Let’s welcome home Dale and Linford who have arrived back in the UK this week. Keith, on the other hand, has nipped over to the USA to continue cycling. More on that later.
It’s Graham’s Birthday [5th November] today so had a little moment thinking about him: he would have been 64!
Well it’s the final day, Linney and Camilla flew home today (have a safe journey guys) and Keith flew on to LA to start the next leg of his holiday (have a great time mate, hope the weather’s good for you and you are able to get out of the urban sprawl).
Well that leaves me in Osaka for one last day and the logistical nightmare of getting my bike and bags up to the airport; not the easiest of things to do. Keith made two journeys and stored his bike up at the airport a day early and Linney moved hotels to be closer to the airport and he and Camilla struggled with their bikes and bags on the train. I have opted to have the bike couriered up to the airport and then go on the train with my bags. This also involves sleeping at the airport; if I can camp in the desert I can definitely sleep in an airport, “nothing can go wrong”
To everyone who has supported our charities it has been a very humbling experience receiving all your positive comments and donations to our named charities, Alzheimer’s Society, the Fight for Sight charity and for the Slide Away charity. We have raised over £7.5K and really appreciate all the donations; an amazing achievement.
The only other thing to do is say my thanks to all that have supported our little jaunt, I apologise for not being able to name every one; the list would go on forever, however a few do need a special THANKS:
Billy Plews & Tina Plews East Kent Foods
For their continued sponsorship, they have supported every tour we have done, Cheers, (Though Bill was a bit concerned before we left, “you don’t need food and water all the way to Japan do you Housey”! was his first comment
Roy Berkhauer From R B Air Conditioning Services
Once again cheers mate supported every tour with a massive donation for the kits.
James Ritson McGinley Support Services
A big thanks to Jimmy and his team from the village.
Cant say enough about your support mate, truly missed you on this year’s tour, I know you will be ready for next year, watch this space! A legend in China we met your agent, stall full of goodies.
Carl Moses & Cathal Bartolo
Cheers guys for starting the tour with us, made the first 1000 miles a doddle, pleasure riding with both of you.
Driving to Poland and back, with a load of mad cyclists, who needed waiting on hand and foot, one of the only blokes I Know who can shut Carl up, for that reason you are welcome to drive us all over the place.
For making a great effort in joining us for the last 1000 miles (930), Cheers “Young Un” a very special experience cycling with your “Old Man” and that guy you sold your bike to in China is so pleased with it.
Keith & Linford House
A pleasure and a privilege to cycle with you two guys, can’t wait for the next “Holiday”
For editing the website and blog, making sense of my cobbled together words and putting some sort of structure to the thing. Cheers Steve we’ll have a little beer when I get home.
Last but not least a massive Thank You to the fairest rose of all, thanks for letting me go on this mad caper, can’t wait to see you again in early November and getting a job again.
It’s my first day riding in the USA. I spent yesterday evening putting the bike back together, adjusting bits and pieces, and re-packing my panniers.
I have a relaxed start as I’m nervous about riding in the US. Not sure why, maybe the drivers are poor and the roads I’m likely to ride on not so good. Also I read up on highway codes in the US and every state is different. Not helpful at all.
I get out on the road around 10:00 and my plan is to head for Santa Monica and Muscle Beach. It should be pretty simple, just follow the 3rd Avenue West. The roads are not great and there are numerous stop signs and traffic lights. I’m doing my best to be patient with them but I have an urge to jump them when all is clear!
An hour later I’m on the beach. I’ve not enjoyed my journey here but things will get better. The cycle path along the coast is very good. Not too many skaters or dog walkers. It’s overcast today so that may be the reason there are not so many on Muscle Beach and the volleyball courts. I’m enjoying the ride now, relaxing and taking in the scenery. I see seals off Manhattan Beach, the sun shinning and it’s a quiet path down as far as Torrance Beach. I cut inland at this point, 40 miles into my ride. That was all I set out to do.
The roads are busy now and full of trucks busy coming and going from the port.
Long Beach is my destination but I’m not liking the traffic it’s far too heavy. So I start heading back to downtown LA. It’s not long before the traffic improves and I’m cruising the downtown streets.
I locate a local bike shop and purchase an inner-tube, the guy has no WD40 or grease. But he tells me where to purchase the WD and gives me a knob of grease in tin foil. Nice man. I pop into the local supermarket to pick up tomorrow’s lunch and get the WD40. The place is full of Mexicans; I should have done Spanish at school!
Then it’s back to the digs where I have a bite to eat then sort the pedals out on the bike. I dis-assemble the cranks then clean, grease and re-assemble. Didn’t take long, all seems fine now.
I have dinner at Gut’s; burger, salad and chips, and then back to the Holiday Lodge motel; not the classiest of joints!
I’m all ready to depart at 7:00, packed and ready to roll.
Getting out of LA turned into a battle for the first couple of hours. It was all steep climbs and stop signs. I’m feeling tired from the start and the short sharp inclines aren’t helping.
I stop for lunch at a primary school sports field. It’s a wonderful expanse of baseball and football fields. All in pristine condition. Not surprising given the area they’re in. All the timeI’m under the watchful eye of the local Police. I pass Harvard University [this University is in Massachusetts! so not sure what this is: Ed] shortly after and on to the Electric Pacific bike trail.
It’s a lovely 10 mile stretch of new tarmac and I pass only three other people. I spot a cycle store (Don’s Cycles) so pop in and buy some grease for my bottom brackets. Don follows me out the store and spots my bike. We then have 20 minutes of me telling him where I’ve been and him advising me of where I should go. Lovely bloke, very helpful.
Once I clear LA the Lytle canyon is my next challenge. It’s 14 miles of twisted climbing to end my day. Not what I wanted as I’ve been feeling tired all day.
It takes me 90 minutes to cover the ground after fueling up at a coffee shop.
I had a great breakfast this morning with make your own waffles included. The weather’s good again as I continue the climb out of the canyon. Train whistles echo up the valley as they also weave their way up. they are pulling hundreds of containers with their eight locomotives.
I drop down gradually and follow the “Old Woman Creek Road” along undulating highway with poor hard shoulders. Luckily the road’s not too busy. I’m making good time this morning and by midday I’ve got over 50 miles in the bag. I pull in to a large pile of boulders to seek some shade for lunch. It’s 30º now. It’s a ham and cheese roll, banana and apple and I’m refuelled.
About an hour later I pull into a layby to check out hotels. As I come to a halt a couple in a mobile home ask, ‘Tea, coffee or water?’. Turns out they were from Gouda (Netherlands) and are very nice and very chatty. They;ve been in the US visiting friends and touring for 6 weeks. After two bottles of water and a cup of tea we said our farewells.
I’m still not feeling great and my legs are aching on any sort of climb. Perhaps the two weeks off the bike hasn’t helped! No worries, I still did 85 miles today on some difficult terrain. Better tomorrow 🙂
USA Day 4 Saturday November 9th
[Keith camped this night with no wi-fi – so this day will be included in next weeks post: Ed]
Overland To India
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 flown to India. It appears that whilst they are in India they will travel separately. I think they both flew to Delhi over the Himalayas, but Jess is now in Chennai! Where Ben is I don’t know!
We had a nice breakfast in the hotel with cook your own eggs, cereal and toast; all very wester although all of us still had some noodles and rice. We left the hotel pretty sharply, with a nice ride out of the city across a big lake andthen into the never-ending suburbs.
Finally we hit some open roads after about 15 miles; it’s unbelievable how big these cities are and it was good to hit a few hills early on with rolling roads over small inclines and then down hill again. It really breaks the riding up especially when the country side is so green and lush.
We carried on through these rolling roads and it was so nice we forgot to have our little soft drink halfway through the morning section. We just carried on through the really pretty countryside riding up down the little valleys.
Eventually we came to the town of Mingguang and with the young lads starving by this point we pulled over just as we entered the town. Nothing wes doing at the first side street so we rode up and carried on and found a place on the corner. It was a bit like a Chinese fast food place but we went in opened the first fridge and had our drinks but I’m not sure we paid for these!
We’ll probably have a bill when we leave Shanghai. We queued up and ordered our food. Rylan said it must be good because the locals kept pushing in front of him,. To be fair the food was good and we did not get too much like we normally do.
After an early lunch we still had around 40 miles to go so we hit the road again carrying on where we left off,through the rolling countryside. It was very pleasant riding with the temperature just over 30c; really pleasant and we were just enjoying the ambience by waving and smiling to all the people on the way through.
We stopped at a little village about 14 miles from Chuzhou for a drink just before we rolled into the town. All in all it was a pleasant days riding even through the building site about a mile away from the hotel. All of us got caked in mud and sand again.
It was Rylan’s choice for a restaurant to night; not sure if he researched it or just took pot luck but we ended up in a pizza place. I think he just wanted the knife and forks. It was a good meal though with the usual photo shot included.
Same hotel different city! All these different hotels in different cities/towns are playing mind-games with us; not sure what floor or room number we are in. They all look the same.
We are getting very close to Shanghai now and it looks like it will be mainly urban sprawl from now on.
We left Chuzhou around 08:45, with an hours riding in the busy town before we hit any sign of country-side. We went past many small towns and villages and we were all finding it a little bit difficult to get into the swing today. Maybe it’s because we are so close.
