20 November 2011
Straight out from Xinjie we run into a traffic jam. It's a total classic: cars head to head on both sides of the road, tractors trying to sneak the queue, people wandering everywhere, vehicles left empty. An overloaded truck has snagged an overhead cable and loused up the only road through town. The upside of this is that we're unlikely to have much traffic overtaking us until late in the day.
After we leave the traffic jam, we ascend past rice terraces, which turn out to already be flooded. We top out at 1900m after 10.5km down. That's nearly as high as Kunming's 1930m. The descent that follows is marred by poor surface, which means we don't make the time gains we need. After 24km, we lunch on mixian in Panzhihua. Sunday market is in full swing and people, beasts and other goods are all around. Some enterprising salesman is pitching his wares by microphone over a loudspeaker. It's jarring and ruins the otherwise rural feel. The descent continues after lunch with some improvement in surface.
After 52km, down around 450m above sea level, we turn and start heading upstream alongside a small river. The map implies we need to climb through the valley and end in Luchun above the valley head. Not so. Just after we stop to polish off the last of our snacks, the road heads skyward and then menaces us with a chain of challenging climbs. When Marc gets a slow puncture after 96km, we call it. We've done a silly amount of climbing; we've done enough.
The third car to pass us is an empty pickup truck. Three minutes later we're bumping and bouncing towards Luchun with a native of the town and his wife, who've driven four hours from Kaiyuan. Trilobites beat trial of bikes. The remaining 25km or so of road is uphill and poorly surfaced.
Stats (GPS): distance 96km, average 15.6km/h, rolling time 6hr9min, cumulative elevation gain 2900m