March 29, 2013
Distance: 31.2 miles Climbing: 2979 ft
We woke up early to get on the road before it got too hot. We cooked up a breakfast of oatmeal with the hot water heater in the hotel. Getting out of a big city is never my favorite thing since it takes awhile to actually get through all the urban sprawl at the edges before it thins into the countryside. The industrial areas that surround these big Chinese cities always clouded with noxious fumes from partially combusted gasoline and welded metal. On top of this the air is usually full of dust and plumes of diesel exhaust from loads of big trucks.
The western suburbs of Jinghong were no exception and on top of that, our GPS map was not as detailed as it could have been so we took the wrong road and ended up stuck on the busy new highway and not the quiet older road. When we finally hit the countryside, the traffic did not let up. We had a small shoulder covered in deep drifts of sand and gravel that had blown off the convoys of uncovered haul trucks carrying fill to yet another construction site. Huge concrete light poles were staged periodically, laid askew along the shoulder which forced us to swerve out into traffic as we passed each one. As we hit a really sandy patch, my front pannier hit one of the poles and before I knew it I was laid out on the road with my bicycle on top of me. As a motorbike swerved around me, my first thought was to get the hell out of the road before a truck runs me over.
Chandler was immediately at my side, giving me a hug, picking up my bike and collecting my panniers that had flown off in the crash. Luckily, no trucks came during my crash or after as we cleaned the road of my belongs and I wasn’t badly hurt. It was obvious I was going to have some major bruises and a few scrapes, but nothing to worry about. My bike took a bit of a beating too with a few scratched, the bar tape ripped off and my front break had exploded as my front handlebars spun 180 degrees, but Chandler fixed everything in a matter of minutes.
We started back up, a little slower and a little shaken, and soon found ourselves climbing a hill. After a few miles we passed the pit where the sand and gravel was coming from so there were fewer big trucks on the road and the shoulder was passable again. We hadn’t done any research about the road we were on, so we had no idea how big of a hill we were climbing. In a way, not knowing made it easier because we couldn’t agonize over how much further there was to go. At 1200m ASL we began to see tea terraces, which distracted us from our climb.
When we finally crested the pass, we hit a major headwind which slowed us down to half our normal downhill speed. It is so frustrating to climb a big hill and not be able to full relax and rest on the downhill because you must peddle to keep moving. As we started back uphill, our moods sank and were soon very grumpy. A few miles from town, we stopped at a gas station for a soda break.
Menghai was another Chinese city in the midst of a transformation. A large highway bisected the development with the old town on the left and a set of massive apartment complexes encroaching on the rice and vegetable fields on the right. We rode into the bus station area, found a few hotels and inquired to the prices, settling on the cheapest one as they all looked about the same. The floor and walls were dirty and the room smelled of stale cigarette smoke, but the beds were perfectly clean. The bathroom also came with some interesting “art” on the tiles.
There weren’t any restaurants near us, so we headed to the market. There we bought garlic, potatoes, onions, green onions, ginger and tofu for about $4 USD. We couldn’t believe how cheap the veggies were and headed back to make ourselves a feast on our campstove. After dinner, I watched a movie while Chandler went out to find us a couple beers. He came back with not just the drinks, but a Chinese knockoff Lego set (“It was only $4!!!”). He is no longer allowed to go out shopping alone.