The evening before the ride we shuttled into a valley sitting above Xinduqiao. It’s an area I’d never visited before. The homes featured the traditional Tibetan bearing, but had roofs with curved awnings. The undersides, an overlay of wooden slats, were dyed in shades of bright turquoise or green.
The hilltops were forested, and slowly curved down to the broad grassy slope that led upwards to our eventual pass. There was a hiccup with vehicle passage, as a result of road construction, but a last minute brainstorming solved the issue, and we were resolved to carry out the ride with what vehicle support we could maintain.
The stars showed themselves that night. Shooting stars lent an opportunity for wishes of clear weather, a much needed departure from the unpredictable nature of our first few days on the bike.
As day broke, the sky proved clear and blue. Sleepy cows sunned in the courtyard as we prepped our bikes. The day would be a long gradual climb to a pass above 4500m before descending to our next destination. As we set out, the sun was in our eyes.
Eventually we passed the guard station that would prohibit our vehicles. One of our vehicles set out at 4 a.m. that morning, to make the long trip round to meet us at the pass. As we climbed upwards we finally got to the split-off for the single track option. Most everyone opted in, but Abu. Within no time we met our first river crossing. This broke half the riders, who then decided to bail on the single track, interested in preserving dry feet, a motivating factor to which Abu, himself, admitted to later.
The climb led upward. From the road it was an easy sweep of the group, as those who opted out of riding trail made steady progress onward with Mitch and Jake (the other two guides), while I could readily surveil the remaining few, who were inspired enough to grind it out up the stream-ridden single track.
At one point we came across a large slide. Several hiked up and bombed back down. At the tail end of this group was Mitch, whose back brake had been refusing to bite. He did a pretty swift OTB at the tail end of his descent, bending the living hell out of his rear brake lever, making it excessively useless. We climbed on.
The last few meters of ascent were a bear. This altitude leaves you little to work with. Every motion is laborious. Slowly, upward we crawled before catching Jake and the front group at the pass. There was a new, and recently snow-covered, set of switchbacks that led to the adjacent peak.
A few had made the climb already so myself and a couple others began the hike upward. Shoes quickly got soaked in the melting snow. Finally the summit appeared. At the top, you could make out a full 360 of every peak around. At 4700m it proved to be the highest I’d ridden a bike.
The object of our fascination, Gonga Shan lay hidden in a shroud of clouds. Not today. We had a quick lunch and began the final descent into the adjacent valley.
Both myself and Abu flatted within about a hundred meters of one another. His situation more dire, with front and back flats and the wrong tubes for repair, left me as the final sweep. Off the back, I hammered for a good 20 minutes before I caught sight of anyone. After rejoining the bunch, my legs were feeling good. I took off the front for a bit before spotting Jake, roadside, waving us in to our night’s stay.