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Safety first lads.

Short few days since the last post but they’ve been interesting. I went over the best Tibetan pass so far, had some great scenery riding through a canyon with a Buddhist mural, a detour taking me down my own private gorge on an animal track and finally hitting the 9,000 mile marker…

I spent my two days in Xining resting and eating cheap chicken burgers from the shop across the road from the hostel after realising I’d lost a lot of weight so far in the mountains. I think Stephen was doing a good job of prompting me to eat more as I’ve dropped down to living off two packs of instant noodles a day and instant coffee. Anyone will tell you eating 1,500 calories a day when burning about 5,000 is not wise.

Feeling better for the break I headed off east out of Xining for another day of climbing. On the way out of the city I spotted this tree in the middle of the road that seemed important otherwise it would’ve just been cut down…

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I only had a couple of turns to make that day but with no GPS or map it can be tough to navigate through China from memory, especially considering few road signs offer English translations. I found the last turn I was after and could now relax on the same road for the next two days to Tongren. I immediately started heading up the first pass spotting these little Foo Dog tiles on either sides of peoples front doors…

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You see lots of statues of Foo Dogs outside banks and hotels and the like (they serve as guardians) but it was cool seeing this practical way of having them outside your own home.

The slog up the climb was not made easier by it being the season for bees to be swarming outside of their hives. Thank god I was wearing glasses as I was getting hit in the face by bees as I cycled through the clouds of them…

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I stopped for a break, during which I finally finished reading Seven Years in Tibet, and as I sat by the road a kind woman walking past gave me a handful of apricots.

As I inched up higher and higher the effort begun to pay off with top notch scenery…

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The last few hundred metres were a real grind on tarmac that had been potholed by the winter snow but my energy returned when I spotted the Tibetan pass markers…

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From a distance the markers looked the same as the others I’d passed through but once I got closer the entire setup was incredible, like nothing I’ve seen before…

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A huge incense burner filled the air with a thick aroma…

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The amount of prayer flags was just insane. There were about 8 giant pyramids of them, four on either side of the road. I climbed inside one to get the shot below, the road is barely visible through the flags…

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At all the passes before there would be small prayer slips scattered around but here the entire ground was plastered with them, every square inch…

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Empty bottles of the local grain liquor had been poured out everywhere as an offering. The most popular prayer on the flags and slips seems to be the “Wind Horse” one…

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I was quite taken aback by the whole place so shot a little video. Apologies for the clicking, it’s the wind slapping something against the camera…

As I was stumbling around soaking in the atmosphere of the whole place a Tibetan family introduced themselves and gave me some watermelon. They invited me to climb up the mountain with them but I declined as I had a long way left to cycle that day…

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The amazing view down the descent (That I mentioned in the video)…

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With the help of gravity I flew down the other side of the mountain at 50kmh or so and down into the river valley below, pure white mosques punctuating the tree line…

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I was hunting for the town of Jianca and was guessing where it was by how much distance I had done. I ended up riding in circles for an hour around a brand new ghost city about 5km before the place I was looking for. I finally realised my mistake, headed to the right town and collapsed into bed after the long day.

The next day was going to be a tough one, according to my elevation profile I had over 3,000m of climbing to do over only 56km. As soon as I rode out of Jianca I was stopping every 5 minutes to take a photo, the road from Jianca to Tongren is one of the best of the entire trip…

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The large reservoir here couldn’t have been put in a better place as it’s still surface reflected the incredible mountains that surround it…

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Once I passed the end of the reservoir I began to slowly climb up the gorge of the Rongwo river that had been feeding into it. The gorge was a spectacular place to be cycling, I spotted a huge Buddhist mural with a rope bridge leading over to it and got this view back of the road I was riding…

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The rope bridge was pretty sketchy. The river was roaring away beneath me and I was having to climb over a couple of prayer flags strung across it but the view above and the views below were easily worth it…

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Buddhist murals on the rock face…

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And a huge 3D Buddha sculpture…

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After stopping here to relax, the undulations on the road today were taking it out of me, I pressed on and saw a tunnel approaching. The tunnels on this road are not illuminated and I’d passed through one earlier riding on a raised maintenance platform on the side. Seeing a car coming the other way in my lane, as it was overtaking in the tunnel with it’s lights off, I decided to pull over and get all my lights on (the driving here is truly atrocious).

As I pulled over I spotted a little dirt track running along the river away from the tunnel and decided to have a nose and see where it went. I rounded a bend and the dirt track turned into a two foot wide path carved into the edge of my own private little gorge, this felt like a bit of real adventure (you can make out the track on the right)…

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I pushed the bike along the gravel track for a kilometre or so, riding when I could, and having a few hairy moments as I dragged the bike over landslides with a steep drop into the water on my right…

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I decided to stop in the gorge and cook my lunch, during the whole time I had the whole place to myself, it was incredible. I wonder how many times on the trip I have raced passed amazing places like this because I didn’t know they were so close…

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I rounded the final meander of the gorge and spotted the exit to the tunnel I had been avoiding. Just one last landslide stood in my way so I made a little video…

Well at least I though that was the final hurdle. I then had to drag the bike and all my gear up a nearly vertical 30 foot sloop. Luckily the few people that use this track to walk around the tunnel had worn some steps in the slope and I ferried my bike and luggage up it in three trips…

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Just a mere 30km of undulations left until I reached Tongren but just to make things a bit more fun my left knee began to lockup. The last time this happend to me it was my right knee all the way back in southern Serbia and seems to be triggered by a lot of climbing. I limped into the town glad to be taking the next day off to see the Rongwu Monastery.

As if hobbling along wasn’t bad enough all the locals were out drying their harvest on the road turning it into a single lane, not fun when on coming trucks drive straight at you expecting you to make way into the mud…

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I found a cheap little hotel in the Tibetan half of Tongren (the ones in the Chinese half of town were £30 a night!) and was happy to begin resting up my knee. Hopefully I’m mended well enough after the day off here before the two days of more climbing to Xiahe. Once I make it to Xiahe it’s all downhill from there, literally, with nearly 3,000m of descent on the way down to Xian.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this then checkout my site 121degrees for more info and subscribe to this blog for more entries along the way!

I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.

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