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.
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.