Could the Pigeon make it?
Those of you who were here on day one, or those of you who've looked at the pictures, will know that I am not riding my Flying Pigeon bicycle as I had intended. Tragically, the rear wheel could not take the weight of my equipment and 40km in I had to make a cut throat decision to abandon the Pigeon.
I was gutted, I still am a bit, though I do think it can be done on a Pigeon, if I can get hold of an original rear wheel and not one made of such flexible steel.
However, I only had a set amount of time to complete my journey due to other important matters, namely getting on with my life. The simple truth is that the I would not have been able to complete the ride on the Pigeon in the time I'd put aside.The first three days would have taken six, from then on I think I would have fallen short by around 25km a day.
I also would not have been able to have the huge amounts of fun I had with Tom and Jonny as I'd have been travelling around 5kph slower.
In other words it's been fortuitous as well as disappointing.
My main failing, by some margin, has been to rely on Google Maps to give me advice on terrain. On the last leg, I dragged Tom and Jonny up to 2000 metres and almost 300km in distance, in just two days, on a dreadful surface. The Pigeon would have needed four or five days. Until this leg however, the road surface has been Pigeon friendly.
In summary, it can be done on a pigeon but it would take at least three months, and you'd probably need people with you for most, if not all, of the journey.
The Pigeon isn't dead, but long live the Giant.
The Pigeon's hastily arranged replacement is very much the Flying Pigeon of 2015; a £200 Giant mountain bike. One I bought a few months beforehand with no intention of punishing it in this way.
This particular model happens to be an ATX 680, but it doesn't really matter. These bikes, just like the Merida bikes the boys bought, are indestructible performers. The only way I have adapted the bike is by attaching a pannier rack and disconnecting the front derailleur , because you only need the big ring. If you can't turn the big ring, you should be pushing.
In general the bike is fantastic, my only complaint is that the suspension forks are far too flexible, but the whole bike cost £200 so what are you going to get? It's got me 2000km without even thinking about it after all!
Here's some pictures
Photo of the Rest Days: There's a lot more where that came from
Unsurprisingly, the last week had drained Tom, Jonny and I. I had also made it to 2000km in 18 days of cycling. So rest day one was a slow affair that started with the dregs of our hotel breakfast, meandered through life admin but ended with a decent meal and handing over the boys bikes to some Peace Corps volunteers based in Zhangye.
Jonny had to finalise his voting by proxy for the general election, Holly who had joined us, had to work, I had to try and remember my own name ahead of a phone interview and Tom had to sleep.
By 17.30 though, we were sat in brilliant sunshine, drinking Tsingtao and eating sunflower seeds. It finally felt like a holiday. Zhangye has an almost south east Asian feel to it; it's about as relaxing as a Chinese city can feel.
We then met up with Raines and Kelly, two Peace Corps volunteers who we gave Tom and Jonny's bikes to pass on to their successors who would be arriving in the next couple of months. We had great hotpot and yoghurt together, whilst admiring the peace Raines and Kelly were delivering to Zhangye.
On Tuesday, for the boys' final day we visited the fantastic Danxia landscape 40km west of Zhangye. There's enough pictures for me to leave out the adjectives, so enjoy.
I tried to eat myself back up to my natural fighting weight (two KFCs and counting) and got down to the miserable business of washing my clothes in a hotel bathroom. Just look at the water from my shorts - pause - then consider that this was the third rinse.
On Wednesday Holly's flight back to Beijing got cancelled so we went to see China's largest sleeping Buddha together, which even more excitingly, for me anyway, may also be the place Kublai Khan was born.
I just checked the weather (rain) and wind direction (20kph headwind) for tomorrow. Don't be surprised if I have a fourth rest day, if only to avoid breaking 30 pot noodles for one more day.
Average Speed: 12.15 KPH
Pot Noodles: 28 (really fed up of them now)
Punctures: 11 (3 for the Pigeon, 1 for Jonny)
Zhangye and Danxia Photos
As a full time, unprofessional, adventurer I have learnt many things in the past three weeks. Some have been trivial: you shouldn't add 50% spirits to protein shakes; you should look out for lumps of concrete rather than read shop signs; you shouldn't ride off with your camera still balanced on your pannier rack; and you must be careful when locking the bathroom door in two star business hotels.
I have though, learnt some useful things too and feel it's my duty to pass on this information to you, the armchair unprofessional adventurer. First up my three most important pieces of kit.
1. Chamois Crème
I know that this sounds like the filling to a delicious pastry but it isn't, this is the anti-bacterial, clotted-cream textured, tingly fun I've been smearing all over my Graham and his close associates. It cannot be overstated the importance of having a well cared for, smooth, and happy Graham (exhibit A - courtesy of www.51allout.co.uk) , over a raw and angry Graham, which is mistreating your balls (exhibit B - courtesy of the Guardian). So take my advice and apply exhibit C daily.
2. Howies Lightweight Jacket
I purchased this jacket from the always brilliant Howies for a mind boggling £20 in their Christmas sale. In a rare moment for Christmas sales everywhere something useful was available in a size other than small or XXL. For the first week, over the mountains of Hebei and Inner Mongolia, it probably stopped me accidentally giving myself pneumonia. Despite claiming not to be waterproof, so far it has proven to be just that. Best of all though it's doubling up as a groundsheet for my feet allowing me to double over my actual groundsheet.
One further piece of advice: if you're going to ride through China, white probably isn't the colour to go for.
3. ALOCS Gas Camping Stove
For £15, this little belter has kept the pot noodles and coffee coming. It boils enough water for both in just over 2 minutes and only lacks a sign that reads "this way up" to prevent idiots (Tom) from setting fire to a tiny patch of grass rather than cooking dinner.
Day 19: The Lost Legion
Photo of the day: We're at the top of the Mountain (We Weren't)
With unusual smoothness we were on the road by 7am. Even better, by 7.15 we were eating a deep friend spicy lamb pattie. Then me and Mrs Google Maps had a bit of a disagreement as we tried to find an alternative to a dust bowl of a road. Eventually we thought we'd found our way back onto the glorious G30, which we'd flown along yesterday, but we were stopped by a sullen faced official who simply waved us away each time I tried to talk to her. It was confirmed to us that motorways are a definite no go for bicycles in China twice on the following day; but yesterday I'd gleefully waved at the police as we transitioned onto the G30. Who knows why we were allowed on one day but not the next.
