Once more unto the breach

Hollow rumbling accompanies deep black clouds and warns us to move on. We push our bikes across the slippery carpet of prayer flags until we reach rocky ground. We look down into a deep valley. Far below we can recognise a green meadow with a creek between the steep rock walls. A challenging trail leads down. It demands our full concentration with over 100 switchbacks and gnaws at our strength. The thunderstorm has passed and the sun shines as we arrive in the valley. We lay our bikes and ourselves down on the grass and eat a few crackers. We look back up at the pass and see the impressive descent before us. We enjoy the view exhausted but happy before rolling to our camp the remaining half hour.


We have a hard time leaving our sleeping bags the next morning. The past day is still in our bones. But the stretch of trail behind the camp let us hope for an amazing day of biking. The beaten path is similar to the one yesterday and inviting for high speed. It feels good to finally feel the wind on our faces again. It lasts until we dive into the forest again. Here it gets rocky and slippery immediately. A group of Tibetan pilgrims accompanied by a monk in a red-orange robe walks towards us. After noticing us he comes towards us immediately. He greets us friendly with a 'taschi delek', the Tibetan hello. We don't understand a word and yet we have a conversation with hands and feet. His interest in our bikes is huge and he can't believe that we came over the pass with them. We, on the other hand, are astonished as he pulls out a golden smart phone from under his robe and wants to take photos with us. Of course we comply and take some pictures ourselves of the friendly encounter. Then we spend the afternoon pushing our bikes again until we reach our camp.


The fourth morning of our tour begins with noodle soup and tea as usual. We crave coffee and bread with jam. Abstinence surely is part of our trip. We don't just abstain from the usual foods, we're also allowed to forego distractions like telephone and internet. We haven't missed the modern comforts of the digital age one minute. There's always something to do. And it's so nice to be able to have a conversation without anyone constantly typing on their smartphone and being distracted. The trail leads along a roaring stream in the beginning. The path gets steeper slowly but surely and leads to a small hill. This, too, is decorated with thousands of prayer flags. In addition hundreds of food bowls are piled up here. They were probably left as sacrificial offerings. Several pieces of clothing lie next to them on a small pile. It doesn't make much of a sacred impression on us. It reminds us more of a waste dump.


The trail zigzags down steeply. Our switchback technique is tested once again. The forest clears and we come to a torrential river. A little surprised at the scenery we cross a bridge and follow the river downwards. Our surprise is even greater as we see a house by the side of the road, the first in five days. And they have room for us on the first floor. We relish the unexpected clean change after days in damp and shoddy barracks. Until now we haven't met more than 20 people in the past days. About as many hustle about the small dwelling. A small grocery shop is on the ground floor where you can buy the necessities. Colorfully decorated motorcycles with huge speakers are used to transport the goods. Tired pilgrims can also make their way down the road over the last pass with them. Accompanied by Chinese folklore music in deafening volume of course. The hope of a consistently rideable path grows.


And now we ride

We help to load up the horses in the morning and begin our journey together. We're faster with our bikes in the beginning. But that changes after just a few kilometres. The path becomes too steep to ride it without the support of a motor, so we get off our bikes. Today 1000m in altitude gain need to be tackled again. And the way it looks we will have to push 100% of them. For hours and hours, monotonous, one foot in front of the other. In between our bikes really become a burden. A shack made of planks offers some change. We order a drink and take a short rest. Loud music sounds from the forest and announces a few motorbikes. Secretly each and every one of us probably wishes he had a motor on his bike.


We reach the last pass after almost four hours without having been on our bikes one single metre. We're still delighted by the colorful flags that decorate the highest point here, too. Our view reaches over the stages of the past two days. We're relieved. It's downhill from now until Abingcun, the village we have to reach to meet our driver. The landscape changes completely. It's bone-dry and hot. The dense forest has turned into single, sparse pine trees. The trail is as rideable as it was on our first day and conjures tired smiles on our faces.


Our last camp is on the ridge of the mountain. We've been looking forward to washing ourselves the entire day. But no water up here, nope. It has to be brought up with motorcycles from the valley and is used only for cooking. Dinner is also quite meager. Our supplies are running low and so we have dry rice with leek. Nothing more is left from our shopping spree at the market. A big prayer wheel is behind the hut. We turn it devotionally, letting it ring out a high "ding" across the otherwise completely silent landscape at every turn where it strikes a bell. We sit at the campfire together one last time, almost wistful, and look back on the experiences of the past days. We spent over a year in preparations and now the ride is over soon.

The trail on our last day is a highlight again. Dusty but made for riding. We swoosh through the sparse trees down from the mountains into Abincun. We slowly return to civilisation after being in seclusion for seven days. We reach the first bigger city after a three hour ride with the bus. We immediately storm into a restaurant.



After Terryn and Arsenal placed the orders for us we toast to a successful tour. Then it's quiet. This time it isn't enjoyable and sublime like it so often was during our past evenings but of a digital nature. We have cell reception again and so mails are read, the latest news scanned, and reports made to the ones we left at home. We're only attentive again as the food is brought to the table. This time it's very opportune for me that lots of vegetables and potatoes are part of the selection and that there are no duck heads on our plates.