Days 201 Through 210

Day 201

It has been months since I got my last flat tire. I'm honestly not even exactly sure where the last one was, somewhere west of Shymkent, Kazakhstan, before I met up with Blake. Well today I got one. Then, a couple hours later, I got another one... None for months and then two in the same day, what are the odds... The second one was particularly heart breaking because it happened on the front tire - the first flat on the front tire the entire trip!! All that pristine Portuguese air, finally leaving my tire after 7 months on the road. Damn, I really wanted to get all the way to the end without a single flat on the front. Oh well...

I'm really loving these towns up here. Both last night and tonight have been fun places to walk around. Not sure if I could really tell you why, they're just cool places to be.

Day 202

I'm almost to Lanzhou, and with that, the end of Central Asia and the sparsely populated desert. Before I get there however, I've got some climbing to do. Its funny how this worked out. I spent months before the trip started looking at every detail of the passage through the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Studying the topography, the weather, road conditions... I took that shit very seriously. Well, turns out, today's mountain was actually taller than basically anything I had to bike through in Kyrgyzstan...

To the mountians we go, cold, wet start. The two flats yesterday provided that uneasy feeling that comes from distrust in your bike. Another flat followed today... Beautiful scenery, light traffic. The climb actually wasn't so bad, but it did just keep going and going and going and going. Also, tunnels were in style today. A LOT of tunnels. It seemed like half the ride today was inside tunnels, including my new record breaking, longest tunnel of the trip. In fact, the longest tunnel record was broken multiple times today. Several of them were so long that I actually stopped and took snack breaks while I was inside. Interesting experience, but very scary at times. Was glad when it was over. Another flat tire today, what is going on here?! 

Tonight I'm staying in another Ghost City, filled with buildings, sprawling for miles and miles, but with only a handful of residents. From the highway this place looked huge, possibly a few million inhabitants. Biking through scores of empty high-rises and vacant 6-lane roads painted a different picture. After about a half hour of biking past the uninhabited buildings, I did finally find a small city core where a few people actually lived.

Fixing a flat tire

Day 203

Getting to Lanzhou is a big deal to me. The city marks a milestone for several reasons:
-Its the official end of the desert
-Its the beginning of the area of China where lots of people actually live, the end of the Frontier
-It is the end of "Central Asia"
-Its the "halfway point" for China
-Its the spot where I finally reach back up with my original route and schedule (which got super fucked up as a result of my Torugart Pass fiasco in Kyrgyzstan)

I have been looking forward to getting to Lanzhou for a loooong time.

Ate well today on my way in, especially since I accidentally ordered two meals at the lunch restaurant. Road was scenic at times, but soon got congested as I approached the city. The Yellow river was nice, but there was a lot of industrial areas surrounding it, which meant a lot of truck traffic and shitty, cracked up roads. I tried to stay off the freeways today both because of the traffic surrounding Lanzhou and because I think the metallic debris from the blown out tires on the freeway shoulder is to blame for my recent flat tires. Well no luck with avoiding those flats. Two more today! That's five flat tires in the past 48 hours!!! Fuck man. You can imagine how much this sucks. The second one was incredibly agonizing, because it happened about 800 meters from my hostel for the night. Of course, I figured I'd just walk the bike the rest of the way and deal with the flat later. However, the tube came out of the tire and got tied up around the axil, making it impossible for me to roll the bike. The only way to to move it was to carry it. Slowest half kilometer of my life... If there was any doubt before, I now know I definitely need a new rear tire.

Quickly made friends at the hostel and had good nice out. It was so weird to see all the yuppies at the club and comparing them with the people I had just met out in the small towns in the desert. I had a really fun time, especially since random people in the bar kept giving me free drinks. Wow, dude so many free drinks...

Day 204

Its incredibly nice not being a hurry; I don't have to rush to get the bike repairs done as I have all the time in the world to get into Shanghai and fly back before grad school starts. Knock on wood. Three days here in Lanzhou I think.

