Woke up, destroyed a buffet breakfast, failed to transport Holly side-saddle, just about managed to transport her legs-akimbo, visited Apak Hoja's Tomb - the most beautiful building I've seen in China, saw the old British Consulate, failed to find a gin and tonic, had a final kebab and naan fling and then had the perfect ending.
All day I had been playing a game with the 11-16 year olds of Kashgar whereby the first one to say hello in a friendly and open manner would win my bike. We had nearly returned to the hotel by the time the winner revealed himself, after a brief conversation where I explained why I wasn't keeping the bike and he finally believed it wasn't a wind up he looked delighted, as any teenager given a free mountain bike would!
The final stats
Suspiciously round numbers
Total distance: 5000KM
Distance cycled: 4750KM
Distance cheated in a police car, truck, car and pick-up: 250KM
Average speed: 14KPH
Suspiciously accurate numbers
Dead dogs: 67
Dead camels: 4
Dead sheep: 84
Pot noodles consumed: 51
Kebabs consumed: 45
Naans consumed: 17
Flies consumed: 2
Where are we Lionel? We're in Kashgar.
Photo of the day: Done
Day fifty nine.
67km, that was all I had left. So I had a very gentle morning. Eating the emergency pecan crunch cereal bars from my 'if things get really bad' pouch kicked off the last day of school atmosphere.
I then went to buy one of Yengisar's famous knives. I had no interest in a ceremonial knife or cutlery, I wanted a whopper - a proper multi-purpose bone-crushing, garlic-slicing, meat-scoring beauty of a cleaver. After screwing my face up at the first offerings the salesman paused and asked me if I was a chef, or worked in a kitchen. "Yes I am a chef" I lied. With the smell of dishonesty stinking out the place he brought out a handmade beast of a knife. "I'd like two please, my friend is also a chef." I'd show you a photo but they're so heavily wrapped it seems wrong to disturb them until my return to Beijing.
My friend for whom the other knife is a gift, also isn't a chef, but he is the man more responsible than any other for this trip given that he: A) convinced me to move to China four years ago; B) advised Holly on taking the job that made me return this time; and C) introduced me to the stupidity of riding idiotic distances between Chinese cities. This is the perfect gift as on one of my very first weekends in China he, an old China hand, introduced me to the concept of the Chinese cleaver as he was buying one from a market in Hunan. He made clear that you only ever need to buy one as they last forever. Only weeks later, his mother-in-law had already broken it smashing up meat bones.
It's the perfect gift.
With such a short distance to cover, today was a pootle rather than a ride as I tried to arrive just after Holly, an arrival she almost managed to completely miss on film.
Being £500 under budget and with the hotel only having the one brand of champagne I actually like*, I had decided to pre-order champagne to complete that Tour de France winner feeling.
It's important to remember that I have won, I dropped Tom and Jonny weeks ago.
*I really can be an arsehole at times but my preference for Bollinger is dangerously close to marking me out as a monster.
A Photo every hour: today's highlight - Rules of Riding: 1. START AT HOME, 2. GO WHERE THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT AND ROAD SYSTEM ALLOW, 3. FINISH IN TIME FOR JOB INTERVIEWS AND A SUIT FITTING FOR A WEDDING.
Cut my hair, get a job...try and turn this into a coherent book with all the historical colour aund genuine opinions I saved you lot from.
There'll be one final blog about Kashgar this weekend, then I'll tidy the website up and add some photo pages but basically that's it, we're done.
Day 56: How to Be Kidnapped Effectively
Photo of The Day: This Again
Day fifty six
The doorbell must have already rung once before because I felt vaguely conscious when I heard it for what must have been the second time. It was 3.15am. Was I about to be kidnapped or worse, made to move hotels? I tip-toed over to the door, on which I had earlier improvised my own lock as the actual one didn’t work. Looked through the peep hole and saw no one.
In a previous life I had been on a training course to learn how to be kidnapped effectively before I went to post-Sadam, pre-Isis Iraq for a week. Most of the course was common sense but here and there were nuggets of advice that have stuck with me. One such piece of advice was to have a bag of things ready to go if you need to leave somewhere in a hurry. I had adapted this advice to have a bag of all my important things I would need if the police made me leave in a hurry (trousers top of that pile) and a pile of potential weaponry if I was to be kidnapped. Cynics may say the latter pile was actually just the contents of the bin, but delivered accurately seven empty bottles of Sinkiang beer could take out seven kidnappers.
