Photo of the day: Done
Day fifty nine.
67km, that was all I had left. So I had a very gentle morning. Eating the emergency pecan crunch cereal bars from my 'if things get really bad' pouch kicked off the last day of school atmosphere.
I then went to buy one of Yengisar's famous knives. I had no interest in a ceremonial knife or cutlery, I wanted a whopper - a proper multi-purpose bone-crushing, garlic-slicing, meat-scoring beauty of a cleaver. After screwing my face up at the first offerings the salesman paused and asked me if I was a chef, or worked in a kitchen. "Yes I am a chef" I lied. With the smell of dishonesty stinking out the place he brought out a handmade beast of a knife. "I'd like two please, my friend is also a chef." I'd show you a photo but they're so heavily wrapped it seems wrong to disturb them until my return to Beijing.
My friend for whom the other knife is a gift, also isn't a chef, but he is the man more responsible than any other for this trip given that he: A) convinced me to move to China four years ago; B) advised Holly on taking the job that made me return this time; and C) introduced me to the stupidity of riding idiotic distances between Chinese cities. This is the perfect gift as on one of my very first weekends in China he, an old China hand, introduced me to the concept of the Chinese cleaver as he was buying one from a market in Hunan. He made clear that you only ever need to buy one as they last forever. Only weeks later, his mother-in-law had already broken it smashing up meat bones.
It's the perfect gift.
With such a short distance to cover, today was a pootle rather than a ride as I tried to arrive just after Holly, an arrival she almost managed to completely miss on film.
Being £500 under budget and with the hotel only having the one brand of champagne I actually like*, I had decided to pre-order champagne to complete that Tour de France winner feeling.
It's important to remember that I have won, I dropped Tom and Jonny weeks ago.
*I really can be an arsehole at times but my preference for Bollinger is dangerously close to marking me out as a monster.
A Photo every hour: today's highlight - Rules of Riding: 1. START AT HOME, 2. GO WHERE THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT AND ROAD SYSTEM ALLOW, 3. FINISH IN TIME FOR JOB INTERVIEWS AND A SUIT FITTING FOR A WEDDING.
Cut my hair, get a job...try and turn this into a coherent book with all the historical colour aund genuine opinions I saved you lot from.
There'll be one final blog about Kashgar this weekend, then I'll tidy the website up and add some photo pages but basically that's it, we're done.
Day 54: Simon of Arabia
Photo of the day: Top Knot
Day fifty four.
After a record breaking 28 minute check out I headed north as the road seeks to avoid who knows what or perhaps join up the attractive villages to the north and west of Hotan. I stopped to pick up a naan for my evening meal and another for breakfast. As I've progressed west it feels like China has become more reserved, even shy at times. At the naan oven I met the exception to prove this rule. As he didn't have change, he gave me an extra naan despite my protestations that I was happy with two spring onion naans for 50p. I promise in the first photo below that he's recreating the moment I ordered two naans.
Please note that's a cycling cap and not, I repeat not, a bandanna.
I also noticed that my honesty test had been failed by Hotan. I've left my watch (£2) on my handlebar for the entire journey and the place it was finally stolen was outside a PSB building and under the gaze of the best hotel in town's security. Shame on you Hotan.
Out of the oasis and back into the desert one last time I made good progress before your friend and mine, the sandstorm arrived. It was a finer grain than it's Qinghai or Gansu sisters, which made it possible to pass through with a quickly fashioned head scarf.
I put the music on shuffle and told the storm to do its worst. There were as many moments of spine tingling goodness as there were moments of horror. Des Lynam reading If by Rudyard Kipling followed by Super Trooper by Abba sums up that shift best.
Then, as if my life was a movie, You'll Never Walk Alone Came on at the end of the storm as a blue circle opened in the sky. Then it closed in again; just can't build on success can we? (rhetorical)
I expertly found a hole to hide in, set up my tent and enjoyed my naan with a pot noodle and garlic oil dip, before falling asleep to the sound of fighter jets.
I'll also admit to old person signal hunting with my mobile; but it worked, somehow in a two man tent I had blackspots and hotspots.
May 30: Hotan to a hole in the ground - 102km
Start Time: 09.30
Finish Time: 19.00
Hours Cycling: 8
A Photo every hour:Today's highlight - the barbecue palace
Day 55: Tip Your Bartender
Photo of the day: It's going to be a riot of an afternoon
Day fifty five.
I've not gone into the politics of Xinjiang on this blog for two good reasons. The best of which is that I'm just - one more time for you Jenny Bradley - a twat on a bike, the second best is that it's too complicated to explain here. So go and read four or five books on it and come back.
