Day 34: You Must go to England and Find a Roadie Named Del Preston
Photo of the Day - Sunset
Day thirty four.
This was meant to be the start of the new normal. I left a little later than planned but began the day in what I wanted to be the new way of life: spinning gently along in 5th gear on mostly flat roads to reduce sweating; taking a big break in the heat of the day; and monitoring my water and food consumption carefully. Other than the break, which I didn't need, all went to plan.
As I silently rolled down one of the slight down hills, in the heat haze ahead I noticed the monk was still on my route. About 50 metres before I reached him, he raised his hand and without turning to face me shouted "friend, go on, go on, go on!". If this was Wayne's World 2, I was the one in the silly cap and he was either Jim Morrison or the Weird Naked Indian Guy. I can't yet decide which; he hasn't said anything as profound as Jim Morrison yet, but neither is he naked, Indian, or Weird - though he does appear from nowhere.
I did as I was told and got on with getting on. The 15KM before I reasched Akesai, I rode through magnificent, rippled dunes on a winding, descending road in the shadow of the huge mountains I would turn to ride along into the desert as part of this new normal.
I cruised through Akesai, like David Pleat in his darker days, looking for a bit of meat. Eventually stopping at a sparkling clean Muslim restaurant run by a young (compared to me and my lack of fertility to date) family. I tried my best not to shovel the delicious food in, whilst fielding the usual questions about myself and my journey.
If the new normal could be like this then I was happy. Get one real meal a day if possible, stay hydrated, see the monk etc, it was all great. To celebrate I stopped at a petrol station to buy my final top up of water and a head-melting 3.7% beer!
The panicked male attendant, desperately called the female attendant over to serve me. She looked at him and said "what? what's the problem, it's £1.20?". I got £1.20 out, causing her to exclaim to the boy "look he understands anyway". This prompted my understanding to be tested more fully as a trucker started talking to me at full speed in a strong accent/dialect. After the girl translated his dialect it was established, I'd be staying in my tent not in the town because I wanted to make more distance. The trucker seemed unsure, he didn't think I'd get further than 15km as the road was so steep.
We talked through it a few times, at various speeds and in varying translations of local dialect, Mandarin, Midland's English and Chinese school English. I was sure I had no steep roads for days, he was sure of the opposite. We agreed to disagree (by me agreeing with him and leaving).
He was right, as I headed to join the road that was to be my plan B, two locals flagged me down to explain the road was shut and I must continue on the 215 National Road, which was heading straight into the mountains I'd be smiling at all day. So I'm off to Qinghai, Plan C. At least the monk is going that way too.
I'm not sure I even made it 15KM by the time I set up my best camp yet at the foot of the mountains under the purple/orange/blue/red sunset.
May 10: Dunhuang to akesai - 100km
Start Time: 10:30
Finish Time: 20.30
Hours Cycling: 9
Hours Pushing: 0
A Photo Every Hour - Today's Highlight: Even more sunset
Day 35: A Day of two halves
Photo of the Day: Blast OFF!
Day thirty five.
As I finished packing my tent up, the wind began to rise in every single bit of the wrong direction. It took me an hour to push 3KM, an amount of time that had allowed Mr Guo (I missed the first half of his first name, the second half was Ping) to pass me on the way into Akesai and pull up alongside me on the way back up.
With looming deadlines of real life things like job interviews and weddings in New York, and desires to drink IPAs and have some home made lasagne (subliminal message to one person), I am no longer interested in the wholesome integrity of this as a cycling journey. It is now just a journey. I killed the first bike inside 40km and I took a lift for 60km in Ningxia out of politeness, but from here on in I am very much of the mindset I just want to get to Kashgar by bicycle unless there's a better offer. This is Plan C for ****'s sake.
Mr Guo had a better offer. We heaved the Giant and it's new watery excess weight into the cab of his truck and cleared 20KM of headwind as he drove me to the quarry he works at. Though he was in a rush, we almost stopped for a second breakfast after my poor grasp of tenses made him think I hadn't yet had breakfast. If you want to panic a Chinese person, tell them you're hungry, if you want to distress them tell them, you're hungry and cold!
We covered the usual conversation and even got on to our favourite types of food and which countries in Europe had mountains like these.
At his quarry, he dropped me off, passed me two bottles of water and wished me good luck.
I had to push the rest of the pass myself. There was no peddling to be done, it felt like the air was thin and the presence of snow probably gives that feeling some credence.
The long johns and scarf were back on by the half way point and another water donation was made by a car full of young, affluent Chinese, one of whom was far too beautiful to be touching the same bottle as my filthy hands. I was exhausted by the top and actually felt myself falling asleep as I lay down during one break.
The gravity dividend was great! 25km of descending that was only interrupted by the need to strip down to vest and shorts as I hit the plateau below. What a difference 12 minutes makes.
