A big thanks to those donating after the team have finished the ride. It’s much appreciated – including of course all those that have contributed along the way.
Week 17 Summary: A weeks R&R and The Great Wall
This week the team have hung around Shanghai and re-visited the sights that our Grandad saw in 1932 when he was there with the British Army. These are some of the postcards he collected at the time [we think he probably didn’t have a camera: Ed]. Our Grandad (Linford’s Great-Grandad of course) was born in 1910 and ran away to join the army at the age of 15 (he lied about his age!) and was therefore 21 or 22 when he was in Shanghai.
You can find information here about what the British (and Japanese) were doing in China in the early part of the 20th Century and how it all came to an end with the revolution in 1949.
So the boys relaxed for a bit …
Naturally they had to visit the zoo to see a panda.
They also took the time to visit the Great Wall of China. I think they took a high-speed train to Beijing and then were driven out to hike a section of the wall. They met a photographer along the way – hence the posed photos!
Rylan had already flown to Japan earlier in the week but the others, Dale, Keith and Linford, took the ferry on Tuesday 8th October from Shanghai to Osaka (Japan). A journey that takes about 48hrs. They arrived on Thursday the 10th to begin the Japan section of the trip.
These are a couple of shots from when they were crossing the East China Sea.
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.
This week they battled through Kazakhstan and then into Kyrgyzstan and the city of Bishkek.
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!
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]
After camping in some rough ground behind a petrol station we were woken around 5ish with freight trains rattling along, incessant dog barking and the call to morning prayers.
So it was an early start, with a bowl of museli and yoghurt, and on the road just after 6. We were heading for Kokand around 105 miles away athough this may have to be amended as there is a lot of climbing today.
The first part was just a steady climb going through little villages and towns. We stopped at the small town of Angren for a coffee and water. Once again we were short of Uzbekistan Soms. We located a bank but it was closed (Sunday). Fortunately, this time, we did have US dollars.
As we went further the road ramped up a little but nothing too serious. We stopped for a photo-shoot with some Chinese students by a dam on a lake. We exchanged contact details which may come in handy when we enter China next week.
As we got closer to the major climb we stopped at a tiny shop and sat in the shade. We chatted with the owner and managed to exchange some US dollars for Som. At least we could eat! The owner wanted to take us fishing in the river below, but we had no time so we said our thanks, done the selfie, and moved on to the infamous hairpins.
As we started climbing the signs just repeated themselves; ‘12% for the next 2km’, then again and again. We just got into the rhythm and rode. We stopped for water and ice cream when we were about a third of the way up. After the normal photo-shoot on we went, up and up through some terrific scenery and horrendous hairpins [Switch backs!: Ed], everyone waving and tooting their horns and cars and lorries breaking down as we carried on climbing. On we went Keith leading the way with me and Linney at the back. Linney of course was only lagging because of the photographs; both taking and being taken of!
As we waited at the top there was a tunnel with an army patrol guy who made a cross with his arms. Keith went over to see the guy while I was busy taking photographs. Keith was thinking were not allowed through the tunnel, but it transpired we were not allowed to take photographs in the tunnel. No problem.
We went through this tunnel and the next one before starting the decent. However we stopped for lunch before the descent really got going and discussed our options.
We decided to go for Kokand and book a hotel. I said ‘no problem we will be there before 7’. It was already 4 :30 with over 40 miles to go!
We started the descent and it was worth all the climbing with a wide road and a fairly good surface. Linney did hit a pot-hole which made his handle bars drop a little. After less than 45 minutes we had covered half the distance to Kokand. The shout went up ‘do we want to stop’. ‘Carry on’ was the reply. The road flattened out after the descent but we still kept up the pace, riding hard.
As we enter the busy city Linney switched into overdrive trying to skip lights and jump the queues as normal I tend to hang back then which nearly caused a pile up between me and Keith, but with good skills he managed to avert the danger.
As we pulled up to the Silk Road Hotel, it was 6:59. We’d done it easily. I went through the booking-in process as they assured us we could pay by MasterCard in the morning. They also gave us a complementary beer.
It was a really nice hotel so after a good shower it was down to the restaurant for another well earned beer and some good food.
We had a really good meal last night and a great nights sleep. It’s amazing how much you like a bed after camping. I don’t think I’m designed to sleep on the floor.
Breakfast was at 7 and we were all ready to attack the big spread. We were not disappointed, though the waiters were fussing around Keith a bit more than he liked. I left Linney and Keith as they were on their 3rd sitting to go and start the palaver of paying the bill. We thought the card machine was out of action but the hotel manager phoned me and said no problem he would take us to the bank! Well in Uzbekistan it’s never that easy but eventually we found an ATM that had US dollars not Som. The deal was done!
Then we a big photo-shoot outside the hotel before we could get going around 08:30. With a plan to ride about 80 miles to Andijan. From the profile it looked like up-hill after the first 20 miles but with no major climbs.