By 9 we were out of Wuwei, travelling parallel to the G30 on a road full of pot holes at about half the speed we should have been going. The boys experienced their first real suffering with rain and headwind before we stopped for far too long in Yongchang to eat more lamb and noodles.
Yongchang also held us up with its mural depicting the lost legion of Roman soldiers who were rumoured to have got stranded and settled nearby (they didn't - there's been DNA tests) but Tom explains all below in video format. I tried my best to keep his crotch out of the shot.
Leaving monumentally behind schedule we began to climb into the hills alongside a little bit too much snow for comfort, eventually stopping at what we believed was the top of the ascent to sleep near the dead, again.
Video of the Day: Tom Explains the Lost Legion in 70 seconds
April 27: Wuwei To Santiagou (via Wuwei and Wuwei) - 125km
Start Time: 07.00
Finish Time: 18.30
Hours Cycling in the Right Direction: 8.5
Hours Cycling in the Wrong Direction: 1
A Photo Every Hour: Today's Highlight - Big Snowy
Day 20: They've Moved the Bloody the Road
Photo of the Day: Formula Jon
Yesterday's tardy beginning and Tom-foolery (unfair, it was all of us) in Yongchang, left us with 155KM to Zhangye. It was also quickly established we were at the top of the hill, but we weren't at the top of the mountain that followed. It started well, the first few hours of progress saw us 20km further along the tough road. This is silk road territory, but I bet even Marco Polo had a better surface to be all Venetian on. Then the wind turbines started spinning and hell broke loose. Three hours of pushing and cycling earned us around 10KM. Ten!
The next 30km were downhill, though we still had to peddle into the fearsome wind. We had also spent so long zig-zagging the terrible surface - niche reference alert - which was akin to the road behind the Bayston Hill chip shop in the late 80s, that it wouldn't be unfair to claim today was a 100 mile day. It was also a 100 mile day with over 500 metres of ascending.
We also had the same howling headwind on the flat.It must have been over 30kph, right in our faces or slightly to the side. We even formed mini echelons to combat it at times.
Then the road ended. Seriously. After much discussion at a nearby petrol station, we were advised the road had been moved a few miles back, instead of running parallel to the G30 it was now running through nearby villages. Another 5KM was wasted.
Though the boys had become cyclists over the last week today was a huge ask. After all, the very unprepared one's training involved two hours on a Boris bike and buying some Sudocrem for his Graham. So today was incredibly hard. At 5PM I decided to break their spirits by advising all the suffering to now had got us halfway, furthermore, we were now only 10KM away from the town I had recommended we stop at during the planning phase, which they had both turned down in favour of getting to Zhangye
This reverse psychology worked a treat. Either that or the double Snickers, Ibuprofen and Pepsi cocktail did the job.
As the wind dropped we attacked, back in team time trial formation we peddled our knees into their fifties. The big one was especially useful on the flat, often giving us so much shelter that Tom and I were able to play a few rounds of Top Trumps behind him.
We reached our adjusted target of 20KM to go by dark, before gently spinning into the full beam glare of oncoming traffic all the way to the finish line. The circus arrived at the best hotel in town just before 10PM, where we proceeded to rip what remained of the boys' cheap panniers off and confuse all but Holly with our actions and communal stench.
Then we went to KFC to complete the suffering.
April 26: Santiaogou to Zhangye - 160km
Start Time: 07.00
Finish Time: 21.50
Hours Cycling: 12
Hours Pushing: 1
Numbers of Roads Moved: 1
A Photo every Hour: Today's Highlight - Life on the Road
Photo of the Day: Things Started Badly and Got Worse
Today started badly. After an early night I awoke early and showed Jonny the courtesy/respect he deserves by locking the door to our bathroom. Sadly the lock threaded and I was trapped like the magnificent dolphin I am, in the functional tuna net the mediocre bathroom was. Eventually the fourth member of staff to attend the scene managed to free me.
With three hard days ahead, we eschewed the usual practice of making progress and went sand tobogganing instead. Shapotou Cultural Tourism Scenic Happy Place Economic Zone is a bit rubbish but it does have China's longest sand toboggan hill, which was great fun.
What wasn't great fun was fixing a puncture in the heat of the day and then heading off at 2pm instead of 8am.
It was also almost exclusively up-hill and really hard work. Yet by the end of the day we were camping with mountains to our south and the golden, rolling sand dunes of the Gobi desert to our north. It was more than worth the suffering.
We now also have a fourth team member, Cynthia, Tom's toy camel. As yet Cynthia does not have a bandanna.
Cool Fact: Bajiu and protein shakes don't mix well and your water bottle will retain the flavour of that particular cocktail forever.
April 22: Shapotou to Ganting - 61km
Start Time: 12.30
Finish Time: 18.45
Hours Cycling: 4
Bandannas: Still 2
A Photo every Hour: Today's Highlight - Sand Tobogganing, of course.
Photo Of The Day - Beer On The Move
It started well; the first 50km came easily as we worked together to beat the wind and pass into Gansu. A cycling career highlight for all of us was achieved when we each successfully took a beer from some delivery guys, whilst moving at a speed that will displease my maternal parent.
We had a great lunch thanks to Jonny picking a restaurant with sheep on the sign. Shaved bits of lamb and chunky noodles in a spicy sauce and a huge bowl of veg.
Then we hit the mountain. Mrs Google Maps missed this one. It punished us. Particular cruel on the tallest and strongest of us, Jonny. This cycling stuff about weight, power, aerodynamics? Turns out it's all true. There was also a lack of petrol stations, it wasn't long before anything remotely red became a mirage of one with promises of Oreos, water and warm fizzy drinks.
Things were even harder today as we all had stomach troubles of varying degrees. Weakened and punished I introduced my favoured method of pushing every so often to break the agony and eventually we made it to the top. To celebrate we drank one of the three beers that had been making the whole experience precisely 1.5 litres harder.