Done that? Good, then we can continue.
The day started with suicidal lizards, who are not a provincial punk band who once opened for Capdown (if they are then sorry), but literally suicidal lizards who kept jumping in front of my front wheel. It's a miracle I only killed one.
I passed some road kill watermelons that were starting to ferment in the desert heat, which reminded me that it was time to start working on the torso tan. This immediately earned me an ice coffee from one man and a terrifying stare of sexual intent from another.
With my shirt back on I stopped for a refreshment in a small village and admired the continuing force of Red Bull's marketing domination. In China their red and gold label is an immediate winner, but bugger me when will all other brands realise that free merch is embraced in China in a way no other country does it.
At 2pm I faced a choice, press on into another sandstorm for 77km or stop in a place I'd been calling Piss Mountain since Hotan (Pishan - it's actually skin mountain but with my mixed reading ability Pi Mountain easily because Pee Mountain and then Piss Mountain).
My decision, believe it or not, was to stop at Piss Mountain because otherwise I'd be too far ahead of schedule. An error.
Sitting 8km back from the main road, the first 6km there were scenic vine clad villages. It was also downhill, which is a cycling aphrodisiac if ever there was one.
The first sign that this was possibly the wrong choice was the sight of a gun turret atop a police station, which hadn't even been painted blue and white yet. 2km further in and only 200m from my hotel the sight of a police motorcycle stopping side on in front of me at the traffic lights and two properly armed officers walking towards me confirmed Piss Mountain probably wasn't Disneyland.
Off came the sunglasses and hat to reveal my 'please don't hurt me, my country has a huge trade deficit with yours' appearance. Joking aside - and I'm not just saying this because I'm still in the same town - as with all of the SWAT police I've dealt with they've been firm but professional. They asked me to ride back down the road with them until we were outside the PSB station, where they went through me ID and confirmed I was - alright Jenny, have another - a twat on a bike by looking at my twat on a bike photos on my camera.
All was going well until a child of about eight, who I'm 90% certain was mentally ill, started to grab and then try and touch the end of one of the police officer's guns. This is a part of China where the police shoot first; all the Jason Bourne thoughts ran through my head - you know the ones you wouldn't do if a shot did get fired because you'd be too busy wondering if your cycling shoots would hold the poo*. Fortunately the officers remained calm and waved him away.
I was handed my camera and sent to the hotel. At the hotel I spoke to the police on the phone (another successful Chinese telephone conversation - gold star) and then 30 seconds later the police turned up in person, this went less successfully as I didn't know where I was going next (in Chinese). Fortunately two Uyghurs translated my next location for me as I only knew the Uyghur name of the town.
One final security insult to Pishan, the hotel insisted I keep my bike in the room, which feels a bit like a boundary has been crossed, especially given the boobs on the wall too.
All that said, a quick search has revealed I've accidentally gone on holiday to the centre of terrorist training in Xinjiang (depending who you believe - I'll let you judge after your thorough background reading). Well done me. What with the sandstorm that at least I avoided, raging outside, I reckon it's an afternoon to enjoy a few Sinkiang beers and a bag of sunflower seeds in my hotel room, whilst the boobs watch over me.
*I think I've lost too much weight and my shame would be evident for all to see.
May 31: A Hole in the Ground to Pishan - 84KM
Start Time: 08.30
Finish Time: 14.00
Hours Cycling: 5
Lizards: Countless (1 dead)
A Photo Every Hour: Today's highlight - Fermenting watermelon
After all the cheating and the reduction to 100km days I felt fresh in Hotan, to the extent that my brain started to work again. I went for a cycle around Hotan, visited the disappointing museum, enjoyed the fantastic chaos of Friday prayers around the mosque and the bazaar and then consumed yet more kebab.
In the afternoon I did some cultural wine sampling by buying a bottle of pomegranate wine, which is surprisingly tasty. Best of all the label reads "Hotan Pomegranate Wine, like a shining ruby, sparkling with brilliant gloss. Smell the unequal incense, taste the equably mellowness. Made of rare fruit from the southern part of the Taklamakan Desert. High quality raw pomegranate brown with fine grapes and wild roses. Specially designed for successful person, taste the feelings of paradise." Hardly Umbongo but it'll do.
One friday in Hotan
Running totals - week 8
Average Speed: 13.6 KPH
Soundtrack to the Journey
The road is a lonely place and you probably want to block out the noise of your next puncture anyway. Here are the top ten songs/albums of my journey.
10. Yes it's fucking political - Skunk Anansie
Why?: That riff.