We were just ambling through the ride with nobody taking the lead. We stopped at a busy little market place called Yongningzhen for some fruit and cold drinks knowing we had the big city of Nanjing ahead of us. Once we hit the city on a busy freeway it was a little chaotic like most bustling cities. With the plan to try and keep to the outskirts of the city going quite well until we came across the tunnel under the Yangtze river. The sign said ‘No Bicycles Allowed’. So we all got in formation again and just went for it.
The tunnel is about 3 miles long and as we hit the entrance I heard the guy shout at us as we pedalled past. Nothing could go wrong! The first mile seemed ok and the tunnel was well lit and the traffic kept a safe distance from us. Then it all got a bit more congested though we were still keeping a decent line it was just so noisy!
It was the police sirens trying to hunt us down and finally they rounded us up. They were all a bit confused as I don’t think they have had anyone silly enough to cycle through the tunnel before. It was like trying to cycle through the Dartford tunnel. Fair play we caused chaos. First they tried to get us to load the bikes onto a small pick-up then they realised how big and heavy they were so they left the bikes in the tunnel and gave us a lift out of the tunnel and then sent a bigger van in to pick the bikes up.
We’ve been here before so we sat on the wall laughing and joking once the bikes arrived although they had to go back for Keiths. Then the inspector arrived full of importance and ended up giving us a telling-off and fining us 50 yen each for violation of traffic laws (£6 each). It was all paid on the spot with a receipt. At least that was efficient and then they let us on our way.
We carried on through the city and came to another tunnel. We all looked at each other and said maybe not this time sp we rerouted and came to a big park. The guards would not let us through the park even if we walked the cycles. One guard started to shout at us louder and louder but we just smiled. Luckily a lady came over and explained to the guard that we could not understand him and she gave us directions around the park; very nice lady.
Linney & Rylan had a little look in the park while Keith and I looked after the bikes but they were only in there for half an hour.
All in all though it put another couple of hours onto the ride until finally we managed to get out of Nanjing and get some sort of rhythm going in the ride as we pushed on through the rolling hills trying to make up some time. The youngsters were fretting because we had not stopped for lunch so we had a bit of a compromise with a soft drink and some chocolate and a promise to eat as soon as we hit Zhenjiang.
Good lads they really hit the pace in the afternoon and dragged us along with them. Keith had probably one of the best falls ever as he got stuck in a rut on the road and achieved a full somersault with a twist, pike and the best landing in living memory. Definitely a front-runner for fall of the tour. Linney made the quip ‘that’s how to fall Dale’.
As we closed in on Zhenjiang we made another change of plan; book a hotel first then eat as it was getting dark. The “young uns” guided us in to the hotel with ease through the dwindling light. We all booked in and got the bikes stowed away then it was a quick shower, catch up on the rugby and eat.
I had a little go at matching Keith’s fall as I slipped in the marble hall. I went flying straight on my back with all the elegance of a sack of potatoes. Artistic impression: Nil points, but screaming like a girl: 10 points. Nothing, but feelings, were hurt though.
Today was a National Holiday in China celebrating the 70 years of the Peoples Republic of China formed in 1949. It was very big news out here and all the towns and cities were decorated with flags and Chinese lanterns. All the staff in the hotel had “We love China “ tee shirts on and were waving flags. Keith and I had a picture taken with them before the young ones left the breakfast table, under the celebration banner, then we had a full team picture just before we left.
The roads where reasonably quite as we left Zhenjiang making the route out of the city very easy though we did not hit any open roads. The towns and villages just merged into one. We made really good time in the morning on the empty roads but may be also because the lads did not want to miss lunch again. Before we knew it we had done over 50 odd miles so the call went out for a lunch stop as we entered Changzhou.
Unluckily at this point Keith had a puncture with the lads in front. I soon caught them up and told then to ease up and when Keith re-joined us we took a little detour into the town and found small café. We had a very nice meal with ice cream after although Keith did have another flat just as we left.
Soon we are on our way again with the rain holding off and with the head-wind not too bad it was just a matter of riding in the last 30 miles. We had a little break about 12 miles out as then some local lads went by on road bikes. It was like red rags to a bull; off the young went chasing them down with Keith & I in tow. We soon caught them and passed them but they did try and stick with us for a while but then tailed off. Then we joined two other local lads who stayed with us all the way into Wuxi. We left them with a wave and smile just as we found our hotel.
Well it’s the last days cycling in China after over 100 days on the road. It seems a bit surreal to be coming to end of this part of the tour, but we have still got loads of cycling in Japan to look forward too.
Went through the normal mornings preparations; breakfast, get the bikes ready, then pedal – all pretty simple stuff. We all had our Bike Rugby Japan cycling tops on, Linney & I also had the shorts but Keith had mislaid his and Rylan never had shorts ordered. We did look smart outside the hotel for a photo shoot and think the lads were pleased I had finally binned my shorts that I have worn for the whole trip. [Club fine for not wearing the fully prescribed kit on a match day: Ed]. A Chinese guy took the picture on Linney’s camera and he kept getting stuck in the automatic doors trying to get the angle right. Linney was not too impressed and thought he was going to drop the camera or run off with it.
We left Wuxi in light drizzle but it was very warm and we were straight out onto the secondary road into Shanghai,. Just over 80 miles planned for toda, all of it in built up industrial or suburban communities with next to no open spaces at all.
None of us were really enthused about the ride into Shanghai. I for one was very apprehensive as I’m not keen on riding in the big cities although the cycle paths in all the Chinese cities have been very good. You just have to be aware of the electric scooters zooming all over the place beeping their horns to pass.
With open fast cycling paths running adjacent to the road we made really good progress skirting around the edge of Suzho City. We saw a massive statue of a Buddha in the distance so we had to have a look. It turned out to be a theme park so nothing to special. We had a drink stop next to a shop selling crabs. The guy invited us in but it wasn’t for me. Keith had a look at 100s of crabs in tanks waiting to be sold for dinner.
The road into the city of Shanghai followed the river, for the final 20 miles with the cycle path following up and over all sorts of concrete flyovers. It just seemed madness that we were so close.
After lunch we stopped at a little place for a beer and to take stock of where we were going to stay. With around 7 miles to the centre we picked a hotel close to the train station and set off to find it.
To be honest the ride into the centre of the city was not too bad; great cycle paths, then weaving in and out of the rush hour traffic was all good fun. We found the hotel and booked in with ease.
It did seem strange taking all the panniers off the bikes as we stored them in the hotel’s garage.
Thoughts from Dale
1: Now you’ve completed the ride what are your first thoughts?
We have only gone and done it and then wow Shanghai is massive but has no bars! Dale
2: Of those 100 days, which was the most exhilarating and which the most despairing?
The most exhilarating was seeing the Himalay mountains on the right hand side. The snow covered peaks were breathtaking.
The most despairing was not getting through the Ukraine/Russia border and riding 100 miles in a circle and to cap it off I got a bee sting in the eye. Dale
3: With different cultures and languages their was plenty of scope for embarrassment. Got a funny story?
Very embarrassing and funny for those watching (and it was being filmed) was standing up in front of all the trainee school teachers in a remote place in Kazakhstan and trying to explain where we had been and where we were going. I made a complete mess; getting all the countries mixed up; Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and all the other Stans. Dale.
4: Did you ever think you may not make it? Why or why not?
Not once did I think we would not make it. It was not an option. Sometimes I thought it just may have taken a bit longer than planned. Dale.
5: Before you started you said you’d probably throw your bike in the China Sea if you made it. Had enough of cycling yet?
We are carrying on as we intend to cycle in Japan too. But I’m definitely going to do another trip another time. Dale.
Bonus Question (from Dave)
You’ve surveyed beer from the North Sea to the East China Sea. Most memorable? And the worst?
Definitely the worst is when no beer is available! After that it was the warm beer in West China where they did not seem to have fridges.
The best beer was a freezer full of ice cold beer in a little shack miles away from any town in the Chinese desert. Dale.
Thoughts from Keith
1: First thoughts on finishing the ride
Never crossed my mind we wouldn’t finish. Great to be on time and all good. Keith.
2: Did you ever feel like throwing your bike in a ditch? Why?
Never felt like throwing the bike in a ditch, but Dale, yes! Keith.
Thoughts from Linford
1: First thoughts on finishing the ride?
Relief & excitement for Japan (which will include more riding)! Linford.
2: Funniest thing that happened
The funniest thing has to be Dale’s bee sting and the few days after where he looked like Quasimodo and then dad injecting his arse. Linford.
3: Best day and worst day
The best day would be the home stay with the family in Kazakhstan. After meeting a drunk down the shop and him taking us back to meet his family who welcomed us, fed us and then let us sleep at their place. Also another highlight would be the last day in Kyrgyzstan after we climbed all day up a load of switch backs and then rode along side the snow capped Himalaya.
The worst day would probably be when we tried to go through the conflict zone in Donetsk but got turned away which meant going back to the same town we started in having done 101 miles. Also knowing that meant we had a massive 700 mile detour. Very disheartening and this was near the beginning so it wasn’t a good start.
