With the fear of wind waking me at 4.20am, I checked the weather forecast. It was not good. The wind mirrored my direction of travel exactly. So I had a pot noodle and a cup of coffee, slapped on my sun cream and Graham cream, packed my bags and left in some dense, wind free mist.
With Mrs Google Maps interrupting podcasts to tell me what to do in a voice midway between a self-help audiobook and a half-hearted dominatrix, I went on a very disappointing detour through a building site on a road not yet built. No wonder Google is blocked here if they're going to go around knowing the future.
Out on an actual road I had a glorious day. Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia, was my final destination; of its many appealing attributes, being 300m lower than Ulanqab was a particular favourite.
I have learned to treat myself like a little donkey. Once an hour I stop for five minutes to rest, consume one item of food, a swig of water; then it's back to plodding on down the dusty road.
On my second stop today, a man with a dialect I couldn't understood at all, resorted to writing in characters (which I also couldn't understand) in the dirt. I told him I was stupid and so couldn't understand. Something that was more than believable given my special 'nobody told me it would be below zero' outfit. At my first stop, it was very difficult to find my penis following the aggressive wind chill's effect on both the organ in question and my decision to where fingerless gloves. I had taken drastic action and was now dressed with wind proof shorts over a pair of Uniqlo chinos. The man found my stupid argument convincing, but it was good to have a penis again.
After the first set of hills I stopped for noodles in Zhuozi, a town that had an end of the world feel as a big dark mountain loomed in front. Fortunately the G110, the road I've been on for 95% of this trip goes around, not through the mountain like the new G6 motorway. I had great fun, all but one lorry driver was courteous enough to pass me with a full lane sized gap and I flew into the very edge of Hohhot's future urban sprawl in great time.
I've found it is important to make hay whilst the sun shines (though I'm sure you need rain to make hay). The more progress you make the more positive you are, the closer to a big city you get, the easier it will be to solve any problems. Conserving energy is for racers, not idiots.
To prove this point I caught the beginning of a blizzard for my final 5km instead of my final 30km because I had got into top gear on the downhills, as any good idiot would do.
I also had guests, in the shape of Holly and Matt (my saviours from Tuesday), who were great company until they started to beat my nodding-headed shell at cards around midnight.
April 11: Ulanqab to hohhot - 151km
Start Time: 05.30
Finish Time: 19.00
Hours Cycling: 12
Hours Pushing: 1
Chocolate Bars Consumed: 3
Near Death Experiences: Me: 0
Number of Dead Dogs: 3
Number of Bottles of Lorry Driver Piss (viewed): 27
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: The view
PHOTO OF THE DAY - BMW Toilet Flush
Today was meant to be the easy day at 61km. More of the hills that Google Maps ignores made the first 30km hard work, but it was an enjoyable slog that ended with me sat in glorious sunshine listening to the Football Ramble's John Charles Profile.
Better still, on the way up, a young couple driving a new Mercedes 4x4 down the wrong side of the motorway stopped to give me a Mongolian gift. I understood the following: it was Mongolian; I shouldn't eat it; and it should go in a place. I didn't understand what place or its purpose. I was heartbroken it wasn't a massive biscuit. My best guess is that it is something you use to make your clothes smell nice by leaving it in a wardrobe - like cedar wood, as heavily advertised by Nan Maureen. My second best guess given it's waxy feel is that it could be a candle.
Attention people who actually know about China! What the hell is this?
I saw a hare the size of a labrador but was on one of the long downhill sections so couldn't bring myself to stop to take a photo. I saw another later that was road kill, so didn't want to take a photo.
I also saw some yurts; both fabric and concrete for the more modern Mongolian. I should probably have mentioned that I'm Inner Mongolia.
The wind was bad on the hills, often stopping me on the descents if I stopped peddling, but on the final flat 20km into Ulanqab it was hell. I had to learn how to ride the wind, my preferred method was to stay in the easiest gear for the impossible gusts and crawl at about twice walking pace, before pressing on whenever it dropped. Attention cyclists! If there's a better way tell me in the next 12 hours.
It took three hours. Worse still it was in the exact direction I'm heading tomorrow for 140km. I'm terrified.
Best hotel experience so far. I arrived in my usual stinking state, approached the desk and was greeted by "you must be Simon" - there's not a lot of foreigners in this part of the world. My disgusting panniers were put on a trolley, which I could do with following me for the next 4500km. My room is genuinely non-smoking, a rarity in China. I was also brought some fruit, and because I'm a foreigner and we foreigners love coffee, some extra coffee for free. I even managed to order room service in Mandarin.
Best of all though, when these goodies were delivered I managed not to pop out of what has to be the smallest bathrobe known to man.