We got out of the city pretty quickly and soon hit a good pace; it must have been the good breakfast. We kept the pace up for a couple of hours on surprisingly good roads. Keith gave a shout to say he had a problem with his back wheel so we pulled over adjacent to some melon sellers. Keith had his back wheel off and tightened a few spokes and got the wheel as true as he could. Linney really helped out and got a free melon from the guys and bought two extra ones for later.
Around the 40 mile mark we stopped for a cup of tea, like all English gentlemen should. It was green tea of course but we are getting to like it. We discussed what we could do about Keith’s wheel. The plan was to nurse it through to Osh tomorrow and then see if we could purchase a new one there.
As we moved on with a planned lunch stop in a town called Shankhrikhan. We soon arrived and passed two bike shops. We had no luck in them, but one of the guys took us to a bike repair place around the corner (just like Dad’s back garden back in the day). Sure enough the guy managed to repair the wheel; the rim has split, so he reamed the spoke-hole out with a file, put a washer on the spoke nut and trued the wheel up all for the princely sum 10,000 Som! We gave him 15,000 Som, which is about £1.50. We will still need to replace the wheel ASAP, but least it will get us through the next few days, we hope.
After the customary photo-shoot, and an extra one with Linney’s new Mum [Dale is determined to get Keith married off: Ed], we moved around the corner for some peace and quiet and to have a bowl of Yak soup and bread.
We then just rolled into the surprisingly big city of Andijan located a hotel (which was not as nice as yesterdays – we do have a budget!). We showered then went to the ATM again and found a restaurant for a few beers and a meal.
For the first time on the Tour we slept untill 08:00. Not intentionally; we forgot to set the alarm. We still made time for breakfast as it’s going to be a long day, with a border crossing and some serious climbing.
We got going just after 9 through the busy city of Andijan. It was a relief to get out.
The border was around the 30 mile mark just before the City of Osh. Keith’s front pannier completely broke off just before the border and he ended up strapping it to the back of the bike as we all rolled into the border crossing.
The Uzbekistan side was the normal chaotic queues and hustle and bustle, but we got through pretty quick. Then came the Kyrgyzstan side; it was the worst border crossing ever as fighting broke out in the queues with children crying, shouting and screaming. As we were tourists we go to the front, but that really makes you feel guilty, with all the others pushing and shoving. It was horrible to see.
We finally got through and rolled into Osh, first to the market, as Linney had located some bike repair places. Once again it was chaotic, one guy seemed to understand what we wanted and took the pannier around a couple of repair places. They ended up fixing it with torx self tapping screwsso we’ll see how long this lasts. We also managed to stock up nuts, bolts, jubilee clips and tie wraps – just in case.
We had lunch and managed to find some Kyrgyzstan currency, before we made our way out of the busy hilly city. Keith and I had a run in with a driver at a roundabout, and then Linney nearly got wiped out by a taxi driver. After that we met a couple from Estonia who were cycling the other way; had a nice chat with them before we set off again.
We then started the climbing. With over 50 miles to the town of Sary Tash we had decided to camp after getting as far as we can. Linney had identified a potential site. It looked like a lovely spot for camping and the 50 miles seemed do-able.
With the road steadily getting steeper we just kept going through little villages. It was very rural with young guys on horse-back herding cattle, all the children waving etc. We stocked up on provisions where we could and carried on. The campsite Linney had chosen was up a track going steeply up the bank; it looked good, but not worth the extra work! Just down the road we found a shop selling beer, so bought a few each and decided to settle for a nice spot in a cow field overlooking the mountains.
We didn’t cook but just had a tea and a few snacks with the beers and then early to bed.
It was a good nights sleep considering we camped. We got up just after 6 and had a breakfast of jam, Nutella and bread washed down with coffee; not bad at all.
We were on the road just after 7 knowing we had a big days climbing. The first part was just a steady climb for 10 or so miles, then it ramped up with switch-backs every so often, it took us around 2 1/2 hours to reach the summit at about 2340 metres. We stopped for photos and admired the view, with the knowledge that we had another massive ascent either later today or early tomorrow depending on progress.
The plan was to enjoy the descent and take as many photos as possible then have lunch in the town of Gulcha. We all enjoyed the ride down. Many touring motorcycles passed us with a cheery wave and before we knew it we were outside a cafe with WIFI in Gulcha. Just outside we met 3 German cycle-tourists going the other way; once again we swapped stories and chatted about the forthcoming climbs etc.
After a nice lunch we discussed the options for the rest of today; we decided it would be best to go about 70 miles, camp out again, and then do the final push to the Kyrgyzstan border town tomorrow.
We carried on following the Gurda River, going through the strange sensation when it looks like you are going downhill when it fact you are climbing.
