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The Second pass - the first 5000 meters.

One very distant bikerWhile beginning to work my way up the 23 km steep pass, I notice the print of bicycle tires on the gravel road. It is not a local, because they will for sure not cycle up a pass and the gang of two it cannot be - they are long gone. I begin to realize it must be the Japanese we met some days ago and I become obsessed with catching- and joining up with him. I meet him one hour later and we work our way up the pass together. The first 13 kilometers are easy, and the road is surprisingly good. The last 10 km is a real struggle with frequent breaks and the road turns into a bitch near the top. A friendly truck driver gives me some bread and a soft drink and I become like a newborn. The Chinese soldiers on the passing military trucks look very friendly and wave hands as if there is no tomorrow. Mura arrives first on the top and we enjoy not only the incredible view but also the fact that we have passed one of the biggest obstacles on the route - reaching the Tibetan high plateau. It's not completely true, because a similar pass is waiting some 93 km ahead, but who cares right now with a gigantic downhill in front of us. I measure the altitude as 4993 meters by GPS before we leave for the 24 km downhill to Mazar. We pass several trucks on our high speed descent and arrive just outside the city in less than an hour, losing more than a vertical kilometer. Mura has heard about a checkpoint just outside Mazar, and we take a close look at the village from behind some rocks. We cannot figure out if there is a checkpoint, and choose to cycle into the town simply because we Top of secound passare dead tired and hungry. It turns out that a shelter we suspected of being a checkpoint is a restaurant and we end up eating and sleeping there. Well, we didn't sleep much because at 12, two highly talking Tibetan truck drivers tumble inside our room and go to sleep after half an hour of talk. I felt like I have slept for 5 minutes when another guy tumbles in at 5 and starts a huge argument with the two, apparently because he is their boss and it seems like they not are supposed to sleep. In the end I become really pissed off.

The Han-Chinese couple managing this small shelter are quite funny as we try to make our mind clear on what to eat and bring with us the next morning. This young couple must have emigrated from east China, choosing a life on the edge of eternity here in nomads land which must be one of the last frontiers in China. We turn left after a few hundred meters of cycling - the road to the right leads to the Mazar military base and the most difficult 8000 meter peak on earth, the deadly K2. Tempting to use a week on this road, but it is impossible to walk in to base camp from July to mid August because of high rivers.

Miura in a wild moodThe road becomes washboard as we cut our way through the sharp headwind and dust from the military trucks passing us along the road. We rent a bombshelter of a room with half the roof missing next to a roadworker house for 15 yuan each in the evening and Mura cooks a gigantic meal of vegetables on his Whisperlite stove and swallows it in no time. I begin to become used to the different kind of privacy which exists here in Western China - the locals are very curious and cannot understand why a door sometimes is closed, and I slowly accept this two-way tourism.

We start out early at 9.30 knowing that the day will be long and hard, climbing up to a 5000 meters pass 20 km away. It quickly becomes switchback after a very steep straight road section and to make it better, loads of military convoys make the air dusty. Several hours later I run into a truck with civilian Chinese which has broken down and am offered watermelon while waiting Mura to catch up. Suddenly he comes Small restracing past and I leave the place as sudden as I arrived. We both underestimate the length of the pass and it takes most of the day to reach the top at 4955 meters by GPS. I wait 20 minutes for Mura to arrive before we start the descent down the sandy switchback road. My hydraulic disk brake works like a dream and makes me cycle faster than I should. Suddenly the road becomes very sandy and I weave from side to side while desperately trying to brake, but too late. Strange so slow time goes as one flies over the handlebars and lands on the road - it takes forever. The landing pushes all air out of my lungs, and I felt how the skin on the left knee brutally is ripped off, while I glide down the road. Still, I am very lucky only to get big wounds on the knee and my left elbow. Mura takes my bike off the road and smokes a cigarette while I take care of my wounds. We have been hoping to reach Xaidulla by the end of the day, but because of the flat downhill slope and the crash, it is obviously not possible. Mura wants to camp in the hilly surroundings while I want to cycle 5 km more in order to reach a road worker house which according to my notes from a German who did the road last year should have very friendly inhabitants.

Friendly roadworkersAnd friendly they are, the 10 people - half Han-chinese, half Uighur. We play Chinese chess for hours before they invite me to watch an American karate movie They've got on laserdisk. It feels unreal. Here I sit in a movie room in the isolated Kunlun mountains and enjoy (actually) what I have traveled thousands of kilometers to avoid. Technological progress has even reached the most isolated mountain areas. A Han-Chinese takes a close look at my wounds and smears antibiotic ointment on it to prevent infection.

They don't want me to pay for staying as I leave the next morning. The 23 km. to Xaidulla turns out very sandy and the sun makes the temperature rise up to Xaidullamore than 30 C. I arrive in the town a few hours later and wait for Mura to arrive. It takes three long hours, mainly because he starts out late and has to pack all his gear at his campsite. Still, the hours come in handy when hanging around and a Chinese officer takes a look at my bike and points out a broken spoke and of course I manage to puncture the inner tube during the repair. When Mura arrives and we eat together at a local landcruiser restaurant, he suddenly declares that this is his destination for the day. I am amazed - I've been waiting for him to arrive and we are only in the middle of the day. But I don't want to continue on my own and choose to stay for rest of the day. After the trip, I come to think of the differences between him and me. While I want to race across Tibet as fast as I can, his nature is more like taking things easy and enjoy the trip.