April 29, 2009

All about the people

So I really wanted to do a quick posting on the people that I've encountered along the way, as they are what's it's all about (and of course the food). I feel like pictures fill in where words simply fall short (and I'm in a sentimental mood). So here's to the people that have made my trip....

By the way, you can click on each picture to see the full size

April 28, 2009

Up This Hill and Down, Up this Hill Again

So I've decided that the song that best describes my life these days is Up this Hill and Down by the Osborne Brothers...

"Up this Hill and Down, Up this hill again,
Up this Hill and Down, Up this hill again,
It's a mighty mighty long road, What aint got no end."

So as you're probably well aware, China and Tibet don't exactly have a romantic relationship (to put it lightly) and as a result, China has a tendency to prevent foreigners from traveling to certain regions of Tibet (namely the TAR). However, due to some quasi recent riots and a Tibetan anniversary, China has put the lock down on most Tibetan prefectures (prefectures basically meaning areas that contains a majority of Tibetan people) and closed down foreign travel within these regions (which basically accounts for most of western China). So after a beautiful hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge (where we met 2 of the coolest Israeli's to grace this planet), we were faced with a rather critical decision. Do we play it safe, jump on a bus and skirt around these Tibetan regions (which is extremely out of the way and much less beautiful) or do we press our luck and cycle some 400 km towards a Tibetan prefecture and risk being turned around away (which would result in loosing about a week in travel time). So over a plate of dumplings and some green tea, we decided to roll the dice and take our chances on Tibet.

4/21: We pressed north towards Shangri-La . We climbed for the majority of the day until we finally leveled out at 3200m (10,000 ft). This was the first time that we consistently cycled at this altitude and it showed as we stopped every 10 km to put on more clothes (it's funny writing this now as we had no idea how much elevation we would gain in the coming days). So we arrived in Shangri-La, which warmly welcomed us with plates of french toast (the real kind), yak steaks and chai tea (as we've learned to take advantage of food when it's actually available). Shangri-La is a central hub for foreigners traveling to Tibetan regions, so we heard all sorts of skepticism over our attempt to enter the Tibetan prefecture.

So after stocking up on food and warm clothes (I picked up a sweater and a pair of slacks for 19 yuan ($2.75 each), we pressed north towards the Yunnan/Sichuan border, where the success of our passage was in question. So we hit out first checkpoint (on 4/23) with some anxious emotions but after a quick glance at our passports we were told 'Zank You' and waved on through the gates. However we knew from recent reports that there were more checkpoint in our future, so we weren't entire in the clear. Then came the hills or more like one gigantic hill that never ended. We finally topped out at this pass:

We knew that we had at least one more checkpoint before we were in the clear, so this mental unease lingered in the back of everyone's head as we turned each pedal (realizing that we may very well have to turn around and reclimb these insanely large hills). Nonetheless, we pressed on
4/23...This was possibly the hardest day we've had thus far, involving climbing retardedly large mountains on a road that was slightly less than primitive. We climbed all day until we finally topped out at an insane elevation of 13,660 ft.

Once we topped out, we quickly realized that a hot lunch was out of the question, as there was nothing but road for as far as we could see. So at about 6 pm, running on fumes from jelly candies purchased at breakfast (we were running on 'E'), we spotted a town nestled in the bottom of a valley that we still towered over. So after one of the most painful descents of my life (as all 85 km was unpaved) we rolled into a town just as the sun was departing that had one lodging option and one dining option. The lodging option turned out to be a few rooms at some hot springs (awesome!), the dining option however turned out to be ramen noodles....

4/25...So we pressed on towards Xiangcheng and just outside of our hot spring town, we encountered our second checkpoint (insert anxious emotions here). The checkpoint was a large bar that spanned the width of the road. We pedalled right up to the bar, looked both ways, then ducked under the bar and continued pedalling, without our feet even hitting the ground. Ok...so technically this area is closed to foreigners and technically the legitimacy of our passage is questionable but come on....we pedalled our sore asses all the way from Thailand and we gave them a fair chance :) And to add icing to the cake, every police man that we passed waved and gave us the thumbs up, which put our fugitive feelings at ease. "Yeah, we deserve to be here!" (By the way, the repercussions for being caught in a closed area are simply being forced to leave that province so we're not exactly facing time or anything. (So to the cute french girls from Shangri-La, we made it)

So after a day in Xiangchang, we headed north (4/26). Spencer has some troubles keeping his tired inflated, so Charlie and I pushed ahead. Around lunchtime, we stopped to wait for Spenc and Breck to catch up and we found ourselves on a hillside near a Tibetan village (by the way, Tibetan villages are awesome!). So with our stomachs growling, we figured we'd see if there was anywhere to buy some food. So I went walking through this beautiful village and one of the first things I ran across was 3 Tibetan elders spinning prayer wheels in a Stupa. They immediately took interest in me, I gave them a warm smile, motioned for food and in no time I was being escorted into a beautifully elegant Tibetan house with intricacies of wood carvings on every surface and a large common room with a kitchen.

