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When you first ride through camel shit it’s exotic. When you first ride through human shit it’s just downright disgusting.

China continued to amaze and displease.

I had a new sticker in my passport. Cycling through China had been more difficult than I expected so far, and it was likely going to get harder, so I needed a bit more time than my initial four week punt.

I’d decided to take a bit of a calculated risk. From Leshan (Cowboy Swinging Lasso) to Kunming (Rocking Chair, Bee Hives) you can either go a more westerly route, which is a fair bit longer, or you can head on what looks like a pretty much southern path.

The only problem with the latter was that the chosen road didn’t appear on my GPS or any openstreetmap source, so I’d essentially be navigating myself with an arrow on an otherwise blank screen. The chosen road, however, did appear on Apple and Google maps, not that either are a huge help, and it looked pretty big, so it couldn’t be that bad.

The other downside to this road was that every other cycling blog I could find mentioned ungodly hills, mud, and dirt road for hundreds of kilometres. These blogs were a few years old though, the Chinese must have paved them by now, surely.

The G213. I’ve added it to my list. The bastard.

It was a fairly unremarkable, drizzly ride out of Leshan and it carried on until I hit some bamboo forests that arched over the roads. What was a bit more remarkable was that the asphalt had held out. So far so good.

First stop was Muchuan (Blair Witch, Cricket Stumps, Bee Hives). Riding in I was immediately flagged down by a guy who could speak a handful of English, which by this point was a godsend. After a while I learnt that his name was Jack (a name he seemingly plucked out the air at random), he worked in a guitar shop in town, and I could stay at his gaff for the night. This was the first bit of Chinese hospitality I’d experienced, not to be sniffed at, normally I just got giggles, pointing and selfies.

This is Jack

This is Jack

I ended up following Jack’s van to his guitar shop where I met his boss, his boss’ missus, and another lad with a permanent grin. We sat for a while as I poorly scrawled the world on a piece of paper to illustrate my tracks and plans, which was a damn sight easier than navigating around the language barrier.

The Muchuans

The Muchuans

So what does a night out in Muchuan have in store? For me it was a game of Basketball (which I’m shit at, my natural instinct is to control with my feet), out for a meal in which I had the chance to sample pig’s brain (won’t try that again), and a trip to a bar in which, being the only white guy to ever step foot in, got me just the amount of attention you’d expect.

Jack's shop

Jack’s shop

Anyhow, after a night at Jack’s family’s house, some photos, a wander around his village, some photos, some noodles, a wander around Muchuan, a visit to an English school, some photos, back to the guitar shop, and some more photos, I was back on the Tangerine Dream.


South of Muchuan handed me some big old climbs, long tunnels, bamboo and some awesome cliffside riding along the Jinsha river in fairly decent sunshine, but most importantly I was still rolling on asphalt.





Of course, a man could suffocate in such luxury, and as such, after a couple of days all of those things frittered away, except for the big old climbs, which just got bigger. That sounds negative. It wasn’t at first, riding on dirt roads brings an element where you feel truly lost, and a quick gander at my GPS confirmed I was nothing but an arrow facing south-ish between two major roads hundreds of kilometres apart. Just enough to ramp up the adventure-level.




Two days pedalling up dirt road switchbacks, hanging mist, forests, incoming perpetual drizzle, I finally hit the negative section. I hit the mud. The dirt road eventually gave way to Glastonbury levels of thick mud, just thick enough to clog up between my brakes, front mech, rear mech, chain, you name it, forcing me to pull up every ten minutes and pull out all the accumulated sludge. The truly weird thing about it, is that after a couple of kilometres in, there were a few houses occasionally lining the road with every man and his dog building a wall alongside.



Starter mud

Starter mud

Main course mud

Main course mud

The mud isn’t a new thing. Every cycling blog over the past five years that’s had the mishap of rolling through this route mentioned it, so do these people just accept it into their daily lives?

“I’m just popping to the shop for some tabs Janet, have you seen my waders?”

