coffee high – from shangrila thru tiger leaping gorge

shangrila was halfway interesting this time, for some discussions I had with people I met, for some compatriot time with sam, and for the interest in a couple of new tibetan friends for one song which I recorded in amdo. they liked it a lot and the one girl transcribed and blogged the lyrics, from a schoolteacher in the town of ruo er gai. one piece of what i collected turned up in their lives, and they copied it and will likely share it onwards. cool. culture works like a virus, or maybe a mushroom colony.

back on the road, max the aged! the first 15km weren’t so bad, the rest of the day was a breeze. I sketched after about 50km. night was falling and I had been told by several people this was bear country, not cool to sleep in the mountains. so I made it over the pass with a bit of haste and raced down some distance to bigger pastures with a small settlement nearby. I filtered some water from their pipe, which fed from a bamboo trough leading from the forest, and hiked down some to camp on part of the meadow.

frost on the ground in the morning, a coffee warmed me up, until the sun came on stronger

then it was all quick downhill requiring my full attention, another push up and then cruising dangerously fast down and around to bai shui tai. I bought a bag of vegetables at one shop in the town and hiked down to gugu’s village.

gugu is a young naxi dongba shaman apprentice whom I met on a docu research project up here, four years ago. gugu makes mountain plant fibre paper and paints heiroglyphic dongba songbooks to read and recite, practicing to eventually perform the rituals for his community. i freel like gugu is an artist’s ancient counterpart, and we connect over plants and painting and a general love of life and the mountains. happy to see eachother and meet family again and his horse, and the pigs…large enough now for them to be concerned about dinner, our dinner


we tried to get him on the longboard but he didn’t have the balance for it right away

dinner was loaded with goodness, and i was glad it wasn’t just pork, rice and preserved cabbage. without too much protestation they took the bag of vegetables and cooked up some awesome home food.

as gugu and i were talking in the late afternoon, and just as i said something about my wives (my ex and my current), this one chicken did a little dance, jumping up really high several times. it threw itself on its back, and expired. nothing gugu could do managed to revive the chicken, and it died right then and there.

I dodged the suchu cha in the morning, gulping coffee with their wheat bread and aubergine fry for breakfast and relatively forthwith, got outta dodge and up on the tarmac.

I think I was feeling supercharged from coming down ‘so’ low after my pushing farther, higher. or maybe the road was smoothe and the slope not so dreadfully steep or long, or perhaps for my coffee high? whatever the reason, i powered over one range and ran steady ‘fore the wind in an west to east arc around haba snow mountain.

slowly slowly working my way up over the northeast flank, the daze slipped in a moment into super gnarly high velocity downhill on the other side, a wicked 25km race down to the windy tiger leaping gorge.

this run was the fastest most awesome stretch of skating of this whole journey. i could see far enough in front of me, the road is quite wide and the tarmac just gritty, grippy enough, i was able to skate the whole thing, just drifting a bit before the corners, 60+ kilometers per hour…fabulous.

tiger leaping gorge is in fact a pretty extreme place with amazing rocks and a lot if muddy water, but the gorge skate wasn’t much to write about. wind all through the evening and the highway robbery style of mini barricade and admission fee sign (pay or do not pass) of a well planned tourist attack kinda dampened my attitude.

I asked one farmer lady if i can camp up above. she replied sure, just far away from her dog, who was freaking out at the time…

in the end, it was kinda cool in the morning to wake up there, cook a coffee before dawn and get down with skating the gorge. the 20 odd kilometers on the way out were a fun skate, if not particularly fast or ehxhilerating, with some sketchy spots: steep descents through wet spray cascading down from above, skirting freshly fallen boulders and craters in the tarmac.

some places in the canyon, the rock walls are actively shedding and there is really a rain of pebbles, stones and actual boulders cascadiing down in a menacing huff.

not flowing or really fast skating like yesterday, plus the cold wind in the morning…meh. perhaps i had imagined a longer more spectacular skate run through the gorge, but it seemed so small after the real moon- and mars scapes higher up in the mountains. plus the entrance fee was kind of grounding, I felt more distant from the landscape than I think I did up high. here you gotta pay to play

as pennance I slogged it out on the main highway untill 1400 km as per my informal count; then I packed in 5km more just because I felt like skating further. a few nights before i had read the i-ching, and got the symbol for returning, suggesting if there remains something to be done, then making haste is useful; if there is nothing left to be accomplished, then a rapid return to previous conditions would be advantageous. once i got to the main road, with all the trucks and busses, i felt like i had come down, and it made sense.

trek over, had enough, hitched to shaxi. cappuchino with shirly and fresh bread, local cheese, and a spanish red with Maurino. back in civilization, or, returned to the fringes… it was nice nice, drinking lots of espresso, discussing the finer points.

quick! i caught a ride to dali, ran around shopping, and tasted some fresh coffee roasts, to bring back as ‘bean of the month’ for dandan’s cafe in beijing.

i took the night train to kunming. got in at 04:45, slept in a park near the train station, untill it got light and active enough to veture uptown.

i went out to the smaller of the main wholesale tea markets, in search of my dianhong tea, a particular black tea, some qualities of which one can only find in the kunming tea markets. these markets are another story… as i am sure, is the trend towards hot ladies selling traditional teas in the kunming markets.

the obligatory multiple espressos, burger and tequila(s) at french cafe, in kunming, before the flight back to beijing

i stopped skating on the 40th day, and after the 40th night, i started the journey home. i told dandan at the beginning, 40 days and 40 nights…we’ll see how far i get in that time. 1405km, and 120GB digital audio, video and photo materials, plus a dozen pages of writing and 40 journal entries…from that, i should be able to make a movie, or write a book, or something…

coffee high stage 4 – on to ‘shangrila’

overnighting in xiangcheng was good. I love the wilds and camping up there, but the previous four days pushing it above 4500m took a lot out of me, and in xiangcheng I was able to eat. and eat and eat! out there skating I don’t actually consume much, and in the high reaches, I eat even less, which is wierd because it would seem I need moe energy to do the skate thang so high up. but no, and I don’t sleep well above 4000 meters either, I have mad dreams and wake five times a night to drink water and toss and turn. so sleep was good, and food…

off again in the morning, the road was superb, a river skate which switched three rivers, winding around through villages where locals called out encouragement and suprise. “teshi deleg!”


those imposing monolithic tibetan houses stood sentry on high corners, watching the river waters, the commons, the skater pass at their feet.

and then there was dirt road…which I hitched, 80km of piste across gorgeous terrain, I rode with some guangzhou guys. nice people, litterbugs, most, smokers the lot, whose burning embers fell into the forest with abandon…but really nice folk. out here in china, we have to accept a lot of distasteful things, or it’s just no fun at all meeting people. fortunately the forest was misty and wet, and my temporary companions did not burn the whole place down.

80km. I didn’t skate, it might seem so easy just to go on a hitchhiking journey, but no…banging around in the back of a truck, that’s only for the really unskateable part. I jumped ship at the first village, the first stretch of pavement on the yunnan side. haggled hard for dinner and a cheap sleep…

the morning was glorious, up and at ’em before sunrise, skating down into the clouds.

into the forest…up past these stoneware fangs, not knowing I was destined to look down upon them in the afternoon. funny how such high peaks seem so small, seen from above…

the pass again at 4000m+, the road sweet yunnan pavement. powering up, getting high, flying down…that’s what alpine skating is all about!

it’s a dream to be riding solo in a good road, with snacks and a water source, through beautiful autumn forest sparkling sunshine, enconterig minimal traffic

with all the time in the world to tool into zhongdian in the afternoon…

and grab an espresso…

stage 3 coffee high – litang to xiangcheng

the past week has been some of the heaviest terrain of this trek yet, definitely some more intense alpine skating, from litang to xiangcheng…

the skate out of litang was a dusty affair, and every time I take a rest day, the first fifteen kilometers when I start out again seem hard fought, hard won. but won nonetheless, leaving me above 4000 meters to skate, four days, across a most remarkable landscape. it began with a mosey through several valleys, along one emerald green river…

the first climb arrived around midday the first day. up, up, onto a boulder strewn mountainside, I followed a roiling stream into the evening. camped out at around 4400m,

i met with rabbit mountain at noon the next day. the last bit to the pass I clamoured up the stones rather than push the switchbacks. 4700m and the wind was blowing up a wild one, but I still managed to brew a coffee.

a short downhill led to the vale of emptiness, this bleak space between giants.

nowhere to go other than on, on, the second pass proved a lengthy push into the evening through the most bizarre landscape: great boulders, peat bogs, lakes, sumpf and springs, brittle cold, all around and above 4600m.

some excited passing Chinese tourists stopped and gave me chocolate and instant noodles. likely they didn’t realize that those noodles represented freedom to me: freedom to camp where I please and not have to chase down the Swiss cyclists who also had offered me noodles, or press on to try and find some homestead or store in search of something to eat. I wasn’t totally without food, but I had eaten hot oatmeal for breakfast and cold meussli for lunch, the noodles with some sausage cut in made for a welcome change.

