A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

Desert - Guazhou (Anxi) 56km/ Guazhou - Liuyuan 75km

Losing track. Losing my mind. Losing a whole road?

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Well this is going to be a two for one deals as time in limited and there was me thinking this was a holiday!

The 26th I took a short ride to Guazhou. I had intended to go further this day but a number of factors meant that I bedded down there for the night. I arrived at lunchtime as right on cue the wind really picked up. I was up early this morning but it also seems that out here the wind can also get up early!

I was thankful that Guazhou appeared and I was able to take stock over a ridiculously large bowl of noodles. The outside restaurant was packed which meant I had to wait a good 30 minutes for the food to arrive. Such was the size of the bowl it took another 30 minutes to eat. By now it was past midday and the sun was beating down. To be honest I didn’t fancy an afternoon battling it out with the wind and as I rode along the pleasantly peaceful streets I noticed a number of hotels ‘well it wouldn’t hurt just to enquire how much’ I pondered.

Before you knew it I had a keycard in my hand and was headed upstairs. It took a while for me to persuade them to allow my LPY to come up with me but in the end they gave in. My sob sorry of how I simply can’t sleep at night without my bike in sight always seems to do the trick.

I was feeling great the next morning (the 27th) as I anticipated the fairly short trip to Liuyuan. It tends to follow a pattern whereby when I anticipate an easy day the opposite usually happens.

The least said about this nightmarish day the better but I can see you are all on tender hooks so here goes.

I followed the road out of Guazhou for about 5km, simple enough. When I got to the crossroad I noticed the sign for Liuyaun. Perfect, turn left. My GPS also confirmed this was the way. All was good, the road was in perfect condition and with Mantou in my stomach I was feeling great. Eventually the 312 did its usual and started to turn a little rocky, sandy and bumpy but this was nothing that I hadn’t experienced before so I pushed on.

After an hour or so, and at this point you might ask why I persevered for so long, it was clear that something wasn’t quite right. I consulted the map; to my right was the expressway so this had to be the G312. I stopped a truck that was making its way awkwardly along the uneven surface. They informed me that yes Liuyuan was straight down this road, just keep going.

By now parts of the track had become impossible to ride on, the sheer weight of the bike meant the tires just simply sunk into the sand. So I started to push. I must have put 25km behind me and Guazhou when a woman taxi driver stopped and asked where I was going. She told me the road to Liuyuan was pretty much like this all the way and that the G312 no longer existed. She told me the best thing for me to do would be to head back to Guazhou and get on the Expressway.

I’ve not ridden the expressway before because I’ve been under the impression that bikes are strictly prohibited on this type of road. In fact I’d tried on a couple of other occasions only to be ushered away. I tried to explain this to her but she was insistent that it would be okay.

I was now faced with a tough decision, go back 20km or so pushing and riding where possible or keep going on and hope and pray the road would improve. I took the later option…….bad choice.

To cut a very long story short I ended up mostly pushing the bike about 50km before I finally took advantage of one of the culverts under the road which led me up a very steep embankment and onto the expressway. I managed to wave down a police car and they explained that the G30 expressway has now replaced the G312 National highway and that there was no problem me riding it the rest of the way to Liuyuan. You can imagine my mixed emotions at this news. Had I known this earlier I’d have saved myself a lot of anguish but how was I to know? My searches on the net hadn’t brought up any news about this section of the 312 simply going walkabout.

By now it was late and I had to put the pedal to the metal in order to get to Liuyuan before it got dark. So, if any cyclists are reading this at a later date, from Guazhou simply jump on the expressway to get to Liuyuan and save yourself a massive headache.

The days major frustrations of what amounted messing around in a large sandpit were offset by my cheap hotel room for the night, friendly service and excellent dinner of simple Chinese food.

I went to bed thinking is it really possible for a road to simply disappear?

A few photos, just to illustrate the awful state of the road, on the plus side I did start the ride by passing 4000km, every cloud and all that......

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 08:14 Archived in China Comments (0)

Somewhere out in the desert near Yumen - More desert 100km

Please give way to 2 wheels

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The days are blending into one another. Despite the fact that this was only yesterday I can barely remember anything spectacular happening such is riding in the desert.