With more plateau and the odd lake for company I made as much progress as I could stand before setting up camp in time to discover the whole "the desert is cold at night you know" advice, is not a lie. Why Urban Ray didn't buy a better sleeping bag in Dunhuang, I'll never know.
I also became slightly alarmed at the lack of phone signal and roaming data available. Not just because I'm Generation Y, not even because I can't live with not knowing football scores, but because I don't actually know where I'm going and that's a problem.
May 11: Akesai To Suqian Lake - 80KM
Start Time: 09.00
Finish Time: 18.00
Hours Cycling: 3
Hours Pushing: 5
Hours in a Truck: 0.5
A photo Every Hour: Today's Highlight - Mr Guo
Day 36: Pull My Cracker
Photo of the day - The Doctor will see you now
Last night was very cold, especially from 2am until 5am, I'm not sure I slept. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep like a child on Christmas eve, which was apt considering where my day took me.
I slept in until 9.30am once there was enough heat to do so, before taking advantage of a great headwind to pass by scenery that looked as though it featured in the film Hero as I entered the province of Qinghai.
This marked the end of Schengen Area China, where borders are (wo)manned by friendly, smiling transport police. Here though, as I approached Lenghuzhen, I reached my first proper road block. The police were friendly especially when you considered the greeting you get at Heathrow, but the security nob has been turned up a couple of notches. Fortunately, as a solo-cyclist, with correct documentation and hilarious hair I'm clearly not a threat to anyone but fashion.
Still conscious I didn't know where I was going I asked the Police if there was a hotel in this town. There was but I then proceeded to check into the wrong one. There are still hotels in China that foreigners aren't allowed to stay in. I managed to check-in, eat at the restaurant next door, and get halfway through a shower before the first knock at the door.
Receptionist: Can you come out the police are here.
Me: I'm in the shower.
One minute passes
Receptionist: The police are here please come out.
Me: Wait, I'm in the shower.
30 seconds passes, followed by big bang at the door.
Me: OK, but I'm in the shower. (trying desperately to balance the scolding hot/freezing cold tap to rinse my most precious region)
Bang, bang, bang.
Me: I'm putting my clothes on.
Bang, bang, bang.
Me: (in English) You're going to ****ing love this.
I opened the door to the policeman, soaking wet and wearing only my Christmas boxers shorts, which invite viewers of said garment to pull me and demonstrate the explosive outcome of doing so on my crotch.
At first, he was blunt: I had to get dressed quickly (no shit son) as I must leave this hotel quickly. I apologised and after we spoke a little bit of Chinese he relaxed and even carried one of my panniers down to expedite things.
Stopping only to pull up my trousers that had fallen down and get my £12 back from a reluctant receptionist, the policeman started loading my stuff into his van. I didn't know where I was going but realised it was probably going to be OK given he instructed me to follow the van on my bike. For a whole 100m to the (worse) hotel that accepts foreigners. After a prolonged check in I was given the key to a room that possessed a doctors waiting room.
So Plan C looks something like this: down into Qinghai, starting with a no fun 200km stretch of desert; back up over a double helping of mountains; before finally making it into Xinjiang to join the southern silk road further along than intended.
May 12: Suqian Lake to Lenghuzhen - 70KM
Start Time: 10.00
Finish Time: 14.00
Hours Cycling: 4
Hours Pushing: 0
Photo Every Hour: Today's Highlight - Merry Christmas Constable
Day 32: Hate to Say i Told You So
Those of you who follow me on Twitter or have the misfortune to be friends with me on Facebook should just skip to day thirty three.
With genuine real life admin to carry out first, I then spent the day watching the election results and hitting refresh on a three year old wager on Betfair for a Tory majority. On the basis of how non-committal my mother was about Ed Miliband I put a large (but responsible) bet on a Conservative majority at odds somewhere between 5/1 and 6/1. There is no better bellwether than my mum for the state of the cumulative British political mind, if she's voting Labour without a smile, you're getting a small Tory majority.
I am, of course, impartially impartial about the whole thing, though I can now at least add - How are you paying for this ride when you're on a career break, you massive leech? - to the FAQs without having to say my girlfriend is paying me to get further and further away from her.
I celebrated with beer chilled by frozen meat balls in the hotel room bin, more naan bread and by leaving my rucksack, inclusive of bike lock keys in the locker at the supermarket.
Day 33: Preparation
Day thirty three.
Despite the do not disturb sign I was awoken by a hotel maid shouting to come in and clean my room at 9.30am. It was, ironically, a real chore to let her in and clean around me but she wouldn't take no for an answer. Honestly I couldn't dissuade her, I used almost 50% of my Mandarin - "please don't clean, it's ok, there's no problem, I don't want it cleaned" - but to no avail. Interestingly she did not consider the defrosted meat balls as rubbish, so I still have those.
