Everybody kept warning me about this Bijo stuff, the local liquor. The Chinese call it "wine," but, at 50% alcohol, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Of course I was the only foreigner last night, so everyone wanted to take a drink with me. Anyway, no reason to get into the details, but I wasn't feeling great this morning. Couple that with 42 C weather, and I felt even worse. Tony, however, insisted that I should only drink hot liquids today because it'd be better for my stomach. I've heard this before, it's a traditional Chinese belief, he wasn't just making stuff up. So, not wanting to be disrespectful, I decided today would be only hot drinks. Looking back, I'm not sure if that was the best idea haha. Sure, it was probably good for my stomach, and ya I didn't really get too dehydrated, but I was so hot and sweating profusely all day. Maybe that's the point, I don"t know. What I do know is that I felt "unrefreshed" all day. Hung over in the middle of the desert in the summer with no cold drinks, interesting experience. Tony showed me around, including driving up to mountains, and checking out the local villages. Except for the drinking thing, nice day off.
I was originally thinking of taking following the expressway today, but Tony recommended an alternative route, on a broken road through some small villages. Now usually when people recommend routes for me, I smile politely and listen, but I never really consider taking them. This is probably a bad thing, I guess I'm just stubborn. It sounds like (and is) such a small thing in the context of an 11,000 mile, 240 day bike ride, but a detour which will take me an extra hour and 10 miles of additional pedaling seems like a terrible idea to me. Hmm, that means I need to wake up earlier today, get in later, not have as much time to relax. I find myself really managing the trip on a micro level like that sometimes. I get a lot of people telling me to detour so I can check out certain national parks, landscapes, stuff like that. Sometimes these are great ideas, but often times I find the untouched nature surrounding my bike ride to be just as amazing as the oftentimes expensive, touristy, out of the way, inauthentic, sights.
Anyway, if Tony happens to be reading this, you should know, I did follow your route today, and it was an awesome idea. Through a series of small Uyger villages, hundreds of traditional mud hut raisin drying buildings, and along side the famous "flaming mountains," which I enjoyed immensely from the road, knowing that I successfully bypassed the tourist location to see them... This road didn't feel like it was part of China. Great call Tony! Only problem was that I was starving towards the end of today, because all of the restaurants on the road were Muslim, and weren't serving any food because Ramadan just started. Not to worry though, a friendly farmer pulled his cart over and insisted that I take a melon from him. It was nice of him, but it took up a lot of space and weight on my bike before I figured out how to open it up...
My front basket completely fell off today. Its been getting progressively worse and worse since I left Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan, not its totally messed up. Hope those zip-ties hold up...
Today I enter the most desolate, isolated stretch of the trip. For the next 670 kilometers, there's only place to stop. I expect it to be windy and hot, with more isolation than I have ever experienced in my life. Its time to pull out all the stops. Every water bottle filled to the brim, bags of food in the front, bags of food in the back. I stop at the last cafe out of town, eat some amazing Uyger food in an equally amazing air-conditioned building, and head out into the desert. Yep, there's that wind. Nothing like it was back in Kazakhstan, but still, requires me to stop earlier than I really wanted. A little shy of 100 km today. Sun beating down, nothing to block it for miles, time to camp in the ditch.
Day 184One of the scariest moments of my life happened today.
Finally built up the courage to leave the ditch, enter the scolding sun and the strong headwind. It was an uneasy feeling knowing that I was going to be hot and tired and dirty all day and would probably end up just sleeping in another ditch tonight... The ride started going up hill, against the wind, in the heat, and I started to drink a lot of water. It quickly became apparent that I was going to need to stop and get more water. Only problem was that it did not quickly become apparent where I was going to do that... According to one of my maps, there did seem to be a small trading post up ahead. Before I got there, I found a gas station, which unfortunately didn't have any water. They just had some sugary drinks; I wasn't sure if they would hydrate me or just make things worse. So bought of couple of those, with the hope that this rest stop would help me out. Well, not sure what was up with the map, but I took a frontage road to where this place was supposed to be, and there was nothing but a couple of China Telecom antennas surrounded by desert as far as you could see. Hongshankou, you really let me down here...
This is where I realized I was in trouble. I had about 10 ounces of water, and a liter of the sugary crap, and I was looking at potentially needing to make that last for the next 150 kilometers. Fuck, I usually drink about 10 ounces in one gulp at a rest stop. I stuck to the frontage road because it looked like it might save me a couple of miles, but as I headed down the road I noticed something unsettling. The road was closed. I could still get around the barricade and use it, but I had no idea if it still went where I needed it to go. Feeling like it would be a terrible idea to turn around and add lots of extra miles and time to my ride, I decided I needed to just take this road. Now I not only was almost out of water, but I was also on a road where I knew there would be no passing cars to help me out if something happened. That was what really scared me; passing cars were always my backup lifeline, and now, when I needed them the most, I knew they would not be there. Then the wind kicked in. What if this road dead-ends? What if I can't find any water for the next two days? What if I pass out here? The what ifs were impossible to clear out of my mind.
