To get to Tibet!

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We had a big day planned as we are trying to make miles over the next few days to Tibet. It is 550 km to Dinxi and we planned the upper route as there is less speed control for the van and fewer tunnels for us.

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Orvar’s new Frankenscreen for highway driving.

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We did not too bad setting out at 7 am and getting out of the city and onto the G70. The scenery is more hilly, but you can barely see it do to dense pollution.

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We stopped after 2 hours for breakfast and were making good time until we ran into G70 construction and the road was diverted onto the secondary road. We are pretty sure one of the drivers who was following us reported us to the toll booth as they were out in force to prevent us from getting back on the highway. Much yelling in Chinese and we had to turn around. The detour was thru an apple growing region and each fruit was individually bagged for protection.

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We went up and over a mountain range and on the down side there was some kamikaze trucks passing each other. There was a huge collection of trucks at the toll and when we drove up on the right 4 agents were blocking the way. We went to the next access point, but they had obviously called ahead as the police were there too. They were very nice and spoke English. They said they had called further ahead and “thanks for helping us by turning around and going not the side road”. This was not too bad except the average speed on what is supposed to be a bigger mileage day.

There are a few villages, but also long stretches where you can get some speed.  Passing the small trucks loaded with corn was a challenge.

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We passed a few entry points to the G70 and then took the bypass road around Pingliang. Just after here we easily made it on to the highway, but there was 3 separate toll stations over the next 15 km. Then we had several very long tunnels. We exited from a 10 km one to find comparatively clear horizons. The pollution level has dropped  90% and we can actually see our surroundings.

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We met up with our guide and driver finally at the service center at Jingning 130 km from Dinxi. The last part we were on the G22 and there are no tolls until the city, but getting off here was a tight squeeze beside the trucks. We are staying in a  hotel owned by the Electric company. A bit run down, but easy access and exit from the city.

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The Road to Lhasa

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We left the hotel just after 745 and easily got on to the highway as there were no vehicles at all. This is a difficult access as the lanes are so narrow you can not pass easily. Sara has taken her panniers off also to try to make it easier after almost not making it last night. Her’s are so low they can hit the barriers curbs.

We had eaten at the hotel and so wanted to make some distance early for our 492 km day to Gong He.

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It is very industrial and polluted to Lanzhou.

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The number of tall apartment complexes is astounding.

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The money being spent on infrastructure here is unbelievable with roadways, tunnels, and elevated train tracks.

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We stopped about 30 km past Lanzhou for a break and to make a coffee. The driver and Toni left before us and said we would catch up. Dan Posing with his fans!

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The next toll is 36 km and in fact you exit one, go 4 km and enter another. We made it thru these easily and as we passed by the next rest station we saw the guides there about 400 m away and they jumped into the van.

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Then at  Xining we got separated as there are 2 bypass roads. They had told us to “stay on the G30”, which is the right bypass road. We had messaged them to confirm that we would take the right, but for some unknown reason they took the left. This meant that when we got to Huangyuan waited for them and then finally messaged them they were now actually ahead of us.

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When we stopped to message them we met a bunch of Chinese bikers also on their way to Lhasa. They are totally decked out and all had the coveted “A plate” from Beijing. The station would not sell us gas as we did not have a police permit. No worry we had enough and were just trying while we waited to figure out where our team was.

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In the end they were just 10 km ahead on the side of the road. The 4 lane divided highway suddenly ends on a 2 lane city road and the limit is 60 for the first 30 km, but then its back to the highway. You climb up the mountain and one 5 km tunnel lets you out at 3400+ meters.

Then it is down down to Gong He (Qbaqa on open street) at 2900 m. We stopped at the first gas station, but in this town motorcycles have to go to one certain station and so off we went. They would not pump into the bikes, but at least the jugs they used are metal with a long metal spout and they do not leak. Plus at 10 later it was a lot faster than the 4 l leaky kettle with the rubber tube.

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The town is not much to speak of, but the hotel is surprisingly good and thankfully today clean. We had not eaten since 7 except some snacks as there were no service stations after Xining. Starved we headed out for fresh noodle soup.

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Then we had a long walk about the town and it seemed longer because of the elevation.

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Bottled O2 is for sale almost everywhere.

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We had a great night sleep, but woke up before 6 to the rain. It was light and in fact had stopped by the time we set out at 730. We did still all put on the over suits mostly as it was only 8 degrees. We have a very long day of 682 km to Ge Er Mu (Ge’er Mu, Geermu, or Golmud).

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First we booked it 145 km to Cha Ka where the road forks and stopped for some noodle soup for breakfast. It was still only 9 degrees, but by noon it was a pleasant 15.

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We continued west to Delingha or Haixi, the capital of Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

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Sand dunes!

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We stopped here to refuel and the gassed the bikes no problem at the pump! It is now 1 pm and we have 320 km to go and so we made another 45 km to a service center and had some lunch cooked under a tarp in the parking lot. The soup was good, but we could not manage the organs just the veg and fresh made noodles. The local ladies were very keen for some photos.

