Tibet 3: Cycling Lhasa -> Gyantse
Greetings from Gyantse! I’m going to do something different for this part of the trip and post my blog entries whenever I have an Internet connection. Photos will follow later. I’m going to save China 4, 5 and Tibet 1, 2 until I get those photos done though…
June 1, 20:30: foot of the Kamba Pass, 3700m
We left Lhasa after taking a group photo in front of the spectacular Potala Palace. The ride was easy and mostly flat. Works for me as my first serious ride at altitude. The day was a bit short though – we finished by 4PM with lots of daylight left. The ride was through epically beautiful terrain, much more fertile than I expected.
Tibetans are even friendlier than people in Vietnam, at least to travellers on the road. And wow, do they ever know how to smile!
The road has been paved so far, but most of it not very well. I am not regretting my choice of a bike with a suspension fork (plus any mass produced bike with decent components comes with one anyway these days.)
I rode near the front of the group for most of the day, which surprised me… I haven’t been cycling that much so I didn’t think I was in great shape.
June 2, 17:00: near Lake Yamdruk, 4490m
Last night everyone in our camp was woken up by a dog barking at the top of its lungs. My roommate/tentmate Richard got up and threw a rock at it, which at least moved it further away.
Today we rode up to 4794m over the Kamba Pass then down. The 24km uphill section took me about 3½ hours, then we rode about 8km downhill and 15km that was mostly flat. We were done by 15:00, which again is a pretty short day. But I think this is largely dictated by geography. We’re now at the bottom of the Karo Pass and I don’t think anyone wants to climb that right now.
I rode fairly fast again today. Usually #1-3 in the group. Not that it matters, I’m just a bit surprised. The pavement was good too (we turned off the main highway shortly after our campsite.) I set the preload on my fork to the maximum for the uphill section, which means it doesn’t bob at all when I’m riding normally.
June 3, 8:00
Snow! It snew last night. In June. 4490m will do that. I woke up at 4AM and the moonlit landscape outside looked like the surface of the moon (but with snow.)
Just before dinner, we became a tourist attraction. A Land Cruiser filled with Chinese tourists pulled up, asking questions in broken English and wanting photos with us! I’m used to this on trains, where people have nothing better to do, but having people make a special stop was… special.
There were dogs again, worse than the night before because they were in a gated courtyard across the road. If we threw rocks, they’d have nowhere to go!
It looks like a fairly easy ride today. It turns out that we’re riding to Karo Pass and will cross it tomorrow. So today: 50km, mostly flat. Well, maybe I’ll go for an afternoon ride on a side rode near the camp.
This morning my body has a litany of complaints, none of them serious. Time to ride!
June 4, 7:00: Bottom of Karo Pass (4750m)
Last night I woke up just after midnight to find the moon hiding behind some mountains and the sky full of stars. They looked close enough to touch!
This morning, it’s a bit frosty. My down jacket made its first appearance as the sun slowly rose over the mountains.
Yesterday’s ride was easy, as expected. I was done riding by 1:30 PM, despite a headwind for the last 5km. So I did a couple of hours of hiking after lunch. The scenery was beautiful, helped by the snowfall. We’re well above the treeline, so snow adds contrast to the mountains (which are normally brown.)
Our guide promised us a dog-free night last night but when we rode into camp, there were 2 dogs hanging out! But luckily they belonged to a construction crew working nearby. Workers and dogs both left before sunset.
Today’s ride is going to be hard – up the Karo Pass to 5150m. Less of a climb than 2 days ago but we’re starting from a higher altitude so there’s less oxygen… hopefully the winds will stay down so we can avoid yesterday’s headwind (at least until the downhill section.)
June 4, 16:30: Gyantse, 3980m
The climb up was hard but not too hard. The downhill was great! It was also nice to be back at a slightly lower altitude. If you told me even a few days ago that 4000m would seem like luxurious levels of oxygen, I’d have laughed at you. But that’s how it felt today. After the downhill we had some flat riding followed by another climb up to lunch. It looked like it was going to be long but it wasn’t – I did it in less than 15 minutes.
Just before the second climb I decided to listen to some music (which I usually don’t do.) I let my iPod pick the album, which ended up being The World Accordion to Art. Strange music for a climb, but somehow it was fun.
We ate lunch then headed over mostly flat terrain into Gyantse. The ride was short again – we arrived at the hotel by 3 PM.
Apparently the reason for these short days is that the road we’ve been riding on was only paved 3 years ago, and the distances were designed with off-road / dirt road riding in mind. I don’t know why they didn’t change the program when the road was paved. I think we could easily have done the last 3 days’ ride in 2 days. Well, this is why I prefer independent travel where possible (which is not Tibet.)