Best for: Starting a long slog into the wind or kick starting the next stint.
Special Fact: Contrary to the songs message, not everything is political - look at Ed Miliband's future for example.
9. Adrenaline - Deftones
Why?: 40 minutes of relentlessness.
Best for: The misery of rain, sandstorms, headwind and cold.
Special Fact: White Pony, their third album released in 2000 is the perfect soundtrack to Beijing at night in 2015.
8. No Sensitivity - Jimmy Eat World
Why?: Because at times you will either want to remember what it felt like to be eighteen to remind yourself how pleased the eighteen year old you would be that you're doing this (and you should keep going) or you want to revel in the fact you the following lyrics have no place in your life now that you're an adult.
The world don't spin without you
I'm amazed you're standing still
I'm taking my kisses back (whoa)
I want my kisses back from you
And no your problems, they aren't problems
So be glad they never will
I'm taking my kisses back (whoa)
I want my kisses back from you, from you, you
Best for: For putting a tent up in a sandstorm.
Special Fact: You can't take kisses back but you can retrieve a 'borrowed' emo band hoody as part of some inevitable teenage heartbreak.
7. Alanis Morissette and the other songs that sound like Beacon FM from the mid 90s
Why?: Because you'll need to block things out and drifting into dated local radio will really help.
Best for: When nothing's happening.
Special Fact: You can easily add in your own local radio advertisements, but you never do.
6. Shakermaker - Oasis
Why?: The intro
Best for: Riding in deserts, this is the perfect song to cycle through a desert too.
Special Fact: This song does not last as long as most deserts.
5. Welcome To The Jungle - Guns N Roses
Why?: Impossible not to increase your RPM with this playing.
Best for: Going unnecessarily fast and ensuring you bonk later in the day.
Special Fact: This is the only GNR song I like, absolutely detest their other output.
4. A Secret History - The Best Of The Divine Comedy
Why?: Because it's the best distraction going.
Best for: Singing along when happy or sad.
Special Fact: I had breached thirty by the time I realised Songs of Love was the theme tune to Father Ted.
3. When the Levee Breaks - Led Zeppelin
Why?: Because rhythm is everything
Best for: The relentless slog into a persistent headwind
Special Fact: It's not as good as Kashmir, a song which is actually too good and will lead you to lose focus and drift out of cycle lanes
2. Rave Tapes - Mogwai
Why?: Because you need to relax in a hotel.
Best for: The 45 minutes between stuffing your face and falling asleep
Special Fact: Track 2 - Simon Ferocious, is nothing to do with me. Track 3 - Remurdered, is either the best song you've heard or the best song you're yet to hear.
1. The Boys Are Back In Town - Thin Lizzy
Why?: Dangerously suitable for Top Gear - The Tunes III, but for some reason it always arrived at the right moment on this journey.
Best For: Arriving into a town, as a boy.
Special Fact: My Dad really likes this song.
If you think that's bad, check out Spotify's best effort.
Photo of the Day - Don't worry the camel photos are coming up
Day fifty two.
Having decided to take the harder, shorter route to Hotan I waved goodbye to Ken Doherty and friends and headed west through what presumably counts as Qira's suburbs. Quaint farms and small holdings foreshadowed orchards and huge trees provided a shade that wasn't quite required yet. After about 15KM I was back in the desert, only this time I got to see some live camels up close. A mother and calf were on one side of the road and another, particularly stupid looking, camel was on my side.
After the tedium of another small town police check point, where I'm sure the opportunity to look at a different passport is the main appeal of pulling me over, I passed through more beautiful farm land and the by then required shade of the tree lined roads.
From the town of Lop onwards the roads became much busier, I really like the modifications made to tuk-tuks in this part of the world. When I return to Beijing, I may look into putting a carpeted and tasselled roof on my own tuk-tuk.
The run into Hotan central is lined with painted China flags on every lamppost, in case you forgot where you were, which is very easy to do. I'm now much closer to Islamabad, Kabul, Tehran and even Baghdad than Beijing.
I'm staying at one of the hotels that has black Range Rovers with personalised (as much as you can with numbers) plates. This is good in terms of pillow quality; but for the first time my cyclist status has relegated me to locking my bike up by the bins, presumably so as not to tarnish the high regard the Range Rover drivers have of themselves.
As part of this pretension and in a nod to this being a troubled region there was also a scanner and body search to pass through in the hotel reception. This sounds obtrusive but the security processes of China are often laughable. I walked in, declared I had a knife, got my knife out and continued to hold it out in the open, whilst the scanner beeped and the guard's own detector beeped over each of my bags. He looked in none of them, before looking at my knife like he was Crocodile Dundee's more relaxed Chinese cousin.