Also one of the worst days was riding in the 48°c heat of the Kazakhstan desert against a big head wind. We were struggling to do 8 mph and drinking over 10 litres of water a day without going for a pee. Linford.
4: Weirdest food experience?
We had a lot of mystery meat soups in the Stans but they actually tasted pretty good. So it was probably ordering some random dishes on our first day in China. It turned out to be three huge plates; one intestine type dish, a dish with a load of little boney fish and then a really spicy and boney chicken dish. We all struggled to eat much of any of them which is very rare because I usually eat anything and everything put in front of me! Linford.
5: Were you ever worried about your safety?
I was worried a few times. For example riding through the ghost towns in Ukraine with bullet holes and blown up buildings around after we were told by the UN people not to step off the road as there are a lot of land mines everywhere.
And then our first night in China sleeping rough in a park trying to sleep with one eye open as there was a lot of people walking around and I thought we might get robbed.
Also being woke up by a load of old bill whilst trying to camp behind a petrol station wasn’t nice as we didn’t know who they were and what they wanted. Linford.
It was another overcast day and quite cold but no rain is forecast; good news. Either we are getting used to the Chinese breakfast or they are getting better, either way we enjoyed the breakfast athough the boiled egg police were on duty. Keith and I managed to steal an extra boiled egg on the way out but were probably caught on camera!
We are heading to Pingliang which is a city on the other side of a small autonomous region we will pass through today. We have had a few problems staying in the autonomous regions so the camping gear is on standby. Both Linney & I have ditched our emergency pot noodles; hopefully we will not need them!
We got going just before 09:00 knowing we had another big climb this morning at about 30 miles. Some parts are at 18%, but no big deal, it just means we will be riding for a bit longer. The good news is it is all down hill after the climb. We’ve heard that before though.
As we reached the first part of one of the steep parts a guy tried to sell Linney a bag of marijuana but he just smiled and said I will need more than that to get up here no handed. We soon passed the first steep bit and then got into a rhythm, enjoying the landscape and the good roads. We had our first garage stop for a while as we were all craving a bit of chocolate so had a short break a soft drink and awhite chocolate wafer. Not the best but the only thing they had.
We decided to have lunch at the small town of Liupanshan around 14 miles away, all up hill, with the added bonus that that was the end of the climbing for today. With lunch on the agenda Linney sped off, Keith & I followed, only to be flagged down by a car full of Chinese tourists, for the normal photo-shoot (the first time without Linney). We left them waving and cheering us, which was all very weird. With the Garmin showing the last steep bit, the road ramped up, but all was ok. As we came around the corner there was a tunnel through the mountain; result! it meant we missed the final 18% climb, but had to endure 1.5 mile dark tunnel. I thought the tunnel was worse as I could not see a thing.
Linney met us just as we came out of the tunnel as we rolled down to Liupanshan. For lunch we had the pick and mix soup; just pick what vegetables you want, then they add them to the soup. Really nice and filling.
After lunch it was a nice ride into Pingliang, with the Ibis hotel pin-dropped we went straight to the hotel and got booked in, within the hour; believe me that is good. Another bonus as they had washing machines there, so we all had are laundry done as well; good stuff.
We had a great meal around the corner from the hotel in a small café/restaurant. It seated about ten. Everyone was taking pictures and the owner was playing his guitar and singing with all the guests having a chat with us via google translate or their version of it.
A good night had by all. We finished off with an ice cream from a local shop, with another photo shoot.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – well the Ibis hotel in Pingliang. I spotted the cereal last night so had a nice bowl of bran flakes and warm almond milk – very good. Then an omelette; a fully western breakfast for me but Keith and Linney stayed with the oriental breakfast.
As we got the bikes ready it was the same old banter; all down hill today, and 74 miles to Changqingqiao. We have heard it all before. It was nice and easy out of the city through one straight road onto the 318 minor road. As we thought it was slightly down hill, with a nice wide hard shoulder to ride on. However this soon changed as we were heading for the rural soft fruit area. The road did get worse but nothing too bad; just a few pot holes and bumps and a bit like riding in East Kent.
Not only the roads but also the fruit growing in the fields and poly-tunnels. It was mile after miles of strawberries, grapes and melons as we rode through the small villages. We had a little stop at a derelict footbridge across the river, just looking to see if we could cross it. It was a bit too dangerous even for Keith, but did bring back memories of crossing a similar bridge in Germany on a previous tour (nowhere near as bad condition though).
We rode onto the town of Jingchuan for lunch and just as we entered the town, we came across the temple museum. Very ornate buildings but unfortunately it was under refurbishment so we could not go in. An impressive complex though.
After lunch we rode out of town still in the belief that it was downhill all the way to Changqingqiao, with a few road works. We soon hit a new section of road that was not open yet but as before we just rode on, the workers taking our pictures and videoing us as we started climbing. It was just a quick 4 mile climb as they had re-routed the road; it was all good though with no traffic but it did seem to go on forever.
After the climb that should not have been there the rural landscape reappeared this time with miles and miles of apple orchards, again like Kent. I’ve never seen so many orchards. Keith & I got caught scrumping but we only took a few apples as we did not have dessert. I’m not sure what the Chinese guy said but he did not sound too pleased. We just smiled and rode on with the apples.
We soon hit the what must be the capital of the apple growing world in this part of China “Changqingqiao”. Linney had actually found a place on booking.com, so we all thought it would be a breeze getting into the hotel/hostel but it still a bit of a palaver; first with the owner and then with the police turning up with the tourist documents. It was all sorted in the end.
With no breakfast at the luxurious hotel Linney had booked, or for that matter hot water, in the taps and bloody freezing, we had our oat flakes with almond milk and coffee in the room. His strategy was save a pound on this one then go up market in Xi’an. The hotel was also overlooking the main road with lovely vista (with overcast skies and the trucks thundering along).
By the time we were ready to leave the overcast skies had turned to pouring rain. With the normal good-byes to the owner, it was just a matter of getting out there. Without a faint heart we hit the road.
With the rain getting heavier I had to stop and take my glasses off as I could not see with them on and certainly could not see when I took them off, but hey ho all I have to do is pedal; Keith and Linney tell me where to go.
With the rain not easing but the banter increasing it’s just sexy rain said Keith as he guided me through the puddles.
With the fruit farms slowly disappearing and being replaced first by light industry andthen by heavy industry – including a massive coal mine and with us splattered by road dirt, we were now covered in coal dust as we cycled past the mining complex for around 15 miles. At this point Linney was in front by a country mile mainly due to the numerous nature stops the old men have to take; not a problem in front, as we all have the gear for emergency repairs. Also we knew Linney would stop when he got hungry, usually on the hour or at the most two hours.
We were making good progress even as we started the only climb of the day a 12 mile steady climb with the odd steep bit. As we came up to one of the last steep bits my chain came off causing a little tumble. I was not not hurt and nothing a few choice words could not sort out. I was more concerned with falling into the traffic than anything else
With a few rest days in Xi’an we will be able to undertake a few minor tweaks to the bikes. Basically a good clean, tighten up the cables, replace the brake blocks and possibly replace the chain at least. Suitably recovered from my fall and with my Tourettes back under control we started to look for Linney, as it is getting close to feeding time.
With no signal Keith and I pulled into a service station to see if we could get a signal. The station was closed so we moved on to the next one. Here the guys were really helpful and let us log on to their WIFI. Within minutes we were in contact with Linney. He had been waiting for us down the road – no problem as it was only 9 miles between us. So Keith and I had a blast from the past; a Pot Noodle and then a coffee from the same container while we waited for Linney.
Within ½ an hour we were all back together with a nice 10 mile roll into the posh hotel Linney had promised us. To be honest he did himself proud as the Tongkung International Hotel was excellent with the booking in process very smooth. I hope this is a sign of things to come. We have a little 40 mile ride tomorrow and then a few rest days, while we set up Rylan for the final stage into Shanghai.
Breakfast at the hotel was a mixture of Eastern and Western styles with both chopsticks and knife & forks, with coffee thrown in as well. All very good; spoiling ourselve’s a little now.
Even though we only had around 45 miles to do today we wanted to get to Xi’an as early as possible, get the hotel sorted, bikes cleaned and maintained and sort out how we are going to get up to the airport to meet Rylan. We left just before 9, joined our friend the 312 road, and rode on.
We hit the outskirts of Xi’an just after 11 and then joined the traffic for the final 15 miles to the hotel right in the centre. To be fair, for a massive city of 12 million people, it was not that bad. We had a bit of luck at the hotel as it had an English manager. He managed to get us sorted very quickly. He was a very down to earth guy and let us take our filthy bikes up to the room and then suggested we get them in the shower and said do not worry about the mess. He then advised us where to go what to visit and the best places to eat.
After we settled down we took the bikes minus the panniers for a quick ride around the city and located a bike shop. Keith and I left our bikes there,for a minor service; tightened cables, replace chain, new brake blocks etc; nothing too serious.
With that Linney rode back to the hotel and Keith and I got a taxi to the cycle shops that Rylan had been looking at online. We managed to find a couple of suitable bikes for him, and said we would return the next day and try a few of them out. As normal we managed to find a bar to rest up in before we made are way to the airport.