Just before we thought about stopping, we met a guy walking pulling a trolley (Forrest Gump!) [His name is Ben Viatte and he styles himself the Global Pilgrim: Ed], he seemed pretty happy. We stopped in a shop about 200m away and Forrest came bounding in, said hi and wanted to know what we were up to, he turned out to be a really nice guy, from the Czech Republic but with Swiss parents. He had been on the road for 3 years picking up the languages and dress-code as he went. [I added some pictures below: Ed]. We left him in his own little world. Really nice guy; a bit bonkers, but everyone to their own.
With around 20 miles to go it was just a matter of riding it out and choosing a decent campsite and getting an evening meal. We sorted the meal out and had the standard lagman (noodle broth) with melon for afters. Sadly though no beers. We found a shop and my eyes lit up when they came out, but to no avail; it will be a dry night tonight.
With the sun setting and the wind getting up it was time to find the site. Within 5 mins we were setting up camp. I was dispatched to find some rocks to knock the pegs in. Keith had forgot to pack a mallet.
Looks like being a windy night and cold nightand I’m actually in the sleeping bag for the first time . Early night; if you can’t have a beer go to bed.
As we camped again last night we were up early though as we had gone through another time-zone it does not get light until 6am. Breakfast was the same as yesterday; coffee, bread and jam except without the Nutella; we finished that yesterday.
We were on the road just after 7 and rode through the first village as the sun was coming over the mountains. Very nice but then some dogs chased us and a stroppy teenager threw a stone at Keith; brave lad! We just smiled and gave him the normal “hello” and rode on.
Within 10 miles we started the ascent of the Taldyk Pass which rising to a height of 3600 metres or so. This was really tough going and it took us nearly three hours to reach the summit. Very ,very tough riding. Of course we had a little bit of a photo-shoot at the top, then a little descent, then another climb to the summit on the other side of the mountain, another photo-shoot with some locals and then, finally, a well earned descent.
Very early into the descent Linney noticed a lone cyclist coming up the other way. It only the guy from “Staple” [a village about 3 miles from Aylesham, Kent, UK: Ed] whose name was Ted. Gavin had mentioned him earlier [probably a week ago: Ed]. We stopped and had a chat and a few photos. We all promise to meet up in the Black Pig in November, then we are on are way again.
We stopped in Sary Tash for a bowl of soup, and fill up with water and chocolate bars: these are our replacements for melons and ice-creams.
We then started the next steady climb. The first 15 miles were all very good,with the sun shining and the snow-capped Himalayas to the right of us. [directly south they can probably see the mountains of Kashmir: Ed] Then the second climb of the day started and with weary legs it was difficult to get the muscles going but we soon got into the swing of it.
This climb was a lot more exposed than the last but luckily we did have a bit of a tail-wind. As the road got steeper up our Garmins sent us down a track (marked yellow on the map and probably the old road). It was a bit of a no-brainer with the state of our bikes, so we took the high road!. This was tough but the scenery was unbelievable. Now it is behind us it seems well worth it – half-way up you may have got a different answer! This was actually higher than the Taldyk Pass by a couple of hundred metres.
Then it was the descent accompanied by a massive cross-wind; I was sure I would have been blown off my road bike! We all enjoyed it tough and we stopped often for great photos.
I noticed Keith’s back wheel was buckled again and he said his brakes were not working, so we stopped and changed the pads on his rear wheel. We then took it easy for the rest of the descent and we still had one little climb left as well.
We managed to get to the border town of Irkeshtam which apparently is built out of old railway carriages and lorry containers. We booked into the hostel; In retrospect our tents would probably have been better and cleaner. We were now ready for our border crossing into China tomorrow.
Keith put the temporary “Kevlar spoke” back on to his rear wheel and changed the pads in his and Linney’s brakes.
We had stopped in a hotel/shack about 50m from the first Kyrgyzstan check point, and although the place was dirty and a bit of a tip, we were just as dirty, so it all worked out. As a bonus they had decent WIFI and the young guy spoke a bit of English.
We had breakfast at the shack; fried eggs and fritters, and then packed our bags onto the bikes ready for the border to open at 08:00. We made ourway to the first checkpoint, showed our passport and visa to the guard, who then instructed us to go to the building over the road for the formal checks. We sailed through these and rode the bikes for a 2 miles to the first China checkpoint.
It was the same again; all passports and visas checked, then all the bags off the bikes and scanned, then physically searched. Everything had to be out of the panniers and saddle bags. It was all very polite and civil but surprisingly they were not interested in the phones or laptops.
They then explained that we would need to go through another checkpoint about 50 miles away but with the proviso that no cycling was allowed between them. We had heard about this so we were not surprised. So all the bikes, with luggage and u spiled into the minibus for the hours drive to thenext checkpoint. Basically it was in the middle of nowhere. Once again our passports and visas were checked and our bags scanned. Then it was back in the minibus for another 20 mins to another checkpoint.
We arrived at this checkpoint about 13:45. The driver explained that they would be closed for lunch and would re-open at 14:30. Not too bad we thought. Well 14:30 came and went and we ended up waiting until 16:30 before they finally opened the gates and let us in for yet more passport, visa and baggage checks. This time we also had to fill out a tourist form. All this took at least another 2 hours before we were finally out of the search area.
