about the differences between the experiencing and the narrating brain. The experiencing brain works in the moment and is honest about how rubbish things are. And the narrating brain compensates for that after the fact by making up a narrative to lend meaning to experiences. It seemed very apt.
On the third day I tried to make it to the pass in the daytime for the first time. I failed, and ended up in the dark again, pushing up another dirt track at 9pm with about 100ml of water left. I had tried to conserve a little bit by under cooking a dinner of as a result almost raw grain, paired with dried beef. Sapiens had progressed to talk about how people compensate for meaningless lives through social media profiles. Sigh. I thought getting to the top of big mountains was super epic awesome…? :-/
I was lucky to meet a friendly Tibetan family, though, crammed into a small car going over the pass. They gave me a few bottles of water and, noticing my struggle to speak, threw in an apple and an asian pear too. I tried to gobble down the apple but ran out of energy to chew and it just made me feel sick anyway. Somehow, though, after making it down from the top, I just thought screw it and cycled another 40km to Baiyu.
After a day off to stumble up to a local monastery, which are always at the top of really steep hills, the last day to Dege looked a lot less intimidating. Compared to the previous three it was relatively flat. 40km in to the 100+ km ride, though, I was cycling at 12km an hour into a horrible headwind, cowering under the rain and then the hail, which stopped about 50km later, just in time for my arrival into Dege. Next up a 5000m pass…
Super epic awesome!