We were at Terminal 2 arrivals at the airport thinking ‘nothing can go wrong’, with WIFI connections and 4G we should be able to find him, though we did not know if Rylans phone would work. He came through the domestic terminal 2, but then went to Terminal 3 to a get SIM card. After a bit of flapping about he managed to get his phone working, all the messages came through and we met up in terminal 3 only 500m away. Then it was a taxi back to city followed by a celebration meal and a few beers in the bar by the hotel.
Now there are four!
Day 98: Thursday September 19th:
It was a rest day in Xa’in. Rylan got his bike in the morning and we went to see the Terracotta Army in the afternoon.
Day 99: Friday September 20th:
Another rest day in Xi’an. We our serviced bikes and picked up Rylans bike. We then researched where we could watch the opening game of the Rugby World Cup. No luck. It’s not looking good rugby-wise at the moment.
Day 100: Saturday September 21st:
Now there are Four of us! We had breakfast in the hotel before we started the final leg of our epic travels. It seems a bit surreal to be this close to our destination. We will, however, be cycling in Japan; we just have not planned anything yet. A bit like this trip! We are not even sure of the route we will be taking to Shanghai; essentially just head east.
Getting out of Xi’an,w as a little bit easier than anticipated although it still took nearly two hours to get out of the built up area. We did ride the expressway until the first toll, then we were politely told we had to leave it. It stayed pretty built up all day; out of one town into the next. Rylan settled in easily and just got on with pedalling; easy concept, We went through Lintong (home of the terracotta army), very early on and only stopped to tighten up Linney’s saddle.
We rode on to Weinan for lunch and introduced Rylan to the delights of the small roadside café. The food was really good again; a big bowl of noodle soup with tomatoes and eggs – very filling. We could not make out if Rylan was trying to extend the lunch break or if he was having trouble with the chopsticks. It’s quite difficult to eat the soup with chopsticks but with a months practise we are pretty good now; otherwise we would have starved.
Even though we were going through town after town the mountains adjacent to the road were impressive rising up very steeply. We stopped again with just under twenty miles to go for an ice cream and trying to lure Rylan into a false sense of security, with all the nice things; sun shining, nice roads, ice creams what more could you want.
Linney had different plans though and thought we would take a short cut around a power station – all good fun, roads/tracks like Ukraine. It only lasted a couple of miles, but it did bring us back to normality. When the track was finished we just had a roll into the Huazhou. We booked into the hotel quite quickly, although it was a bit expensive; again showing Rylan all the nice stuff. We’ll probably camp tomorrow!
After last nights feast I’m sure the waitresses could not believe how much we ordered. For the first course we managed to eat the lot but then came the puddings. We did make a mistake here. We ordered from the picture menu. First came Linney’s 8 slices of pizza stuff (to be honest it was the best of a bad bunch), then came mine; 8 deep fried pastry things, really sickly, closely followed by Keith’s 8 tarts. We were not sure what was in them but they tasted ok, just could not eat them all. To save face we got a take-away bag and put 90% of the stuff in it. The next morning we accidently left the bag in the room!
It was nice getting up in the morning with no rush as we just had a short 50 mile hop to the next town with a view to getting there fairly early and sorting out the routes to Xi’an as Rylan arrives a week on Wednesday. Breakfast was the traditional Chinese OK but I do like my cereal/porridge in the morning and it’s not the same with noodles, pumpkin and celery; all very nice but not for me at breakfast. Linney loves it though.
We set off just before 10 with the first section a pretty big climb. We had around two hours of steady climbing, but nothing too steep; it just kept going. We were in no rush and were just taking our time up the mountain. We came across a traditional Muslim village perched on the side of the mountain, all very colorful. The scenery was now like the Brecon Beacons with sheep and cattle on the fields beneath the mountains, with badger like animals crossing the road in front of us possible Hyrax? [Wiki says Hyrax are restricted to Africa and the Middle-East – China does have a Ferret-Badger (Melogale moschata): Ed] Keith & Linney all so saw a wild-cat have a go at a bird. I just heard the noise. Most of the time I am in a different world.
Once again the scenery changed. This time industrial with coal and other processing plants all down the valley, modeled on the Rhondda! We stopped for a bite to eat in this area and had a nice noodle, tomato and egg special; our favorite at the moment. We then rode on taking it easy for the next 18 mile into Chaka. I must admit it was down-hill most of the way.
Here we go again; the saga of getting a hotel. However the first place, which looked very nice, told us exactly where to go to find a tourist hotel; up the road on the left, we where booked in straight away. Nice result.
Keith and Linney put their stuff in the room and went down to the salt lake, I brought a couple of beers from the shop next door (well it is a Sunday) and caught up with the blog and researched the route to Xi’an.
We had a coffee in the room before breakfast as we know what to expect; spicy vegetables and dumplings. Linney loves it but Keith & I tend to settle for the boiled eggs. We had another coffee in the room and discussed our options for the day; it came down to Hotels at 65 miles, 84 miles or 95 miles and the outcome was the same as always, just ride and see how we go.
We set off around 08:30 knowing we had a big 23 mile climb early on then rolling roads for the rest of the day. The first part was just a steady climb and we started off on the non-toll road, but after 5 mins we crossed over to the toll road carrying the bikes over armco barriers and fences. It was well worth the effort as it was far less busier. It was good to see the green pastures and grass covered mountains very similar to Scotland, but a lot higher.
As the road started to ramp up we stopped in a small village for soft drinks and sweets. It’s the little things that keep us going. Back on the bikes again we were pushing up the mountain with traditional yurts on the pastures with long horned sheep and yaks. Up we went. It took around 2 hours climbing to reach the summit at an altitude of 3817 meters (12,522 ft), not the highest we have been, but up there. At the top there was the usual signs and a few Nomad (Tibetans) on horse-back. They were all over Linney and we ended up having a few pictures with them and had a go on their horses. I think they had not seen a women for a while,as they tried to touch us. All very weird and Keith would have none of it! He even crossed the road to get away but one of the guys followed him!
We put our jackets on for the descent (I even put gloves on) and off we went. Within 5 minutes it started to rain, the first we have had since Ukraine,. It made the descent very difficult and really cold so about half way down we stopped to try and warm up a bit. We had a chat with a Chinese motorcyclist and then starteddown again,. We were soaking when we reached the bottom, but thankfully all of us stayed upright.
We all thought a lunch stop was in order and stopped at Heinahe for lunch at 45 miles and warmed up. Just as we were leaving we spotted a tiny bike shop and managed to get two spare inner tubes from him.
With the valley filled with green pastures it was really good to see the nomads tending their yaks, cattle and sheep, with the yurts up on the hillside. They think nothing of letting a herd of yaks cross the road and some of the tourist and bus drivers get a bit cross and beep their horns. The nomads take it all in their stride with it seems not a care in the world, it was a real pleasure witnessing their way of life even for a brief period.
As we rode through we came to the first potential stop, but it was never going to be, so we push on to the next one, around 16 miles away, with yurts on the side of the road selling honey and yaks milk. It was very tempting try, but after trying camels milk earlier in the tour we decided not to. We then came to Jiangxigou our next potential stop and sat outside a pleasant shop with a bag of peanuts and soft drinks (I had a beer) and chatted with the locals, well one who could speak good English. He told us all about the nomads and their way of life. After we gave him one of our biscuits he returned the favour with a free ice cream.
So as we all knew it was onto the 95 mile place (a resort on the edge of the lake) and we were there in less than an hour. We went straight down to the waters edge,. All three of us had a ride into the lake on a Yak!. Then up to book into a hotel. At the first one we could not get past the security guard. I thought here we go again the place is full of hotels and they will not let us in! But all good as the second one we tried we had no problem. As it was late we just dropped the bags into the room and went straight out to eat.
We went out for a meal when we finally got a hotel last night even before we had had a shower; we just needed to eat. It was a little restaurant around the corner from the hotel, and felt a lot better when we had some food inside us. Then it was back to the hotel to shower and clean up.
We woke up in the morning to rain. We are certainly not used to it. We had breakfast in the hotel from the menu so went for the old favorite scrambled eggs and tomato with rice. Keith then ventured out to get some coffee. It was raining really hard now; not good.
We were like caged animals wanting to get on the bikes but not keen on the weather so we decided to give it an hour to see if dies down a little. During this time Keith had a Whats App conversation with Kristian; turns out he has raced around around the lake and the adjoining mountains so we are not the first “House” in this part of China. Well the rain seemed to be easing up so we made the effort to go but only after I had checked out the taxi fare to the next town!
We finally left the hotel around 10:30 with the rain still coming down but easing up. The first part of the day was a steady climb followed by a 8 miles of steeper climb and finally finishing with a massive descent.
With puddles all over the road and the visibility not great it was quite difficult to get going. But then a cycle path appeared on the other side of the road. This was a lot better. We only had to deal with the Nomad’s animals grazing on the verge; horses, sheep and yaks, and we just had to be a little bit careful passing them.
We stayed on the cycle path until it finished, and pulled into a closed service station to adjust Linneys gears. All of the bikes need a good clean and a bit of maintenance and we will need to sort out a short day soon.
