Here’s a whistle-stop tour of what we’ve been up to since the last post…
We left Shangri-La and pedaled over to Tiger Leaping Gorge where we spent a delightful day walking in the gorge. That evening the drama cranked up a notch as we were evacuated from the town because of a massive flood coming down river. We were sent off up a side-valley by the police, along with the rest of the town, and eventually found a bed 10km upstream in some kind of emergency doctors surgery, sleeping amongst examination beds and acupuncture diagrams. We got word that the road was clear late the next morning, so started down the road to Dali.
With 10 days left on the visa and over a thousand kilometers to ride I was feeling a little anxious. I decided to use the time practicing not getting stressed, which I can admit I kinda failed at.
Despite promising we wouldn’t make it harder by adding miles or climbs to the route, when we heard word that there was a lovely backroad to Shaxi, we couldn’t resist.
(It was worth it, as it almost always is).
But no time to stop, on to Dali, where we decided that actually it wasn’t that much fun anymore and we were ready to attempt another bus, leaving us a day to hang out in Dali itself.
We took a wonderful bunkbed bus down to Jinghong, a city a couple of days ride from the border, giving us some breathing space.
But then a series of issues began to unfold.
We ride with Rohloff hub gears. While Jamie tinkered with the bikes after the bus journey he noticed that his hub shell had cracked and that two of the spokes were held on by a thread.
The Rohloff is a wonderful piece of kit, but you can’t really work on it yourself. The closest Rohloff repair shop was Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we were already headed but not due to arrive for several weeks.
We decided we had no choice but to ride it and hope that it would hold. I heroically offered to carry all the heavy stuff on Jamie’s bike before one of us had the excellent idea of swapping our back wheels around instead. (Being a wee bit lighter than Jamie after all).
We get back on the road after a bizarre maintenance session on the side of the road, as Jamie attempts to locate a disturbing noise coming from my bike, as a saxophone band rehearsal starts up across the road, and small groups gather around us to practice their parts.
On we go towards the border, I’m under strict instructions not to use the back brake more than necessary – my brake pads are worn down, and the disk brake could cause extra stress on the Rohloff shell.
We’ve left the mountains and are in the rolling tropical forests. Totally different from anywhere else we’ve been so far. It is hot and sticky, there’s palms, rubber trees, orchids, coconuts, bananas and pineapples. Plants I know as houseplants are weeds at the side of the road.
Coming down a hill later that day I – once again – find myself embracing the asphalt having skidded on a greasy wet road.
I am absolutely furious.
I’m OK, another scrape to add to the collection. (The last lot of scabs have only just come off – I’m beginning to look like an inverse leopard with my bleached scars. )
But DISASTER my phone somehow came off the phone mount and out of its case and the screen is definitely not looking happy.
This is not good and an unhappy end to our two months in China.
China was… Such a mix of things.
I think I need more time to process before I have a good word.
It felt at times like a relationship that wasn’t very healthy – sometimes a bit stalky, sometimes surprisingly wonderful, but all in all probably one that I’m glad that is over.
We sped across Laos in four days, the most expensive visa-wise of our entire trip. In retrospect it was silly but we were attempting to get our broken kit returned to the UK and replaced before Ali and Sue (Jamie’s parents) came out to visit us. Chiang Mai was also the nearest spot with a DHL office, and no-one else would carry my broken phone (because of the battery) in the post.
After a few days we realised this just wasn’t going to work, and that we should just chill out.
So we spent a delightful 10 days pottering around the north of Thailand taking as long as we could to travel the short distance to Chiang Mai.
We spent a couple of days in Chiang Rai enjoying the night market, visited caves and monasteries, climbed a sticky waterfall and climbed the most unreasonable incline of the trip so far (in my opinion). We rode 60-70km a day, stopped for long breaks and had long in depth conversations about, well, the things we talk about – the climate crisis, feminism and the state of British politics. And bikes, we probably talked about bikes.
Meanwhile, I was doing some serious serious pondering. Without a phone I was getting in to some deep unadulterated thinking about stuff. I might share some of my thoughts sometime, it felt pretty transformative.
We eventually rolled in to Chiang Mai and met up with Ali and Sue. Two weeks off the bike doing very little and eating very much we are both a little rounder, a little softer and just about ready for the next stint.
The Rohloff got fixed.
Jamie’s dynamo hub also got replaced.
Jamie even invested in a new pair of cycling shorts.
Maria has a temporary new phone.
And we got christmas cake! Thanks Sue and Thea for the wonderful decorations.
So where next? I hear you ask.
A bus back to the border, then a boat trip to Luang Prabang. After that a meander through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore before our flight to New Zealand on the 9th February.
3800km or so, 48 days.
Wish us luck!