This was followed by a merciful 30km downhill, through mountains, watchtowers, some mud and sandstone Great Wall, mud brick villages; all with the Gobi in the distance. Our day was saved!
Until we ended up camping on a hybrid of graveyard and rubbish dump. I'll let you decide which of these we decided to be closer too. It was under the shadow of a watchtower and gigantic snow-capped mountains; but for me the presence of litter and the dead took the edge off.
April 23: Ganting to Dajingzhen - 107km
Start Time: 08.00
Finish Time: 19.00
Hours Cycling: 9
Hours Pushing: 1
Photo Every Hour - Today's Highlight: The view
Photo of the Day: It's at least this long
Slapstick Friday. With no deisre to sleep with the dead and rubbish any longer than necessary we were gone by dawn. The shit hole we had been calling home for nine hours gave us one final send off; whilst we finally fixed Jonny's slow puncture, Tom peered over the bridge to see three rotting sheep carcasses and a dead dog. Is throwing dead animals off bridges the most fun thing to do here? I miss pristine Ningxia.
As we took part in the now customary change from pre-sunshine clothes to post-sunshine clothes a man tried to sell us 500g of bread for £5. Hilarious, but not nearly as funny as the next five hours of our most successful day to date.
First up was me, as we entered a ghost town, my reading age of five in Chinese saw me still reading the name of a shop as my front wheel hit a lump of concrete. Fortunately I was terrible at mountain biking as a teenager and flying over handle bars and rolling out of trouble came as second nature. Not a scratch on me and only a minor snap for one of my panniers.
Tom then asked if it was ok to drop rubbish into a bin without a bottom. Jonny and I assumed he meant no bag and so said yes as bins in China are often unburdened by a bag. He didn't, he meant literally no bottom, and so we looked on as a man with a Masters in Science from a University called Cambridge, knowingly dropped his litter onto the floor and looked surprised that this was the outcome.
Through no fault of his own he topped this by some margin an hour later when a toll bridge barrier closed right on top of his head. He didn't die and we made it to Wuwei, where we are definitely very, very foreign. Today we've not just had the stares and friendly hellos, we've had our first gasps!
I should mention that today Tom and Jonny became real cyclists and we hammered 100km with a slight head wind in about five hours. I'm a very proud mother of two.
24 April: DajingZhen to Wuwei - 103km
Start Time: 07.00
Finish Time: 14:00
Hours Cycling: 5
Photo every hour: Today's Highlight - WALKING ON THE WALL
Photo of the Day: You're going to take these two where?
Rest day two. Purchasing bikes for the unprepared one and the even more unprepared one, who - and this is genuinely alarming - is already wearing a bandanna.
Off towards the desert tomorrow so no blog.
KM: 1245 (not including Pingluo to Yinchuan)
Average Speed: 11.7 KPH
Pot Noodles: 20
Punctures: 6 (3 for the Pigeon)
The Sites of Yinchuan
Photo Of The day: It was Better when something arose thAT HE HADN'T pREPARED FOR
To plagiarise the late Sue Townsend.
09.00 - Leave.
09.30 - Stop for noodles.
10.00 - Toilet stop.
10.30 - First breakage; a snapped pannier.
11.00 - Make it to 1KM.
It was not an auspicious start. Worse still, when my back was turned, the even more unprepared one had put on a second bandanna.
Being more vulture than culture, we headed to Yinchuan's botanical gardens to visit the fantastic dinosaur park attached to it.
It was a good day for the newcomers to be introduced to long distance cycling with a fierce tailwind pushing us south. A brief rain shower was dealt with badly, the really unprepared one had brought a poncho that he managed to attach just as it stopped raining.
We stopped at a small town on the way to avoid further wind and rain. After some amazing food, we were invited to another table to share some baijiu, the 50% dancing juice of China, with a group of 40somethings; it took a Churchillian speech by me to stop things getting out of hand.
Our last stop of the day was the 108 Pagoda; a still impressive site with utter nonsense being built around it in expectation for booming tourist numbers.
Later that night we set up camp in a field of thorns. Here, both the unprepared and even more unprepared one were joined by the totally unprepared version of me. Instead of buying a sleeping bag, I purchased a Durex Featherlight, which really wasn't up to much. After a decadent meal of beef pot noodle with Have I Got News For You interrupting the nearby industrial noises, they got a good sleep, whilst I tried to warm myself by cuddling Jonny as I imagined he was Victoria Coren (never Mitchell, never).
April 20: Yinchuan to Qingqtongxia - 80km
Start Time: 10.00
Finish Time: 18.00
Hours Cycling: 6.5
Hours Enjoying Chinese Hospitality: 1
Photo Every Hour - Today's Highlight: The First Breakage Still in View of The Hotel
Video of the Day: Clever Girl
Photo Of The Day: Some heads are bigger than others.
I awoke cold and not with Victoria Coren.
After a thorny puncture we got on our way. The unprepared one tried to buy panty liners instead of wet wipes at our breakfast stop.I lost patience with my many thorny punctures and replaced both inner tubes.
Then, out of nowhere, we found form and worked like a team pursuit unit. We flew through the tree lined avenues in what feels like the only province in China where people don't litter. It was brilliant
We stopped for fruit in a village I'm 22% certain translates as Second Squatting Ditch, a brave decision on our part.
An hour later we stopped for baozi made by a husband and wife team, before being overwhelmed by photo requests; most notably by a group of petrol station employees about half the size of us.
Then there was watchtowers, glimpses of the first dunes of the Gobi and beautiful blossom. This got us to 95km, at which point we started to fall apart: Tom probably felt it hardest and decided to stretch on the forecourt of a petrol station much to the amusement of everybody.
Zhongwei was a magnificent final stop; a friendly, wave-heavy, joy of a town where the school children have actually done their English homework. It's these moments of fun that drag you over the last 20km.
But they don't drag your typing beyond 23.30.
April 21: QingTongXia to ShapoTou - 124km
Start Time: 08.30
Finish Time: 19.00
Hours Cycling: 10.5
Photo Every Hour - Today's Highlight: The School Children of ZhOngwei
Video of the Day: What if a bus runs over his head?