With the road starting to ramp up we stopped for lunch at the small townof Daotanghe, but before we eat we managed to get a hose pipe working at a service station and gave the bikes a bit of clean. The rain had stopped now,
With lunch over we started the 8 mile climb but Keith had done a bit of research and said we would be better on the toll road; not only do they have a really wide shoulder to ride on they also tend to be less busy. We reached the summit fairly easily and it helped that the road was being upgraded and we had one side of the carriage way all to ourselves. The workers quite happily waved us through.
I put on an extra layer and gloves for the descent and I was really glad I did as it was cold. The road was an amazing feat of engineering cutting around the mountains with stunning scenery. After around an hour of descending the road was not complete with both directions using one side of the carriageway so with our normal swagger we elected to use the other carriage way. What a result we had; at least 40 minutes descending on our own, riding three abreast, occasionally passing a few workmen who waved at us.
Then came the tunnels the main one was at least two miles long with lights and electronic signage and we just rode through. I did manage to get a puncture after the last tunnel. All repaired in the fast lane!
When we finally had to get off the road it was a bit of an epic as the slip road had not been built yet but we took the road through the building site with no problems with the workers just waving us through.
The saga of finding a hotel in Huangyuan then begins. It is very frustrating knowing there are loads of hotels, but only certain ones take foreigners. Some have signs outside, though we have tried some with these signs and still been refused. After about 5 attempts we finally managed to book into a hotel. We quickly got in there before they could change their minds.
After we finally managed to book into a small hotel (very clean and nice), we went straight out for a meal but ended up cooking our own. We had this Mongolian hot-pot which was basically a charcoal burner heating water then you put in what you like. In fact it was very nice and once the first layer of meat had gone I think we had seconds and thirds. Once again the waiter just looked and said something like ‘are you sure?’. We demolished the lot.
We then had a walk up by a floodlit temple in the old area of Huangyuan,. It was very good with a reference to the old wool industry from the 1800s with two UK companies and one each from Belgium and USA.
With no breakfast available at the hotel we had breakfast in the cafe across the road; aa big bowl of noodle soup, which will set us up for the day.
Getting out of Huangyuan and onto the correct road was very difficult and they must have known we were in town as the fireworks were going off as we tried to get out of the City. Linney actually got hit by a women opening up a taxi door in front of him and how he managed to stay on his bike was a result of his riding talent. I would of been over the handle bars, crying and swearing at everyone. Linney just smiled!
We started off on the closed road from yesterday but unfortunately they did not get my instructions until very late; this section was still being worked on so we ended on the minor road for a while. It was still very good but not much space for cyclists. We then managed to get back on the toll road and rolled into Xining just in time for lunch. The city took my breath away as I have never seen so many high rise buildings. The infrastructure around the city was astounding. China never fails to surprise me; one minute we are struggling to get a hotel room the next we go through a city of over 2 million people with all the trappings of any major city in the world.
After lunch we still had at least another 10 miles until we were out of the city. Once again we were on the toll road and with a slight down-hill we were flying and heading for the town of Haidong around 30 miles away. All of us were thinking it will be a small provincial town but in fact it was massive again with tower blocks nearly as far as you could see. It all seemed very new. We now have a hotel strategy; find a cafe with WIFI, do the research, and then send Linney in with Keith & I lurking outside. The first place was a no go as it was an old peoples home. As we left I see then nodding and pointing at me, saying ‘he can come in!’ Fair play as they did point us in the right direction for a hotel.
The strategy worked athough it did take a while; I’m sure Linney has another helping of food when he is in there as he comes out with a big smile and says all OK and I’ve been up to the room. But the main thing is we are in.
All of us had a nice shower, did our washing and hung it from our 10th floor window. Then it was out to find some food.
We had a really nice meal in a restaurant next to to the vegetable market, a family run place. Us usual everyone took photographs all over the place and the children practiced their English with us. All good fun. Then we walked home with an ice cream; living the dream.
We woke up to a dull grey morning. Never mind said Keith it will brighten up after breakfast but Linney & I were not convinced and rightly so the rain was coming down like stair-rods after breakfast. It was another coffee in the room then, before we said come on “lets go”. We all got ready but first Keith had a puncture and then so did Linney before we even left the hotel. We fixed them in the foyer then off we set off! Well nearly! When we got around the corner to join the express way the girl at the barrier said ‘No bikes’, so we turned around. Then Linney said his tyre had gone down again. So we went back to the hotel foyer again for another repair.
Let’s go again in the pouring rain we said as 1/2 mile up the road we went through the biggest puddle in living memory. Linney tried to get through it without pedalling but no such luck; we were soaking now, but we’ll carry on. A bit further up the road we check the GPS, well Linney does, if we go left we can join the express-way maybe. Well we could if we were prepared to slide down the embankment in the pouring rain! We turned back and stayed on the minor road.
The minor road was ok but it does not have a very wide hard shoulder to ride on or for that matter to mend punctures on. The weather was getting worse as we rode on, though we were still in a pretty good frame of mind as we followed a river down-stream, thinking there is more water on the road than in the river. As we ate up the miles Keith had another flat in his rear tyre which was not surprising really with the amount of debris on the road. Then he had another and another. Everytime we took the tyre off and checked it thoroughly but we could not find anything protruding through the tyre. We were now getting very short on inner tubes.
Finally we put the last one in and it lasted a fair while then the shout went up, ‘puncture again’. Luckily we were in a very small village with one café so in we went soaking wet with our hands full of inner tubes waiting to be repaired. First things first we ordered a large bowl of noodle soup. I think it was the only thing on the menu and it was very hot and filling,. Then we started on the repairs. A few of the locals were very intrigued about where we going.
Linney showed them on the map Lanzhou, about 23 miles away, then, using google translate said ‘if we can fix the bikes’. One of the older guys said my son could give you a lift. At first we said ‘no thanks’, then Keith checked his tyre and it was again flat and I said I had a flat front tyre as well,. So we took up the offer of the lift to Lanzhou. We had done over 70 miles in the pouring rain.
I’m not sure the son was so pleased to give us a lift in what looked like a very new people carrier. He would not let Keith anywhere near the car and it was a work of art getting three bikes (one on the roof) and all the baggage in the car. Then just as we were ready to go he said take off your dirty cycle jackets before you get in, but thankfully he got us to Lanzhou, a very busy bustling city.
He dropped us off just by the railway station and we rebuilt the bikes, and replaced and fixed the flats in me and Keith’s tyres. Linney searched for a hotel and found an Ibis just down the road. We headed for that but found another one on the way and managed to book in first time. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come. We took the bags up and then went out to locate the cycle shops. We had one a mile in one direction or two more a mile and a half in the other. We chose the latter.
We marched towards the area but could not find the cycle shops but finally after using google translate we found the shop just closing up. The really nice guy stayed open for us and we ended up buying two replacement tyres and six inner tubes and he chucked in a puncture repair kit and two bottles of lubricating oil. Then we had a photo-shoot with him, before finding a place to eat.
All in all it was a pretty crap day, but all’s well that ends well. Linney finally marched the two old soldiers home through the winding backstreets of Lanzhou.
We woke up early to give the bikes a good wash and a bit of an oil up. Keith replaced his rear tyre and I replaced the spare I had carried for over 5000 miles. With the bikes all relatively clean and oiled up we went for breakfast. It was a really good spread, best we have had since Kascher [probably Kashgar about a month ago: Ed].
With the weather still overcast but not raining we hit the road just after 09:00. With Linney guiding us out of Lanzhou our first plan was to ride the express-way. Avoiding a few closed roads along the way we managed to find the slip road up to the express-way the plan being to ride through and ignore all the toll operators. All in formation we went for it, there was a bit of shouting but nothing serious so we just rode on, joining the express way and the climb out of the city. Easy nothing could go wrong.
We stayed on the express-way for about ten miles before the patrol car stopped us. It was not the police and we had a little arm waving discussion with the guy. He did not know what to do with us so we made his mind up and back-tracked less than 1/4 mile then joined the minor road. In the end we were both happy, he got us off the expressway and we got out of the city far quicker.
Even though we were out of the city it was still built up with small towns virtually joining onto each other. It was like this for at least 30 miles out of the city. The towns were then gradually replaced with green fields filled with market garden produce and with stalls and vehicles selling the vegetables. It looked like lemon-grass or salsify. As we started climbing you could see the fields in terraces up the mountain just as I imagined China to be. It did look spectacular.
With Linney getting hungry he asked if we would like to stop for lunch but both Keith & I said we are ok for now about in an hour. One massive climb and two hours later we finally stop for lunch in a small cafe. With around 10 miles to go after lunch it was just a gentle roll into Dingxi. With our hotel strategy in place we breezed into the first hotel we tried. All in all a good day in the saddle.
Had an earlier breakfast this morning 07:00 instead of 7:30 much to Linney’S disgust. It was not a bad breakfast; at least we had some hot stir-fried vegetables and the egg police were not around.
We started to ride just after 08:00. It was quite cold and overcast with spots of rain but luckily the rain did not materialise. As soon as we left the hotel we started to climb and we had this for almost all day. We were climbing up the terraced mountains with great views. It was not too steep so we could all admire the views and enjoy the ride.
