To Shangri-La, part 1. Some days are just mental

9th November

I was a bit anxious when I woke this morning.

I lie. Initially I was delighted that I didn’t feel as shit as I had the night before.

But then,  as I looked at today’s route I began to feel a little nervous.

We have 200km or so to Shangri La, with a few almighty climbs inbetween. The road looks pretty isolated and the cold has been brutal. But we are NOT ready to get on another bus, so bike it is.

We got going a little late, with a few bits of bike tinkering necessary after the bus ride,  but we are gratified to see a bright blue sky above. We are also pleased to discover that our legs have finally recovered from our silly walking induced injuries.

So feeling fit we enjoy a few kilometres of flatish and downish to warm up before the 2000m climb begins. The road is excellent. We’re in the back of beyond, up in the mountains near the border to Tibet. We pass tiny villages with brightly coloured decorations round the windows.  The terraces have been cleared and are waiting to be replanted. We see fountains of ice as a broken pipe spurts water in the shade. The road turns to ice briefly and a road crew stop work to watch us negotiate it carefully. More often we dodge piles of rock which have tumbled on to the road from the steep hillsides above.

The climb starts in earnest and we slowly start creeping up the mountain. As we approach what might be the last village for many kilometres a motorbike catches us and its driver starts indicating that we should go back, that this road was bad – steep and unasphalted. There’s another road, he gestures.


We don’t like going back, as a rule. It’s only 8km but we’ve just spent the best part of a  hour climbing it.

We consult our maps. The route he is suggesting seems to just disappear after 10kms or so. We try another map and another, but the road is just not there.

But if it was there it would follow a river which would probably mean less climbing if nothing else… and it might just join up with that road over there…

It’s lunchtime so we decide to eat and consult a few more people before we make up our minds.

We find the village restaurant, we think. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but the kind woman makes us some food while we sit in the sun in the courtyard. She and her friend entertain themselves filming us as we eat, picking the ideal – awful – music to go with their movie.
They confirm that we should go back down the hill and take the other road.

We hop on our bikes and whizz back down the hill. While we’d been gone a road crew had turned up and started asphalting the road. The road is now closed, there’s a queue of vehicles and the drivers picnicking at the side of the road give the impression it’s not moving soon.
We decide to try riding the edge of the road, which eventually becomes impossible. We’re forced to make a dash for it, dodging the various machinery and cross the smoking asphalt trying to cause as little damage to it and our tyres as possible.

Not the best way to look after your beloved tyres.

A moment later Jamie’s chain comes off, an odd occurrence on our set-up. Easily fixed though.

We find our turn off.

Moments later I am scraping along the tarmac, shouting for Jamie as I go. Grinding to a halt a few feet further on I curl in to a ball and curse.


Nothing broken. Rolling back my undamaged sleeve we discover a deep and filthy scrape up my forearm to my elbow.
The other arm is also grazed, and somehow I’ve managed to give my chin a serious thwack.
Having ascertained I’m not broken Jamie turns his attention to the bike, a little too quickly perhaps…? The bike is ok. A scratch here, a tear in the pannier, the handlebars are facing the wrong way but easily sorted.

What happened? Not much. After spending the morning negotiating actual obstacles in the road I topple misjudging a lip in the road a few centimetres deep. I can’t even think how my various bits hit the ground. Oh well.

We bust out the first aid kit, clean and bandage me up and are back on the bikes within half an hour.

As I cycle on I realise I haven’t shed a tear through the whole encounter, remembering my last tumble way back in Kyrgyzstan which was much less dramatic but had me briefly bawling.

I decided early on in this journey that I wasn’t going to cry when things got hard. I’d caught myself welling up and realised that I’d been about to cry for sympathy, like this was harder for me because I was weak and pathetic. But I’m not weak or pathetic and I rarely need sympathy.
And, on the whole tears really don’t help the situation much, practically speaking.
Of course there have been a few tears on the journey, but it’s funny what brings them on.

Not this apparently.

The thing is that it is a glorious day. And the road is running through a spectacular gorge banked with stunning red and golden foliage. The river is an iridescent turquoise.
And our detour has us descending instead of climbing and despite the lack of road on the map it is determinedly in existence. Which is a good thing. And we’re not on that bloody bus!

It is a glorious glorious day.

I’m waiting for the adrenalin to wear off and things to start to hurt more. But apart from a vicious but superficial sting things feel ok. My chin hurts, especially when I pull faces to see if it still hurts.

I notice Jamie’s bike is ticking.
He’s broken a spoke.

My bike came out the crash fairly unscathed and he manages to break a spoke. Weird.

He bodges it for now and we decide to head to the next town and call it a day to tend to the various ailments.

We arrive and call in to the pharmacy. I’m seated on a tiny stool and they manage to elicit some yelps as they pour alcohol and iodine and swab my cuts clean. They bandage me up and wave us off.

We cruise around the tiny town asking for somewhere to sleep, finding the sleep mime difficult without bending my elbow. The smiling locals point us on before finally one just yells and a young woman appears and takes us to her hotel. I happily collapse on the bed while Jamie sorts out the increasing number of ailments our bike and panniers have picked up.

80km today, not all in the right direction.

Another adventurous day for Jamie and Maria.
It’s totally fine if tomorrow is less exciting.


It was such a beautiful day yesterday that not even an unexpected backtrack, a broken spoke (Jamie) and a dramatic tumble* (me) could dampen our spirits. *I’m fine. We’ve made it to Yunnan. Only 1300km (+/- 100) to go, ~21600m up, ~22200m down and 15 days left on the visa. #biketouring #ilovemybike

35 Likes, 1 Comments – Maria (@mariamazyoung) on Instagram: “It was such a beautiful day yesterday that not even an unexpected backtrack, a broken spoke (Jamie)…”


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