With the clocks moving forward 2 hours and the time it had taken to get through all the checks we decided to get a taxi to Kashgar. We rode out of the search area and then came to a car-park. I asked the first guy I saw ‘how much for a ride to Kashgar’, he said ‘400 Yen’ (about £45), so we loaded the bikes and baggage into his pick-up truck and set off for Kashgar. We thought it’s be about an hours drive. After two extended police checks we finally made it to the outskirts of Kashgar where the driver dropped us off. It was a bit of hassle paying him as we tried to tell him we needed an ATM but ended up paying him in $US after he had got someone to verify the exchange rate.
Well the plan was to ride into the bustling city of Kashgar and find a hotel. This certainly did not go to plan! The hotels were either fully booked or could not let foreign nationals stay. It was getting very late about 10:30. We even had a local couple doing their best for us. To no avail. They finally suggested a place where we could camp for the night again!
As we had not eaten properly since breakfast we decided to eat first then locate the campsite the local couple had suggested. With the fully loaded bikes we had to find a place to eat where we could also look after the bikes. We soon located a suitable place and order a massive Chinese meal. It was gone midnight before we finished our meal and we made our way to the so called site which was under construction. We ended up sleeping on benches and the floor. After four nights on the road we were all filthy dirty and tired. We just need some proper rest.
After the worst nights sleep in living memory we wearily discussed our options; find a place to stay, clean ourselves up and locate a bike shop. We managed to drag out leaving the park benches until just before 08:00 and had a bit of a wash with a garden hose. Then Keith had a cunning plan! He tried to smarted himself up a little as he was going to be our first point of contact should we locate a place to stay.
The streets were pretty deserted as we cycled into the city and after about a mile Linney spotted what he thought was a hostel. While Linney and I hid outside, Keith went in. It was a hostel and they had a 12 bed dormitory available for tonight though we could not book in until 10:00 at least we could get a shower and clean up. We had one more possible option; a 5 star hotel on the edge of the city. So we decided to see if we could get a room there. We rode on to this place which was a massive 15 story block. They must have room here so with Linney & I hiding around the corner Keith made his way in. He come out and said they only had one luxury suite available at £120 the night for all three of us. No brainer: “let’s have it”. We have only spent a shilling on accommodation for the last four nights.
We must have looked a right sight as we wearily loaded up all our baggage onto a trolley. Even the porter was reluctant to come near us. Keith then came back from the front desk and said they had managed to find us a slightly cheaper room. I think they felt sorry for us.
We all had a great power shower, shave and felt a lot better, then went down to a 5 star buffet breakfast. It was difficult to get Linney out of there but we needed to find a bike shop.
We found the two bikes shops next door to each other. The first one did not seem very helpful but the second one could not do enough for us. We ended up buying a wheel off a brand new bike after a little bit of bargaining and pleading. They also trued Keith’s front wheel up.
Hoopoe (Upupa epops) in Kashgar
Hoopoe (Upupa epops) in Kashgar
After this, over lunch, we decided to have another rest day on Sunday to sort out the SIM cards for our mobiles.
“My name is Ben Viatte and I’m just like you: I’m not quite sure how I got here.
My search started 9 years ago, when I closed my eyes for the first time: I saw that I was free. So I started travelling the world in search of a new mindset. My current pilgrimage is bringing me on foot from Europe, through Northern asia, to holy India.”
The Bibi-Khanym Mosque is one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. In the 15th century it was one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in the Islamic world. By the mid-20th century only a grandiose ruin of it still survived, but major parts of the mosque were restored during the Soviet period
After his Indian campaign in 1399 Timur (Tamerlane) decided to undertake the construction of a gigantic mosque in his new capital, Samarkand. When Timur returned from his military campaign in 1404 the mosque was almost completed. However, Timur was not happy with the progress of construction, and immediately had various changes made, especially on the main cupola.
From the beginning of the construction, problems of structural integrity of the structure revealed themselves. Various reconstructions and reinforcements were undertaken in order to save the mosque. However, after just a few years, the first bricks had begun to fall out of the huge dome over the mihrab. The scale of Timur’s plans pushed the building techniques of the time to their limit, and the building’s integrity was not helped by the rushed nature of its construction.
In the late 16th century the Abdullah Khan II (1533/4-1598), the last Shaybanid Dynasty Khan of Bukhara, cancelled all restoration works in Bibi-Khanym Mosque. After that, the mosque slowly deteriorated and became a ruins gnawed at by the wind, weather, and earthquakes. The inner arch of the portal construction finally collapsed in an earthquake in 1897. During the centuries the ruins were plundered by the inhabitants of Samarkand in search of building material, especially the brick of the masonry galleries along with the marble columns.