Have they ever thought about moving? I mean, it doesn’t have to be that far; ten kilometres down the road would do (well, road might be pushing it, but you get the idea). Have they ever even thought of just sorting the road out instead of just building a wall along one side?

It was here I decided that some things in rural China, are not meant to be understood.

Still, in between the locals pointing and laughing at the hairy, white bloke dragging his arse through the mud, a couple of vans full of people would occasionally stop beside me and shout incomprehensible words, before realising it’s a lost cause and hand me a high-power Chinese cigarette, of which every tar-filled inhalation feels like the dying moments of a McDonalds milkshake.

Fortunately, at the end of this day, just when I really, really didn’t want to camp, I managed to ride into a tiny little village looking like I’d been through an assault course. After a few minutes riding around saying ‘Loo-gwan’ (hotel) to people and attracting a following of around twenty strong (these weren’t just cheeky nippers either), the local copper turned up and started thumbing through and taking pictures of my passport – standard foreigner procedure.

Whilst I took this photo about twenty giggling people stood behind me

Whilst I took this photo about twenty giggling people stood behind me

This doesn't do the mud justice.

This doesn’t do the mud justice.

He took me down the road to a shithouse motel for truckers, which at the time was everything I’d ever wished for, and I even managed to get jet washed by a guy hosing down his car on the way.

In one way or another, if you’re travelling through China, you’ll come to the realisation that people here will rarely say (or communicate) ‘I don’t know’. Chinese culture has evolved in a way that ‘face’ means everything to them. This means that if you ask them to do something for you, they’ll have a go, regardless of their ability. If you ask them a question, they’ll have an answer, regardless of their knowledge. If you ask them for directions, they’ll point you somewhere, regardless of their navigational skill.

I fell foul of the latter.

The plan leaving this town at the arse end of the mud, was to head south to meet up with an actual road (with tarmac and everything) and continue south towards Kunming, which should’ve taken me around five days.

What actually happened, is that as I left the town, there was a slight fork in the road. At this point my GPS had no reception due to being in a massive canyon, and my compass pointed one road to be south-east, and one to be south-west. The south-western road had tarmac and the majority of the traffic, decision made, although I figured I’d ask a few people on the way down. Slight problem…

Have you ever seen a man shit himself whilst cycling?

I am that man.

That’s right, at the top of this canyon my guts decided to throw a curveball, at pace, directly into my britches. I cannot stress how important it is as a touring cyclist to carry wet wipes. They can be used for everything; wiping your sweaty self down, cleaning your bike, and most importantly – scooping turd out of your undercrackers at the side of a road.

Unfortunately, I’d ran out.

This is where I learnt from experience, that bamboo leaves do not make an adequate replacement for toilet paper, and for the reason why, I will merely quote Viz’s Profanisaurus –

Breach the hull

v. To poke one’s digit through inferior quality bumwad when wiping one’s arse. Push through. ‘Day 82, and the men are getting restless. Squabbles are beginning and tempers are short. John Norton handed out the ship’s biscuits, but Mr Christian refused to eat, accusing him of breaching the hull and then not washing his hands.’ (from The Log of HMS Bounty by William Bligh, 1764).

I saddled up, rolled downhill and over the next kilometre or two, asked three different locals by giving it a bit of ‘Ni Hao’, pointing directly at the road, then using my smelly digits to gesture ‘Two – One – Three’; the name of the road. Each and every person replied with an understanding ‘Ahh’, an agreeable nod, and an overstated point down the hill.

After a quick forty kilometre downhill stretch, I was out the canyon, and next to a huge, familiar looking river. Now that my GPS had come back to life, I had a quick check. I’d gunned it 40 kilometres west and was back on a stretch of the Jinsha river. I was half tempted to spend the rest of the day going back up the hill just to find those people and give them an almighty rollicking.

Turned out this little detour had put around 400km on my route. Nuts.

