14degrees off the beaten track
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July 25th, 2008 | categorizilation: all categories,China (Gansu),China (Qinghai)

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Today’s distance / ???????: 33.8 miles / 54.4km
Average speed / ????: 6.2mph / 10km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 26m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5457mi plus 377mi (?) / 8782km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 1,360m
Descent / ??: 125m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N38° 00′ 37.60″, E100° 53′ 49.20″

Waking up with a mild head cold this morning, the start did not bode well for today’s gruelling climb. By the end of the day, I was ready to collapse.

The day was slow, all day. From Minlou, for the first 30km, I continued past fields of yellow flowers.

Fields of flowers south of Minlou, Gansu Province, China

Farmers cheerfully pedalled their tricycles up the slope to tend to their fields.

Bike awaits it's orders near Minlou, Gansu Province, China

Numerous bee keepers along the roadside braved the insects’ stings as they collected the fruit of their flying friends’ labour.

Bee keeping near Minlou, Gansu Province, China

About 30 seconds after taking this photo, the inevitable happened. I was wearing my helmet, of course, but a bee found its way inside the helmet by way of one of the ventilation holes. I had had a hair cut the way before in Minlou. A nice and short number one. Bad idea.

Sting #1 - Got too close to bee keeper near Minlou, Gansu Province, China Sting #1 - Got too close to bee keeper near Minlou, Gansu Province, China

This was sting number one. As a result, I was not able to wear my helmet. The padding would rub on the sting.

Only 30 minutes later, inevitable number two happened.

Sting #2 - Bees on a rampage near Minlou, Gansu Province, China Sting #2 - Bees on a rampage near Minlou, Gansu Province, China

On this particular occasion, I more or less saw it happening. Bee hives are all along this stretch of Highway 227. The bees seem to have a predetermined flight path. There are trees all along the highway, and where ever there is a patch of bee hives, the bees will travel in fast moving swarms across the road between gaps in the trees. Anyone traveling along the highway must travel straight through the bees’ flight paths. The sting above happened in one such flight path.

After that I tied a small towel to my head to ward off any other stings. People travelling on bicycles and tractors would cover their heads with their jackets as they travelled. A veritable war zone.

Soon enough the bee keeper zone faded out as I climbed further up the pass. By altitude 2,800m, it was too high for the bee keepers. Green fields gave way to a narrow rocky gorge.

Climbing up O-po Pass (3,685m), Gansu Province, China

My legs and lungs were well and truly feeling the effects of a 20 day hiatus in skating. The altitude was playing havoc on me also. Every 100m or so I would have to stop to catch my breath. 2 months of flat skating across the low-altitude desert of Xinjiang, while mentally exhausting, does not shape one physically.

By the way, the rig got new wheels in Hong Kong. These are slightly smaller than my original wheels. They are 85mm wheels from a company called Seismic. 85mm Seismic Speed Vents, they are called. 79a is the hardness, which is slightly harder than my original wheels. My original wheels were 97mm, and 78a hardness. So far I don’t notice much difference between the wheels, except that I feel bumps more obviously with the new harder wheels.

The rig got new wheels in Hong Kong - Seismic 85mm Speed Vents at 3,400m near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

I relegated the 97mm wheels to the trailer, and I noticed an immediate difference in the handling of the trailer. Much more stable, due to a slightly wider stance. They are also more likely to slide, rather than grip, which means that the trailer is less likely to tip on hard turns.

As I continued to climb into Qinghai Province, the Qinghai Tib*etan heritage began to appear.

Tibetan Buddhist Temple on the way up O-po Pass (3,685m), Qinghai Province, China

Qinghai was once part of Tib*et, so the vast majority of minorities here are Tib*etan. The structure above is a Tib*etan Buddhist Temple.

The road continued upwards, passing more and more herds of yaks, with the seasonal Tib*etan residents living in their yak fur tents, looking more like some form of Dr. Who creature than a dwelling.

Tibetan summer dwelling near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

The roads continued to be ultra smooth up the pass.

