Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I'm a Cowboy, On a Steel Horse I Ride

I last wrote from Emei Shan, where we got lulled into about a week of stagnat relaxation of sorts, having stayed at our first backpacker-oriented hotel, complete with the typical banana pancakes, and the ease of life in a touristed town. We got back on the road again and continued north west, targeting western Sichuan province and gaining altitude onto the Tibetan Plateau.
Throughout Sichuan, we've been continually distracted by incredible sights along the way. On a whim, we left our day's route and followed signs to Er Lang Mountain National Park. Immediately after crossing the gate, we were treated to kilometers of roads winding along a rushing, silty river. The river was fed by numerous towering waterfalls, varying from thin white streams to gushing deluges that washed over the road.

Waterfall in Er Lang Mt. Nat'l Park

Similarly, there was a lot of evidence of China's live-at-your-own-risk attitude as landslides and boulders that had fallen from the cliffs had destroyed portions of the road and left craters in other portions. There were a few points where rickety Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-type bridges spanned the river (lacking only the height of the movie's bridge, but making up for it with added ricketyness), and of course we had to test out the most dubious bridge.

Deeper in the park, we learned that we could rent a bungalow for the night, a sort of camping cop-out that would not stand later in the trip, so we dropped our gear at the bungalow and then crossed the bridge again at dusk to build a fire on the boulders of a waterfall that evening. We collected firewood among honest-to-god swingable Tarzan vines and all of the night's creatures and bugs. The bridge had to be crossed again after dark, and with the river rushing underneath and beer and baijou rushing through the veins, it made for a dizzying span.
The bamboo forest in the park made the perfect environment to take up martial arts. George made a great Kung Fu Master, and in no time I was channeling the skills of Bruce Lee himself.

Hong Kong Fooey!

We pressed on and kept heading west. One day, we started drastically gaining altitude. In the region of the park, we had finally escaped the populace to the point that forests finally outnumbered crops and housing. Within a few hours, we reached the upper limit of the lush green forests. At a definite line, the landscape suddenly changed to short, scrubby trees and short grass. As we gained altitude, the air turned colder and the bikes began to struggle due to the thin oxygen. No sooner did the bikes begin to choke and sputter than we passed a Caucasian woman on a bicycle scaling this incredible pass, the first Caucasian we'd seen since the handful in Emei Shan. We pressed on, knowing that while we'd see a lot more of this country than that woman, she was certainly the crazier one for her choice in route and transportation.
Again, an invisible but noticeable line demarcated the end of the green trees and the beginning of just plain grass and rocks. And there was also a notable change in the people. The first man we saw at this altitude lived alongside the road in a tiny stone house. A hose spouting water into the air indicated that he made his living by providing water to cool the trucks making the pass. He looked significantly different than the Chinese people we'd seen before. His skin was redder and darker, his eyes somewhat rounder, and his hair grown longer. We'd suddenly arrived on the Tibetan Plateau and the difference couldn't be more obvious.
The pass peaked at 4298 meters (12,900 feet) and was marked with thousands of tattered Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the powerful wind, tied from a giant white stupa. Of course, there was a cell tower across the road, so George was able to make a phone call with full bars. In the thin air, we spent a lot of time setting up the perfect photo for a Qingqi ad. We're aiming for a billboard here.

Photoshop Contest! We were taking "jumper" shots, as George calls them, and by their nature, it's a challenge to get them just right. So I have put together a zip file with some rough shots, each with at least one good pose for each of us. I need our Photoshop experts to take a crack at creating the perfect image out of the shots we took. We're looking for something more "Qingqi, fuck yeah!" than "Oh what a feeling... Qingqi!", so do your best. There is some cutting and pasting, and some lighting and color correction needed. Please don't put any text on the image; we'll leave that to Qingqi. The zip file is located at www.adamcohn.com/JUMPERS.zip. The winner can add to their resume that they created an image for a billboard, assuming Qingqi is as enthusiastic about it as we are. Email your full size PSD to me and the other riders, and post a link to a web-size version hosted at www.imagestation.us to the blog so others can see your work! Let's see what you can whip up. Funny stuff is always funny and welcome, but won't be sent to Qingqi, obviously.