I know there's an element of profiling to even pathetic security checks but I was holding a knife and everything else was beeping.
Just going through the motions.
That said, I once found myself in the hotel where all the many and various Syrian rebel groups that Qatar was funding had been brought together and despite a far more thorough security check and frisk there, everyone was wandering around with swords and daggers on show.
May 28: Qira to Hotan - 90KM
Start Time: 09.00
Finish Time: 15.00
Hours Cycling: 6
Camels: 5 (0 dead)
A Photo every hour: today's highlight - You're in China ok!
Day 50: Anecdotal Evidence
Photo of the day: Man Arrested for being soaking wet and too Beige
The sound of rain against the hotel room’s window didn’t exactly inspire a prompt exit, but after another naan I was trudging through grim rain. The only early cheer came from a man on a motorbike who rode alongside me and literally asked me if I knew it was raining. I told him I did.
Sodden, I spent an irritating amount of time at a police check point with a not-exactly-elite group of policeman who were mostly fascinated by the Northern Ireland aspect of my passport.
From then on the day became anecdote heavy.
The world's biggest road kill?
The misery briefly ceased when I saw my first wild camels; there they were in a real desert, the Taklamakan Desert as I should have mentioned a week ago when I first entered it. Then I saw my first camel road kill, then the second, then the third and then the fourth. How do you not see a camel coming?
What a smell a decomposing camel makes.
Caught by the fuzz.
More rain, more naan and water - I'm very much riding pane e acqua nowadays - was followed by a wonderful break in the weather. 70km in, with heavy rain again on the horizon I put a little air in the back tire only to notice the front was totally flat. As the rain hit me I opted to swap inner tubes and get a fresh one in there. Within two kilometres it was flat again, there must have been something in there.
I wouldn’t find out until later what was causing it as a few minutes later a police car pulled up and insisted on giving me a lift. You know the formula by now, I don’t go looking to cheat but sometimes in horrendous weather I receive offers that are too good to turn down. Remember this isn’t for charity or any great sense of personal achievement, it’s a twat on a bike.
With half the bike hanging out the back of the boot and me desperately trying not to soak the policeman I was squashed up against with my sodden clothes, we made our way for the last 35km with some variations on the standard conversation.
The best variation was them saying I looked much better in a photo on my phone than I did today. Four years and marathon bike rides will do that for you. It was good fun and they took me all the way to my hotel, which was an unexpected bonus. They also advised me I was very unlucky as this was the first rain of the year.
Trigger happy PC.
Keriya was a mish-mash of a town and there seemed to be a bit more tension about the place than further east in Xinjiang. This was signified by a young policeman doing the now normal – ‘shit the bed, it’s a foreigner’ double take - then smiling, starting to wave, before remembering where he was and who he was and rapidly moving his hand back to his gun and his finger to the trigger. A movement that had my flip-flops twitching with readiness to fail to run away.
The brickwork on the façade of the mosque looked fantastic, but for the life of me it looks like the rest of the mosque isn’t there any longer.
Back to the future.
Apple has now formally updated my phone to Kashgar time, but without forewarning me it caused much confusion as I sat down for some dreadful cold noodles and tripe at what I thought was 15.30 not 13.30. Without trying I was back on time.
With two hours to have another crack at, I did what any adventurer would do and went to buy a beer. In the shop I was taught some Uyghur words, which was really useful given I only previously knew naan and kewab. But, and this is a big but, upon saying I was British, one of the guys in the shop did a perfect Nazi salute and shouted “Heil Hitler” at me. In a mutual second language I did my best to say something like “no, that’s Germany" then panicked and continued "but not Gemany now, Germany is really good now.”
In the early evening I wandered to the statue of Mao and Kurban Tulum, which apparently is the only statue of Mao with someone else, other than the larger version of the same one in Hotan 170km down the road. The statue celebrates the effort Kurban Tulum made in travelling 1500km to Urumqi for months to present Mao with one melon to thank him for ridding Xinjiang of the Nationalists and other selected baddies.
I followed this lesson in historical PR with my best kebabs yet and my now staple veggie house noodles (with beef obviously) and some cardamom tea – I didn’t order it but I’m becoming a real tea ponce. I reckon I could drink camomile soon. Maybe.
I finally found the tiny fragment of steel cable that had punctured my front wheel twice and celebrated by fixing both punctures, whilst feeling fortunate for accepting the ride with the police. I would have never found something so small in the torrential rain.
