A Travellerspoint blog


Unknown place - Korgos 183km

And out of the clouds came.........

all seasons in one day

I feel so close to the border of Kazakhstan but at the same time so far. A mere 180km stood between me and crossing the full width of China on my bike something in my wildest dreams I’d never imagined possible.

What? Porridge again!

I should have been filled with excitement at the start of the day but with a climb in front of me I was apprehensive on the first stroke of the pedal. I planned to put in at least 130km leaving me with a simple ride into Korgos the day before leaving the country for Kazakhstan.

I wasn't wrong about the early morning climb. I'd deliberately camped on a down slope the night before so at least I'd have a nice little roll downhill for a few kilometres before heading upwards. That little roll turned out to be a rather pleasant wind assisted ride of 30km and at the first gas stop of the day I was quietly pleased with the early morning progress I’d made. The grey clouds of the previous day were still hanging around but what surprised me most was the significant drop in temperature.

The grey clouds of yesterday prevail

Once again a trucker at the gas station confirmed to me that the road did in fact rise, 50km for the record. Such was my good mood though I tried my best to give it a '50km is that all' kind of shrug/laugh but deep down I wasn't looking forward to it. It turned out to be one of those climbs that simply dragged; at no point was it significantly steep, it just dragged.large_IMG_1572.jpg

As I pulled the bike slowly upwards I kept looking down at the cycle computer trying not to count of the kilometres, 47, 44, still 44!!!!......you can’t be serious! .It was slow going. After about 40km of riding I started to think to myself how much would it take for me to go back down to the bottom of the climb and start to do it all again, I think at one point I'd made up my mind that I wouldn't even do it for a thousand pounds. Riding uphill does strange things to the mind.

I couldn't believe how cold it was, cold air could be seen being exhaled from my lungs with every rotation of the wheels. To make matters worse a low mist descended all around me making visibility very low. It all looked pretty bleak at this point.

I've certainly become fitter since starting my ride but even I at this stage was beginning to tire. A couple of Chinese guys passed, stopped and reversed to come and talk to me. They gave me a bottle of water and I asked them how much further to the top "15km then very beautiful” one of them said" I found this really hard to believe as I looked around at the greyness that had covered me and my surroundings. Nevertheless, once again refusing to give in I pushed on.

The summit of a climb has to be one of the greatest sights anyone on a bike can see. For me instead of relaxing my muscles I always seem to find an extra 10% to make it over the top at speed, so impatient am I to see what is beyond.

It was amazing. Within the space of a couple of hundred metres I'd risen out of the clouds and was now riding on a plateau of beautiful green lush grassland and clear blue skies. So this is what the guy had meant. If I thought that was a welcome sight I was in for a massive shock over the next brow of the hill. Suddenly out of nowhere to my right appeared the stunning ‘Bugeda Wenquan” lake. It was quite something, to the left of me was also the huge imposing snow capped “Qitai” mountain and in between this these carpet like wide open green spaces.


There are very times in life where your breath is taken away but this was certainly one of them, its beauty is and was almost indescribable. It made the hellish climb up worth all that effort. Hopefully the pictures can go some way to conveying how amazing it was.


I slowed down to a snails pace and was so glad that I was able to enjoy this view from the comfort of my bike, I’d almost goes as far as saying I felt privileged to be able to ride this section of road. You could also see the local guys on horseback herding their flocks of sheep and the small settlements of yurts that people live in at the base of slopes.


At this point I’d covered about 80km and the last thing on my mind was leaving this place and getting to Korgos. Time was however ticking along and all I could see in the distance were more snow capped mountains. As stunningly beautiful as this area was I was beginning to wonder whether this would be such a great place to camp for the night. I needn’t have worried; as I rode further down the road I could see what turned out to be a tunnel. What followed next can only be described a cycling bliss. I proceeded to make my way down the other side of the mountain and through a quite beautiful valley occasionally popping into a short tunnel and out the other side to reveal yet another amazing view. In fact I made my way rather slowly down the other side due to the fact that every time you turned a corner there was yet another brilliant photo opportunity.


I can imagine it gets pretty cold up there at night and I was forced to put on yet another layer of clothing as I made my way downwards. After numerous twist and turns and that glorious feeling of freewheeling it down a mountain I emerged out the other side gliding effortlessly down the road.


At the base of the mountain I had to make a decision. According to the locals at the gas station where I devoured some snacks the next town along the road was about 20km slightly downhill and I could find a hotel there. I was pretty tired but as it was downhill I thought it wouldn’t be a problem. The road sign indicated that Korgos was about 60km away so I thought that was probably out of the question. It turned out that I covered the 20km to the next town in no time at all as the sun gradually began to go down. I saw the turning and began to get into the slip lane to turn off when all of a sudden I decided no, and swung back onto the road. What’s the point of booking into a hotel for one night and then riding to Korgos the next day to repeat the process? I’d come so far today, I was on a real high having ridden through some of the most amazing scenery I’d ever seen so what better way I thought to top this day off than to complete my ride to Korgos.


