At last a chance to post! Beijing 10/12/15

Our 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Beijing was all right.  The jet seating configuration was 3/3/3 across, and we were in the middle section.  Sorry, no bulkhead seating!  We left at 1:40 Sunday morning, 10/11, flying up toward Alaska and the Arctic Circle, crossing the International Dateline, and arrived at 5:30ish in Beijing, local time.  In other words, our entire flight was a nighttime flight.  Food was served early.  The cabin was dark, quiet, and we slept intermittently.  Our dread beforehand was moot. A comfortable pillow and blanket helped.  Occasionally we got up from our seats (and the leg room in Air China was way better than US planes) and moved around up and down the aisle.  Another meal was served with only five hours left in the flight.  We slept again.  I think we entered Russian airspace or got close.  An hour before landing, people migrated to the tail of the plane to help themselves to juice, coffee, or water, and a half hour before touchdown, the plane began its descent (from 34,000').  We landed early, closer to 5 am, and it was still dark, of course.

We met up with a few of our Road Scholar group at LAX, which totaled 11 in all for the trip.  Upon our arrival in Beijing, Jimmy and I set our watches to their time, hoping our inner time frames would adjust!  After customs, we met Hu Lin, our Road Scholar guide, gathered our luggage (which was conveniently checked straight thru from Sacramento), and made our way to the van for the drive to our hotel (Radisson Blu) where we'll stay overnight.  Our rooms on the fifth floor were very nice.  After orientation and breakfast and freshening up, our group was off to the Summer Palace.

Across from the Radisson!

Our first impression of Beijing?  It's a huge city, not ugly, clean, with cars and bikes everywhere, all respectful.  The sky was clear blue and the day sparkling warm.  We certainly didn't need face masks, despite warnings.  Look at that blue sky!  I'm typing this while in Nepal.  For our one day in China and the four days in Tibet (which is China), none of our electronic devices worked.  Our phones still don't work and we don't know why.  Very disappointing.  I'm hurrying to get this post finished, because the electricity goes off (and on) at least once a day.

Our group explored the Hutongs of Old Beijing, here in front of the Bell Tower.

And it included a ride thru the narrow alleys near Beihai Park in a pedicab.  Hutong means a neighborhood formed around a well.  The pedicab navigated the narrow "streets," gridlocked by every mode of travel; it was actually fun.  Lots of tourists and locals were Out and About.  Inside the Bell Tower, our group was treated to an exquisite tea ceremony, which was lovely, except for the buying pressure afterward.  Later we visited and had lunch with a local family. 

Our guide, Hu Lin, shepherded us at the Summer Palace at Lake Kumming.  We entered through the East Gate; the crowd was incredible ... throngs of guide-led tourist groups, pink or yellow caps, many languages, all loud and pushy, very distracting.  Hearing devices for one ear were distributed to each of us in our group so we could hear our guide, but it wasn't easy to hear anything at these gorgeous 540 acre palace grounds.  We did not go inside.

We were hurried along the promenade to take the dragon boat back to the East Gate.  Most of us were now pretty well exhausted, and were happy to return to the hotel for showers and at 6pm, a short walk to our dinner spot around the corner.

The country of China spans five (5) time zones, but uses only one, aptly called "Beijing time."  I think all of us were sound asleep by 8pm.  Tomorrow we have an early wake-up call -- 4:30am.  We leave for the airport at 5am for our flight to Lhasa, Tibet.  Altogether a good day, tho very tiring.


Phase One Complete, at LAX, Friday, 10/10/15

9pm.  Jimmy and I signed up for this "journey of a lifetime" to the Best of the Mountain Kingdoms way back in February, while the ground was cold and the days were short. Jimmy was anticipating his knee replacement surgery in March.  If you follow our blog, you know that surgery was postponed twice and finally done on June 11th, four months tomorrow. Thank goodness he has recovered well and is in no pain, even when hiking.

We started planning right away, gathering information and getting organized even though the trip was eight months away.  We bought travel insurance.  New passports were issued in January, but we needed extra photos and color copies of our passports.  We applied for visas at the proper time.

In April, Nepal was struck by the devastating 8.0 earthquake.  We hesitated.  Road Scholar assured us that the "show would go on."  My words, not theirs.  A few of the sacred temples we would visit were destroyed, but we would still visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  And we would still see incredible views of the Himalayas.

Those eight months whittled down to four months, then two, and then one week, and now we are on our way.  Packing for temperatures varying from mid-80's to mid-20's was a challenge, especially without taking too much.  Who knows what we forgot?  (who cares?)