I camped high in the wetlands in a bed of peat, a bit cold with hoarfrost covering my world in the morning, but more awesome for it. not a soul around, strange ducks in the lake, ice cold water, only an occasional truck on the road. this was prime wilderness skate trekking.

not to be outdone by rabbit mountain, the next behemoth, noname mountain, with its pass at 4700m came as a suprise. after lunch the following day I started up the slopes, and faced again the decision to push up 17km of switchbacks or hike it, so I was off-road again, a three hour hike to the first pass.

then long along this moonscape of earth and stone, through another valley of the lost minds, mine perhaps among them, in passing.

atop the pass, wind again, and a hardcore rough but paved and still skateable road down.

descending just a bit, camping in an awesome spot…so awesome i was late (10 o’clock) on the road the next morning…

down, down the maxiang valley, awesome beautiful…windbraking, breathtaking, sketchy descending a bumpy road, and a long river skate. litang to xiangcheng, altogether a run of 204 km, an absolutely crazy amazing badass skate!

stage 2 coffee high

leaving langmusi early in the morning, I at once fell off my board pushing mongo at speed, and 2km later a giant police dog chased me down the road, and off the road…what a start!

then I passed through a tunnel, and on the other side, skated the plains of ruo er gai. this place is awesome, 3500m up high, rolling slightly up and down, a sweet skate, with hundreds and hundreds of yaks! I do like yaks.

across the ruo er gai, I went to tangke and met up with gompa, who introduced me to tsepak. he and a friend gave me some beautiful songs, accompanied by mandolin. heartbreakingly deep and amazing, their voices, the moment. something to cherish for a lifetime…and I got it all at 48khz 28bit mid-side stereo. superb


tsepak…with a voice that sees through his listener…

with tsepak’s song resounding in my ears, i skated more flatlands, still above 3500m…long days of pristine tarmac, yaks, and the occaisonal dog attack…i learned that hitting a dog on the head with my ever improving rightarm throw, only makes the dog more angry…

haha, then it was an 85km downhill run, yes 85 kilometers!! except…half of that was downhill into such a heavy headwind, I actually had to push. hmmm, pushing downhill is the worst. the second half was awesome, though, not too fast, not slow at all…more sweet skating

and then there was uphill…from danba to yala snow mountain, 4200m, with hotsprings near the top. more than awesome.

on, on to tagong…and after 17 days on the road, 900+ km skated, arriving at a 200km stretch of roadworks, i got off my board, kinda, and took a break…hitching rides on broken roads…camping at 4670meters

and over another pass at 5050 meters, up this crazy road…

to dege and an ancient woodblock printing works, in a monastery, on the edge of the land of snows…

amdo kham 2012 – stage 1

after five days on the road, i arive in langmusi, having skated 260km through gansu province. a lot of uphill, some awesome flats and fast downhill, its been a great movement through the big big sky country.

i have been up arund 3000m for the past three days, finally feeling today somewhat acclimatized and i blazed 60km across yaklands, powered on meussli breakfasts and beef noodles, yak noodles, lamb noodles…now i am gorging on pizza, seeing as langmusi has that good ol’ tourist infrastructure. well, one place, anyway.

the subsomic gt is fab, just takes some adjustment of my stance to get going efficiently, but that came pretty quick. am getting a lot of creaky-squeak, though, i think it’s the pivot cups on the new v2 buzzed trucks. craig said they are using a new material for that, think i need to grease it a bit, to go silent.

om..nom…pizza…

so far it’s been mellow, am making good time, about 50km per day. folks on the road are so pleasant. just before entering gannan, a man stopped his car, gave me a bottle of water, touched his fingertips together and said ‘i’m tibetan. welcome’

drivers often offer rides which i don’t accept, and today a woman handed me an amazing pear out the window of her moving car. sweet!

i camped alone by the wayside, and with yak herders up at the top of one pass, and stayed in a one grubby hotel, gonna rest in this town for a day to recharge…

and i met a man, who met another man, who said he was driving on the road to xining, and saw a speck approaching… was it a yak? no…it was a skater, pushing…that would be adam colton, making his way across qinghai. cool.