April 10: xinghe to ulanqab - 61km
Start Time: 09.30
Finish Time: 16.15
Hours Cycling: 4
Hours Pushing: 2
Hours Eating Oreos: 0.75
Near Death Experiences: Me: 0
Number of Dead Dogs: 0 (but one hare)
Number of Photos with Young Female Petrol Station Attendants: 0 (didn't visit a petrol station)
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: castle shaped wind shelter
PHOTO OF THE DAY - this man getting close
Google Maps needs to improve its reportage of contours. Someone else needs to sort the wind out. Hard day made worth it by seeing the Great Wall, watchtowers, mountains and the look on the receptionists face when I arrived covered in dirt and debris.
Also had a great lunch stop at a petrol station - see photo of the day; I was offered, but turned down, one of the young female employees and dumplings, but I did accept some delicious tofu (if you don't live in China let's take your next question about tofu outside of this blog).
Finally, my day was made on the final climb before descending into Xinghe when a bloke on a little truck pulled up alongside me and offered to race, explaining as he made this invitation that he was the 'Watermelon King' - I could have misheard, but I made him say it three times as we shouted over the sounds of passing lorries. He didn't have any watermelons or a crown/sceptre, but he did win the race.
April 9: ZhangJiankou to xinghe - 111km
Start Time: 09.00
Finish Time: 19.15
Hours Cycling: 8
Hours Pushing: 1
Hours Eating Oreos: 0.35
Hours Eating Pot Noodles: 0.9
Near Death Experiences: Me: 0
Number of Dead Dogs: 0 (but one sheep)
Number of Photos with Young Female Petrol Station Attendants: 3
PHOTO EVERY HOUR - TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT: The Great Wall and awesome scenery
PHOTO OF THE DAY - Petrol Station working lunch
Today started with a dreamy ride for 20km through the China they don't use in postcards; small holdings and farmland populated by smiley people who were waving and shouting hello at my preposterous appearance.
Then I reached the crash site.
One of the main things that worried me about the Pigeon was it's lack of breaking capability. Seeing what two lorries had done to one car at a junction, made me glad to have two disk brakes. I arrived later than the other 300 hundred people in the audience. Something I'm very grateful for because at best the driver of the car would have been in a terrible mess, at worst they're dead.
I spent the remainder of the day riding cautiously close to the side of the cycle lane that gave me the most distance from passing traffic, constantly eyeing up the best route of escape.
It was a hard slog over the hills today. I had a proper bonk 20km out and despite the encouragement of two friendly cyclists I had to stop for an emergency pot noodle in the shadow of one of Hebei's largest steel factories. The kind of travel romance we all dream of.
After yesterday's sunburnt face (I'm saving up my end of day photos for a montage) I made sure to wear sun cream today and keep my jacket on. Unbeknownst to me the jacket had rode up a little, leaving me with the world's least impressive truckers tan.
My destination, Zhangjiakou, is almost certainly about to join the exulted company of Lillehammer and Albertville as a wherethehellisthat? place to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, yet I only saw one set of Olympic rings.
April 8: Yanqing to ZhangJiaKou - 145km (depending on who you believe)
Photo Every Hour - Today's Highlight: the aforementioned trucker's tan
Start Time: 09.30
Finish Time: 20.30
Hours Cycling: 9
Hours Pushing: 0.5
Hours Eating Oreos: 0.5
Hours Eating Pot Noodles: 0.5
Hours Fixing a Puncture: 0.5
Near Death Experiences: Me: 0; Someone Else 1
Number of Dead Dogs: 5
Photo of the Day - Common People Themed Restaurant
This wasn't how it was meant to be. If I'm honest I hadn't expected the Pigeon to make it all the way to Kashgar, but I didn't think it would die so dramatically in the first 40km. I tried to save it, two separate mechanics tried to save it too but the weight was too much for it to take. My 15kg of luggage caused the very flexible rear steel rim to bend, which in turn meant the rear tyre slipped off allowing the inner tube to slip out. After 4 punctures, the Pigeon's back wheel finally gave in by exploding, scaring a bus queue of thirty or so people.
This happening in Beijing was disappointing but with a tight time scale I couldn't risk this happening in the middle of nowhere once or twice, let alone over and over again.
I'm gutted. This was always meant to be as much about dragging a Pigeon along as much as seeing some cool parts of China, alas that will have to wait for a time I can have a drone carrying my stuff behind me.
As it is, I have another bike, the Pigeon of 2015 a £150 Giant, which I will continue to ride for the rest of the journey (until that dies) because, frankly, this is probably my last chance to do something so silly as ride across China.
Anyway, I had a great day where many people helped me, stared at me, asked me why I was wearing shorts. On the plus side I don't have to leave before 7am everyday and I'll get to see more places.
April 7: Beijing to Yanqing - 92KM
Start Time: 06.30
Finish Time: 17.50
Hours Cycling: 6
Hours Pushing: 3
Hours Sulking: 2.333
Near Death Experiences: Me: 0; Pigeon; 1 (fatal)
A photo Every Hour - Highlight the no smoking room with cigarette marks on the wall
Photo of The Day - Chicken in a basket
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.