Cycling in Sichuan and Yunnan

Yanyuan, Sichuan to Dali, Yunnan

January 2 to January 13, 2005

640 Kilometers

General Background

This page describes a solo, unsupported bicycle tour I made from Yanyuan, Sichuan, to Dali, Yunnan from January 2 to January 13, 2005. I've also put together this page, which contains information about me, how I got ready for the trip, what I took (including some thoughts on the pros and cons of taking a folding bike – in my case a Bike Friday New World Tourist), and some suggestions for people thinking about touring in China. This was my second cycling tour of China. My first was 1,000 kilometer trip I took with my brother from Shanghai to Luoyang in the summer of 1998.

Trip Summary

In a word, outstanding. Weather was nearly perfect: 20s – 30s in the mornings, 40s in my hotel rooms, and 50s-60s in the afternoons. A little rain, a little snow, a little hail, but nothing too bad. The scenery was magnificent. Lugu Lake, Lijiang, and Dali are each separated by three-day rides, and while the cities in between aren't that interesting (but be sure to check out the hot springs in Er Yuan!), those three towns make great places to recuperate. I didn't take a tent or sleeping bag, and didn't need them as it was possible to stay in hotels every night. I generally rode 6-8 hours and 50-80 kilometers a day. Both my body and my bike made it there and back with minimum wear and tear (one broken chain and a flat tire for the bike, some gastro-intestinal fun for me, but nothing a little pocket pepto couldn't handle).

On several days the rides were very difficult for me. There were brutal climbs that seemed to go on forever. There were several 30-50 kilometer stretches of dirt and cobblestone roads that were almost unrideable. Head winds were sometimes so strong I had to stop riding until they passed. There was also some time pressure, as it didn't get light until 8am, and it was pitch dark by 7pm.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Day 0 - An Aborted Start From Chengdu

The trip was actually supposed to begin in Chengdu. Specifically, I started riding out from the Chengdu airport. I made it as far as the Tiantai Mountain Scenic Area (about 112 Kilometers) before my bike chain broke. I didn't have the tools/parts to fix it. So after spending the night at a small "resort" I folded up the bike and got a ride down the mountain, and then took a bus back to Chengdu. I got the chain fixed the next day, and the following day I took a bus to Yuanyuan to try to get the trip started and back on schedule.

Day 1 – Yanyuan to Zuosuo (Lugu Lake)

January 2 – 134 Kilometers – 10 Hours

Weather: 28-70 Degrees. Slight head wind. Mostly sunny.

Road: First 100 kilometers - Downhill, asphalt.--Last 34 kilometers – Flat(20%)/uphill(80%), asphalt(40%)/gravel(40%)/dirt(20%).

Spent the night at the hotel attached to the Yanyuan Bus Station. Not a bad place. Clean room, squat toilet, hot water shower, and TV for 60 RMB/night.

Below are some photos I took while walking around the area behind my hotel.

My hotel in Yanyuan.

The view from my hotel in Yanyuan.

The view from the mountains a short walk outside of Yanyuan.

I was planning to start riding at sunrise (about 7:45), but it was so cold I just couldn't motivate myself to get out of bed until 8:15. Temperature was 28 degrees. Got on the road at 8:40, and it was still pretty dark. Began with a short climb, and then the road leveled out. Got to the small village of Mei Yu after 12 kilometers and stopped for breakfast (2 Baozi and a bottle of water). A short ride from the restaurant I saw a sign that said “Lugu Lake 110 km”.

The first 100 kilometers is a pleasant, easy ride - mostly downhill in a valley following the flow of a small river. It passes through several small villages (20-30 buildings, mostly made of logs), some coal mines, and a roadside clinic.

I got to Yan Tang around 11:30, and Chang Bai at 3:00. According to my map, its only 20 kilometers from Chang Bai to Zuosuo (the city on the Sichuan side of Lugu Lake), but my computer said I'd only gone 92 kilometers, which means I should have another 30 kilometers to go.

