Seasons greetings from Chengdu, China. I wasn't planning on stopping here but my bike needed some major repairs so here I am. Here's a piece of advice for anyone planning a trip like this one. Buy a kickstand. I can't begin to describe how annoying it is balancing a loaded bike up against your bum whilst trying to fiddle something out of the panniers only to have the whole thing come crashing down onto the road. Way back in Georgia the bike took a bad tumble whilst I was messing about in the panniers and it bent the rear drop out. Result: The bike went from 21 gears to 9 gears and those 9 do not include the lowest "climbing" gears. That's right, I've cycled the length of Central Asia and more with only 9 gears. It hasn't been too much of a problem until now but China has proved to be relentlessly mountainous and covering the distances with only nine gears has been slow and has taken it's toll on my legs. It even put me in bed ill for a few days.
I was always too gutless to try and straighten the drop out myself, if I got it wrong the bike frame would be a write off. So I find myself in the Chinese mega city of Chengdu, a city which seems entirely devoted to selling mobile phones. I found a decent bike shop and with the entire staff, all the customers and a good few people that came in from the road to watch, the mechanic straightened my drop out by bashing it with a big hammer. It feels good to have a full 21 gears at my disposal again.
I've had to resort to Mcdonalds for food here in Chengdu. Is my impression of Chinese food, as an unnourishing, watery slop, a unique one?
It's getting worse. The kids don't run screaming anymore, they just burst out crying.
The China I imagined, a flat, industrialised place criss crossed by big expressways has so far failed to materialise. Instead this is the China I will remember. Very rural and very beautiful.Route info Lanzhou to Chengdu: The G212 is recommended. It is quiet, very remote and stunningly beautiful. There are three fairly big passes to Minxian. The road then descends to Dangchang and follows a river cutting through steep mountains (a gorge?). The scenery is amazing and it follows said river for a few days until finally leaving the river to go up a massive climb over a series of switchbacks to Wenxian (try counting them, I lost count after 30) .
After that the river is dammed and you follow the resultant reservoir. The road here is in horrendous condition, is mercilessly up and down and the views are jaw dropping. Don't expect more than mud hut villages and some agricultural traffic in between towns.
The G212 eventually runs out and it's the G108 to Chengdu. More developed and not as stunning as the G212 but still nice. The road "rolls" it's way through a few valleys before finally flattening out at Zitong.
Next stage: I can't stay here too long or the winter will catch me up again. I'm heading arrow straight south to the tropics.
Switchbacks to Wenxian.
Every cyclists dream.