Leg 7 Summary: West China
From Day 64 (August 15th) to Day 79 (August 31st)
Leg 7 totals: 903.7 miles, 16,358ft and 76:47 hours riding
Accumulated totals: 5949.8 miles, 125,573ft and 467.15 hours riding
Day 64: Friday August 16th: Border Crossing to China
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.
Day 65: Saturday August 17th: Rest day Kashgar
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.
After this, over lunch, we decided to have another rest day on Sunday to sort out the SIM cards for our mobiles.
Day 66: Sunday August 18th: Rest day in Kashgar
We are staying in the poshest hotel in town and will enjoy another rest-day.
Naturally we wake up late and leisurely make our way down to breakfast. We ate like kings and it was really difficult to get Linney away from the noodle station. Finally we managed to prise him away.
The plan was to set all three of us up with a Chinese SIM card today, as Dave said “good luck with Dale’s phone he can never even get a signal in Kent”. So off we tramped down to the city centre ably led by Linney and his map reading skills. For a Sunday morning the city was quite lively especially as we went through the municipal park. There were people dancing in organised sessions, yoga sessions, lads playing basketball and table-tennis. It was a really vibrant park. No time for that though; we were on a mission. I noticed though that Keith was eyeing up the talent on the dance floors.
Like a lot of things in China getting a SIM card is not that easy; first we had to get a certificate of translation from a hotel. We went to the first hotel we could find and a really nice receptionist got one of the guards to take us to the tourist information centre to get the certificate. Yes they did it, but in took about 2 hours of waiting. We finally had it and we then took a taxi ride to the phone shop. It was only another 1 ½ later and we all had the SIMs. However my phone is still locked so mine did not work after all that. [wouldn’t it be easier to buy a phone? Ed]
Keith & Linney went sightseeing around the old town. I went back to the hotel to do some bike maintenance and try and download the routes for the next couple of weeks.
Then it was a restful late afternoon and evening with a few beers and nice food.
Day 67: Monday August 19th: Inspector Clouseau and Cato
With breakfast not until 08:00, we were up and raring to and get back on the bikes again. Unfortunately Linney’s back tyre was flat again; even though he repaired it yesterday. Even now we could not find the hole in the inner tube. It was all repaired before breakfast and then the feast began. As usual we had to drag Linney away with pockets overflowing with all sorts of food.
We were on the road just after 09:00, Linney leading us out of the City. Before long we were on the open road or so we thought. Then we hit the first police check. They pulled over and asked ‘where are you going?’. ‘Shanghai’ we said, which was probably not the best answer. In truth the police were so polite they just seemed to want to double check every last detail. Eventually a translator turned up and after that, no problem, we were back on the road.
The roads were pretty good so we made decent progress until the next town where we had the same procedure again; ‘where you from?’, ‘where are you going?’, ‘why are you here? etc.’. It was the same at the next town and with all these delays we were struggling to get the miles in that we had planned. But on we went.
After the next police stop we stopped for lunch. We just pulled into the next shop and Linney bought almost everything they had! Then we set off again.
As we rode on we noticed a white Honda following us. Every time we stopped for a comfort break he just rolled by and then started followed us again. He was looking at us through a newspaper with a hole cut in it [you are joking right? Ed]. I think Linney then waved at him so the his cover was blown. Before we knew the white car was replaced by a lime green one: we had Cato behind us, following our every move [Cato is the oriental valet character in the Pink Panther films: Ed]. When we stopped in a little village for drinks he had to back-track to get back behind us. It seemed he did not like us interacting with the locals. Then we rode on, knowing we were being followed.
We were now looking for a suitable place to camp. We spotted a place but knew we had Cato behind us; ‘just go for it’ we said bravely as we veered off the road. We sat and had a little chat knowing that Cato and friends would be around soon. Sure enough they came. Once again it was all very pleasant, ‘but we cannot camp here’. With a bit of mobile translation we managed to work out that there was a police check point in 12miles (20km) then a hotel. So with smiles and handshakes we said we would ride to the hotel .
We set off with Cato following us but after we had covered more than the 12 miles there was still no sign of the police checkpoint or for that matter the hotel. Cato was nowhere to be seen so we decided to set up camp. We picked a spot away from the road. This time we were not disturbed and so managed to get tents up and get to bed.
Day 68: Tuesday August 20th: Maize Field Heaven
We got up just as it was getting light with no sign of Inspector Clouseau or Cato. We had a bit of breakfast then set off. We never did go pass the police check point or hotel. We think they just wanted us out of their jurisdiction.
After a while we came to a small town of Yarkant and found a little cafe and managed to order a late breakfast/early lunch. We met some young students in the café and had a good bit of banter with them. They even bought us a preserved egg each; they are a bit like pickled eggs but not as strong [surprised Keith didn’t drink the juice they came in: Ed].