Unfortunately, it turns out the map is wrong. Worse still, once you get past Chang Bai, the river is now flowing towards you. The road continues to follow the river, which means the rest of the ride is pretty much all uphill. Even worse still, the road more or less disintegrates and turns into gravel/packed dirt. Even worse worse still, now there's a pretty strong head wind. As I was pushing my bike through one particularly nasty section, I met up with a young guy walking my direction. I asked him how much further to Zuosuo, and he said nine kilometers. Said he was walking there after having visited his father. So I walked and talked with him for a couple of kilometers until a friend of his in a van drove up and gave him a ride.

I got to the entrance gate to Lugu at 6:00, having ridden 114 kilometers. I pay the entry fee (41 RMB), and ride on to Zuosuo. I arrive at Zuosuo at about 6:45, but I ride on through because I don't see anywhere that looks like a nice place to stay, and anyway I'd like to get closer to the lake. The road after Zuosuo is loose gravel, and pretty hard to ride on, so I rode on a small dirt path next to the road. When that got too rough, I had to get off and push.

After about 20 minutes of pretty exhausting riding/pushing, I was starting to get pretty desperate for a place to stop. I had passed several places that looked like they might have been hotels, but even though it was now getting dark, they were all pitch black. I finally rode up to one where I could hear people talking in the courtyard and asked for a room. Even though there was no light anywhere in the building, he said “sure.” Turns out that the Sichuan side was suffering a blackout.

I ate egg-fried rice by candlelight in the courtyard, and the guy also brought out a pan of fried cabbage – no charge. I was starving because I hadn't had anything to eat since the Baozi except for a Powerbar. Since there's no light pollution the stars were amazing. Sat out in the hotel courtyard for about 1/2 an hour and looked at the sky. Could easily see the Milky Way, and even saw two shooting stars.

Manager gave me two candles and lighter, and I lit one up and I went to bed at 7:45 and read. I was completely wiped out, and was asleep at 9:00.

Day 2 – Zuosuo to Lige

January 3 – 10 Kilometers – 2 1/2 Hours

Weather: Sunny and mild.

Road: Absolutely miserable. Still under construction. Gravel/packed dirt/landslides.

Woke up at 8:00 and was on the road at 8:30. I skipped breakfast since I was only planning to go to Lige, a small village halfway between Zuosuo and Luoshui. Its a pleasant little place tucked into a cove on the lake, just a few backpacker-style inns. Figured I'd be there in about half an hour. Instead the next two and a half hours were spent riding/pushing my bike on some of the worst roads of the trip. Most of the road was packed dirt and loose gravel, and at one point I ran into a landslide. At another, I had to wait while a bulldozer got out of my my why so I could push my bike through 50 yards of rock and dirt clods. To make matters worse, seven of the ten kilometers were uphill.

I could have just taken my bike on a boat across the lake to Lige, but I'm glad I didn't because making up for all the bad roads was the fact that (a) it was only 10 kilometers, (b) the weather was perfect, (c) the views were spectacular, and (d) Lige is a great place to arrive at after a long ride.

Got a hotel room looking out over the lake on the second floor of an inn at the edge of the lake. Inn had three computers with high speed Internet access for guests. No private bathrooms, the hotel bathroom had only squat toilets, and they have to use fire to heat up water for showers (which they couldn't do the first night I was there because it was too windy). Manager was a nice guy from Nanjing. Long hair, likes to play Go. They were able to burn the pictures from my camera's compact flash card onto a CD ROM for me.

Spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the inn, checking e-mail and reading.

Day 3 – Lige-Wen Quan-Luoshui-Lige

January 4 – 30 Kilometers by bicycle – 3 Hours, 50 Kilometers by car – 2 hours.

Weather: Sunny and mild.

Road: Absolutely miserable. Cobblestones.

I tried to go to bed early (10:00), but the inn stayed open until midnight, and since my room was right on top of it, I couldn't really fall asleep. On top of that, there were dogs barking off and on all night, so I kept waking up. Funny thing was, I was so tired that I kept falling right back to sleep, and it didn't really bother me.

I woke up around 8:00 and took some pictures of the sunrise outside my window. Had breakfast (2 fried eggs and “baba” - a kind of pancake) at 9:00, and started to ride out to Wenquan (which means “Hot Springs”) at 10:00. Some folks who had been out there yesterday said the road was fine, and I could probably make it out there in an hour. WRONG. The cobblestone road was fine if you're bounding along in a four-wheel SUV (which they were). If you're on a bike, its a bone-jarring, rattle-the-fillings-out-of-your-teeth, shake-your-bike-apart experience.