After thirty seconds there was shouting, it wasn’t in Mandarin and there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of blue clothing on show, which all but ruled out the police.
Then one of the shouty men smashed into my door. He smashed into it shoulder first, which tested my engineering fully as the chair rocked back and fell onto the floor.
I picked up the chair and prepared to play an orthodox pull shot, you don’t switch-hit an intruder, but suddenly there was more shouting and a scuffle in the corridor; another man grabbed the man who had smashed into my door by his shirt and dragged him away to what the slam of a different door indicated was his own room that he’d failed to identify in his drunken state.
I slept soundly until 6.45 by when I’d had enough of Pishan. I left early enough to miss any police checks, but I did catch the young PLA recruits fun run up the main road into Pishan. Wearing numbers like it was a race; fifty or so heavily-armed teenagers chased after the lead runner who carried a huge red flag. With their beaming young smiles hurrying after the flag, the front end of this odd scene looked like a school re-enactment of a red army charge against the nationalists. Behind them this thought was quickly expelled as they were followed by one of the riot-tank things that came out in Ruoqiang and three other military vehicles. There’s a thin line between provocation and demonstrating authority, after all of your background reading yesterday and additional reading you’ve done on the three terrorist incidents that have their roots in Pishan, you can decide for yourself where this kind of thing falls.
At the big police check point the serious police were serious and professional and the idiot police were idiots. The serious police must hate every minute they spend with the idiot police.
Talking of idiots, once more I headed straight into a sandstorm, spurning the offer of a lift after only 500m. For two hours I battled through 15km of it before another car offered a lift. With time on my side I was happy to take this one on the chin, especially since it was covered with a scarf. However this car contained a woman who gave me a look that said “look love, I’ve got my hair full of sand from offering you a nice lift, now you and my husband dismantle your stuff and get in the car”. This was my kind of kidnapping.
Once in the car, I was consistently fed sunflower seeds, whilst the normal routine of questioning followed. The twist this time - as is always the case in China – is that the question of relationship status is elevated from afterthought to preeminence where the interrogator is a female. The other difference is that it is also not immediately followed by the suggestion you get a girlfriend in this province too, even if this new relationship is only very temporary.
Despite my short stint on the road today, the desert had aged me 15 years in just two hours. Just look at the state of this.
A photo Every Hour: Today's highlight - Compressed towel; told you it was loved up here.
At the Kargilik check point a different band of PLA youngsters were demonstrating their prowess in taking a man down and pinning him to the floor. No point in doing that indoors I suppose, just put the mats by the side of the road and make the most of the fresh air.
Kargilik felt like another planet from Pishan; as we arrived into the oasis in which it sits, going at car speed rather than bicycle speed, with the Turkic pop on the radio and the husband tormenting his wife in a playful way it all felt like one of those indie films you watch because you’ve got a degree. Not one of the good indie films, one where a big name star does it because he ‘loves the script’; Elijah Wood for example, that kind of thing. Probably on a Saturday in January, with a bottle of wine, whilst you’re not drinking, but it’s not really drinking because it’s a bottle of wine with an indie film.
The town centre was buzzing; peace and prosperity always were friends with benefits. There was row after row of bunting, people holding hands and a sort of loved up feel to the place, similar to the evident happiness in the front of the car I had just been sat in. Kargilik could well be the most loved up place I’ve seen in all of China.
My hotel was, save for a faltering internet that may not be their fault, the best I’ve stayed in since Zhangye; brand new; helpful staff; and shower gel that doesn’t smell like the 1970s (whatever they smelt like, I wasn’t there).
Other than forgetting my lock, today has been a total celebration. For lunch I had Pollo, which is big chunks of lamb in saffron rice with sultanas, dates and berries ( I slipped a n extra two kebabs on top too) and another Uyghur lesson from the boss of the heaving restaurant I visited.
I could stay in Kargilik forever if the internet worked.
