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
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
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.
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.
In early December I picked up my Flying Pigeon from the factory in Tianjin. I owe a huge amount of thanks to Mr Wang, the retired export manager of the company and his colleagues who helped prepare the bike. I am also very grateful to Antonio who runs www.flying-pigeon.es and brought Mr Wang and I together.
The day after, with no preparation, I cycled the Pigeon 140km home to Beijing. I managed the first 50 km in under four hours but the remaining 90km took a tortuous nine and a half hours. It was undoubtedly the hardest physical challenge I have endured since my final law exam, which had the grave misfortune of following the 2005 Champions League Final.
Still, at least I didn't end up as a lawyer.
The bike I am riding is a new Flying Pigeon PA-02, which was made for the African Market. Specifically it was manufactured for a Ugandan car parts business with the fantastically misleading name of The Nile Fishing Company. It has rod pull brakes; a single 46/20 gear; 28 inch wheels; and weighs 21.2kg, which is the same as 1500 weapons-grade vol au vents if you like your weights old school.
The PA-02 is the best selling bicycle of all time but, as I found out, is now almost impossible to buy in China. At its peak the waiting list for a PA-02 was over a year long and the leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, was citing ownership of a Flying Pigeon as a sign of prosperity.
You can still get one in China, if you really try, for the equivalent of £31.
Here comes the bicycle pornography.
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.