Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shaji Bushes 10 - Bike Tubes 4

On saturday the wife and I decided to go up another valley to explore some potential Mountain biking trails. This would be the same valley that our friend Khe Zhu lives in with his family and has a home stay. It is a lovely valley that seems to stretch back forever as you ride up the road towards the source of the basin. The ride started at Khe Zhu's place where we left him with the keys to our car so that he could get some supplies to replace the crushed section of his sewage pipe. Riding up the road that takes you through the valley Amanda and I were not surprised that our bikes were still overly geared for most of the road and spent a majority of our time walking the bikes. Of course because of the altitude we were still running a cool zone 2 - 3 heart rate (nerd alert) just walking. Everything just seems to be a little bit harder up here.
After reaching a plateau at the top of the valley we decided to take off our shoes and cross the stream to the other side in order to get into what we figured would be the good trails. The water was cold but somewhat refreshing with the temperatures in the sun being up in high 60's to low 70's and just a beautiful day all together. After crossing the stream we followed a horse/yak/sheep/goat trail further up the valley hill side towards some of the naturally formed terraces that lace the Jiuzhai valley.
It was here that we met the first in many groups of animals that we were to cross paths with. Of course when you come across a group of sheep the instinct to "baa" is overwhelming and we decided that communication with them was imperative. Of course these were Chinese/Tibetan sheep and they have a "maa" more than a "baa". After discussing politics and forestry policy we left the sheep to soak in the sun and rest in the shade.
 Weaving through the shaji bushes we were finally able to get some much deserved single track though it wasn't to last very long and we came across a group of yaks. Yaks can be a bit stubborn and we decided that it might be smart to ride slowly and avoid the pointy ends of their horns.
Continuing along the terraces we stayed at the same approximate elevation for about a kilometer until it was apparent that there was no foreseeable trail to follow. Finally after crossing two swampy meadows, a small gorge and two clear cuts all of which were down on foot with bikes in tow, Amanda began to get hungry which in turn means that we needed to finish our ride very soon. I decided to follow a steep trail down to one of lower terraces that is actively used for pasturing animals and has a very nice trail through it.
After being met with much surprise from the locals we followed the trail along the upper pasture to the edge of the valley until it drops down into the lower valley. It was a fun trail that rolls up and down for a couple of kilometers finally winding back above Khe Zhu's house. We followed a mixture of road and trails back to Khe Zhu's making it back safely and with all tires still inflated. Of course this was not to last.
We were greeted at the house by Khe Zhu's mother who promptly gave us water to drink and fed us Tibetan flat bread. She then also made us lunch while we waited for Khe Zhu to return with our car (the beast from the east). Of course when he returned it was with two 3m pipes hanging off the side of the car attached with some nylon twine. We removed the pipe and set about putting the bikes back into the car. It was then that we noticed that Amanda's front tire had fully deflated while my rear tire was beginning to show signs of becoming limp.
When we arrived at home it was apparent that at least three of our tires had fallen to the evils of the Shaji bushes. By the next morning all four tires had gone from bouncy to lifeless. Unsurprisingly I was left without any spare tubes and thus the tires would need to be repaired with patches. Since the workmen were coming over to repair our western toilet (for those unfamiliar there are western toilets and eastern toilets, suffice it to say that they are different) for the second time in a month. This gave me enough time to tackle the task of repairing the flats. This basically amounted to me removing the several thorns implanted into the tire carcass from the Shaji bushes, thoroughly examining each tube underwater for punctures and finally patching them. This turned out to be an interesting activity to the two men that were repairing our bathroom problem as any chance they got to watch me they were looking over my shoulder. After repairing six holes in the tubes and using up all of our remaining patches I was saddened later that afternoon when I came home to find that two of the tires continued to lose air and thus required further repair. It was at this point that I found another thorn in the tire and had to use four more patches. Three of which were on one tube.
Needless to say we will likely not be continuing to ride on the upper terraces of the valley until we are equipped with armor plated knobby tires or at least invest in tire patch stock which will likely be heavily subsidized by our further purchasing of their product. As a note however we were able to locally source patch kits to repair our tires thus eliminating the need for an emergency bike tube care package.
Stay tuned for further posts, such as:
The Great Toilet Adventure
Gardening with Joshy

Monday, April 12, 2010

Riding the Jiuzhai Valley

Actually we weren't in the actual Jiuzhai Valley but close enough that I'm not going to complain. Amanda and I have made our first attempt at finding good mountain biking around Jiuzhaigou National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Given that the majority of the hills around here top out at about 3400m (~11,000 feet) or more we have to relegate ourselves to the lower valleys and glacial moraines that exist and are flatter.
We decided to go up the Valley a couple of miles up river from the park entrance where Amanda has done some hiking on previous visits to the park. Being that it was a nice day out we suited up and packed up the French Beast from the East. As always the roads were nice and windy until we hit the flat part of the valley where we could our final destination. We chose a proper parking space, i.e where the beast could not pass.

