Week 3: Luoyang to Xi'an, 404km (and 'climbing' the infamous Huashan)
My slow pace this week allowed me to take in some more sights as I passed from one ancient city known for its giant carvings of buddha to another ancient city known for its subterranean army of clay warriors, also known as the terra-cotta warriors. Along the way, I managed to get to the top of one of the five sacred mountains in China and enjoyed its spectacular beauty even though it didn’t turn out to be the peaceful hiking experience I had in mind.
Week three started off pleasantly as I slowly rolled through Luoyang old town, enjoying the sights and smells as all the little roadside vendors started preparing for the day ahead, before eventually exiting through the main gate. Traveling through ancient Chinese cities, you’ll notice that they’re enclosed by walls for protection from hordes of invading “northern barbarians”. In modern times, the sentries have been replaced by vendors selling all sorts from their shops. Riding by, it is still fun to imagine charging through on horseback as they would have in ancient times. Luoyang’s gate is relatively small, having only one archway. In comparison, the gate in Xi’an is one of the biggest in China.
Clearing through Luoyang, the road began to gradually rise and I was forced to switch onto the smaller front chain ring. I found out I couldn’t switch back up when I arrived onto one of the hill summits—my front derailleur wasn’t properly indexed. I pulled over and started messing around with the limiting screws, not really knowing what I was doing. It miraculously shifted back onto the big ring after a few tests. Triumphantly, I jumped back on the bike only to find out I actually made it worse and now couldn’t switch gear at all. I rolled into a little workshop and asked to borrow a pair of pliers, and this time, I tightened the cable and readjusted the limit screws.
When I got back on, I realised to my surprise that the front gears were now working perfectly—I guess I got lucky! This setback and a day of punchy climbing meant that the sun was just beginning to set when I finally enjoyed my reward: a nice long descent into the next city of Sanmenxia. That night, I stayed with a couch surfing host and enjoyed some great Chinese hospitality as Maggie’s parents offered me plates of food and a nice cool bed to rest my head.
I woke up to a nice breakfast—basically the Chinese version of a sausage and egg McMuffin, some fried buns, and corn and oatmeal with raisins. It was the perfect start to the day!
I’m not sure if it was the climbing the day before, the heat and humidity, the 1,500km I had ridden since leaving Shanghai, or just a combination of it all, but my saddle sores had become pretty nasty. It was painful to even sit down. The next few days, I was going to try and take it easy, spend less time in the saddle and have a few more days off to recover.
With this in mind, I only rode 50km to the next city of Lingbao and again had to stay in the only hotel in the city that would accept foreigners. Lingbao is a literal spec on the map of China. Looking at it, you would think it is a tiny little village. I should have known better because when I arrived, it turned out to be a city of about one million people, with skyscrapers all around. The scale of this crazy country continues to amaze me!
Leaving Lingbao behind ,I was excited to head towards Huashan (one of the five great mountains in China) and take in the scenery. I don’t know what it is but there is something about mountains—even just the outline of a mountain in the distance—that really brings up my mood. It’s a feeling I’ve really missed living in the pancake flatness of Shanghai for the last five years.
Arriving at Huashan, I checked into my hostel and explored the temple at the foot of the mountain, with the intention of climbing it early the next morning.
As I headed up towards the start of the hiking trail at about 6AM, I was met by closed gates and a deserted ticket office. My phone translation read: the mountain was closed due to risk of landslide. Nightmare!
I managed to find someone who worked there and asked when the mountain would open and she unhelpfully replied she also didn’t know. I used this setback as an excuse to steal another couple hours in bed with the intention of trying again in the afternoon when the rain stopped.
On my second attempt I found that the gates were still locked and the guy I asked this time was a little more helpful. He told me that the only way up the mountain was to take the cable car as all other hiking routes were closed. Once at the top of the cable car route, I would be able to walk between the five peaks.
It started with a shuttle a bus to the main visitor centre, which when it arrived, I had to fight my way onto amongst a horde of mainly Chinese tourists. When I arrived at the visitor centre, there was a 30-minute queue in order to buy tickets for the park entry, bus transfer, and cable car. After the wait, I went and caught the much-less crowded bus that took me on quite a pleasant 10-minute trip up the mountain to the cable car station. Then I had to queue here for another hour before getting in the cable car. But when I got there, I realised the woman at the ticket office had only sold me the bus ticket and park entry ticket; I didn’t actually have a cable car ticket.
Luckily, I was able to scan a QR code and buy a ticket without having to wait in the queue again. The cable car ride was short but beautiful. I watched the sheer cliff faces rise up all around me. The granite peaks were reminiscent of Half Dome and El Capitan at Yosemite where I had spent a few days exploring last year.
Exiting the cable car station, I was met with a sea of tourists waiting in line for the cable car to take them back down. Laughing to myself, I thought that there was no way I would be waiting in that. Better off to just find the hiking trail and walk back down. I set out from the station trying to find the least crowded path to the cool ancient temples and pavilions they have built at the top of this sacred mountain.
Unfortunately due to the weather, some of the more impressive sights such as the Plank Walk and Chess Pavilion were closed. To be honest, I don’t know if I would’ve been brave enough to take on the plank walk anyway, and was a little relieved I didn’t have to force myself to do it. For anyone interested, just search Mount Huashan plank walk on youtube to see for yourself! It genuinely looks terrifying.
After exploring the peaks for a couple of hours, I decided it was time to head back. When I got to the top of the trail that led down the mountain, I was met by a closed gate and a guard in army clothing saying I had to take the cable car as this route wasn’t safe. I resigned myself to the four-hour queue to head back down, which ironically enough, is the same time that it estimates you to walk down. I could now see why this mountain has the reputation as the most dangerous hike in the world. Imagine narrow clliff trails that are literally overflowing with people!
I had breakfast with a father and his daughter who were staying in my hostel. He excitedly told me all about his biking trip around Tibet that he done last year. Since we were now in the province of Shaanxi, I enjoyed their specialty, biangbiang noodles, which often appears on the menu in romanisation form since the Chinese character for biang —at 42 strokes—is just too complicated to write out even for Chinese people!
Afterwards, I eased the 62km to the next nearest city of Weinan and stayed the night in a really nice Ibis hotel after, again, being rejected from the first hotel that I went to.
I stocked up on my new favourite cycling snacks (these wee rice crispy cakes with raisins) and prepared for another easy ride into Xi’an.
As I arrived in Xi’an, it was raining, so I decided to spend the day chilling, writing this blog and getting some laundry done before going to take in the sights of the city tomorrow when the weather was better.
I went to the bike shop, and had plans to go to the Shaanxi History Museum, but the queue was out the door (and I had enough queues for the week), so I just went back to the hotel and relaxed.