We were sat down and fed a delicious lunch of potatoes, rice and yak butter tea.
After it was all said and done, they wanted nothing for the meal, just out of the kindness of their hearts. On top of that, one of the elders sat by the road and watched our bikes while we ate. Did I mention I love Tibet?

Charlie and I with the Tibetan elder that watched our bikes

That left such a great taste in our mouths (both literally and figuratively) that the rest of the afternoon was nothing but smiles with intermixed huffing and puffing as we climbed to our highest elevation thus far:

Peaking at 14,910 ft (notice the time)

So we descended from this high altitude, and landed in a small Tibetan village (Sandui Village) which was quite possibly the most beautiful town I've ever seen in my life. We stayed at a gigantic Tibetan castle for 15 Yuan ($2). Did I mention I love Tibet?

So we're currently in Litang where we arrived after a long night of freezing rain and hail experienced from our tents. The campspot was possibly one of the most picturesque spots I've ever had the privilege to sleep at (as it was around 13,000 ft).

This trip has been nothing short of amazing. Words like 'epic' and 'best day ever' are used almost daily and I find myself with a permanent smile plastered on my face. It kind of makes me sad because I don't believe life could get much better than this and I want to share this happiness with everyone that I love and care so much about (hence the extremely long blog posting). I've also posted all of my China pictures thus far here: http://s191.photobucket.com/albums/z93/lineker119/Bicycle%20-%20Laos/Bicycle%20-%20China/?albumview=grid

Finally, here's some stats:

Days in China: 22

Miles in China: 925

Total miles cycled: 1750

April 20, 2009

I want to ride my bicycle....

So I've decided to restructure my blog a little bit, to more simplify the recounting of my adventures and better suit the reader's interests, as I can only imagine the names of these towns (which I've phonetically translated into English words) mean absolutely nothing to everyone. I think the easiest and most effective way to relay where I've been and where I am in the world is visually (as no one can deny the effectiveness of picture books).

So here we go (let me know what you think)

4.12.09 - I left Pu Er (the last place that I posted from) after a much needed rest day and charged some towards Dali. I stopped for lunch just before Toe Swee and had one of the most interesting experiences of my trip. First of all, most Chinese men wear sports coats no matter what the occasion. Weather it be a day working in the fields or just lounging around the house. So I pulled into this little house/restaurant and the family immediately took to me (grandmother and all). The father (decked out in a sports coat) immediately hands me a glass of clear liquid. Well...the clear unassuming liquid turned out to be some form of Chinese bootleg moonshine and he looked like he'd been getting after it since breakfast. So needless to say a few cheers later, before my food actually got to me, I was rather enjoying myself, trying to shoot the breeze with minimal amounts of Chinese is extremely hard. So I scarfed down the awesome food, said goodbye to one of the coolest Chinese families and pressed on, however the enjoying it part didn't last past the next gigantic hill. I ended up logging 123 km that day and ended up in Maentza at a beautiful camp spot.

4.13.09 Today I logged my first 100 mile day (163 km) and felt really strong all day, maybe it was the lack of moonshine? I still climbed some 1500 meters (4900 feet) and was still without Team 7 but had a strong feeling that they would come coasting down the hill at any moment.

4.14.09 Logged 135 km

4.15.09 I arrived in Dali after yet another trecherous climb. It's kind of like Vegas' little Chinese sister. Located high in the Cangshan mountains and miles from anything, Dali is a huge city surrounded by mountains that tower over the city, making it resemble a minature doll town. It's beautiful and better yet, I learned how to order delicious plates of pork! Today is day 12 since I left Team 7.

4.16.09 I arrived in old town Dali, which is only 15 km north of the new town. I checked into a hostel, dropped my bags and jumped on the bike to explore the town. As soon as I jumped on my bike, I noticed some people from a distance that looked vaguely familiar. And low and behold, having breakfast at a German restaurant was the rest of Team 7.