I stepped down on the pedals hard; I knew that with the sun already going down that I’d get there when it was dark but 38km is nothing when you’ve already gone so far. I finally arrived in Korgos under the fall of night. The sight of a hotel almost immediately on my right as I entered was nearly as good as the sights I’d seen earlier in the day.


With the hotel being the first as you come into Korgos it was quite apparent that I wasn’t the first cyclist the two young girls at reception had ever seen. In no time I was checked in and lying back on my bed. The fact that I had just completed a 5688km crossing of China hadn’t really sunk in. There was no self congratulation on completing this stage of my trip just a delicious steaming hot bowl of fried rice and a nice cool refreshing beer. I’d arrived in Korgos a day ahead of schedule thus leaving me the whole of the next day to prepare for my entry into Kazakhstan.


Posted by Ontheroadagain 06:25 Archived in China Comments (1)

Unknown place - Unknown place 137km

The return of rain!


I was hoping for sunshine when I woke up in the morning and was looking forward to the sun rising over the spectacular mountain behind me. Unfortunately the weather had its own ideas and I awoke to grey clouds and a light cold wind; not bad conditions for riding but not the kind of weather that lifts your spirits.

As a result the mornings ride was pretty slow, factor into this a steady incline and increasing headwind and it was a pretty uneventful morning of grinding it out on the road. The conditions meant it was hard for me to get any sustained momentum going.

I was really surprised to feel small drops of rain on me in the early morning. I had been told that it doesn't rain very often in these parts so I was most surprised. I began to wonder if I hadn't been a touch premature in throwing away my heavy rain poncho. It turned out to be nothing more than a passing shower but only further served to make the days ride gloomier. When the sun shines for me at least, the road seems flatter, the bike lighter and me much stronger.

Every 20 or so kilometres you tend to find a small cluster of car repair shops and small restaurants. As I hadn’t eaten anything of real substance since my usual bowl of porridge in the morning so I decided to check one of them out. I'm not sure this place got too many Westerners frequenting it and I felt much like the bad guy in a Western movie strolling into a salon bar; everyone literally stopped and stared at me. I was taken into a small back room but made sure I was able to keep sight of the bike through a small window.


There were another couple of guys there one of whom started to make conversation with me. For some reason everyone immediately seems to assume I'm American. When I informed this guy I was from England his eyes immediately lit up "England……football....good, Beckham, Rooney” I gave him the thumbs up as he proceeded to list numerous football teams from England.

I had no idea what to eat so it was left to him to basically order for me the same dish that he and his friend were eagerly tucking into. It turned out to be a real winner a kind of fried bread with......you guessed it, lamb filling!

Not the most inspiring pictures of the trip so far I know.

I found a nice culvert, well as nice as culverts go which had a small stream running alongside it. The bike had picked up a fair amount of dirt what with the rain today but I decided on holding off giving it a quick wash down from the stream as the weather also looked ominous for the next days ride.


I'm now within 180km of the border town of Korgos. I very much doubt that I'll make it there in a day as the map shows a mountain that needs to be climbed so it looks like another slow ride tomorrow morning.

I dispensed with getting the tent out tonight, instead just choosing to lay the mattress out on the floor and sleep in the sleeping bag.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 05:46 Archived in China Comments (0)

Shawan - Unknown place 155km


The first thing to say about today was that it was another boiling hot day out on the bike. It’s now only the end of May and the weather is just going to get hotter. Despite the fact that I’m using a sun factor 30 cream I’ve developed a strange tan which we shall call ‘cyclists tan’ whereby the lower half of my arms and legs have a lovely deep dark colour to them while the upper halves are pure white. It’s an interesting look.


It was very much business as usual today. The scenery changed a little, the farmland of yesterday was replaced once again by a desolate, rocky and barren landscape.

