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Peter Snow Cao

Peter Snow Cao
"Cycling to Danba in Western Sichuan, China"
Part 6

Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 2001.


Cycling Trip to Danba, Sichuan: Part 6 Danba to Chengdu

When we arrive at the bus about 5:40 AM, it is completely dark with only one or two people milling about. This is definitely a bad sign. We groan that precious sleep time was lost to misinformation. At 6:30 AM the ticket seller shows up and we discover nearly all the tickets for the early bus have been sold out the previous day. We buy the tickets and then load the bikes on the top of the bus with the help of another passenger. The door to the bus opens and there is a mad rush to get on despite the fact that everyone has assigned seats. I am comforted in knowing that we have seats 15 and 16, generally in the middle of a bus this size. We take our time getting on and are surprised to see that the only remaining seats are on the last row with seats barely wide enough to squeeze into. I ask the driver about this and he assures me that those are our seats. Screwed again.

The bus roars off to a fast start only to stop a block later beside a second bus to Chengdu. A second mad scrambling of passengers and baggage results in a quarter of the passengers moving to the other bus and leaving some leg room for us. The road out of Danba proves to be more difficult for the bus than it was for our bicycles as we get stuck several times.

About 20 kilometers up the road a large landslide blocked the road. The bus empties out to take a look. It looks bad as it had been the site of a previous landslides and there is a huge bed-sized boulder in the middle of the road. It seems like at least a half a day’s work to get it open again. Mark and I decide to skip the entertainment and head out on our bikes. There are looks of wonder as we cross the blockage. We tell the driver to stop if he spots us on the road ahead.

Mark and I take our time riding through this beautiful country. We make numerous stops and chat along the way about how this would make a great tour route for Bike China Adventures, Inc.. As we near Xiaojin Xian it is time for lunch and the schools empty, students wearing multicolored backpacks jamming the streets and causing traffic to weave through the crowd. In Xiaojin, we inquire about buses to Chengdu, but they have already left for the day. We have a lunch of noodles and Bar-B-Q potatoes. As we mount the bikes to leave, our bus from Danba roars by. We flag the driver, put the bikes back on top of the bus and re-claim our seats. Lady Luck is smiling on us today.

On the bus again, we fast-rewind our previous days’ journey. The landslide sets the bus schedule back 3 hours so we are a bit concerned about continuing with our plan to cycle down from the pass. Siguniang Shan (Four Sister’s Mountain) is still enveloped in clouds. On the way up, two other cyclists come flying down from the pass wearing bug-catching grins. That is what life is all about.

As we near the peak, the light midst becomes heavier, soaking the road. The fog is also thickening and it is after 3:30 PM when we reach the pass. We yell for the driver to stop. He doesn’t believe us and continues. We yell again and this time he stops. The rest of the bus looks at us like we have lost our minds. Maybe we have.

Using the small smoke-filled temple to don all our clothes and rain gear, we finally push off down the hill at 3:50 PM. We have 120 kilometers to get to the intersection with the main road to Dujiangyan and darkness arrives at 7:30 PM.

The road is wet, and the sleet-like mist is like fish bones in the eyes, minute fast-falling stinging needles. Any colder, and it would be snow. The wet pavement and the fresh memory of my fall on the other side slows our progress of what on a good day would be a fast ride down. Even with the fog and heavy mist, it is a pleasure for me to be cycling down what I spent so much time and effort cycling up a few days before. Mark is not so enamored. However, despite our relatively slow decent, we manage to pass several trucks and the bus we were riding on earlier. It is a small victory.

At Dengsheng, where Rainer and I spent the night on the way up, Mark and I stop for nourishment. Mark has been carrying some instant soups, and I purchase the puffed rice cakes Rainer likes. We are hungry, but we need to hurry as there is only two and a half hours of daylight left.

At this point, the road rejoins the stream and the reappearance of trees and a lack of much development makes it feel like cycling in one of the U.S. national parks. The rain has stopped and the roads are dry, so we excitedly hightail it down the mountain. And hightail it we must, as there are 80 kilometers to cover before dark.

This section of road must rank as one of the best cycling roads in China. Heading downhill is an added bonus. The elevation change from Dengsheng to the Dujiangyan-Songpan highway is about 2,000 meters. The road follows the valley with the stream/river increasing as we go. The pavement is new concrete, still free of potholes. Traffic is almost nonexistent at this hour. Because the entire area from the top of the pass to the highway is part of the Wolong Nature Reserve, roadside development is very limited and the area almost pristine. Mark and I ride like the wind, occasionally drafting one another to keep the pace high.

Dragon at a temple in Wolong

At Wolong, we take a few minutes break to check out an old Buddhist temple. Mark says there is amazing dragon in the back that shouldn’t be missed. The first time he saw it, it was almost dark, and when he realized what it was it startled him. The dragon forms two sides of the ground’s enclosure for the temple with the head in back and the tail at the road. It is definitely worth the stop, but we cannot linger long and are soon whipping down the hill.

I remind Mark there is a tunnel up ahead. It takes some time as we have to walk part way to avoid riding into the walls. On the way past the town where Rainer and I spent the first night, the proprietress calls out to me that my wife just called asking about me. I had told my wife we would be back in Chengdu about 8 PM. It is 7:10 PM now and we still have 22 kilometers to the highway and another 100 kilometers to Chengdu.

At 7:50 PM, we arrive at the intersection in the dark. No local buses can be seen passing by and we grope for some way back to Dujiangyan. A mianbao (minivan) driver is sitting on his haunches nearby. He says he will take us there for 150 yuan. It sounds ridiculous, and we decide to cycle to the next fuel station to see if we can get a ride from a truck. It is supposedly only 1.5 kilometers away, but in the dark, it seems to take forever to get there. Once there, the attendants are full of curiosity, but of no help. No trucks are fueling, and prospects look slim. Mark spots an empty mini flat-bed truck going our way and hails him down. We are in luck as he is receptive to taking us to Dujiangyan. The cab can only hold two, so I sit in the back with the bikes for a bumpy ride and headlights in my eyes. Everything looks good, and we heard that there are late buses to Chengdu leaving either at 9 or 10 o’clock. If so, we could make it there in time to catch one.

About 10 kilometers from Dujiangyan, we hit a traffic jam. The hydroelectric plant construction has created a massive back up and we spend about three hours inching forward for three kilometers through the mess. In typical Chinese style, some drivers jump ahead of the line and end up blocking traffic in both directions for long periods of time. When we finally arrive in Dujiangyan, it is 11:45 PM. We ask the driver how much he would like, he answers it is up to us. This is one of the more difficult answers. Mark and I agree that 50 yuan is fair, and when we give it to him, he seems pleased.

Once in Dujiangyan, we are faced with trying to get back to Chengdu. Both Mark and I want to be back to be with our women tonight. The only option, short of cycling there, is a taxi. The problem is what to do with the bikes. We pick a taxi discharging passengers to ask. The driver is skeptical that it could be done, but his passengers think, in that Chinese way of making due with what one has, it is possible. With the front wheels removed, and the bikes standing upright in the trunk, tied down with bungy cords, it makes a heck of a sight, but we get home at 12:45 AM.

It is good to be home.

This is the end of the six-part travelogue. Click here for a more pictures of the trip.

Cycling to Danba: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | More Pictures

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