Defeated: Huize to Yibin
POSTED BY Thamar IN Adventures, China @ March 27, 2012 - 10:32 am

So I’m sitting here in our hotel room in Yibin after a healthy breakfast for a change - red date rice porridge and tasteless muffins with hot milk. Oh and then I had to do my laundry by hand as dry-cleaning at the hotels here takes three days which we don't have. Richard is sick in bed. He's picked up and tummy bug that's had him under the weather for about three days now. Oh and room service just knocked on the door to deliver flowers and fruit. Seems here at the Yuan Neng Hotel we're treated like VIPS. Strange but nice. Anyway back to the road and how we got here from Huize...

Huize and Beyond: Petrified of uphills

By Richard

We woke this morning after getting to bed at 1.30am the night before being rescued by the truck driver and all and so decided not to cycle - we were just too tired and quite honestly a bit nervous of what else we might encounter ‘out there’. We decided to relax in Huize for the day and get our strength back as we probably have more climbing in the days to come (Our legs were also pretty shattered after riding 124km and then doing 50km of uphill the next day).

We did some research – post-ride of course – and realised that we’d ridden through the Wumeng Mountain Range situated here in the Yunnan province. After this experience we really do need to do more preparation before setting out but it’s not always that easy to find out what the roads are like besides from other people who may have cycled the area before.

We discovered that our laptop screen got cracked on the journey yesterday which is rather disappointing as we’ve only had it for a month or so and if it gets worse will be really difficult to keep track of our pictures, videos and writing.

We spent the day stocking up with a few things - rubbish bags, for when it rains, some odds and ends and some food at the market in the city – we even bought a whole duck for lunch to get in some much-needed protein. We thought we better give our bikes a bit of a clean and lube so we bought a bucket, brushes and cloths. We also stocked up with food for the next day on the road in case we have to camp for the night as we’re not leaving anything up to chance any more.

I'm in two minds about camping; I guess we just need to do it for the first time to get into it. Maybe I have the memories of yesterday’s ride and some of the terrain we possibly could have camped on. Or maybe it was because we road till it was dark before we did something. I think the answer will be to set up camp well before it’s dark.

By Thamar

Huize is a smallish town in the bigger scheme of things that’s rather gritty – and as the case in most cities here – the new and old have been almost blended into one. Newly-laid roads lined with carefully planted trees and tall buildings constructed of glass and tiles bump up against the dirty little winding alleyways of yesteryear.

We went to look for the park but all we could see was a massive hill where the park should be so Richard said he needed to rest and went back to the hotel while I forged on. I took a couple of pictures of people on the street going about their business and then came to a rundown temple. I wasn’t sure if it was open for the public as washing was hanging in the courtyard and people seemed to be living there. In any case I strolled through and came face to face with a big golden Buddha. Further down the road the shops all became a bit more industrial looking like workshops of some sort and I suddenly felt different being alone. As much as it is ‘safe’ here in comparison to South Africa I’m just not sure I would feel that way being a woman here on my own. On the other hand it was actually quite nice to be on my own discovering – seeing everything through my eyes only and not having to worry about anyone else. It’s a rather different experience… I found the park – steep stairs led up and up. I only got about a third of the way up and my quads were aching but I could see the whole city from here.

Huize

By Richard

We left Huize with a great tail wind, we also left a little apprehensive after the previous days ride. Fortunately the 76km we rode only had a few moderate climbs and some nice rolling downhills. We passed through some very remote villages, picturesque in their rundown state. We took some strain riding a cobblestone road for nearly 30kms before stopping in Loubuguzhen for the night. It’s another small village, which is very quaint with fields and fields of crops.

The place we staying in is quite basic with the usual unfinished look, unrepaired faults and design floors - something that seems to be quite common in most hotels across the board. People here seem to build things haphazardly and then don’t bother to fix anything properly – for example they’ll put tape on the wall where the wallpaper is cracking. The place had a restaurant and so we had dinner here. We knew it was a hot pot restaurant – something we’d been avoiding since we’ve been here as it’s basically like a big pot of water on the table which they add things to as they go. We had no idea what we would get but ended up with fatty lamb, some veggies and potatoes to throw in once we were ready. It was plain but tasty and for once reasonably healthy. Can you believe we paid R50 here for our accommodation and R100 for the hot pot?

Onto Zhaotong

The bumpy road, the G213, continued for another 20km making it 50km of cobblestone altogether including the previous day - quite jarring and difficult to get into a rhythm. The plan today was to ride to Zhaotong - it was going to be a 90km stretch. We had a few climbs early on as we snaked our way up to our first pass. My stomach started playing up last night and continued the whole of today, so I was feeling quite drained. After cresting the pass we weaved a long way down into the valley, the cobblestone road made it a relatively slow decent.

From Huize to Yibin

We passed quite a few very remote little villages and farming communities and came parallel with a river as we continued through the valley for a bit with some very ominous mountains on either side of us. In parts the valley was quite wide and later on in the day as we summited our second biggest pass and sped down into the valley below - the mountains seemed to close in on us. We felt like we were in the bowels of the countryside.

