Kangding – Xiangcheng

7th November

We arrived in Kangding in the cold and the dark. The town appeared suddenly as we rounded a switchback, multicoloured streetlights snaking in to the distance.

We are high in the mountains now, and the temperature is telling.

We found our way to the hostel recommended in the guidebook and balked at the price for a private room. After trying a few more we found one, chilly but cheap.

The following day, determined to be a day off by our inability to get out of bed, an oasis of warmth in a chilly room, we finally packed up and got ourselves ready to try and find somewhere a little nicer.

The snow was falling thick and fast as we left – really beautiful. I rode along admiring the gentle flakes. A kilometer later I was over it, cursing my decision not to put on my full finger gloves as my fingers fought numbness. No hood either meant I was squinting into the snow as flakes got past my furrowed unplucked brow.

The hostel we were recommended appeared completely shut and attempting to call the numbers outside got me “no, no English. No, no hostel.” Anxiety set in, trying to find other reasonably priced places as the snow fell and hunger rocketed.

Ok, food first.

Remembering Jamie’s struggle yesterday, I discovered how frustrating it is to have a pile of hot, delicious food in front of you and your fingers are too cold to coordinate your chopsticks. The slippery strips of meat or tricky vegetables wriggle out of your grasp as the sticks slide past eachother over and over again.

With sustenance giving us more resilience to the cold we ventured out again. Eventually we gave in and took another ok, but cheap enough room.

Several hours later, having warmed our feet under the electric blanket we set out to explore.

The snow had stopped, but knowing that the next section of road began with a 2000m climb (Kangding is already 2500m) and that the forecast for the next major town enroute was -12°c overnight, we debated whether we really wanted to ride it.

In a reverse of our desert drama, I was more optimistic, but Jamie is not a fan of the cold.

A visit to the bus station was surprisingly and unusually uncomplicated so we decided to catch a bus the following day to Xiangcheng, a town about 300km further on.

8th November

The first trauma of the bus ride, foreseen, was the 5am rise, required to get there in time to negotiate our bikes on to the bus for a 6am departure. Top tip, arrive early and be willing to take control of the situation. Open up the hold doors and be confident that you’ll get everything in.

We got everything in and boarded the bus with a few moments left. The bus turned on its engine, exited the car park, drove out of town and promptly pulled over.

We sat there for two and a half hours.

Eventually the engine came on again and we set off. I assume the road was too treacherous so early in the dark.

The journey was long, uncomfortable and utterly nauseating. More than one passenger was sick as we went over the highest passes and came down bumpy switchback after bumpy switchback.

I’m just glad we didn’t invest in higher quality snacks for the journey.

We disembarked 12 hours later in Xiangcheng, completely exhausted and a bit broken.

Stomachs turned, heads hammering, suffering travel and altitude sickness for the first time on the whole journey.

We’ll be sticking to the bikes for a bit now.

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