It started like any other day in Shanxi province: alternating between grueling uphills in low gear and freewheeling descents. Alternating between pure, untouched (except for the road, of course) nature and giant, dirty-ass coal factories spewing stuff into the air. Between totally empty, serene landscapes and coal-truck traffic jams. Arghhhh.
One highlight, though: 2500km!
Then we ran into a pack of 22 Chinese cyclists on holiday (everyone just had a week off) at a junction where we expected there to be a hotel but there was instead nothing. So we joined up, followed them down about 10km to the hostel they reserved, and got to business. Our first taste Bai jiu ("White Booze," aka Chinese Vodka, 100 proof)! A warm welcome I could've done without!
Madness ensues! Group shots on chants of one, two, HEY!!!! One cup of bai jiu and ten cups of pi jiu (beer) later...
Much merriment and total stupefaction at the implausibility of our encounter. We've now known each other for the better part of 30 minutes.
Still, good times and good grub.
The next morning, up at 6:00 to ride. Somehow nobody appears hungover or resentful of the pack. Am I the only introvert here?
Hangover recovery breakfast: salty bread pucks and spicy tofu soup. Double up on the cilantro, please!
Getting started, nice and early.
As the others were all only on the road for a week, staying in hotels ever night, they had substantially less gear. Ohhh my it was a rough morning.
Lots of breaks for photo ops. It turns out Chinese cyclists like taking pictures of white guys in tight shorts. Who knew?
The way up was - am I overusing this word? - grueling. Two and a half hours at just under 10km/h. It was 20ish km to the top of the mountain, and we had something like an 800m altitude gain. My off-the-cuff calculations led me to the conclusion that it was about a 5% slope. In any case, steep and switchback-laden to the point that there were No Trucks Allowed. By far the most physically challenging ride of my life, but thanks to the good company, the perfect weather, and the fact that there were people much older and slower than me in the mix, my confidence and spirits were high. Totally nice ride.
I checked the altitude constantly, every time breaking a personal record. Here's the final shot. I don't know exactly how high it was where we slept, but I do know that we rode downhill 10km between the point where we met and the point where we slept, so I'm guessing it was at 1000m or under.
How I felt when I got the the top. Pure power!
Group celebration! Let's spend half an hour taking a million pictures and pretend like we'll spend more than ten minutes out of the rest of our lives looking at them!
Ok, calm down, let go, enjoy the moment. If they're going to make you take pictures, make it funky..
Altitude after hiking the rest of the way to the summit.
There's always time to make time for some wild foraging! Just be sure to learn how to ask the locals whether these things are edible. These were. Super-tart. A nice little pick-me-up snack for strolling around the mountain top.
View from the top. Rhetorical question: By what and what kind of benevolent forces of nature did this get made?
The ride down, as seen from above.
They go on forever. Well, if that were true, I'd still be there, and not here writing this, but you know the feeling. Or, if you don't, I hope you do, someday. Wanna come ride?
Serious switchbacks, I'm telling you.
After lunch, the waitress insists that Mingyu and I join her and a colleague for some pictures. They take us to a partitioned-off VIP section of the restaurant with a table about 10 feet across and a lazy Susan capable of feeding twenty-five or so. We sit in a throne in the corner and pretend to be kings for a five minute photo shoot.
For the record, Mingyu did some photo touchups with his photoshop skills, so his pictures are wayyyyy better. Have a look: http://mingyulee.tistory.com/123.
But, I got the real jackpot! I took video for the entire 45 minute descent and then double-double-double-double sped it up and now you can enjoy the ride in all its aweosmeness. You can't smell the fresh air, hear the wind in the corn, feel the sun on your back, or enjoy the sense of being so directly dwarfed by it all, but vicarious is better than nothing, eh?