15 November 2011
After low quality sleep and a 6:15am alarm, I walk along Wenlin Jie and Wenhua Xiang to head to the office for the last time. The air is crisp and the sun's thinking about rising.
Shortly after 8am, we meet at Salvador's, which is setting up for the day. Marc's going to ride to Jinghong with me. Chris, Jesse, Sander and Tom are due to go as far as Mile. Pat and Kris plan to do a short ride out of town and back. Sarah's there too, but not to ride.
The ride out of town is in busy rush hour traffic, kind of intentionally. We cross some large scale road construction out to the east, before getting on the highway towards Shilin. This road undulates, alternately punishing and rewarding, until we top out just short of 30km done. Pat and Kris have decided to come all the way to Yiliang for lunch. Pat's struggling a bit with the hills, but making it through.
After 38km, the first mishap appears: Chris flats. Fortunately Tom is riding with him and seems pretty happy with a 7min 32sec tube replacement. We cross a toll gate and descend into the Yangzonghai Lake basin. During the descent, Kris flats. Marc does the honours.
We all come back together at a shop in Tangchi, where I find I have two broken rear spokes. Tom is not impressed to find I have no spares. I'm ashamed to admit that he's right, and I spend the following descent through the gorge in contemplation of my oversight. The gorge is still beautiful: through it run the road, the river, a modern railway and the colonial era French-built metre gauge line from Kunming to Hanoi. My mood improves after a pep talk from Marc, and we cruise into Yiliang with a plan.
Tom and I set off at a jog to seek a bike repair shop. We find a squat and red-faced shifu who's obviously been in the business a few years. His tricycle is loaded with bicycle bits. Twenty minutes and two kuai later, we're back to join the others for lunch, my mood much improved. Plans are laid over the lunch table for Tom to build a new rear wheel to a more sturdy touring specification and send it to Jinghong, where I can intercept it.
Lunch takes ages for the restaurant to prepare. It turns out they opened only three weeks ago and are eager to take photos with us. Goodbyes are made with Kris, Pat and Jesse, who's decided to peel off back to Kunming too. The remaining group is aware that taking down the remaining 80km or so to Mile in the available time is possible, but only if things go smoothly.
Smoothly is not how things go. Shortly after Yiliang we hit a lengthy climb. We all ride well, but our average speed is not sufficient. Confusion over road designations coupled with uninformed directions puts us on a busy highway. The surface is good, but it's not enough in the face of a seemingly interminable chain of ascents. Darkness falls as we reach a highway exit where we expect to find amenities. There are none.
A truck driver tells us there's a petrol station 2km further on, and that that's the best place to find a solution. We light up and in a close group cruise slowly, calling out obstacles and broken glass. We arrive and Chris switches into a problem solving mode I'm well familiar with. But, this is a classic. Within 90 minutes, two taxi drivers have shown up in two VW Santanas and are insisting that it's perfectly possible to fit five guys, five bikes and a bunch of luggage into the two cars. I am sceptical, but rapidly proven wrong.
As we bang towards Mile we realise we'd have taken a good two hours to ride the remaining distance even if it had have been light. There's plenty of uphill, and the surface is very poor for lengthy sections. We rebuild the bikes, and set off to find food and accommodation. It's midnight when we check in, and 1:30am when I sleep. A long day.
All told, I've clocked 118km with an average of 18km/h. Rolling time is 6h34.