Stray dog's epic journey in China

Chinese dog follows cyclists for 1,700 km and becomes an online star

A stray dog has become an inspiration to travellers around the world after latching on to a team of cyclists in China and following them for 20 days.

The dog, who has been given the name Xiao La - or ‘Little Sa' - covered more than 1,700 kilometres as she ran alongside the team of riders.

The cyclists she followed, who were travelling from Kangding, Sichuan province, to Lhasa in Tibet, initiated the human-dog convey by tossing Xiao Sa a chicken drumstick a few days into their journey.

According to the China Daily, lead cyclist Zhang Heng said: "She was lying, tired, on the street around Yajiang, Sichuan province. So we fed her, and then she followed our team."

Following that initial contact, the plucky canine began shadowing the team day and night along their route. The cyclists fed her custard tarts, boiled eggs and sausages. After a while they began to think of her as part of the team rather than a hanger-on.

"She is a buddy and a friend," said Zhang Heng.

The Daily Telegraph reports that fellow cyclist Xiao Yong countered claims that the dog was following the riders simply for food. He said: "I can now see a bond between us from the way she looks at me. I think we have definitely moved beyond food."

Xiao Yong further praised the dog, by adding: "She's very smart and knows the route, because she never got lost even when we passed through mountains."

The cycle trip tackled 10 mountains higher than 4,000 metres, and reportedly the determined little dog kept going even when other cyclists gave up and took the bus up steep inclines. The only parts of the journey Xiao Sa skipped were sharp downhill rides, when she caught a ride in makeshift boxes on the cyclists' bikes.

The story has touched the hearts of millions, with Chinese internet users likening the dog's resolve to Forrest Gump. A blog set up to promote Xiao Sa's journey gained 40,000 followers in two weeks.

Fans of travel fairy tales will be happy to know that there is a suitably positive end to this inspiring story, with cyclist Xiao Yong having adopted the little dog since the conclusion of his journey.

Do you have any inspiring backpacking-related animal encounter stories? Have you ever picked up a strange companion on your travels?

Want to know more about China? Read James Mooney's country guide.