Tham started to say “this really feels like a dead-end road” and it was almost as if people had abandoned the place – kind of eerie. We noticed that there were previous rock falls on the road that had been cleared and there seemed to more apparent the further down the road we went. Then things started to get more remote, with few people and seemingly deserted buildings.

Eventually it all revealed itself. There had been a colossal rock fall that completely blocked the road. I have never seen anything like it. It was quite unnerving and a little scary to see a road that was now completely wiped out. I walked for a while, around the corner to see if we could walk our bikes through. As I walked bits of rock crumbled down from the high ledge above.

After about a kilometre I turned back as I couldn't see the end of the rock fall. The makeshift footpath was at least 10 metres above the road that was now buried. This road was a secondary road, or an alternative to the main highway. We didn’t know what to do – should we unpack our bikes and carry them over the jagged rocks and down the steep cliff on the other side and risk coming across the same thing again later on or even perhaps having rocks fall on us? Or should we backtrack – the most painful thing one could do when you’ve been counting every kilometre forward. We decided to backtrack about seven kilometres to a junction we saw earlier. It wasn’t the easiest option but probably the wisest choice under the circumstances.

Unfortunately for us this road hooked up with the main highway which we were not allowed to cycle on and there was no other way out. It seemed we had no choice but to catch a bus for about 40 kilometres to Zhaotong (since there were only two roads to travel on and one was impassable). After strapping the bikes to the roof of the bus we began the journey. It took about an hour to get there… we both feel asleep on the bus, I think we must have been tired from all the climbing. We found a hotel pretty quick and settled in. After a shower we stepped out onto a very dark street (there was a wide spread blackout) we managed to find a spot to eat that was cooking with gas and enjoyed a candle-lit dinner!

Rockfall on way to Zhaotong

Hitting A Brick Wall Again

By Thamar

We woke in Zhaotong to electricity but absolutely no motivation to cycle – having been beaten by the odds the day before. Richard still had an upset tummy which seemed to be getting worse but we decided to push on anyway as we were running out of time to get to Chengdu to catch our flight to Hong Kong (we had to leave the country after 60 days from when we got our visa and re-enter which really is a bit of a disaster). In fact the entire Hong Kong thing really put a spanner in the works as before we didn’t have any real time constraints except for getting to Tibet by the end of April for our cycle to Nepal.

We got onto a modern paved highway as we left Zhaotong and I was worried we’d have the ‘highway patrol’ story all over again as were not allowed to cycle on the main highways, something that’s made this trip more difficult than you can imagine as all the secondary roads go round and over the mountains as opposed to through them. The 213 – that dreaded back road that in the past has led us to cobblestones roads, gravel mud roads, small villages with vicious dogs and never-ending climbs – was just to the left of us and I had a feeling we would have to cut our losses and head to that road.

Only problem was there was a barrier between the two roads which we had to climb over and Richard hoisted our bikes over while I steadied them on the other side – trying not to fall down the steep bank on the other side. We pushed our bikes through the fields and back onto a dusty, bumpy road with scooters and trucks roaring past and us breathing in dirt once again.

By now it was almost lunch time and we’d only done about 15 kilometres. Richard was writhing with pain and we felt more and more defeated as we peddled along the narrow pothole of a road. Then the road got even worse and it started to go up. This would mean plenty of climbing to come and we knew that since it was already late we’d end up having to camp which we couldn’t do without any supplies and with Rich being ill. So unwillingly we decided to go back to Zhaotong and try to take a bus to the next big city as we had lost too much time and needed to get some mileage in. It would give us a few days head start and Richard would hopefully be feeling better by the next day.

As luck would have it we managed to catch a bus just as it was leaving. Richard was really looking bleak by this stage and I knew we had made the right decision but I felt like we were ‘cheating’ once again. But as my dad said when we eventually hooked up with him in Hong Kong – "you can’t win if it’s not a competition", which is true. We weren’t trying to break any records here but we did feel that we had a set goal and we’d already strayed off the path more than we’d wanted to. On the other hand we’d had loads of adventures which were actually more rewarding that telling ourselves ‘today we made the distance’.

What we saw next also confirmed that we’d made the right call. The bus shook violently as it weaved its way to what seemed to be the top of a pass and we saw the winding road below that we would have had to take – it would have taken us days to cycle. At the top we went through a tunnel and found ourselves in a different climate. There was snow on the ground and the sky was grey and misty as opposed to blue skies in a reasonably warm Zhaotong. As we continued we realised that this was a very dangerous narrow road descending lower and lower – so low in fact that our ears kept popping. We justified our failure but the comfort of knowing that it would have been insane to cycle here but truth be told we were both very disappointed as imagine if we’d made it through…

I think we’re getting stronger and are now more accepting when things don’t go as planned but it’s always easier to opt out – it’s definitely not as satisfying though. We arrived in Yibin at around dinner time…..