How Far Have They Got?
Many thanks to those that have donated.
Week 10 Summary: Getting Blue with friends in Blue
You will notice that the route is more like a dotted-line! All is revealed in the diary notes below!
This week [currently one day short due to wifi issues: Ed]: 363 miles, 4,829ft climbing and 29:22 hours riding
Accumulated totals: 5409 miles, 114,044ft climbing and 419:50 hours riding
Day 66: Sunday August 18th: Rest day in Kashgar
We are staying in the poshest hotel in town and will enjoy another rest-day.
Naturally we wake up late and leisurely make our way down to breakfast. We ate like kings and it was really difficult to get Linney away from the noodle station. Finally we managed to prise him away.
The plan was to set all three of us up with a Chinese SIM card today, as Dave said “good luck with Dale’s phone he can never even get a signal in Kent”. So off we tramped down to the city centre ably led by Linney and his map reading skills. For a Sunday morning the city was quite lively especially as we went through the municipal park. There were people dancing in organised sessions, yoga sessions, lads playing basketball and table-tennis. It was a really vibrant park. No time for that though; we were on a mission. I noticed though that Keith was eyeing up the talent on the dance floors.
Like a lot of things in China getting a SIM card is not that easy; first we had to get a certificate of translation from a hotel. We went to the first hotel we could find and a really nice receptionist got one of the guards to take us to the tourist information centre to get the certificate. Yes they did it, but in took about 2 hours of waiting. We finally had it and we then took a taxi ride to the phone shop. It was only another 1 ½ later and we all had the SIMs. However my phone is still locked so mine did not work after all that. [wouldn’t it be easier to buy a phone? Ed]
Keith & Linney went sightseeing around the old town. I went back to the hotel to do some bike maintenance and try and download the routes for the next couple of weeks.
Then it was a restful late afternoon and evening with a few beers and nice food.
Day 67: Monday August 19th: Inspector Clouseau and Cato
With breakfast not until 08:00, we were up and raring to and get back on the bikes again. Unfortunately Linney’s back tyre was flat again; even though he repaired it yesterday. Even now we could not find the hole in the inner tube. It was all repaired before breakfast and then the feast began. As usual we had to drag Linney away with pockets overflowing with all sorts of food.
We were on the road just after 09:00, Linney leading us out of the City. Before long we were on the open road or so we thought. Then we hit the first police check. They pulled over and asked ‘where are you going?’. ‘Shanghai’ we said, which was probably not the best answer. In truth the police were so polite they just seemed to want to double check every last detail. Eventually a translator turned up and after that, no problem, we were back on the road.
The roads were pretty good so we made decent progress until the next town where we had the same procedure again; ‘where you from?’, ‘where are you going?’, ‘why are you here? etc.’. It was the same at the next town and with all these delays we were struggling to get the miles in that we had planned. But on we went.
After the next police stop we stopped for lunch. We just pulled into the next shop and Linney bought almost everything they had! Then we set off again.
As we rode on we noticed a white Honda following us. Every time we stopped for a comfort break he just rolled by and then started followed us again. He was looking at us through a newspaper with a hole cut in it [you are joking right? Ed]. I think Linney then waved at him so the his cover was blown. Before we knew the white car was replaced by a lime green one: we had Cato behind us, following our every move [Cato is the oriental valet character in the Pink Panther films: Ed]. When we stopped in a little village for drinks he had to back-track to get back behind us. It seemed he did not like us interacting with the locals. Then we rode on, knowing we were being followed.
We were now looking for a suitable place to camp. We spotted a place but knew we had Cato behind us; ‘just go for it’ we said bravely as we veered off the road. We sat and had a little chat knowing that Cato and friends would be around soon. Sure enough they came. Once again it was all very pleasant, ‘but we cannot camp here’. With a bit of mobile translation we managed to work out that there was a police check point in 12miles (20km) then a hotel. So with smiles and handshakes we said we would ride to the hotel .
We set off with Cato following us but after we had covered more than the 12 miles there was still no sign of the police checkpoint or for that matter the hotel. Cato was nowhere to be seen so we decided to set up camp. We picked a spot away from the road. This time we were not disturbed and so managed to get tents up and get to bed.
Day 68: Tuesday August 20th: Maize Field Heaven
We got up just as it was getting light with no sign of Inspector Clouseau or Cato. We had a bit of breakfast then set off. We never did go pass the police check point or hotel. We think they just wanted us out of their jurisdiction.
After a while we came to a small town of Yarkant and found a little cafe and managed to order a late breakfast/early lunch. We met some young students in the café and had a good bit of banter with them. They even bought us a preserved egg each; they are a bit like pickled eggs but not as strong [surprised Keith didn’t drink the juice they came in: Ed].