So I have a good friend from college who was born here in Lanzhou, David Li. Before I even left on the trip he told me I had to go find his cousin who still lived here. Challenge accepted. It always seemed so far off, but now here I am. David's been following the blog along and I've been talking to him a lot, especially as I neared his hometown. So tonight I met up with his cousin, and his wife. Neither of them spoke any English, but David found a translator for me, his Dad's friend's brother's coworker or something like that. As David pointed out, its hard to find people who speak English in Lanzhou haha. Anyway, we met up for dinner, and wow we went to a dope restaurant. Amazing hot pot food, with the Lanzhou lamb, the best lamb in the country, or so I'm told at least. I'd believe them, it was great, possibly the best meal of the trip (hard to say, there are some other really ones). Things were understandably a little awkward at first, as I, the translator, and the cousin had all never met, but alcohol soon fixed that. After dinner we went over to a bar and kept drinking, playing this Chinese dice game, which was both fun and incredibly alcohol intensive. Really, awesome, night. Thanks David, one of the highlights of the trip.

David's cousin

Day 205

Hard to get out of bed today. I was a little worried I made a fool of myself last night when I got back to the hostel... Oh well, things seemed fine haha. Took the bus down to a part of town full of dozens bike shops, felt like a kind in a candy shop down there. Found a new tire for the rear wheel, sold to me by a super friendly and super elderly store owner, who's daughter was excited to have the chance to practice her English.

There's a lot of things that kind of need to be replaced sometime soon: the chain, the freewheel, the brakes, the gear cables, the front basket, the list goes on and on.... After 205 days on the road, almost everything needs to be considered for replacement. But, I'm only about a week outside of Xian, my first truly huge Chinese city where I plan to spend some time. I'm hoping I can defer all that maintenance until at least there. Fingers crossed.

Checked out the Yellow River area with a friend today, and then fortuitously stumbled inside one of the best noodle shops I've ever been to before. Big line of people, workers tossing slabs of dough up in the air, and making handmade noodles by twisting it through their fingers. I still don't get quite how that works. Anyway, great dinner.

Day 206

Hmm, I'm having a nice time here, might just stay an additional day tomorrow, not sure yet, see how I feel about it tomorrow. I found a really awesome breakfast bakery place I've been going to every morning here in Lanzhou, fresh stuffed pastries, including what are essentially Egg McMuffins. Really great stuff. Between the dinner with David's cousin, the noodles last night and these pastries, Lanzhou has been a great place to eat. Add to that another great dinner tonight, albeit, a food not really associated with this region. Boudzha (I'm not spelling that right), great dumplings, like 50 of these things for a couple of bucks, great eating with some friends from the hostel.

Day 207

The day I failed to plan...

K, I'm leaving today. Didn't make that decision until almost noon today though, so it was really late going. As soon as I hit the road I noticed a problem. As mentioned before, there was a huge laundry list of things that I knew were up for maintenance, and I was hoping they would last me through this stretch until I entered Xian. Just seemed like that's how these things usually work out; after all, the rims I was losing sleep over not replacing in Istanbul still haven't cracked! Turns out that this auspicious thinking was not going to hold water this time. As soon as I left town, I could feel my chain start jumping. The cogs were too worn down, or the chain was too stretched out, or possibly both. This didn't prevent me from riding, but it did mean that I lost the ability to apply lots of force to my pedaling. Basically I had to go really slow all day, especially on the uphills. And there were a lot of uphills today as I winded out of the valley housing Lanzhou. Sooooo slow. I should have fixed that when I had the chance. Usually leaving a big rest stop I always have the bike in good shape. Now I had mechanical problems to deal with out on the road without any scheduled days offs. I feel pretty stupid about that one.