The hotel wifi had been unreliable but I hadn't noticed it was not working at all during a Facetime call with Holly that wiped what must have been £35 of credit (which is about six months of credit for a thirty-something British man in China). That's two nights in a hotel in this part of the world!
May 26: Niya to Keriya - 109km
Start Time: 10.00
Finish Time: 15.30
Hours Cycling: 4
Bonus Hours: 2
Camels: 7 (4 dead)
A Photo Every Hour: Today's Highlight - Kashgar Time
Day 51: Just about the perfect day
Photo of the day: Mountains and not quite molehills
Day fifty one.
Just about the perfect day. Sunshine, a gentle breeze, lush green farmland, huge mountains, wide-eyed toddlers shyly handing back change for refrigerated drinks, the smell of grilled meat, bunny rabbits, though not grilled bunny rabbits. Even today's puncture came in the form of a colourful drawing pin.
Added to which my hotel is above a snooker hall. Here, in the middle of Xinjiang, I have to walk passed Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and others before bed. The world of snooker is tiny; just us, China and Tony Drago.
May 27: Keriya to Qira - 80km
Start Time: 08.00
Finish Time: 14.30
Hours Cycling: 6
A Photo Every Hour: Today's Highlight - A very pink puncture
Sometimes I get lucky. Having effectively spent the last few days sanding my throat and ramping things up to sandblasting it yesterday, I woke up this morning to dispense (put your lunch down) a big load of bloody phlegm. Who knows how much worse it would have been without the trip in the truck yesterday.
Note to Caroline - all better now.
To medicate I slept, moisturised, extensively research New York bars and restaurants, went out for noodles, fixed a puncture, listened to Mogwai so that you'll think I'm cool, watched a selection of films you've already seen and cut off my ear flaps (see below).
Niya occasionally feels like another world, sometimes it looks like stock footage of peacetime Afghanistan at others it's still the Nongfu Spring and Mao branded China of towns further east. Basically everyone rides those motorbikes and wears fantastic hats.
Average Speed: 13.6 KPH
Pot Noodles: 55
Bits and bobs
Things I've forgotten to mention.
1. Hair related matters.
I know I can't grow a beard but nobody likes shaving, it stops at least 3% of face-bound mosquitoes and saves on suncream.
Yet in a cruel twist of fate I can grow nasal hair, and grow it I do. A useful if not perfect sieve against road dirt and sand. It makes the same life saving difference as smoking light cigarettes rather than the real ones - none.
Today I finally removed my ear flaps. I had left them to protect the tops of my ears from the sun, with no more large open stretches left I joyously removed them earlier. You should enjoy this photo though
I'm starting to shed weight now. The waterproof cover/sandstorm blanket was thrown away two days too soon. Warm clothes and spares have gone too. With the increase in hotels for the last leg |I'm going down to one riding kit and washing at nights. I've also gone down to one gas cannister for the stove; those things really over perform. I'm wavering over the inflatable mat that keeps deflating....
3. Chinese guard dogs hate Stevie Wonder
Aftr breaking my first set of sunglasses I had to buy the biggest pair I could find to find my massive Caucasian head. Though I'm free of the badlands of the Qinghai-Xinjiang border dogs still chase me and I think I know why.
To the colour blind canine eye those glasses probably look like the soulless peepers of a devil being. Either that or all Chinese guard dogs hate Stevie Wonder.
Long term fans will remember my excellent guide to the perfect training diet (click here). Today I made a scrambled-egg-naan-pasty in my room in contravention of all health and safety guidance. For your own well being I won't tell you how but here are the pictures.
Serve with three Sinkiang black beers and an episode of Archer. Save olive oil to create on the road garlic naans, that's right it's party time.
Day 47: Storming the Desert
Photo of the day: Shade
Day forty seven.
After an underwhelming breakfast where I alarmed the staff by creating an egg and tomato sandwich rather than maintain the integrity of the individual constituents I left Qarqan through tree-lined avenues that were alive with dragonflies, well behaved dogs, butterflies and fresh air.
After a final water and caffeine stop I headed out into what should have been 312km of uninterrupted misery. The first few hours were fun, the gentle headwind actually cooled me down and I made decent progress. The only delay was caused by roadworks I wasn't allowed to cycle around; I hung about in the shade of the lorries providing large amounts of entertainment to otherwise bored drivers with my piss poor Mandarin.
I saw my first and second lorries that had rolled off the road of the entire trip, the fact I've got this far without seeing one makes that statement as close to unbelievable as the truth gets. I guess a mixture of long straights and heat make this stretch of road particularly prone to it. The first scene was very sombre, with eight or so males crouched around the lorry in silence; the second was a just one man, presumably the driver, sat wearing an expression that said "I should be dead". It was a reminder why rule one of wild camping in China remains "could someone drive over my head if I camp here?".