When we came to pay the bill they had even paid for our meal, so with the customary photos, we were about to leave, when the police turned up again. It was the usual palaver; passports and visas. Then they said it was too dangerous to go into the town. We showed where were heading to, they then said they would give us a police escort to the highway. This ended being an escort for about 12 miles. I even had a puncture while they were escorting us and they waited as we fixed it.
Finally they left us alone on a brand new road with very little traffic. Though the road was pretty boring at least we could get some miles under are belts. The road had no police checks as it bypassed all the small villages and towns along the way. They really do not want us going through these places.
As we were now getting a bit paranoid it suited us to stay on this road. The landscape becoming more and more into desert and with snow-capped mountains in front of us. [this section of road is heading almost directly due south so they would be looking at the Himalayas of Jammu, Kashmir and Tibet: Ed]
We had a lunch pot noodles and coffee along the edge of the road and then carried on. Soon we came to a service station which was guarded like Fort Knox. Here we stocked up on water and then pushed on.
We finally decided to come off the highway and go through the town of Kargilik so we could get our camping provisions sorted. At the first check point it was the same again; ‘where are you going?’, ‘where are you staying?’. Just the same old boring routine.
We told them we were planning on staying in a town about 50 miles away and needed to go to a supermarket to pick up some supplies. Once again we had a police escort to another police check outside the town and then another one to the supermarket. We managed to get all our supplies including some imported beer
(it was 16% proof, not a good idea really), then back with the police escort to the other side of town.
Once we were on our own again we started to look for a place to camp. We soon found a suitable place behind a coppice of trees in a maize field. Keith and Linney set up camp, while I tucked into the strong beers. They tasted like Port, but did the job, and I slept like a log.
Day 69: Wednesday August 21st: Move Along
We woke up to a bright sunny day without a hangover! It does not get light until around 08:00 and we decided to have breakfast in a garage just up the road. We turned up just as the garage was opening and with the normal passport checks they let us in.
We went for canned noodle things and a tube of Pringles. As soon as we got out the garage we had the first police check of the day. Once again they were very polite and friendly. They just don’t seem to know what to do with us. The officer wanted to know where we stayed last night and we explained that we had camped. He did not seem too impressed. Linney had to show him pictures of where we camped. We all thought he was going to take us back there and make us show him the place.
Luckily he then changed tack as he was more interested in Linney’s photos,. He then asked to see mine. Fortunate we had nothing incriminating on our phones. Keith just denied he had a phone so the officer just said ‘you can go’.
We stayed on the same road all day. It was a great road with lots of space and very little traffic but the down-side was there were very few potential stops. After about 10 miles on this road the familiar shout went up; Keith had a flat rear tyre. As we got the wheel off he said to me give the tyre a bit of a check over because it was strange how it went down. Well not surprisingly as there was a 2” nail through the tread and side wall! We managed to get it out, swapped the inner tube, and pressed on.
As we had bought enough food in the garage earlier the plan was to have lunch on the side of the road around the 30 mile mark, then stop again at a service station at 66 miles. We had baked beans, bread and coffee on the side of the road; living the dream again.
The desert was really barren, with next to nothing growing, though we did see our first Chinese camels.
We soon came to our next stop and we cruised into the brand new place. It was that new that it was not even open! Not good for us as we were running low on water. As we were discussing our options a tourist bus pulled and luckily they had some spare water for us. At least we got our bottles filled up.
We decided to pull off the main road and go for the minor road, even if it meant more police checks. It was a good choice. We found a little shop almost immediately and filled up on water. I even had an ice cold beer because it was so dusty. Before we left the owner gave us a corn on the cob which was a nice touch.
We then stopped for a meal in a small local restaurant. We had what the locals were having; green beans and noodles, and it was quite tasty. As we were camping again tonight we decided to roll on for another 20 or so miles then find a place to camp. As the two roads merged we came across the police check. It was all very nice and gave us some water and let Linney wash his hair with the hose pipe (no photos, not the place to take them). We selected a dusty site behind a petrol station (another theme going on), and also managed to get some beers and breakfast stuff from the local shop. All sorted “Nothing can go Wrong”
Well it did! We had just done the Waltons thing “good night Jon Boy” when the blue and twos sounded with headlights on full beam into the tent. Nothing for it. Keith went out to sort it out and I just rolled over thinking they will be gone in 5 mins. No such luck, we had to move on. All this was done via Goggle translate, though they did send for a translator as well. They said they would load us and our bikes into a van and take us to a hotel in Hotan around 80 miles away.
All this took over 5 hours to complete going through every checkpoint, with passport and visa checks at every one. We were all getting very tired now, trying to make a laugh and joke about it, but it was all wearing thin. Especially when we had been at a police check point for over an hour, before Linney pointed out to the head officer that he was looking at the wrong visa, the Russian one , not the Chinese one and that’s why he could not understand it.
