Travels with Hyeongnim 4: Yulongxueshan, Hutiaoxia

In which we leave the company of various Chinese friends for a week of great views, punishing climbs, and freeeeeeeeezing nights.

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We set off early in the morning, stopping with head lowered and tail between my knees at a pants shop I had been kicked out of the day before when my (so-called) friends insulted the owner with their lousy bargaining skills. Had I been on my own, I bet I could’ve gotten him down to $20 for these pretties, but I wound up paying $25. My “friends'” original offer: $8. Assholes. Then we on the outskirts of Lijiang at Black Dragon Lake, deciding not to bother paying the entrance fee since better views were to be had ahead.

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Hyeongnim’s comment: “Jeez, look at his thingy…” I had forgotten that I knew the Korean word for “thingy.”

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Following the advice of my Hanoi hippie friends, I convinced Zara to take the scenic route rather than the National Road. First stop: Baisha (“White Sand”) Village.

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Like so many other places in Yunnan, Baisha was equal parts rustic and discomforting. The only businesses in town seemed to cater to tourists. Overpriced cookies; bars with hyper-modern curvaceous interiors and a variety of Western liquor for sale; cafes boasting both WESTERN MENUS and LOCAL NAXI (local indigineous group) FOOD, along with wifi; shops selling local batiks and Tibetan knick-knacks. The ever-present ambiguity of travel: surely these locals have made a conscious and calculated choice to abandon their old ways and try to make a living off of serving tourists, but what have they lost in the process, and what have we tourists really gained? Not having an ultimate answer regarding the purpose of travel in the first place, I’m not sure what I have to say. All I know is that after ten minutes of cycling around on the cobblestone, we had seen all there was to see and went on our merry if stingy way.

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Onwards to Dongba Culture Park, which had this giant display of the Senjiu Lujiu, the written language of the Naxi tribe – the only hieroglyphic writing system still in use! According to the blurb, there are “tens of thousands of characters” that have been used to write works on “religion, folk culture, language, characters, geography, arts, moral philosophy, astronomy, as well as calendar-study.” This was one of about fifteen tiles of engravings. Incredible.

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Next up: YuLongXueShan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) national park. I knew we’d pass by the mountain, but I didn’t know they’d charge us thirty bucks a piece to do it! National park prices here in China are absolutely outrageous. Having already dropped twenty-five bucks on a pair of pants that morning, as well as $100 to fix my computer and $40 to bus it from Hekou to Kunming, I was not in the mood to pay for this. Luckily, Zara’s wife, a crucial character back in my previous life in Daegu, had told him to treat me to a little something every now and then. I’m not sure why he had held out for so long, but he bought my ticket, which I accpted with a bit of shame. My promise: I will take at least 185 pictures in here, one for each Yuan of the ticket price.

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Zara’s bikes and bags weigh about half of what mine do, but I’m still faster! I used my downtime to throw rocks at trees, or to play baseball if I could find a suitable stick. And, when Hyeongnim drew near, to try to take some badass photos.

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The park was nice, but thirty bucks’ worth of nice? Meh, I’ve seen this scenery for free a million times.

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After about 45km of riding uphill and against the wind, we hit the top of the first pass – 3100 meters, just over 10,000 feet. New lifetime record!

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This lovely couple somehow knew that I’d break a record and had come out to congratulate me. How kind!

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Another record: lowest temperature, down near 7C/45F, and that’s not even at night. No surprise I suppose, given that I’ve been headed both NW and upwards for 2 weeks now (why???). Pretty soon I had donned all my cold-weather gear: soft jacket, rain jacket, new pants, and pair of winter gloves given to me six months ago by a middle school student for no particular reason except that he liked Americans. Not worn: socks, which were not at the ready.

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OK, this one might be 30 bucks’ worth of nice.

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Particularly when you get little cloud rainbows.

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Check out the upper-right.

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Found in a trash can: used oxygen canister. We’re now entering asphyxiation altitudes. So far, so good…

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Around here, a woman stopped us and offered to let us stay at her place…for twenty dollars. We told her we’d rather push on while it was still light out, and that we were hoping to make it 45km to the next town before the sun set. (The sun sets late, like 8:30PM, here in Yunnan, since all of China runs on Beijing/Shanghai/East coast time.) She told us that we still had one mountain left to climb, we replied that we had tents and would be fine.

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Five minutes later: near unrideable rock-chunk road.

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One hour of climbing got us about 3km closer to our goal.

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Luckily, there was a ruckus up at the top: kids pelting goats with rocks, dudes playing mahjong, ladies playing drinking games.

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No plastic-free food + no restaurants for 40km = breaking my precious “no trash” rule. Sorry, world. I’ll do a better job of stocking up on staples next time.

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Seeing our cold and sensing our desperation, the show owner offered us a room for cheap. Then his son-in-law invited us into the party. These ladies were amazing! While there husbands were playing a nice, quiet game of mahjong in the other room, they were busy dumping beers into a big bowl, ladle-ing it out, and playing some card game to determine who had to down a whole bowlfull at a time. Falling off of stools, shouting, sticking fingers in faces, all the usual drunk antics! With kiddos present!


What with the cold and the long days behind and ahead of me, I didn’t intend to partake, but who can turn down good hospitality? Three beers, a few potatoes, a pack of peanuts, and a bag of sunflower seeds later, it was time for bed.

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Today’s task: get the hell out of the mountains and find some food.

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We tried to hit the road early, but Mom insisted that we have breakfast before we head out. Rice, roast potatoes, fried potatoes, and salted/dried/frozen/roasted pig face.

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Tibetan stupa! We’re getting close…

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Several more hours of climbing over several false summits finally brought us to the real one. Now, 40km, all downhill!

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Food! Oh thank God.

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Next obstacle: Tiger Leaping Gorge. Bosslady from the restaurant told us there was a bridge, but that bikes weren’t allowed. Instead, we had to head to the “Old Ferry Station,” which was mostly just a few planks of wood stuck on the side of the river.

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With a very precipitous climb down. And an equally excruciating push up the other side. A solid hour of lift/pushing my 40lb bike and 60lbs of gear up sandy switchbacks. Three days later and my shoulders are still sore.

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Having learned my lesson the night before, I stocked up at the first chance I got: eight bananas and a camping pot full of cookies. No restaurants for the next 60km? No problem! Having descended back down to 1750m over the past 50km or so, it’s time to get climbing again.

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Up and up and up and…do you see what I see? It’s not a hotel, but it’s got a roof and at least a couple of walls. It’ll do! Dilemma: there’s still light left, should we ride on and hope for another suitable spot, or settle? We flip a brick and the grey side lines up: here we shall stay.

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Hyeongnim, having been on the road for a whole year now, kicks ass and makes a bed by collecting stray pieces of stone and lumber.

I feel asleep that night after standing outside staring at the stars for fifteen minutes. Look, breathe, look, breathe. The higher we climb, the more there are. So many that there is hardly an inch of sky that doesn’t at least have some inkling of light coming through – except for the sections blotted out by giant rain clouds, darker than even the black of outer space.

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One Response to Travels with Hyeongnim 4: Yulongxueshan, Hutiaoxia

  1. Niall says:

    I did tiger leaping gorge

    not on a bike, mind

    “We are all inventors, each sailing out on a voyage of discovery, guided each by a private chart, of which there is no duplicate. The world is all gates, all opportunities.” – Emerson