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
This is where I update on my progress. Expect lots of fabricated statistics and dated music references.