A first basic investigation into securing the ruins was made in Soviet times. Late in the 20th century, the Uzbek government began restoration of three dome buildings and the main portal. In 1974 the government of the then Uzbek SSR began the complex reconstruction of the mosque. The decoration of domes and facades was extensively restored and supplemented. During these restorations, a band of inscriptions revealing Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow) of the Quran was added to the main sanctuary iwan (a vaulted portal opening onto a courtyard) of the mosque. As of 2016, work on the mosque restoration was ongoing.
We spent a pleasant evening site walking around the City of Bukhara looking at the temples and Mosques. All very impressive. It was good to look at some architecture rather than the desert and the contrast between the modern city and the old city was amazing. Later we choose an authentic Uzbekistan restaurant and had a great meal. Linney & I are feeling a lot better and Keith is nearly there.
Had a bit of a lie in in this morning: breakfast at 08:00 though we were all up just after 6 after a really good nights sleep. The phone rang a just after 7 saying that breakfast was ready. It was a really good spread; best we have had since we left Europe so we all had a good fill and filled our pockets up with the fruit and biscuits.
We were on the road just after 08:00 although we knew we had to stop fairly early to fill up and water. With Linney’s expert map-reading skills and picking a hotel on the right side of the city we were soon out on the open road. However the road was bad and we had a fierce head-wind. We knew we would face this for the first 25 miles or so. We stopped after about 18 miles as it was pretty hard going for tea and soft drinks. The guy did try and sell us everything in the cafe and he even came out with a tray of kebabs; we politely said ‘no thanks’.
We still rode into the head-wind but thankfully the road was getting better. We had heard that when we turned east the wind would be in our favour; no chance! We rode on all feeling the strain but just pushing through. Then we came to an avenue of trees and some welcome shade. It was like someone turning the power back on, it gave us a boost. Before we knew it we stopped at a little cafe for samosa, soft drink, a local chilled fruit drink and the new ice-cream and water-melon (probably the most refreshing fruit in the world).
Linney informed us we had roughly 32 miles to go. With the road improving and the wind finally coming into our favour, the shout went up ‘do we want to stop!’ All of us were nearly out of water so it was a ‘yes’. Keith spotted a paddling pool in a cafe over the other side of the road, so it was a no brainer, we had to stop there. Before I had got the water and soft drinks, Keith was in the pool. I quickly followed but would not be photographed in there till I had a beer. That was soon rectified when Linney said we have less than 10 miles to go and it’s a Sunday; happy days.
After the refreshing swim we lounge in the water with a beer. Soon we rolled into Navoi and quickly located a hotel. Again we had a bit of a problem paying, but the owner took us into the city to get some dollars and we were all sorted.
Last night we ate adjacent to the hotel in a bar restaurant which had pretty good food and it was just a short stroll back. It was good to have some good quality WIFI, so we all made good use of it.
With breakfast at 7 we were all ready to roll by 7:30. We got out of the city quickly and soon we were on the highway to Samarkand. We were unsure if we would go all the way today as it depends on our planned spares delivery. We knew they were in Uzbekistan but not sure where.
We had a little stop at 20 miles for a cup of tea and then rode on against an ever increasing wind. We stopped for a bowl of yak soup and tea for lunch. Still no news on the delivery so we just took it easy until the 80 mile mark.
We had another bowl of soup (nicer this time), with bread and chips washed down with a couple of cold beers. Then on to the fun! There was a possibility of a hotel about a mile away. So we went for it. As we turned into the lane all the fruit-pickers made a big fuss of Linney: he just rode through smiling. We came to some big gates where gate-keeper let us through, then on into the grounds through a vine covered avenue. It all looked very weird. One guy stopped me and asked what we wanted. When I said ‘a room’, he seemed to understand. He took us inside. We all looked at each other. Was it some sort of hospital or asylum?
The guy in charge said it was not a hotel, but we could stay. He instructed Jack Nicholson to take us to another building. We parked our bikes and handed over our passports to a nurse! Then we got shown to our room. No mention of costs yet.
We all had a shower and then went out as Linney thought he had noticed a shop earlier. He did but it was closed, so we just bought a fresh water-melon and borrowed a knife from one of the inmates who followed us to make sure she got it back. We had an early night after our melon feast with a view to getting away sharply in the morning though we have to get our passports back so that may delay us.
Well we all survived! We were up at 6 and then spent an hour trying to to get someone to locate our passports. May be we were not going anywhere. Eventually we found a guy who was the “English teacher” (bit of a theme going on here) and he said ‘room 35 at 7’. It turned out to be more like 7:30. No problem. For a free nights sleep beggars can’t be choosers.
We quickly got away. They were lovely people but the place was eerily weird and we’re still not sure what was going on.
Once on the roads we knew we had only 22 miles to Samarkand: just a little pedal. When we were far enough away and brave enough to stop we pulled over to a nice little cafe, for dougnuts, fried eggs and coffee. We also booked a hotel in Samarkand whilst we were stopped and then completed the final 16 miles with ease.
We booked into the hotel, showered and freshened up, and then went into the city for a bit of sightseeing and parcel tracking with a haircut also on the agenda.