We stopped for lunch in the small village of Dijasuo. The girls in the only cafe gave us a menu but when we tried to order just said the only thing available was the meat and noodle soup and soft bread. So that’s what we had.
With still more climbing to be done it was just a matter of getting in the right frame of mind, or, if you’re like me, just daydream most of the time and pedal. It seems to get me up the hills ok. We concentrate on overtaking the laboring trucks on the ascent and then keeping out of the way on the descents.
As we started one of the descents we came across a museum or monument built in the traditional Chinese style in the small town of Gaobu. We pulled over and had a look around; as far as I could make out it was all about remembering the good deeds of the “Red Army”. It was nicely laid out and kept immaculate but when we came out everyone wanted to have their picture taken with us; the adults making their children stand with us. All very bizarre and it must have taken us at least half an hour to leave the place.
When we finally left we hit an area of apple and pear orchards and were cycling through small villages with their fruit for sale outside their house. We stopped at one and asked for three asian pears (not sure what they are called, but they are very nice) the girl thought we meant three kg, when we said no only three, she just gave them to us!
It was a nice ride into the city of Jingning but Linney’s magic did not work at the first hotel though we got the next best thing as the manager jumped on his bike and showed us where the tourist hotel was. A good guy and a nice touch.
It was another good day in the saddle. We are getting very close to Xi’an now; we are meeting Rylan there on the 18th September.
A short ride was planned for today with a quick 40 miles to the City of Mangnai. We had breakfast in the cafe adjacent to the hotel (the same family run the place) good job as we had not paid for one of the dishes we had last night. It was all taken in good spirits.
We packed the bikes up ready to go; it was good not having to pack all the extra water and we had finally finished the cream soda. Our bikes felt pretty light and we were on the road for about 08:30. No-one was rushing this morning. With the road predominately downhill the ride was a bit of a breeze really, athough there was quite a few trucks on the road with very little room to manoeuvre out of the way.
We followed a new railway line most of the way and passed a few oil wells; this area is definitely being developed.
As we approached Mangai we went through a police check but it was nothing like the previous state. But they still made us wait there for 10 mins. Soon we are on our way again. We decided to stop at the first café with WIFI but for some reason all our phones cannot get the a signal. Either we have been had by the Chinese girl who set our phones up for September or we need to activate a message we have all been sent; probably the latter.
We had lunch in the little café and had a nice meal again and company with the owners.
Mangai is just a concreate mass of building; all new set up in a grid without much character. We managed to find a hotel that takes tourists after the third attempt. It wasn’t much of a hotel either but it is far better than camping.
The plan was to have a shower, do some washing then go and have a look for some spare inner tubes and possible a tyre. Then sort are next routes out. We may have a little plan,that entails a few more miles but has more going on between the villages, towns etc.
With no breakfast in the hotel we had breakfast in the room, packed up and carried the bags down to the hotel foyer where the bikes were stored. Disaster then struck; Keith’s bear was gone. It had been on his bike since early May when we first got the touring bikes.
Keith was inconsolable and Linney tried to comfort him but got the cold shoulder. We gave the hotel manager both barrels. I thought he looked a little confused with the phone translation. Anyway the bears are gone. Long live the bear!
I have no doubt the British Consultant has been informed. I just hope that the incident does not get blown out of all proportion and causes a diplomatic incident and stop all the Sino-British trade deals.
As we set up camp last night the wind got really strong. And it was in the the wrong direction. We all looked at each other over our steaming coffees and cakes (we could not take another pot noodle) with apprehension. Nothing can can wrong; surely it will all die down in the morning
We woke up to a beautiful sunrise coming over the desert, though it was quite cold, but the good news, virtually no wind! We had breakfast cereal and coffee – we ate all the cakes last night.
We set off around 08:30 and with the roads having less and less traffic on it was good riding. We could go three abreast down good roads with a slight tail wind. However we knew we had a long road ahead with virtually no signs of anywhere to get supplies.
At a really good pace we came across a tourist information office; toilets, map of the area, but sadly no supplies. A kind tourist gave us three cans of red bull! Off we went again. When we came to a workers compound they waved us in though the foreman seemed a bit grumpy. We managed to get some hot water from them for our pot noodles and coffee. One of the workers took a shine to Linney and kept having his photo taken with him. He left Keith & I alone to slurp on our pot noodles.
The roads were still really good with next to no traffic and with us making good progress after about 70 miles Linney spots a garage (from about 5 miles away). We put a little spurt on and sure enough it’s a garage and it was open. That was the good news; the only thing on the shelf was one soft drink, eight bottles of water and half a dozen pot noddles! So we had three pot noodles again, all the water and the soft drink and sat outside in the shade and enjoyed our pot noodles and coffee again.
As we had done nearly 70 miles already we rode off pretty relaxed. We did hit a bit of unpaved road but that only lasted less than 1/2mile. Before we knew it we came across another tourist sign! The first to mention Shanghai: 2000 miles away (3100km on the sign). This gave us a bit of a boost. Linney checked his maps and said there was a small hamlet about 18 miles away. As the time was only just gone 4 o’clock we said go for it. It would make a total of about 110 miles for the day,
So on we pressed, finally came to the lake. It did have flocks of birds on it but it looked really salty, with the road running between two lakes, which join up in the winter, the road was pretty rough in places, but not too bad.
As we approached the hamlet which was dominated by a lithium battery factory. We pulled over and the first place we saw was a hotel/hostel with a restaurant next door. Happy days with 111 miles in the bag (all done on two pot noodles and a bowl of cereal), it was great o have a meal and a few cold beers. They needed to move some meat out of the freezer for the beers!
We had a nice meal in the café next door to the hotel/hostel but when it came to paying for the meal and the hostel rooms we realised that we did have much cash! School boy error again. We paid for the meal and room and then counted out what we had left; around 200 yen, (£20). We dug out some Sterling, Euros and Dollars and then went to see the guy again. He preferred the Euros so we changed 70 Euros and that will have to last until we reach the next bank (ATM) about 200miles away with two nights camping.
We had to wait for the café next door to open for breakfast but it was worth the wait; noodles tomatoes and scrambled egg all in the same bowl. Hence we did not get going until just after 9.
We had only gone 20 miles down the road when Keith had a blow out in his front tyre. The tyre came straight off the rim (he did put some air in the tyre before we left, possibly to much). He changed the inner tube and set off again. Linney then said his bike was not balance correctly as we were all carrying at least 8 Litres of water as well as extra food.
He stopped and re-balanced his bags; it was just one of those days we could not seem to get going.
However we soon got going riding three abreast on quiet roads. With the lake on one side and the dunes on the other it was very pleasant. Then we came across some sort of resort. It was down a private road and we were in two minds whether to go down there or not. We decided on the latter.
There was a little hamlet showing on the map at about 45 miles so we rode on to there. Maybe we could get a meal or hot water for the pot noodles. It was better than thatas the place had a shop and a restaurant. It seemed like a posh workers complex for the new factory. So had another big fill; so much better than the pot noodles and had time for a good rest.
We had plenty of time, so just rolled on through the desert. The car drivers are getting a lot more courteous; waving , beeping their horns, and generally being very nice, even stopping for photo shoots and giving us bottles of water, cans of red bull (ice cold) and ice cold coffee. All received with thanks. We pushed on with a plan to make around 70 odd miles to day and with the same planned for the next day and then a relatively easy day to the town.
With nothing around we just kept going, Keith out in front, with Linney taking pictures of the dead straight road, just rising up and up until Keith pulled over with a flat rear tyre. That made our minds up; fix the flat and then find a suitable camping spot off the road.
Our first place was not good so we moved and then found a nice sandy spot in a hollow. I am undecided on whether to sleep under the stars and will wait till the sun goes down and see how cold it is.
I decided to sleep under the stars again and found a really nice spot in the sand. I had a good nights sleep though it was very cold in the morning. Keith had a bit of a bad start to the day as I noticed his back tyre was flat. Then while taking off his rear pannier he snapped the clip. With good inner tubes in short supply I mended two while Keith sorted out the pannier clip and with the gas running out on the camping stove we changed fuel to mentholated spirits. Not a good start to the day.
Still, we were on the road for 08:30. The road started with a gentle climb, then got steeper as the day went on. What we did not account for was the head wind. It was very strong making the climbing difficult to say the least. With nothing on the road, except for a possible place at a junction with another road just before a big salt lake at around 45 miles. We planned to stop for lunch there.
We just rode on passing a few Chinese tourist waving at us and taking weird pictures; laying on the road jumping around all a bit strange. Just before the planned lunch stop my back pannier snapped causing both bags to fall behind the bike, acting as a brake. Luckily I had just levelled out after a short decent and managed to keep the bike upright.
The stays holding the pannier bracket to the bike frame behind the seat post had failed. I fixed two jubilee clips around the bracket and onto the pannier frame and it was all sorted. Keith rode back down the hill and said why stop at the bottom but then realised it was a mechanical.
It was only a few miles to the intended lunch stop but unfortunately there was nothing at the junction except a workers compound. We tried our luck again and with a wave they invited us in past two barking dogs and into their canteen room. We were offerred not only pot noodles but left over rice and a cucumber chilli thing. It was the best pot noodle ever – even better than the baked bean version and with a cup of coffee to go with it was an excellent lunch, matched only by their hospitality. We filled our water bottles up and set off again.
