2009/03/01: In Xichang
On our second day in Xichang, we spotted a fellow with a nice road bike, who led us to a bike shop. We got Chris new shorts, which means that I’ve inherited his bought-in-Thailand shorts, and both our bottom ends are better off as a result of the upgrades. I got a new water bottle and we bought a few bolts.
2009/03/02: Mianning 88 km
The first day out of Xichang was not idyllic cycling. We understand we passed China’s satellite launching centre, but we never noticed anything much. This is an area that was probably closed to foreigners till quite recently, which may explain how we are received: as if we are quite a novelty. The town we arrived in had guest houses that did not have the proper authority to house foreigners, but our would-be hosts summoned the local Public Security Bureau and the necessary forms were filled in over glasses of green tea.
2009/03/03: Shimian 107 km
The PSB officer warned us the next day would be a long one, and gave us his telephone number in case we should need a ride over the 2,500 m pass. We slogged upward through a barren landscape, stopping for delicious fried bread. The concrete supports for the elevated highway are being built at a pace that would humble a Canadian construction company, but the associated truck traffic on the road is the downside for us.
2009/03/04: Luding 52 km plus truck ride
Today’s ride followed a river upstream in a steep valley, then passed a hydro dam just being completed, and continued to follow the flooded area above the dam on good new roads and through tunnels. A Yi (I think) woman, who was walking with a bag of food, insisted on giving us her baked potato along with a flood of advice in her dialect. She slipped oranges into our pannier bags, but we managed to reciprocate a little by giving her some of our raw sugar. She seemed pleased. We haven’t seen any of the sugar recently – we’re too far north, so it’s exotic here.
At our lunch stop, we realized we were in for 20 km of cliff-side roads in very poor condition, so we negotiated a ride in one of the huge blue trucks that I had been cursing for their black fumes and loud honking. We secured the bikes inside with bungee cords, and climbed into the high cab. The kindly driver took us over the rough section and all the way to Luding, refusing any payment and leaving us with more respect for huge blue trucks and their skilled drivers.
Luding is a windswept place tucked into a narrow valley, and known for its chain bridge that was captured by the Red Army during the Long March. The young couple who helped us find a hotel claimed they only see foreigners here two or three times a year. The entire town seems to have had a power failure this evening, but the hotel has managed some sort of auxilliary power. Our headlamps cause hilarity among the hotel staff as we wander the dark lobby.