Photo of the day: Caption Competition
I took up yesterday's dinner invite after much suffering for the first 120km. Timing, hospitality and kindness meant I got a lift the remainder of the way to Yinchuan. If you want I'll make it up tomorrow, but you should just take these photos as compensation.
The day started by battling the metabolism enabling virtues of chilli before I headed out into a rainy and flooded Wuhai. At my first breakfast stop my left trainer began to foam as I walked, which was a promising indication that there was more than just H20 in Wuhai's rain.
Google Maps need to change the software they use for identifying roads. On a related note I went on a surprise visit to a coal mine.
The morning misery continued with two punctures, one of which occurred right next to a coal powered factory. Grim.
Eventually I was out of the industrial horrors and into the small farms and beautiful mosques of Ningxia province. My early difficulties meant I arrived late for lunch with the Mas. After I washed as much filth off my limbs and face as I could we headed for the hotpot that culminated in the photo above.
The Mas and friends were desperate to show me some sites of Pingluo county, but I insisted I needed to be in Yinchuan by 7, because my less than capable friends would be arriving from Britain. We went to a beautiful steeply arranged Taoist temple before hospitality and kindness meant that they were putting my bike in a truck to drive me the remaining 60km.
I felt a little sad about breaching the integrity of the trip, but the fact I could have cycled but had more fun eating and seeing people more than compensated.
April 18: Wuhai to Yinchuan - 158km
Start Time: 06.40
Finish Time: 18.30
Hours Cycling: 8
Hours Enjoying Chinese Hospitality: 3
Minutes Being Driven to Yinchuan: Not very many
Photo Every hour - Today's highlight: The Acid Rain is making my trainer foam
Photo of the Day - It Looks like he's mugging me off, but he really isn't!
In some ways it was disappointing to see Wuhai clouded in smog as I approached after 155km of cycling, but when you've been waiting two months to have this blog title in many ways it's a relief to coat your lungs in metallic debris.
A great day. A proper this is why your doing this day. Following the most arduous check out yet - 18 minutes - I joined Linhe's pensioners for their morning turn about the square before hitting the 6.20am rush hour to school. Yes that's right, six and twenty. Linhe has a definite charm to it, I'd love to come back.
Out on the road it was a day of monuments and men (and a woman). I passed the 1000km mark, the G110 passed its own 1000km mark and I crossed one of China's great rivers; the Yellow one. Only the sixth longest river in the world, after all the ones you know about and the Yenesei, which you don't know about, or at least shouldn't know about.
More new friends today. Tomorrow if time allows, I'm off for lunch with two delivery drivers who passed me five times as they shuttled up and down the same stretch of road. Here they are.
Also had three or four other photo sessions on the way, the best of which was with the guy in the photo of the day. He was doing the reverse of me all the way up to Hohhot, on a grown up's bike.
Today was all about one long lingering moment though, as I cruised with a tail wind at 50kph (Mom - 20kph), with Idlewild playing, I gazed over to a glimmering Yellow River and the very first dunes of the Gobi Desert on the opposite bank. Better still, the Song 2 pun securing haze was also visible.
Wuhai also seems charming and has provided the best variation of Kung Pow/Gong Bao Chicken I've had yet, with a real "I'm not crying because it's hot, I'm crying because I'm happy" chilli flavour to it.
In other news, I've gone native and will happily eat a preserved egg from the plastic wrapper. You don't know what your missing.
Finally, another bath!!!!!!!!!
APRIL 17: LINHE to Wuhai- 151KM
Start Time: 06.20
Finish Time: 18.00
Hours Cycling: 11.666
Hours Pushing: 0
Number of Dead Dogs: 1 (told you it was a good day)
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: The Giant Padlocks STATUE
THE I DIDN'T REALLY WANT TO DO MISTRANSLATIONS AND ROAD SIGNS BUT SOME OF THEM ARE JUST TOO GOOD NOT TO SHARE SECTION
PHOTO OF THE DAY - My new best friend
What a difference a day and a 45kph reduction in wind makes. A joyous day, on the way to the edge of the Gobi desert where the photos do most of the talking. The man above and his colleague provided great entertainment as their frequent breakdowns and my frequent rest breaks created a situation where we overtook each other persistently for 50km.
Quite a few celebrity photos today, the best of which was with this young couple who flagged me down to present me with two cans of Red Bull.
Enjoy the photos. I don't want to waste valuable time in Linhe, which seems a lovely little city, or limit my time in the bath! Yes that's right I've got a bath!
APRIL 16: WUYUAN to Linhe- 83KM
Start Time: 09.00,
Finish Time: 17.00
Hours Cycling: 7
Hours Pushing: 0!
Number of Dead Dogs: 3
Number of Dead Sheep Rotting on the Side of the Road: 3 (not enough to put me off lamb for tea)
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: The Prancing Sheep Statue
The I didn't really want to do mistranslations and road signs but some of them are just too good not to share section
For the first two weeks and first 1300ish kilometres of my journey I've almost exclusively been using the G110 National Road, which runs from Beijing to Yinchuan.
It goes from over mountains, passed the Great Wall and it's watchtowers, over desert, over grassland. It has one of the world's mega cities book ending it. It's Mongolian, it's Han, it's Hui, it's everything. It's a great road.
You could even drive it in one day.
Today was a nightmare and I was forced into playing my spare day joker early. I was meant to cover 141km today but only covered 61km. I was waved off at 8am by the helpful staff at my hotel but within 5km I was riding straight into a fierce, polluted, and sandy headwind.
It was total misery. The G110 heads north rather than west, which was no use to me. I can't use the G6, which does head west because it's a motorway. I had intended to arrive in Yinchuan on Friday, the day before my friends, Jonny and Tom join me, but after 61km of riding into a wind of up to 50kph I decided to play my joker and forego that early arrival. I turned up at the only hotel in Wuyuan and after confusion, photos with drunk, dirty, smelly men I was in a room with a view of Wuyuan's public square.
Another visit from the police too, it's quite a service they provide. A friendly person turns up, copies your documents, asks what your doing, nods their head in approval and leaves.