Its wonderful final moment came in the evening as I popped around the corner to buy some eggs and water. As I paid, a policeman came up to me and said “you must be David”. Then the shop owner responded with, “yes the cyclist David”. It all sounded very biblical and as if they were a pair of psychics. It transpired it was the policeman who’d done my registration and the shop owner had seen me ride passed his window, but for a brief moment I felt famous. To answer your next question. David is my middle name so it was probably recorded as my first name on these forms.
Day 57: Gritty Shitty City
Photo of the day: Young travel Photographer of the year (Under-14s) third place
A Photo every hour: Today's highlight - Sticky hookers
Day fifty seven.
Having fallen asleep on Beijing time I was awake by 6.30am Xinjiang time. It was a tough call to leave Kargilik this early when I only had 72km to tick off, but having been caught by enough afternoon sandstorms for one lifetime I decided to do just that.
It was arguably the least eventful 72km of the entire journey, but for the now standard police check point, all that interrupted my progress was stopping to pick up a hat that had been lost by another road user. There will be no more accusations of bandanna banditry from you lot now.
Yarkant is a grim city, most aptly pronounced in a strong cockney accent; gritty in both metaphorical and literal senses, shrouded in dust, its grim architecture could bring down the most bouncy of optimists. Indoors it’s worse, my hotel room would see the same bouncy optimists hanging themselves. Even the sticker for the local prostitutes was peeling off the wall by my bed through lack of attention. In addition, the air conditioning didn’t work, the shower didn’t work and best of all my room card failed so many times it was taken off me.
The hotel also has one of my least favourite features of China; where men who clearly don’t need to work through fair means of foul loiter like teenagers in what they deem to be the place to be, which is, almost without fail, the reception of my hotel.
Today this was even more irritating than normal as my room didn’t have the internet and following what can only be described as mysterious activity on my phone (Apple/Spotify nothing sinister) I have no credit again. It was becoming a hell of a final insult, but being pestered by morons whilst I tried to use the reception wifi was too much.
Which is why I spent an inordinate amount of time in Mustafa Burger, eating pizza and chips and drinking Mustafa Cola, whilst failing to guess the passwords to every wifi network in range. To sum up how shit Yarkant is for a grumpy member of Generation Y, nobody has set their password as 12345678 or 88888888, the bastards. Afterwards I visited China Unicom who insisted I couldn’t top up my Beijing sim in Xinjiang, which can’t be true but nobody budged.
To add to my foul mood I then realised that I, a man who is riding through a desert in sandstorm season had managed to lose his sunglasses. Better to realise that at the time rather than the next day at least. The search for a new pair also led me to pass an ICBC with wifi that was unburdened by a password, which lasted long enough to send Holly a message to top my phone up online.
Then, when I finally returned to the hotel, I was informed that I was unable to return to my room for no particular reason and instead put in another room, until someone came to get me thirty minutes later so I could retrieve my items from the first room. Fill in your own gaps or remain none the wiser. It doesn’t really matter.
I then visited Cool Caca, another burger place. It was that kind of day.
Day 58: Trolling
Photo of the day - Good riddance Yar Facking Kant
Day fifty eight.
After an unapologetic phone call at 5.45am to my hotel room I’d decided I’d had enough and slowly got my stuff together, joined four men and four live chickens in the lift, before enduring the usual nonsense at check out.
The literal grit had been cleared by rain and I was leaving Yarkant in perfect conditions for cycling. I stopped to stock up on water and enjoyed a heart melting moment as a toddler fascinated with my bike fetched me an offering of sunflower seeds and was brave enough to accept my handshake as thanks.
After the new motorway appeared I had the old road to myself for two hours of tailwind, but for a brief thunderstorm, where I took shelter under a bridge like a troll, it was perfect. Too perfect in fact. I was in danger of arriving a day early, which would have made Holly’s arrival tomorrow a bit flat. Fortunately the penance I served in Yarkant has been rewarded with a cute little town in the shape of Yengisar, and a spotless, friendly, smoke free hotel. I’m even going to buy some souvenir knives, which appear to constitute the town’s entire industry, if the price is within 50% of right.
67KM to the finish line!
A Photo Every Hour: Today's Highlight - Drive safe
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.