Thankfully China knows how to do gas stations and while they aren’t quite up to the standard of UK service stops they certainly have everything that a passing cyclist needs. I’d love a ‘Little chef’ restaurant mind and I found myself today longing for the days of those early morning breakfasts on route to Dorset on holiday. large_IMG_1533.jpg I had some vegetables left over from Urumqi so at one such rest stop I decided to sit down at one of the tables and whip up a nice cucumber, onion and tomato salad. I decided to treat myself in Urumqi and bought a small bottle of Olive oil, salads taste so much better with a bit of a dressing. It wasn’t long before I had quite a throng of people all gathered around to see what I was doing, at one point there must have been about 30 to 40 people all standing around watching me chop up vegetables. large_IMG_1534.jpg large_IMG_1535.jpg large_IMG_1537.jpg I misunderstood the lady who was in charge of the upkeep of the area. I was sitting under a sort of archway and as it was midday so the sun was really beating down. I’d moved my bike into the area and she seemed to be shouting at me ‘liang kuai’ as in give me 2RMB. I couldn’t understand, was she trying to scam me. In Chinese I replied to her that why should I pay her 2RMB for the privilege of sitting here, everyone around me thought it was quite funny. Eventually the penny dropped with me as she pointed to a more shaded area and it was then that I remembered back to my Chinese lesson on weather and that ‘liang kuai’ also actually means cool. large_IMG_1538.jpg Later in the afternoon I noticed that the hard shoulder was littered with what appeared to be some kind of grasshopper. The only problem was that these grasshoppers weren’t particularly adept at the art of hopping and despite my best effort to avoid them it was impossible not to run over a few of them. I don’t think the hard shoulder of an expressway is really the place for any kind of insect. large_IMG_1540.jpg As the day drew to a close and I looked for a culvert to sleep under I was forced to ride an extra 10km as all along the embankment were workers who had the unenviable job to move small stones with shovels. I couldn’t understand this; they were basically scrapping the stones and just shifting them down the bank. It seemed like the most pointless job in the world. My heart really went out to these people though. Their skin had been permanently darkened by the sun. It really made me think once again how incredibly lucky I have been to have had opportunity to do so much in my life and now also be doing this. Here were young men, old men and women who will most likely never have the chance to even leave their hometowns. I’ve seen some people doing what must be incredibly tedious jobs along the way but this surely must beat them all. Music plays a big part of my days riding. Sometimes I choose to listen to nothing and other times I’ll play something. I’m sure there are people out there who will argue about the dangers of riding a bike while listening to music. I might be inclined to agree with them that doing so in a city is not a good idea where you need to have a heightened sense of what is around you. On the hard shoulder of an expressway however it’s different. I have plenty of room and I’ve not encountered any problems with truck drivers coming into ‘my space’ Some days it’s nice to ride along to some easy listening music and the beauty of modern day technology is that you can create your own little playlists. I’m not a huge fan of dance music but there are occasions on the bike when it really serves a purpose as anyone who’s done a spinning class in a gym will testify to. I have one particular mix that I often play when I’m perhaps lagging and looking to pick up the tempo a bit, it’s amazing the effect that it has. I settled down once again under the culvert today where I was joined by some rather large looking flies for company. Despite the fact that it was 8p.m. I was still sweating. Out the other side of the culvert I could see huge snowed covered mountains; they certainly made for a great view while eating my pasta and cucumber. large_IMG_1541.jpg large_IMG_1542.jpg

Posted by Ontheroadagain 08:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

Urumqi - Shawan 191km

Back to business


This was my first day back on the bike after my enforced stay in Urumqi. It felt really strange at first to be back on a fully loaded bike after nearly two weeks off it, the weight of which made me feel a little unbalanced.

I had intended to get out onto the streets nice and early but as with all best made plans they never quite come to fruition. I found myself slap bang in the middle of Urumqi jostling for position with the morning rush hour traffic. However whereas everyone else seemed in a hurry to get to their jobs I was content to go along at a leisurely pace.

Goodbye to the White Birch Hostel my home for the past two weeks.

It’s funny I felt a certain sense of achievement in reaching Urumqi and in my mind it had signified the crossing of China. My mind has shifted now and I now know that thinking this was a touch premature and there is still the small matter of 675km to the border town of Korgos. Only then will I really have achieved something.

It wasn’t long before I was back in the swing of things and had once again found my way to the expressway. I hadn’t really thought too much about what lay beyond Urumqi and was pleasantly surprised to see plenty of green fields with a backdrop of imposing mountains. In fact it seemed that every piece of land was being farmed in someway by the hundreds of field workers I passed.


This did present a problem for me in that it’s very hard to find a place to camp when all the land is being worked. Added to this the fact that people work in the fields to well into the early evening meant it was hard to find a suitable place to set up camp without being seen.


One thing that I didn’t previously mention is that people in Urumqi and I’m guessing it’s true of the surrounding areas operate on a different time from Beijing; ‘Uyghur time’ is two hours behind. My body has become accustomed to this and for example it was quite normal to still be up at 1:30 in the morning chatting with people.

Unable to find a place to camp but with plenty of light still left in the day I passed Shihezi and made my way to Shawan where I managed to find a bed for 20RMB about two pounds. Granted this was not the kind of place you’ll find in any travel guide book but it was a bed and after 191km on the road today it was most welcome.

I did think of my Dad who was a part-time fireman for many years and shudder to think what he would have made of the room which was basically a balcony which had been converted into the smallest of rooms. In the event of a fire you really wouldn’t want to be here so I went through the process of making a visual map of place in the event of a fire. If the worse came to the worse it was only a drop of 50 metres to the street outside!

It seems that all Chinese hotels have a rating system as you can see from the picture. I was surprised by the C rating and would have graded it about an E but it wasn’t until later that I found out that C is as low as it goes. large_IMG_1530.jpg Generous. All in all a good first day back on the bike. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel after such a long break off but at the end of the day riding I felt good and no aches or pains. The bike and I are back in business.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 08:13 Archived in China Comments (0)

Urumqi revisited

I needed to free up some space on my phone and I’d forgotten about some of the snaps I’d taken while in Urumqi so here they are for your viewing pleasure.

They take flying kites seriously in Urumqi

People from the White Birch

I took these one early morning in the park opposite. Again they take their dancing seriously!

The International Bazaar in the Muslim quarter

The Naan bread stop where I bought bread every single day, best Naan I’ve ever had!

Xinjiang.....more lamb than you can shake a stick at.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 08:03 Archived in China Comments (0)

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