OK, back to the road. While China lays claim to both the physical Tibetan Plateau and the land that was once independent Tibet but is now Xi Zang Province, there was no question that we had arrived in a different environment, a different culture, and different people. We're currently on the Plateau and not the province, but there is clear: we are in Tibet. Rather than just the stares that I have described before, we are now greeted with whoops and hollers, waving hands, and cheers. And that was before the costume change.
See, I called my shot before I left, and mentioned to a few people that I might take the plunge and go mustache on this trip. A few days into the trip, I started letting things grow, and made the commitment a few weeks ago. I encouraged George and Mike to do the same; David already had a full array of facial hair. George did it reluctantly and bellyached about it daily, about how dirty and gross it made him look and feel. Well, that's the point, isn't it? I mean, with the road grime, the sweat, the rainstorms and the camping, we're dirty already, why not take it a bit farther?

Tibet. It's got some sort of identity crisis. The people look more South American than Asian, with their skin and eyes alone, but then they don these flamboyant colored outfits, the women braid cloth into their hair, and men and women dangle beads and silver from their hair and ears. The styles and colors are very Peruvian; we finally escaped the grey haze of China and found color, in a big way.

Tibetans in Typical Attire

I don't know why, but these guys have a Wild West thing going on. Cowboy hats, boots, big sunglasses, the whole nine yards. Tibetans' motorcycles are possibly even more flamboyant than their attire. When I first noticed that many motorcycles have leather tassels hanging from the handlebars, I made a declaration. We executed on that and bought them... and then bought glittery stickers and George bought Chinese flags that pop up from his dashboard. And then George declared that we were getting Cowboy hats. And we wound up with the full outfits: the bikes, the hats, the tunics and jackets, the sunglasses, and of course, the mustaches.

George and Mike, On the Range

"It's as if god gave you a reason to convince us to grow these mustaches!" George declared, suddenly feeling a lot less dirty. We'd found our place here in Tibet, and some days locals walk up close to verify that we are in fact lowei, rather than locals.
So, with motherfucking leather tassels, cowboy hats and mustaches, the whole world is a different place. A motorcycle ride is a whole new experience. And the whooping and hollering we got from the locals in the beginning has turned into them going absolutely batshit crazy sometimes when they see us drive into town, pass their mud home, or walk their streets.

Pretending to Smoke, Genuine Mustache

I can now understand Scott Lewis' transformation from suburban Jew to cowboy. As George said, we now can see why people would want nothing more than to just don a leather hat and "mustache around."

Still Life with Mustache

Adam, Mike, David "Chang Hefner" Poh

Tibet is yak country. These gigantic, shaggy beasts are fascinating to look at and even more fun to interact with. They roam freely in fields and roads. I have taken to doing my share of yak herding when we leave the road; carefully riding around them and moving them across the grasslands. My bike, and the others, now backfire like David's has for a while now. The yaks don't respond to horns. Either because they hear them all day on the roads, or because they have some of their own, but backfires get their attention real quick. They truly "high-tail" when spooked, pointing their shaggy tails in the air before galloping away. A welcome reaction compared to the sheep who sleep in clumps on the road, heads all resting on each other; the humans who ignore any sound on the road; the ducks who cross the road in slow, deliberate clusters; and the dogs who are prone to unpredictable last-minute changes of direction. Oh, and yak is delicious, as jerky, medium-rare on skewers, you name it!

Giving the Tassels a Bath After Yak Herding

Mike "Mustache" Barkelew Eyeing the Horizon for Stray Yaks

With the tassels, mustaches, and Tibetan outfits, we've done some more camping, we've done less bathing, and intend to take this grimy image as far as we can. The other night we drove through a storm before setting up camp next to a river and whittling our own chopsticks using AK47 bayonets while listening to Graham Parsons and Johnny Cash. Tonight we will camp again, with a baggie of dead mealworms that are supposed to do something that the locals get all excited about when you soak them in baijiu. Wish us luck.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm...what a fascinating tale of cowboy legend. Looks more like "Tibetan Brokeback Mountain"! Careful when you bend over boys.

9/07/2006 8:58 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

Man, with 20 subscribers and a couple thousand site hits on the days following my last posting, George and I are a bit disappointed at the lack of trash-talking from the peanut gallery! George and I got a couple off-the-record responses referring to Brokeback Mountain, so I thought I'd throw you guys one of my favorite quotes from the trip now. If you know Mike Barkelew, this will be all the more priceless.
On cowboy hat day, we started calling him Broke Backelew. After a few hours of this, he turned to us and said,
"You know, I don't understand why I have to be all Brokeback. I mean, you guys have mustaches too."
Of course, the ribbing only intensified.
So, hey, don't be afraid to talk some trash, and don't post as anonymous, you wuss!

9/10/2006 3:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

been having issues logging into here for some reason. once that's resolved, i'll throw around plenty of trash for you.

9/11/2006 1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few ideas on the Qingqi Jumper:

Jumper 1

Jumper 2


9/18/2006 1:14 PM  

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