Mountains on Down to My Silk Road
“A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be.” ~ Bruce Springsteen, Musician/Writer
As I set out into the chilly morning I was content. Content with who I was becoming on my ride and where I was going. Each day when I pack up my few things and load up my bicycle, I really have no idea what I am getting into. Where will I sleep tonight? Who will I meet? What will I eat? How far will I go? All questions that are slowly answered as I pedal on and unlock the day. It is completely freeing. The road is my compass, my bike is the ticket and everyday is what I make of it.
Leaving Langmusi I pushed out on a cool morning. I hoped to have my next day off in Lanzhou a few hundred kilometres ahead after descending from the Tibetan Plateau. The road went up and up, green fuzzy looking hills stretching out in the distance. Winding my way onwards the temperature began to decline. 15 degrees, then 10 and down to 5. “How can this be August here?!” I thought out loud as a flakes of snow floated in front of me. I am glad I’m not planning on sticking around for winter. Well, the snow turned into heavy cold rain with wind. Even through my gloves, my fingers were frozen. I pushed on and eventually found a small shop to warm myself by a stove, drink tea, eat noodles and dread the outside. After an hour of feeling sorry for myself, I knew I needed to move on and stop being a wuss. I went back out, tossed on my classic rock playlist, tapping along to Bruce Springsteen and The Who as I climbed a hill in the cold rain for two hours towards the next town.
The following day I set out towards the Tibetan town of Xiahe. It was only to be a short ride, so I took my time. I met an Italian cyclist on the road and we talked of our journey’s so far. It was nice to meet another long distance rider again. I felt bad for him as he had a 30km hill to tackle that I had just came down. I couldn’t tell him. I then was met with my own climb not long after and made my way up to Xiahe and the Labrang Monastery. Mountain rivers flowed below, people harvested their crops with the ending of the season and small trucks trudged up the hills. I enjoyed Xiahe. Spending the day exploring the monastery, watching monks laugh on cellphones, eating Momos (dumplings) and wondering at the old weathered faces of the Tibetan people. You can immediately see the difference in culture both physical and in their spirituality from elsewhere in China. To be Chinese is sometimes hard, but to be Tibetan is even harder. Not only do the Tibetan people have to deal with the harsh climate, but also an ever-changing doctrine of rules and regulations on their comings and goings.
The next day saw me bombing back down the road I came and onto the main road towards Lanzhou. This day was one of transitions. I went from one of the most important sites in Tibetan Buddhism in Xiahe to Linxia, the ‘Mecca of China’, in just over 100km. As I rode mosques began to poke their heads above the trees and present themselves on the horizon. Beautiful buildings, amongst smoking vehicles and dusty streets. I really enjoy the Muslim style of noodles as well as the hospitality you receive when coming into their shops. The noodles are always handmade with skillful stretches of the dough before being dunked into water right before your eyes. I always leave full and with my water bottles filled. There is less poking at me with the typical ‘questions’ I answer over 15 times a day as well. Good tea, nice noodles and peace.
From Linxia I prepped myself for a long day and left early. The day wore on through little villages of Muslim Chinese with big sunglasses on rickety bicycles, roadside card games, loud markets, hockers selling sunflower seeds still in the sunflower, music and more dust. Shop entrances covered by thick curtains to keep out the dirt. A man gave me a heap of flat bread upon reading my ragged ‘Magic Letter’ in Chinese, that proves to inspire bigger smiles the further west I go. The heat had also returned with my decent to lower altitude. Being too hot is better than being cold though. My day was going the way it should have until the slow mountain road separating myself from Lanzhou presented itself. My gateway to the Hexi Corridor and the start of my Silk Road journey. It was slow and my legs were tired after a week of riding. A headwind came up and rain started as I made my way up to the top. It was getting late, but I was still on par to make it to Lanzhou with the light of the sun. Finally, I crested the mountain and let gravity take over as I barrelled into a tunnel.
Well my bad luck with tunnels continued. Tired from the long day I was coasting quickly down the decline in the poorly lit tunnel. At the last second I saw a massive hole. I smashed it. I knew my bike was in trouble. I couldn’t stop, my backrack had collapsed (again) upon my brake line and the front tire blew. I stopped using mostly my feet in the dripping wet tunnel. I walked my beaten bike out the next kilometre as trucks screamed through the tunnel at me. I said nothing and got to work, almost as if I expected this to happen. I replaced the tire and tube with my spares. I unhooked my back brake and saw that the rack could make it to Lanzhou, but I would need a new one.
