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