Our easy flight from Sacramento (Phase one) is over and we are relaxing between flights at the United Club Lounge in Los Angeles.  Our next flight to Beijing doesn't board for several more hours and we will be in the air for 13 hours straight, all in darkness, I think.  We'll cross the International Dateline (into "tomorrow!") and land in Beijing at 5:30 am, their time. With any luck at all, I'll be able to get some shut-eye en route.  Neither of us is exactly looking forward to this long haul, but it'll be okay.  I'll let you know!

Perhaps the next time you hear from me, I'll be watching colorful prayer flags flutter in the breeze in Tibet, the "Rooftop of the World."


Way - To - Go!!! Friday, Oct 2, 2015

For a man who had Left Total Knee Replacement surgery less than four months ago, Jimmy is amazing.  He can hike up and down these alpine mountains like a pro.  When we last trod Five Lakes (June 2014), this trail hurt him. Today all he felt was hot, tired feet by the time we finished our 7.5 mile hike.  Yes, you read that right ... lotsa miles!  This is our third Friday in a row to plod up and down mountains in the high country; we felt practicing walking at higher altitudes would come in handy for our next journey.  We won't be hiking in Tahoe National Forest next Friday, however -- we'll be packing our suitcases.

Besides, how could we (or why would we?) stay indoors on such a dazzling day?  The temperature was in the low 70's, which is ideal for hiking, and nary a cloud in the sky.  Five Lakes is a popular trail; we encountered quite a few people (and dogs, of course).  Had to sidestep a few horse ploppers, too, although how a horse could navigate a steep, narrow course like this is unimaginable.

These two rock piles, one smoothly rounded, the other dark and jagged, sit side-by-side.  Makes no sense. Gotta love Mother Nature!

By the time we reached this sign, we'd already logged two miles in the sun.  We stopped now and again to admire the spectacular scenery (and breathe) on our ascent; it isn't possible for either of us to hike and look around at the same time!  As we approached the five lakes area, we were treated to plenty of shade cover from tall trees. Elevation at the trailhead is 6500 ft, and we'll climb to 7500 ft at our highest point.  

Blessed shade!

California Sister (Adelpha californica) flitting from leaf to leaf.  Nice spot of color.  This late in the year, we saw no flowers, but no snow either.

Lichen we did see!  I thought this pattern was so cool.  A recently-downed tree, I think.

OK, now -- after taking side trails down to a couple of the lakes, we followed a less-used path that took us eventually (up/down) to a juncture with the PCT (below).  Look at the photo above.  Jimmy is standing straight, and the tree in the foreground is straight, but all the trees in the background are listing so much they look as though they're fixin' to fall over!  What a bizarre picture.  (we were on a steep hillside, but ....)

We shucked our packs and stopped here to eat our lunch.  Our turn-around point.

There are no signs to be seen in the wilderness.  The lakes aren't numbered, as in 1. 2. 3., etc.  We had single hikers and a group of guys asking us questions:  is this Lake Five?  Are more lakes this way?  Is there a lake that way?  Where's the trail?  We had no answers.  So, I don't feel too bad saying that on our return, we slipped up and lost the trail completely, ending up with a lot more steps on the ol' fitbit than we intended. As long as we could see a lake shimmering in the sun, we knew we could eventually find our way to the main trail ... it just wasn't easy.  Think of it as an adventure! 

What goes up, must come down, and it's always faster going downhill.  I personally rated this trail at "moderately strenuous" because it's so steep.  And also very beautiful.

Yup, that zigzag in the center of the pic is part of the switchback.

The End.  Wait ...

... no, not the end.  I wanted to tell you about packing suitcases!  Next Saturday, Oct. 10th, Jimmy and I are flying from Sacramento to Los Angeles (LAX) to Beijing, China!  From there, we'll tour the mountain kingdoms of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and ending in Bangkok, Thailand.  For almost three weeks we'll be out of the country, some of it in HIGHER elevations, hence our hiking in high country (Lhasa, Tibet sits at close to 12,000 ft above sea level.) To say we are excited about this trip would be an understatement!  For months we've been working on getting our stuff in order, together, and ready to go into luggage.  We're almost there.

We are taking the new lightweight Surface Pro computer, but I have no idea if I'll be able to post anything on my blog.  If blogging isn't possible while Out and About in Asia, I'll do catch-up posts on our travels when we get home.  I'll carry you in my pocket while touring these exotic places.  Till next time, safe travels and happy camping.  Now, it's The End of my post! 