Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
1 May 2005
The end of the road for Bill and "Bessie Too"
Dear Friends and Family,
We made it!
This amazing ride that began in the tropics surrounding Bangkok, headed into the lofty eastern Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau, then rolled down to the subtropical Chengdu Plain, is at its end. I've been pedaling 4 months and 6,268 km (3,886 miles), meeting many friendly people along the way. Landscapes and cultures have been incredibly diverse. Now the ride is just a fond memory—and 25 rolls of slides.
I enjoyed all three countries of this trip—Thailand, Laos, and China. So what does one do upon completion of such a long, adventurous trip? Plan the next ones, of course! My hope is to revisit all three countries, and probably some others, in the next year.
The final nine days of the ride mostly wound through deep canyons. From Danba, I headed up along the brown and turbulent Dadu River. Stone watchtowers along the way once served to signal villages of impending raids. Attractive stone villages of Tibetan and Qiang (close relatives of the Tibetans) clung to the steep hillsides or nestled in the canyon bottoms. Houses often had peculiar stone "horns" sticking up from each corner. Some houses had wooden "hanging toilets" attached to the outside wall high above the ground; stone enclosures below caught the droppings.
|Up Along the Dadu He and Its Tributaries|
The muddy Dadu He has many rapids.
These two lookout towers in Songgang village have
an unusual star-shape cross-section. Most
towers are square and have fallen into ruin.
This boy and his friends took me to one of the towers.
Local boys show off a stone lookout tower in Songgang.
Zhuokeji village, 7 km east of Maerkang,
is exceptionally pretty.
The fortified mansion at Zhuokeji undergoing a major
renovation; there's a stone tower (not visible) behind it.
Toilets with a view!
These hanging toilets on the mansion don't smell.
The valley became increasingly alpine as I
ascended above Maerkang to my final pass of the trip.
Seeing and smelling the lush green fields and orchards was a novelty for me after so many weeks at high elevations where winter still held sway. I also liked the warm sunny weather. But I was gradually climbing, so spring began to fade back into winter after three days of riding upriver. Snow arrived on the fourth morning from Danba; "no problem," I thought, as it would soon melt. Unfortunately, when I turned south to my last big pass, 4,132 meters high, the pavement ran out and the melted snow had turned the road into awful sticky mud. I crept and crawled up the too-long 24 km climb. The only bright side was that the road was nearly deserted; other vehicles were taking a new road through a tunnel. Snowy peaks lay in all directions from the top. Downhill was easier and I was sure glad to hit pavement and whiz through alpine forests and villages. The next day I followed the Zagunao River 123 km downstream to the Chinese city of Wenchuan; it was the longest daily distance of the trip and nearly all downhill. The hotel in Wenchuan left a lot to be desired—holes in the dirty carpets, no hot water, then no cold water, then no electricity. I took a shower from two kettles, one cold and one hot, mixed in my bicycle water bottle.
From Wenchuan I joined the wide Min River for its journey to the plains. The first part of the ride was fast and smooth below ever-greener hillsides. After 60 km the road forked and I had to decide whether to take the bumpy, muddy, dusty detour along the river or sneak past a barrier and ride the brand new smooth highway ahead. Of course I took the new road with its fine views of the valley and hardly any traffic, but a few curves later I came across a policeman in the middle of the road. OOPS! He waved me on, though, and I continued enjoying the new road as it wound up a side valley, through a tunnel, down, around, and into a second tunnel—this one still very much under construction. Then, around yet another curve, I saw the valley open up onto a vast plain. I was about to leave the mountains that had been my companions for nearly the entire past four months.
I took a rest day in Dujiangyan to stroll the extensive gardens and temple complexes. Rhododendrons were in full bloom and bonsai lined many of the paths. Exhibits chronicled the clever system of irrigation canals developed 2,300 years ago at Dujiangyan to divert the Min River waters out onto fields surrounding Chengdu.
|Rolling Into the Dujiangyan Scenic Area|
The end of the mountains and my ride is near! You can see where the Min River meets
the plains at Dujiangyan ahead on the right. It's the site of a 3rd-century B.C. irrigation
project that made the city of Chengdu the largest and most important in the region.
This illustration shows Dujiangyan's canals and diversion islands, designed to channel the Min River's
waters and remove silt. Today it's a vast parkland with gardens, temples, pavilions, and bridges.
Chinese tourists strolling in Dujiangyan Scenic Area
music for a teahouse
On April 27th I sped across the plain, imperceptibly downhill, to the outskirts of Chengdu and the confusing network of ring roads and radials—more than my pitiful map could ever show. The first travelers' hotel I tried refused to let me bring my bicycle into the room—unusual for China—but a second place had no problem with the bicycle. So "Bessie Too the Bicycle" has now rolled her last for a while, and will soon go into a cardboard box. She has held up well; a rack bolt being the only part to break. Considering the debris on the roads, six flats in four months aren't too bad (3 from glass, 2 from wires, and one from a thorn).
I'm staying at Holly's Hostel, a small guesthouse in Chengdu, resting and packing for the flights back to the USA. Chengdu is one of China's oldest and most important cities, with a population of about 4 million. The weather at this 500-meter elevation (1,640 feet) has been warm, humid, very hazy, and prone to occasional thunderstorms. I've done a little sightseeing and shopping, but nothing too strenuous. On Tuesday May 3rd I fly to Bangkok, then continue on to the USA on May 15th.
From the end,
Bill Weir and "Bessie Too the Bicycle"
The Chinese Government
Chairman Mao Zedong
The Great Firewall of China
A Guaranteed Weight-Loss Program
Back to the beginning of Cycling from Thailand to China