I could barely maintain 10 kilometers per hour, and then only by trying to ride on the gravelly shoulder that usually existed on one side of the road or the other. This shoulder would appear for about 30-40 meters and then disappear, but would usually reappear on the other side of the road. So I basically spent 3 hours serpentining from one side of the road to the other, riding on a loose, 1/2 meter wide loose gravel shoulder for a few seconds, and then checking for traffic and then serpentining to the other side for five concussion-inducing seconds. Not much fun, and you can't really enjoy the scenery. Fortunately, the road was flat, and the weather was beautiful.

About two-thirds of the way there I passed through Yongning – pretty big market town. There was a market going on, and lots of people.

After looking around Yongning for about 20 minutes I rode on and got to the Mo Suo Hot Springs a little after 1:00. Had the place all to myself, and soaked for over an hour. The water felt warm, but not hot, smelled heavily of minerals, and actually fizzed like soda pop.

After the soak I kept riding to see if there was anything up ahead. There was another hot springs – Lao [old] Hot Springs – a few kilometers up the road. Later someone back at Lige said that was the “better” hot springs because the water was hotter, but it sounded pretty crowded.

Rode on a little further to a small town and found a ride back to Luoshui (I wanted to go and scout out the road conditions between there and Lige, since I was planning to go there the next day). Turns out the road conditions were the same as those out to Wenquan, but with more uphill. But it was only about 9 kilometers, and the views were beautiful, so I figured if worse came to worse, I could just push my bike the whole way and still be there in a couple of hours.

Got to Luoshui around 4:15, had an apple baba and then caught a ride back to Lige. Had dinner (fried potatoes with onion, garlic, tomatoes and a beer), and stayed up until 11:00 watching the manager play Go.

Day 4 – Lige-Luoshui

January 5 – 9 Kilometers – 2 hours.

Weather: 48-61 degrees. Sunny and mild.

Road: Absolutely miserable. Cobblestones.

Noise from downstairs kept me awake until 1:00, but mercifully, the dogs were quiet, and slept all the way through 8:00. Had breakfast (scrambled eggs and tomatoes and coffee) and hung out in Lige until around 2:00. Rode/walked my bike bike to Luoshui in about 2 hours. Really beautiful views.

Luoshui was completely dead. You can tell from the enormous number of hotels that the place is probably a zoo during high season, but I don't think I saw 30 tourists (5 other Westerners and the rest Chinese). Checked into a hotel and had my first shower since leaving Yanyuan. Did some laundry and had a ham and egg sandwich at one restaurant (where I was the only customer) and a banana baba at another (again, I was the only customer). Went to bed around 10:00.

Day 5 – Luoshui-Ninglang

January 6 – 75 Kilometers – 8 hours.

Weather: 24-60 degrees. Sunny and mild.

Road: Lots of up and down. Uphill(33%)/downhill(33%)/flat(33%). Asphalt (80%)/cobblestones (20%).

Roosters started crowing at 3:30, and I never really got back to sleep. Temperature in my room was 41 degree when I finally got up at 7:45.

Checked out of the hotel and was on the road by 8:20 (it didn't look like any places were open for breakfast, and didn't see any place to grab a baozi). The going wasn't too bad for the first couple of kilometers, but at marker 73km began the steep climb out of the Lugu valley. At marker 69 road changed from asphalt to cobblestones, but it wasn't too bad since I was moving so slowly. Climbed non-stop from 8:30 to 9:20, when I reached a lookout (about marker 67km). Amazing views.

Reached the end of the climb around 11:00 (computer showed I had gone 11 kilometers), and started a long descent (about 45 minutes). Unfortunately, the road remained cobblestone for another 8 kilometers, so I wasn't able to descend very quickly. Road reached the foot of the mountains and followed a valley floor through a small village.

