19 November 2011
The big question mark about today's ride was hovering over the 2.3km long Geleng Tunnel just outside Gejiu - would we be allowed to cycle through it? Being turned away would mean a 70+km diversion. It was paramount we make it through if we were to make it to Xinjie, at the top of the climb out of the Red River valley, rather than just to Nansha, at the bottom.
We hit the road earlyish after a chilly and lethargic start to the day. Scouting for breakfast, we turned up a takeaway baozi shop. The mushroom and pork dumplings were a winner - we went back for seconds. Further uphill, we spiralled around a feeder road and got onto the highway.
We were soon at the junction for the tunnel - and sighted 'no bikes' signs. Still, we could see the tunnel and it appeared well lit, well ventilated and slightly downhill. A well-positioned truck helped us slip through the toll gate undetected. Unapprehended, at least. We busted through the tunnel at over 30km/h.
Immediately upon emerging, it became obvious that the road was headed down. We had to drop into the Red River valley. And drop we did, descending for around an hour at speeds up to 50km/h. Good surface, light enough traffic. We shed 1500m in around 33km, feeling the air warm up as we descended. When we hit the riverside road, we were at 37km dead. 15km or so alongside the Red River and we were in Nansha, a town I'd first visited on my first multi-day bike trip to Hekou with Chris in late December 2009.
On the approach to Nansha, two spokes popped, quite close to each other, and the wheel was fast out of true. In Nansha, I pulled up at a motorbike mechanic's place, borrowed some pliers, and got into my first spoke replacement operation, with running commentary from a 4 or 5 year old girl, who helpfully suggested that if I was hot, I might eat ice lollipops to cool down. Fix done, it was a bit chabuduo, but the wheel could at least spin without rubbing the brakes. Off for fried rice and iced papaya syrup.
After lunch we repacked a bit to redistribute weight away from my rear wheel. Marc took a bag onto his rack, and I bungeed another to my handlebars. The change in ride feel was immediately noticeable once we set off on the start of the 30km long climb towards Xinjie. This climb is fabled - Xinjie is a popular tourist destination for its photogenic rice terraces, and for years in Kunming I've heard intermittent reports of the state of the Xinjie road. For us, the surface was fine, though a little broken here and there. One thing that is never going to be up for debate is that the road is a monster climb. Nansha is around 200m above sea level. We topped out in Xinjie at 1600m, after three hours and 30km of constant climbing. It's steady, with only mild variation in gradient, but it's a long one. Liberal deployment of water, Coca-Cola, bananas and a gel was key.
Xinjie is the old capital of Yuanyang county, now replaced in that role by Nansha. The place feels old, stuck on the side of a high mountain ridge overlooking the valleys. It's currently in the throes of seasonal redevelopment in time for peak tourist season which comes early in the year when the rice terraces are flooded.
Climb stats: 31km, 10.2km/h, 3hr3min, max: 17.6km/h
Full ride stats, today taken from GPS thanks to an accidental bike computer reset at lunch time. 84km, 17.1km/h, 4hr53min.