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.