After having gone 34 kilometers (total) I stopped at the foot of the climb out of the valley for a powerbar (I hadn't passed any place where it looked like I could eat lunch). Climb was only about 3 kilometers, and the top had a wonderful view of a huge valley. I descended and crossed the valley floor, and passed through a medium-sized town called Hongqi. I then had another climb (about 6 kilometers) after about 56 kilometers (total). Yet another decent, into a very small valley this time, and yet another climb, only 2 kilometers this time. Another short descent and a small climb, and then I was overlooking a large valley and could see Ninglang at the other end of it. Rode for another 45 minutes and made it Ninglang around 4:15.

I checked into a place called the Luyou Bingguan that a Naxi guy in Lige had recommended to me. Room was reasonably clean and I was able to take a hot shower. Had a bowl of Zhejiang mian and a beer at a restaurant across the street from the hotel and went and checked e-mail at an Internet cafe. Walked around and checked out the market next to the hotel, but there didn't really seem like there was much to see.

Day 6 – Ninglang-Rest Stop

January 7 – 86 Kilometers – 8 Hours

Weather: Perfect. 17-70 degrees, sunny.

Road: Uphill(50%)/downhill(50%). Asphalt (20%)/cobblestones (80%).

The views on this ride were easily the best so far. Unfortunately, the climbs, roads, and hotel were easily the worst so far. I should say that, if it weren't for the conversation I had with a clerk at my hotel in Ninglang, I wouldn't have been on this road at all. I had originally planned to get to Lijiang by going through Yong Sheng, but the clerk said the roads were bad and there were a lot of climbs. He said I should take the road that goes through Bai Cao Ping. My map, which was otherwise extremely detailed, did not show this road.

I would hate to see the road through Yong Sheng. The morning started out great. I had a baozi and was on the road at 8:20. It was brisk (18 degrees) and clear, with a constant, mild climb on asphalt roads. I probably would have been daunted if this were my first day, but after the climb out of Lugu Lake, this was nothing. After nine kilometers I reached the first road sign for Lijiang I'd seen since leaving Lugu – 116 kilometers. I'd been averaging between 15 and 20 kilometers per hour so far that morning, even with the slight grade, so I began to think I might be able to make it to Lijiang in one day.

An hour later its pretty clear that isn't going to happen. After having gone 26 kilometers (total), the climb not only became incredibly steep, but the road changed back to cobblestones. I'm back to doing 5-7 kilometers an hour.

The climb ended after 13 kilometers with a spectacular view.

Unfortunately, the cobblestones lasted for the rest of the day, so I spent the last 40 kilometers gripping my brakes for dear life, serpentining back and forth from gravel shoulder to gravel, and trying not to rammed by oncoming trucks or plummet off the side of a cliff.

The last 30 kilometers were all downhill, following a long river valley. Around 4:00 I began to get a little nervous about finding any place to stay because I had not seen anything since starting the climb except a few private homes. There weren't even any restaurants, so lunch was an extra baozi I had bought in the morning and a powerbar. In fact, I'd only seen one place to buy drinks the whole day.

At 4:20 I got my first and only flat of the trip, but it was patched and I was back up in 15 minutes. At 5:00 I'm at the bottom of the valley, and it looks like I'm going to have another steep climb about 10 kilometers up ahead. I was still over 50 kilometers from Lijiang, but its going to be dark in two hours, so I'm really hoping to find a place to stay soon, otherwise I'm just going to see if I can crash at someone's home.

At 5:20 I find the first hotel I've seen all day and decide to stop. I have chicken soup, hash browns, and beer for dinner on a patio behind the hotel. I watch the sun go down over the end of the valley, and as it gets dark I begin seeing car headlights descending from VERY high up on the top of the valley wall up ahead. Even though there was only supposed to be 50 kilometers the next day, I was thinking its going to be a long day.

Day 7 – Rest Stop-Lijiang

January 8 – 45 Kilometers – 7 Hours

Weather: Strong head winds. 50-70 degrees, mostly sunny.

Road: Steepest climbs of the trip. Uphill(80%)/downhill(20%). Asphalt (90%)/cobblestones (10%).

Got on the road about 8:30 in the morning. Started out with a short ride downhill along the river and past some restaurants. Crossed a bridge (the far one in the picture below) and went through a small village (also in the picture below). It soon became apparent that I would be climbing the wall I had seen the car headlights snaking down the previous night.

