thanks subsonic scott! the board is in the post, not yet in my hot little hands…soon as it arrives, i will be on the train to lanzhou. stoked on the board and the v2 buzzed trucks, stoked to get out on the road, just stoked in general!
i’ve shifted my route north, added a couple hundred kilometers, cut a couple hundred kilometers, but it’s still a month or so of skating plus a week or so of foolin around up there.
originally i planned to skate from chengdu, altitude 400m, straight up into the mountains. this would have been a 250km slog, uphill, from day one, and i would have been ascending pretty fast. actually i am ok at 2000m, dont anticipate and haven’t experienced any problems at this relatively low ‘high altitude.’ but, huffing it on my first days out, that i thought, was pushing my luck.
now i have the chance to meet one musician in the north of sichuan, a place called zoige. when i have a direct contact, arranged through friends, i can get a lot more information and experience than when i go stumbling about on my own, so it makes sense to compensate, to make that contact happen.
this place zoige, is somewhat remote. and i find it interesting, when i looked at the maps and found it, i realized if i were going to bus it to this place, it would be a long, uncomfortable journey in multiple minivans and 4×4 trucks, it would take at least 24 hours to get there from the nearest train. no fun.
skating, however, the place becomes infinitely more accessable! its out on the one road through the grasslands, and arriving form the north, though it will take days longer than the bus rides, it looks like a lovely journey to zoige. i never thought skating would seem easier than bus and truck, but in some ways it is. after a day on the bus, my back and body hurts, after a day skating, i am exhausted, sure, but my body and mind feel great! so, skating it is, to zoige.
my new route is on roads i have much researched, looking at the xining route i first discussed with rob thompson. in fact, our co-conspirator adam colton might well be out on that xining route by the time i get to my start, in linxia. i am hoping we will meet, though its a long shot.
a photo from an excellent, informative website thelandofsnows.com
linxia has one main advantage besides being more directly connected to zoige, and that’s its altitude. linxia is up around 2000m, i will hang around there for two days. i can go visit the nearby buddha statues (i kinda got a thing for stones carved in caves, and especially stones carved in caves carved in mountains in desert places. i always wondered, what possessed the artists to settle manifest their lives’ works, sculpting buddhas in these places?) in the towns near these buddhas i will find hotels and foods and the buddhas themselves will entertain me for a day, i can grab a bus from there to linxia, and plan to have been up at 2000m for two days before i get on my skate.
chilling for the first few days out, say 40 or 50km skating, i’ll get out of the desert and into the prairies, and can give myself a good five days acclimitization before i start pushing it. i’ll be on it at least a week before i hit 3000m, and i will skate around 3-3500 for a week or more before dropping down to 2000 for a bit. afterwards i push up to 3500m, then 4500m. at the high point i have maybe 5 days skating the grasslands before coming down the last 400Km to 1800m, around lugu lake. somewhere in there is an awesome 100Km downhill! yeah!
this new route has a number of high passes on the way, pushing up through the mornings, and riding down again to sleep at relatively lower altitude, which helps acclimatize for going higher and staying there. the new route also lazes a lot further through rolling grasslands at 3000m, maybe 400km further, which is very attractive.
another photo from thelandofsnows.com
as well, i should pass through an area where both mongolian and tibetan nomads herd their sheep and yaks, and i am very curious to check out their various dwellings. tents and yurts are a much more fluid architecture in the landscape, but architecture nonetheless, and if i could even catch some mongolian horse-head fiddling, that would be the cat’s meow, or, the horse’s fiddle, whatever.
the route has changed somewhat, starting from farther north and higher up, but it should be a healthier plan for me. it gives me time to work it to the really high altitude roads, south of litang, were there’ll be less oxygen, more cold, and likely a good wind (it always seems to blow in my face, and never at my back.) by the time i get there, i should be fit and in my stride.
one would think, after some days doing this ‘skate all day, every day’ thang, one would start to get exhausted and slow down. suprise, suprise! i have found i am only really skating at my peak once i have been out on the road for nearly 2 weeks, then i can push 80km+ per day, the ups and downs have become routine. after really getting adjusted to the altitude, my on-the-road diet, the rythm of mornings, afternoons, evenings and nights out in the middle of nowhere with my skateboard and my camp gear, i am good to go.
out in the middle of nowhere, that’s really where this route will take me. awesome!
out on the road, the most difficult thing so far has been for me, having to drink instant coffee. passing through a tourist town, i can tank up on espressos and cappuchinos, but in between, soluble not-coffee not-milk powder packets it is. but instant coffee, while providing the basic brown water experience, doesn’t fulfill the emotional criteria for a good coffee. its preparation lacks ritual, lacks audio-visual accents, its taste and caffeine effect are unfulfilling, and i find myself going through the motions of preparing and drinking coffee, without that all important [sip] and ‘ahhhhhh…’ feeling.
you see, i am a coffee head, not just hooked on caffeine jolts several times a day, but embroiled for much of my life in the experience of coffee, it’s different forms and styles, the shamanic act of its preparation, the solitude or community of its consumption, and of course the ‘coffee high’ effect on mind and body, and on life experience itself.
i enjoy drinking tea, to be fair, black and red and green and white; i live in china after all, where tea is king, or emperor. coffee is a foreign devil here. i have even taken the occasional habit of drinking a nice tasty cup of hot water. in my private world, however, coffee reigns, specifically italian moka and bar espresso, and i’ve been adventuring my way recently, high up in the mountains on my longboard, without it.
that’s going to change, and my next trip is a concept piece, ‘coffee high’. i am skating again, on a 2000km trek up to the grasslands near the top of the world, in amdo and kham tibet, gansu and sichuan china.