Dunhuang is home to Mogao caves, a magnificent and deserved UNESCO'd place of gobsmacking magnificence. After writing off my rear inner tube (I'm almost entirely sure I've been sold 27.5" in 26" boxes by the way) I pootled the 10km back torwards Guazhou in my flip flops.
I opted to join a Chinese language tour rather than wait an extra hour for the English tour. The visitor centre is brilliant and you first watch a 20 minute film in full epic Chinese cinematic grandeur of the history - the robbing foreigners bit is skipped over quickly. Then you go to a 360 degree cinema for a tour of the site you're about to go to, which is unnecessary but really impressive nonetheless.
The site itself, originally a selection of small grottoes for monks to meditate in that transformed into beautiful temples that are full of colour, is brilliant. I enjoyed being on a Chinese language tour too, not least because our guide had a soothing and easy to understand tone. There was a lot of being told Buddha is wearing a red dress, whilst looking at Buddha wearing a red dress though. The sleeping Buddha also looks like he's sleeping with one eye open as sand has closed his other one. Mr Sandman must have brought a JCB for this guy.
It's a whopping £22 entrance fee but well worth it. By the end a sandstorm was closing in on us, but fortunately it was a good sandstorm and blew me all the way back to Dunhuang before 5pm.
I have decided to take the southern silk road to complete my journey, I can't risk being stopped on the G30 and going on a train for that long is just cheating.
Plan B - looks great fun doesn't it? #sandyballbag
However, other than tomorrow, there doesn't appear to be a hotel between Dunhuang and Kashgar. So my plan is this. 100km a day for three weeks, try and clear as much of it as possible by midday, then rest in the shade before starting again for a couple of hours in the early evening. Then camp. I hope to find enough streams to do some washing but by the time I get to Kashgar I'm going to need to be hosed down and scraped clean.
In an ideal world I'll find the odd place to write a blog and charge my electrical goods, but don't be surprised if things are quiet around here!
With the prospect of going truly wild I unleashed Urban Ray (my version of Ray Mears, it was never going to be Bear was it?) on Dunhuang. I now posses a second external phone charger, ten packets of noodles, five new inner tubes and five non-bleaching 50ml bottles of sun cream. I also picked up Rizzo, the newest member of the team, a pink lady who should make carrying an extra 2.5 litres of water easier and stylish. Just look at that detailing.
Running totals - week 5
Average Speed: 12.5 KPH
Pot Noodles: 38
Photo Of The Day - Oooh Political
Day twenty seven.
Whilst you filthy capitalist pigs were forking out £19.95 to watch Mayweather v Pacquiao, here in the People's Republic I watched it for free on CCTV 5, at lunchtime. This wasn't all good news at it essentially restricted me to my road diet of pot noodle and Oreos for brunch, and bemused the hotel cleaners who were desperate to clean my room despite the do not disturb sign and me asking to be left alone.
I headed out to the most touristy part of the Great Wall's most westerly point. I'm fully prepared for the sound of thousands of Lonely Planets to be thrown at me by sanctimonious hands, but I really like the way China rebuilds bits of the Great Wall, whilst leaving most of it well alone. I like the imagination aiding 'this is what it would have looked like if you keep the hot dog stands and jade shops behind you' reconstruction.
The Chinese, as I bang on about a lot, are also the world's best tourists. They get dressed up like Emperors and soldiers, spend a fortune, are consistently excited or interested in something and just love to tourist.
Can you imagine a husband in his twenties dressing up as a Roundhead, when nobody else was doing so, as he walked around a provincial museum? No of course not, but have a look at this guy all dressed up for his wife to film. That's the spirit!
This is the place from which people were banished into the desert, where I shall be banishing myself tomorrow.
Yesterday's slow puncture persisted, so I didn't make it to any less polished bits of wall, but I should pass the first pier of the wall tomorrow.
In bike news: I have now bought a pump I can operate with both hands to save me arriving in Kashgar looking like I've spent a little too long alone in a tent with only thoughts of Vicky C to entertain me, it will also hopefully stop inquisitive pensioners, who've never seen such a small pump, asking me what I'm getting up to behind my wheel; my beloved Perfomance Enhancing Water water bottle has gone mouldy (Baijiu almost certainly to blame) and so has been replaced; and I'm upgrading to two water bottles on the bike itself.
In news news: I've decided I will go to Dunhuang, as it's the nearest place with a hotel I can stay in, but I'll be camping the next two nights so enjoy the silence.
A short week after the extended break in Zhangye, but I'm now halfway.
Average Speed: 12.4 KPH
Pot Noodles: 31(really fed up of them now)
Punctures: 12 (3 for the Pigeon, 1 for Jonny)
The Sites of jiaYuGuan
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.