I stopped at a restaurant where the road began to rise and bought two boiled eggs for the road. There was a little excitement when one of the cooks left a towel dangling over the stove and it burst into flames. They got it put out with little trouble and I was on my way. I began climbing at 9:10 and then took a break at a shack at 9:45 to eat the eggs and wait for the sun to clear the valley so I could take the panorama shot below.

I started off again at 10:45 and climbed switchbacks until 2:00, when I finally made it over the wall. My computer said I'd been climbing for 22 kilometers. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the climbing. The road leveled off to merely a mild climb along a broad valley for a few kilometers, but the headwind became so strong that I was forced to stop a couple of times.

Then the hard part started. At least on wall I had switchbacks, now I see as sign that actually says “steep grades 1,300 meters.” At this point I had to throw in the towel – I just got off and pushed. This wasn't as slow as it might seem, because I could tell from my computer that I pushing at 4-5 kilometers an hour, which is about the same speed I was pedaling at. However, by the end of push my back and arms were really hurting.

After 32 kilometers (total) I reached a short downhill and started down into Lijiang. After six kilometers the kilometer markers reach zero and I see a sign that says “Lijiang 7 kms.” My computer says I've come 115 kilometers from Ninglang, so it looks like its calibrated pretty well.

Another seven kilometers and its four o'clock and I'm sitting in a cafe in old town Lijiang eating a banana yogurt shake and a cheeseburger with fries. I checked into a very nice place right in the middle of the old town, got a shower, got some laundry done, and spent the rest of the day walking around and eating. I went back to the hotel early and was asleep by 9:00. I can't remember feeling that completely physically exhausted since I had to swim 1,987 laps for the Central High School Swim Team annual New Year's torture-a-thon.

Day 9 – Around Lijiang

January 10 – 42 Kilometers – Didn't Track

Weather: Cold (41 degrees in the afternoon), with rain, hail, and snow.

Road: Gravel and potholes for the first few kilometers on the way out of time, good asphalt the rest of the day.

Yesterday was a rest day – really needed it after all the climbing the day before. Got up, ate breakfast (muslix and yoghurt), walked around a bit, checked e-mail, got my pictures burned on to two Cdroms (2 copies each – one to carry and one to mail home). Had lunch at the Tibet House (spaghetti), and then went back to the hotel to detail my bike in the hotel courtyard. It was actually in pretty good shape – just need to clean off the mud and clean re-oil the chain. Was glad I had decided not to ride, because it sprinkled throughout the afternoon. Walked around some more, mailed the CDs home, and had dinner at the Well Bistro (pizza).

I got up at 8:15 today and had breakfast at the Tibet House (omlette). It was looking like it might rain, so I went to an Internet cafe to check the weather. Internet said “mostly cloudy.” Guy at the Internet cafe and woman working at my hotel both said it “definitely wouldn't rain.” So it was with no small amount of confidence that I set to ride out to Yulong Snow Mountain around 11:00. It was supposed to be about 24 kilometers from town, so I figured it would make a nice day ride.

As soon as I got to the edge of town it started raining. I ducked in side a general store just it time for the rain to change to hail. It stopped after about 20 minutes, so I rode on. I go to the gate to the park after 14 kilometers, and since I'd been out there a few years earlier, I decided to take a left fork in the road and ride around the area instead.

The road got pretty steep, and after climbing for about 5 kilometers I get to some kind of tourist trap posing as a temple. Looked more like a miniature golf course. The view of Lijiang down the valley was nice, however.

It started snow, and so I decided to head back to Lijiang. I rode down the hill and along the right side of the valley. I could feel the temperature dropping as I rode, but as I got to the valley floor the snow turned into rain. I passed another temple (Yufeng Si) after two kilometers. Up ahead I could see it raining on the valley floor, and snowing on the mountains on either side of the valley in the direction of Lijiang. It started raining harder, and after six kilometers (from Yufeng Si), I go to Bai Sha village, a nice little place with some backpacker cafes. I duck into the Buena Vista Cafe just as it starts raining pretty hard. By now its 41 degrees, and I can see its snowing pretty hard up the side of the valley just a few hundred feet above us.