Reunited after 13 days of solo riding!

4.17.09 So we headed towards Tiger Leaping Gorge, where we were to take a few day trek. And it was awesome. I would highly recommend it to anyone heading to China. Here's some pictures....

This is the guesthouse we stayed at....absolutely beautiful

Here's my China progress as of today (we are currently at Snow Mountain).

I've cycled some 1300 miles and gained some 65,000 vertical feet.
So everyday is pretty much an epic adventure. I really don't mind the gigantic hills that I climb each day, which is good because I'd be a grumpy mess in this terrain. A ton of huge hills, 14 bowls of noodle soup, a little more Chinese to add to the vocabulary, and a ton of smiles each day. My recipe for success. My legs and buns are becoming solid steel bars.

April 10, 2009

Lots to catch up on

I feel like so much has transpired since my last post, so without boring you with 82 paragraphs of this day and that, I'll give you the executive summary of the adventures of Kyle and I'll have to let the pictures fill in where the words don't.

First of all...against all odds and countless attempts to upload a video, I finally broke through. This was a priceless moment in Indonesia (let me know if link doesn't work)

So as we were on the train from Malaysia back to Bangkok, I realized that my passport expired in January of 2010. Big deal, right? Well, most countries require that your passport not expire within 6 months of applying for a visa, which meant that come July I would no longer be able to apply for visas without a new passport. So therein lied the dilemma. So in a nutshell, I got a friend of Nicole's, who lives in Bangkok, to pick up my new passport and mail it to me while I was still in Thailand. Since everyone else on 'Team 7' had to leave Thailand before their visas expired, we decided to part ways and let me iron out my passport issues. We left with talk/speculation of crossing paths somewhere in Laos. This was on the 11th of April.

So I ended up doing a large loop back through Chiang Rai and north (an alternative route) to Chiang Khong, where I was to pick up my new passport. I arrived in Chiang Khong late on the 6th. The next morning I picked up my new passport without too much hassle :) and jumped on the next boat to Laos (04/07)
. At this point, I was basically playing Tom and Jerry with Team 7, trying to pick up their trail. I charged super hard that day, through never ending hills that seemed to have no summits. I don't think I ever have nor want to push myself as hard as I did that day. But to no avail, the team was nowhere in sight. So during one of the punishing ascents, I ended up grabbing a hold of the back of a semitruck that was struggling up the hill about as much as I was, and he gave me a 'ride' for a few clutch kilometers to the summit. When I finally let go, the semi came to a stop and the driver gave me a look like....'that's all you wanted?, do you really want to pedal this?' So after some hand gestures and some pointing, which made no sense to either of us, he ended up convincing me to throw my bike into the back of his rig and down the road we went. It was an epic experience full of being fed a bowl of rice with tomato fish sauce and playing Michael Jackson on my IPOD speakers (thanks Nicole!). He ended up taking me some 115km down the road to Luang Namtha only about 60 km from the China border. I was sure that I'd closed the 2 day lead between me and Team 7......

So the next day (04/08) I pushed on towards China, I arrived at the Chinese border around 12 and after hassling the Laos immigration officers, they finally produced Charlie, Spencer and Breckan's departure cards indicating that they had passed earlier that morning. So I flew through Laos in only 2 days (as did the rest of Team 7).

So I crossed into China.....

which was like night and day or more like famine to feast. Laos is soo poor and food was nearly impossible to find. Mostly rice and more rice, then came China, which was like I entered Vegas. So after gorging myself with huge friend chicken legs and some weird baked animal legs, I charged into China. I'd been pushing it hard the past few days, maybe a little harder than I should have, and I ended up in Long Lin, a tiny little farm town about 60 km from the China border. I pulled into the 'town' and didn't even pretend like I spoke the language, as I didn't even know how to say hello or how to count to 10. I was down to the necessities of communication, pointing to my mouth for food and putting my hands near my head indicating I needed a place to sleep. And the woman I played charades with reminded me of an old black lady in Macon, Georgia who didn't really care who you were, where you came from or what you done but would express her sincere kindness in the form of gigantic bowls of freshly steamed vegetables, a delicious chicken/egg concoction and a large bowl of rice. Then she proceeded to show me the spare bedroom, all without exchanging a single word. It was magical, almost as if I was her muted child and she knew exactly how to care for me.

