Day 28: Banished
Photo of the day - The 'Armless Policeman
Day twenty eight.
After eventually getting round to watching the final Breaking Bad last night (finger firmly on the pulse) it was wonderful to be heading out into desolate, you'll never find the bodies, territory. This is where China's historical naughty boys were sent, beyond the wall.
In preparation for this I devastated the hotel breakfast - there will be a separate blog on how to make the most of ** Chinese business hotels, don't worry - and it was a good job I did.
Almost immediately the 312 reverted back to G30 service road rather than the village and town meandering vein of life it can be at its best. It took on its favoured arse-shattering gravel and pot-hole format and then was narrowed to one lane thanks to the encroaching Gobi sand. This left me with the unpalatable entertainment of playing chicken with lorries, which is absolutely unfair if you're on a bicycle.
As ever the lorry drivers of China were first rate and backed down, but the draft they produced in that proximity meant that I too had to swerve onto the sand and gravel. There were some brief moments of relief as the road swerved into the odd village, passed a colourful mosque,and most exciting of all travelled alongside some Cold War style barbed wire. Waste not, want not.
The day was almost exclusively uphill, which was nice.
I don't believe in fate but I do believe in haphazard preparation. My right forearm will be forever grateful for the new floor-pump I bought only the day before, because today I had five, soul-sapping and time consuming, punctures.
By punctures four and five I was doing some world class swearing. Imagine Malcolm Tucker, if he was on fire, and being raped be a giraffe.
From now on, unless I say otherwise just assume that the whole time I'm riding into a headwind, because I am.
At lunch (five Oreos) I noticed that despite Ctrip's protestations otherwise, Yumen - roughly my target for the day - did have a hotel, so despite the punctures I pressed on.
The inner tubes behaved as I bounced around with the grace of a dad on a bouncy castle but today was not my day. Over the wind I heard a snap and a thud. I applied he breaks in the pathetic way a headwind requires and turned around to see a 20ft gap between a pannier and the bike, which is an unworkable distance between the two at best.
With that, 30km short of Yumen and giving it the full Tucker/Giraffe act in the middle of the road, I reverted to plan A and got the tent out for an indulgent double noodle, double Have I Got News For You festival of OKness.
May 4: Jiayuguan to Not Yumen - 100km
a Photo every hour: Today's Highlight - Cold war Barbed wire
Day 29: SandStorm
Photo of the Day: Oh Shit, Umm, hide?
Day twenty nine.
After a decent night in the tent I was awake early with a huge 160km to Guazhou to go. With the pannier zip-tied as tight as a guest on a rendition flight, I was away. Things started in dreadful fashion, another puncture was followed by a 6km detour around nowhere, but then the wind flipped and it was with me.
For a while I was puncture free and flying along the 312, which reverted to being a road linking farms after Yumen, then the surface worsened and within an hour I was on my third puncture. The third puncture, almost led to a second snapped pannier as a kind samaritan tried to flip my bike over too quickly, fortunately it fell off instead.
Then the sand hit the fan.
The wind whipped up a treat just as I managed to pass Qiaomen Fortress. It was tough but I made another 10km. As I rounded a corner I watched as the ground became the air. Within minutes the sky was a horrible orange. I grabbed the waterproof cover for Jonny's panniers, which he had left me, jumped over a nearby bank and covered myself like an inverted tortoise, or esiotrot if you prefer.
The noise of the sand blasting against the plastic cover was horrendous. it lasted for longer than I'd ever really considered these things could go on for. I did some real swearing, no words were off limits; Becky Gdesis would have been appalled. ****y sand.
This was my view for about an hour. It does, I admit, look like I may have been a little excited, but trust me, that's bunching; bunching and fear.
Not yet dead I looked at the orange sky all around me and made a couple of quick judgements: I was in no way making it to Guazhou; and there was at least some shelter where I was now.
For a brief while I became a highly efficient and rational human being. Important things like torches, compasses and Oreos went into zipped pockets. Water, extra phone battery, the waterproof cover I'd just been inside went into my rucksack. I ran up to the highest point around me to identify the most sheltered spot I could see, ran back to the bike and wheeled it into the spot i'd identified and set about getting my real tent up.
Putting up a tent in a gale is no fun at all, but the alternative was unthinkable. Somehow I did it and it held until 2am, when rain, instead of sand, started lashing down and the wind felt like it might take me on a magic tent ride. After twenty minutes it subsided long enough for me to jump out and get the pegs back in the ground. Ten minutes later, wearing everything I could with all useful stuff strapped to me or zipped up in something strapped to me, I wrapped my sleeping back around me and held onto a tent I was only 60% sure wouldn't rip apart and leave me looking for answers that Charles Darwin didn't get round to.
It's at times like this you need distraction. As the violently shaking tent waved my arms from side to side I listened to probably the best episode of An Irishman Abroad podcast I've heard yet. This one was with Rory O'Neill, someone I'd not heard of before but will now only forget when then beer takes its toll. Listen to it, it's life affirming stuff, which is exactly what I needed at that point.
At 5.30am the storms finally gave in and I drifted off.
May 5: Not Yumen to Not Guazhou - 90km
Start Time: 07.00
Finish Time: 17.30
Hours Cycling: 8
A Photo every Hour: Today's Highlight - anything but the sandstorm
Photo of the Day: Be ready for more of this scenery fans
After a full 90 minutes sleep, I forced myself to get up and get moving. It took nearly an hour but breaks of blue in the sky never looked so good.
I cracked on at a pace and ticked off 15km before I begrudgingly piled more Oreos into my mouth. After another 5km I nearly fell off my bike as I saw a monk packing up a plastic sheet and a sleeping bag in a shallow ditch. How did he sleep through last night without a tent? As they say in Shropshire: Zen as fuck lad, Zen as fuck.
Perhaps he was battered on whisky.
I polished off the rest of the day by lunch to arrive in the pristine and pretty city of Guazhou, only to have it confirmed that the 312 disappears for 400km now until Hami, leaving only the G30, which I'm not allowed on.
Meaning I have four options. Two of which are unfeasible: go rogue and try and ride off road until Hami (no); go all the way up to Mongolia an back down (no); take the southern silk road (maybe); or take a train from Liuyuan to Hami for 300km after a detour via Dunhuang (maybe).
I'm going to Dunhuang, where I'll make my decision......vote now.
may 6: Not GuaZhou to Guazhou - 72KM
Start Time: 08.00
Finish Time: 13.00
Hours Cycling: 4.5
Zen Monks: 1
A Photo Every Hour: Today's highlight - That beautiful little tent
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.