I had lunch at the cafe and hung out waiting for the rain to stop. Stayed there from 2:00 until about 3:30, when the rain more or less stopped. I rode around Bai Sha for bit, then headed back to Lijiang. As I rode, I could see how the storm had dumped snow up the sides of the valley, even though it had only rained on the valley floor. The trees at the top 100 feet or so of the valley were white – very pretty.

Got back to Lijiang around 4:00, having covered a total of 42 kilometers. Dropped my bike off at the hotel and had dinner at the Prague Cafe (pizza, chocolat cake, hot chocolate). Surfed the Internet for a while, then I headed back to the hotel, showered and was asleep by 10:30. It was still raining.

Day 10 – Lijiang-Jianchuan

January 11 – 78 Kilometers – 7 Hours

Weather: Clear – 48 – 60 degrees. Partly cloudy in the morning, mostly cloudy in the afternoon.

Road: Asphalt. Lots of steep climbs and descents.

I woke up at 7:45 and checked the weather on TV. They were predicting rain in Yunnan for the rest of the week. I went back to the Prague Cafe for breakfast (egg, bacon, and toast), and checked the Internet for weather. CNN and predicted mostly cloudy, and predicted cloudy with a chance of rain.

After breakfast the weather was gorgeous – not a cloud in the sky. I decided “what the hell,” and went back to the hotel and loaded up my bike and was headed out of Lijiang at 11:15. Road out of town was rough – a lot of traffic and the road was in need of repair. It was flat for the first few kilometers, then the road began to climb up out of the valley. Climbed for about 8 kilometers, then had a steep drop into the next valley. The valley was gorgeous, with a large body of water called La Shi Hai.

I rode along the valley floor for a few kilometers, then started a very steep climb out of the valley that lasted for about 18 kilometers. I was wiped out by the end of the climb, but there was gorgeous view of the La Shi Hai valley along the way.

There was a really steep descent for about 9 kilometers into another valley. When I got to the valley floor the road headed up the valley floor. It wasn't steep, but it was a pretty constant climb for about 12 kilometers. Combined with the two earlier climbs I was pretty wiped out by the time I got to a small town called Bai Han Cheng. It was 3:30, and even though I had originally planned to go to Jianchuan, Bai Han Cheng looked like a nice place – which is to say it had some restaurants. There was still 28 kilometers to Jianchuan, which could mean anywhere from two hours on flat roads, or 5 hours on steep roads.

If I had been able to find a decent place to sleep in Bai Han Cheng I probably would have stayed the night there. I checked out the hotel at the bus station, but it was filthy dump. I saw a few other places, but didn't go in since they looked similarly dirty and run-down.

I talked to some people keeping warm around wok filled with charcoal in the bus station parking lot, and they said it was mostly downhill to Jianchuan, so I decided to suck it up and go on.

Turned out those guys were right – road was mostly downhill/flat to Jianchuan, and so I got there by 6:00. I checked into the Dianli Binguan. The place was nice and clean, and the bed even had an electric blanket. Unfortunately they only had warm water, so I had to skip the shower.

Walked up and down the main streets of the city (only seemed to have two). Took about 20 minutes each way. Was starving since I had skipped lunch, and there were lots of stir fry and Muslim restaurants, but they all looked pretty dirty. Ended up having “fish fragrance eggplant” at a place across the street from my hotel. I saw an Internet cafe, but was too tired to check email.

I was really fatigued – could barely climb up the three stories to my hotel room. It was chilly – 48 degrees at the restaurant, and 52 degrees in my hotel room. Fell asleep around 10:15.

Day 11 – Jianchuan-Eryuan

January 12 – 62 Kilometers – 6 Hours

Weather: 37 – 70 degrees. Party-mostly cloudy with brief period of snow.

Road: Asphalt. Flat for first 10 kilometers. Some very steep climbs and descents for next 30 kilometers. Flat/slight descent for last 20 kilometers.

Woke up around 7:00 when some kind of “Taps” variant was blasted from loudspeakers outside my window. Went back to sleep and got up around 8:00. I add some air to the rear tire and oiled the chain, since it had been squeaking the day before. Weather was overcast, but it didn't look like rain, and the TV weather said mostly cloudy, so I decided to ride on.

