I happen to be in Vancouver, Canada, right now. I’m off back home to Japan tomorrow on a flight at the ungodly hour of 6am, but in my short time here I managed to meet none other than Mr. Aaron Enevoldsen. Aaron is well known as a protagonist in the www.longtreksonskatedeks.com sagas.
In any case, we got chatting about the www.longtreksonskatedecks.com trips (through South America in 2009, and across Morocco in 2010). As we talked, I found that I feel kind of sorry for Aaron. Happy that he got two awesome trips, but sorry that both were on such awful surfaces. Bad surfaces can be good in a bad way, and bad in a good way. Good in that they cleanse the soul by the ravaging fire of mental and physical exhaustion. Bad in that they punish the soul by the ravaging fire of mental and physical exhaustion. But when I told him that China was essentially 5,000km of the smoothest black-top in the world, he looked surprised. And it got me thinking again of the one skate trip which, if the cards were all lining up right, I would jump at the chance to do.
That trip is, to me, the holy grail of distance skateboarding: A Crossing of the Tibetan Plateau (map below).
The route from Lhasa to Xining, via China National Highway 109, is 1,922km, according to Google Maps. Anywhere else in the world, one could expect to cover this distance on a longboard in around 6-8 weeks max. The following points, however, would make things very challenging.
- Tibet Travel Permit: For foreigners to travel in Tibet officially, you need a permit, pre-planned itinerary, a guide, and a driver (even if you’d be travelling by human power) – see this recent Lonely Planet forum post. This would be the biggest issue for this trip to go ahead (although being fined and kicked out of Tibet would make a fun story).
- The Altitude: For this trip, you’d probably want to start in Lhasa and end in Xining. The reason is simple; Lhasa’s altitude is 3,600m, and Xining is at 2,200m. Sure, there are a few 4,000m+, and even one 5,000m+ high passes in the middle, but at least you know you’re going down more than up. In other words, you’re starting at a very high altitude. That’s not the ideal way to start a journey. Altitude = thin air, thin air = very physically taxing. In fact, thinking about it, perhaps it would be worth starting in Xining, simply due to the fact that doing it that way would allow for gradual acclimatization as you’re skating. Either way, the consistent high altitude would be gloriously challenging.
- Distances Between Services: Most distances between towns are between 80km and 120km. Not too terrible, but a headwind and a solid uphill day would mean carrying two days food and possibly water.
For all the challenges, the smooth roads (some short sections of unpaved road have been reported), amazing views, and the sheer sense of accomplishment, would surely make it worth while.
Here are some recent cyclists’ accounts of the route (both traveled Xining – Lhasa):
- Bill Weir in 2009 (a 10-page overview) - http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/?o=1&page_id=116560&v=A3
- Adrian Wagner in 2010 (a day-by-day account) - http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/?o=1&page_id=162524&v=6r