Now, while all of this was occurring, I was also in awe of the views out here. The mountainous desert landscapes were really awesome. Then the junction with the freeway came into view. I saw it out several miles in front of me, and I crawled to it. I was taking very frequent beaks, rationing the small amount I still had left to drink, and fighting a strong crosswind. It seemed like forever, but I finally got back to the highway. Cool, now I have some occasional passing cars, but still need water. I spent hours and hours biking down the road until I got down to my last sip of water. I couldn't stand the thought of being out here completely without water; I was going to have to be next to death for me to drink that last bit. Finally I saw a truly amazing sign, rest stop 3 km ahead! I was excited, but cautiously so, because I had seen dozens of abandoned rest stops. But I got closer, and it became obvious it was open. Fuck ya! What a relief. I walked into the store and bought a whole box of large waters, plus several sports drinks. I walked out of the store with literally 16 drinks. Crisis averted.
|Had a couple more drinks before I decided to take this picture|
|The end of my water|
Despite my problems yesterday, I actually went really far, and set up today to be a nice and easy 70 km. Into the desert oasis of Hami, and I couldn't be happier to be here. Quickly found a cheap hotel without dealing with all the government bs. Ate some food and fell asleep early with the fan on full-blast.
Hami, the big town out in the middle of nowhere. Seems like everyone of these towns out here if famous for something, here its for the melons. So when in Rome.... I've been eating a lot of melons. Pretty good I'd have to say. Sitting in the center of this city, you would never know I was right in the middle of the most desolate stretch of the trip. Lots of trees, busy streets, even KFC, and nightclubs. Strange how one day you're running out of water on a road with no one in sight, and a couple days later you're surrounded by activity.
Today I bought deodarant and walked around eating food. That was about it. Still looking for some food that is anywhere near as good as at the one place in Urumqi, no one around here could do it...
It was hard to say goodbye to Hami this morning, but its time to head back out into the desert. Out past the melon farmers in the hinterland, and now 3 more days of nothingness starts today. Out on the road all day until I found a home in yet another highway ditch.
I woke up their morning to terrible wind. So terrible in fact, that I decided to wait it out a bit. To kill time, I went on a hike. Walked perpendicular to the road until it was basically out of sight, and I was totally surrounded by nothing but desert. Probably safe to say that moment right there was the most isolated I have ever been, except for maybe that day I ran out of water... Either way, really nice. Walked back to my ditch, still waiting for that wind to die down. I kept staring at this piece of cardboard which had gotten stuck against the highway fence. It was just getting constantly pounded against the fence and I kept thinking about how that was going to be me when I started to ride, helplessly tossed around by the wind...
As it turned out, ride actually went very well, and I got to the provincial border in no time. I ate some food at the rest stop at the border know I had officially gotten through Xingjiang Province. Haha, onto bigger and better things here in Gansu. I was pleasantly surprised when the secondary language on the road signs switched from Uyger to English, although sometimes quite poor English. The word "harmony" should never appear on a freeway road sign...
Wind switched into my favor, I was pumped to be in a new province - I made great speed. Camping tonight was complicated by the threat of rain. These ditches are great when everything's dry, but, as you can imagine, the drainage ditches are the first thing to get wet when it rains... Knowing this, I was trying really hard to find a good spot to camp in some cover, off of the road. The desert landscape didn't cooperate with me, and I found myself biking into the dark in an elongated search to find a good camping place. Finally I gave up and decided to take my changes down in a ditch. I kept my bike upwards and stacked all my stuff on it, off of the ground in case I got flooded out. REALLY hope there's no rain tonight.
|Huge truck carrying cars at the provincial border|
|Going through a lot of water|
The entire ride was a nice easy downhill slope today, but it still felt really difficult for two reasons. Reason number one- wind. Reason number two- general fatigue from dealing with the isolation. For 3 days now, I've been sleeping under freeways, and eating mostly raisins, crackers, and Oreos. That's all on top of other challenges inherent with a bicycle trip like this. Every time I find myself on the back-end of isolated stretch like this, I am exhausted. Luckily I found a city, and, despite the all too familiar government hotel restrictions, I found a good place to sleep tonight.