A new plan then. Cycle 280 kilometres west to Liangshan, then start heading south to Kunming from there. I could split that over two days.

These two days managed to summarise cycling in China almost perfectly; beautiful, ugly, inspiring, draining, completely illogical and unpredictable in the very best possible way. I’d come to expect anything around each bend in the road and every time I ran into something I could only knowingly laugh to myself.

First up were the tunnels. They love a good tunnel in China. Unfortunately on this particular stretch they didn’t seem to enjoy maintaining them. My previous tactic for tunnels was to hop up onto the ledge at the side and roll along, avoiding any jagged burrs from the paving or wall. That wouldn’t work here; the slabs were all broken and to add to the problem there were no lights in these tunnels. These weren’t small tunnels you could nip through either, these bad boys were up to five kilometres long.

Some tunnels are good

Some tunnels are good

Some tunnels are bad

Some tunnels are bad

And some tunnels just look pretty.

And some tunnels just look pretty.

Potential cycle tourers take note – this is where I upped my tunnel game to the next level. I parked my arse at the side of the entrance, waved down the next trucker, pointed at his lights, did the flashy lights hands, pointed down the huge black hole, then did that weird circulating fists gesture that makes you look like a boxing rabbi that somehow, in every culture, manages to signify cycling. Strangely, this worked first-time, every time and before you know it I was bombing it down tunnels with my bike silhouetted by high-beams in the nothingness in front of me.

I try not to get to technical on this blog. For me, cycling blogs that blast you with stat attacks are as dull as a plain burger meal, and the only stats I’ve actively recorded are how far I’ve actually ridden (crudely tallied on my crossbar with nail polish), and how many ‘wilderturds’ I’ve covertly left in various places around the world (it’s 34 at the time of writing, excluding ‘accidents’). Just to give you an idea of how mountainous the Sichuan/Yunnan provinces are though, at the end of one of these days I checked my route on Graphhopper to find that my combined elevation for the day was just over 10km. That’s ten kilometres up into the air. Fair enough, there were a few tunnels in there which throws out the accuracy, but at least I’d figured out why I felt like I had Guy Fawking of the leg at the end of each day.

If you look carefully, there's a flattened car on the right. Cycle carefully.

If you look carefully, there’s a flattened car on the right. Cycle carefully.

One of the best things about cycle touring is that you get to see some of the worst places. Don’t get me wrong, you see some amazing stuff too, but at the end of it you get a fair representation of the whole country, rather than just dipping into the sweet spots. Anyway, halfway through an 80km stretch of canyons there was an absolute zinger of a shitheap, one road town all set on the edge of a cliff, a perfect juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness only China could master.

Endles canyons

Endles canyons

Riding in I was greeted to a person crouched, pointing their child and using them as an arse-cannon to fire shit into the road. Kids running around with the crotch of their britches cut out so they can wantonly shit and piss as they please, and, just to add to the absurdity of the situation; a bloke playing snooker on a full-sized table on the cliff edge. I wanted to stop and take some photos but I didn’t, and its probably my biggest regret yet, but as soon as I stopped I felt hundreds of eyes on me and it was only a matter of time before I was surrounded like a scene from Day of the Dead, and at the time I’d grown tired of laboriously explaining myself through freestyle sign language.

It was mid December by this point, and the days were pretty short. The Sun disappeared around five or six which seriously eats into your riding hours and made every day feel a bit rushed. On the last day towards Liangshan I’d managed to leave a fair distance to cover, which obviously meant there was a few bumps in the road along the way. Quite literally it seemed; I was back on the dirt road. Not only that I managed to get held up by roadworks on the side of a cliff for an hour whilst they seemed to smash a rock face up for no apparent reason.

It was at this point I managed to hit my highest elevation yet – 3200 something meters (apologies for the stat attack, bear with me, it’s leading somewhere), and in true Chinese style, I managed to find myself stuck in a traffic jam. That’s right. Stuck in a traffic jam at 3200 meters.