With a bit of time on my hands I then went to see the sites. Documentation below.
APRIL 15: Urad Qianqi to Wuyuan - 61km
Start Time: 08.00
Finish Time: 15.30
Hours Cycling: 4
Hours Pushing: 3.5
Number of Dead Dogs: 5
Number of Photos with Stinky Men: 6
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: The Carpet with Wednesday on it in homage to the tv show teachers
PHOTO OF THE DAY - A beer for a rural boy
Extra special bonus photos of wuyuan's Tourism Sites
After much confusion as to why I asked for a knife at breakfast, I was presented with a spoon with which to spread the butter on my self-assembled toasted egg sandwich. Still, some wonderful beige carbs and protein got me through the Baotou rush hour and back out onto the G110.
Very little happened today, other than a shift from five layers to one layer as the temperature rose to around 20 whatsitmajiggies.
My right knee gave up on me and I had a slow puncture, but you don't want to hear about that. You want to hear about my triumphant return to form in the last 15km. It was triumphant. My celebrity status has moved up a notch; I now get interviewed by cars driving alongside me as passengers film me and ask questions. In the opposite to a classic Tour de France medical tow, one guy even leaned out of his window to offer me a cigarette.
By the time I'd finished dismantling my bike and locking it, all of the hotel's staff had gathered to meet me for the obligatory photos. After the previous horrified faces I now enter the hotel and immediately apologise for my appearance. This didn't put off the girls from the restaurant who wanted a photo, so I upped my warning to "I'm sorry, I'm a very dirty man". It didn't work
I checked in after the hotel had sent on their guest's details for the night to the local police, so I had a visit from a very nice police woman and her young son. After we'd established I was alone, on a bicycle, had a reservation for tomorrow night and was only taking photos of mountains I was left alone to try and locate my slow puncture. It's times like this I wish baths were more prevalent in China so I could multi-task.
APRIL 14: DONGHE to Urad Qianqi- 130KM
Start Time: 08.00
Finish Time: 19.30
Hours Cycling: 10
Hours Pushing: 1.5
Number of Dead Dogs: 3
Number of Dead Sheep: 12
Number of Dead Wolves: 1
Number of flies swallowed: 1 (happy now dad?)
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: Your desert is on its way
Photo of the day - Characteristics
After retrieving the Giant from its place of safekeeping and hauling it up four floors I began my flattest day yet. After realising an economics podcast on healthcare statistics was less productive for generating rhythm than terrible late 90s pop punk, I cracked on with what can only be described as an almost proficient performance. All to the sound of young men who must now utterly be ashamed of their musical legacy.
Aided by two of what my knees call a Paracetamol Power Hour, I covered the 145km in under 12 hours; inclusive of the time lost through being a point of curiosity for everyone I met.
Today was great fun, until the final approach to Donghe and leaving Hohhot, I had quiet roads and only a gentle headwind to contend with. To my north I followed the Great Blue Mountains (not blue, but great mountains) and to my south the Hasuhai Wetland, which would occasionally glimmer enough to warrant a mention here. It was also a strong debut for my new fold up stool (£1.50), which is keeping my bum warm at break time.
Today though, was all about being a curiosity to others. I was the first foreigner a number of people had spoken to and I got to make my first unplanned joke in Mandarin, whilst having my photo taken with three women I exclaimed "Look! I have three wives!" and received a rapturous response from their actual husbands. More Jim Bowen than Ross Noble, but you have to work the audience.
Rather than a donkey, I treated my body like a steam train today by chucking in a strawberry flavoured (loosely defined) muffin once an hour instead of coal.
Talking of coal, it was - swear coming up - fucking everywhere. Inner Mongolia is mining country and by the time I arrived at the hotel I looked like I'd done a real day's work, or made an unfortunate decision regarding an outfit for a provincial fancy dress party. My receptionist stared at me as if it was the later.
APRIL 13: HOHHOT to donghe- 145KM
Start Time: 06.50
Finish Time: 18.30
Hours Cycling: 10
Hours Pushing: 0.25 (on the flat, my knee felt funny for a bit)
Hours Being in Photos: 1
Number of Bottles of Lorry Driver Piss (viewed): 8
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: I can also do a joke about your mother-in-law
PHOTO OF THE DAY - Kilometre Burial
Some welcome time apart for Graham (it's multicoloured because it's a link) and the saddle today, whilst we pottered around the wholly underwhelming tourist sites of Hohhot: a pagoda with a bouncy castle, a mosque with neon TV screens and a museum with taxidermy so bad my phone couldn't focus accurately enough to take a photo. All in addition to having a smelly hotel room and a terrible lunch.
It comes to something when a city's best feature is its affable taxi drivers. Come to Hohhot to go the surrounding mountains and plains but only sleep and eat hot pot in the city.
But you know what? They've got a Pizza Hut and I've got 145km to cycle into the wind tomorrow, which is a balanced equation if ever I've seen one.
On returning to the hotel after pizza, one of my worst fears was realised. The bike had gone from outside the hotel. With panic improving my Mandarin by anything up to 20% I managed to establish that two men had put it in the staff quarters for one reason or another. I am eternally grateful to all my teachers at That's Mandarin for getting enough blood from the stone that is my linguistic ability to sort this situation out.
Average Speed: 11.7 KPH
Pot Noodles: 10
Punctures: 4 (3 for the Pigeon)
For some reason my laptop/the internet/things I don't understand, I am struggling to reply to comments on the blog. I'm not intentionally ignoring you and thanks for the encouragement!
With the fear of wind waking me at 4.20am, I checked the weather forecast. It was not good. The wind mirrored my direction of travel exactly. So I had a pot noodle and a cup of coffee, slapped on my sun cream and Graham cream, packed my bags and left in some dense, wind free mist.
With Mrs Google Maps interrupting podcasts to tell me what to do in a voice midway between a self-help audiobook and a half-hearted dominatrix, I went on a very disappointing detour through a building site on a road not yet built. No wonder Google is blocked here if they're going to go around knowing the future.
