Photo of the Rest Days: There's a lot more where that came from
Unsurprisingly, the last week had drained Tom, Jonny and I. I had also made it to 2000km in 18 days of cycling. So rest day one was a slow affair that started with the dregs of our hotel breakfast, meandered through life admin but ended with a decent meal and handing over the boys bikes to some Peace Corps volunteers based in Zhangye.
Jonny had to finalise his voting by proxy for the general election, Holly who had joined us, had to work, I had to try and remember my own name ahead of a phone interview and Tom had to sleep.
By 17.30 though, we were sat in brilliant sunshine, drinking Tsingtao and eating sunflower seeds. It finally felt like a holiday. Zhangye has an almost south east Asian feel to it; it's about as relaxing as a Chinese city can feel.
We then met up with Raines and Kelly, two Peace Corps volunteers who we gave Tom and Jonny's bikes to pass on to their successors who would be arriving in the next couple of months. We had great hotpot and yoghurt together, whilst admiring the peace Raines and Kelly were delivering to Zhangye.
On Tuesday, for the boys' final day we visited the fantastic Danxia landscape 40km west of Zhangye. There's enough pictures for me to leave out the adjectives, so enjoy.
I tried to eat myself back up to my natural fighting weight (two KFCs and counting) and got down to the miserable business of washing my clothes in a hotel bathroom. Just look at the water from my shorts - pause - then consider that this was the third rinse.
On Wednesday Holly's flight back to Beijing got cancelled so we went to see China's largest sleeping Buddha together, which even more excitingly, for me anyway, may also be the place Kublai Khan was born.
I just checked the weather (rain) and wind direction (20kph headwind) for tomorrow. Don't be surprised if I have a fourth rest day, if only to avoid breaking 30 pot noodles for one more day.
Average Speed: 12.15 KPH
Pot Noodles: 28 (really fed up of them now)
Punctures: 11 (3 for the Pigeon, 1 for Jonny)
Zhangye and Danxia Photos
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
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?
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.