Where Magic Happens
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
After a few days rest in Chengdu it was indeed time to move. I had been partially looking forward to and dreading the next leg of the journey. I knew it would be beautiful, inspiring and new. But I also knew it would be hard, long, cold, windy and tiring. All aspects would show themselves in time.
I began out of Chengdu with fresh legs and a healthy mindset. I was going to conquer whatever lay before me. After an excellent first day of riding I found a beautiful place to camp beside a river. There were mountains all around and it was still warm enough to camp without the rainfly. The stars were out and I was happy. The next morning I woke early and raced off down the road after a quick breakfast of spicy noodles. A few miles later I came to a roadblock, the tunnel was under construction and would not open again to traffic for another 3 hours. Well I wasn’t about to wait. I took all the panniers off my bike and pushed it through the crack in the gate. Laughing at all the people stuck in their cars, I walked ahead with the bike loaded once more. Well there was a reason I was not to go in. They were cementing the roof of the tunnel and I was getting hit all over with dirt and wet cement. Needless to say my bike and I were completely dirty by the time I got to the other side, where I was met by another group of very interested and impatient people.
Soon afterwards the road deteriotated into a complete catastrophe. As I climbed the beginning set of mountains I began to enter the area of Sichuan Province that was hit hardest by the earthquake in 2008. As I rode you could see the lingering devastation. The road completely neglected in loo of the new super highway that was built, not welcome to cyclists. Buildings were still collapsed or completely new.
At this point I encountered yet another tunnel. The bridge leading to it had crumbled into the valley below. I made my way around the edge of the new dirt track and entered the tunnel. Pitch black. I put on my head-torch and began pedalling into the humid darkness. As I came around the bend there was no more light coming in. Even with my own light I couldn’t see the ground below me. Infrequently I would hear the dull roar of a car coming and would have to walk my bike until I bumped into the wall to ensure I wasn’t standing in the middle of the tunnel when a car came. I couldn’t see a thing. For 4 kilometres I pedalled in complete darkness in the most uninviting labyrinth of a place I have ever been. My mind conjuring every awful imaginable thing in that awful trap.
Well I had enough. Eventually the road met up with the fast speed toll road and I threw my bicycle over the cement railing and pedalled like mad. I flew all the way to the next town where I collapsed in a 3 dollar bed and rid myself of that day. On the way to Wenchuan seeing signs advertising the road to the epicentre of the earthquake. Only in China would a place devastated by an earthquake become a tourist attraction. I decided that was enough fun for one day.
The following few days were a mixture of low valleys, big mountains and a lot of riding. One night I spent sleeping in a police station thanks to some kind officers who decided the next town was too far away and would not let me camp on my own. I had an entire ‘Inquiry Room’ to myself, complete with my own desk for writing. The next day I encountered the portion of the map I had been dreading. Squiggly lines on a map are never good. Well I climbed for hours to the top of an extraordinary mountain, took a well deserved break and continued onto Songpan after a long 125km.
After a days rest and recuperation I headed for my final climb into the Tibetan Plateau grassland. It was going to be the hardest ascent yet. I stocked up on food and water as the map showed no settlements in-between. I set out early and climbed at a slow gradient into a strong headwind for the entire day. When I made it to the ‘top’ I was shattered. At 4,000 metres the road final petered out. Pedalling for two kilometres, I found a family of nomads to camp with. They welcomed me in, helped set up my tent and gave me boiled yak milk, butter, sugary dough and tea. Everything they have they make mostly themselves. It is hard life at that altitude. They rely completely on their animals for subsistence. They work hard. But at night they enjoy family. They laugh together and play small games. The night was cold. But the stars were unlike anything I have ever seen before. At 4,000 metres on a clear night, I could almost reach out and grab them.
I left early once again and road in the grasslands for the entire day and into the next. Miles and miles ahead the road stretched. I could see cars slowly moving on the horizon, knowing it would take me over an hour to get there. The climbs were long and slow. It seemed like I was forever going up. Then once I reached the summit there was no downhills only more flat pedalling. People selling fresh honey on the side of the road and sunflower seeds still in the sunflower. Marshes with wild horses, herds of yaks and wild dogs. One insanely large and crazy dog even chased my bike until it bit my tire. I pedalled like hell and cursed the damn thing.
After an eventual and beautiful few days of riding I decided it was time for a break. Staying in a beautiful place called Langmusi, set in the wake of rocky mountains and monasteries. The midway point of the road between the descent back to warmer weather and ‘easier’ desert riding. But there are still days of grassland riding before me that I welcome with open arms. The road I passed over the last week or so has been in a word ‘fantastic’. Yes, I have had my struggles with altitude and everything in-between, but my daily moments are peaceful and beautiful. Whipped by wind and hard roads I have become stronger. Tibetan prayer flags flap in the ever blowing wind. Monks carry out their business. People speak in Tibetan. Local people extend a friendly hello and speed on wrapped up tight in their cloths. I understand only pieces of what life must be like here in this this harsh land. This is where magic happens.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” ~ Henry Miller
When I left Chengdu I knew I was taking the hard road. But I also knew it would bring me the most appreciation for my journey. I love the way the road has unfolded before me. It is changing the way I view travel. The bicycle has allowed me to see that destinations are only placeholders on a map. They are not where the journey really takes place. The stories lay in the journey itself. The long and winding road. Pinpoints on an ever extending map. It has taken ahold of me.
***Thank you as well to all my recent donations. The school in Guang Ming is well under construction and set to open in mid-September. We are only $1,700 away from reaching our goal of $10,000. To be apart of the journey click ‘Here to Donate‘
Posted on August 21, 2014, in Adventure, Around the World, Charity, China, Cycling, Inspiration, Thoughts, Travel and tagged Around the World, Beautiful, Challenge, Chengdu, China, Cycling, difficult, Exciting, fun, Gansu, grassland, motivation, rain, Sichuan, Tibetan prayer flags, tiring, Travelpics, tunnels, wind. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.