Out on an actual road I had a glorious day. Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia, was my final destination; of its many appealing attributes, being 300m lower than Ulanqab was a particular favourite.
I have learned to treat myself like a little donkey. Once an hour I stop for five minutes to rest, consume one item of food, a swig of water; then it's back to plodding on down the dusty road.
On my second stop today, a man with a dialect I couldn't understood at all, resorted to writing in characters (which I also couldn't understand) in the dirt. I told him I was stupid and so couldn't understand. Something that was more than believable given my special 'nobody told me it would be below zero' outfit. At my first stop, it was very difficult to find my penis following the aggressive wind chill's effect on both the organ in question and my decision to where fingerless gloves. I had taken drastic action and was now dressed with wind proof shorts over a pair of Uniqlo chinos. The man found my stupid argument convincing, but it was good to have a penis again.
After the first set of hills I stopped for noodles in Zhuozi, a town that had an end of the world feel as a big dark mountain loomed in front. Fortunately the G110, the road I've been on for 95% of this trip goes around, not through the mountain like the new G6 motorway. I had great fun, all but one lorry driver was courteous enough to pass me with a full lane sized gap and I flew into the very edge of Hohhot's future urban sprawl in great time.
I've found it is important to make hay whilst the sun shines (though I'm sure you need rain to make hay). The more progress you make the more positive you are, the closer to a big city you get, the easier it will be to solve any problems. Conserving energy is for racers, not idiots.
To prove this point I caught the beginning of a blizzard for my final 5km instead of my final 30km because I had got into top gear on the downhills, as any good idiot would do.
I also had guests, in the shape of Holly and Matt (my saviours from Tuesday), who were great company until they started to beat my nodding-headed shell at cards around midnight.
April 11: Ulanqab to hohhot - 151km
Start Time: 05.30
Finish Time: 19.00
Hours Cycling: 12
Hours Pushing: 1
Chocolate Bars Consumed: 3
Near Death Experiences: Me: 0
Number of Dead Dogs: 3
Number of Bottles of Lorry Driver Piss (viewed): 27
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: The view
PHOTO OF THE DAY - BMW Toilet Flush
Today was meant to be the easy day at 61km. More of the hills that Google Maps ignores made the first 30km hard work, but it was an enjoyable slog that ended with me sat in glorious sunshine listening to the Football Ramble's John Charles Profile.
Better still, on the way up, a young couple driving a new Mercedes 4x4 down the wrong side of the motorway stopped to give me a Mongolian gift. I understood the following: it was Mongolian; I shouldn't eat it; and it should go in a place. I didn't understand what place or its purpose. I was heartbroken it wasn't a massive biscuit. My best guess is that it is something you use to make your clothes smell nice by leaving it in a wardrobe - like cedar wood, as heavily advertised by Nan Maureen. My second best guess given it's waxy feel is that it could be a candle.
Attention people who actually know about China! What the hell is this?
I saw a hare the size of a labrador but was on one of the long downhill sections so couldn't bring myself to stop to take a photo. I saw another later that was road kill, so didn't want to take a photo.
I also saw some yurts; both fabric and concrete for the more modern Mongolian. I should probably have mentioned that I'm Inner Mongolia.
The wind was bad on the hills, often stopping me on the descents if I stopped peddling, but on the final flat 20km into Ulanqab it was hell. I had to learn how to ride the wind, my preferred method was to stay in the easiest gear for the impossible gusts and crawl at about twice walking pace, before pressing on whenever it dropped. Attention cyclists! If there's a better way tell me in the next 12 hours.
It took three hours. Worse still it was in the exact direction I'm heading tomorrow for 140km. I'm terrified.
Best hotel experience so far. I arrived in my usual stinking state, approached the desk and was greeted by "you must be Simon" - there's not a lot of foreigners in this part of the world. My disgusting panniers were put on a trolley, which I could do with following me for the next 4500km. My room is genuinely non-smoking, a rarity in China. I was also brought some fruit, and because I'm a foreigner and we foreigners love coffee, some extra coffee for free. I even managed to order room service in Mandarin.
Best of all though, when these goodies were delivered I managed not to pop out of what has to be the smallest bathrobe known to man.
April 10: xinghe to ulanqab - 61km
Start Time: 09.30
Finish Time: 16.15
Hours Cycling: 4
Hours Pushing: 2
Hours Eating Oreos: 0.75
Near Death Experiences: Me: 0
Number of Dead Dogs: 0 (but one hare)
Number of Photos with Young Female Petrol Station Attendants: 0 (didn't visit a petrol station)
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: castle shaped wind shelter
PHOTO OF THE DAY - this man getting close
Google Maps needs to improve its reportage of contours. Someone else needs to sort the wind out. Hard day made worth it by seeing the Great Wall, watchtowers, mountains and the look on the receptionists face when I arrived covered in dirt and debris.
Also had a great lunch stop at a petrol station - see photo of the day; I was offered, but turned down, one of the young female employees and dumplings, but I did accept some delicious tofu (if you don't live in China let's take your next question about tofu outside of this blog).
Finally, my day was made on the final climb before descending into Xinghe when a bloke on a little truck pulled up alongside me and offered to race, explaining as he made this invitation that he was the 'Watermelon King' - I could have misheard, but I made him say it three times as we shouted over the sounds of passing lorries. He didn't have any watermelons or a crown/sceptre, but he did win the race.
April 9: ZhangJiankou to xinghe - 111km
Start Time: 09.00
Finish Time: 19.15
Hours Cycling: 8
Hours Pushing: 1
Hours Eating Oreos: 0.35
Hours Eating Pot Noodles: 0.9
Near Death Experiences: Me: 0
Number of Dead Dogs: 0 (but one sheep)
Number of Photos with Young Female Petrol Station Attendants: 3
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: The Great Wall and awesome scenery
PHOTO OF THE DAY - Petrol Station working lunch
Today started with a dreamy ride for 20km through the China they don't use in postcards; small holdings and farmland populated by smiley people who were waving and shouting hello at my preposterous appearance.
Then I reached the crash site.
