Oct. 11th-12th; 18,604km-19,220km; Litang-Waze-Chengdu
The hope was that, especially after hitting that beautiful stretch at the end of the S217 and getting back to the national highways, we would be getting nicely paved roads for the duration into Chengdu. That did not entirely materialize.
Tibetan Style Passes
The beginning of the day had some pretty breathtaking scenery that continued to remind us of Tibet. Snow covered mountains on all sides, high exposed mountain passes, and even some Tibetan yurts. We got up to one pass, only 500m lower than Everest base camp altitude, to take some pictures. The break turned into a 20-30 minute affair as a couple dozen other tourists had also stopped at the overlook and got distracted by the two foreigners on a motorcycle (us).
The scenery stayed more or less the same as we continued to make our way east on the G318. There was a lot of road construction going on but it was in the final stages of paving the road so it didn’t slow us down too much. Also, since we were on a motorcycle, we were allowed to just past through as they were paving, whereas the cars had to wait for the asphalt to be pressed and cooled. One section we went over the asphalt was actually still wet and soft to the touch. The workers insisted it was alright though and waved us through.
It seemed as if that would be the worst of what the G318 would have to throw at us, but of course we were wrong as the worst was waiting for us at the end of the day.
Mud Track And Military Caravans
We entered a greener and hillier section of road and we could notice some construction off to the side. It seemed they were building up the road with tunnels and bridges to cut right through the mountains. That just left our road, which quickly degraded to dust and mud, to twist around the sides and up over the top of the mountains. This bit got more and more difficult, not made easier by the exhaustion of a long day, as the road got narrower and the tire grooves dug into the mud got deeper. We started to have to move all the way over to the side of the road, not easy on a two-wheeler navigating around massive jutting, dirt grooves in the road, to get out of the way of military trucks with tires as big as our bike that were barreling down from the opposite direction. Just as in Tibet, these trucks came in caravans a couple dozen trucks deep. This made it almost impossible to make any forward progress. We stopped at a construction site of some kind, resigning ourselves to the fact that we weren’t going to make it to Kangding tonight, and if this continued for the rest of the G318, we might even need another day to get to Chengdu.
Lodging with a Tibetan FamilyWe got through the final 30-40km of the dirt road and passed into a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains just as the sun was beginning to set. All through the valley were dotted Tibetan style homes, giant 3-4 story tall cube-like structures. Many of them looked like they were offering accommodations so we pulled over at one home at the end of the valley to ask about staying the night.
It was a cool experience staying with a family rather than at a hotel or guesthouse and very interesting to see a traditional style home. The building housed a family of 8 but it looked like at least all the men were out leaving two women (daughter and mother-in-law) and two young children. We ate our simple dinner with them of roasted peppers (extremely spicy), preserved boiled eggs, rice, and cabbage stew by candle light before collapsing into bed.
A Change Of Environment
The next day we really hoped that we could finally get some good roads and we’d be able to get to Chengdu, 380km away, a distance we hadn’t been able to cover in a day since we started our “adventure out west” nearly a week ago.
The scenery was really stunning today, and most notable about it was how much it changed throughout. We started out going over a mountain pass similar to the day before and descended into the city of Kangding, a sort of launching point, tourist city for those heading into Tibet. From here the terrain became noticeably more lush, almost immediately after passing through the city. We were paralleling rivers now and as we went downstream the rivers got wider. Almost in concert the roadside became more industrialized with large construction equipment, bridges, and factories lining either side of the rivers now. The scenery change got even more drastic when we plunged into a 4km long tunnel, moving away from all the action around the water and through a mountain side. When we popped out on the other side, we were in a narrow river gorge now lined with sub-tropical vegetation that we were just seeing for the first time- palms, bamboo, etc. The road made narrow sharp curves as we weaved through the gorge, downhill towards Chengdu.
As we approached the city of Ya’an, a smaller outlying city of Chengdu (also the site of a recent major earthquake), we had to deal with a lot more trucks as the area became much more populous. With a more traveled road came more potholes, dirt, and mud. We hit some long stretches of traffic too where the road became just wide enough for one truck at a time. Almost makes you miss the the S217 from a couple days ago! But we had Chengdu to look forward to to keep driving us forward!
When we got to Ya’an, we had made up our minds that we would skip whatever else the national road had in store for us and hop on the expressway to finish off the final 150km or so into Chengdu at a comfortable 120km/h (80mph give or take) on the smooth pavement.
What a week it had been getting here! 7 days ago we were only about 300km away from Chengdu. We reached an intersection and told people we were headed towards Chengdu and we got pointed in the direction of “the short way.” We went the other way and a week later, covered in dust from helmet to tires, with a noisy chain, and sore all over we made it into the giant capital of Sichuan province!