Is that snow?
11.04.2012 -2 °C
I’ve been lucky so far in the respect that every six days or so I seem to have come across a big city; first Nanchang then Wuhan, Xi’an and now I’m heading towards Lanzhou. Big cities come with the promise of good food, cheaper accommodation and more foreigners hence then the ability to blend into your surroundings more. It’s going to be interesting once I pass Lanzhou and start heading out into the desert. There are going to be some smaller cities but certainly none that I’ve heard of before.
Waking up to another beautiful sunrise.
Not for the first time on the trip the weather showed its temperamental nature today and by that I mean a severe drop in temperature. As I mentioned previously this is a harsh area and I take my hat off to the locals of Gansu. In my humble opinion they are the toughest Chinese people I’ve met so far. They have to deal with the two extremes of exceedingly cold winters and blistering hot summers with temperatures regularly hitting 40 degrees. For the most part it seems income is earned by working the land. It really makes you think. I’ve certainly been guilty in the past of complaining how hard my life is; waking up in the morning from my nice comfy bed, brewing myself a nice fresh cup of coffee, turning on my computer and reading the news while eating breakfast before jumping into a nice steaming hot shower, all the while grumbling in my mind about the prospect of going to work. I’m not sure how long I’d make it working in an environment like this.
I’m not sure also what to make of it here; it’s certainly made me think and will do in the future about how I live my daily life. Are for example the local people happy with their lot in life? It’s very easy for me to look and say to myself ‘well this isn’t a good way to live’ but I have that luxury of knowing different. I don’t like to say it but perhaps if you don’t know any different how can you be dissatisfied, this is just a way of life but it looks very tough to me. Men and woman of all ages are out there working the fields and when I say of all ages I mean of all ages. I know I wouldn’t be happy about the prospect of my parents being out in a field well into the eighties.
I sometimes wonder what they must think of me. I think back to the ‘other’ China I’ve lived in, in Shanghai and Xiamen and the relative comfort people enjoy there. It’s a different world. All Chinese people are aware of the glaring poverty gap but few people get to witness it first hand.
Today saw me once again continue my battle with the wind. Petrol stations have become one of my favorite places to stop; I guess they see a fair few travelers passing through and more so in this part of China. I’d worn my thick woolen hiking socks today but even they couldn’t protect my feet from the freezing cold. I was so grateful to come across a petrol station some 40km into my ride today where I met some incredibly friendly people. They provided me with hot water so I could enjoy and nice cup of tea and even better was the fact that they had radiators. I indicated to them that my feet were very cold and they pulled up a chair right next to the radiator and a slipped my feet onto the boiling hot pipes; pure bliss. Life gradually returned to my feet while I satisfied my appetite with some apricot Swiss roll I’d bought earlier but I knew I needed to get a move and eventually waved a fond farewell to new friends. It’s quite funny that one of the main petrol stations in China is named ‘Usmile’ and that I certainly did.
The previous night had seen me arrive late and end up setting up camp in the dark, I believe the common expression for this is ‘stealth camping’ I was certain I wasn’t going to make the same mistake today. The weather was a concern though and I’d earlier eventually given in to common sense by replacing my shorts with leggings. I found a good place to bed down with plenty of light to spare. It was pretty close to the road but over a hill and on a ledge in a valley. The area was being farmed but I was pretty sure that nobody was going to be bothering me at this time of the day and I’d be up and gone by the time anyone came in the morning.
It was cold; there is no other way to put it. I’m beginning to get this camping routine down to a tee and set up the stove immediately to boil some water as I put up the tent. Despite the fact that it was only six o’clock I was already keen to get inside my tent and sleeping bag and out of this absurdly cold weather. As I sat huddled against a rock I was amazed to see some small flakes of snow falling and settling on the bivy. At first I was sure it must be cherry blossom falling from the nearby trees but upon closer inspection I could see quite clearly that it was snow.
Now of course this is nothing to some hardened adventurers out there but this was certainly new ground for me, much like eating spaghetti with my hands. I tried to think of ways to keep myself warm and my mind went back to my rugby playing days at school when my then P.E teacher Mr. Mitchell had told us the best way to keep your hands warm in the cold was to stick them down the front of your shorts. So there I was, and forgive me for the imagine, back against a sandstone wall, darkness falling, small stove on the go and me sitting huddled up crossed legged with my hands down the front of my trousers! I did warn you it’s not a pleasant sight but in a situation like this needs must.
I was in bed as per usual when camping by 8. I decided to once again ignore the small warning sign at the zipper of the tent which states ‘in order to avoid risk of suffocation leave a 6 inch gap between zippers’ I thought I’ll take my chances. I’ve slept surprisingly well in the bivy, granted there isn’t much room but it’s snug and usually physical exhaustion gets you off to sleep.