One of the main things that worried me about the Pigeon was it's lack of breaking capability. Seeing what two lorries had done to one car at a junction, made me glad to have two disk brakes. I arrived later than the other 300 hundred people in the audience. Something I'm very grateful for because at best the driver of the car would have been in a terrible mess, at worst they're dead.
I spent the remainder of the day riding cautiously close to the side of the cycle lane that gave me the most distance from passing traffic, constantly eyeing up the best route of escape.
It was a hard slog over the hills today. I had a proper bonk 20km out and despite the encouragement of two friendly cyclists I had to stop for an emergency pot noodle in the shadow of one of Hebei's largest steel factories. The kind of travel romance we all dream of.
After yesterday's sunburnt face (I'm saving up my end of day photos for a montage) I made sure to wear sun cream today and keep my jacket on. Unbeknownst to me the jacket had rode up a little, leaving me with the world's least impressive truckers tan.
My destination, Zhangjiakou, is almost certainly about to join the exulted company of Lillehammer and Albertville as a wherethehellisthat? place to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, yet I only saw one set of Olympic rings.
April 8: Yanqing to ZhangJiaKou - 145km (depending on who you believe)
Photo Every Hour - Today's Highlight: the aforementioned trucker's tan
Start Time: 09.30
Finish Time: 20.30
Hours Cycling: 9
Hours Pushing: 0.5
Hours Eating Oreos: 0.5
Hours Eating Pot Noodles: 0.5
Hours Fixing a Puncture: 0.5
Near Death Experiences: Me: 0; Someone Else 1
Number of Dead Dogs: 5
Photo of the Day - Common People Themed Restaurant
This wasn't how it was meant to be. If I'm honest I hadn't expected the Pigeon to make it all the way to Kashgar, but I didn't think it would die so dramatically in the first 40km. I tried to save it, two separate mechanics tried to save it too but the weight was too much for it to take. My 15kg of luggage caused the very flexible rear steel rim to bend, which in turn meant the rear tyre slipped off allowing the inner tube to slip out. After 4 punctures, the Pigeon's back wheel finally gave in by exploding, scaring a bus queue of thirty or so people.
This happening in Beijing was disappointing but with a tight time scale I couldn't risk this happening in the middle of nowhere once or twice, let alone over and over again.
I'm gutted. This was always meant to be as much about dragging a Pigeon along as much as seeing some cool parts of China, alas that will have to wait for a time I can have a drone carrying my stuff behind me.
As it is, I have another bike, the Pigeon of 2015 a £150 Giant, which I will continue to ride for the rest of the journey (until that dies) because, frankly, this is probably my last chance to do something so silly as ride across China.
Anyway, I had a great day where many people helped me, stared at me, asked me why I was wearing shorts. On the plus side I don't have to leave before 7am everyday and I'll get to see more places.
April 7: Beijing to Yanqing - 92KM
Start Time: 06.30
Finish Time: 17.50
Hours Cycling: 6
Hours Pushing: 3
Hours Sulking: 2.333
Near Death Experiences: Me: 0; Pigeon; 1 (fatal)
A photo Every Hour - Highlight the no smoking room with cigarette marks on the wall
Photo of The Day - Chicken in a basket
While the Pigeon was sleeping I was gathering spares, plotting a route and weighing a lot of things. When the Pigeon finally crawled out of its nest I attacked it with a saw. Imagine B A Baracus converting a school bus into a bullet proof machine of war and you're half way there.
When I'm not sending £20 of sushi to my girlfriend's work address by accident or being berated for spending £20 on sushi, I'm sourcing protein in more economical and relationship friendly ways. Here are some of my favourites.
3x3 Chicken Wings
Before Jamie Oliver MBE invented lemon, garlic and chilli, food in Britain was awful. This is my poultry themed homage to him.
3 gloves of garlic
9 chicken wings
Ideally your chicken will be in an indeterminate state of refrigeration somewhere between frozen solid and dangerously half-cooked. I find over-priced Western supermarkets in China provide this as part of the service, but you may wish to freeze four or five wings and leave the remainder out near to a window facing the sun for maximum effect. Place the chicken into a tupperware container, which can barely contain them; please note that you should use supermarket purchased tupperware and not tupperware your mother bought in the eighties that has been masquerading her attendance at an Ann Summers party ever since.
Next, squeeze the three lemons over the chicken without taking care to avoid any pips entering the container. Nonchalantly chop the chillies and add to the mix. Do not scratch your genitals or engage in an intimate act with someone. Use the brilliant trundle wheel themed garlic chopper you received for Christmas. You may wish to imagine your kitchen side is a school field, which you've been asked to measure by a teacher incapable of dealing with your natural energy and desire for attention, whilst rolling the chopper. Shake the garlic into the container, then spend ages picking the remaining 80% of garlic out of the no longer brilliant chopper.
Place the lid on the tupperware, enjoying the four satisfying clicks as you seal it. If making this dish more than once, on occasion you may wish to close two sides in tandem in order to revel in the stereo click. Shake it harder than a lady of the night with an over ambitious work schedule.
Cycle for four hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 180. Place the contents of the tupperware on a baking tray. Turn the chicken wings skin side down and place in the oven for three minutes.
After three minutes remove the tray. If you are around 175cm tall and naked after four hours of cycling you will want to take care of steam emitting from the top of the oven, no penis needs to be exfoliated. Turn the chicken wings skin side up and top with pepper, which, of course, is black because nobody should be caught using white pepper. Return the wings to the oven.
After another three minutes, in which time you should have put some boxer shorts and/or pyjama bottoms on, remove the wings and drizzle with the leftover chilli and garlic infused olive oil that you used to dress last night's salad with. Return the tray to the oven.
Every three minutes, raise the oven temperature by three degrees, remove the wings and baste with the juice which is now cremating the edge of the tray in a manner so severe that you are glad you gave into your girlfriend's demands to get a cleaner because your own cleaning efforts were "frankly, appalling". Repeat this three times.
Following three further minutes of what footballers do in hotel rooms remove the chicken for the penultimate time. I shouldn't need to say this, but by now your oven should be at 192. After one final basting, grind salt over the wings. As a man you should now turn the oven up to its full power. It really doesn't matter what temperature this is, what's important is that you've used something to its unnecessarily high, full potential.