Me, the beast, the bike, and the improbable road.
This is where Rob our savior (Thanks to Linda and George for also volunteering) with bicycle parts will be helping out tremendously, because after attempting to ride up this little stretch of road on mighty yet overly geared single speeds we were forced to hike it most of the way. 

Amanda facing up the valley.
We followed the road on our bikes until we hit some logging switchbacks and used the trail shortcuts to make faster ground. Being late in the day we decided to let this be a quick exploratory mission and an opportunity to take some pictures.

Me and the Trail.

Amanda and the Wood-stack

After about 45 minutes of Hike a bike we decided to hit the descent. It was a combination of rough trail and logging road but was mostly dry and not much animal business. It was a quick ride but after looking through the valley we decided that there is a lot of potential out here for some fun (epic) mountain bike rides and we look forward to further pursuits.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Snow Falling on Pine Trees... and Shrubs

Amanda and I recently decided to take a trip up to Song Pan (Song Pon) which is approximately 100 km away from the Park entrance where we are staying. I know that I have just used kilometers as a unit of measure and it hurts me every time that I say it but it is too difficult or maybe I am just to lazy to look up the conversion app from miles to Kilometers (ouch). It is approximately 60 miles in case any of you have not afforded yourself the luxury of a unit conversion app on your mobile. Any how we made this trip in order to see some of the country side and scout for places to possibly mountain bike. Also we decided to spruce up the sun room with some new cushions. This is of course because it is currently the only room in the house that we get internet access and doubly it is also the warmest.
After a bout of rain over the last few days which has resulted in even more snow on the mountains we decided to brave the winter conditions and go over the pass which is the headwaters of the Minjiang river a tributary to the Yangtze river. On the way up it was a beautiful drive along twisty roads with a little bit of cloud break. However along the way we were met with this:

The long arm of the Law, or maybe just a representation of it.

Not being deterred from going further we continued up the pass to come out to this:

A beautiful mountain scene complete with snow.
Of course life on the Plateau isn't all beauty occasionally you have to deal with guys like this:

I don't know what that thing on the back of that Lorrie is.
Or these guys who are more prevalent:

They have a tendency to rely heavily on the middle of the lane.
or perhaps this guy:

The local Federally or maybe just a guy in a cowboy hat and a safety vest.
Any way you look at it, it was a nice day which as it went along the weather got better... in places:

Perhaps a little blue sky peaking out there or just another sucker hole.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Things you may see on a drive in northern Sichuan

Note: the entire drive we kept saying "where is our camera", but never managed to pull it out. The car was kind of packed.

Note 2: This is Amanda writing. Some people have complained that they can't tell which of us is writing. Since Josh writes more, I'll sign mine.

1. Convoy of army learner truck drivers. I am not kidding. There were 20+ in a caravan going the other way. And each truck had a 教练车sign on the front (learner driver). The drivers were SO young looking and the trucks SO big. I hope they learn better habits than other drivers.

2. A car passing in a 2-way tunnel. Actually, I should say "overtaking" since "passing" on the driving exam means driving along a section of road. In this case, we entered a tunnel about 20 minutes after lunch and after I started driving. I was about half way through the tunnel when there was a car heading straight towards me. Some dummy decided that a tunnel was a good place to pass.

3. Cars passing on blind corners. Once again, how stupid can you get? Are you asking for a head on collision? No wonder it is the law to honk before said corners.

4. Cars at dusk with no lights. I think they want to save gas. They seem to think we're weird for putting our lights on.

5. Snow. Yes. It was snowing. The way we came there is a steep pass which you need to drive over, about 3300 m tall. We came to it just before dusk and at about 2500 m and above there was snow on the ground. Our little car did very well.

6. Cars without license plates. They are everywhere. But cars w/o plates are supposed to be detained by the traffic police. I think we learned too much taking the test and now ask too many questions that people don't want to answer.

7. Semis piled on top of one another. This one was particularly scary. On the highway from Chengdu to Mianyang (stage 1 of the journey), there were semis (just the cab bit) with no wheels on them (wheels near the cab) piled on top of other semis (also just cabs). They looked way too back heavy and like the wheels in the front might come off the ground. Josh said that. Then all of a sudden we were passing one (we passed 3 or 4) and the wheels were leaving the ground as it hit bumps. Although we really wanted to find the camera, we also really wanted to escape the monstrosities.

8. Buses overtaking you at the most inopertune times. They also are overtaking everyone else. We decided that the trucks (the evil blue things that abound in western China) and buses were the safest things to hide behind when passing other cars. Normally a bad idea, but here the big mass tells others to stay away.

9. Way over filled trucks. Not surprisingly, the darn blue trucks (actually, many were orange. That is a new color to Chinese truck world) were way too full.

