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