We all look smart in our new haircuts! We had already had a little look around the Registan Square so we headed west to look at the other sights and the architecture.
First day off the bike today since 23rd June. The plan was to have a lazy breakfast, do a bit of bike maintenance, go to the local bike shops, and then do a bit of sightseeing. We still had not heard about our spares arriving.
It did feel a bit strange, getting on the bikes without all the baggage, and I also noticed that the drivers do not give you so much room! We cycled up to the first bike shop it was in the local football stadium. We found the stadium OK but no sign of a bike shop. I spoke to some players hanging around and they said he was having a day off today, same as us.
So we moved on to the next one, with Linney doing the map reading, through the centre of the city. All good fun, horns blaring, tyres screaming, us smiling. After the city centre we found a group of “bike shops”; none had the stuff we wanted, though one did have a front pannier bracket on a new bike, I tried to buy it, using all my charm, but I think my charm has left me since yesterdays haircut!
We went next door to the bicycle repair man (Monty Python sketch)! It was a bit like Dad’s back garden. It was a free for all! We ended up with some stuff we could strengthen our brackets with.The guy even drilled a few extra holes in some for us.
Later we had a meal out off the city communal bowl of Pilov (a local rice dish a bit like Spanish Paella). It was really nice. Then bit of sightseeing, a tour of the market and back to the digs to fit the supports to the panniers.
We were back on the bikes today after our rest day. Unfortunately the spare parts did not arrive in time [other theories: they rode too quickly, they run out of patience or they assumed the postal services were run by camels: Ed], apparently the pannier stuff is in Moscow and the tyres are in Tashkent! So we have had to make do and mend: nothing can go wrong.
With the bikes all ready we had breakfast at the hotel then set off around 08:30. Like always it was a bit difficult getting out of the city, but we were soon heading for Jizzakh. We stopped on the outskirts for water top ups and a bit of chat with the owners.
The road was pretty good but we knew we had a head-wind for most of the day so it was just a matter of pushing through it. The scenery was changing: first through fruit orchards, apple trees mainly [this is the part of the world where the apple was first domesticated: Ed], it made a really pleasant change from the desert and, in the distance, you could see the mountain ranges through the hazy sun: all making for different riding.
We stopped for a coffee and a soft drink, Keith said ‘No coffee? What sort of cafe is this?’, the guy just smiled at him and said we have char, so thats what we had. The head-wind was getting a bit stronger but we were making reasonable progress and with the knowledge that within the next 10 miles or so we should be finished with the climbing.
After yesterday’s swim training in the hotel pool and a relaxing meal in the hotel restaurant we retired to bed pretty early.
Breakfast was at 7, but we were up checking the bikes before hand (obviously not good enough). Had breakfast then tried to pay the bill, its never that easy in Uzbekistan, had to pay in Som, not dollars, so it meant a trip to the bank after all. It took me nearly half an hour to go through the passport hotel checks, I thought the guys would be waiting for me, however they had Linney front wheel off to change the inner tube. We then went to the bank, never easy even in the UK, we did not get going till 10:00 but at least we had some cash.
Once we got going we started to make good time on relatively good roads and with a nice tail-wind. We stopped for lunch after 3 hours of good cycling and had a nice meal in a rustic place. We all had the rice dish and tea.
Just after we left Linney spotted a small cycle shop and he managed to get another spare inner-tube so that was good. With a late start and over 80 miles to do we pushed on Keith taking the front. Before long he was nowhere to be seen. Linney and I kept a reasonable pace but could not see Keith in the distance. Before long the road forked; the left hand side going to Tashkent and the right side heading towards Bekobod – our intended destination. As the junction was a bit tricky Linney & I were unsure if Keith had taken the correct route.
As we pushed on with less than 15 miles to go we were sure Keith would have pulled over, but there was no sign of him. We even got stopped by some army patrol guys in the border zone. We tried to ask them if they had seen another cyclist but could not get them to understand.
With less than 5 miles to go we pulled over at a junction and decided to wait, just got our ice cream when we received a pin drop from Keith at the hotel; good stuff so we rolled in behind him, pretty good really as it meant Keith did all the booking stuff.
We had a quick shower and then out on the bikes to the local restaurant about 2 miles away for a few beers and a well earned meal.
[Sadly no photos were forthcoming for this day – I think they fell foul of copyright regulations: Ed]
Another border crossing day. We broke with tradition and went with Dave’s kit, more about that later. [wtf: Ed]
Once again we are celebrities as we are the hotel’s first tourists. It’s only been open 6 months and it’s been mainly contractors from the new factory. Therefore we had the customary photo shoot before leaving. Keith had also done the due diligence on the border crossing – all good – more about that later also.
So we left in good spirits, knowing the border crossing was about 5 miles away. We threaded are way through the town and market and then we had guys saying ‘no you will not be able to cross’, but on we went, only be told we could not go through; ‘only locals not tourists’. It was not what we wanted to hear. We showed him our visa with a smile but it was still no go. Bit of a theme going on here. We had a little bit of a re-think on the side of the road. It’s 27 miles to the next border. Let’s go!
