September 9th to September 15th; 10,970km to 12,555km Kashgar, Xinjiang to Ali, Tibet
We had to suffer through quite a bit more of a delay as we waited for our package to arrive in Kashgar. Apparently, a week minimum for package deliveries is pretty standard for being in this remote of a region in China.
Biding Our Time
We wanted to make sure that all of this downtime wasn’t a complete waste so on the 9th rather than wait around Kashgar any longer, we pushed on an easy 250km towards Yecheng, which is where the highway G219 into Tibet splits off from. We arranged with our Tibet guide for him to pick up the package when it arrived and meet us in Yecheng before pushing on.
It ended up being a four night stay in Yecheng, not so much fun considering there’s not much to do and the city was on a sort of lockdown due to some recent unrest. In fact, for the full 4 days, we had no internet as apparently the hotel had to have it shutdown temporarily. We tried to make the most of the time though and took a short ride out of Yecheng. Actually, it ended up being a 250km loop north of the city where we stopped for lunch in a small town so far removed that no one even spoke any Chinese.
Less Sitting More Riding! Into the Mountains We Go
Well after days and days of restless delays, by the 13th we were finally ready to hit the road on what would likely be the most challenging portion of The Great Ride of China. We found out only the day before leaving that our first day out we would have to do 490km, longer than any day thus far, due to the fact that there was no place to camp (we had to go over 3 mountain passes) and there was no place to even get gas before then either.
Needless to say, that first day out was extremely challenging. We were lucky that the road was relatively well paved aside from some stretches of construction here and there and sections of asphalt that had gotten seriously warped, leaving step like dips in the road. That first day we were on the road from about 9am to 7:30pm. We climbed from only a few hundred feet above sea level to 5,000m at the highest pass. By the second pass (at around 4,000m) we started to run into snow. By the third and highest pass, the snow and fog was so dense that I couldn’t even see to the end of the switchbacks winding their way up the still under construction road.
That night, though Amy and I had felt relatively well during the day all things considered, the altitude and physical exertion of 10 hours of tough riding had caught up with me. Dizzy, with a headache, and no appetite for dinner, I crawled into my sleeping bag in our little room at the truck stop guesthouse we were staying at to try and recover.
The Snow Just Kept Coming
The next morning I was feeling a bit better but both Amy and I were definitely feeling the altitude. We begrudgingly packed up all of our stuff as we decided we would try and push on the 300km to the next rest area. The roads were supposed to be in good condition and the one pass we were going to go over that day was much less steep than the ones from yesterday so it wasn’t meant to be too difficult. The weather had other plans of course though.
The storm clouds ahead of us were ominous, swallowing up the mountains with the gray blur underneath them indicating that they were hardly benign. I had hopes that we would avoid it as the road took a couple favorable turns, but we couldn’t avoid it for long. For a good half of the day we were in a pretty heavy snow storm with strong crosswinds and almost no visibility. We were left to bundle up in all of the warm clothing we could fit on our bodies. Amy was particularly effected by the cold as it was all she could do to crouch behind me, ducking her head down to avoid the wind. Meanwhile I was busy wiping off my visor every 30 seconds as it would take that long for a new sheet of ice to form over top.
Our Reward After 3 Days Of Tough Riding
Our third day out on the G219 was much more bareable. We started out cold and tired seeing as both of us were kept up most of the night from altitude induced headaches (aided by what I hypothesized was our beds being at a slight decline forcing extra blood towards our heads). We were hit with some snow early on but managed to make it out of the storm after not too long allowing us to properly enjoy the scenery for what seemed like the first time since we entered the mountains.
Our destination for the night was our first actual city/town since leaving Yecheng three days ago- Ali. Here we will have to plan out the next stage of our journey and register it with the local PSB office (so they know where we’re going to be). We’ve got about a week before we make it to Lhasa where we can have a couple days off to recover. But before then we’ve got glacial lakes, hot springs, and Everest base camp to look forward too!