I’ve pretty much settled on a route which will see me go from Xiamen, Fujian Province to Urumqi, Xinjiang Province. I will be leaving in March so I’m anticipating perhaps a little rain and quite possibly a touch on the cold side in that first month. My initial calculations suggest that it will be about 2000km from Xiamen to Xian and then a further 2700 from Xian to Urumqi. It’s hard to gauge just how long this will take. Much will depend on the weather. I’m used to riding a 100km per day without any problems and this seems like a fair amount for each day to start out with. I’m guessing with rest days added in then I could be in Xian at the beginning of April. What I have to keep reminding myself of is that this is a journey I’m only ever going to do once and it’s not something I’m going to want to rush. I should also have the luxury of retaining my visa when I finish my job, which will allow me plenty of time to exit China.
By the time I get to Xian, I’m hoping the weather will have turned more ‘spring like’ and therefore will be more conducive to making my way across the Gobi Desert. The route will take me around the Qilian Mountain range from Lanzhou, up to Jaiyuguan, Hami and finally to Urumqi. I’ve heard that Urumqi has some spectacular scenery so I think it might be worth me using it as a base to explore the region more. It’s this stage of the ride that I’m perhaps most unsure of. Having done some reading about it, people’s experiences tend to vary wildly. The fact of the matter is it’s a desert and having never ridden, or for that matter driven across a desert, I should prepare myself for every eventuality.
I’ve done my research and if all goes to plan I should be able to pick up a Kazakhstan visa in Urumqi. It was my original intention to cycle across the border, down to Almaty and then to make my way in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan etc. However I hadn’t realized that Turkmenistan had such strict visa requirements. Instead I shall be looking to cross Kazakhstan. The problem here is that the visa I shall obtain in Urumqi is only valid for 30 days. This leaves me with the disappointing reality that it probably won’t be possible for me to cross Kazakhstan in that space of time by bike. I need to go to Almaty to organize a Russian transit visa. In order to maximize my time in Kazakhstan I might have to take a bus or train from Urumqi to Kazakhstan. This would then give me time to go to Almaty, arrange the visa and also take in some of the highly recommended cycling that is to be had in the South-Eastern part of the country. It will then be a case of picking the best bits of the country to explore by bike before finding (shudder) an alternative mode of transport to get me to the Russian border. From there I’m looking to skip across the South-Western corner of the country into Russia, through Volograd and into the Ukraine. I’ve always wanted to visit Russia and although it could well be a bit of a rush to get through it, I’m sure 9 days will allow me sufficient time to at least take in some of it’s culture.
At present then it looks like I shall only be requiring two visas to complete the trip. Onwards from Russia it will take me into the relative comfort of the EU and the Ukraine. Depending on times I may well roll into town to catch some part of Euro 2012. I’m thinking two months to cross China and a month in Kazakhstan, so I might well be arriving in the Ukraine perhaps in the middle of June. Like I said before I’m in no hurry and in particular I’d like to explore some of the Xinjiang region of China especially as it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to cross the entire length of Kazakhstan by bike. Of course this is also assuming that there are no problems along the way.
From the Ukraine, I’m looking at going into either Poland or Slovakia, then to the Czech Republic. I think this is a must for me as I used to work there and it would be fantastic to perhaps go back and visit the town I once lived in. From the Czech Republic I’m looking at heading in Austria, Switzerland and then France.
This plan looks fairly feasible to me and avoids much of the Central Asian region of the world. The past year has shown the world to be a volatile and unpredictable place especially politically where things can change very quickly. Therefore I should assume that nothing is set in stone. I’m certainly comfortable cycling in China as I have been here so long but leaving China and entering a new culture will be like taking a great leap into the unknown.
I’m expecting to map out a more detailed route over the coming months and to get my hands on some good old fashioned paper maps.