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The toll stations here are in general much easier as they are wider and the  agents don’t try to stop you. There is now only one road to Lhasa and so there is no toll fee for bikes so they let us thru. This toll gate was a bit narrow and Dan’s rain jacket got hung up until the sweeper  unhooked him. Lulu was right at handlebar height so was even more tricky.

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We arrived to the city, which is pretty cosmopolitan for the middle of nowhere (after we past the goats)  with tall building, parks with huge sculptures, and lots of restaurants.  The parking is inside the courtyard and the bikes had their own spot, which the guards showed us they were watching with the night vision cameras when we came in from cleaning the chains. We are are still feeling pretty good at 2900 m.

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We were met also by our Tibetan Guide Pam, who just arrived after a 16 hour train ride form Lhasa. He will take over from Toni once we hit Tibet. We walked over to a massive Muslim restaurant where when you drive you go into the huge covered courtyard, there are two levels of room and each table is in a private room (the windows can be curtained off for privacy). The food was amazing again and we sampled Yak meat (delicious and not gamey). The hotel we had was very nice and very comfortable and the breakfast buffet was huge.

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Today is is sunny, but 4 degrees when we  set out at 8 am. We have 418 km to Tangulazhen on the China national Highway 109 that connects Beijing to Lhasa. (we have been on this since Xining and this portion is called the  Qinghai-Tibet Highway).

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We will be starting our assent to altitude today from 2900m and Dan and Sara started Diamox, which is a medication that prevents altitude sickness. We will be sleeping tonight at 4600m and this difference is way above the recommended 400 m per day above 3000m. Not much we can do as the next lowest place is Lhasa 1100 km away. Orvar and Trevor decided against prophylaxis against the doctors recommendation.

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Our first Lhasa road sign.

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You only drive about 20 km and you hit the first checkpoint. The level of security checks in Tibet is mind boggling. There is control over every ones movements and they know where everyone is at all times. Gas is also controlled and you have to register and line up to buy it.

This is a big control point and is the pre-check for the Tibetan boundary we will cross half way thru tomorrow.  We did not have to do anything but hand over our passport, Chinese DL, and plate card to Pam, who did everything. The police took just under an hour and we finally got the call from the higher powers in??? Beijing that we could pass the checkpoint.

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The road is paved, but badly grooved and damaged in sections. There are huge whoops and today riding the bike was like riding a wild horse at times. Your butt was off the seat quite a bit.

There is almost a continuous line of trucks full headed south and empty headed north as the 109 carries 85% of the goods in and out of Tibet. The oncoming ones can often be in your lane trying to avoid some rough road and many times today there was 2 semis oncoming at you. We took the dimming covers off our accessory lights and this helped.

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There is finally some scenery and we made a stop at a road side temple.

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We then stopped again at the first pass at 4765 m.

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There were convoys of 80-100 military trucks…we met them going in both directions!

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From here we made another 80 km to where we got gas (from a jerry can, but at least it held 10 l and had a great no drip spout) and had some lunch (most  expensive so far 12$ for one meat stir fry and some rice).  It is only going to get worse as we head south.

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Now we have another 150 km or 2 + hours to Tanggulazhen. As were having lunch the traffic was stopped by the military and 86 huge trucks in a convoy pulled out headed south. We caught up to them in 50 km, but amazingly there was almost no oncoming traffic and we could pass 5-6 of them at a time even up the hill to the second pass of the day at 4639m.

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About 50 km later we found the reason for the limited traffic. A crew was putting tar on the road of a bridge with small shovels. There was about 10 of them blocking the traffic in both directions . The semis could not get thru and the cars going north had pulled beside them and were blocking the south bound access as well. We went around and then squeezed past the row of cars on the dirt verge.

Now just 50 more km with still lots of trucks to pass, but without much difficulty. Finally we arrived to the town and again gassed up with a good spouted can. We were amazed to see a Maybach filling up here and driving on these terrible roads.

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The hotel looks pretty sketch from the outside, but it is actually much better than expected and nice. Heated floor and on demand hot water. It is the most expensive place (400 RNB or 80$) we have stayed yet more than Beijing or Xian. We are happy our Lhasa hotels are “included” as a 3 star runs 200$ US a night. None of us is feeling that bad, but neither of us felt like eating dinner. Dan against my advice had a beer and really regretted it the next day. The town is pretty polluted with coal smoke and this does not help us with the lack of oxygen here.

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Coal, which they burn everywhere creating horrible air quality.

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Dan got a free beer “for being handsome .“

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We were in bed by 10, but up several times to pee as Diamox has a diuretic effect. Then we had banging on the door at 330 and it was Trevor saying Orvar was not well. He had gone down to the bike to get water and was dizzy.

We woke the guides and they got some O2 from the car. Sara went in to assess him and there was nothing really wrong with him, but while she was there Trevor started vomiting. Now this is something to worry about. Sara started them both on Diamox and we all tried to get some sleep. Orvar has lost a lot of weight and is not taking care of himself, but he does not appear to have Altitude sickness. Trevor on the other hand does.

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