With the head-wind easing off slightly we made pretty decent time. As we came across another intersection Linney got excited as he could see a garage up ahead; about 8 miles away – all up!
We finally managed to reach the service station though we did not hold out much luck. But this one was ok and we had coffee, cold drinks and rested up. The next challenge was ‘will they let us onto the toll road?’ No problem, we sailed through until 6 miles further on another decision; we have been so used to just following the same road for miles after miles. Do we bear off this road onto a minor road or stay on the toll road.
As we had already done 70 odd miles we decided to stay on the toll road and look for a suitable place to camp. It was pleasant riding up through the grass mountains and we even spotted some wildlife; wild goats, hares and birds of prey.
Eventually we settled for a camping spot though it took a bit of manoeuvering to get the bikes around the fencing and away from the road.
As we went to bed last night it threatened to rain so we checked all the bags and made sure everything was water-tight. We had a few drops before we got into the tent but luckily nothing in the night.
We woke to a dull cold morning but no rain. We breakfasted with a quick bowl of porridge and coffee and then were on the bikes for 8 knowing the first 8 miles was uphill. Then it was a nice descent into a small town for lunch, then another 30 odd miles of steady climbing, ending the day in a hotel. Nothing could go wrong.
The first climb was fine and with fresh legs we soon hit the summit. Then we had the nice feeling of a 30 mile descent. It was really good. Linney did get a puncture about 7 miles away from the lunch stop but it was all sorted no problem. We rolled into a tourist stop. First some Taiwan ladies stopped us as we ordered lunch. We had a quick photo shoot with them. After lunch it all got a bit chaotic as a bus load of tourist from Shanghai turned up. It was one picture after another, though we did manage to get a contact number for an English speaking guy in Shanghai. Finally we managed to prise ourselves away from the tourist and get going again.
With around 34 miles to Delingha and plenty of time we just rode easy, taking in the different scenery. Eventually we turned off the road up to Delingha through a tree lined avenue flanked by industrial plants and new housing development. It all looked really new and a bit strange but very nice.
We cycled into the centre of the city and tried the first hotel; no luck not for “foreigners”. Then we tried a few more – all were the same. We had something to eat, then tried one more place. We seemed to be getting somewhere; the receptionist took our passports and then said she would need to phone the police to check. When the Policeman came he just said no tourists allowed in this area. We will need to move on,. He just wanted us out of the City. All a bit strange, I think they where processing uranium there or something similar.
Well that just meant another nights camping. Happy days. We followed the river out of the city looking for a suitable camping spot. Keith found a great spot in the woods by the river until the irrigation system started and soaked him, we did not camp there.
We ended up camping on a building plot out of the city. It looked like they were building another reprocessing plant but luckily enough it was deserted when we turned up. We were very tired and a little frustrated but nothing that a packet of monkey nuts and a jar of coffee can fix.
We were not expecting to camp last night and it was no joy to wake up on the building plot we finally found last night. Though to be honest we all had a good nights sleep. Be it in a tent not a hotel room. We only had a make-shift breakfast; tinned porridge (more like bean soup) coffee, snickers bar and some cakes.
We were on the road just before 08:00 with another day of climbing into the head-wind. We soon got into the rhythm and just rode the steady climb knowing we did not have a place to eat until around the 50 mile mark though we had snacks with us and plenty of water.
The vegetation is changing and we are seeing more established trees now. The grass is getting greener and their are signs of wildlife, making the scenery so much better.
Linney did see a camel today but the poor thing had been injured on the road. How Keith & I missed it nobody knows as that was just before a break. Keith pulled over to set up his solar charger and Linney and I pulled in behind him. The next thing a Chinese tourist car pulled over for the normal photo shoot but with the added bonus of giving us water, bread and apples, which were all gratefully received. Linney broke out our jar of jam (think we have had it since Russia) though it was really nice on the bread.
They left with a wave and a smile. Then two Chinese cyclists turned up; one on a road bike with wide tyres, the other on a Cannodale Leftie. We had the photo-shoot with them with a few high fives and that, and after that we all set off together, they pulled a little ahead, but did not get away. I think they were surprised we kept up with them. That’s what 85 days of cycling does. Eventually they pulled over after about 4 miles up hill to pick some wild berries. We waved and carried on.
A few miles further on we got stopped by the highway maintenance team. I think they were saying we should have hi-vis on, but we just smiled and kept saying no Chinese. With google translate I said we would buy some at the next town and that seemed to appease them, so they let us on our way.
By this time the road was quite stunning as it cut through the mountains with the railway following the same path. We stopped for a few pictures when the road crossed the rail line.
Still going uphill we pushed on to the little town of Keke, with the promise of a restaurant or cafe. As we rode through the small town/village there did not seem to be anywhere to eat. Linney was riding up and down the street in hope. Keith went into a building that looked a bit like a hotel. As he came out, I was speaking to a guy from there and he said we could eat inside. I think it was another Asylum or something similar (another theme going on here), but least we eat; ba ig bowl of egg rice each and bowl of soup. Athough the place was a bit creepy, we said our thanks and got out before they could keep us longer. We then had an ice cream and soft drink down the road.
As we were only 14 miles from Ulan, with the great possibility of a hotel we all got a bit excited and pushed on with a stomach full of food. As we got closer to the town we rode through an avenue of trees with the mountains in the background and the smell of honeysuckle; it was very reminiscent of riding in France.
With Linney map reading to the first hotel we came to a hotel. It looked a bit posh but with six days camping in the last week … lets live it up! If they let us in! Linney went in first followed by Keith. I was tasked with looking after the bikes, or I looked so scruffy they needed to keep me away. Good news – Keith came out and asked for my passport (always a good sign). We are in; result!
It felt so so good having a shave and a shower and we felt brand new again. It has been a tough week with long climbs, head-winds and camping most of the time. But we all pulled through.
This week 459 miles, 11,260ft climbing and 40:29 hours riding
Accumulated totals: 5949 miles, 125,573ft climbing and 467:15 hours riding
Day 73: Sunday August 25th:
After a great meal last night and lashings of ice cold beer we all had a good nights sleep, well I did.
We broke camp early as the mosquitoes were still rampant, though for some reason I did not notice them last night. We knew we had a small town in 20 or so miles so breakfast was not an issue. We came to the small town very quickly and found a place that had just opened, with the owner very pleased to welcome us in, some friendly local also joined in and made sure we did not order too much. Once again really good local food. We have all been very impressed with the food so far in China.
As we were eating the police made their appearance on an electric scooter. They took our passports and said they would be back in a few minutes, which they duly did. What they did not say was that they would be following us all day!
As we set off we had a few road works to navigate (just like Ukraine), it was only for a few hundred meters so no big problem. Then the police stopped us again, needing clarification on where we were going. We said the same again and carried on, though once we were on the open road it was fairly obvious that we had a tail. Keith reckons the number plates finished with 008. This is non-confirmed as I can barely see the car never mind the number plate. We just rode on knowing that we had at least another 50 miles to the next stop.
As we rode on every summit or corner we hoped for a little oasis, but to no avail. We came across a brick building, but unfortunately uit was not a cafe, though they did let us in. We filled up our bottles from a tank (not very good so wekept them for emergencies). Then because we are happy souls some locals on a picnic stop in the desert offered us some melons, apples and water (we ditched the other water!). We had a great 10 minutes with them, with the normal photo shoot.
Once we started up again the tail soon found us. We came to a small police check but they just let us through but did not fill our water bottles up,
So we pushed on looking for a place to camp. We pulled over at a workers camp and watched our tail go back and forth, but did not engage with us. Eventually we could not wait any longer so we put the tents up to see what happened. We crossed the road found a site and did just that. Keith went in the tent, Linney and I had a snooze on the sand, dreaming of Barbados and the tail just watched us.
When we came around it was pot noodle time (definitely not Barbados). With our water supply not good I decided to go over to the workers compound and fill up our 5 litre water container for cooking.. It was a bit surreal; the women shouting at me and the tail looking on. She then took the bottle and filled it up for us and smiled as she gave it back to me, with my normal charm I bowed and said chee chee (thank you in Chinese).
All good. We had our pot noodles, coffee and biscuits and then went to bed, although it was a bit disconcerting when the night shift turned up as we thought we may be moved on; but all was good.
Day 74: Monday August 26th:
We had a reasonable nights sleep when the workers finally dispersed and we were left alone.
In the morning we packed up smartly and all agreed the best time on the road is early morning, when the wind is lighter and a lot cooler. We rode the first 24 miles before stopping for breakfast, our tail 008 was also there. With another town in eight miles and another one in 24 miles we did not have a problem today. Although we completely missed the first town we made sure we hit the next for our two night grocery shop.
The bikes were fully laden then. I said I could not carry anymore, then Linney found a freezer with ice cold beers and I manged to fit a few in. Keith had 17L of fluid on board!
On we went went to find a place to camp. We ended up in a construction site, we found some shade under a partially built bridge for the new road. We all went into camp mode with Keith putting up his tent, Linney checking the WIFI, and me having a beer and finding out we had won the cricket after being all out for 67 in the 1st innings; good day.