We finally booked into a hotel at 04:00 in the morning, and this was after they had taken us to two other fully-booked hotels. We even unloaded the bikes and baggage at the first one.
You can imaged how tired we all were.
Day 70: Thursday August 22nd: Sandstorm
After the debacle of last night we had a lay in until 09:00 and had breakfast in the hotel,
Keith and Linney went to find a bike shop and I caught up with the blog. We had a view to get on the bikes around mid-day and with a 62 mile ride it should not be that bad (or so we thought). We set off just after 12 going out through the city of Hotan when we soon reached the first check-point. We are all resigned to the fact that they will ask the same questions, photocopy and take pictures of passports and visa, then usually let you go. This one was just like the rest. We made the mistake of having a selfie with one of the other guys in the queue; the police were not very impressed, but we got through evcentually. Unsurprisingly we had a police car tail us for the next 20 miles.
Then we hit the desert again and the road just got tougher and tougher. As always it was a steady incline with a head-wind getting stronger as the day wore on. We stopped for a little bit of respite in the only shade we could find, underneath the plinth of a crashed car put on show to deter speeding.
We had a little snack each all of us looking at the road ahead as it turned even more into the wind. We all checked our water and then set off for the last 20 mile push. It was hard going with sand blowing all over the place and always climbing. To be honest it was a relief when the police check finally arrived. Same procedure, albeit with a free ice lolly and a slice of melon, then the officer said no hotels in the town of Quira. We showed him the list we had but he said that was an old list; they are all closed. He said there was an international hotel 15 km away. When we tried to show him on the map it was around 50 miles away and we said we ca not cycle to there tonight. At first he said OK carry on, then just as we were leaving he said wait 5 minutes. We ended up boarding a bus to take us to the hotel 50 miles away. Their was not much room for negotiating, so we all unloaded the baggage off the bikes and onto the bus.
The bus went through two more police checks and we were held it up both times as they did the passport / visa checks and asked the same old questions. Finally we arrived at the town of Keriya with the international hotel. After ajnother police check we got the bikes and baggage off the bus. It was all in a bit of a hurry and I left one of my front pannier bags on the bus. Linney with his Google App managed to persuade the police to go and track the bag. I ended up in the police 4×4 chasing the bus down with the blues and twos going. In the end he spoke with the police at the next check-point and they turned the bus around and dropped off the bag. Good lads.
With a police escort to the hotel we managed to book in and it was straight up to the room for a quick change and then out next door for some food. We had the police hot on our tail again, asking us where we were going next; ‘to bed’ we all said.
After a really nice meal and a few beers and a chat about tomorrows ride which is around 70 miles to a place called Niya (with an international hotel of course).
That is exactly what we did; went to bed.
Day 71: Friday August 23rd:
With breakfast scheduled at 09:00 we had a bit of a lazy morning and I tried to catch up on the blog but the WIFI connection was not very good.
We all had a Chinese breakfast of rice, noodles and eggs, and then loaded up and set off just before 10. We stocked up just outside the hotel with water, nuts, cakes and sweets. It was quite easy riding through the town and we went straight through the final police checkpoint and onto the main express way to Niya and beyond.
Once again as soon as we left the town the desert appeared and the head-wind but it was not quite as bad as yesterday, but still pretty strong. We also still had a steady climb. After a couple of hours, with all of us looking for a bit of shade to have a rest in, we came across a Uzbekistan style road-stop; our little oasis. We replenished our drinks, had some cakes and fruit, and basically enjoyed the rest.
Then we set off again into the strong head-wind. With less than 35 miles to go, we knew we had broken the back of the ride and it was just a matter of ploughing through with it. On we went. Keith had a flat front tyre (a slow puncture, though he tried to blame the guy last night who touched his front wheel). We stopped again at a weird pull-over place, but not for long; just to get our bearings and go for the last big effort of the day. Before long we came to the final police check before Niya. It was the same procedure; Linney showed the guy the hotel. The policeman thought we had a booking, but we had not booked it. He was a really nice guy though and was pretty interested in what we were doing, and even typed on his translator app, “see you again” as we left.
With a really nice descent into the town we had 10 miles of luxury and the police even let us straight through a check with a wave and smile. When we arrived at the hotel, the police were there to greet us but this made the checking in process a bit easier. We were soon all sorted and ready to eat.
Day 72: Saturday August 24th:
[Dale’s diary notes have not yet been uploaded as they are camping and out of wifi reach. I’ll update when it comes in: Ed]
Everyday and ALL the Details
See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India. You can catch up with them here. An excerpt is below.
They have now crossed the Caucasus into Azerbaijan and the city of Baku on the Caspian Sea.