Wait a further three minutes before removing the wings for the final time. Place the wings on a plate. Devour.
Make scrambled eggs. Serve with a quadruple shot black coffee in your favourite mug to kick start your metabolism.
Cynics may suggest that due to its high alcohol content that this isn't a meal for an athlete, but they'd be wrong. An alcohol based meal can be the fuel of champions if prepared correctly. Jockeys - and despite my own reservations, horse racing is a sport because it was on Grandstand - frequently live like alcoholics to keep their weight down and presumably also to blank out the boredom of being involved with horse racing. Cyclists recognise that if you're sleeping, you're not eating and if you're not eating, then you're losing weight. Tyler Hamilton's excellent throwing-shit-and-watching-it-stick tell all book about cycling in the nineties and very naughties recounts the days where cyclists would take drugs (obviously) to sleep through the hours they weren't cycling in order to keep their weight down. I have no interest in sleeping pills but I do love a Martini, which in the right quantity has the same effect.
100g of smoked salmon
1 thimble of Martini
Twice your daily allowance of alcohol units in vodka
Fill whatever vessel you desire to drink from with ice and top up with mineral water. If you live in the first world tap water is also fine to use. Put to one side.
Remove the salmon from its packaging, place on a small plate and dress with the juice of one lemon and a bit of pepper. Note: it is of great importance that you dispose of the evidence, particularly the sticker denoting the price of this delicious fish that has travelled some 10000km to be with you tonight. You do not want another conversation like that which followed the £20 sushi order after all.
Decant the olive brine into a plastic cup that was left unused after a house party. At this stage be indecisive about what to do with the olives. Eat an olive, then another and another. Stop eating the olives.
Remove the lid from the cocktail shaker and add two large ice cubes. Add a thimble sized amount of Martini. Two significant points here. So significant I'm going to have to use bullet points.
I have decided not to tell you which vodka to drink, though I have told you to drink vodka. Traditionalists harp on about gin being the true base of a Martini cocktail. This is nonsense, gin is a flavoursome delight to be reserved for gin and tonic. It is acceptable to have a vodka/gin mix in a Martini, such as the Vesper Martini, but if you know about Vesper Martinis I don't need to tell you anything because you've been to the place a Vesper Martini takes you, which is the floor, and survived to forget everything.
The reason I haven't told you what vodka to use is because I'm ashamed. In my formative Martini days I unwittingly got hooked on a cheap French vodka called Eristoff. Do as you want because I have no authoritative platform from which to speak, but my advice is to find a vodka with as little flavour as possible. The brine and Martini will deal with flavour, the vodka's there to send you to sleep.
Eat a few more olives.
Remove the vodka from the freezer. If you're vodka isn't in the freezer stop reading this, go to the highest point in the building that your empty soul is poisoning and throw yourself off it.
Guestimate how much vodka you could drink neat and add to the cocktail shaker. Twice.
Add a thimble of brine to the mix.
Now this really is important. Though I have had some wonderful shaken Martinis, the pinnacle being a cocktail so well made by one Hong Kong mixologist* that the Martini had a millimetre thin ice-crust, which you had to crack to enjoy the drink, you are not going to be able to make a good shaken Martini at home.
What you can do however is shirl (TM) the contents. Shirl the contents in a clockwise (or anti-clockwise - there's no voodoo shit going on here) motion, being careful not to breach the structural integrity of the ice, but give the liquid contents more access to the cubes than they would have if you were merely stirring your drink. You are looking to produce an acceptable temperature whilst not watering down the flavour or strength.
Smugly pop an olive into your mouth, chew, swallow.
At this juncture a whole world of options open up to you. Eat some olives whilst you ponder which road is the right route for you to take.
Your first decision is about the olives. Are you bothered? Should they continue to linger like a red herring in a Scandinavian crime drama? No. No they should not. Which means they're either in the glass, on the stick, or in your mouth. Put them in your mouth, chew, swallow, etc.
Empty your drinking vessel of ice and water.
What vessel should you use? A mug would be bolshy yes, but you need a glass. And you should use a glass, this isn't the war you know. If this drink uses the last of the brine it is ok to drink your Martini from the olive jar like a hipster toe rag.
Add additional brine to taste.
Consume quickly before someone discovers what you've been up to.
If having this dish for breakfast, be sure to imbibe the right side of cleaning your teeth.
*ordinarily I would declare this job title bullshit, but the man was an artist.
As I will be spending around 12 hours a day cycling. I will not be writing thousands of words documenting, in intrinsic detail, about what is happening each day.
There will be lots of stats on distance, pollution, temperatures, speed, and near death experiences. Some of which will be true. You can also expect many references to Led Zeppelin, early 00s rock music, the experimental hip hop playlist on Spotify and the well being of my knees.
To make up for a lack of words there will be photos and, god forbid, selfie stick facilitated videos. At this early stage, the part of my brain that likes straight lines also envisages taking a photo once an hour for a unique slide slow each day. The part of my brain that can't be arsed with that sort of thing remains unconvinced.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Because I want to. I like riding bicycles and have the opportunity to ride the most popular bicycle ever for a really long time across an enormous country.
Why aren't you doing it for charity?
Because I hate children who have leukaemia.
It's something I want to do and there are not many things more irritating than someone asking for sponsorship for doing something they are clearly enjoying, whilst in no way furthering understanding of a particular problem or illness.
If for some incomprehensible reason me riding a bicycle has made your charitable gland throb then I'd be delighted for you to make a donation to a charity. Why not give some money to children with leukaemia?
Just don't give it to a charitable trust that supports a lobby group or private school. That would upset me; and remember by the end of this I'll be in possession of more rust than any tetanus injection can protect against.
Can I use your mediocre photographs?
Yes, if you ask politely and give some money to one of those aforementioned charity things.
Didn't I tell you not to do this?
Yes Nan you did, but at least I didn't lie to you.
Does anything you say represent the views of your past, present or future employers?
Great question, thanks for asking it. No they do not. They are my own, often poorly informed, opinions. Sarcasm will appear in italics.
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.