Smooth roads near O-po, Qinghai Province, China

However, despite the smooth surface, I found the going increasingly tough. I had hoped to make it to O-po by that night, however I was moving much slower than I had expected. Frequent stops were required as my lungs struggled with the altitude. I am not the strongest when it comes to acclimatisation. In Japan, I once climbed a 2,900m high mountain with Haidee Rich, and I was a mess, while she was absolutely fine. While at rest, every 30 seconds or so, I would have to take five or six deep, rapid breaths to ‘catch up’, after feeling like I was suffocating.

Today wasn’t as bad as that, but I could tell that my lungs were not getting enough oxygen to keep my body happy.

I was also running out of food. My head was still stuffed up with the head cold. As I glanced sideways, I felt dizzy. Ugh, just get me over this pass, I thought, as I pushed on.

At about 3,600m, I stopped to film myself slowly inching up the pass. As I was setting up my camera, three children from a tent not far off the road ran over. They were naturally enthralled with the foreigner on the skateboard, and apparently along with their parents, had seen me from far away struggling up the pass.

After the normal questions, the inevitable came. “Come and stay at our place tonight! You are tired. You can sleep here tonight, and carry on tomorrow.”

Many of you are no doubt thinking that anyone would be thrilled to be invited to stay with a traditional Tib*etan family in their tent. At that very point in time, I wasn’t I just wanted rest. I felt like I had no energy to entertain a family. An entertain it is, inevitably, when you are invited in. Energy is required to communicate. Energy is required to force down strange and unfamiliar foods. I did not feel like I had the energy.

“I’m sorry, but my friend is waiting for me in O-po,” I lied.

“Well, at least come and have some yoghurt,” the eldest child of about 15 said. She said the magic word. The last time I had yak yoghurt was in Tajikstan, and it was a magic experience. The stuff is awesome.

The youngest child, pictured below coveting the longboard, was happy. I detached the trailer from the skateboard, and he took control of the longboard and happily transported it across the grass to their tent.

Tibetan family near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

Upon arrival at the tent, I was ushered in and fed a large bowl of yak yoghurt. It tasted even better than I remembered it. A good tablespoon of sugar on top. Wonderful stuff. It rejuvenated me to no end.

Later on I gave my camera to the kids to take photo of things with. Below are some of the pics they took of their environment.

Tibetan family near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China Tibetan family near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

Tibetan family near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

The little gopher/hamster/rodent creature was one of thousands on the fertile grassy steppe up there. They are literally everywhere, and will run in and out of the tent.

In the family’s stock, they had yaks and sheep. “How much do you sell a sheep for?” I asked.

“A lamb will sell for 300RMB (30 Euro), while a full grown sheep will sell for 500 RMB (50 Euro),” the father replied. “We would sell a fully grown yak for 6,000RMB (600 Euro).”

Later in the evening, three men arrived on motorcycles and talked to the father. I overheard the father say “forty thousand”. After they had left, I asked what was fourty thousand.

“The youngest sheep dog there,” he said pointing. “40,000RMB for him. He is from an excellent line.”

That’s 4,000 Euro for a sheep dog. In China. That’s a lot of money in China.

After some gentle persuasion, I was convinced to stay the night. It was getting late, and I no longer had any desire to continue over the pass.

As per my expectations however, dinner was a struggle. Despite the fact that many may consider me a hardened international traveller, I am still soft as anything when it comes to spicy food. Tonight’s dinner was noodles in an impossibly spicy soup. The whole family had downed two bowls of the stuff before I had even finished one bowl.

Of course, to refuse a refill would be impolite, and I was still hungry, so I nibbled away at the second bowl until I had finally finished that one too. A big bowl of yak yoghurt would be great right now, I thought, but unfortunately none appeared, my mouth and lips burning.

As if on cue, at 9pm, a light rain began. My gear was still outside, so we rushed to take it over to the sleeping tent. This was the cue for everyone to hit the hay. I was glad…as much as I enjoyed talking with the family, the fatigue of skating all day was still a reality. I was out to it as soon as my head hit the pillow.

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