But when he saw the pup, he knew that she was in need. “She was lying, tired, on the street,” Zhang says of the little dog, “so we fed her, and then she followed our team.”
The little dog joined the pack of cyclists, sometimes taking the lead as the bicycles trudged up and down a grand total of 10 mountains, each mountain higher than the next.
“We felt she might want to come along with us, so we decided to bring her along to the end,” Zhang explains.
The group was pleased when the pup joined their team, giving the mixed breed firecracker the name Xiao Sa – “Xiao” meaning “little” and “sa” for the second syllable in Lhasa, the name of the Tibetan village that would serve as the group’s final destination.
Though the pup had joined the team, she was no mascot, cheering on the sidelines; instead, the pup jumped right in the middle of the action. Zhang and the other cyclists were floored by Xiao Sa’s abilities, shocked when the little pup chose to stick with the pack through some of the trek’s more difficult sections. “She ran all the time, making me feel that she never feels tired,” says cycle team member Wang Zi.
Even when most of the cyclists had dropped out, when the pack’s numbers dropped from nearly 300 to only 6, Xiao Sa kept up. “Many people stopped cycling in some sections, then took the bus, but the dog made it,” Zhang describes.
Xiao Sa even played the part of coach for the remaining cyclists; Zhang says that on downhill parts of the trip, Xiao Sa rode with him on the back of his bike, putting her paws on his back to push him forward. After 24 days, everyone on two wheels – and four legs – made it to the finish line.
Though their trip to Tibet is over, their journey together is only just beginning. “I would like to take the dog home and take care of her,” says Zhang of Xiao Sa. “She has been a stray on the road for a long time. She needs a home.”