Distance - 96km (plus an extra bit more...)
Sam was sick again. Well again is the wrong Word，because it never really went away。 it was always there with different levels of severity. But this time it was bad。and so I (Shanna) insisted that we return to Kunming to see the doctor, but this meant we had to leave Francois and Severine.
The initial plan after the stone forest was to return to Kunming via a two to three day route through the Chinese mountains, camping in the countryside.
By the time I had climbed up the first hill, I knew my body was coping worse than it had been for a long time. During the night bathroom stops were long and more frequent than usual, and my usual methods of coping were simply not working anymore.
To make things a little harder my throat and head hold cold had jumped up a notch, and despite wanting to continue with the plan, I actually didn't think I could do it.
But before Shanna and I had made the decision to head back to Kunming we once again got lost. This time it started when I got off the bike to film everyone climbing a hill, putting the camera back in my bag and getting back on I was only a couple of hundred meters behind, a distance I had been covering back to the group without too much difficulty during the morning. But as I got to the apex of the hill, the guys were still not in sight.
I kept riding, a little harder now so I could catch up quickly. Another 500 or so meters and the ten kilometer downhill began, and still no sign of anyone. Riding a little harder by this stage but struggling to get enough oxygen to my lungs whilst coughing up flem, I amazed at how fast everyone had gone over the apex and down the mountain, but decided that as I hadn't yet seen them they must be further down the mountain.
Another thing that convinced me they must still be further ahead was that recently Shanna had been becoming more confident riding her bike down hill, picking up her speed whilst overcoming her fears of riding down long mountain passes.
After almost ten kilometers I came to the bottom of the hill and still no sign of anyone. What the hell I thought, I must have missed them somewhere. I waited for a little while and decided that they must still be waiting for me somewhere, maybe near the top of the hill, but then I thought, how did I not see them...
After around ten minutes waiting, I realised that I was going to have to ride back up the hill. I turned around and began to ride back up. When we had ridden up this pass on the first day it was a super challenging mountain pass, and I was wondering how I'd make it back up in any less than an hour, when suddenly a truck pulled out from a side street and I hatched a plan to try and hold onto the truck up the hill.
Pedaling as hard as I could I just managed to get up enough to speed to grab onto the back of the truck before it began it's ascent. But the driver realised I was holding on the back, and not to happy with this began gunning the engine. Soon enough we were flying all over the road at ridiculous speeds and I quickly decided that self preservation was the best option and let go, my arm feeling like it had almost been pulled from it's socket.
After a couple more kilometers my legs and lungs were burning, and the diesel fumes from all the traffic heading up the mountain were making me cough like an asthmatic. Three kilometres later and I decided I was going to try and hold on to another truck.
I saw one approaching, clicked down a few gears in anticipation of a desperate burst of speed and gave it all I had as the truck came towards me. Pushing at the pedals as hard as I could the truck flew past, it was going way too fast. That was gay I thought, must have been an empty one.
After one more try and fail I wondered if I should give up on this idea before I saw an old red cattle truck spewing out black diesel fumes everywhere and going really slow, easily slow enough for me to make my attack. I pumped at the pedals and easily enough, grabbed onto the back.
At first I thought it was great, but soon I realised that the truck was going so slow that I was almost pulling myself up the hill by my left arm (the one holding on.) Because of this I decided to alternate riding beside the truck and then holding on.
Whilst riding beside the truck at top speed I saw another truck behind coming up the hill with a lot more speed. Screw this, I'm getting onto that one I thought. Shifting down a few cogs and pumping the pedals as hard as I could I cycled past the truck I had been holding onto and up to the truck that had just overtaken us. Hell yeah, I thought, this is way better.
A kilometer later and my arm was killing me, I went back to intermittently cycling beside and holding on. Whilst all this was happening I had a fair few curious onlookers in cars and on motorbikes, some seemed to look at me, dissaproving but others would look over in amazement, decide that it was a good idea and either smile or give the thumbs up.
Laughing to myself I thought of the spectacle I must be to them, a white guy with white hair sticking up, on a bicycle with six bags on it and hanging onto the back of a truck in the Chinese coutryside... lol! Finally I was back on the top of the hill, and seeing everyone on the side of the road waiting I let out a big grin, half relief for finding everyone (because I was still not sure they'd even be there) and half a little inner self-congratulation that my plan had worked.
I pulled up next to everyone as we all wondered what had happened.Then, we all turned around and cycled down the hill.
A little anti-climatic I thought.
When we got to the bottom my bowels were screaming again. Shanna and I decided that enough was enough, and we (sadly) parted ways with Francois and Sev, deciding to ride back to Kunming and go to the hospital (by this stage I'd lost 14 kg, and with my seeming inability to keep any food inside my stomach for long things where only getting worse).
After working out our options we decided the only real way back was to cycle. It was only 60 kilometres from here, but with an altitude gain of over 1000 meters we knew we'd be in for some serious pain. And just as we headed up the mountains towards Kunming the wind picked up and became so incredibly strong that for the next hour we wouldn't get out of the lowest 'granny gear' on our bikes.
With some encouraging words to each other we pushed on, but secretly wondered to ourselves if we could make it back.
Five hours later, exhausted we found our way back through the maize that is Kunming city (thanks to some great navigating from Shanna and crankiness from me) and absolutely exhausted, carried our bikes up to the fourth level of the Kunming backpackers hotel, threw down our bags and collapsed.
Just before I was about to enter the dreamtime I ran off again to the toilet, where I stayed for the next hour. Sitting there though I started thinking that at least I wasn't having to pedal, and I decided that even this was not as bad as riding back to Kunming.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia