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I’m in CHINA! It’s been an absolutely huge 6 day stint covering 511 miles, smashing through the 7,000 mile marker in the process, but I’ve reached my first big Chinese city of Urumqi, the capital of Xinxiang province.

Before reaching the border there was the small matter of about 130km of Kazakhstan left to cycle which were fairly uneventful apart form riding in a huge crosswind for 2 hours. We stayed in a slightly grim guesthouse in Peezheed about 20km from the border so we could get there for when it opened in the morning.

After presenting our passport to around 7 differant Kazakh officials we were finally in no mans land between the two countries. I’d heard of cyclists being forced onto busses to cross the abnormally large 7km of void between the two countries but we escaped this meaning I could stick to my rule of cycling every inch.

We were the first people to enter the Chinese border complex of the day and were an immediate source of curiosity having photos taken of us as we were being processed. When it was spotted that I was British, and had the names James, one of the guards begun to sing the James Bond theme tune whilst I was being stamped into the country. Slightly unnerving being associated with a spy by border officials! Welcome to CHINA…

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No more than 50 metres down the road I slipped on my pedal sending my saddle into my groin. A lovely start to cycling across one of the worlds largest countries. As I was stopped hopping around the pavement waiting for the pain to subside a group of Chinese hikers introduced themselves and said they were walking from here to Tibet (several thousand kilometres). I can’t say I’m jealous…

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Next up, food. It still hadn’t really sunk in that we were in China. We went into a little restaurant to order some beef and noodles and all of sudden I had the thought that I wasn’t in a “Chinese restaurant”… I was in a normal restaurant that was in China.

A huge differance between Central Asia and China become obvious and that was communication. On the whole, despite knowing some basic Russian, people didn’t seem to enjoy trying to communicate with foreigners so much in Central Asia but here in this restaurant two members of staff were having a good old giggle as we tried to place our order by pointing into dictionaries and fumbling with our first attempts at pronouncing Chinese words correctly. All was successful in the end…

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Off we went down the road towards a big climb and we noticed quickly that the road and shop signs are all in a mix of Mandarin and Arabic. This is due to the native population of Xinxiang (The Uyghurs) being Muslim…

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All along the roads we saw people drying out various crops, notably lavender and these bright orange leaves…

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Huge wide roads with immaculate tarmac are everywhere. This is a fantastic omen for large distances we will need to cover each day to cross the country within 55 days…

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As we started to make our way up the start of the climb a couple of guys on a motorbike pretty much forced us to come take some photos with them and their friends, all of whom appeared to be absolutely hammered and insisted on buying us some beers to share with them. We still had about 60km of climbing to do so were a bit reluctant but shared a drink with them and hoped for the best.

Not much to mention about the climb but the super smooth road made things much easier. The wording of this sign caught my eye too…

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We passed under a huge suspension bridge then veered around to the right, went through a huge tunnel in a mountain and then got to ride over the bridge before getting this cracking view of the road we had just climbed up…

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We’d taken this route as at the top of the climb was a big high altitude lake (Sayram lake). Although the light was failing us at this point we got some good shots of it…

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Before promptly finding a tunnel to fall asleep in…

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The next morning we got the return for the effort put into the pervious days 1,600m climb. A 70km descent on absolutely perfect tarmac. It took us less than two hours to cover the 70km hitting a top speed of 69.3kmph (I’m still yet to hit 70!) during which time we were passed by maybe 10 vehicles. This road is a cyclists playground…

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Apart from a few interesting punctuations the next 4 days were spent cycling long hours on the hard shoulder of the G30 motorway to give us a kick start on our schedule (buying us leeway for the rest of our time in the country). Normally we average something like 50 miles (80km) a day but we’ve ramped this up to 100 miles (160km) for this first leg of China. Despite this pace we’ve still gotten to see some interesting sights such as this replica of the Pearl tower in Shanghai (the main feature of the bund skyline which is my final destination)…

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As well as a theme park with a fake section of the great wall running along it…

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We’ve spent a lot of time in petrol stations on this leg as they were one of the only sources of supplies with there being one every 70km or so. A weird thing we noticed was that every station was kitted out with riot gear…

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At random intervals we also saw huge housing projects being built out in the middle of nowhere…

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We spent our second night (after cycling 180km) in another pipe under the road and this time were completely savaged by mosquitoes with me receiving around 20 bites on my arse. Lovely. We set our sights for the end of the day on what we thought was a small town called Kuytun on our map. We hoped there might be a hotel there were we could freshen up after about a week of sleeping in pipes and dirty guesthouses. As Kuytun appeared over the crest of a hill it infact turned out to be a huge city with a population of 350,000.

Just before pulling off into Kuytun I grabbed a shot of one of the gigantic car carriers that have been flying past us in the other direction of this road shipping cars off to Central Asia. If you look closely you’ll notice the upper deck is two cars wide meaning there are about 25 cars on the truck as opposed to the 7 on the trucks you see in Europe…

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As the prospect of a nice hotel started to approach us as we rolled into town Stephen got a little bit cocky…

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We followed our map to the Oriental hotel and as we stepped into the lobby we immediately knew we wouldn’t be able to afford it…

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We asked anyway and found out it was £15 each including an all you can eat breakfast! A bit over budget for the day but we’d spent the last two nights in pipes so it should average utt. I can’t explain our delight at the room. By far the nicest either of us have been in on our trips…
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We headed out for food and despite the wall sized picture menu…

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We still ended up cautiously eating liver and pigs intestines…

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Dinner was followed by our first jaunt into a non-petrol station shop to have a nose at some of the oddities such as these very fancily packaged jars of oatmeal…

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After stuffing ourselves at the all you could eat breakfast buffet the following morning we handed in our key only to have half the money we paid for the room returned to us! Turns out it was a deposit. Our night in a four star hotel with a huge breakfast had cost £7.50 each. 100 mile days sound more appealing with accommodation like this available!

The scenery rolled on with a mix of agriculture…

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Traditional yurts…

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As well as more random ghost cities being built out in the middle of nowhere…

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A bit of perfect timing meant my second puncture of the entire trip came just as we pulled into a petrol station for our 100km lunch break. Schwalbe Marathon Pluses are fantastic tyres but there is not much anyone can do about a 20mm screw…

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We also noticed that this highway actually goes all the way to Beijing and that there are signs every kilometre counting down the distance. If I was going to Beijing, like Stephens is, I’m not sure if this would excite me or depress me…

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Fearing more mosquitos we headed for another hotel that night in Hutubi and once got ourselves a four star room with all you can eat breakfast for a bargain price. As we checked in we once again noticed more randomly placed riot gear in the lobby…

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We strolled out for dinner and ended up having some delicious cold noodles and lamb fat kebab from a street stall when an absolutely hammered guy insisted on joining us and buying us some beers. After 400 miles in four days the little beer we had went straight to our heads and me and Stephen ended up joining in with a bunch of women dancing to YMCA by a sound system on the street.

In the morning we were there in spirit but our bodies had checked out. We had a relatively short 50 miles to ride and despite the two cups of freshly ground coffee at breakfast we were both struggling on the road to Urumqi. I noticed one petrol stations interesting approach to branding in having pyramids for forecourts…

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Finally after sweating for the best part of the day we were both so happy to see the welcome to Urumqi sign which signalled a day off before the next stint to Hami.

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The end of this trip is approaching fast and there is still a long way to go on my fundraising. If you’ve enjoyed reading my posts and have been thinking about donating then now is the time to do it! Think of me riding my 100 mile sweaty days in the Chinese deserts and how much your donation will cheer me up and motivate me! Follow this link for more info.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this then checkout my site 121degrees for more info and subscribe to this blog for more entries along the way!

I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.

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