To add insult to injury, my painfully slow day was also met with a freak hail storm. Out of nowhere, the sweltering temperatures disappeared and pieces of ice started falling down. I was totally unprepared, and didn't have any of my rain gear on. After all, it hadn't really rained in months. The thing about this rain gear is that if I want to put it on in the middle of the ride that means I have to stop, undo all the straps and ties on my bike, take off all the auxiliary bags of supplies, dig through the basket to get the tarp bag, and then put everything back together again -  a process which can take up to 20 minutes. I figured this storm would just blow through in less than 20 minutes, so it didn't seem worth my time to do that. Well, I was wrong about that one. Then the hail started melting, and the road lost its pavement, resulting in huge puddles and lots of mud. The rain gear is actually most handy in preventing mud and other random things from spraying up on my bags, not protecting from the actual rain. So I found myself in a position where I was getting really dirty. By the time I realized this storm wasn't just going to blow through, I was already way too late to put the rain gear on, as my bag was already soaked and covered in mud.... I was fucked... I desperately looked for a shelter to wait out the storm. After a long search, I finally found a warehouse off to the side of the road. I was so excited to finally find a place with a roof that my haste made me fishtail in the mud, and I got about as close to wiping out as you can get without actually doing it, all in front of a dozen warehouse workers who were all staring at me. I felt really rude as I just entered their building, without even asking if it was ok, but they didn't seem to mind too much...

The storm never did clear completely, and I found myself going at a ridiculously slow pace through muddy roads with a bad chain. I can't wait until Xian, I need to fix this chain immediately. Tonight, another crazy town, where over half of the high-rises are seemingly completely empty. Got into town very late and exhausted. As with lots of other places, it was a huge pain in the ass trying to find a hotel that would accept me. Finally did find a back ally place that, after some convincing, agreed to look the other way and allow me to stay there. Tough day, at least I didn't get any flat tires...

That truck had a lot of hey

Day 208

I am not leaving this town until I fix my chain problems. I need a new chain, and a new freewheel, and possibly a new crank-set as well. I walked down to the market and found some street vendors selling bike stuff, but nothing that I could use. Then I went to the one bike shop in town. If they couldn't help me, I was going to need to go all the way back to Lanzhou, the ultimate defeat and act of shame... The bike shop was really small, and no one working there seemed to be over the age of 15, I was kind of worried... Luckily for me, they were able to help. Well, they had all the parts I needed at least... I guess I'm becoming a bike snob or something, because when they started working on my bike, I noticed all sorts of things they were doing which I thought were a bad idea. It didn't help that they accidentally knocked over the bike stand halfway through and messed up the brakes and the front basket... It was nerve-wrenching watching these teenagers fix my bike, I really hope they know what they're doing here. After a new chain and freewheel, the chain was still jumping, and I knew they had to replace to crank-set too. The crank-set is the gears in the front of the bike, and also includes the connections to the pedals. Its a big piece, an fundamental part of the bike, and something which I have never had to think of replacing before. I guess even these things aren't designed for biking all the way across Eurasia...

The bike shop ended up getting everything running pretty well, and even included a cleaning and a tune up. Plus they were really nice. The owner called his wife (guess he probably was over 15 haha), who used to be an English teacher and she was excited to talk with me.  After I told them what I was doing, they all insisted on taking pictures with me, and wanted me to pose by the shop's sign. Hahaha, willing to bet if anyone goes and visits the lone bike shop in Dingxi, China you just might be able to spot my picture hanging up on the wall. Successful day, on the road tomorrow.

My new friends at the bike shop

Day 209

Out if Dingxi, finally riding 100%. Out of the G30 corridor and onto the G310, which I'm sure means a lot to you... Nice road, still a toll road, so in really great shape, but only one lane in each direction and not a lot of traffic. Large rolling hills made for great views, but also sometimes difficult riding. Only about 80 something km today, then stopped in a really small town for the night.

Day 210

Back on the G310 for today, again, with the nice views but hard riding. Nevertheless, ended the day with a pretty good downhill, so I decided to just ride it out past my original stop of Tianshui, into a smaller town about 20 km further down the road.

I saw peach farm after peach farm today, so I figured this was the place to get peaches. I stopped at one of the million tents selling peaches on the side of the road and the people there were awesome. When they saw I was biking, they told me not to waste my time with the peaches on their table, and a guy ran over to a nearby orchard and picked a whole bunch of fresh ones for me, then refused to let me pay. Great peaches great people!

Awesome peach farmers