10. Toll booths. It costs 1 bus ticket in tolls to do the drive. 1/2 of them are the highway toll for the 2 hrs to Mian Yang. The rest are in small chunks along the way. You can save 2 RMB if you don't accidentally take the wrong exit for the Mian Yang highway and then try to correct the mistake by taking the next exit which happens to be a bus station. Then you will end up looking like an arriving bus and have to drive around in circles until you can leave the bus station via the carpark and pay the carpark fee. There is another 30 min of driving in circles before you can manage to get on the highway going the right way.

11. Beautiful scenery

Ok... I'm running out of things. It is a pretty drive though. We'll hopefully cut it down a bit on the next trip. We'll definitely leave earlier to avoid driving at night and to avoid some of the bus traffic.

In case you want to send us mail, here is our mailing address. If you'd rather just print a label, I can send you a .pdf or .jpg for either of us. Just let me know.

People's Republic of China

I don't think that the English version works. At least, a friend tried to send me a letter and I haven't gotten it yet...

Look forward to: our new home and scrubbing it clean; adventures in internet bureaucracy; successes and failures at cooking.

Monday, April 5, 2010

First Impressions

We have finally arrived to Jiuzhaigou. For those of you who are unaware this is the final destination in our trip to the Great East. After acquiring suitable transportation, a 2003 Citroen, the wife and I drove the short 9 hour route to our new home. The car behaved beautifully and at some points we were unsure if it was actually using any gas. It seems as though when the tank is full the meter reads full as well for about 200 km. It then subsequently begins to fall slowly at first and then faster as it empties. Fortunately you can drive for quite a while with the fuel light on, not that I would condone that kind of behavior.
We purchased the car on Tuesday with the intention of leaving on Thursday or Friday for the park. Part of this story is recounted in another post so I will save a lot of the details of the day, save the stuff related to buying the actual car. First off we bought the car at a new and used car dealership, mostly new. Unlike car dealerships in the states there is a relatively low level of nagging by the salesman. They still follow you around mind you, but they are less inclined to point out that there are perfectly good new cars inside. I think this is because they expect me not to a) speak Chinese and b) not actually allowed to buy a car. In the case of a) I don't speak Chinese, but fortunately Amanda does. In the case of b) I am actually allowed to buy a car it's just a pain in the a$$.
We saw this cute little number first thing in the morning and after performing the most basic of tests for functionality, i.e. kicking the tire a couple of times something I learned from Todd Martin. Of course I've learned many other things from the "old man up the road" but those will need to go in the memoirs. The salesman told us the price and then said that it is a little negotiable. This is China isn't everything negotiable. Alas the car was really the best running and best looking car in our budget and we needed something reliable and that we can resell in a year even though it is French (read as Chinese made).
Le Car (Not to be mistaken for Le Poop)
Imagine this beautiful piece of machinery, only in white and you have our beautiful piece of the latest in 90's technology from France.
After settling on a price with the salesman I was finally allowed to test drive the car, this was of course after a lengthy discussion as to whether or not we could actually buy a car as foreigners and a trip to the traffic police to confirm that we could. I can report that the test drive was basically uneventful, except that I was driving a frigging car in China. This is an especially nerve racking thing the first time as there is no way to tell what people are thinking and sometimes what they are doing. Regardless we survived the test drive and went back to the dealership to finalize the transaction. While at the dealership we were informed that the car had a 1 month or 1000km warranty and that they would handle all of the registration fees. Basically it turned out that they were going to do everything for us which was great. They also informed us of the insurance obligations and that it was insured until June and the existing insurance policy would be carried over to us.
Registering a car in China should be on the list of a 1000 places to see before you die, it is certainly up there with having high tea at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. This is how the registration works: First you pull into part of the (traffic police Supermarket is what they called it) inspection building, whereby a couple of fellows in coveralls go to removing your license plates either by screw driver or in some extreme cases of laziness a metal grinder. After removing your license plates you are then required to park in another part of the building for inspection. This inspection is to prove that the vehicle that is being registered is not something other than is represented by paper. Apparently there are a lot of illegally assembled vehicles on the road in China as questions about them were prevalent in the Drivers License Exam booklet. While awaiting inspection the used license plates are put into a pile and you the car buyer can pick out your new license plate numbers, hint the number 4 is bad luck so try to avoid having it on your plates. After picking the license plate numbers and having the car inspected I was then told to drive out of the building on one end and then back into the building on the other, aka the entrance with the guys in coveralls. I thought that maybe they would be putting my license plates back on, but alas I was merely parking in another part of the building. We then set to waiting for the rest of the paperwork to go through and I guess allow them time to make the new license plates. I guess they don't make them in prisons like they do in the states. After about two hours in the Traffic Police Supermarket (TPS) we were free to go back to the dealership where they attached our new license plates.
After many congratulations all around about the purchase of the vehicle Amanda and I left the dealership in our new (to us) retro 90's styled 4 door hatchback.
Oh and apparently they hadn't actually given us the registration for the vehicle so we had to drive back on Thursday before we left for Jiuzhaigou to pick up the rest of the paper work. Basically as far as we can tell we were two foreigners driving around illegally for a couple of days. Who's gonna say anything?