The least said about today the better........but I'll say something all the same!
What should have been a routine day’s ride to Shandan turned out to be probably one of the worst days on the bike so far, maybe writing about it will be cathartic in one way or another.
It started out well with beautiful sunshine gleaming through my hotel window. Perhaps I was a little too complacent about making the distance today. I left late and this was my first mistake. I just wanted to take advantage of the nice hotel I was in and for the first time on the trip had a small lie in. At 10:30 I was still surfing the Internet and making some breakfast without a care in the world. I think it must have been 11:30 by the time I left and even then I was still taking time to chat with some old people outside the hotel.
I rode out of Yongchang and the warm sun on my face felt so good. So good that I stripped down just to my t-shirt and applied some sun cream as I left.
The first problem of the day came around 20km where the G312 meets the entrance to the Gansu expressway. The road took a natural curve off to the left and without thinking I just followed it. Head down and with a tailwind behind me I started to make light work of the road. It wasn’t until about 5km down the road that I realized something was wrong. I knew the G312 ran parallel with the expressway but where was the expressway? A little way down the road I saw a construction site and decided to ask the guys there what was what. Then the second problem struck, out of nowhere a front wheel puncture; the first in a long time. The men at the site informed me that I was in fact on the wrong road and that I needed to go back the way I came. I tried to explain to them that there was no turn for the G312 but they insisted there was. All the while we were having this conversation I was trying to fix the flat.
I turned back and headed towards the gas station near the entrance to the expressway. I was frustrated as that tailwind had now turned into a pretty strong headwind. The bright glorious sunshine I’d been enjoying only moments earlier was quickly giving way to dull, grey, menacing clouds. I asked myself how on earth it could change so quickly in such a short space of time.
When I got back to where I’d originally been I made my way to the expressway entrance to ask one of the people there where was the 312? The woman in the booth pointed at the gas station, I didn’t understand, there was nothing but a small basic track which looked like it ran around the back of the station. When I got to it and also asked the old man manning the pumps where the 312 was he also directed me down what really amounted to nothing more than a small dirt track. This dirt track was in fact the G312. No signs, no nothing! I was beginning to get angry, why on earth was there no sign? I’d just wasted what seemed like an eternity.
Things got worse, much worse. The road was basically just rocks, pebbles and mud but it wasn’t until I hit a smoother patch and headed over a small bridge that it hit me. The wind was unbelievable, it was almost as if I’d turned around a corner and someone had turned a huge fan on. This was to be the scene of the afternoon; a grey sandy canvass in front of me with the wind swirling all around. The only direction the wind didn’t actually go was from behind. To make matters worse the road rose ever so painfully in front of me.
For the first time on the trip I’m ashamed to say I lost it. I began to curse and mutter under my breathe as each downward stroke on the peddles became a chore. I was sick of it, plain and simple. I didn’t want to be riding the bike. Obviously I’d come to the completely wrong conclusion that this was all designed to be against me as I went through the motions much like a small child having a tantrum. Like I said I wasn’t proud of my behaviour. Eventually I got it into my mind that in some way it was the road, wind and weather against me and in someway this made me more determined to beat it.
Fighting the wind is pointless, sometimes I’ll get the urge to surge against it but it merely serves to expend a lot of energy for minimal result. The best way I’ve found is to simply click into an easy gear and grind it out. I did so and eventually reached the top of the climb. By now it was getting late and I was still a long way from Shandan. With a slight decline in my favour I set about leveling the score. All the anger and frustration of the day came out as I tore downwards into the headwind. The road as I’d previously mentioned was a strange mixture of smooth tarmac mixed in with ten meter or so sections of uneven rocks, pebbles and sand. Ordinarily I might take a little extra care when going over this kind of terrain but such was my mood that I was in no state to mess around. The bike did amazingly well as I sped over these sections, small rocks pinging of the tires.
As night fell the wind picked up and the road leveled out I was still left with 20km to Shandan. I’d made a valiant race for it but it was clear that I needed to stop. I’d covered over 100km with my 10km detour. The G312 once again failed to indicate the need to turn left but this time it worked in my favour. I reached a dead end right next to the expressway and a small truck stop.
It was dark and the owner seeing my bedraggled state beckoned me in.
I was annoyed with myself for underestimating the distance and leaving so late and also getting angry. I’d also assumed the weather was going to be sunny all day and I’ve learned my lesson there; the weather changes pretty fast in the desert.
Inside the truckers gathered told me the wind gets stronger, so good news there. I tucked into a hearty meal and was eventually shown to my room. The great thing about that was the meal and room only cost 36RMB, around three pounds fifty. The owner had two young children who were fascinated with their foreign visitor and insisted on playing peek a boo with me as I tried to sleep. In the end exhaustion got the better of me and I was asleep by 8:30.
Tomorrow is another day.
Desert 1 Paul 0