I also saw my favourite kind of snake; one that's been mercilessly crushed by many tonnes of lorry.
In the heat of the day the temperature passed 35 and the gentle headwind was blowing only hot desert air over me. I persevered and made it to the 1000km to go mark, or 4000km done (sort of, probably) mark but started to become paranoid that my remaining 5 (five) litres wouldn't be enough. It's amazing how often I forget about water being really quite important. I carried on before seeing something I can't write about on the internet in almost exactly the place I intended to stay. This turned out to be very serendipitous as I almost immediately arrived in a town not marked on either of my maps, where I purchased enough water to mean I would be leaving the next morning with a full 5.5 litres to last me the day.
By the time I expertly erected the tent in record time it was practically dark but I'd made it to just over half way across this stretch of nothing and managed to complete 100 miles of cycling through a desert in late May.
23 May: Qarqan to just outside of somewhere that didn't appear on any maps - 160km
Start Time: 08.00
Finish Time: 21.30
Hours Cycling: 12.5
Snakes: 1 (dead)
A Photo every hour: Today's Highlight - 1000km to go
Accidental selfie capturing the suffering (AND THE WORLD'S MOST OFFENSIVE MOUSTACHE) of the day
Day 48: The Desert Storming Me
Photo of the day: No Filter, No Photoshop, Just Monochromed by Dust
Day forty eight.
It started well, on pace after 90 minutes, a big, chunky 20mph wind hit me head on. With that my speed dropped dramatically and I took an early lunch to give the wind the opportunity to go away.
It didn't. Two further kilometres down the road I wobbled up to two drivers from Sichuan who were transporting trucks on trucks to Kashgar. They invited me to shelter in a location that would turn my mother's stomach, but fed up of the wind I joined them in sitting under the overhanging truck to enjoy shade and protection from the wind. We chatted for ten minutes about the weather, the road and (this being China) whether I'd eaten. I was then invited to join them for the rest of the journey.
The first time I cheated, it was out of politeness. The second time, it was because I was in serious trouble. This one was to save you the repetitive story of me pushing - note: not cycling - a bike into the wind for two days listening to old Freakonomics and Football Ramble Podcasts. It wasn't because I'd rather sit in my Rudolph boxer shorts under the air con awaiting the police coming to evict me from a hotel I would have otherwise never reached.
In the cab I had my longest and fullest discussion in Chinese yet. Selected highlights:
Britain doesn't have deserts and it is much smaller than Xinjiang.
Britain does have a lot of sheep.
We also discussed politics, but it's best I don't share my views with you, for what it's worth he was pretty happy but didn't like certain people in the political arena.
After some minor paperwork infringements were sorted out at the police check point we arrived in Niya. I bid them farewell and handed over my only remaining UK money as a token of my appreciation, like many people I've met on this trip my driver was especially keen to get his hands on some foreign currency. I didn't tell him what it was worth but I hope he Baidus* £20 before he starts lighting his cigarettes with it.
The first hotel I found had the equally pleasing and horrifying sign "Hotel for overseas visitors" on the front door. Inside all was OK, but I don't yet have my documentation back and the last time this happened I was evicted at 23:05. If I am evicted I have already decided to sleep in the park three metres away from the hotel.
As I'm on the second floor, the room also comes with two thick lengths of rope in case of a fire or a desire to go out all INXS come over you.
Feeling shattered despite the cheating, I decided against being stared at and shouted at in a language I don't understand and instead popped out to get some surprisingly tasty local plonk, naan and the noodles to dip the naan in. Tomorrow I may do a culinary review of the town because there is nothing else for me to do except fix a slow puncture, but for now I'm not being adventurous.
One last point of disorder. On my shopping spree I was fortunate to be reminded of Sinkiang Beer, a black beer that must be the most metal looking beer in China. It's black, it's got a big, bold, sharp font and it's got sin in its name. Insert death metal growl here.
May 24: JUST OUTSIDE OF SOMEWHERE THAT DIDN'T APPEAR ON ANY MAPS to Niya - 152 km
Start Time: 08.00
Finish Time: 15.30
Hours Cycling: 2
Hours Pushing: 3
Hours in a Truck: 2
A Photo Every Hour: Today's Highlight - A bike on a truck on a truck
Day 45: Sweat Baby Sweat
Photo of the Day - I will have my vengence, in this life or the next
Day forty five.