After a lovely intermission I continued on. Using the front brakes I eased my broken bike down the steep hill. The rain had turned the dust into mud and covered me all the way to the city. By now it was dark and still 25 kilometres of busy and loud city to navigate through to the only hostel. Generally, only the expensive hotels accept foreigners in Western China. After a few kilometres I got a flat in the middle of downtown and patched the tube in front of a huge crowd of what must have been over 20 people. They watched the tired Lawaii (foreigner) get to work without ever looking up. What a show! That day I had also felt a little sick after drinking some dirty water that was not quite boiled. Well I took this opportunity to get sick everywhere on the road. That scared the crowd away rather quickly as I sat slumped on the sidewalk feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t find the hostel after searching for what seemed like eternity. It was 11:00pm, I had ridden over 165km, climbed two mountain passes, was sick, tired and dirty. I was eventually beaten into securing an ‘expensive’ hotel at 30 dollars. Well over my weekly budget for accommodation. I collapsed immediately in the soft bed.
“See the opportunities for adventures, not the constraints that get in the way” ~ Alastair Humphreys, Modern Day Adventurer
The next day saw me picking up the pieces of my life, fixing the bike, finding the hostel and eating, eating, eating. I was preparing for the long road across the Taklamakan desert to Urumqi. While I was there an acquaintance from a few weeks prior showed up after his jaunt from Chengdu. Ernest from South Africa. He has been cycling around the world for over 7 years. It is his second time around with over 122,000 kilometres logged. We got to talking about the adventures of bicycle touring, the roads we had taken from Chengdu and what might lay ahead. If your interested in his adventures click http://ernestonbike.blogspot.com to view Ernest’s website. A fascinating guy.
I woke the following day excited. It was time to start my Silk Road journey. I set out through morning traffic. A man on a bike even stopping me to give me some knee braces and a ridiculous floppy hat. How did he know where I was going? I spent the next few days navigating a scrubby desert road uphill all the way to Wuwei. The road eventually turned west and beautiful mountains began to appear. The road continued to climb up as I drove my way through the Hexi Corridor past wind turbines and empty road. The mornings were cool and the afternoons scorching. The sky completely blue, not a cloud.
Then I saw it. I had been looking for it for the last few days. It was coming over the horizon like a broken train. First nothing more than irregular piles of mud. Then turning into a more identifiable shape. It was the Great Wall! I cracked a smile and pedalled on. At over 8,800km, the Great Wall is truly one of the great wonders of the world. For the next half day I followed the crumbling wall along as I sped towards Zhangye. Great Wall on my right, snow capped mountains on my left. China truly is a fantastic country. If you ever have the chance to visit, take it. The people are kind, they’re curious and humble. The landscape has it all, offering stunning mountains, deserts, grasslands, valleys, beaches and rivers. The food is diverse, delicious and unlike anything ‘Chinese’ you eat back home. I could travel in China for years and never see it all. My cycling route and the last two years is but a slice of the pie.
“People travel to far away places to watch in fascination, the people they ignore at home” ~ Dagobert D. Runes, Writer/Philosopher
But, eventually the road blew through a section of the crumbling Great Wall and snaked onwards. From where I stand the wall still continues another 300km. I look forward to making my journey west with it by my side. I also completed my longest cycling day with a record 178km upon arriving in Zhangye. I felt proud. My legs were wobbly, but my mind was strong. I rewarded myself with a day off to visit the Danxia Landform outside Zhangye. Beautiful rainbow geomorphic rock formations that have eroded over the course of 65 million years when a salt lake dried up.
Now I prepare to tackle the next portion of my journey and the final leg of China. I head west into the Xinjiang region and the Taklamakan Desert. The name literally means in Uyghur, “He who goes in, does not come out.” Sounds like a challenge to me! Time to stock up on water and food for the long journey, just as the merchants of old must have done. Only I’m not carrying any precious cargo, besides pictures and dirty socks. There is now a defined road, it is much safer and I don’t have to deal with camels; just a creaky bike that has put back almost 4,000km in two months. I head now towards cities of old legend like Turpan (the second lowest point in the world), Urumqi and Kashgar. To the end of China. To a flat road and a hopeful tailwind. Into the desert I go.
***Thank you as well to all of the people who have contributed to my charity with Free the Children to help finish the school and build a classroom. The school is nearing completion and we are $1,100 away from reaching the goal of $10,000. Amazing! My Chinese Visa is set to expire on September 25th. I would like to challenge everyone to help me meet the goal for the school in Guang Ming before I have to exit China. I know we can do it. Thank you to everyone for your generous contributions since I began my ride. It is awesome to see what we can achieve working together. I can’t believe we are this close! CLICK HERE TO DONATE
Posted on September 4, 2014, in Adventure, Around the World, Charity, China, Cycling, Motivation, Travel and tagged Adventure, Around the World, Awesome, Beautiful, Bicycle, Challenge, Charity, China, Cycling, Food, Free the Children, Freedom, fun, Gansu, Goals, Inspiration, Mountains, People, Travel, Travel Photos, Travelpics, wind. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.