A sign of things to come?
I slept like a baby last night and must have been asleep by 8:30, I highly recommend it if you have the chance.
Mr. Chen was a man after my own heart and we both got up around 6:00 a.m. and went through our well oiled morning routines with little interaction.
One of the best things you can get to eat of a morning and something locals eat by the bucket load are ‘mantou’ a steamed bun that is a staple of Chinese diet and packed full of carbohydrates, the perfect way to set your stomach up for a mornings ride.
Last night's place of rest.
I was faced with a dilemma today. Mr. Chen is obviously a very fit man for his age as he proved yesterday when we kept a very steady pace throughout the afternoons ride. However he is twenty years my senior and the effects of yesterdays ride seemed to affect him more. I was certainly in no hurry but as the terrain once again changed and the wind picked up I found us trundling along at a very slow pace. I was very conscious of this, as too I’m sure was Mr. Chen.
Our refueling stops became more and more frequent and hence we were unable to get any real rhythm going again. Like I said I had no problem following Mr. Chen and like a couple of breakaway riders in the Tour de France we each took turns riding up front. The problem was that when I’d go up front I’d turn around five minutes later to see Mr. Chen way back in the distance.
I felt bad, I didn’t want him to be pushing himself and thinking he needed to ride faster. Eventually the subject was broached at another of our snack stops. My name is pronounced kind of like ‘Bao luo” in Chinese and every time he wanted to speak to me he would say ‘Halo Halo Bao luo’ He could see this wasn’t really working and by now the wind had gotten very strong. He told me that if I wanted to go ahead I should do. He didn’t mind and he was quite happy going along at his own pace.
We cycled past Jiquan some 60 kilometers and had lunch together. Mr. Chen once again making sure we got full value for money. I wrote in one of his books and jotted down my email and phone number. This was to be the point where we parted company. It was a little sad, although we’d only ridden some 160 kilometres together I had enjoyed having another person to ride with.
I told him that I wanted to push on from Jiayuguan and probably camp out in the desert tonight and he informed me he’d rest for perhaps a couple of days in Jiayuguan always mentioning his age. I was in awe to be quite honest that a man of his age was undertaking such a massive journey and wish I’d been able to understand his answer when I enquired as to how his wife felt about it.
He insisted on picking up the tab for lunch and I headed off and left him to tuck into a second helping of noodles.
I’m now some 1000 kilometres from Urumqi. I have to say that reaching there has become something of an obsession with me. In many respect it signifies to me at least the crossing of China. There is another 800 kilometres to the border of Kazakhstan but for me to cycle from Xiamen on the East coast to the final major city in the North-west of China will be a major achievement.
Hami, 671 km's away.
In some ways I’ve almost become paranoid at the thought of not making it for one reason or another. That may sound stupid to many of you reading this. People have commented that I’ve achieved so much already and I can understand that but at the same time it doesn’t feel that way to me. I mean I’d never be able to sit down in years to come and say to people ‘well I cycles three quarters of the way across China’ it just doesn’t sound right. So I’m driven on by the thought of making it to Urumqi.
The other day I came across the amazing story of Robert Thomson who cycled and SKATEBOARDED his way across the world in over two and a bit years. He mentioned how while long boarding across China he’d forgotten in some respects to take in what was around him and his final destination of Shanghai was all he could think about. I can understand this.
You should certainly check out his story at http://www.14degrees.org/en/
In my eyes, and this just maybe my own opinion bicycle touring is a totally different way to cross a country. On the one had you are a tourist and you want to see tourist things but on the other hand, or for me personally I’m very focused on covering the distances. My day is about riding, sure I get to take in the sights, sounds and smells around me but many of those days are spent alone in my thoughts with a variety of different emotions swirling around in my head.
There isn’t a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about arriving back in Forest Row and seeing all my family and friends. It’s a huge motivating factor for me. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying my ride, far from it. The sense of ‘being out there’ and the freedom that comes from such a journey is hard to put into words.
As many of you will know I’ve lived in China for many years now and I wouldn’t have done so if I didn’t have a real affection for this country. I’ve read many people’s experiences of cycling in China as first time visitors and they all state what a wonderful experience it is. I’m looking at it from the point of view however of someone who has been here for a long time. I’m in no way saying that I’m an expert on all things China, far from it. This is such a massively diverse country that it would be foolish of me to think in this way. However I do feel like I’m eager to experience another country. Much like a relationship whereby the two people involved have become over familiar shall we say with each other I feel like my time in China is coming to an end. This I suppose could explain my desire to get to Urumqi.
The wind is now becoming a massive factor in things. Today I rode in winds varying from 4 to 6 G and I’m told by Mr. Chen that it will only get stronger. In particular the section from Hami to Urumqi where apparently the wind can reach 10-12. He told me that many people try to cycle this route but are forced to take the bus such are the horrendous conditions. I tried my best to explain to him that this was something that wasn’t an option for me and that I’d prevail no matter what. I suppose that is easy to say sitting here in the comfort of my hotel but the thought of taking an alternative form of transportation fills me with despair. We shall have to wait and see.
I hadn’t planned to stay in Jiayuguan but such were the conditions of the afternoon’s ride that it seemed the only logical decision once I arrived. I’d been beaten up good and proper by the wind since lunch and much of the afternoon was spent riding through vicious side and headwinds all accompanied by a haze of sand and flying debris around me. I’d certainly never experienced conditions like this before.
A snapshot of today's conditions which in no way captures the ferocity of the wind.
By the time I arrived in Jiayuguan I was physically exhausted and looked like I’d spent a week sleeping rough. I was covered from top to toe in sand and dirt which had managed to get everywhere and my shins were a thick black and brown paste where the sand and dirt had stuck to the sun cream I’d applied at the beginning of the day.
I was pleased to have the option of stopping for the day. I was also pleased to see the bakery chain that I’d found in Zhangye “Alli” I can’t say the girls inside were as pleased to see me walk into their beautifully clean shop. One of them actually recoiled when she saw me and almost hide behind the counter as I strode purposefully in.
I also felt a little bad that I hadn’t waited for Mr. Chen as I knew he’d be staying here too. Mind you I can’t imagine how long it took him to negotiate the final part of today’s ride. Jiayuguan is a big city so there were plenty of options for lodging but I wasn’t too sure who was going to take me looking like I did. I managed to clean off the dirt from my legs with some baby wipes and changed my shirt but it only made a small improvement on my appearance.
After riding around for a while I struck gold and found a new chain of express hotels called ‘Bestay’ The express hotel market is now a huge one in China and I immediately knew I’d have no problem in getting a room here. It was so nice to go through the formalities of checking in hassle free. You could also see that the people working here had undergone extensive training in customer service and from the moment I walked in the door to the being shown to my room I was treated amazingly.
I’ve decided that due to the lovely little room I have and unbelievably comfy bed in my room that I’m going to rest here today before taking on what will be the final leg of this journey across China. It makes sense, I have some 600 kilometers to Hami and then another 450 to Urumqi where luxuries such as hotels I’m led to believe are few and far between.
I may go out and have a look around today but to be honest a lot of my time has been spent washing and writing this blog.
That’s all for now, I’ll try to update before leaving here as this might be the last update for a while or at least until I reach Hami.
Some fairly non-descript photos of Jiayuguan.