View Linxia to Lijiang, Amdo Kham Tibet 2000Km in a larger map
this time, i am taking with me my favorite (available) italian beans, cafe molinari gold, and a bialetti moka express pot. skating, camping, experiencing (i hope) the local music and song, and checking out the nomads and yaks, those are my personal goals, but the star of the documentary film i am making, will be my coffee, the where, when, how, and why of a coffee high in the eastern himalaya.
so coffee it will be, and a fine one at that. i invite you all to join me on this little journey: 40 days and 40 nights on the road, up above the world as we urban dwellers know it, far out on the edge of extreme sport and alhletic endurance, skating, camping, experiencing, drinking coffee. i’ve got a travel brewing.
this trip is sponsored by subsonic skateboard company (i will be skating on a new GT foamcore) and supported by buzzed precision trucks (i’ll be riding buzzed, v2 downhill/freeride trucks), and by xwing.cn, as well as by my wife and parents. thanks everyone for helping make it happen!
i am calling mine ‘alpine style’ skating, which i think has a cooler ring to it than ‘self-supported solo long distance skateboarding’. i figure if we accept ‘skogging’, instead of ‘pushing with both legs’, then i’ll be bold and go with ‘alpine style.’
how is this any different from long distance longboarding? it isn’t, really, but i dont connect so much with the term ‘longboarding’. i call it skating, because back in the day it was all just called skating, no matter what style. long distance? what i do is long distance, sure, but not necessarily long long like some skaters skate, and my current goals are more experience, environment, and high altitude existence rather than epic kilometer counts or A to B runs.
alpine style also refers to mountaineering, lightweight self-supported mountain traverse, as opposed to expedition style with a team, porters, laying depots and preparing camps for an eventual attempt at a summit. the independence, rapid ascents and descents and transient nature of alpine style mountaineering are near to what i do. alpine skating isn’t as hardcore life-survival and extreme achievement as alpine mountaineering can be, but its about as hardcore as i can take skating, and i am stoked!
alpine style is basically the search for mountains, ranges and high altitude places to skate and camp, and to seek out what adventures, people and cultural exchanges await there. it includes a lot of pushing, with both legs. it involves a lot of downhill, but the objective isn’t always speed, more commonly a safe descent. there’s not much sliding involved, and the only trick is to slow down just enough. its different from downhill in that i don’t get to inspect a hill before i’m charging down it. every stretch and turn represents a new constellation of slope, surface, angle and possible obstructions, which makes the skating spontaneous, sketchy and sometimes down-right death-defying.
other considerations are camping and bear safety, extensive research and route planning, gathering of information on terrain, weather, water, roads and socio-political conditions. cyclists and bird watchers have been a great help, indirectly through their online posts. the weight training i do for this might seem a bit gung-ho, but i am also older and i tend to prepare mind and body in more detail now than when i would just head out blindly in my 20’s and 30’s – in the U.S., in mexico, turkey, north and west africa, india and china – i’ve been around the block on mountain bike, hitchhiking and backpacking. To be honest, skating like this is much more physicaly, mentally and emotionally demanding, and the extra preparation pays off.
alpine style skating also includes a fair bit of hiking, between stretches of blacktop, over mountain footpaths to shorten or extend a route, and off the road in search of camp spots, water sources and extraordinary vistas.
the gear i use is ultralight, as most long distance skaters have figured out, a heavy pack doesn’t help us get very far. i carry 10 to 12kg of gear, plus food and water, and with 15kg i can survive for some days, depending on water. extra gear necessary for this is really just the water filter, and on extremely remote treks, perhaps cooking and fire utensils.
the footwear i choose tends more towards hiking boots than skate shoes, the chunky soles of half-boots keep longer with some footbraking, and offer more grip on variable road surfaces and when hiking. thicker soles also determine a more physical riding style, there is not such sensitive communication with the board as with flatsoled skate shoes. plus with the heavy pack, turning is more a full body movement flow, from the hips and shoulders, not an ankle twitch or a slight weight displacement one way or another.
culture plays an important part in this for me as well, though it might not be a fundamental of the alpine style. to me, high altitudes, rugged mountains and extreme environments seem to collect, or produce, particularly deep, thoughtful, open and diverse communities of people, both indigenous folk and interlopers. the interaction with these people is fundamental to the experience of the mountains, and is perhaps the most important element of survival, communicating with and integrating somewhat into the local.
so alpine style skating, it’s what i aspire to, what i am learning to do, and what i am preparing for again in september