Saturday, October 11, 2014

Cycling Along the Sino-Tibetan Borderland | Interview with Yu Luo

Name: Yu Luo
Years with Yale Cycling: 0.5
Hometown: Guiyang, southwest China
Major/course of study and year: 6th-year PhD in socio-cultural anthropology
Bicycle(s): One road bike (Giant Avail 5), and a second-hand Mongoose mountain bike as commuter

1- Do you remember your first time on a bicycle? How was that like? 

If I remember correctly, my dad was hoping to teach me using his adult bike when I was 13-ish. The bike was like a monster that’s out of control. Seriously. I fell hard, and never dared to learn to bike again until early 2013. I am not a person born with natural balance, so it felt really wobbly.

2- What brings you to Yale Cycling? How did you find out about the club and what made you join?

Early this year, I moved back to New Haven after my year-long fieldwork back in China. And I needed a new bike. Since I have never ridden around Yale before, I had no clue what kind of a bike to get, and what routes are good. I heard some words about Yale Cycling from friends, and googled it. Then I joined with less intention of racing but of looking for a community with a shared interest and learning more. So far as cycling opened up a brand new world to me, it has introduced me to some great friends.

3- Describe the best bike ride you’ve ever been on: where was it, when was it, what was the weather and scenery like?

The biking trip to Tibet is, without a doubt, unbeatable. I could go on and on about it. But I’d say, my favorite ride I’ve taken most recently is the New York Century bike tour on September 7th. A friend and I took the 75-miles route, which started in Central Park, down to the southern tip of Manhattan, then crossed to Brooklyn, and once we hit Coney Island, we rode along the shoreline all the way to Bronx - Rockaway Beach, and finally circled around in Bronx back to Central Park. The weather that day was amazing, with beautiful blue sky and breezy air. The route was carefully designed to avoid heavy traffic and cut through many scenic spots and greenways. It got me to places in the city where I would probably never reach otherwise.

3b-You had told me a bit about your summer biking through China and Tibet on a bike ride,

- Where did you start, what route did you follow, and where did the trip end?

From mid-August to late September 2013, we made a tripartite trip: First, we took a train to Chengdu, and started our cycling trip there. We went along National Route 318, which is one of the most popular routes among Chinese cyclists. After riding about 1300 miles over 25 days, we reached Lhasa. Second, we made a 380-miles roundtrip between Lhasa and Shigatze. The first half of the route is quite popular among international cyclists traveling from Lhasa to Kathmandu. Third, we took a train from Lhasa to Xining, and cycled from Xining to Qinghai Lake (the biggest lake in China, where there is an annual professional road bike racing tour). We then circled around the lake and went back to Xining to hop on a train back to our hometown. This part of the trip, which was the easiest, was 340 miles.

-What were some of the challenges and highlights of your trip?

The biggest challenge is to ride for long distance almost every day at high altitudes. Most of the ascents to mountain passes were around 6000 feet, and twelve of the mountain passes were more than 13,000 feet above sea level. It was very easy to get sunburnt and dehydrated, if not worse high-altitude reactions. The ways downhill were not easy either -- it was quite risky if one didn’t control the speed and fell down the cliffs. Also, the weather could be less predictable -- we had been cycling in showers for some days and it was snowing one time in early September. (There were people who encountered hails when climbing.) In addition, some of the roads were not even paved yet, and one day we had to go along a path above the roaring Yarlung Zangbo river with mudslides.
These challenges were pretty much highlights, in my opinion. It was like experiencing all four seasons within a few weeks. Besides, there were motorcyclists, backpackers and other cyclists along the way. Most would greet and cheer for you with their thumbs up. When I was going downhill one day, a local girl who was returning home from herding her yaks yelled to me, “Be safe, sister!” These moments were super warming and encouraging. And you would feel very accomplished once you reached a mountain pass after several hours of climbing, and especially if there’s a Sacred Lake right underneath your gaze, or a gorgeous glacier not far from you.

-Who was the coolest person you met on the trip?

When my dad and I climbed to a mountain pass that’s over 16,000 feet above sea level, we saw a backpacker sitting and resting in a temporary tent set up by local Tibetans. We asked him if he could take a photo for us, and he came out on his crutches, with only one leg. I was completely speechless. He was doing a trek from Tibet to Yunnan, as part of his plan to travel across China. He would take rides with drivers passing by, but still, I couldn’t imagine how much it took to go on such a journey.

-What was the food you ate the most of on the trip?

We tried to eat well along the way to guarantee our nutrition, so we ate as much hot food and especially veggies/fruits as possible despite the limited availability at times. There were a number of restaurants along the route opened by migrants from Sichuan and other provinces. In the Tibetan regions, we mostly had yak meat which was great to restore energy - yak meat buns, yak meat noodles, etc. We really loved the self-made milk tea and yogurt by some of the Tibetan households. But there were also times when we could not find food within a fair distance, and had to rely on bread and canned ham/fish.

-Are you and your dad planning any other trips- if yes, where would you want to go?

Oh yes, for sure ;)  We’ve been talking about crossing the States from East Coast to the West Coast, or making a trip across European countries, upon my finishing this graduate degree. And we always discuss or dream about trips all over the world, such as in South America, New Zealand, etc.

4- Describe your dream bike: what features does it have? Wine bottle holder? Heated seating? Self-cleaning bar tape?

Tubes that would never ever be pinched. A device on top of the bike for protection against sun and rain with special design that would not cause resistance or imbalance. And maybe, an automatic gear-shifting system that’s contingent on the terrains I encounter.

5- If you could go on a bike trip with any person in the world (could be anyone real, imaginary or dead), who would you take with you?

To be honest, I hope to go on bike trips (not just one) with my future husband and kid(s) -- both imaginary for now. I don’t mind my dad tagging along if he’s up to it, and my mom if my dad could ever successfully get her on a bike.

6- Favorite bike snacks- list all of them!

These might not be “snacks,” but tomatoes, cucumbers and bananas during our cycling trip in Tibet were not only delicious, but extremely helpful in rejuvenating and hydrating. I also take gums and candies including cough drops (not the kinds that melt easily under the sun) for long-distance trips. And lately, Luna’s lemon zest energy bar (a little too sweet, but so good) and GU’s tri-berry flavor have grown on me.

7- Least favorite cycling clothing item (ie, mine are arm warmers because they always slide down to my elbows):

I used to have a pair of knee pads in China. They helped at times, but it was a pain in the neck because they kept sliding down to my calves (and even to my ankles) and I just couldn’t pull them up while riding.

8- When did you last grease your chain? (Come on, be honest)

Okay...hmm well, the bike store people helped me grease the chain when I had the first tune-up in June-ish. And then, I bought a small bottle of chain cleaner/lubricant. I was actually thinking earlier last week that I should grease the chain soon. Thanks for reminding ;p

Yu, thanks for the interview and for the amazing photos from your trip!

1 comment:

  1. I am in awe...and of course a bit jealous that I am no longer 20 something ;-)