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The Endless Sky Trip -- Cycling the Himalaya cycling in western Tibet

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Hongliutan, Xinjiang, China
5/30/98

For over a week now we have been slowly making our way through the Kunlun Shan Mountains. Climbing 15,000 foot passes through snow flurries and moderating our descents because of road conditions. The way has turned into a mix of loose sand, grape size gravel and washboard, the last of which turns cycling into something like taking a boat through rough waters and slows your speed down to a crawl. The constant pounding has taken its toll on our bikes. One of the bolts holding Liyang's front rack on to her bike sheared into two pieces; fortunately we had a replacement bolt.

The last 180 miles have been a land solely of Army bases, road maintenance crews & truck drivers. We have left behind normal towns of families and children playing in the streets. When we stop for a break or a short nap on the roadside, and the wind has subsided, we are embraced with a powerful silence, a kind of silence that I have rarely experienced in other places. A silence that just leaves you with only the faint sound of a ringing in your ears.

For the last day and a half, we have settled into our room at a small rundown Chinese truck stop hotel. The only other option in town is a place that at first glance looks to be an abandoned building, but in fact is a quasi- operating hotel. It is where I stayed when I was here four years ago, cycling in the other direction. But across the garbage strewn & oil soaked parking area lies the small, cozy kitchen/restaurant. Inside on a glowing orange coal- burning stove, one of the two men that live here cooks three delicious meals a day for us. Each plate of stir-fried vegetables is supplemented with pork, and maybe even a mix of pure meat & pure fat that is taken from cans of Chinese army rations. The cook is from north central China, but has come to this remotest of outposts to make money. For six years now he has braved the cold and lonely winters and cooked up wonderful plates of hot food for truck drivers during the rest of the year. He plans to stay here another two years, after which he will return to his homeland with savings in hand to look for a wife. Meanwhile the only other man working here seems to spend his days and sometimes nights gambling with truck drivers, often losing all the money that we just paid him for our food and room.

Tomorrow morning we set out to climb a 17,000 foot pass that is the beginning of one of the most remote, highest sections of road in the world. For more than 150 miles, we will be cycling above 16,000 feet.

-Ray


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