Once more into the desert. The grey and grim desert surrounding Ruoqiang was as dull as before but served as a great contrast to the oasis that followed. Arriving at the small town of Wushixia was like the moment in old Disney movies where the actors enter a cartoon world. A burst of colour came with bird song and butterflies.
I stopped for kebab here and the contents of my phone became a source of great interest to the boys in the restaurant. Despite the youngest reiterating the fact I was British, the conversation focussed heavily on America - Did I have any dollars? Is this a photo of America? (it was neighbouring Inner Mongolia) Is this a photo of America? (it was Thailand) and it sounded like their entire conversation was America related, whilst I ate. The only break was for them to have a water fight.
I pressed on to 160km before deciding to set up camp. Mosquitoes were everywhere, which led to a horrible situation of me sitting, naked and sweating in the plastic oven because I had no other other choice.
I watched the brilliantly inoffensive Car Share, whilst casually observing the hydration run out of me.
May 21: Ruoqiang to A Sand Dune - 160km
Start Time: 10.00
Finish Time: 19.00
Hours Cycling: 8
Mosquito Bites: 10
A Photo every hour: today's Highlight - Dunes
Day 46: Bitten Me
Photo of the Day: Market Day
Day forty six.
Awoken by the oven being turned on, I tried to leave as soon as possible and with as little time near mosquitoes as I could manage.
More dunes, more oasis, some more oasis, more birds I don't know the names of, more oasis, more oasis etc.
With fear of mosquitoes meaning I had to live off Oreos, today was an energy related struggle. However, I've made it to a hotel I've not been evicted from (yet), I've got 4 cold beers, a pickled egg, some kebab flavoured crisps, a pickled egg, and a tub of thick Nivea. Life couldn't be sweeter.
I'm off to source real food now.
May 22: Sand Dune to Qarqan - 120km
Start Time: 10.00
Finish Time: 17.00
Hours Cycling: 6.5
Hours Wishing I'd Eaten Real Food: 4
A Photo every Hour: Today's Highlight - Pre-Gaming for Friday Night, don't forget the Nivea
Day 40: Welcome to Naan Country
Photo of the day: You should definitely eat things that are bigger than your head.
I awoke still angry at 7am. I refused to get out of bed until 10am, instead continuing to do useful things like order some clothes that will fit me and buy my Nan's 80th birthday present.
I checked out quickly only to notice that the slow puncture on the front tire had switched to the rear over night. I returned to the Western Business Hotel to retrieve my phone charger before double dropping baozi, having both meat and veg selections.
Finally I returned to the little shop I'd discovered the three 5% Tsingtaos to load up with 10 litres of water and Oreos.
I rejoined the G315 and met my first real police check point just outside Huatugou, not like the temporary one in Lenghuzhen. Again the SWAT boys manning it were friendly and professional, I even got a wave and a smile off one of the snipers.
Should you wave at snipers?
Having failed to buy an anti-dog weapon in town I picked up a piece of 2x4 and a small bit lead piping. If a dog was going to die, it was going to meet a very British end.
Head wind, head wind, mountains, dust, petrol station, big hill. It was an alright day on the road that finished with a big climb that passed a huge quarry, which I've just learned is an asbetos mine - thank fuck the wind was blowing the other way by then. I did wonder if it was asbetos at the time, I don't know why, perhaps it was the colour.
At the top of the hill was the border with Xinjiang. After successfully avoiding the dogs, the transport police near the border started waving at me and shouting watermelon.
After yesterday this was exactly what I needed. In a flash I'd been handed a slice of watermelon, shown to a chair and presented with a naan the size of the Charity Shield (or the big plate they give the best girl at Wimbledon if you like your sports with a side of sexism and short skirts). This was exactly what I needed, spiritually and nutritionally. We had the usual chat with added questions about the 2x4 - "You know there are big dogs, so I have this to hit them on the head" to which the only response was laughter and the correcting of my pronunciation of dog. I tried to explain how much I love naan and why we eat so much of it in Britain but I'm not sure I have the ability to explain migration and empire. In gratitude I handed over my Shrewsbury Town FC badge, which could have been used to identify my remains, as a token of my appreciation.
They don't need to know I'm a Liverpool fan who bought that off a Barnet fan under duress whilst drinking in the wrong pub before a traditional twice yearly guilt visit to watch my home town team play. It's the perceived thought that counts.
At the real check point, it wasn't the same electronic affair that the check at Huatugou was, instead it was all paperwork. I was allowed to fill my own entry in by writing in English.
Five kilometres beyond the border and into the little nub of Xinjiang that sticks into Qinghai, I found an old quarry, with evidence of previous habitation but enough raised windproof spots where you couldn't accidentally drive a lorry over a tent.
