Day 25: The trip to Gansu
Photo Of The day: Another day, Another sign I can't read properly
Day twenty five.
Fully rested after avoiding the wind and rain of yesterday I left Zhangye to the sounds of Alanis Morissette. I thought I'd discovered one of those ultra-rewarding 'oh I didn't know what that was when I was 11' but it turns out that old Alanis doesn't sing "It's like a death row hard on two minutes too late" in Ironic, instead it's "pardon". I thought it was a multi-layered gag about really, really, ironic rigamortis.
An hour in I met a man on a Giant bike, before a Giant support vehicle arrived alongside me in what felt like a premonition of doom. Fortunately it was anything but and instead contained a waving, smiling owner of a Giant shop.
This all led to me joining Zhangye Mountain Bike Club on their May 1 holiday ride for 60km, but for a leg burning 3km jump across to the lead group, the shelter they provided was second only to their friendliness. Yan, a lady with excellent English and even more impressive calves, and friends took me for lunch (of course) and were great fun throughout.
China's development confuses for the very good reason that it is really confusing, multi-layered and happening in a globalised internet age: the picket fences and Chinese flags look like the 50s; the car boom is like the 60s; there's a(n allowed) third wave feminism like the 80s. But these are merely conjecture, what can't be argued with is China's mountain bike fashion being firmly at the early 90s stage of development, just look at those colours!
By afternoon I was alone and climbing through pine scented - no really, pine scented - roads to the feet of the Qilian mountains. It was hard but glorious, other than coming across the canine victim of a car wheel. I am now well over 50 dead dogs into my ride, but this was particularly sad as the poor f*cker was still breathing. Had I not sent the hammer back after the Pigeon's death on day one, I'd have put the thing out of it's misery, in the great British tradition of opposing firearms but being entirely ok with bludgeoning something to death with a blunt instrument. There can't be a Brit alive who believes Professor Plum fired the gun in Cluedo rather than using the handle to cave in his victim's skull.
Tonight's camping spot had no litter, no graves and thanks to my adoption of Jonny's ground mat no icicles hanging off my nose. Magic.
May 1: Zhangye to Sunjiazhuang: 125km
Start Time: 08.00
Finish Time: 18.00
Hours Cycling: 9
Pot Noodles: 2
A Photo Every Hour: Today's highlighT - that's How to Boil a kettle
day 26: Talent Spotting
Photo of the day: See that trailer? I tipped that over didn't I.
Day twenty six
After 20km of climbing to Alanis, Garbage and other mid-nineties stalwarts I was flagged down to help flip over a trailer. In this part of planet earth, by comparison, I'm a giant and the grins in the photo above tell the story of how happy they were the weird white giant (175cm, 70kg and falling) turned up and flipped their trailer. It doesn't tell you how quickly he left afterwards once he'd seen how utterly devastated the axle was.
I was rewarded with sweeping downhills as I swept away from the Qilians. As I hit the first long straight I noticed ahead a man riding in what looked like an erratic way. He was obviously drunk, worst still, he was clearly using the 5km marker stones as his rest stops too. We exchanged waves as I passed him on my way to the next marker. In the great Chinese athletic tradition he was smoking on his rest breaks. I also realised he wasn't drunk but had - and you should feel the Britishness crawling all over me right now as I speculate on disability - a form of cerebral palsy.
I took my rest at the next stone and once again we exchanged waves and pleasantries. For the next 30km or so we repeated this pattern - inclusive of him smoking whilst I scoffed biscuits - until I put in a real kick to get to my target distance by midday. I hammered it, proper 25kph stuff, then stopped for a Pepsi and a great chat with some local old boys. I then hammered it again before stopping for a flag signing (and more holding of signs that could say "British men wear New Balance and Rape Goldfish" for all I know). As we took the third photo, 50km after I first saw him, my friend from earlier reappeared.
Now, I am fully aware I couldn't compete with any paralympic cyclist, but this guy was on a rudimentary shopping bike and about 5 years older than me. Someone from the Chinese Paralympic cycling team needs to pull their stopwatch out of their arse, get down to Gansu, confiscate his cigarettes and see just how fast he can go. He was sustaining 20kph on a f*cking shopper with cigarette breaks. How the f*ck is that possible?
I rode on with the owners of the sign with which I'd been posing, eventually we caught the talent, who was smoking again. I then developed a mystery slow puncture, which ruined my afternoon to the extent that I immediately impregnated the shop owner who kept her beer in a working fridge on my much delayed arrival in Jiayuguan.
As I head west, Beijing Time becomes a right pain in the arse. The heat of the day hit me around 2pm and today was my first real suffering from heat. To replenish I put six different liquids in me and, once the owner had cleared the teenagers who were asking me mundane, yet pleasant, questions, from his establishment, I ordered and scoffed two large pizzas.
If you could all have a think as to how I could create a situation where I could do sport all day in Italy and do the same with real pizza and wine it would be very much appreciated.
May 2: SUNJIAZHUANG To JiayuGuan - 130KM
Start Time: 07.00
Finish Time: 17.30
Hours Cycling: 8
Photo every hour: Today's Highlight - This is where we'd all buy farmhouses and do Them up
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
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.