Across Continents

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Shy of the summit

November 5th, 2010

I felt a bit disappointed. Cheated even. Had hoped to summit at over eight thousand feet. A record for the expedition. But expectations of a col had been dashed by a tunnel through the mountain. There were consolations. I’d still achieved over seven thousand six hundred feet. A first. It was just that eight thousand had a nice ring to it. And the tunnel was a challenge in itself. All two miles of it.

I’d left the town of Jingning a few hours after sunrise. Bright and crisp. Soon warmed by the steady switchbacks on the climb east. Then a barely perceptible gradient across a wide, flat valley bottom. Farmers busy harvesting in the last of the season’s sweetcorn and potatoes. Beyond the small town of Longde a more formidable climb. To the tunnel.

Length uncertain. Not even a glimmer from the other end. No place for a puncture. I’d have been content to ride through the tunnel alone. However, a young family wasn’t having any of this. A convoy was assembled. Lorry behind me. Four-by-four in front, its hazard lights on. And off we went. Hoping I’d not encounter a pothole. Or, if I did, the truck driver would be quick on the brakes.

At altitude  - web

Two miles later bright sunshine. Gone, for a short while at least, the cultivated hillside terraces. In their place woodlands. It felt more in keeping with being at close on eight thousand feet.

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The long mile

November 2nd, 2010

Jingning. My next stop. No more than five miles away. So, so close. But, separating us, a tunnel. And no alternative. No goat track around. Nothing. Just an extensive list of prohibitions above the entrance. And a reasonable amount of traffic in both directions.

Tunnel - web

I’d a long-standing love hate relationship with Chinese lorry drivers. True, they’d come to my rescue on more than one occasion. But their overtaking, head on, often bordered on reckless. The thought of being enclosed in a tunnel with them, just one lane in either direction, wasn’t in the least bit appealing. Especially as I’d no idea how long it was. A mile perhaps. Assuming the officials at the entrance tolls would let me sneak through.

Lights on. Front and back. And my head torch. Bold, confident approach. Wave to the officials. They smile back. Into the tunnel. It’s lit, but the absence of ventilation fans means visibility is poor. The air heavy with fumes. But inhaling the noxious mixture is just a transient, an irritation. And a gentle downhill gradient helps. No, the real risk to health is overtaking lorries. Whether unaware of your presence, or just plain ambivalent, matters not. Forcing you to pull up sharply, lean against the tunnel wall. And hope.

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