Dog has a bone to pick with cyclists after 1,000-mile trek
When a group of Chinese cyclists threw a stray dog a bone, little did they know that they were at the start of an epic journey that makes 'Lassie Come Home' look like a walk in the park.
The cyclists, on a 1,000-mile expedition from Chengdu to Lhasa, came across the small white mongrel in the mountains around Yajiang, a Tibetan area of Sichuan, five days after starting out.
One of the riders, 22-year-old Xiao Yong, tossed the dog a chicken drumstick. To his surprise, it began to follow them - and stayed the course for 20 days to become a sensation in China.
The dog -- since named Xiao Sa, or Little Sa -- climbed 12 mountains higher than 13,000ft, and stuck with the group during heavy storms. Indeed, as cyclist after cyclist dropped out, exhausted by the steep mountains and the thin air of the Tibetan plateau, the dog kept him and his colleagues going, said Mr Xiao.
"There was one day when we climbed the 14,700ft-tall peak of Anjiala mountain," he said.
"We did more than 40 miles uphill and at the end I had to get off my bike and push. The dog ran ahead of me and stopped at a crossroads.
"She waited for a while, but got bored because I took so long, so ran back, put her paws on my calves, and started licking me."
He said the dog had enough energy to run with the cyclists for at least 30 to 40 miles a day, although he would occasionally carry it in a box on the back of his bike. At night, Xiao Sa slept on the cyclists' raincoats -- and would share in their rations.
There were some fierce encounters with other dogs along the way. "Once, a large dog started chasing us along a series of dark tunnels and his barking drew a whole pack of others," said Mr Xiao.
"I put Xiao Sa on my bike and started pedalling desperately.
"One of my bags was ripped, but otherwise we got away."
Mr Xiao said at first he suspected the dog of following them only for food, "but I can now see a bond between us from the way she looks at me."
He has since 'adopted' the dog. Yesterday, Xiao Sa was travelling in a manner more befitting its celebrity: after being given a full medical by a vet in Lhasa, it was returning to Chengdu by passenger plane. (© Daily Telegraph, London)