When we came to pay the bill they had even paid for our meal, so with the customary photos, we were about to leave, when the police turned up again. It was the usual palaver; passports and visas. Then they said it was too dangerous to go into the town. We showed where were heading to, they then said they would give us a police escort to the highway. This ended being an escort for about 12 miles. I even had a puncture while they were escorting us and they waited as we fixed it.
Finally they left us alone on a brand new road with very little traffic. Though the road was pretty boring at least we could get some miles under are belts. The road had no police checks as it bypassed all the small villages and towns along the way. They really do not want us going through these places.
As we were now getting a bit paranoid it suited us to stay on this road. The landscape becoming more and more into desert and with snow-capped mountains in front of us. [this section of road is heading almost directly due south so they would be looking at the Himalayas of Jammu, Kashmir and Tibet: Ed]
We had a lunch pot noodles and coffee along the edge of the road and then carried on. Soon we came to a service station which was guarded like Fort Knox. Here we stocked up on water and then pushed on.
We finally decided to come off the highway and go through the town of Kargilik so we could get our camping provisions sorted. At the first check point it was the same again; ‘where are you going?’, ‘where are you staying?’. Just the same old boring routine.
We told them we were planning on staying in a town about 50 miles away and needed to go to a supermarket to pick up some supplies. Once again we had a police escort to another police check outside the town and then another one to the supermarket. We managed to get all our supplies including some imported beer,
(it was 16% proof, not a good idea really), then back with the police escort to the other side of town.
Once we were on our own again we started to look for a place to camp. We soon found a suitable place behind a coppice of trees in a maize field. Keith and Linney set up camp, while I tucked into the strong beers. They tasted like Port, but did the job, and I slept like a log.
Day 69: Wednesday August 21st: Move Along
We woke up to a bright sunny day without a hangover! It does not get light until around 08:00 and we decided to have breakfast in a garage just up the road. We turned up just as the garage was opening and with the normal passport checks they let us in.
We went for canned noodle things and a tube of Pringles. As soon as we got out the garage we had the first police check of the day. Once again they were very polite and friendly. They just don’t seem to know what to do with us. The officer wanted to know where we stayed last night and we explained that we had camped. He did not seem too impressed. Linney had to show him pictures of where we camped. We all thought he was going to take us back there and make us show him the place.
Luckily he then changed tack as he was more interested in Linney’s photos,. He then asked to see mine. Fortunate we had nothing incriminating on our phones. Keith just denied he had a phone so the officer just said ‘you can go’.
We stayed on the same road all day. It was a great road with lots of space and very little traffic but the down-side was there were very few potential stops. After about 10 miles on this road the familiar shout went up; Keith had a flat rear tyre. As we got the wheel off he said to me give the tyre a bit of a check over because it was strange how it went down. Well not surprisingly as there was a 2” nail through the tread and side wall! We managed to get it out, swapped the inner tube, and pressed on.
As we had bought enough food in the garage earlier the plan was to have lunch on the side of the road around the 30 mile mark, then stop again at a service station at 66 miles. We had baked beans, bread and coffee on the side of the road; living the dream again.
The desert was really barren, with next to nothing growing, though we did see our first Chinese camels.
We soon came to our next stop and we cruised into the brand new place. It was that new that it was not even open! Not good for us as we were running low on water. As we were discussing our options a tourist bus pulled and luckily they had some spare water for us. At least we got our bottles filled up.
We decided to pull off the main road and go for the minor road, even if it meant more police checks. It was a good choice. We found a little shop almost immediately and filled up on water. I even had an ice cold beer because it was so dusty. Before we left the owner gave us a corn on the cob which was a nice touch.
We then stopped for a meal in a small local restaurant. We had what the locals were having; green beans and noodles, and it was quite tasty. As we were camping again tonight we decided to roll on for another 20 or so miles then find a place to camp. As the two roads merged we came across the police check. It was all very nice and gave us some water and let Linney wash his hair with the hose pipe (no photos, not the place to take them). We selected a dusty site behind a petrol station (another theme going on), and also managed to get some beers and breakfast stuff from the local shop. All sorted “Nothing can go Wrong”
Well it did! We had just done the Waltons thing “good night Jon Boy” when the blue and twos sounded with headlights on full beam into the tent. Nothing for it. Keith went out to sort it out and I just rolled over thinking they will be gone in 5 mins. No such luck, we had to move on. All this was done via Goggle translate, though they did send for a translator as well. They said they would load us and our bikes into a van and take us to a hotel in Hotan around 80 miles away.
