Stuff I Know

Just stuff by me about me and my life, such as it is.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Biking at 11,000 Feet

More or less.

After riding a bike in Beijing, I figured riding couldn't get much more difficult anywhere else. Of course when I was figuring this, I never even considered altitude. Turns out, that wasn't much of a problem either.

Oh sure it affected me, but not in any way I wasn't already used to. Generally when riding, after a particularly long hill climb or a long fast stretch, I am breathing pretty heavily. Mouth open, deep, fast breaths if possible. I may breathe this way for a while until my body gets back into its natural rhythm.

However here in Lhasa, that kind of breathing started about 15 minutes and generally continued throughout unless I consciously tried to slow my breathing down. It wasn't really uncomfortable, just very noticeable. (Oddly, climbing stairs here makes me feel more out of breath than riding a bicycle here.)

I have gone on two rides here in Lhasa. Both of them had their difficulties, but I wouldn't count lack of oxygen among them.

The first ride started well. I headed north out of the city to the Sera monastery at the base of the mountains surrounding the valley. I got there and the ticket taker said the monastery was closed that day. Some kind of monk event. Bummer! I thought since I rode all the way there I might as well take some pictures of the area. I wandered around and then noticed some other people go up to the ticket taker. There was a short conversation, money and tickets were exchanged, and in they went.

Hold on! I went back, asked if it was still closed, and the guy told me no, it was five yuan to go in. Five? The sign said fifty.
"Fifty?" I said.
"No, five"
Who was I to argue. In I went. It was an interesting place. Apparently the monk event was over.
After looking around the monastery I came out, sat down, and had lunch. Yes, peanut butter. And then it was back on the bike. I was headed to another monastery, Deprung, on the same side of the valley, but way on the other end of town. I could have gone back into the city and followed the main roads, but the map I had showed a road running along the base of the mountain. That would probably be more scenic.

After a few false starts I found the road. Unfortunately, the map didn't say that the road was unpaved. Oh well, what the heck, I have been on worse roads. It was the more scenic route, and more interesting allowing me to see more of life in Lhasa. And it was only unpaved in some places. Eventually the unpaved road met with the main road and it was on to Deprung monastery. The actual road up to the monastery was quite a hill climb at this altitude, but I made it.

This monastery was a bit more interesting than the other. It seemed more active, alive. But maybe that was just because there were more monks walking around. It was a nice place.

Click to see photos of the ride(Click the image to see photos of the trip.)

Now came the time for one of the best parts of riding a bike. Going downhill. Things were going great, I was enjoying the ride. There was a curve coming up, so I needed to slow down. I was going a little faster than expected, so the back tire started to skid a bit. The suddenly the bike skidded to a complete stop.

Let me explain something here. When a bicycle tire goes into a skid it is more susceptible to lateral, sideways, motion. This is partially due to it no longer spinning. This is generally not a problem ... on a good bicycle. However, because the person who put this bicycle together was obviously incompetent, the little skid this time was a big problem. That bit of sideways motion caused the rear tire to warp, bend, pretzel, whatever you want to call it, it twisted out of shape. If there had been more room in the frame, it probably would have turned into a mobius strip. Whoever had trued the rear wheel obviously didn't know what they were doing. The wheel had been straight, but some of the spokes were overly tight, while others were overly loose. This is what caused the wheel to bend. I had neglected to check for this before starting out.

The wheel was now so warped, it wouldn't even turn in the frame. And I was still up the hill near the monastery. If I had had the tools, I would have fixed it myself. But I didn't, so I couldn't. There was nothing to do but carry the bike down the hill. I picked up the bike so the rear wheel was off the ground and started walking, and walking, and walking.

Now maybe I am just too kind-hearted or something, but if I were in my car and saw someone obviously having difficulty carrying a bike down a road, even with a language barrier, I would at least have given them a ride to some place where they had a better chance of getting more help. At least five cars passed me as I was carrying the bike down the hill.

After about a kilometer or so, I finally got to the main road. Now I had to find a bike shop. Not an easy task in Lhasa, especially on the outskirts of the city. I looked left, right, and left again. I chose left. At least that direction headed back into town, which actually wasn't saying much. I picked up the rear of the bike and started walking. Luckily there was a motorcycle shop not too far down the road. Through mostly sign language, and Tibetan, which I didn't understand but got the gist of, he said it can't be fixed. Or more likely, he couldn't fix it.

By some rather odd coincidence, he had a 15 speed road bike at his shop. He was willing to sell me the rear wheel of the road bike, making that bike useless, for 100 yuan, about $13. This was actually a top quality road bike. Buying a wheel like that in a bike shop probably would have cost close to $100. Still, it was a road bike wheel, I was riding a Mt. bike; it was 15 speeds, the Mt. bike was 18 speeds. But what could I do? I had to get back to town.

I bought the wheel. He changed it. I took the original wheel with me (Heck if I was going to loose a $100 deposit. There had to be someone in town who could fix it.) and rode back into town.

To make a long story short, I found a scooter/bike shop ; the guy straightened and trued the wheel, fixed the flat, and put the original wheel back on the bike, all for 30 yuan. I just gave him the road bike wheel. What use did I have for it?

The second ride was also nice. I headed out of town just to try and see some of the countryside. I got pretty far, but then a storm was moving in in front of me so I decided I should turn around. On the way back I got a flat tire. Fortune or fate I don't know, but it saved me from being caught in the downpour. I walked back to the city I just passed, about 1 km, and had the flat fixed. By that time the rain had mostly stopped, so I continued in the new direction and then headed back to town.

Click the image below to see some photos from the ride. The photos are not bad, but I have to say the images don't do the actual view justice. You really have to be here it see it as it actually is. But have a look anyway.

Click to see photos of my second ride in Lhasa.

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