Day 75: Tuesday August 27th:
We did get up a bit earlier, but not enough to make a huge difference. We left the construction site just after 8am after a coffee and biscuit breakfast.
With the sun just breaking through and the wind very light it made for great conditions. Linney had a flat from another piece of wire in his tyre. As we got around to fixing it I got the patch sorted but it was not to Keith’s liking so said f**** sort one out yourself. I must be tired. We were soon back on the road. We then stopped for a picture in the shade of an Acacia tree had a bit of a snack and a drink of cream soda (forgot to mention yesterday; we brought 12L of cream soda yesterday thinking it water). It’s ok but horrible in coffee.
With the wind getting up it was getting tougher and tougher but it was just a matter of getting through it. With sand blowing in our faces and the head-wind getting stronger it was good to find a little place open serving cold drinks and food. After a good fill and plenty of fluids we knew we could achieve the next 30 miles. Around about the half way mark Linney stopped at the top a hill, adjacent to the only property in miles, obviously with his rugged good looks they invited him in, but he was not so keen when the ugly brothers turned up!
With the normal photo shoots and handshakes we ended up up having another meal with them; another big plate of egg fried rice and noodles, followed by melon . They wished us luck as they waved us goodbye. Once back on the road Linneys gears played up; one of the guys had had a little ride on his bike! We played around with them a little and they soon sorted themselves out; good news.
Then we hit a police check. They are getting quicker and we just sat and waited and were back on the road after 20 mins. Just as we got going the other side of the police check, we met two English girls on touring bikes. The were Georgia and Christina from Yorkshire and Essex respectively; great girls and true adventurers. It was really good swapping stories and giving advice. After a couple of pics and all the social media swaps, we wished each other all the best on our travels. It brought a smile to all our faces to chat with them and it was great to meet them,
After that it was just a matter of finding a place to camp again, after we had got some more water water (not cream soda). We pulled off the road to find a place up a track, relaxed a little had a pot noodle with a can of baked beans, and a cup of coffee, then set up camp. We did notice a few people watching us, but hey ho.
Sure enough as soon as we had tried to get our heads down the police turned up. Keith was out in his underpants (enough to scare most people off) and soon had it all sorted. They just wanted to know when we were moving on.
Day 76: Wednesday August 28th:
After getting over the police and farmer invasion last night we all had agood nights sleep We packed up camp with me even making a cup of coffee; I do not have a tent to pack (only the poles and pegs).
Off we set and with a town in the next 12miles we knew we could get some nice breakfast. We had a plate full of freshly cooked rice and eggs with tea, what more could anyone want?
With less than 50 mile to go we all relaxed a bit although we smashed the first 30 miles. I think we all just wanted a shower and clean up. Then the wind hit us again and we just needed to buckle down and ride it out.
After a brief stop under a sign post (the only shade we could find) we had a few snacks and dreamed of our forthcoming shower. On we went with less
than 20 miles to go, just getting through the wind. As we came up to the police check the road still seemed to be under construction. The police waved us through onto an unpaved road and this went on for about a mile. When we stopped we checked the “Garmin, MapMe & Google maps” and decided to take a back road into the city? Nothing could go wrong. We rode into the back way of the city and came across a police check and a closed bridge. We did the police check ok, but the police said follow us to the hotel as they gave our passports back (!) all in bit of a rush. Well we had a 5 mile backtrack but it was all good as the road we joined was only just finished so we would have had 5 miles on an unpaved road.
Well they took us to the hotel, then I could not find my passport; the police were so good and told me not to worry: let’s back track back to the station and when we got there Keith had texted to say it was in my bag. What a relief! Finding the passport was worth all the piss taking from Linney about being old etc etc.
Well our hotel was not really 5 stars, but it has a shower and a bed. It was so good to have a shave and shower felt brand new again. Then we went out to eat. Sure the poor Chinese guy thought we were mad as we ordered plates of this and that. Honestly we eat the lot bar the soup – the soup was for four people, our mistake!
We did a bit of shopping, had a few more beers then went to bed.
Day 77: Thursday August 29th:
It was nice to wake up in a hotel, definitely not 5 star, but better than a tent. Keith fixed his flat tyre and then we had breakfast in a cafe next to the hotel.
We knew we had two nights camping ahead, with next to nothing on the road. We go through a small town at 45 miles. The plan was to have lunch there then stock up ready for 2 nights under canvas or the stars. We left the place just after 9 on a wide flat road, it did not last too long, and with road works every 2 or so miles it was difficult to get any rythym going, especially as Keith had a couple of punctures.
As the road works finished, we got going, enjoying a tail-wind, we soon arrived at the small town. We had lunch in a tiny cafe, stocked up on two days worth of food and water, and then had a bit of a siesta as it was so hot. Keith and I on two loungers, Linney underneath an umbrella. It sounds good but in fact it was a dusty work area; but we had a good rest.
When we finally made the effort to move on after all the thank-yous done, photos and a pocket full of free sweets. With nothing on the road for at least 100 miles, it was just a matter of seeing how far we could get, before setting up camp.
The road was pretty boring with a gentle climb and a bit of a tail wind. We managed to keep a good pace. The trucks mainly gave us plenty of room as there was no hard shoulder to ride in. One scary moment though as a truck had a blow out as it was overtaking us; big bang, and pieces of the tyre going everywhere. No-one hurt so no problem.
Just as we were deciding where to camp Keith had another puncture; his tyre was completely worn out, with the rim reinforcing wire breaking up. He replaced the tyre with our last spare.
We ended pulling off the road just after 7, found some shade behind some construction material, set up camp, had coffee and snacks, and were ready for an early night. It was too far to carry any beers.
Day 78: Friday August 30th:
It was a nice spot for camping last night; Linney saw some sort of mountain deer, possible Orik [I’ll check this later: Ed]. I slept under the stars, on a nice sandy spot, with a clear night and with no light pollution the night sky was brilliant.
We had our final coffee for breakfast as the quartermaster had not brought any more; fair play to Linney, not only is he the quartermaster but also the chef, map reader, and translator. He does have a lot to think about. Though he will be able to delegate some of these duties when Rylan joins us in under three weeks. Due to age Keith & I only have to pedal.
We were on the road just after 8, against a fierce head-wind, with the knowledge we will be climbing all day. Just a mindset; switch on to climbing mode and pedal! Better than working. The head-wind was making it tough going and with no stops on route (No possible stops indicated on Garmin, Maps Me or Goggle). Though they do some times appear out of nowhere, which is good for us. As we passed a construction compound we asked the gatekeeper if we could fill up with water, which they did. The water is ok for washing, though we put it through a “life straw for drinking and cooking”, with all the bikes full laded with water, all of us carrying around eight or more litres.
After just over 20 miles we reached our first oasis. The cafe was open and we had a big fill up. The local food has been excellent; really impressed. The we set off again the climbing getting steeper all the time. Personally I preferred the climbing rather than the desert; but both are tough though. Up we went, but thanks for small mercies the wind had died down. Then the second oasis arrived which was a weird little shack for the Jade quarry men. But they are happy to serve us, with more food. With the road getting very steep now and not so wide, it was pretty dangerous with the trucks passing so close to our bikes. Possibly the most dangerous road I have ever ridden, especially as our bikes had all the extra water on.
As we passed the 3000 meters point there was a third oasis just selling warm drinks. Although we did get some peaches in syrup from there, it was more to load on the bikes. We had a rest in the shade and discussed our options, and decided to ride on for another hour and find a place to camp. As we left it seemed the road was even busier, probably as most of the trucks had stopped as well, pushing through the climb, we passed some massive constructions, where they are building a new super highway and railway line.
Finally we pulled over to camp. It was off the road and seemed pretty good,
We sat in the shade and waited for the sun to go down before having supper, pot noodles and peaches in syrup for pudding; nice.
Day 79: Saturday August 31st:
[Photos for this day as and when they arrive – to be added later: Ed]
We camped at 3250 meters last night, on a flat piece of ground off the road with heather gorse covering the ground. It did make Keith & I sneeze a little, but no problem. Once again I choose to sleep under the stars,. It was considerably cooler than last night, but inside the sleeping bag and liner I was fine.
We woke up to a cold morning and had breakfast of cereal and peanut milk (very nice) and coffee as we brought a couple of tins of cold coffee and warmed them up – all very nice.
We set off just after 08:15, straight onto the steep climb we left yesterday, only for around 10 miles, then a short descent, finishing with another steep climb. Though we only had 40 odd miles to do today so no big problem. With the road just as busy as yesterday it was good to get the climbing done. It was one tough climb, but we all know there is more to come. Just enjoy the descent (which we did), then we came to a gradual climb at the summit. Linney said thats it for the day as it’s all down hill from her. I’ve heard it all before; my Garmin had a big climb at the end. Which proved to be correct. Finally we reached the summit before passing through the final police check in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region China; all through no problem. We were staying in the small town of Ytimbulak. we had a meal in the first restaurant over the crossing and then located the tourist hotel with the help of the local police.
Everyday and ALL the Details
[Map and Tables to be added later: Ed]
Overland To India
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 Caspian Sea and are crossing the desert in Kazakhstan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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]