On the way Linney was riding no-handed as he re-routed us. It’s a big day but we may be able to manage it depending on how the border crossing goes. So we just went for the crossing full steam ahead. The roads weren’t so bad and we hit the border in good time.
We had a drink and then started the well-rehearsed process. We were soon through the Uzbekistan side and into the Tajikistan side. On we went. It was really chaotic. We did meet a local tour guide in the queue and he told us they let the tourists go first. In truth it’s just a free for all and we just stayed close by him.
Keith was first at the check and after about 15 mins they told him to go and take a seat. We were about four persons back in the queue. I went next and sailed through. Then Linney was through after a comment about how nice his hair was; he has admirers at every crossing!
We waited for Keith. Eventually the tourist guide came over and said there was a problem with the date on Keith’s visa. He gave Linney his number and said give him a call if we need an interpreter. Keith came out and said they will not let him through. We had a little chat. Not an option; all through or none through. I gave it one last chance and went back and asked to see a border crossing guy. I explained we had a typo on the visa which was a wrong date; it looked like he might buy it until the original guy came over and said ‘No’. We will have to re-route. [apparently Keith’s visa had an entry stamp dated the 16th, not the 6th. Wait 6 days and it’ll be fine. Fortunately the geography is kind and it was simple to re-route and avoid Tajikistan altogether and stay in Uzbekistan – see the map above: Ed]
So back we went to Uzbekistan. Within half an hour as we were riding we had a plan; ride till as late as we can, camp, then another big ride tomorrow and we’ll be back on track. Nothing can go wrong.
We stopped around half three for a bowl of soup, soft drink, and a quick beer; it was hot. We then pushed on, Linney doing his research no-handed said we had a possible hotel at 75 miles but that made for a massive day on Sunday. We said let’s just see how we feel, so we carried on.
Just outside the town of Almalyk I hit a massive pot hole and got a double puncture. With Formula 1 speed we had them done in no time (naturally accompanied by the normal swearing and cursing); no sheep were to blame this time [see the Durness tour: Ed].
We stopped at the first hotel Keith noticed but it was not a hotel but a wedding venue. We sent Linney in but we still could not get a room. Then we went to the only proper hotel in town. This was also fully booked with the weddings.
Plan B: eat then get a some food for the morning and camp. By the time we had eaten and got our stuff from the supermarket it was dark. So it was lights on and find a place to camp. We did about another 9 miles through the town of Ohangaren, picked some cold beers up and selected a lovely site on the outskirts of town. We set up camp, had the beers, and then bed. It had a tough day.
Barking dogs, trains and prayers theme for tomorrow. [I think Dale was raving by this point: Ed]
[Also I totally blame the border failure on a) the wrong shirt and b) the Slide Away bear not wearing the Tajikistan badge: Ed]
Everyday and ALL the Details
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 reached Georgia (the country not the US state obviously) and have cycled 3000+ miles.
[The blog yesterday went out accidentally before I’d collected all the information from the boys on the road. They’d been out of contact for 3 days! This is an update. More photos, updated maps and diary entries. Apologies: Ed]
Fair play to Linney his chosen camp-site was excellent, free from camel poo and gerbils Ed will check the correct collective noun but we went for a sentry of gerbils. [A sentry sounds fine: google goes for horde: ED]
After a pasta meal expertly cooked by Linney and with Keith keeping a vigil on the portions it was time for bed. Keith had put the 2 man tent up with all the fly sheet stuff, Linney had just the mesh tent. I only lasted 10 mins in the tent as it was too hot, so I took my sleeping-bag and liner outside under the stars nothings – could go wrong.
It did get cold so I sacrificed my sleeping-bag pillow and got in the bag. Then it rained! In the bloody desert! I expect the camels loved it. Linney and I just covered our faces and slept through it. I quite liked it.
We all slept quite well. Breakfast was cornflakes and coffee after which we packed all the gear up. Just before we left Keith changed another bolt on his panniers.
We were on the road just after 7am, and as we are getting used to the rough roads we just took it all in our stride. Our main concern was water as we could not see anything along our intended route. With no WiFi it was just a case of carrying as much as we can.
After 4 hours of riding we did not come across a single shop, truck stop or anything. Not even shade, though thankfully we had been riding at a reasonable pace. So we sat down on a sand dune with warm water, peanuts and sunflower seeds – budgie food – Trill! Living it up and dreaming of Ice Cold in Alex.
With around 25 miles to go we rode on. As a lorry passed Keith waved and lifted up his water bottle. The lorry stopped and replenished all our bottles – good man. As we closed in on our destination Keith tried his luck on a building that looked like it was a cafe, in fact it was some sort of customs post, though the guy was really helpful and directed us to the hotel about 3 miles up the road. However lo and behold the water-seller across the road also had some chilled beers, obviously I had planned this, so we sat on the wall with a beer with the plan to ride to the hotel, eat, book a room and shower. and then plan the next few days riding. Think as it is a Sunday a few beers will do too.