I'll do a wild camping blog at some point in the future, but in general selecting a spot comes down to these five questions.
1: Will someone drive over my head?
2: How protected from the wind is this?
3: Is it far enough from the road?
4: Could an animal with paw prints like that be sedated by a piece of 2x4?
5: Are there thorns?
I set up camp using the 2x4 as an improvised bike stand and got stuck in to half of the naan with the usual noodles.
A much better day.
May 16: HuatuGou to a quarry - 70km
Start Time: 11.00
Finish Time: 19.00
Hours Cycling: 5
Hours Pushing: 2
Snipers waved at: 1
A Photo Every Hour: In association with Nongfu Spring
Day 41: Responsible Adult
Photo of the day - Maybe not the best spot (top left).
Some hand-freezing descending kicked the day off before the gradient and the wind meant the day was push-heavy.
Lunch was a highlight with more fusion of Uyghur bread with Han noodles. The good noodles too, the wavy ones; in the same way crinkle cut chips taste better, so do wavy noodles.
Xinjiang and perhaps the shifting of seasons also marks a change in attitude to temperature. Almost every truck driver was topless today and coupled with the region's fearsome commitment to soup strainer moustaches, most cabs looked like a corner of Anfield's dressing room in the early eighties; with two or three nearly naked moustachioed men sat down sweating. Magnificent. I no longer expect to be asked if I'm cold, instead I imagine my pitiful facial hair will be quizzed.
After hours and hours of heaving the bike up the hill I eventually reached a 14KM descent through the mountains, at the bottom was one of the infrequent truck stops that provide water to cool brakes and engines and almost always possess an angry dog. This one was no exception, but having passed one dog another came from the other side. I stuck resiliently to the plan to avoid conflict first and made it to the next slight downhill, before noticing a small stream on in the valley.
I decided to trade midges (bad) for the opportunity to wash and fix the two slow punctures using the stream water (good).
I also swapped the heavily abused rear tire for the front tire and for the first time, cleaned the entire group set. It was borderline responsible behaviour.
May 17: A quarry to A Dried Up River Bed - 80km
Start Time: 09.15
Finish Time: 18.00
Hours Cycling: 4
Hours Pushing: 4
A photo every hour: Today's Highlight - Fusion Food and a Wash!
Day 42: 225KM - That's 140 Miles in Your Money.
Photo of the day: If you can't read either language, this basically says yippeeeeeeee!
My aim at the start of the day was to leave less than 100KM to reach Ruoqiang the following day, but seeing a 34KM of descending sign within the first few pedal strokes indicated today was going to be a bit better than that. Headphones in, Refused on, I flew through spectacular scenery that I should have taken more photos of.
Out of the hills the wind was with me all day long for the first time on this trip. 10KM sections flew by in under half an hour. By Oreo time I was reassessing the day and even decided I could afford a detour. I stopped at Milan, a modern day farming community and festival of greenness amongst the grey of the desert. It was formally a silk road trading town and has some relics that are more ruins, in the way sandstone things tend to be. However it was nice to formally mark my arrival on the southern silk route.
Back on the G315 with The Divine Comedy blaring, and desperate for a hotel, I pushed on. After going to one that didn't allow foreigners I eventually made it to the excellent Loulan Hotel, where the usual helpfulness even came with some conversation in English.
The air here in Ruoqiang smells of Kebab and coals, they keep their beer in fridges and there's no evidence of voluntary ethnic separation between the different minorities and the majority, which seems to colour all the writing on the northern silk road's towns in Xinjiang. In other words it's fantastic. I'm going to stay for three days and eat more kebab than seems possible.
Better still, at 5am I was awoken by a sand and then rain storm. I would have been out in the tent experiencing that had the wind not dragged me here at such speed.
For reference 225KM is like cycling from Telford to London, which is probably the best thing you can do if you're from Telford and own a bicycle.
Other equivalent journeys:
For David Dunne, Tony Gdesis and Huw Baines - Malahide to Galway
For Mike McCarthy and fans of Didcot Parkway - Bristol to Oxford to London
For people on Spring Break - Los Angeles to Tijuana
For EU workers wanting a filthy weekend away - Brussels to Amsterdam
For Sarah Rugg and other South London people - Balham to Brighton to Balham to Brighton
For North London people - It's like cycling around North London a lot.
May 18: A Dried up river Bed to RuoQiang - 225KM
Start Time: 09.30
Finish Time: 20.00
Hours Cycling: 10
Average Speed: 22.5KPH
A Photo every hour: Today's Highlight - Not stopping every hour
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.