All the hold-ups meant by the time I got over the peak it was pretty much dark and left me with two choices; either camp in the snow or ride the last 30km into town with a piss poor light down a dirt road. I went for the latter. It was probably a stupid decision, but it was a decision none the less, and strangely it didn’t wind up with me going arse-over-tit.

Once I got into Liangshan, and after looking at a calendar, I made the choice to get a bus to Kunming. I was looking at around five days ride from Kunming to the Vietnam border, plus up to five days waiting around for a visa, and if I added the five or six days from Liangshan to Kunming I was pushing the boundaries of my visa.

Liangshan's classy restaurant strip.

Liangshan’s classy restaurant strip.

You can almost hear the electrical buzz

You can almost hear the electrical buzz

So, armed with a note from the lovely hostel owner explaining my ridiculous situation I chucked my bike on a bus and headed for Kunming. This bus was pretty nice, even by first world standards it was pretty cleanly. It even had a little bin next to every seat in the aisle, until I realised it was for people spitting. In my mind, there are very few occasions in which you actually need to spit. The Chinese cannot go five minutes without loudly having to hock-a-loogie wherever they are; in the street, restaurant, bar, you name it. To this point it hadn’t really pissed me off, but after the eight hour bus ride listening to people spitting in, on, at, and around a bin made me want to headbutt each and every one of them. Repeatedly.

The Vietnam visa process in Kunming was relatively straightforward once I found the embassy, which was tucked away in an office five floors up above a bank behind an unmarked door with an intercom. I had four days spare to fill up. Unfortunately, I decided to fill up this time with a nice, relaxing bout of food poisoning.

Winter caught up with me again.

Winter caught up with me again.

Now I’ve eaten in some horrible places. Suspect pasties in run-down chaikhanas in the Uzbek desert, dubious Turkish stews that didn’t seem to change appearance despite the going through the digestive process, preparing campsite meals with week-long unwashed hands. Turns out a nice clean hostel rustled me up some Sichuan chicken that broke my iron stomach and gave me inside-out disease.

I’ve never had food poisoning like it. Three solid days of shaking like a shitting whippet, attempting to eject every bit of fluid from every available orifice and almost passing out every time I had to take the all too regular trip to the john.

After picking up my passport with another new sticker in it, and waiting until I wasn’t quite shitting lasers every twenty minutes, it was time to get back on the bike. I had about five days push to reach the Vietnam border.

A nice little town in Southern Yunnan.

A nice little town in Southern Yunnan.



Down in the base of the Yunnan province things seemed to be a lot more relaxed, here the pace of life just seems slower, still mental, but slower, plus things were heating up too after the snow in Kunming. It started to actually feel like I was in South East Asia; humidity, lush foliage, mountains and rivers, and everything was going fine, I had about 80km to the Vietnam border until I started to notice a bump on my rear brake which I thought was my pad coming loose.

Comical signage part one

Comical signage part one

Comical signage part two

Comical signage part two

Turns out after 14,138 kilometre I suffered the most painful sounding of bicycle breakdowns – The Rim Split. Looks like I wasn’t cycling into ‘Nam then, sometimes you just have to get off and push. It was an 8km walk to the nearest town with a bus to Hekou (the border town) the next morning (Christmas Eve), which turned into a farcical situation culminating in me climbing ontop of a bus to tie my bike in place surrounded by a crowd of Chinese people pointing and giggling at the white guy.

The Rim Split

The Rim Split

It's at time like these I wish I listened to my Dad and learnt my knots.

It’s at time like these I wish I listened to my Dad and learnt my knots.

So that was it; China. It’s amazing. It’s completely mental. I saw some insane stuff. Hell, I even saw a man with no arms pushing himself down the street on a skateboard whilst singing Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On. That’s some next-level begging (I helped him out, his voice was incredible).

I’m just a bit gutted I limped over the line.

This is what after seven months of being feral.

This is what I looked like after seven months of being feral.

Accidental beard shot

Accidental beard shot

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