We have no WiFi so we will try and and source a SIM card tomorrow. Linney will need it.
It was a bit of a quiet night last night mainly due to the road stop being miles away from anywhere. We just cleaned all the camping gear had a meal then went to bed.
We planned on an early breakfast in the morning, though the place was pretty busy at 6 in the morning. As we have nearly 70 miles before the next shop we stocked up on water and food (sadly, as it turned out, not enough) and set off just after 7am on roads that were on the whole pretty good. More importantly we had a bit of a tail wind.
After about 4 miles Keith’s back-pannier fell off. We all hoped it was not too serious as the road was pretty smooth. Luckily it was just not clipped in correctly. We were making pretty good time, when in the distance a could see a lone cyclist coming towards us. We pulled over and waxed lyrical on how mad we all were. He was from Shrewsbury (Jimmy Ritson counrty). After 10 mins we were back on our way.
Linney called a stop at around 40 miles where we sat on the edge of the road and had a drink and a Snickers bar. Linney is in charge of the biscuits so he gave Keith and I a couple each. We moved on after 10 mins happy that in the fact that we only had 30 miles to a small village with a shop and then another 14 miles to our hotel.
Within 10 mins the familiar shout went up. Linney had a blow out on his rear tyre. The tyre was split in two places. We managed to to patch the splits with bits of rubber and started off again unsure how long the tyre would last.
Linford and bike get stowed for a short hitchhike
Linford and bike get stowed for a short hitchhike
Linford and bike get stowed for a short hitchhike
Linford and bike get stowed for a short hitchhike
Linford all settled in and comfortable
We did manage another 15 or so miles when the tyre blew again. Linney was all for patching the tyre up again and pushing on, but as we were taking the tyre off Keith flagged down a car. In fact two cars stopped full to the brim we people and luggage. We explained the situation and before we knew it Linney’s bike was on the roof rack of one car while he was squashed into the other car with his knees around his ear against a 40″ TV.
Off they went. Keith I carried on the remaining 17 miles to the hotel – with no biscuits! As the roads were good this took just over the hour including an impromptu stop in a workers canteen for a cup of tea.
When we got to Kunkhodzha Linney was already into his 1st beer. I also noticed two Surly touring bikes outside the restaurant. We eventually got chatting to the couple and they had started from London in May on the way to China. They seemed like a nice couple as we exchanged route information etc. It looks like we will probably bump into them along the way.
We all decided to have an early start in the mornings at dinner last night. So Keith set his alarm for 05:00.
Well that did not work, I got up just before 6, all I heard Keith say was FFS why did my alarm not go off, Linney quietly sniggered, I think he may have altered Keith’s alarm.
Anyway we were up and had the normal fried eggs and an extra treat of rice pudding for breakfast. With Linney’s new tyre we were full of confidence: just hoping the tyre lasts. On flat clear and smooth roads we smashed the first 30 miles, stopped for a camels milk coffee and then carried on until just outside Nukus had a little break and a bowl of potato and yak soup, while we decided on the plan for the night.
We roll into Nukus and stop at a bike shop and get a spare tyre and inner tubes for Linney. Then we go to a phone shop for a Uzbekistan SIM card and a bank. Well we managed the SIM card, the ATM at the bank did not work and the cycle shop was not there!
Linney had chosen a hotel on the right side of the city for tomorrow, so we just took our time rode to the centre of the city had a nice meal in an air conditioned restaurant and then set off for the banks and bike shops.
We had no luck with the bike shop and the bank was a bit of a palaver, none of the ATMs would work, in the end a kind bank lady directed us to the national bank, in parliament square, all a bit daunting. Anyway we manged to change some money into the local currency Som & get some US dollars as they seem to work best.
Insect! Possibly a Neuroptera of some kind
Insect! Possibly a Neuroptera of some kind
We just had the final couple of miles to go to the hotel and some well earned beers. Without wanting to tempt fate it was a good days riding with no mechanicals. Happy days.
We had a meal In the hotel last night. Just a little meal as we had eaten quite well throughout the day, still no ice-cream so we had a water-melon.
We arranged to get up at 5:30 with a view to getting going around 6. Linny not to pleased as we’re going out without breakfast or water, though we stopped after about 2 miles for water and chocolate. The guy was really good and gave us three extra bottles. Great! Just a bit difficult to put on our bikes, but we managed it, and it cheered Linney up.
So we carried on the road which was a bit weird as it was a dual carriage-way but traffic was going both ways on each side! We carried on for a while on the correct side of the road, but the road seemed better on the other side, so we changed over.
We also met up with Hanna and her partner (will get his name later). At our first stop, they were having a coffee and soft drink as we pulled in and we had a nice little chat as we ordered our breakfast. Then they moved on. After the normal fried eggs and bread we moved on too.