So I pushed on with some soreness and a great taste in my mouth from the kindness the night before, and pushed through some beautiful stretches of rural China. I pressed some 140 km (my biggest day thus far) hoping that around the next corner would be 'Team 7' taking a break from the sweltering heat......what I did find around the corner was some women sitting underneath umbrellas selling various fruits, vegetables and things I would have never thought edible.

Mie Dom, maggots and ants wrapped in banana leaves. Gotta love China!

One advantage to cycling through China, unlike Laos and Thailand, is their discovery or simply their ability to build tunnels which cut directly through mountains and avoid gigantic climbs only to fall right back down to the bottom of the valley, which is a total downer on the morale . I've passed through tons of tunnels, some up to a mile in length.

So I ended up in Guan Ping (04/09) yet another tiny farm 'town' which consisted of about 2 buildings and a bathroom. And once again, charades and a smile turned into a wonderful home cooked diner and a free place to stay in their spare bedroom. I'm actually really enjoying the liberation and benefits of the solo life, all of the experiences that I've had have been the result of no one other than my own actions. My encounters with people typically involve getting off of my bike and sitting in silence with some woman who just goes about her life while I rest or eat. I'm emailing 'Team 7' as much as possible, but the ruralness of China has prevented a steady stream of emails. So I'm currently in Pu Er (04/10) which is extremely famous for their tea. I've taken a rest day today and plan to head north tomorrow. China is awesome! I'm eating extremely well (almost too well) and the people are the kindest people on the planet.

So I'm hoping to reconnect with 'Team 7' in Dali which is about 500 km north of Pu Er. So it's looking like I'll be another 5 or so days trucking it solo. And unless my travelers luck runs out, I'm in for a wonderful adventure. We're starting to get super rural and I don't forsee a whole lot of internet in the near future, so if you don't hear from me, close you eyes and imagine a white guy totally out of place hanging out with some weathered Chinese farmers eating some mysterious animal concotion in total silence with a huge smile on my face. I love it!

Here's my China progress thus far:

In case you are not a walking globe and have no idea where these places that I mention are,
here's a super rough (ghetto rather) progress map of SE Asia thus far.

I also posted all of my cycling pictures from:

Finally here's some stats that I thought were interesting (as Charlie is the official record keeper, this is all I have at the moment)

Total miles: 1,050
Days away from 'Team 7' : 8
Days in China: 4
Days spent in Laos: 2
Days out of the country: 83
Days without a job: 191
Days without paying for rent: 328

And here's some pictures from China:

April 4, 2009

Team 7

Team 7 is united and fully charged, meticulously hand picked and armed with logic, a ample sense of direction and enough 'cow neo' (sticky rice) to live 12 long constipated years. Enter Spencer and Breckan, two friends who will share the next 4 months with Charlie and I and who represent the logic in the prior statement. Our team hats make it appear as if we're sponsored by 7 Eleven, when in actuality we paid for them online (not to say we don't look incredibly stunning in them especially when posing outside of a 7 Eleven)

So we left Bangkok on the night train and arrived in Chiang Mai the next afternoon with just enough time to scarf down some pizza and hit the road (interstate) towards the north. We were fresh; full of energy, enthusiasm and if it weren't for the sunlight issue, we would have probably ridden to China. The Thailand leg of the trip is quite different from our Sumatra tour because of one drastic hurdle that we have managed to clear....the language barrier. Spencer, MVP, is fluent in Thai so our daily encounters no longer have to involve pointing and playing charades until someone finally realizes that we're looking for an enema (true story and an even funnier ending after we grabbed a nose cleaner and pointed it to our butts...they will probably laugh about that for years to come). So our quality of living has drastically improved, we spent the first night camping near some hot springs. Our second night was spent camping at a beautiful lake reservoir with one of the most soulful Thai guy still alive. We have camped out every night thus far, reducing our daily cost to 75 cent plates of food and 10 cent ice creams (probably one every 2 hours). Yesterday, we took drastic measures to flag down an ice cream motor cycle man, after he flew past us and vanished into a side path.

So here is a glimpse into my world....So since I bought this new handle bar bag in Bangkok, I've been able to listen to my IPOD during the day. I am loving it....here's what I've been listening to (as if anyone even cares)

and of course....

So we've currently cycled some 250 km (150 miles) in Thailand and should be entering into Laos within the next few days. We've cycled approximately a total 1000 km (600 miles) thus far. I'm working on getting a map of our progress so that you can have an idea of where we've actually gone in the world. I'll also post a summary of our total miles, elevation and time on the next post.