Last year I wrote a popular article about an Epic Ride in Taiwan
I recently had a ride that could be ranked up there with what you call EPIC rides. As the Taiwan article mentioned, an epic ride has to contain certain factors to qualify as a true Epic. This happened on the same stretch of road the Qinghai Lake Tour raced over for stage two. See Cycling News Asia for some photographs of this stage. The stage finished with a long down-hill after riders climbed to 3300m – once at the top, riders were faced with a technical descent in light rain that made things slightly trickey. But once at a lower elevation, the sun was back out and the roads were bone dry for the rest of the descent to the town of Xunhua. The race report can be found here: Qinghai Lake Tour Stage Two.
Each day during the Qinghai Lake Tour I had been getting some miles in on my own bike so when in Xunhua I decided to tackle the 30km climb back to the top where the race came down from. It was a brilliant day – sunny and not a cloud in sight. I started at an altitude of just over 1,800m and it was a good steady climb all the way to the top where it was over 3,200m. I passed through several small villages along the way and encountered a farmer herding his 100 or so horned goats on the road. About 3/4 way up the climb, I was stopped by a local family who were driving up and they gave me a Red Bull and wanted to take pictures with me. I gladly obliged and the Red Bull gave me a fresh injection of energy that helped me fly up the mountain to the summit. It took me almost 2hrs to complete the climb and nearing the top, I noticed this big ominous black cloud floating in rather rapidly. I ignored it and continued to the top. After a breather and savoring the amazing views from the top, I was again asked by locals to pose with them for photographs. The monk dressed in his red flowing robes was particularly interested in how lightweight my Champion System Dura-Ace equipped road bike was. Lifting it and laughing in excitement that he was talking with a foreigner in Chinese. I probably spent too long on the summit with this group of people – as soon as I left and started my descent – which I was looking forward to very much! It was going to be a wicked fast and curvy descent that every road biker craves for. But, it was not going to be this time. That black cloud was well and truly over my head and big chunks of hail bucketed down and never let up. It was so painful that I was tucking my lips in, looking down on the road and trying to get to lower altitude in the hope that the hail would subside. It was my most painful hail experience I have been through especially without wet weather gear (which I left behind at the hotel) and I had red sting marks all over my arms and legs.
Only about 2kms into the descent from hell, I was faced with negotiating a four Yak crossing! Yes, four slow Yak’s were crossing the narrow road in single file and I had no where to go, but go straight into them. I could not yank on the brakes as I knew if I did that, I would slide out on the hail (ice) covered road going at least 40km/h. My only course of action was to un-clip my left foot and use it as a “rigger” and apply more breakage to scrub off the speed as fast as possible without hitting them. Two of the Yak fortunately halted in the middle of the road and the first one had just made it off the road. But the one that was 2nd in line was still in my path. I came within a hairline of hitting the clumsy creature, but somehow I streaked by it with a snow-board style maneuver from me. In the process I scared the living daylights out of the Yak, and all four hooves popped out from under it. The poor creature slammed to the ground onto its belly before picking itself back up and scurrying away. I was relieved.
The hail continued to torment me and there was no where to shelter. I just continued the descent and I must have been approaching 60km/h on one of the straight sections when I noticed something peculiar about the road ahead. I had to blink twice to make out what it was, it was covered with rocks and bracken caused by overflow from the drains on the side of the road. It was impassable and required a dismount and walk across – cyclocross style – before I could get back on and continue the descent. By this time, I was starting to shiver uncontrollably from the cold. I just wanted to scream my head off from the intense cold and the painful pricks I was constantly getting from the hail.
I stopped in the village halfway down the mountain and saw one of the Skil-Shimano managers who had been riding and was putting his bike into the back of a taxi to get back to Xunhua since it was not pleasant at all to be riding out in this weather. I pulled up to a convenience store and got myself a bottle of coke and water. I was still shivering like a maniac and the locals there seemed amused by this foreigner (laowai) who was clattering away in Mandarin – I soon had a crowd of about 15 people surrounding me with about half of them checking out my bike that was propped up on the wall next to the shop. They probably all thought I was crazy riding in this weather and shivering uncontrollably. After I finished my Usana Oatmeal raisin bar and the coke, I was on my way again. The hail had subsided a bit but was still intermittently raining down. I was still very cold as I continued with the long descent back to Xunhua, but not without some more drama.
I encountered two more road-blocks – both caused by the flash flood from the storm. The nearby river was raging. The first road-block was passable. I started to attempt riding through it, but was quickly bogged down with the sticky yellow clay mud – was forced to dismount again and pick a line though without getting too much of the mud on me. After negotiating the first road-block, I stopped to chat with some of the local kids – they mentioned that only a few minutes ago, water from the creek was up high and gushing over the road.
The next road-block was the most serious one. It had rendered all traffic immobile and a long queue was building up. The overflowing river had ripped up sections of the road and created a nice oozing mass of thick clay mud. Like the consistency of a thick blended shake – but very hard to clean off or move through. The Skil-Shimano guy was there in his taxi and yelling into his mobile phone about his plight of being stuck. I was not going to let this road-block stop me, so I just slung the bike across my shoulders and started to hike across, like cyclocross racing. I heard the Chinese starting to yell at me, cautioning me not to attempt the crossing; but I kept going. With each step forward, the yellow slush just got deeper and deeper. I was getting a little worried that I might sink down like quicksand and never get out of the mess! The slush got to over knee deep on me and then it started to get shallower as I got closer to the other side. I made it through! But not without my legs getting completly covered in the thick slime and it probably wrecked my cycling shoes. I jumped back on the bike, kicking the mud from my cleats, but it was still difficult to click back into my pedals. I was still very cold – shivering the whole time and I was descending like a mad-man in an attempt to get warm again.
I stopped in a town just outside Xunhua and was immediately surrounded by the locals – who again were interested in my bike and my disheveled state from the epic mountain adventure. My fingers were half frozen so that I could not feel my camera and found it very difficult to even press the shoot button to take photographs. My Nikon D90 camera somehow survived the epic hail storm in a bag that was not completely waterproof. The camera was wet and I had gotten some tissues from a pharmacy near where I stopped to wipe it clean so photos could be taken and displayed here for your enjoyment! 😉 Further on up the road I was in search of water to try and clean my caked legs and came across a gang of kids that were really amused to see me and hear me speak Mandarin. One of them was going to lead me to water, and I started to follow, going down some narrow alleyway but I decided I should keep going and get the bike cleaned at the hotel.
It was quite amazing how the weather just turned like that and if it had happened during Stage 2 of the Qinghai Lake Tour, the stage would have been neutralized – there was no way through for both the cyclists and the convoy. It just happened to create another one of my epic bike tales to share with my readers around the world. Below are more pictures that illustrate my ride.