I made it to Xihai, a small town that most used as a starting point to bicycle around Qinghai Lake. According to Baidu Maps, there was a youth hostel near the bus station, but when I got off, all I found were apartment-like blocks in which people rented out bikes.
“Can foreigners stay here?” I said to the woman who seemed in charge.
“Yes! Yes!” She told me the price for a single dorm, I haggled with her for a bit, and then settled in.
Her husband came over. “You need a bike for the lake?”
“No,” I said. “I’m going to be hitchhiking and maybe hiking along the lake. Also camping with this tent at some point. Have to use it, you know.”
He looked at me like I’d just swallowed the sun.
“Hitchhiking? Why not just bike?”
I told him about my last experience biking long distance and how it made me appreciate how much I am not a long-distance biker. He shook his head. “You’re pretty crazy.”
I shrugged, more or less expecting that response by now. He motioned for me to sit on the porch with them for a while, and we basked in the sun, chatting about China, Qinghai Lake, and other pretty usual topics like the other American who had stayed in his dorms and who spoke pretty good Chinese AND got drunk with the owner. He apologized for not having the pictures to prove it, but I could basically picture the scene.
“At least HE biked around the lake,” he said. “Then he went to Xinjiang.”
I told him of my route, my plans, and how I’d end up in Xining again to take the train to Lhasa.
“It’s not the best route,” he said. “Because you should never backtrack. You should always go forward into new places and never go back to the old. Never return. Only move forward.”
I told him he had a point, but that since I’d already gotten my train ticket, I’d still have to go back to Xining.
Later that evening as we hung out over some hot water and comedy shows, he told me about the Tibetan Plateau. He told me about places where no one could live, where deserts grew wire-hard grass in June, and where the grasslands stretched farther than the eye could see. We talked about the Dalai Llama and how he was from Qinghai but might never come back.
And the next morning, when I packed up my things and went to the old road I’ve come to know, I went on my own trip forward, hopefully not to look back.