D18: 下寺湾 → 枣园 - Me China Red - CycleBlaze

April 5, 2021

D18: 下寺湾 → 枣园

On my paper maps, there are perhaps a dozen dirt roads crisscrossing the mountains to the north of Xiasiwan. According to my GPS, however, there is only one that goes through. In this case, experience tells me that the paper maps are more likely to be more correct than the electronic ones; experience also tells me that unless I'm really really sure of what I'm doing, it's best to stick to the roads that can be found without the need to find people of whom I can ask directions.

Come morning, the hotel has realized that I'm an influencer, so I'm invited to a free breakfast of the sort of breakfast the owners want to be eating themselves rather than the sort of thing they make for large groups of guests. I pay for this by way of letting them show me the faux yaodong rooms that I didn't stay in and the real arched ceiling yaodong with the kang platform beds that is mostly kept for friends and family rather than paying guests.

There's nothing sufficiently special about anything I've been shown to inspire me to make my own videos about their hotel but I appropriately participate in being filmed by them.

They try to convince me that, since I'm already here, I absolutely must visit the nearby danxia redrock park but (separate from the whole issue that transport within the park is via a fixed shuttle bus service) there's only the one road that goes in or out and any visit to the nearly 30km long canyon would result in my having to leave the same way as I entered.

Even with them thinking they can get me free entrance tickets, I'm unconvinced. I also fail to take the bait of the grottoes at the nearby Xianglin Temple as they require a climb up what is described as "ladder steep stairs" or the Yongning Ancient Town as it's apparently mostly residences carved into the cliffs rather than artwork; and, other than the holes themselves, there's nothing older than the Chinese Civil War.

Yongning is tempting for a bit as it initially looks like it would mean getting to visit the Qin Dynasty Express Road and could mean that I go from valley to valley without actually crossing a high pass. A detailed look at the map, however, reveals that the G341 east of Shuanghe goes through a not short tunnel and that the non-tunnel going alt route is very very twisty looking.

North it is then. And you'd think, with the efforts that they made to convince me that north would be steep, or that I really wouldn't want to go north, that maybe someone would have mentioned to me that north is unpaved but.... no, it didn't come up.

In 2012, on the border between Hebei and Shanxi, I did a bit of dirt path so steep and rocky that I had to come up with a new way to push my bike. Basically, I'd put my entire weight on the handlebars and lean forward until the force of my falling serves to push to bike another inch forward. Then, I'd lift my feet up in great big goose steps and do it again. And again. And again.

I don't often end up on roads so steep that this tactic becomes necessary. But every so often, I get all exploratitive and end up on dirt and find myself working every single muscle in my body to full on exhaustion. Although there aren't many sections like this, when I come to them, I like to imagine that even Marcus wouldn't be able to ride his way up this scree.

Although I have some small amount of ready to eat food in my bags (just dried fruit and nuts), I end up crossing the mountain and getting back onto pavement and riding down down down down all the way to the intersection with the main road before I actually eat.

Then, because I've been working myself so hard and because I unintentionslly skipped lunch, I get shivery full body foodgasms as my brain rewards me for finally giving it some calories.

I've actually crossed into Yan'an by the time I get to lodging possibilities. The place where I stay is a divided courtyard, one hotel owner on the left, a different one on the right. The rear building is a four hole yaodong of the traditional dug into the mountain variety and the owners of the hotel that I stay in are living in two of these holes. I think the buildings are constructed "yaodong style" rather than caves but they may just be more modern than the 19th century.

I wonder what this courtyard once was but the most basic attempts at conversation during the process of them deciding that photographing my passport is just as good as actually letting me use the computer to register myself determine that I'm not going to understand what's being said, so instead I head for my cave, turn on the bed heater, and pass out.

Today's ride: 53 km (33 miles)
Total: 687 km (427 miles)

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