Saturday, November 25th, 2017

Day 9 – Shigatse – Xiuquian

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Distance – 140kms
Riding time – 7 hours 40 minutes
Max Altitude – 4550m

An epic from start to finish – one of the most satisfying days I have had on the bike. Left Shigatse at 9am and began the slow pedal uphill and upwind. The scenery was extremely barren, and remained so for the whole day, with only a strip of road stretched like a ribbon between bald hills. I stopped to say hello to some kids in a small town, all of them captivated by the bike and gadgets and clothing (pictured right).
At about 50kms in I was pulled over by a couple in a Land Cruiser. The Dutch couple wanted to take a photo and talk to me about cycling. Apparently they had had a miserable time in the jeep, mainly because they were not getting along with and being cheated by their driver and guide. For example, they had agreed on and paid for an 8 day trip which had been reduced to 7. The Everest Base Camp detour had been cancelled and every time they asked to stop at a village they were told it was a condition of their permit that they did not do so. I felt sorry for them as they had obviously spent a lot of money and were having a miserable time. I did feel a little smug riding off into the distance knowing I’d made the right choice, though there would be more than one occasion where I would have done anything to be in the comfort of a vehicle later in the trip.

The headwind picked up later in the morning. At times my heart rate was around 160 and I was only doing 7kph on flat road, stopping once for a drink where I was able to crouch down behind a concrete wall (pictured right). I pushed on until the 90km mark where I stopped at a cluster of huts for some respite from the wind and, hopefully, something to eat. As I pulled over the people sifting barley in the field stopped working and stared intently. I motioned to my mouth – requesting food – and an old woman walked over and grabbed me by the hand. She led me past a vicious-looking dog and into her home. She sat me down in an extremely basic but very cosy (warmth was like gold) room, poured me a cup of tea and thrust a basket of potatoes in front of me. Seeing the perplexed look on my face, she showed me how to peel the potatoes (they were cooked, which wasn’t immediately clear) and kept topping up my tea. I worked my way through half a dozen cold potatoes and a similar number of tea refills while staring out the window at the howling wind. I understood why these villagers were so content: warm, fed and out of the wind.

When I left the village I gave the woman 5 yuan ($1) and she seemed surprised but happy. The whole village waved goodbye as I headed back out into the cold wind. By this stage I had cycled for five hours and still had to negotiate the major pass of the day (4550m) – the Lagpa La.
Reaching the pass was difficult with the wind now at galeforce. At one stage I thought about pitching the tent but knew it would cost me another day. The pass itself was under construction and with the wind, dust and rocky surface it was a difficult 45 minute climb. Cresting the top was a huge relief, and I rugged up for the descent which was the scene of one of the most amazing things I had seen. Halfway down there was a guy prostrating his way along the highway. He had a wagon with him that he would leave behind, prostrate for 200 metres or so and then retrieve the wagon and bring it back to the point where he’d got to before doing it all over again. I was to find out later from a tour group that had spoken to him that the guy was on his way to Lake Manosovar nearly 1000kms away. At an average of 2-3 kms per day the journey would take him a full year. I gave the guy 10yuan – they have no means of support but donations – and kept riding.

 

Back down in the valley the clock struck 5pm, and I was able to shield myself from the wind by tucking in behind a tractor carrying a herd of goats. I followed the tractor for 10kms and at one point the guy sitting in the back lost his hat in the wind. I turned around, retrieved the hat and resumed my position behind the tractor. The guy didn’t know what to make of it all, particularly when I pulled the camera out to take some video while riding at 40kph.
To this point I was determined to camp, but then saw a sign to some hot springs just off the road with accommodation. It didn’t take me long to convince myself that it was the right option. The complex, stuck in the middle of nowhere, was absolutely bizarre. The pool which served as the hot spring had about four inches of water in it despite being two metres deep. After eating I returned to the pool to find it full of Chinese army guys – naked – soaping each other while karaoke music echoed through the complex. The room is nice with a deep bluestone spa that apparently doesn’t work and an inviting shower that also appears not to function. While laying in the trickle of water in the pool I can hear the wind howling outside – a good night to be indoors.

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