I got on the road by 9:10. Couldn't find any baozi for breakfast, so decided to skip it. The road was straight and flat along the valley floor for about 10 kilometers, when I got to a small village and bought two baozi. I ate one and saved one for later. The road began a very steep climb out of the valley. As usual, the payoff was nice view of the valley I was leaving.

Climbed past a damned-up river and along the reservoir it formed. It started snowing and got colder. It had been 41 degrees in my hotel room, and then it had warmed up so much that I taken my jacket off while was riding, but when I checked the temperature had dropped to 37 degrees. The road began another steep climb when it reached the other end of the reservoir. The climb lasted for about 10 kilometers, and then I began a long steep descent. Passed a car that had gone off the road – first accident I'd seen so far.

Got to the bottom of the descent at the foot of another valley around 1:00. Snow had stopped during the descent. There was only 20 kilometers left, so I stopped and had some lunch (pepper and port strips – 10 RMB).

The road continued along the valley floor, flat or on a slight descent. I got into Eryuan around 3:30 and rode around town for a bit. Found an new-looking hotel and got a nice, clean room. Locked up all my stuff and went to an Internet cafe across the street to check e-mail. Then I walked around town for a while. Saw a lot of people carrying jugs of steaming water around, and eventually stumbled upon “Hot Springs Street.” There were several places where people were filling jugs from spouts in walls or from wells. There was also a place with a big swimming pool. I asked if I could get a soak, but they said they weren't open that night because the power had gone out and they couldn't fill the pools. Said I could come back tomorrow at 6:30 in the morning.

Walked around some more and found a restaurant that sold Guo Qiao rice noodles – a well known Yunnan dish. I got the 5 RMB version where they bring a big bowl of boiling chicken stock and noodles and dump in strips of pork, raw eggs, fried gluten, pickled vegetables, and some greens. Topped it off with a bottle of Dali beer, and it was one of the best meals of the trip.

Bought some drinks for the ride the next day and went back to the hotel. Turns out the power was out, so I was going to go out and walk around, but the lights came back on just as I was heading out the door. So I had a nice long hot shower and went to bed around 8:20. Read for a while and went to sleep early.

Day 12 – Eryuan-Dali

January 13 – 69 Kilometers – 6 Hours

Weather: Perfect. Cool and Partly cloudy.

Road: Good asphalt. Mostly flat with one long descent and a few mild climbs.

Got up around 7:30 and walked over to the hot springs. There was 4 or five people swimming in the big pool, and since I didn't feel like being the center of attention, I got a private room. It was 10x10 foot room with a steel door, bare concrete floor, a small window about 8 feet up one wall, and a 6x4 tile tub with a simple pipe for a shower. There was hot and cold water, and the hot water was too hot -room got so steamy I could barely see, so I mixed in some cold. Had a nice soak form 8:15 – 8:30.

Bought two baozi on the way back to the hotel. Ate one and saved one for later. Power was off again at the hotel, but came back on about 15 minutes after I got back.

Checked out and was on the road around 9:30. There was a little climbing for the first 5 kilometers, and then a long easy descent into a huge valley. Saw more evidence of hot springs, as the water flowing in the ditches in the first town in the valley was steaming.

The rest of the ride to Dali was pretty uneventful – just rode down the middle of a wide, flat and open valley with lots of farms. Eventually started another climb and got to a four-way fork in the road. I asked a motorcycle-cab driver the best way to get to Dali, and he said the old road (that I was currently on) was shorter, but had some climbing and some rocky parts. On the other hand, I could take the fork to the left and behind me and get to the new Lijiang-Dali highway, which was a flat, good-quality road.

Well, all I had to hear was “rocky,” and that was enough for me – I headed for the new road. All things considered, I think it was the right choice. There was a nice wide asphalt shoulder, and the road was relatively flat. The downside was that the scenery wasn't that great, there were a lot more very large vehicles driving by very fast – so it was pretty noisy. I'd like to go back and ride the rest of the way on the smaller road – maybe when I'm not so fatigued.

Around 1:00 saw a sign saying it was 23 kilometers to Ancient Dali. At my current speed that meant no more than another 1 ½ hours, so I decided to stop and have lunch (strips of pork with peppers).

Got into Dali around 2:45.