All this took over 5 hours to complete going through every checkpoint, with passport and visa checks at every one. We were all getting very tired now, trying to make a laugh and joke about it, but it was all wearing thin. Especially when we had been at a police check point for over an hour, before Linney pointed out to the head officer that he was looking at the wrong visa, the Russian one , not the Chinese one and that’s why he could not understand it.
We finally booked into a hotel at 04:00 in the morning, and this was after they had taken us to two other fully-booked hotels. We even unloaded the bikes and baggage at the first one.
You can imagine how tired we all were.
Day 70: Thursday August 22nd: Sandstorm
After the debacle of last night we had a lay in until 09:00 and had breakfast in the hotel,
Keith and Linney went to find a bike shop and I caught up with the blog. We had a view to get on the bikes around mid-day and with a 62 mile ride it should not be that bad (or so we thought). We set off just after 12 going out through the city of Hotan when we soon reached the first check-point. We are all resigned to the fact that they will ask the same questions, photocopy and take pictures of passports and visa, then usually let you go. This one was just like the rest. We made the mistake of having a selfie with one of the other guys in the queue; the police were not very impressed, but we got through evcentually. Unsurprisingly we had a police car tail us for the next 20 miles.
Then we hit the desert again and the road just got tougher and tougher. As always it was a steady incline with a head-wind getting stronger as the day wore on. We stopped for a little bit of respite in the only shade we could find, underneath the plinth of a crashed car put on show to deter speeding.
We had a little snack each all of us looking at the road ahead as it turned even more into the wind. We all checked our water and then set off for the last 20 mile push. It was hard going with sand blowing all over the place and always climbing. To be honest it was a relief when the police check finally arrived. Same procedure, albeit with a free ice lolly and a slice of melon, then the officer said no hotels in the town of Quira. We showed him the list we had but he said that was an old list; they are all closed. He said there was an international hotel 15 km away. When we tried to show him on the map it was around 50 miles away and we said we ca not cycle to there tonight. At first he said OK carry on, then just as we were leaving he said wait 5 minutes. We ended up boarding a bus to take us to the hotel 50 miles away. Their was not much room for negotiating, so we all unloaded the baggage off the bikes and onto the bus.
The bus went through two more police checks and we were held it up both times as they did the passport / visa checks and asked the same old questions. Finally we arrived at the town of Keriya with the international hotel. After ajnother police check we got the bikes and baggage off the bus. It was all in a bit of a hurry and I left one of my front pannier bags on the bus. Linney with his Google App managed to persuade the police to go and track the bag. I ended up in the police 4×4 chasing the bus down with the blues and twos going. In the end he spoke with the police at the next check-point and they turned the bus around and dropped off the bag. Good lads.
With a police escort to the hotel we managed to book in and it was straight up to the room for a quick change and then out next door for some food. We had the police hot on our tail again, asking us where we were going next; ‘to bed’ we all said.
After a really nice meal and a few beers and a chat about tomorrows ride which is around 70 miles to a place called Niya (with an international hotel of course).
That is exactly what we did; went to bed.
Day 71: Friday August 23rd:
With breakfast scheduled at 09:00 we had a bit of a lazy morning and I tried to catch up on the blog but the WIFI connection was not very good.
We all had a Chinese breakfast of rice, noodles and eggs, and then loaded up and set off just before 10. We stocked up just outside the hotel with water, nuts, cakes and sweets. It was quite easy riding through the town and we went straight through the final police checkpoint and onto the main express way to Niya and beyond.
Once again as soon as we left the town the desert appeared and the head-wind but it was not quite as bad as yesterday, but still pretty strong. We also still had a steady climb. After a couple of hours, with all of us looking for a bit of shade to have a rest in, we came across a Uzbekistan style road-stop; our little oasis. We replenished our drinks, had some cakes and fruit, and basically enjoyed the rest.
Then we set off again into the strong head-wind. With less than 35 miles to go, we knew we had broken the back of the ride and it was just a matter of ploughing through with it. On we went. Keith had a flat front tyre (a slow puncture, though he tried to blame the guy last night who touched his front wheel). We stopped again at a weird pull-over place, but not for long; just to get our bearings and go for the last big effort of the day. Before long we came to the final police check before Niya. It was the same procedure; Linney showed the guy the hotel. The policeman thought we had a booking, but we had not booked it. He was a really nice guy though and was pretty interested in what we were doing, and even typed on his translator app, “see you again” as we left.
With a really nice descent into the town we had 10 miles of luxury and the police even let us straight through a check with a wave and smile. When we arrived at the hotel, the police were there to greet us but this made the checking in process a bit easier. We were soon all sorted and ready to eat.
Day 72: Saturday August 24th:
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.