I slept really well under the culvert and was undisturbed through the night. As you can imagine I was up at the crack of dawn and decided to cook some porridge while watching the sun come up.

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The trade off of sleeping under a road!

Packed up and stomach satisfied I was on the road nice and early, not however early enough it seems to beat the numerous trucks which I also share the 312 with. I’m at a loss to explain why these trucks are on this road. Could it be that they don’t wish to pay the entrance fee for the expressway? I don’t know.

The 312 has now turned into a single track road of varying quality. There are smooth patches and there are horrendously pot holed sections. The main problem is that the road is basically the width of a truck. Some truck drivers are obviously sympathetic to the cause and move curtiously over slightly to allow me to stay on the tarmac. I should point out that the hard shoulder consists of sand and small rocks; not the kind of place you really want to be riding a bike on. Some drivers however tear past you at break neck speed churning up blizzard of sand, dust and rocks as they past.

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The going is tough. It’s funny I was swapping emails with Chris Smith the author of the excellent book “Why don’t you fly” (if you haven’t read it go out and do so, it’s a truly excellent read) whom I’ve previously mentioned on this blog. We are following the same route but in reverse. I jokingly said to him that I bet he must have enjoyed all the tailwinds as I was riding into nothing but headwinds. He replied that going the other way he felt the same and looked enviously at those heading the other way. The wind, it would seem is impartial and blows whichever which it so chooses!

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Today it blew into my face once again and when it didn’t feel like doing so it blew sideways into me forcing me to concentrate on just keeping the bike in a straight line.

After dead on 100km I’d had enough of trying to fight it and dismounted under what looked like an exact replica of the culvert I’d slept under the night before. When I entered the culvert it was a haven of peace from the howling wind outside. However thirty minutes later having set up camp for the night it decided it would be a good idea to blow directly through the small tunnel I was sleeping in. By this time I was too tired to care and was already in my sleeping bag and bivy and surprisingly snug. I even remembered the bar of chocolate that I’d buried deep in one of my panniers and lay very content munching on it as the wind did what it had to outside.

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Praying again for a tailwind tomorrow.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 07:09 Archived in China Comments (1)

Jiayuguan – Near Yumen 117km

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I felt really refreshed after my ‘rest’ day in Jiayuguan and I was almost at pains to leave the comfort of the Bestay Inn and the what surely has to be the world’s most comfortable bed.

I’d set my sights on Yumen and all was going to plan from the mornings ride as I set a nice pace back out into the desert. It wasn’t until the afternoon that the wind picked up and I started to fight what is beginning to feel like a rather familiar battle.

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No......the scenery doesn't change much

There really isn’t much to say about the scenery out here. It’s dry, dusty, rocky and above all else windy! By the time I’d finished riding for the day I’d covered about 117km, the final 30 at a painstakingly slow speed. The expressway sign still indicated that there was another 21km to Yumen so I figured I could add at least another 10 on that.

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I’ve yet to sleep under the culverts of the expressway but tonight I was left with no choice. I’ve read about other people who’ve rolled out their sleeping bags in these less than luxurious surroundings but like them I have to concur it was pretty comfy. I cooked up some pasta and sat resting my back up against the wall watching the sun go down.

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A good day all in all but a painfully slow afternoon riding into the wind, I think this is going to be the pattern to come.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 06:38 Archived in China Comments (0)

Jiayuguan

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I did decide to take it easy today and stay in Jiayuguan to rest up.

I took the opportunity to ride out of the city on the bike and visit Jiayuguan fort. I have to say I’m the worst kind of tourist as I continually baulk at the asking price to enter these ‘attractions’ I just think twelve pounds is over my daily budget and not really worth it. I decided instead to ride my bike around the fort and came across the back entrance to it. It did require me walking across a large section of desert to get to it but it was worth it for the pictures.

Apart from that I didn’t do a lot. I cleaned my chain and checked over the bike as per usual but it’s been what I intended, a relaxing day,

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 06:23 Archived in China Comments (0)

Qingshui - Jiayuguan 97km

A sign of things to come?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Some fairly non-descript photos of Jiayuguan.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 21:38 Archived in China Comments (1)

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