I looked out my window yesterday morning and groaned. Rain.
I’ve ridden in rain a lot since coming to China, but riding in freezing rain at 3700m is very unappealing. I gazed around at my bright room and considered staying another night, but the idea of descending 2000m was too tempting. I wanted to be able to breathe normally again, to laugh without needing recovery time in between.
Grumpy, I loaded up my bike.
A Chinese-American woman came out to see what I was up to, asking lots of questions about my trip, apparently impressed by my energy. Soon she was joined by the Tibetan woman who owns the guesthouse, my answers translated into Manderin for her by my new friend.
Feeling less grumpy, I set out in the now thankfully light drizzle, turning to return the waves of the two women standing at the door.
My GPS read 7 degrees but with a strong wind, it felt much colder and despite my two days rest, I made slow progress, the altitude making the incline feel ten times steeper. Within minutes I couldn’t feel my toes and I tried unsuccessfully to wiggle them in an attempt to regain feeling. My double gloved fingers were clumsy, struggling to change gears as I inched over the rolling hills. With gloomy rain clouds up ahead and the knowledge that I had another mountain pass to climb before starting my descent, I felt miserable.
That was when a car pulled over in front of me and a group of people got out. Among them, a woman in a white wedding dress. Certainly not what I had expected to see. We were in the complete middle of nowhere. The only things in sight were yaks, Tibetan script carved into the hillside and the occasional motorbike carrying either a monk or a cowboy. I stopped to congratulate the couple who, it turns out, married a few days ago in Chengdu but had travelled (a full day each way) out here for a newlyweds’ photoshoot. After a few jumping photos of the three of us (them in their elegant outfits and me in my rather less elegant rain gear), I peddled off, leaving them to pose together among the yaks, and feeling much less miserable. How could I not?
I rolled into the next town and stopped for some fried rice, mainly in an attempt to defrost my toes. The two men running the place found the whole concept of me on a bike both fascinating and hilarious. I told them I’d cycled here from Hong Kong and they gave me a simultaneous thumbs up. Given the giant bowl that my fried rice came in (I had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner), they clearly thought I needed fuel.
With more waves, I pushed on toward to the dreaded pass, which I’d read was cruelly steep. Shortly after, I heard some loud “hello!”s and stopped to greet these three.
With lots more “hello!”s, I made it up the pass and was even offered a lift four times by one man who clearly couldn’t understand why anyone would actually choose to ride up on a bicycle. The fact that he first saw me as I was on the roadside, bent over my handlebars, gasping for breath, could explain why he found my “Thank you, but I’m happy cycling” response rather unconvincing.
On the way down I met these guys. Far from the severe looking bunch they seem in the photograph, they were very friendly and with gestures they told me that the rest of the way to Danba was downhill. I responded with a grin, indicating that my legs were too wobbly for anything else. As if to prove that last part, I failed to lift my leg over my bike when getting off and promptly fell into a bike/Rachel mess on the road. They all rushed to help me up, got together for a photo and waved merrily to the crazy cyclist-who-can’t-control-her-bike as I set off for more downhill.
After zooming downhill for another ten kilometres, I saw these two. They’re walking to Lhasa. You know, as one does. They said it’ll take them two days to get to Danba, my destination for the day and one I’d reach in less than two hours.
After enjoying another hour of brilliant downhill I was just thinking how I wouldn’t ride up to the pass from this side if you paid me. That was when I saw these three, who are doing just that on their way to, yep, Lhasa.
I then rode past the most incredible looking villages, where the houses were built like castles, complete with turrets. They also win the prize for the most wavey (I’m an English teacher and I say that’s a word) people, with not just the children but groups of all ages giving me a big wave and a smile as I went past, whether it was from among crops near the road or the top half-built castle-houses.
Near Danba I passed two more hikers, also heading to Lhasa.
After a few kilometres of roadworks of a bog-like consistency, I reached Danba and checked in to the first hotel I found. There was no water, so it was a wetwipe ‘shower’ for me. Lovely. In the reception area I met this woman. I was admiring her amazing headdress when some of her friends gathered around. From the gestures and giggling that followed, I gather that a guy across the road wearing a brown shirt rather likes her. Can you blame him?
I went to bed, not the cleanest I’ve ever been, but far from the grump I was when I got up that morning.
How could anyone remain a grouch when there are so many wonderful humans out there?